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Guest Viewpoints

Neo-Ottoman Turkey Assails Greek Orthodox Christian Churches

September 5, 2020
By Polyvia Parara

In the 16th century, the Ottomans converted Christian churches into mosques. Five centuries later, as a neo-sultan, Erdogan issued decrees that revive the intolerance and religious fanaticism of Ottomanism. Neo-Ottomanism transforms monumental Greek Christian churches located in Constantinople (Istanbul) – world cultural heritage monuments – into mosques, such as the Byzantine cathedral of Aghia Sophia and the Byzantine church of the Savior in the Monastery of Chora. It tries to uproot the thousands-of-years character of Christianity and Hellenism from Constantinople. What insolence and foolishness for a mortal to believe that he can accomplish such a task! Not only because history has already been recorded but because the ontology of the monuments is a testimony to Hellenism by itself.

The learned Byzantine Theodoros Metochites was the one who designed and sponsored the entire iconographic program of the Church of the Holy Savior. The iconographic illustrations describe the presence of the Savior as "Jesus Christ the Chora of the Living" and the Virgin Mary as "The Chora of the Achoreton (The God)." These inscriptions cannot be understood without prior knowledge of the theological background that is behind them.

The term Chora originates in Plato’s Timaeus and means ‘receptacle’. The learned Byzantine benefactor represents and attributes with Greek inscriptions next to the mosaics and to the frescoes the insurmountable power of the Greek language, the only language with the expressive capacity to conceive and express the metaphysical meaning of Christianity: the Virgin Mary is the Chora (She who receives) of the Achoreton (The uncontainable God). And Jesus became the Realm (Chora) of the Living.

Erdogan is also not aware that an orthodox Christian church symbolizes the universe and that every architectural part of the church testifies to Christian doctrine. Therefore, the decrees of the neo-sultan are powerless to affect in the slightest the ontology of the Greek Orthodox Christian church. In its cross-dome architectural design, the faithful who enter the Church of the Holy Savior will worship the Cross that symbolizes the Passion of Jesus. Under its dome, they will worship the God Almighty who unites with the faithful on earth. Kneeling on the floor of the temple they will partake in His fold on earth. By looking at the apse of the Holy Preparation (Prothesis) they will see the Cave of the Nativity of the Lord. And the iconographic program of the church will testify to the miracle of Virgin Mary as the Chora (She who receives the Achoreton, God). And Jesus Christ, as the "the Realm (Chora) of the Living.”

A few weeks ago at the Aghia Sophia, and this week at the Monastery of Chora have seen the new sultan and his faithful pray to Allah in these holy places of Hellenism and Christianity. The Lord of the churches will look at them and repeat: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing." Ottomanism has never understood Hellenism. Although Ottomanism coexisted with Hellenism for centuries, it was never able to be influenced by Hellenism, as was the case for other peoples who understood the value of Hellenism and embedded it in their identities, and then continued their historical process by incorporating what became the foundational principles of liberalism.

By appropriating Hellenism, the West made Hellenism part of its existence, and therefore it bears the responsibility to protect the monuments of western world heritage from any potential risk of their destruction. The danger is real that the neo-sultan may begin to put plaster on the surfaces of these spiritual treasures of humanity. His ancestors did so, and now Erdogan revives sixteenth-century practices. Because an insolent mortal with his ungodly deeds destroys everything around him until his own inescapable fall.

Ancient Greek theater – Erdogan speaks ironically about it – poses the question in Sophocles' Antigone whether an arrogant ruler can issue decrees for matters that encroach upon the divine and attempt to subjugate a divine domain by invading a sphere that surpasses his power. In ancient Greek thought, the deity who confuses the mind of the insolent ruler is called Blind, and when blindness possesses him, while he thinks he sees, in essence, he makes one mistake after another in the darkness of his mind. Erdogan attacks the divine like a new Creon blinded by his arrogance and the delusion of his power: "I will kill her [his niece Antigone] even if she prays to the god Zeus who protects kinship." Eventually, by sentencing Antigone to death, because she offered burial honors to her dead brother, Creon destroys himself and everything he loves and owns, and he collapses. In this insurmountable Sophoclean tragedy, the Greeks assure that the divine order should not be offended and that if a man fails to realize the limits of hubris and transgresses it, his fall is inevitable.

“Arrogance [hubris] gives birth to the tyrant.

It makes him think irrationally,

to pursue vain, useless, and disadvantageous goals.

It elevates him, gives him power and ephemeral glory.

But suddenly and unexpectedly he knocks him down from his fragile pedestal.

By forgetting that they are mortals,

they fight with words and deeds against Justice 

and they will gain a sad end.

The minds of the outlaws have no respect for anything.

They assail the sacred and holy, and they follow the path of their own destruction.”

(Oedipus the King by Sophocles).

Polyvia Parara is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland College Park. pparara@umd.edu

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