May is the month of Constantine the Great, and his city Constantinople. On May 11th we commemorate the inauguration of Constantinople by Constantine the Great in 330, on May 21st we remember Saint Constantine the Great as a God-crowned king and equal of the Apostles together with his mother Helen, and on May 29th we experience the pain of the fall of Constantinople in 1453.
The City of Constantinople "has fallen", according to the lament of the fall, and the royal throne of the Romans is gone, but its soul, known as Romiosini, is a sacred relic that has been divided throughout the world as a source of inspiration for Orthodox Christians. Romiosini is the inherited culture of Orthodox Christians everywhere, despite the defiance of some who try to present it as something nationalistic, dark or even a dead period of history, even going so far as to change its name (from a Roman Empire to a Byzantine Empire) to erase its remembrance from history and make it elusive, exotic and foreign.
In the hope of restoring the value of the glorious past of Romiosini, and its future not only as a culture but also a lifestyle of Orthodox Christians everywhere, the following lecture by His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou is offered as a small tribute to disseminate the truth. It was delivered at an event honoring the fall of Constantinople at the Diakideio School of Patras in 2002.
By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos
of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou
I have spoken and written many times about the Roman Empire, what we have become accustomed to calling Byzantium, but this is the first time I have spoken about the Tuesday 29th of May 1453 event on the day of the fall of Constantinople and of course in general of the Roman Empire-Byzantium. For this I thank the Diakideio School for organizing this event and His Eminence Metropolitan Nikodemos of Patras who cordially gave me his blessing. I also took responsibility to participate in the Memorial Service for the ever-memorable champions of the heroic resistance who fought with heroic fortitude.
Because this issue is a large one, I intend to speak selectively and in fragments.
1. The Name of the Empire
Before moving on to my views, I would like to highlight that on the 29th of May in 1453 we do not have the fall of Byzantium, but the fall of Constantinople the New Rome. This is important, because there was no Byzantine State, which is a name that only came about in 1562 by Hieronymus Wolff, but it was a Roman State.
I have come to know from many studies, especially here in Greece where we have been benefited by the late Professor Fr. John Romanides and Professor Fr. George Metallinos as well as other scholars, that the name Byzantium and Byzantine State came about a century after the fall of the Empire and its capital Constantinople. It is known that Constantine the Great did not establish a new Empire, but he moved the capital of the Empire from Rome to the ancient city of Byzantium, and he changed the name to New Rome, while later it came to be known as Constantinople in honor of its founder. The capital was moved just as it was moved here in Greece when the Greek Nation was born, the first capital being in Nafplio and then it was moved to Athens.
Aside from what has been said by the aforementioned professors, I wanted to mention a recent book by a Byzantinist who is a Professor at Oxford, Mr. Cyril Mango, titled Byzantium: The Empire of New Rome, in which he says among other things: "As for the name 'Byzantine' serious objections can be formulated (and have been formulated) to its suitability. However, because the term has nonetheless prevailed, it would be an indication of scholasticism to reject it, as long as we agree that the use is merely conventional. In reality of course there was never a 'Byzantine Empire'. There was a Roman State centered in Constantinople. Its inhabitants called themselves 'Romans' or simply 'Christians', and their country was 'Romania'."
Of course, as is known, on the eve of the fall of Romania-Byzantium, it was not the ancient great Empire with its vast territories, but only the city of Constantinople and its surrounding regions, with few residents and fighters, since all of Asia Minor and Eastern Thrace were overcome by the Ottomans. A century prior, on 2 March 1345, the Ottomans set foot in Gallipoli in Thrace for the first time.
2. An Unlucky and Glorious Day
The fall of Constantinople has remained within our legends and traditions, and May 29th is especially considered to be an unlucky day. It is one of the most tragic events in our history. May 29th is indeed the boundary between glorious Romiosini and pained Romiosini. Romiosini has survived after the fall of Romania, but in a different form. No one knows which form is best.
The fact is that the Roman Empire created a civilization which flourished, especially as the Empire was being driven towards its end, or rather its perfection, and this civilization survived after the fall and remains until today. Until the fall of Constantinople, Romiosini operated in a cataphatic dimension, while after the fall Romiosini operated and flourished on an apophatic dimension, since despite its difficulties it showed forth its Neomartyrs, who "renewed the martyrology" according to Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, namely the martyric spirit of the Orthodox Church.
It could be stated that until 1453 the Orthodox Church showed forth a spirit of confession, since it established Orthodox teachings, as well as establishing a martyric and hesychastic spirit. Indeed, as it has been observed, hesychasm, which is the fifth-essence of the Orthodox teaching, developed even more towards the end of the Empire and it is what preserved the Orthodox Church alive and dynamic during the Turkish occupation, and this is what enlivened the entire enslaved race and showed forth, as stated earlier, the martyrs and confessors of the faith.
The late Fr. John Romanides, whose love for the Roman Empire, the so-called Byzantium, is a given, referring to the fall of Constantinople and facing the charges of some that the fall was aided by monks, said in one of his oral speeches: "Medical science is one thing and politics another, and there is no connection between them. Of course, the physicians [clergy and monastics] fell on their faces to save the Empire, but the Empire had reached such a point that it could not be saved. However, the medical science was saved. And it was kept all the years of Turkish domination."
This means that the Orthodox Faith, which was the foundation of Byzantium, was the science of human therapy. This Faith has therapeutic effects and it became the chief policy of the Roman Empire. But when this civilization was lost the therapy was not lost. Thus, as the late Fr. John said elsewhere, the 29th of May may be considered unlucky because the remaining Empire was abolished, but it can also be considered a day of Orthodoxy, because the Orthodox Faith was liberated from its secular impurities and it preserved the hesychast tradition.
Everything that follows will be in light of this point.
Translated by John Sanidopoulos.