May 8, 2015

The Wisdom of God (2 of 4)

2. Churches that Bear the Name of Hagia Sophia

Because the Wisdom of God is Christ, the pre-incarnate Word of the Old Testament and the incarnate Word of the New Testament, this is why Christians built Sacred Temples to honor the Wisdom of God, calling them "Hagia Sophia" or "Holy Wisdom". This was not a female Martyr or Ascetic named Sophia, but Christ who is the Word of the Father.

George Florovsky writes that the first Temple in Constantinople dedicated to Hagia Sophia, was probably designed by Constantine the Great himself, but the building of it took place later and was completed and inaugurated in the year 360. It is not exactly known when this Temple was first given the name of Hagia Sophia. Yet this first Temple of Hagia Sophia subsequently became the largest Temple under Justinian.

We must not forget that after the First Ecumenical Synod, which faced the heresy of Arius and showed that the Word of God was "light of light, true God of true God, begotten not created, of one essence with the Father through Whom all things were made," it was natural to build a Temple in the name of God's Wisdom as the center of the capital of the new State, to confess in practice the faith expressed in the doctrines of the First Ecumenical Synod.

Constantinople was dedicated to the Theotokos, as we chant in the known Kontakion: "To you, the Champion Leader, we your servants ascribe victory and offer thanksgiving as ones rescued out of sufferings, O Theotokos...". In the center of the city was the Temple of the Wisdom of God. This dedication is as if an icon of the Panagia holding Christ in her arms was depicted over the City.

In a text of the Holy Community of Mount Athos titled "The Holy Mountain and the Education of our Race," it says the following about the Temple of Hagia Sophia: "Christ is the center of our life, and the center of a society is the church. The center of our nation is entirely Hagia Sophia, Christ's great church. When the empire existed, it was from Hagia Sophia that they counted the distances of each city and country in the ecumene. The Church is our Mother. All of our lives originate from it, are sheltered by it, and blessed by it. When the City fell, the Church did not fall. This is what upheld our nation, our lives and our courage. This took care of our people as a hen does its chicks. Our hearts and our cultural icon is Hagia Sophia, which is not an idol or threat to anyone, but it is a blessing for the world. The City may have fallen, the mosaics of Chora Monastery may have detached, the holy springs dishonored, and the Great Church transformed into a mosque and museum, but something is not falling, not detaching, not being dishonored. Hagia Sophia is in operation. The Church lives. Every chapel, every Liturgy, every believer is an Hagia Sophia."

It is important that the way they built the Temple of Hagia Sophia shows, among other things, the divinity of Christ, the light of divine glory. Everyone who deals with the interpretation of the Temple of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople emphasize the light that showers throughout the Sacred Temple, since the architects Anthemios and Isidore wanted to depict the uncreated Light that comes from Christ, who is the Wisdom and Word of God. Just as the body of Christ, in the Transfiguration, was completely illuminated with the light of His divinity, so is Hagia Sophia illumined with the light of the sun.

Professor Constantine Kalokyris notes: "The glaring light, which eternally invades through the windows (of which there are a hundred), 'the presence of so much light' (Procopius) illuminates the space and contributes to the impression of the dematerialization and transmutation of all things. In this impression an important contribution is in the colored marbles, the columns and the marble tiles, the walls and pillars, the gold, the mosaics, the domes and arches, as well as the penetrating sculptural decoration of the metopes, the capitals and the cornice, which, skillfully applied, concentrates the attention of how light and shadows play, and thus it is not noticed how the capitals and arches operate, which bear the weight of the colonnades."

Alexander Massavetas observes that "in Hagia Sophia the duo (Anthemios and Isidore) took part in one unprecedented three-dimensional geometry experiment, creating what Ernest Mamboury describes as 'a scientific and courageous wonder.'" For the interior of Hagia Sophia, he writes: "The beauty of the interior of Hagia Sophia charmed everyone who had the chance to see it before its Islamization. It continues to amaze, despite the passing of time and the devastations caused by the Crusaders and Ottomans. As soon as you enter the central nave, above you opens a huge space, where everything is curved and light."

The dome of Hagia Sophia has much beauty and great importance: "The huge dome, fifty-five meters high, symbolizes the Pantocrator who embraces creation and is the main element of the composition. It leaves the impression that it hangs in the air. A gentle composition of air and light dominates, and the building does not feel like it oppresses you, to annihilate you. You feel like something is elevating you, how you are going to fly the way it is. For Procopius, the dome of Hagia Sophia is like the sun above the earth."

