So I’m not alone..

The continued persecution of Christians in the Middle East is one of the great
underreported stories of the 21st century.

Douglas Murray, in his insightful book The Strange Death of Europe,
warns us that there is a real danger of Europe losing its Christian roots,
values and freedoms, something which he as a gay atheist deplores.
I fear that the conversion of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque is a sign of more
troublesome times ahead.

David Robertson


(Interior of the great dome, Hagia Sophia /Paris Review)

The other day I offered a post regarding the news that the once-massive
Christian enclave of the East, the Basilica of Hagia Sophia,
had once again fallen to Muslim rule ( or perhaps ‘once again’ is not accurate as Muslim rule has shadowed the church since the 15th century–it just hasn’t been a practicing mosque but rather a museum in a Muslim nation)

(https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2020/07/17/the-future-of-hagia-sophia-should-be-very-troubling-to-christians/)

Hagia Sophia, constructed in 532, stood as a Christian beacon in the East, as well
for the West following the sack of Rome, until 1453–
the year when Constantinople fell to the Ottomans.
She was desecrated and turned into a mosque.

Several hundreds of years passed when the mosque next became a museum.

And then change came once again last week when the church turned mosque,
turned museum returned to a Muslim Mosque.

For nearly a thousand years, she faithfully served her flock.

And so the question that sits like an elephant in the middle of the world’s living room…
what does this mean for the Faithful now…

Our friend the Wee Flea raises this same question in his most recent post…
“The Tale of Two Buildings–the Hagia Sophia and the Free Church Manse

David begins his post by reflecting on the demise of Christianity
in the very place of her inception, the Middle East…

The Assyrians for example have shrunk from 1.3 million in Iraq to less than 250,000.
They have scattered over the world.
There are around 40,000 Assyrians in Sydney – one of whom is my barber!
In Turkey, Christians are systematically persecuted.
Foreign church workers are arrested and expelled;
evangelical churches are regularly attacked by extremists.
To even suggest that the killing of over one million Armenians by the Turks in 1914-1923
was genocide will result in you going to jail.
I recall in 2007 being in Ephesus just after three Christian leaders
had been brutally tortured and killed –
the fear amongst the Christians was palpable.

I suspect that turning the Hagia Sofia into a mosque will only make things worse
as it will encourage the more radical Islamists to fulfil their dream of a society
where Sharia law is fully enacted, and the Christians and secularists are removed.
Another Hagia Sophia in Nicaea, where the Second Council of Nicaea was held in 787,
has already been turned into a mosque. It is a concerning development which
raises a number of questions.

Turkey has, like China, signed the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights,
which amongst other things, guarantees freedom of worship, expression and belief.
Like China, it appears that its signature is meaningless.

Another area of concern is the problem of the lack of freedom in many Islamic countries.
In the West, Muslims are rightly free to worship and build mosques –
something I have defended in the past and will defend again.

There is a bigger issue here.
I have no problem with there being different religions within a pluralistic and tolerant society.
But what if that religion itself is opposed to pluralism and tolerance,
which I argue Islam is, and seeks to impose its own Sharia law?

David continues his post with a more personal reflection regarding the Chruch manse that he
and his family called home for 27 years…a church manse turned Muslim home with the
entire neighborhood becoming Muslim…

A casual observer might think that David’s feelings are somewhat racist in that he is concerned
about a Scottish neighborhood becoming Muslim, but he clearly notes that Islam is
not a race but rather a religion…and it is one that has at its core the goal of
the decimation of Christianity…

And so yes, there are big questions that remain—
What is happening to the Chruch from both within and from with-out

See David’s full post here:

A Tale of Two Buildings – the Hagia Sophia and the Free Church Manse – CT

The future of Hagia Sophia should be very troubling to Christians…

Turkey to cover Hagia Sophia’s Christian icons during prayers
Governing party’s statement comes days after Ankara turned the iconic monument
from a museum into a mosque.

Al Jazeera


(The Deësis mosaic, Hagia Sophia upon its restoration)

This past week’s news story regarding Turkey’s Hagia Sophia was buried under the
weight of a global pandemic and the continuing Western civil unrest…
but this story is no less troubling despite being shrouded by the current events
of seemingly more pressing issues.
This is a story that is most ominous to not only art historians, or to Byzantium historians,
but it should be, in particular, troubling to all of Christendom.

But first, let’s take a look back to the Basilica’s inception…

On Jan. 13, 532, riots broke out in Constantinople,
the capital of the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire.
(The city of Rome itself had long since become a backwater and had finally been conquered by barbarians.
The residents of the Empire still called themselves “Romans,” though, and their capital city was
officially known as “New Rome.”)
Within a week, tens of thousands of residents were dead and nearly half of the city
had been burned or otherwise destroyed, including the foremost church of the empire,
the Hagia Sophia (“Holy Wisdom”).

