The greatest town

The Heart of the Earth
They called it the navel of the world, the New Rome, the capital of the “vasilevs”, the Christian ruler of the universe. Its ramparts, churches, bell towers, palaces, squares, water fountains, and plumbing system are all gone today. But, even conquered and enslaved, it preserved its magnificent and mysterious powers, it managed to control its newcomers, just like the church of St. Sophia managed to impose its divine form to all important mosques around the world; tearing down the Islamic architecture in the last few centuries

Along with the Archbishop of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skoplje Jovan and the Bishop of Bačka Irinej, in the beginning of February this year, I visited Tsargrad and the Patriarch Bartholomew. The immediate reason of our visit was to deliver the Tome of Autonomy of the Archbishopy of Ohrid to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Tome should have been delivered earlier, but for excused reasons it was not done until now. We talked to the Patriarch several times, we were his guests, and we also met the members of the Saint Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which was glowing these days.
In the last few years, it is characteristic for the Patriarchate of Constantinople, on the initiative of the present Patriarch, that the Synod is consisted of not only the present bishops, from Constantinople and its surroundings, and the area of Turkey, as it always was, but also the eparchy bishops from around the world. We have Metropolitan Maximos from USA, Metropolitan Augustine from Germany, Metropolitan Cyril from Rhodos, so that the patriarchate of Constantinople works as an assembly, just like the other local churches.
These days, it was the holiday of St. Patriarch Photios, who the Slavs call our godfather. That is the famous Patriarch who sent the saint brothers Ćirilo and Metodije to Moravska, to Prince Rastislav, and who prepared them for the apostle mission; the patriarch who had a leading role in relations between the former Western, Roman Patriarchate and the Patriarchate of the East; a great theologian, a great connoisseur in Hellenic literature and philosophy, and a great spiritual father of the Church. That day, we attended the liturgy in the cathedral Church of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. It was the Church of St. George, a part of the Patriarchate. It used to belong to the monastery. This monastery was one of the churches, which belonged to the Holy Mount of Athos. Given that many ancient churches have been turned into mosques after the arrival of the Turks and the location of the Patriarchate was taken by the Turks, the Patriarchate found itself where it stands today. For a long time, it was not allowed to change anything on this building, even if it was very old. Now, it looks very nice, although crowded, as a bird’s nest, in Phanar, enclosed on all sides. The Holy Liturgy should have been that day on the Island Halki, where the famous Theology Faculty was placed, but the weather forced us to stay in town.
Those two and a half days, how much we spent there, we visited several more things in Tsargrad. Of course, we first visited the magnificent Church St. Sophia, in which we prayed to the Holy Trinity. This church really is the heart of the Earth, for the place where it was built – between Europe and Asia – and for its beauty, unsurpassable architecture in which the secret of God’s presence in the world is revealed, and the secret of calling the human being to divine freedom. In the middle of the church is the navel of the world. Today, Saint Sophia is a museum, and it was a mosque for centuries. We prayed to God and we singed, in silence, the Hellenic weeping song, which expresses the fate in renovating St. Sophia and its freedom.


We saw the remains of two previous churches of St. Sophia: from the time of Emperor Constantine, and the church from the time of Emperor Theodosius. The present one was built in the time of Emperor Iustinian. Of course, later it was re-built, renovated... The shape it got until the 10th century, the church preserved today – with some changes from the 15th century, when, after the arrival of Sultan Mehmed I, called Fatih, on his horse into St. Sophia, it was turned into a mosque.
I had a chance to visit Asia Minor some time earlier, Cappadocia, and all the mosques I saw were, more or less, copies of St. Sophia, as in Tsargrad, all the way to our country, to Rožaje, Novi Pazar... In all of them, in their domes, we can see the magnificent character of the dome of Hagia Sophia of Tsargrad.
In that short period, we visited one more sacred place, which is directly connected with the history of our people, church and state. It is the famous Monastery of the Pantocrator, in which Byzantium emperors and patriarchs welcomed their guests from all over the world. It was built on a higher place, with many surrounding buildings. The Great Martyr St. Stefan Dečanski was there in prison. When he was blinded and when his father exiled him, he was accepted in this monastery in which one of the churches is dedicated to St. Nicholas, who healed him, and gave him back his eyesight. When King Milutin died and when the question of the heir became relevant, Stefan was already back in Monastery Uroševica, near Berane, on Lim River, as a man with healthy eyes. He became the ruler of Raška, and then the founder of Monastery Dečani, where still lay his relics.
Unfortunately, this magnificent church of Constantinople was also turned into a mosque. Sultan Fatih entered the church and turned it into a mosque. Today, a part of the church, which is a mosque, is in function, and the other part is a kind of a museum. Both parts are in poor condition, and it is sad to look at them. But, besides the neglect, it is magnificent church in the inside, with wonderful domes, of unsurpassable architecture, made of bricks, and a man can only wonder how was it possible to make something like that so long ago.
The part which is now a museum is famous because Emperors Manuel I and Isaac I Komnenos were buried in it, the great rulers from the time when Raška and Zeta got their autonomy. It is very important to see with what kind of modesty these Byzantium rulers were buried, with no tombstones, only buried into the ground, in graves marked by small stones, but it is sad to see the graves completely covered in birds’ excrement.


