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Guest Viewpoints

The Ontology of Aghia Sophia and the Hubris of the Secular Power in Turkey

August 18, 2020
By Dr. Polyvia Parara

Christianity, Hellenism, and the world are deeply concerned by the conversion of Aghia Sophia into a mosque following the decision of the secular power in Turkey. One of the many questions that this decision brings up is whether any secular power can issue decrees for matters that set upon the divine. By trying to subjugate a divine domain, the secular ruler assails to a sphere that surpasses his power.

In Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone, the Greeks examined this question and Sophocles concluded that the unwritten divine order should not be offended. In the Greek tragedy, the secular ruler, Creon, decreed that the dead body of prince Polynices is to be left unburied, prey for the dogs and the vultures. Blinded by arrogance, the ruler of Thebes was not able to see that he was decreeing beyond his realm and that he was violating the divine order. It was only when his entire world collapsed that he realized his hubris.

The limits of hubris are not visible to mortals. Avoiding the transgression of the limits of moderation requires knowledge, wisdom, and ethics. These also are the preconditions for the prosperity of individuals and societies. Their combined possession can prevent people from committing abusive actions. When they fail to do so, then their downfall is inevitable. And this applies to the conversion of Aghia Sophia into a mosque.

What is the ontology of Aghia Sophia? What is its substance? The Byzantine patriarchal cathedral of the Holy Wisdom of God, Aghia Sophia, is a Greek Orthodox church that belongs to Christianity. Aghia Sophia has been conveying the Word (Logos) of the Christian God to the world for one thousand four hundred and eighty-three years. Aghia Sophia embodies God’s Logos, the essence of Christianity. Can a modern "Creon" despise this universal substance of Aghia Sophia and convert the Orthodox Christian faith establishment into an Islamic space of worship? The Turkish ruler believes that he has the power to assail Aghia Sophia. However, those who have knowledge and wisdom and ethics feel pity and fear for this hubristic individual, and they expect the inevitable restoration of the order, the catharsis.

The modern "Creon" seems to have no knowledge of what a Christian church is. Probably he does not know that the Christian church symbolizes the Christian universe. Each of its architectural parts describes the Christian religion. Indicatively, constructed in 532-537 AD, the dome of Aghia Sophia symbolizes heaven with God united with the faithful on earth. The floor of the church is the space for the Christians on earth. The apse of the Holy Preparation (Prothesis) symbolizes the Cave of the Nativity of the Lord. And every other architectural part in the church carries the semiology of the Orthodox Christian faith. Is it not an act of ignorance to convert an Orthodox Christian church into a mosque? Is it not an absurdity to despise its ontology, its substance?

But the modern "Creon" does not possess the wisdom to understand the importance of moderation. He fantasizes about his absolute power over everything that exists in his territory. Driven by arrogance, he decides to give the temple of the Christian God to another God of his own. Similarly, he fantasizes about his autocratic political power by imprisoning and persecuting his compatriots with immeasurable cruelty, because they do not agree with him. What an ill-disposed view for a mortal to believe he can dominate the intangible, the soul of people.

But the modern "Creon" does not even have the ethics to respect the sanctuaries and saints of other people. He does not possess modesty and awe towards the history of civilizations and cultures. Can the Turkish ruler read in the precinct of Aghia Sophia the Greek inscription of the fountain ΝΙΨΟΝΑΝΟΜΗΜΑΤΑΜΗΜΟΝΑΝΟΨΙΝ, "wash your sins and not only your face"? Do those who invade Aghia Sophia understand the meaning of this Greek inscription?

An individual raised with the values of humanism and Hellenism understands all the above because they are part of his identity. Also, an Orthodox Christian would never even think to enter a mosque to worship the Virgin Mary and the Lord. Finally, believing in freedom and democracy the western world has to demonstrate its aversion to the conversion of Aghia Sophia into a mosque. Autocratic power breeds hubris, it generates destructive actions, and it leads to its inescapable downfall.

Dr. Polyvia Parara is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Hellenic Studies at University of Maryland College Park.

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