Russia Today and the BBC both report that the Hagia Sophia (The Church of Holy Wisdom), the single largest Church in Byzantium, is to be repurposed as a mosque. This move ends 86 years of the building serving a “neutral purpose” as a museum, where neither Muslim nor Christian was allowed to pray in open sight. This move is understandably tragic for Orthodox Christians, particularly the Greeks, but there are several ways to understand this situation.
First, one might point to the capitulation that seems to be very evident among leaders of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Patriarch Bartholomew himself may well be blamed by many Orthodox Christian believers, for “selling out” when he legitimized two schismatic Ukrainian “churches” and then amalgamated them into a new church structure, complete with a strongly Western leaning and a dubious hierarchy. That structure, the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” and the schismatic groups preceding it are widely known for violent seizures of parish communities belonging to the canonical jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate, administered very independently by Metropolitan Onuphry of Ukraine.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate’s second big sellout was to the COVID-19 pandemic, with that church essentially shutting down through much of Holy Lent and Pascha, and a recent piece we covered shows that this capitulation appears to be driven by the real power in the Greek Church – ignorant but wealthy Greek donors who in a recent act, caused the City of Toronto to issue orders banning all Greek Orthodox parishes from distributing Holy Communion to their parishioners.
In other words, the Greek Orthodox hierarchy are proving themselves unworthy of leading and guiding their faithful, and today’s news of the fate of Hagia Sophia stands as confirmation that God has turned his back on them, just as they turned their backs on him.
A second point of view is about the advance of nationalism itself. We often hear criticism of nationalism when it results in a nation identifying itself in a way which disagrees with our preferred point of view. Many of the howls of anger against President Recip Erdogan are going to be about how unfair it is for him to “go Muslim” and do this with the Hagia Sophia.
But we have to be honest here. It is no mystery that President Erdogan has been extremely interested in moving Turkey from its rather secularized Islamic identity under the Mustafa Kemal Atatürk to a more “Islamist” point of view. This is evident in the BBC’s coverage of what happened today:
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the decision after a court annulled the site’s museum status.
Built 1,500 years ago as an Orthodox Christian cathedral, Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest in 1453.
In 1934 it became a museum and is now a Unesco World Heritage site.
Islamists in Turkey long called for it to be converted to a mosque but secular opposition members opposed the move. The proposal prompted criticism from religious and political leaders worldwide.
Defending the decision, President Erdogan stressed that the country had exercised its sovereign right in converting it back to a mosque.
He told a press conference the first Muslim prayers would be held inside the building on 24 July.
“Like all our mosques, the doors of Hagia Sophia will be wide open to locals and foreigners, Muslims and non-Muslims,” he added.
Shortly after the announcement, the first call to prayer was recited at Hagia Sophia and was broadcast on all of Turkey’s main news channels. The cultural site’s social media channels have now been taken down.
They wasted no time with this!
While the Western world and the Christian world is already launched into criticism, it is important to call out the hypocrisy that occurs when secularism is the basis for criticism. That is how Hagia Sophia was lost to the Ottomans in the first place!
In 1439 the Orthodox churches entered into am agreement, the Laetentur Caeli, was signed by all Eastern Orthodox bishops but Mark of Ephesus, creating a “union” with Rome in exchange for military aid against the Ottoman Turks. In 1453, Constantinople was captured by the Ottomans anyway, never to this day to return to Christian rule. The motive for the agreement was not of Christ, it was of expedience to a group in schism with Christianity’s most ancient traditions (the Roman Catholic Church), and God answered the faithlessness of his people with the removal of his protection.
This is how this is understood in sacred history.
What happened today is simply a continuation, showing that after a chance that started in 1934, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has refused to learn its lesson. Now, the hierarchs and people can whine all they want, but it is not honest when the real issue for the Orthodox Christian – to put Christ above and ahead of all other concerns – is not itself adhered to. The same charge could be applied to all of us as Orthodox Christians, certainly, but it would appear that as the particular Church under pressure, the EP should have come to understand that persecution is part of the deal when trying to be a Christian, and there can be no way to appease the Devil or his agencies.
Russian Orthodox Christians know this. They also suffered the near total loss of their Church after the Revolution in 1917. They had a chance to get it back after about forty years and rejected it, so the Church suffered until 1991, only then, renewing with the fall of Communism. It is by no accident that the Russian Orthodox Christians have been stunned and dismayed by the actions of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Aside from the moves in Ukraine, the EP has taken a notably secular stance on issue after issue, from climate change to water to the peculiar environmentalist stance that suggests even that humans are the cause of disruption in the world and that we do not even deserve to drink water!
The BBC article continues:
While the move is popular with conservative religious supporters of President Erdogan, Turkey’s most famous author, Orhan Pamuk said the decision would take away the “pride” some Turks had in being a secular Muslim nation.
“There are millions of secular Turks like me who are crying against this but their voices are not heard,” he told the BBC.
The move to nationalism from globalism is indeed taking place throughout the world. The wish of nations to identify and preserve their own origins, history, culture, language and religious views is a definite antidote to the bland, “everybody loses” nature of “one-world globalism.” However, the question of increased nationalism is also not necessarily the final answer to the world’s problems. From a Christian point of view, the final answer is Christ, and the time that the final answer is fully set in place is at the end of Time. In the meantime we have a war, “wars and rumours of wars” as well, and a challenge each day about whether or not we stand for Christ, or fall for everything else.
Recep Erdogan is making his stand – for Islam. He succeeded today because he was essentially unopposed, not just today, but for many years leading up to this point. He is a smart man, too, because he knows that it really does not matter what the world says in objection to him today, because they never made it a point to stand on before. Today and tomorrow we will all read and hear “lip service condemnation” of this event.
We have only ourselves to blame.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.