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.
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).
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
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!
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.
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!