Besides the light that comes from the dome of Hagia Sophia, it is closely linked with the marble and mosaics as if it is coming from within the building. He writes: "The trick of the lighting is it turns the mass into something ethereal. The marbles become color and light. Initially, the windows did not have glass, but thin onyx panes, that 'painted' the light gold when it penetrated through. Procopius observed: 'The space is not illuminated by the sun from the outside, but the radiance is generated within, so great an abundance of light bathes this shrine all around.' Thousands of candles and oil lamps were used in the illumination. Faced with this spectacle, says the Chronicle of the Russian monk Nestor, the envoys of Vladimir, prince of Kiev, thought they were in Paradise.

In Hagia Sophia, the primary element of the interior decoration were the thirty million gold mosaics that covered the upper part of the wall, where the revetment and ceiling stopped. And the light, painted gold by the onyx of the windows, fell on them, giving a golden glow that flooded the area, making the marbles twinkle."

Of course, this amazing spectacle of light has been largely lost today, after the two "rapes" Hagia Sophia suffered, by the Crusaders in 1204 and the Ottomans in 1453, as well as by successive earthquakes. "The bulk of the gold mosaics are lost. They were replaced with paint in the Ottoman period, mimicking the gold colors and floral patterns that preexisted on the mosaics. The space today is more like the corpse of a desecrated culture than the aesthetic miracle it was."

Through this same perspective of the association between light and the Temple of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople does the painter George Kordis observe it. The light that comes from the dome of the Temple illuminates the entire internal space, "entering quietly from the roof, from the crown of the windows of the dome, and the building is glorified, the material is glorified, and it brings heaven to earth." The building shows "how heaven is grounded for the material to soar in turn. That is, the movement is not singular but bidirectional, and this is what makes this church truly Christian and Orthodox. Because if it only reflected the soaring of the material, then the building would have been a hymn to the ecstatic and immaterial spirit. It would have been a call to abolish the material and for man to be ecstatic towards the space of the spirit which could be considered contrary to matter. But Hagia Sophia proclaims the greatest and most important thing. How Heaven, the Uncreated, the Word descends quietly, peacefully, modestly and takes back with Him forever the created, the earthly, the human."

Further on he writes about the light that flooded Hagia Sophia: "When one observes Hagia Sophia from the inside they see the dome descend through a system of arches to the ground. The uncreated light reaches till the bowels of the earth. And then it rises again within the light that fills the space and activates everything making all things light. And it succeeds in this with the form of the architecture as well as through the system of marble revetments which is elaborately structured like a shiver that permeates the walls and gives energy everywhere and at all points. The marbles are not a decoration here. It's a chromatic structure that Cezanne himself would envy. It counters hot and cold colors, and counters fixed and moving surfaces. The nerves of the marbles become waving and lifted and begging and clapping and cheering and glorifying and united hands. Above all it unites what were formerly separated elements in this world, so that nothing in the Church is foreign or alien, that does not participate in the heavenly feast, in the Kingdom of God, in the brightness of Hagia Sophia.

The achievement is even greater because it is rational and why this is done is a lesson and example. It is not an achievement of the moment that is individual and delirious, it is not simply a cry out for speaking in tongues. It talks about how the Word became man. Hagia Sophia is theology, and says through a tongue of stone how He became and saved man, and says through the hands of marble how that which is greatly sought after, that can save the world, is not individual happiness, good times, the dream of a good life, but that which unites all things. This is enshrined in Hagia Sophia and for this reason it is a grand and miraculous discourse on God, a theology that speaks to the senses of soul and body."

Haralambos Stathakis in one of his books titled The Holy Wisdom of God: the Secret Light of the Great Church and its Architectural Garment, writes that with his repeated visits to Hagia Sophia he tried to observe this light that shines in the inner church, which the architects managed to illuminate. As he passed through the Imperial Gate he describes the spectacle he saw, seeing in front of him the interior space of the Sacred Temple. He writes: "In front of you spreads a huge open space. Everything in there is bathed in a strange, bright, golden, secret light. It seems to come from countless windows, situated on flat and curved surfaces, from walls that are not walls but bright curtains enclosing a luminous entity. Eyes automatically pass through this mass of light and turn towards the enormous dome, thirty-one meters in diameter, with its forty windows at the base. The dome appears to be the beginning and the culmination of this strange light. And the light appears as if it is hanging on high, from the dome, with a torrential glow, a gladsome space and pleasant sunset, not vast and distant, but intimate and human."

