The doors at the chapel at the Halki Seminary
Well, another long and exciting day has come to a close for us here in Constanitnople. It’s about 12:48 and we’re leaving at 6:15 to catch the early ferry so we’ll have time to get to where we need to tomorrow. The plan is to go to the Chora church, spice market, as well as a few other places. All exciting stuff!
So after I posted last night I went to bed and experienced something I hadn’t before. I was so tired I feel asleep while unfolding the blanket. Never a dull moment here. Unfortunately our chambers were at the east end of the building so we got full sunlight (and heat) rather early in the morning. But that actually helped getting everyone up and about before a nice breakfast of cucumber, tomatoes, olives, Greek cheese, olive oil, and bread with honey made for the monastery’s apiary.
Breakfast at Halki.
After breakfast some of the guys went down to the town for coffee, but I stayed around to explore the buildings and I hit the jackpot. The Chapel, dedicated to the All-Holy Trinity, it absolutely stunning. It is in a classical Byzantine style, with an exceptional carved and gilded iconostasis. The icons are beautifully written, and the entire chapel is filled with a serenity that’s rather hard to find these days. It helped that I was alone, but the comment stands.
We then took an earlier ferry (there were strong winds so our normal ferry was canceled) and made our way to the Church of Aghia Irene, and Aghia Sophia. I’m not really sure how to describe the experience. It surpassed all my expectations. I can only encourage you, dear reader, to visit yourself.
Looking at Aghia Sophia from the western side.
We went to Aghia Irene first, which was opened for us specially thanks to our intrepid tour guide. Even though it has been stripped of its marble revetments and decorations, the architecture of the church alone is worth the visit and is incredible. While the pigeons flapped around in the dome, we strolled about taking pictures and letting the fact that we were standing in this particular church sink it. It was truly a blessing to be there.
The interior of Aghia Irene.
After Aghia Irene we went for a very enjoyable lunch and then made our way to Aghia Sophia, the Great Church of Christ. It really boggles the mind at how big this church is. From the outside you’re kind of like, “hmmm, this looks kinda small” but when you get inside it’s just soars. Pictures do not do it justice. At all. Go visit!
The Theotokos in the Deisis icon.
The famous Deisis icon mosaic. I was so moved standing before these images. The detail is incredible.
As I stood looking out over the church, I began to quietly chant the hymn “Soson Kyrie” in Greek.
O Lord save thy people and bless thine inheritance, and to thy faithful emperor grant victory over their enemies; and by the power of thy Cross, protect all those who follow thee.
This hymn was the battle hymn of the empire, it asked for the protection of the emperor and of his people. It spoke of the triumph of the Cross. But, more than anything, Aghia Sophia made me sad. Sad for those who were slain defending her, sad for those who converted it into a mosque, sad for the glory that was once hers. Times change, and the world moves on. But there, at that moment, I was united in prayer with all those who went before us to their rest: patriarchs, emperors, saints and sinners. And for that I am so very grateful.
St. John Chrysostom on the middle left.
This is the emperor’s place, indicated by the large circle of porphyry marble.
The emperor (Probably Leo VI) bows down in submission to Christ.
The original “royal doors”
The famous image of the Virgin flanked by emperors Justinian I and Constantine I.
And that was Aghia Sophia. Sad to go, really, but hopefully I’ll get to go back for a big on Sunday when we have a free day after church in the morning.
The rest of the day was spent at the Bazaar which was rather cool. I haggled with people who wanted exorbitant amounts, got a better deal than I would have otherwise, and got some things to give to my loved ones when I get home. After relaxing on the sun-warmed steps of the nearest mosque (and then getting driven away by one of the people who worked there), we took an amazing ferry ride back to Halki for dinner, drinks, and parea (fellowship). Now I’m way overdue for bed! But I just wanted to share a small bit of what happened today. Please keep us in your prayers, you are all in ours.
Here are some more pictures for your enjoyment!
Standing on the roundel of marble that the empress (allegedly) stood on in the balcony overlooking the nave. There was quite the debate about it when it came up, as apparently there’s only one source that attests to the empress attending services up there. But, it was on the sign next to it, so I’m running with it. Well, standing…
All of the crosses on the marble balustrades and anywhere else were scraped off after the conquest. Very sad.
While they scraped off the marble cross, the outline is still visible at the right angle.
The pillar of Constantine. THE pillar of Constantine. The one he used to found Constantinople, in the base of which are supposedly many interesting relics including an early copy of Plato’s works, relics of the Passion of Christ, a bit of Noah’s Ark, etc.
Sunset on the Sea of Marmara.