Russell Crowe, Sultans, and Baklava

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The dome of the Chora Church.

Good evening!  Once again I find myself sitting in the beautiful dormitory of the Halki seminary/monastery trying to think of how I can condense everything we did today into one blog post.  There’s just so much to tell!  But, I think I’ll start with a couple of things that I forgot to mention yesterday.

First: Russell Crowe.  Yes, that Russell Crowe.  So, yesterday we went to Aghia Sophia in the afternoon and after touring the church we hit up the gift shop.  I loitered in there a bit too long and thus I missed Russell Crowe standing around outside Aghia Sophia talking with some of his friends.  There are pictures, I am told.  So that was the celebrity sighting for our trip, pretty cool given that we all loved him in Gladiator.

I forget what the other thing was I meant to mention, but I’m sure I’ll remember at some point.  Today we went took our usual beautiful ferry ride in to the City and got some baklava and pastries at a great place (not exactly sure where).  Fr. John recommended the pseudo-clotted cream which, while some disagreed, I thought was great with the baklava.

Breakfast

Breakfast

After breakfast we made our way to the Little Ayasofia Mosque, formerly the church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus.  The building was built at the time of Justinian and is beautifully proportioned.  The only real remains of its “churchness” is the inscription that runs around the sides of the nave, as well as the Justinianic monograms left in the capitals (the other Christian symbols were removed when it was converted).

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“Other sovereigns have honoured dead men whose labour was unprofitable, but our sceptered Justinian, fostering piety, honours with a splendid abode the Servant of Christ, Begetter of all things, Sergius; whom not the burning breath of fire, nor the sword, nor any other constraint of torments disturbed; but who endured to be slain for the sake of Christ, the God, gaining by his blood heaven as his home. May he in all things guard the rule of the sleepless sovereign and increase the power of the God-crowned Theodora whose mind is adorned with piety, whose constant toil lies in unsparing efforts to nourish the destitute.” -Dedicatory Inscription

A monogram carved into the capital of the pillar.

A monogram carved into the capital of the pillar.

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Moi near the eastern wall of the basilica.

After this visit we made a stop at the ancient Studion Monastery where St. Theodore the Studite lived and worked, as well as his brother St. Joseph the Hymnographer.  So much of our liturgical hymnography was composed here; it’s mind-boggling.  And not only the hymns, but the Studite Typikon (rule for serving services) was from here.  Only the shell of the basilica remains, but our wonderful tour guid, Murat, spoke to some of the people who lived next door to the ruins and they let us through their porch, into the back yard, which is only divided from the basilica walls by the great cistern

The apse of the basilica church of the Studion Monastery.

The apse of the basilica church of the Studion Monastery.

After visiting the Studion Monastery we drove along the old city walls to the Chora Church, now a museum, with its mind-blowing iconography.  You’ve probably seen pictures from it, it’s that famous of a church.  In the side chapel are a series of frescoes and in the main church and narthex (and exo-narthex) are mosaics.  The mosaic program in the narthex includes a series of the life of the Virgin Mary, and scenes from the life of Christ.  The fresco program is equally as intriguing with frescoes you wouldn’t normally see, like Jacob wrestling with the angel, or St. John of Damascus in the pendentive under the dome.  Really cool stuff.  Here’s a big series for you.  Remember, click on the image to enlarge it!

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St. John of Damascus in the pendentive under the dome where one of the Four Evangelists usually was placed.

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Left: St. Joseph’s Dream. Right: the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt.

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Icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos.

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Standing on porphyry again…

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This image of the Virgin Mary includes a play on words with the name of the church, “chora” which essentially means “the countryside.” The inscription in Greek says something like, “the country of the uncontainable one,” but I know I’m not remembering it correctly so I’ll ask Fr. Alex again in the morning.

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One of the domes in the narthex

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Theodore Metochites, the “prime minister” of the Byzantine Empire in the late 13th-early 14th century and who was responsible for the mosaics and restoration of the church.

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The very famous icon of the Harrowing of Hell

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Hosts of saints approach the door to Paradise, guarded by a cherubim with flaming sword. The Penitent Thief, St. Dismas, carries his cross in Paradise and welcomes the saints while the Virgin Mary is enthroned in the midst of Paradise attended by angels.

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The Final Judgement on the ceiling approaching the altar in the side chapel.

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St. George the Great Martyr

After visiting the Chora Church, we had a fantastic lunch overlooking the Bosphorus and then walked to the Pammakaristos Church which is now a museum/mosque.  This church (which is the museum part) was a little gem.  The iconography is all in mosaics and is concentrated in the apse, dome, and a few places scattered here and there.  It’s a small space, more of a chapel than a church, but the church feels both intimate and soaring.  Here are a few of my favorite photos from the visit.

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Christ sits enthroned, blessing, and holding the Gospels in the apse of the Pammakaristos Church.

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The Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, supplicates her son on his right hand in the apse.

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St. Anthony, the Father of Monks, is on the small dome in golden sunlight.

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This tiny space was covered in mosaics. Unfortunately, it was such a tiny space that you couldn’t make out the inscriptions as to who they are. All I could tell is that they’re bishop saints.

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One of the Gregories.

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The dome of the church.

We then made a pit stop at the Fatih (Conqueror) Mosque where Mehmet II is buried, on top of the tomb of St. Constantine the Great, founder of Constantinople.  After he conquered the city, Mehmet II decided to conquer Emperor Constantine even in death.

After that we made our way back to the ferry for our boat back to the Halki Seminary where we had a wonderful dinner with our gracious host, His Eminence Metropolitan Elpidophoros, abbot of the monastery here.  His Eminence spoke to us with much love and care about the struggles confronting Orthodox Christianity in the world, as well as plans for the revival of the monastery and (God-willing) seminary.  It was a marvelous evening that was a witness to the strengthening of ties between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and St. Vladimir’s Seminary.  Fr. John, our dean, presented His Eminence with a complete set of the SVS Press Popular Patristics Series, and His Eminence presented Fr. John with a beautiful plaque that commemorates the founding of the seminary and will stand as a testament to the love between Halki and St. Vladimir’s.  We also were given a tour of the library that is currently being catalogued and organized anew.  All in all, a fantastic way to end the day.

Tomorrow, His Eminence will preside from the throne while some of the clergy traveling with us celebrate Liturgy.  We will be singing, so it’s time for some rest!  Prayers welcome, more posts to come!

A doorway in the balcony of the former church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus.

A doorway in the balcony of the former church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus.

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