(Desert News)

Historic fate struck again centuries later:
Tuesday, May 29, 1453 the ancient dream of Islam to capture Constantinople,
which originated with Muhammad, the founder of the religion was achieved by his namesake,
Mehmed II.
After allowing his troops to sack the city and terrorize the people,
killing them or capturing them to ransom or sell as slaves,
the Ottoman Sultan ordered the destruction of the city to seize.
He entered the city on horseback and rode through the doors of Hagia Sophia.
He could not travel on foot because the church was full of dead people and the floor
was covered in blood and gore. Islamic troops were in the process of smashing the icons
and stripping them of any valuables they could find.
The silver chalices, candlesticks, gospel covers and other things used in the liturgy
were taken and broken up. Priests and nuns were tortured in search for hidden treasure.
Running out of precious things
(It had been a very long time since Hagia Sophia had any treasures of value).
frenzied looting even extended to hacking at the marble ambo,
sanctuary screen and the altar-ciborium.
The ignorant soldiers believed they were made of precious stones.
Mehmed II ordered a stop to the destruction of Hagia Sophia
and declared that it was his personal property.
Next he dismounted from his horse, climbed onto the great altar and
recited a Muslim prayer converting Hagia Sophia into a Muslim mosque.
Eleven hundred years of Hagia Sophia as a Christian church ended.

(pallasweb.com)
https://www.pallasweb.com/deesis/history.html


(shutterstock)

Hagia Sophia, Turkish Ayasofya, Latin Sancta Sophia,
also called Church of the Holy Wisdom or Church of the Divine Wisdom,
cathedral built at Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey)
in the 6th century CE (532–537) under the direction of the
Byzantine emperor Justinian I.
By general consensus, it is the most important Byzantine structure and one
of the world’s great monuments.

The Hagia Sophia was built in the remarkably short time of about six years,
being completed in 537 CE. Unusual for the period in which it was built,
the names of the building’s architects—Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus—-
are well known, as is their familiarity with mechanics and mathematics.
The Hagia Sophia combines a longitudinal basilica and a centralized building
in a wholly original manner, with a huge 32-metre (105-foot)
main dome supported on pendentives and two semidomes, one on either side of the longitudinal axis.
In plan the building is almost square. There are three aisles separated by columns
with galleries above and great marble piers rising up to support the dome.
The walls above the galleries and the base of the dome are pierced by windows,
which in the glare of daylight obscure the supports and give the impression
that the canopy floats on air.

The original church on the site of the Hagia Sophia is said to have been ordered to be built
by Constantine I in 325 on the foundations of a pagan temple.
His son, Constantius II, consecrated it in 360.
It was damaged in 404 by a fire that erupted during a riot following the second banishment
of St. John Chrysostom, then patriarch of Constantinople.
It was rebuilt and enlarged by the Roman emperor Constans I.
The restored building was rededicated in 415 by Theodosius II.
The church was burned again in the Nika insurrection of January 532,
a circumstance that gave Justinian I an opportunity to envision a splendid replacement.

The structure now standing is essentially the 6th-century edifice,
although an earthquake caused a partial collapse of the dome in 558
(restored 562) and there were two further partial collapses,
after which it was rebuilt to a smaller scale and the whole church reinforced from the outside.
It was restored again in the mid-14th century. For more than a millennium, it was the
Cathedral of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
It was looted in 1204 by the Venetians and the Crusaders on the Fourth Crusade.

After the Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453,
Mehmed II had it repurposed as a mosque, with the addition of a wooden minaret
(on the exterior, a tower used for the summons to prayer),
a great chandelier, a mihrab (niche indicating the direction of Mecca),
and a minbar (pulpit). Either he or his son Bayezid II erected the red minaret
that stands on the southeast corner of the structure.
The original wooden minaret did not survive.
Bayezid II erected the narrow white minaret on the northeast side of the mosque.
The two identical minarets on the western side were likely commissioned by
Selim II or Murad III and built by renowned Ottoman architect Sinan in the 1500s.

In 1934 Turkish Pres. Kemal Atatürk secularized the building,
and in 1935 it was made into a museum.
Art historians consider the building’s beautiful mosaics to be the main source of knowledge
about the state of mosaic art in the time shortly after the end of the Iconoclastic Controversy
in the 8th and 9th centuries.

The Hagia Sophia is a component of a UNESCO World Heritage site called the
Historic Areas of Istanbul (designated 1985), which includes that city’s other
major historic buildings and locations.

(britanica.com)

And yet once again, the fate of the Basilica Hagia Sophia turned Mosque, turned Museum
turns once again…this turn, however, becomes a great detriment to both
Christians and historians—

The UNESCO World Heritage treasure and long desecrated Christian Bascillica will
once again become a mosque…
a place that will not be welcoming to anyone other than Muslim worshipers.

