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Guest Viewpoints

One Year since Aghia Sophia Was Converted into a Mosque

July 31, 2021
By Calliopi G. Bertos

It is difficult to believe that one year has gone by since Erdogan decided to convert the Holy Shrine of the Wisdom of God in Constantinople into a mosque.

The Great Church of the Wisdom of God, ΑΓΊΑ ΣΟΦΊΑ has probably been on the minds of most Greeks worldwide during the last week.

With great sadness, Orthodox faithful have witnessed its conversion into a mosque and the seeming indifference of the media, governments, as well as individuals. 

Upon contemplating the reasons behind this apathy, I have come up with my own analysis.

First of all, people do not study history. Well … perhaps they study it, but they fail to see how to correlate past events to current ones.

Yet another reason, the West has generally shunned Byzantine History. A thousand-year old time period of significant stature has been reduced to a few paragraphs in most Western Civilization textbooks! A shocking discovery for me when I was a college student, indeed. The truth of the matter is that the Eastern Roman Empire also known as Byzantium was thriving while the rest of Europe was dipped in the Dark Ages.

Moreover, the flourishing of letters in the West known as the Renaissance was a direct result of the expulsion of the educated Greek elite into Italy both during the Crusades (1204 AD) and after the fall of the City (1453 AD). Great intellectuals such as Ioannis Argyropoulos, Georgios Gemistos, Demetrios Chalkokondylis, and Manuel Chrysoloras, among many others reintroduced the classics and philosophy to the other Europeans, thus, giving way to the rebirth of appreciation of ancient Greek literature, philosophy, the sciences, and the arts in general.

Hence, Ανθρωπισμός or Humanism became a popular subject of that era.

Moreover, most Orthodox people have never really left Byzantium to the pages of long-lost history books; they live it intensely through their attendance in the church. Going to church in the Orthodox world is not only a deeply spiritual experience, but it is akin to reliving Byzantium in all its splendor and glory.

And then there are legends which every Greek child has heard, such as the story of the Marbled King, ‘Μαρμαρωμένος Βασιλιάς’ and the location of the Red Apple Tree, ‘Κόκκινη Μηλιά’ – both intertwined with the myth that one Day the City (Η Πόλη) will once again be freed by the marbled monarch a.k.a. Konstantinos Paleologos, or Konstantinos XI, the last reigning emperor of the Byzantine Empire.

As a religious leader in Greece once declared, Αγία Σοφία is the “Parthenon of Byzantium." In the minds of Greeks and all our Orthodox brothers and sisters, turning this church into a Mosque is an act of irreverence and insult.

Aghia Sophia was not built by the Ottoman Turks, but was one of its most significant spoils of war as the current Archbishop of America, His Eminence Elpidophoros, so rightfully stated recently.

For Christendom, however, it is a testament of man's adoration for God's brilliant Wisdom, a structure paying homage to Our Lord Jesus Christ's omniscience and greatness.

We Orthodox Christians have a long connection and love for this magnificent Church which has been passed down through the many generations before us.

To us, it is a symbol of religion, history, and identity.

Calliopi G. Bertos is a Professor of Humanities with a specialty in English and Linguistics and teaches at various New Jersey and New York universities. She is a New Jersey resident with roots from the town of Aperi on the Dodecanesian island of Karpathos.

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