There is also the famous Hora Monastery, or Kahri Zami. This time, we did not visit it. This monastery with its famous mosaics and frescos, carrying the name Hora Ton Zondon (the Land of the Living – Christ is called the Land of the Living), is dedicated to Christ. In it stands the famous mosaic of Christ’s descent into Hell.
These days, I remembered Petar Petrović Njegoš’s description of Tsargrad in Gorski vijenac, and I admired again being familiar with its beauty, even that he never visited it. Njegoš described Tsargrad so well, as “a honey cone, a hill of sugar”, as well as the minarets which look themselves in the water of Bosporus.
Right there, near the Patriarchate, stands the famous Golden Horn on which Turkish ships came, during the night, across the land, which was the main reason for the fall of Tsargrad. The tired capital of the former civilization finally fell.
There is also Bosporus, which has no equal in beauty, in the entire world. We felt its beauties one night when we had dinner in a beautiful restaurant on a cape, with the Patriarch and the members of the Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. We can see clearly the old part of Tsargrad, on one side, and on the other, St. Sophia, and mosques which look at themselves in the sea. It is a magnificent image of a town which still keeps its natural, cultural, artistic and historic beauty. Amazed by it mysterious beauties, we convinced ourselves in the invincible character of spiritual, Christian, and original experience of the secrets of the world and the human being, and the secrets of God.
Of course, since Tsargrad was enslaved in the 15th century, many things changed but there is many which is left indelible and invincible in these great sacred places I mentioned and in many other churches such the churches of St. Irina, of St. Apostles, Balikli Church (where is the Life Giving Well and the graves of Patriarchs) and in other churches among which many are mosques or museums, but there are several where religious services are performed, which are the remains of the powerful Eastern Roman Empire and the action of the patriarchate of Constantinople and its creative sprit, which created and inspired all great and sublime things with the Slavs, from St. Sophia in Kiev, Kremlin in Moscow, to the Church of St. Sava in Vračar and the Church of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in Podgorica.


The wonder of St. Sophia
Saint Sophia is a special story. In a very tangible way, it expresses the presence of the sky and the one who “lives in the sky”, the Lord. It is the stimulus to human freedom to rise towards God. It is not only a tangible incarnation of Christian, evangelic truth about God and man but the ideal in building all magnificent mosques, since it was enslaved and desecrated, and not only in Tsargrad, Istanbul, but all around Europe and Asia. It is one of the wonders of St. Sophia. It is so powerful among Muslims that they could not defeat it, but it defeated the Islamic architecture of the last centuries, so that all main mosques in Tsargrad are an attempt of copying St. Sophia, unsuccessful ones, even though among them there are buildings of exquisite characteristics, such as Ahmed-Sultan Mosque, the Blue Mosque, and others. There is also a legend that the architect of the Blue Mosque, which is opposite St. Sophia, who is said to be a Armenian who accepted Islam, committed suicide when he realized that he did not succeed in what he wanted, and he fell into despair.
That is Saint Sophia and its invincible character.


The second Rome
Tsargrad as the New Rome, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, was brought from Ancient Rome by the hand of Emperor Constantine and it keeps its indelible traces. We can see that on the walls of old Tsargrad, which are mostly well preserved, on viaducts from the time of Byzantium, Eastern Roman emperors, and other preserved buildings which are made after the model of buildings in Ancient Rome, just like they were only moved there. When you look at them, you have the feeling of being in Ancient Rome. When a man comes to Forum Romanum, or somewhere near the Coloseum, or near Thermae Aureliae, he can see that Eastern Roman emperors wanted to show that it was the New Rome, that it was the new capital of “vasilevs”, the Christian ruler of the world, the center of Christian universe, as Tsargrad was called.


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