Turkey’s Islamist Dream Finally Becomes a Reality
The Hagia Sophia has been designated as a mosque again,
its status as a museum viewed for decades as a seal on the country’s spirit.

(NY Times)

According to an article in the New York Times, this past week,
the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, issued a decree ordering the Hagia Sophia,
a majestic 65,000-square-foot stone structure from the sixth century in Istanbul,
to be opened for Muslim prayers.
The same day, a top Turkish court had revoked the 1934 decree by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk,
the founder of the Turkish republic, which had turned it into a museum.

The Hagia Sophia was built as a cathedral and converted into a mosque, and then a museum.
It has for centuries been the object of fierce civilizational rivalry between the Ottoman
and Orthodox worlds.

The reconversion of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque was an old dream of Turkey’s Islamists.
In the Islamist political tradition of President Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party,
Ataturk’s experiment in secular republican government was a foreign imposition on Turkey,
and the Hagia Sophia’s status as a museum a seal on the country’s spirit.

After making the announcement, according to one report,
Mr. Erdogan was so shaken with emotion that he did not sleep until first light the next morning.
What he thought of as an era of humiliation had ended.

Various authorities of the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches voiced their indignation,
and the pope (Pope Francis) expressed “profound sadness.”
The governments of the European Union and the United States muttered their regrets.
There are also Christian extremists who care deeply about the Hagia Sophia and its symbolism.
These sentiments make the decision all the more exciting to many Turks.

So a warning dear Christian brothers and sisters…
While our Western Chruchs have shuttered their doors over the growing concerns of COVID 19…
while the protests and riots grow in scope and go largely ignored by governmental leadership…
Christian voices from our ancient past are also being shuttered and silenced.

As long as the faithful remain silent, the wolves will continue to devour the flock.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
Matthew 7:15
English Standard Version

Asking forgiveness, it’s never too late nor futile…Poland is such an example

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has
forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

C.S. Lewis

“Freedom is the capacity to assert one’s will against the willfulness of others.”
William of Ockham


Over the past weekend, I caught a lovely news story.

In between the nerve-racking updates about Hurricane Dorian here on the east coast—
the hurricane that just doesn’t want to go away—
to the sorrowful story coming out from the west coast about the tragic boat fire in the
Pacific claiming nearly 40 lives, to another sorrowful mass shooting…
finding a news story that read of hope, if not simply civility, was greatly welcomed.

Below, I’ve simply cut and paste the AT&T news story.
My take on it all follows…

Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has asked for Poland’s forgiveness
80 years after the start of World War II.

“I stand before you, those who have survived, before the descendants of the victims,
the old and the young residents of Wielun, I am humbled and grateful,”
Steinmeier said during a ceremony in the Polish city of Wielun,
the site of one of the first Nazi bombings in the country on September 1, 1939.

“I bow to the victims of the attack in Wielun,
I pay tribute to the Polish victims of German tyranny and I ask for forgiveness,” he said.

Nearly 6 million Poles died during World War II,
which remains the bloodiest conflict in history.

More than 50 million people were killed in the conflict overall,
including some 6 million Jews, half of whom were Polish.

At a ceremony in Warsaw, Polish President Andrzej Duda spoke of the atrocious history
suffered by Polish people during WWII and the “trauma” that they still carry today.

The Polish President remembered the fallen and thanked the soldiers
“who fought and sacrificed their lives for freedom.”

In an address on Sunday morning in Westerplatte, Gdansk,
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki spoke of the huge material, spiritual, economic
and financial losses Poland suffered in the war.

“We have to talk, we have to remember about the losses we suffered,
we have to demand the truth, we have to demand compensation,” Morawiecki said.

War reparations remain a contentious issue in Poland —
since coming to power in 2015, the Law and Justice (PiS)
party has revived calls for compensation, Reuters reported.
Germany made the last payment on reparations in 2010.

US Vice President Mike Pence spoke in Warsaw on Sunday at the commemoration ceremony
to mark the 80th anniversary of Germany’s invasion of Poland.
Two days later, on September 3, Britain and France declared war on Germany.

“During the five decades of untold suffering and death that followed the outbreak of World War II,
the Polish people never lost hope, they never gave in to despair,
and they never let go of their thousand-year history,” Pence said.

“In the years that followed this day 80 years ago,
their light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,” he added.

https://start.att.net/news/read/article/cnn-german_president_asks_for_forgiveness_80_years_aft-cnn2/category/news

The nation of Poland has a great deal to teach the rest of the world about perseverance
as well as the ability to forgive…just as it seems a German leader has a few things to teach
all of us about the never-ending ability to ask one who has been tragically wronged, to forgive.

But you’d need to understand a bit of history first to truly appreciate this story.

