May 28, 2015

The Eve of the Fall of Constantinople

Fresco depicting the fall of Constantinople

By Photios Kontoglou

Just as the saints are tortured, and their martyrdom finally ends with death, receiving the crown of incorruptibility, so also the Holy City, the New Zion of Christendom, having been tortured, it wept, hurt by all sorts of tyrannies, and the day came for it to surrender its spirit. The Holy Ark, the Twelve-Walled City, fell covered in blood on 29 May 1453, like the venerable mother of the Maccabees.

What chisel can write with blood, to record the grief and pain endured by those found in that thousand year old and revered civilization, which was, in the mournful words of King Constantine Palaiologos, "the hope and joy of all Greeks, the boast of all those under the setting sun of the east," and now was as a withered flower!

On the last day, Monday the 28th of May, the king, that tormented Constantine, commanded for them to do a litany, lest God take pity and have mercy on Christendom. The king, the bishops, the priests and all the people, with icons, with processional images of the six-winged angels, with incense, circled all the castles, chanting and shouting out with tears: "Lord have mercy!"

On that same day, at night, the king gathered all the officers and elders, and delivered a speech to them, which made even the stones crack hearing his mournful voice. "When the unfortunate Romans heard these things, their hearts were made like lions, and they forgave one another seeking reconciliation, and after weeping they embraced. Who can describe the weeping and laments of those in the palace? Even if someone was made of wood or stone, it would be impossible for them to not lament"(George Sphrantzes).

From the book Pained Romiosini. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

Emperor Constantine Palaiologos with George Sphrantzes as depicted by Photios Kontoglou

The Last Speech of Emperor Constantine Palaiologos

(as it was recorded by Leonardo of Chios)

Gentlemen, illustrious captains of the army, and our most Christian comrades in arms: we now see the hour of battle approaching. I have therefore elected to assemble you here to make it clear that you must stand together with firmer resolution than ever. You have always fought with glory against the enemies of Christ. Now the defense of your fatherland and of the city known the world over, which the infidel and evil Turks have been besieging for two and fifty days, is committed to your lofty spirits.

Be not afraid because its walls have been worn down by the enemy’s battering. For your strength lies in the protection of God and you must show it with your arms quivering and your swords brandished against the enemy. I know that this undisciplined mob will, as is their custom, rush upon you with loud cries and ceaseless volleys of arrows. These will do you no bodily harm, for I see that you are well covered in armor. They will strike the walls, our breastplates and our shields. So do not imitate the Romans who, when the Carthaginians went into battle against them, allowed their cavalry to be terrified by the fearsome sight and sound of elephants.

In this battle you must stand firm and have no fear, no thought of flight, but be inspired to resist with ever more herculean strength. Animals may run away from animals. But you are men, men of stout heart, and you will hold at bay these dumb brutes, thrusting your spears and swords into them, so that they will know that they are fighting not against their own kind but against the masters of animals.

You are aware that the impious and infidel enemy has disturbed the peace unjustly. He has violated the oath and treaty that he made with us; he has slaughtered our farmers at harvest time; he has erected a fortress on the Propontis as it were to devour the Christians; he has encircled Galata under a pretense of peace.

Now he threatens to capture the city of Constantine the Great, your fatherland, the place of ready refuge for all Christians, the guardian of all Greeks, and to profane its holy shrines of God by turning them into stables for his horses. Oh my lords, my brothers, my sons, the everlasting honor of Christians is in your hands.

You men of Genoa, men of courage and famous for your infinite victories, you who have always protected this city, your mother, in many a conflict with the Turks, show now your prowess and your aggressive spirit toward them with manly vigor.

You men of Venice, most valiant heroes, whose swords have many a time made Turkish blood to flow and who in our time have sent so many ships, so many infidel souls to the depths under the command of Loredano, the most excellent captain of our fleet, you who have adorned this city as if it were your own with fine, outstanding men, lift high your spirits now for battle.

You, my comrades in arms, obey the commands of your leaders in the knowledge that this is the day of your glory — a day on which, if you shed but a drop of blood, you will win for yourselves crowns of martyrdom and eternal fame.