Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mid-Pentecost and Hagia Sophia


By John Sanidopoulos

The Great Church of the Holy Wisdom, or Hagia Sophia, built by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century, was dedicated to the Wisdom of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, and celebrated its feast on Mid-Pentecost, which falls on the Wednesday after the Sunday of the Paralytic, 25 days after Pascha. It was by far the largest and most splendid temple in all of Christendom. It's beauty and splendor was so magnificent, that it even had the power to inspire the Russian envoys which led to the conversion of the Slavic people.

According to The Russian Primary Chronicle, the envoys of the Kievan prince Vladimir, after investigating the Jews, Muslims and the Germans with disappointment, visited Hagia Sophia in 987, and reported:

“We knew not whether we were on heaven or earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss to describe it. We only know that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations. For we cannot forget that beauty. Every man, after tasting something sweet, is afterward unwilling to accept that which is bitter, and therefore we cannot dwell longer here."

Because Hagia Sophia was dedicated to the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ, the Word and Wisdom of God, initially its celebration took place on Christmas, which was also near the day of its initial inauguration (December 27, 537) and then the inauguration of the second dome after the collapse of the first (December 24, 563). The inauguration of Hagia Sophia was annually celebrated on December 23rd, according to the Synaxarion. However, recent studies have shown that the proper feast day for all churches dedicated to the Wisdom of God should be Mid-Pentecost, and the hymnography of the Church for this feast seems to indicate this was the case many centuries ago.

One need only read chapter 26 of the book titled On the Order of the Palace by Emperor Constantine Porphyrogennetos to read a detailed description how the feast of Mid-Pentecost was gloriously celebrated with Roman splendor until the year 903 in Constantinople. On the morning of the feast the emperor wore his special imperial garments and processed with his escorts from the sacred palace to the Church of Saint Mokios, where he was met by the Patriarch and the Divine Liturgy was celebrated. The former greatness of this feast can be clearly seen in the brilliant hymns still chanted for this feast, which lasted eight days in Roman times.

On 11 May 903, the anniversary of the founding of Constantinople (A.D. 324) and Wednesday of Mid-Pentecost, Emperor Leo VI the Wise (867-912) took part in the procession to the Church of Saint Mokios. En route, Leo was seriously attacked although a candle-bearer cushioned the direct blow to the head. Despite the narrow escape, he decided that in the future the Emperor would no longer go to Saint Mokios for Mid-Pentecost. This meant a decrease in the prestige of the church and a blow to its financial resources. The monk Mark, oikonomos of Saint Mokios, asked for an audience with Leo to convince him that the attack and its fortunate outcome were the fulfillment of a prophecy announced in Psalm 73:3-4 ("Lift up Thine hands against their pride continually; because of all that the enemy has done wickedly in Thy holy places. And they that hate Thee have boasted in the midst of Thy feast.").

It is assumed that after this assassination attempt, the ceremony began to take place in the Church of Hagia Sophia. The mosaic of Leo VI the Wise in Hagia Sophia seems to indicate this, where it depicts the emperor bowing before Christ, the Word and Wisdom of God, and on either side of Christ enthroned are two icons, one of the Theotokos and the other of the Angel of Great Counsel from the Old Testament. This Angel of Great Counsel is none other than the Wisdom of God, the pre-incarnate Christ. "Give me the wisdom that sits by Thy throne, and do not reject me from among Thy servants" (Wisdom of Solomon 9:4).


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