I’ve touched on Poland and her history before in a few previous posts,
but it seems the importance of revisiting has resurfaced.

Poland sits in a pivotal location geographically.

According to the renowned author and biographer, George Weigel, in his international bestseller
Witness to Hope / The biography of Pope John Paul II,
Poland’s location at the crossroads of Latin and Byzantine Europe, it’s geography,
and its repeated experience of invasion, occupation, resistance and
resurrection gave rise to a distinctive Polish way of looking at history.

Poland sits in the middle of Europe—in between the majority of Europe to the west
and Russia along with her broken minions to the east.
Poland has, down through the centuries, proven to be a historical bulwark.

She has literally been the defending line between tyranny and democracy for centuries.
And she has never complained about her pivotal lot.

I am reminded of the verse from the book of Luke:
“From everyone who has been given much,
much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much,
much more will be asked.

Luke 12:48

“Polish history is generally taken to begin with the baptism
of the Piast prince Mieszko I in 966. Mieszko’s choice for Latin Christianity
over Eastern Christianity, which had been formed in the orbit of Constantinople,
decisively shaped Poland’s history for more than a millennium.”

By Mieszko’s choice, a Slavic land and people would be oriented toward the Latin West.

These Roman Slavs were a bridge between Europe’s two cultural halves;
they could “speak the language of two spiritual worlds.”
Poland’s Catholicity and its geographic location led to a certain catholicity
of cultural temperament.

Tartars and Swedes had laid waste [to] the country; the Austrians had stripped the
Old Town of its fortifications and walls (Kraków); occupying powers of varying degrees of
ferocity had displaced the kings and queens of Poland from the royal castle,
atop the “Polish Zion.”
Now, on September 1, 1939, Wawel Cathedral was about to experience something beyond the
imagining of those who had worshiped beneath its gothic vault for centuries.

Poland, as a nation, has been erased numerous times from the known geographical
maps of human history.
Meaning, she was eliminated as a nation…
absorbed by her greedy neighbors on more than one occasion…
actually being erased for over 100 years from any historical map.
Yet the Polish people and their spirit as a unified people, has always remained.

Weigel notes “Poland is not always appreciated this way.
Indeed, the suspicion seems widespread that the Poles
must, for some reason or other, deserve their bad luck.
Yet Poland’s curse is neither in the stars nor in the Polish people.
It’s the neighborhood.”

“For more than a thousand years, the Polish people and their state have inhabited an enormous
flat plain bounded by large, aggressive, materially superior neighbors.
…The Germans were always to the west, and almost always aggressive.
German-Polish enmity followed and peaked in World War II,
when the Nazis sought to eradicate the Polish nation from history.

World War II, which the Poles sometimes describe as the war they lost twice,
was an unmitigated disaster for Poland.
Six million of its citizens our of a prewar population of 35 million,
were killed in combat or murdered– a mortality rate of eighteen percent.
The nation was physically decimated.
Poland became the site of the greatest slaughters of the Holocaust.
And, at the end, another totalitarian power seized control of Poland’s political future.

Karol Wojtyla, the future pope, would live under and eventually be formed by
these two occupying and oppressive regimes–two regimes that would each lend an
unknown hand to the building of a formidable world leader and in turn their own
nemesis and foe.

According to Wikipedia:
On 16 October 1978, Poland experienced what many Poles literally believed to
be a miracle.
Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, the archbishop of Kraków, was elected pope at the Vatican,
taking the name John Paul II. The election of a Polish Pope had an electrifying
effect on what was at that time one of the last idiosyncratically
Catholic countries in Europe.
When John Paul toured Poland in June 1979, half a million people came to welcome
him in Warsaw; in the next eight days, about ten million Poles attended the
many outdoor masses he celebrated.
John Paul clearly became the most important person in Poland, leaving the regime
not so much opposed as ignored. Rather than calling for rebellion,
John Paul encouraged the creation of an “alternative Poland” of social
institutions independent of the government, so that when the next crisis came,
the nation would present a united front.

On 27 October 1991, the first (since the 1920s) entirely free Polish parliamentary
election took place.
This completed Poland’s transition from a communist party rule to a Western-style liberal
democratic political system.

And so despite the centuries of war, siege, occupation, death, murder, and even obliteration…
Poland has remained…just as she continues to remain.

And so we are fortunate in that we, as a world, may watch as a one-time warring
and occupying nation sincerely offers a very humble and visceral apology.
Words that cannot erase the pain, suffering, loss or unfathomable human tragedy…
but words offered by a nation who can admit to the sins of her past…
which in turn now offer hope to a renewed future for us all.

Forgiveness, Hope and Healing—all offered to a very troubled and very needing world…

We continue to hold on to Hope…

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander,
along with every form of malice.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other,
just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:31-32