As Greek Orthodox Christians at this time we draw strength from our faith in Jesus Christ and his most glorious resurrection and victory over death. Throughout the course of our history, we Greek Orthodox have been deprived of our formerly Orthodox lands and Churches, including that of the most holy Aghia Sophia built by Emperor-Saint Justinian in 537 AD. Now we are deprived of liturgy as a result of the virus. For myself, I accepted this grudgingly and with profound concern over the future of religious freedom. With regard to the virus itself, we appeal to God himself to help us through this time of crisis, and also appeal with our prayers to the Angels and the Saints to assist us in this time of distress.
I have been looking to Saint Justinian the Great in particular at this time. The Great Justinian is on the Church calendar as a Saint. Justinian the Great has his low moments in history (brute force was ordered by the Emperor against rioters and anarchists following the chariot races which resulted in the burning of the earlier of Aghia Sophia). Regardless,
Justinian was a man of enormous piety who presided over the Aghia Sophia that we have all come to know and love. He also presided over the construction of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery on Sinai (later renamed for Saint Catherine the
Martyr when her relics were discovered there). Justinian was the defender of Orthodoxy and presided over the Fifth Ecumenical Council which occurred in Constantinople in 553 AD and which affirmed the decisions of the Fourth Ecumenical Council which declared that Jesus Christ had two natures, human and divine and was both God and
Justinian was faced with an enormous crisis during the sixth century when a plague hit the Byzantine Empire. Using the resources of the Christian government, Saint Justinian, whose reign generally consisted of philanthropy, provided much
support for the afflicted. Justinian developed the theory of ‘symphonia’ (harmony) which defined Church-State relations at the time. It is this model that is the basis for Church-State relations in contemporary Orthodox Countries. For example,
Russia today exercises the concept of symphonia as can be seen by the warm relationship between President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church. The concept of symphonia inspired Justinian and many of his successors to build hospitals and charities as well as churches throughout the Christian empire.
Symphonia is in my opinion a wonderful concept that remains in effect in many ways in Greece (although the secular parties have been gradually chipping away at it in the name of modernism and internationalism). Symphonia is also something that is politically incorrect in our times. This is probably why Russia is so generally loathed by the anti-Christian leftists of modern Europe and America. Justinian the Great is representative of one of the great periods of Church history when emperors with great humility recognized that Jesus Christ was the one true King. Within the narthex of Aghia Sophia the iconography depicts the Most Holy Theotokos holding Jesus on her lap.
On the right is Saint Constantine bowing in reverence and giving his City to the Lord, while on the left Saint Justinian, bowing, holds the Church of Aghia Sophia in his hands which is his gift to Jesus Christ.
What a remarkable difference in history. Emperors and heads of State glorified God and built cathedrals and monasteries for His glory. Today, perhaps only in Russia and Hungary do the leaders of Government proudly defend Christianity and refuse to bow to the dictates of secularism. Russia went to war in Syria to stop the extermination of Christians and Hungary has publicly and vocally championed the cause of Middle Eastern Christians.
In the West today, we have a society becoming not only secularized but undergoing a process of paganization. Take for instance, the Democratic Party in America. One former Presidential Candidate bragged that he would strip churches of
their tax exempt status if they refused to perform homosexual weddings, and another candidate talked about the need for abortions for ‘men’ (i.e. women who have changed their gender). One Governor openly supported infanticide in 2019 by suggesting that infants who SURVIVED abortion could be permitted to die pending the decision of mother and doctor.
And of course there are now people who believe there are many different genders and that in fact one can raise children to be ‘gender neutral’.
The pagans have returned. One must wonder when they will come for our churches. At this time of the year I remember the Fall of Constantinople which occurred on May 29, 1453. Emperor Constantine XI Paleologos declined all pleas to go into exile and fell in battle against the Turkish infidels on that dreadful black Tuesday. We lost many, many lives, we lost
many churches and monasteries. We lost Aghia Sophia, Saint Justinian's Great Church. We must always appreciate our freedom, especially religious freedom.
Five years ago when I was in Paris I visited UNESCO headquarters and met with the UNESCO Chief of Europe and North America. My purpose was to raise the issue of Aghia Sophia which the Erdogan Government in Turkey and his supporters were planning to turn into a Mosque. One of the points I made was that Aghia Sophia was the vision of Saint Justinian who I emphasized was a Saint in the Greek Orthodox Church. Saint Justinian's Church, not Erdogan's.
May this wonderful saint, theologian, statesman, and devoted servant of God hear our prayers during this crisis.
CHRISTOS ANESTI! May the power of our Risen Lord grant healing to suffering humanity.