Elsewhere he writes that Hagia Sophia, in addition to the columns and pieces of marble, "is built with bricks." All the bricks are sealed with a stamp with prayers for the stabilization of the church. In order to construct the dome the bricks had to be light in weight, constructed much as we do it today. "They made these lightweight bricks in Rhodes, one-fifth the normal weight, or according to others one-twelfth, and with the same they hoisted the four large arches." Bricks were tied together very tightly, "because the lime was kneaded with oil instead of water in order for the church to be more resistant to rain and so moisture does not pass inside... Thus, only the foundations are made of stone and all of Hagia Sophia is built by bricks. Neither stone, nor precious materials. Baked soil is organized into architectural members, which in turn will organize and transform sunlight inside the church. There the material transformed by light, will in turn transform earthly matter and make it weightless and transparent... I enter the main nave. I see the same light shining, singularly hanging from the dome until the level of the lower columns, suspended with joy."

Elsewhere he writes: "I feel that it is not the temple or the wall that created the light, but that the light created the temple." "The dome seems to float above the building, between heaven and earth, bright." "I understand that the light coming through the forty windows of the dome, as it descends downward faintly, becomes strengthened and reinforced by the light that comes from the twenty-four windows north and south of the semicircular wall." And the light coming from the western large window meets with the light coming from the windows of the semicircular wall, and so the inside of the temple is illuminated and becomes as light.

Within the Temple of Hagia Sophia we see how the light plays and its power. This light as it was arranged by the architects of Hagia Sophia to flood the Temple, to descend from the dome and meet the light coming from the windows in the west, north and south of the Sacred Temple, reveals that Christ, the Wisdom of God, is the gladsome Light of the world. This Light illumines the world and fills it with His presence. It shows the purpose of our existence, which is to be illumined with the Light of Christ and to be made wise by the Wisdom of God.

What is written in the text of the Holy Community of Mount Athos that we cited earlier about Hagia Sophia is remarkable and of great value:

"Entering Hagia Sophia you feel with all of your existence what 'new creation' means, and you remain motionless. All the descriptions you heard disappear, just as stars disappear when the sun rises. You become a witness of the mystery of the Incarnation of God the Word, the Resurrection, the Ascension and the Second Coming.

You are brought into another world. Something majestic, celestial, infinite and simultaneously warm, human and familiar. You see how something huge, heavy and unbearable can be lifted up, be ascended and become heavenly while remaining on earth. It is a heavenly vision with a physical infrastructure that brightens your being. It is not an illusion that earth became heaven, but an historical event. Here it is confirmed how the Panagia is 'she who brought to the earth our heavenly bread.' Here you are face to face. You are able to read architecturally the dogma of the Synod of Chalcedon. You listen in the absolute silence of the heavenly dome the Divine Liturgy. You are in the heart of Church history, the mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection, and in the heart of the history of our Nation and the human race, inside the new creation where the moment encounters eternity, the created the uncreated.

You understand why the representatives of Vladimir of Russia, when they entered here, remained speechless. They were unable to visit another land for another religion, there was no room for discussion. Here, they said, is heaven on earth. Discussions took place before this miracle happened. When this took place, then the curtain of silence opened another world. This temple does not belong to only one nation, but it saves the world. It is not a technical feat, but a theological achievement, a heavenly gift, and a tangible testimony of the philanthropy of God who 'bent the heavens and came down.'

The vigil lamp of grace does not disappear from Hagia Sophia, whether it becomes a mosque or a museum. It will not be destroyed, even if it is turned to dust. It perpetually officiates the mystery of the incarnation of the Wisdom of God. 'Behold, the secret sacrifice which has been perfected is upborne. Let us draw near with faith and longing, and become communicants of life eternal.' The Word is incarnated. The dogma of Chalcedon is formulated. Hagia Sophia is built. The Liturgy of the universal salvation of the world is officiated. This is the axis of our history."

However, this majestic Temple of Hagia Sophia became a model for the construction and naming of similar Temples, of a smaller size of course, in many parts of the Roman Empire of Byzantium. I would like to mention a few.

There is the Temple of Hagia Sophia in Thessaloniki, which is legendary. Some argue that this Temple was built at the same time as Hagia Sophia in Constantinople during the reign of Justinian (527-565), and even designed by the same architect, Anthemios. Of course, the prevailing opinion is that the Temple was built in the last quarter of the eighth century on preexisting "royal" foundations. The fact, however, is that the Temple was built in honor of Christ who is the Wisdom of God and it has many features in common with the Temple of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.

I would also like to mention the Temple of Hagia Sophia in Kiev, a famous building and rival of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, built in the eleventh century. There is also the Temple of Hagia Sophia in Bulgaria, which was built in the twelfth century, and is located in the city of Sofia, which was named after the Temple.

Within this perspective, the Temple of Hagia Sophia which has been constructed here in Cyprus, which is majestic, shows that you are a continuation of the Christian Roman Empire, that you want to stick to the cultural tradition that Hagia Sophia expresses, and above all you want to be united with the Wisdom of God, Christ, and to be showered in His uncreated Light.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos