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May 9, 2015

The Wisdom of God (3 of 4)

Mosaic in Hagia Sophia of Constantinople depicting Emperor Leo VI prostrate before Christ

3. The Feast of Mid-Pentecost

Now the question is, when do we celebrate the Temple of Hagia Sophia.

Professor Theocharis Detorakis observes that the Temple of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople was dedicated to the Word of God, the Wisdom of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, and was honored on Christmas Day, when the intelligible Sun of Righteousness is celebrated. This is why the Temple is oriented southeast at an angle of 33.7 degrees, because it is from this position that the sun rises during the winter solstice. It is also significant that the inauguration and door-opening ceremonies of the Temple were celebrated around Christmas time. The first inauguration took place on December 27, 537 and the second inauguration after the collapse of the dome took place on December 24, 563.

There was a very ancient custom to celebrate the Sacred Temple every year on the day of its inauguration. From the Synaxarion of the Church we know that the inauguration of the Sacred Temple of Hagia Sophia was celebrated on December 23rd. "On this day (23rd of December) we celebrate the inauguration of the Great Church of Christ, namely Hagia Sophia."

Professor of Byzantine Archaeology Constantine Kalokyris wrote a detailed study titled "The Temples of the Wisdom of God and the Introduction of the Time of their Celebration" and it was subtitled "Christ, the Wisdom". This study was written on the occasion of the celebration of the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Thessaloniki on the day of Pentecost, though while "tracking the related bibliography of the feast" and the related texts dealing with "the Wisdom of God" together with the archaeological site, he "formed the opinion that this feast (and hence the Sacred Temples associated with it) should be concerned exclusively with the Person of Jesus Christ, who is believed by the Church to be 'the Wisdom and Word of God,' and not the Holy Spirit or the Mystery of the Holy Trinity. A connection with these properties of Christ were found to have meaning with the feast of Mid-Pentecost, at which time we believe the Temples to 'the Wisdom of God' should be celebrated."

He claims that after the overthrow of Arianism, in order to extol the Person of Christ as "consubstantial with the Father" and as the "subsistence of all things by the creative Wisdom and Power of God," many Temples were built, especially at the end of the fourth century, dedicated to Christ as "the holy Wisdom of God." He mentions the following Temples: in Constantinople, in Edessa of Mesopotamia (Osroene), in Thessaloniki, in Crete (Panormos), in Sofia of Bulgaria, in Ochrid, in Kiev, in Trebizond, in Mystras, and elsewhere. Indeed, an inscription on the Temple of Hagia Sophia in Mystras says that it is dedicated to the "Word of God the Father of is the Creator of all things."

There is particular emphasis on the ninth century mosaic in the narthex of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople which depicts Christ as Wisdom. Christ is shown to be enthroned as the Wisdom of God and in front of Him "is an emperor lying prostrate." This is believed to be Leo VI who was called "the Wise", and he is asking to be given "authority from the Lord along with the wisdom from on high."

To the right and left of the enthroned Christ are "two medallions" which "depict the Theotokos and a scepter-bearing angel." According to the view of Professor Constantine Kalokyris, these two figures - the Theotokos and the angel - do not resemble the Annunciation, as they do not support each other, but the angel is rather the Angel of Great Counsel from the Old Testament, the Wisdom of God, namely Christ, while the Virgin Theotokos is depicted to indicate that Christ was incarnated from her, from whom "Wisdom-Christ built for Himself a home." Thus, these two figures on either side of Christ enthroned "compliment and illustrate Christ as Wisdom." One recalls also that according to tradition, the Temple of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople is associated with the hymn "O Only-begotten Son and Word of God" that we chant in the Divine Liturgy. Also, this study also mentions several iconographic depictions of Christ as the "Angel of Great Counsel" and the "Wisdom and Word of God".

Certainly, Professor Kalokyris argues that the Temples dedicated to "the Wisdom of God" should be celebrated on Mid-Pentecost, as derived from the hymnography of this great feast. Indeed, he himself composed an Apolytikion, Kontakion, Megalynarion and Eirmos to associate the feast of Mid-Pentecost with the feast of the Temples dedicated to God's Wisdom, and he concludes his text with the following sentence: "It is up to the venerable Ecumenical Patriarchate to seriously study the matter and to have the courage with what has been pending till today, namely the establishment of the celebration of the temples 'of the Wisdom of God' for Mid-Pentecost."

From what I know the proposal was not adopted, but the courageous Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus undertook to implement it, taking occasion from my book The Despotic Feasts, where this issue is mentioned. This was confirmed to me by Bishop Christophoros of Karpasia. Thus, this all-worthy theological and ecclesiastical initiative is important and worthy of all praise.

Hagia Sophia in Thessaloniki

Remarkable is the information of Professor John Fountoulis, that Mid-Pentecost was "the great feast of the Great Church of Constantinople." He writes:

"Few are those who attend church on this day - the feast of Mid-Pentecost - and most are not even aware of it, that on the Wednesday after the Sunday of the Paralytic, the Church celebrates a great Despotic feast, the feast of Mid-Pentecost. And yet at one time this feast of Mid-Pentecost was the great feast of the Great Church in Constantinople, and on this day a crowd of people would gather in this great temple. One need only open the book "On the Order of the Palace" [commonly known in English as "The Book of Ceremonies"] of Constantine Porphyrogennetos in order to see the official rite of the feast, as it was held on Mid-Pentecost in 903 in the Temple of Saint Mokios in Constantinople, that is until the day when there was an attempt against the life of Emperor Leo VI the Wise on May 11, 903. There is a detailed description of the glorious celebration, which takes up entire pages and is set with known yet strange Byzantine terminology, how on the morning of the feast the emperor wore his special imperial garments and processed with his escorts from the sacred palace to the Temple of Saint Mokios, where the Divine Liturgy was celebrated. Soon the procession arrived led by the patriarch, and the patriarch and emperor entered the temple together. The Divine Liturgy was celebrated according to the standard for great feasts of Byzantine splendor. After this the emperor partook of breakfast, seated next to the patriarch. And the emperor with the cheers of the crowd 'May God give to our kingdom many and good years,' and with many intermediate stops returned to the sacred palace.

Even in our current liturgical books, in the Pentecostarion, one sees traces of this former brilliance. It is presented as a great Despotic feast, with its fine troparia and dual canons, works of the great hymnographers Theophanes and Andrew of Crete, with its readings and its impact on the previous and upcoming Sundays, and the extension of the feast which lasted eight days according to the rite of the Great Feasts of the ecclesiastical year."

Hagia Sophia in Cyprus

We need to look for a bit at the great importance of the feast of Mid-Pentecost, and why the Temple of Hagia Sophia should be celebrated on this day.

The feast of Mid-Pentecost is located between two Great Feasts: Pascha on which we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ and Pentecost on which we celebrate the coming of the All-Holy Spirit to the Disciples and Apostles, who made up the members of the Body of Christ, which is also the birthday of the Church as the Body of Christ. The feast of Mid-Pentecost coincides with the Jewish feast of Tabernacles which was the third greatest feast of the Jews.

It is known that the Jews celebrate Passover (Pascha) in memory of their passage through the Red Sea, during their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. Also, they celebrated Pentecost, as the day they received the Mosaic Law, when Moses went up Mount Sinai, into the darkness, and came into contact, face to face, with God. They also celebrated the feast of Tabernacles in memory of their lives spent in the desert in tents. These three feasts (Passover, Tabernacles, Pentecost) are associated with the release of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and their journey in the desert towards the Promised Land.

Like other feasts, so also the feast of Tabernacles was determined by Moses himself, according to God's command, and it was celebrated for seven days. It is written in Leviticus: "The Lord said to Moses, 'Say to the Israelites: On the fifteenth day of the seventh month the Lord’s Festival of Tabernacles begins, and it lasts for seven days. The first day is a sacred assembly; do no regular work. For seven days present food offerings to the Lord, and on the eighth day hold a sacred assembly and present a food offering to the Lord. It is the closing special assembly; do no regular work'" (Lev. 23:33-36). Thus the rite consisted of sacrifices and various events and the Israelites would go up to Jerusalem to celebrate this event. During these seven days they would set up tents where they could, in the squares, courtyards and roofs of their houses, remember their lives in the desert.

During the course of the feast of tabernacles there were two symbolic events. The first took place in the morning where burnt offerings were made and water was brought from the Pool of Siloam, which they mixed with wine, and they poured it on the altar where the sacrifice was made. This reminded them of the water their ancestors drank during their journey in the desert, along with the miraculous power of Moses, who struck a rock with his staff and from it gushed much water, and who also converted the bitter waters of Marah and made it luscious drinking water. The second event took place on the first day of the feast when they kindled the lights of the female courtyard, at the Temple, with the evening sacrifice, and it could be seen throughout the city, since it had the height of 50 cubits. This was to commemorate the luminous cloud that illuminated the path of the Israelites in the desert throughout the course of the night.

In the 7th and 8th chapters of the Gospel of John it is written that Jesus went up to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Tabernacles. John the Evanglist writes: "Not until the mid-way of the feast did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach" (Jn 7:14). He taught as one having authority and as the Son of God the Father. "The Jews there were amazed and asked, 'How did this man get such learning without having been taught?'" (Jn. 7:15). Then Christ revealed His divinity, saying: "My teaching is not My own. It comes from the One who sent Me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether My teaching comes from God or whether I speak on My own" (Jn. 7:16-17). Here Christ clearly states that He is the Wisdom of God, which has no relation with human wisdom.

It is typical that in many hymns for the feast of Mid-Pentecost it is stressed that Christ is the Wisdom of God. For example:

When You were teaching at Mid-feast, O Savior, the Jews said, How does this Man know letters, having never learned? For they knew not that You are the Wisdom that fashioned the world; glory to You. (Vespers Doxastikon)

You, the Wisdom of God, did come to the temple at Mid-feast, teaching and reproving the disobedient Jews, Pharisees, and Scribes.... (Vespers Aposticha)

The Wisdom and power and brightness of the Father, the eternal Word and Son of God came in the flesh to the Temple and taught the fierce, ungrateful peoples of the Jews; and they marvelled at his wealth of wisdom and cried out: Whence does he know letters, never having learned from anyone? (Matins Praises)

The Wisdom of God, so it is written, came to the temple at the mid-point of the feast and taught; for he was truly the Messiah, Christ, from whom is salvation. (Matins Ode 8)

You, Lord, have become Wisdom, Justice and Redemption for us from God, as you pass over from earth to the height of heaven and bestow the divine Spirit. (Matins Ode 1)

Also, characteristic is the third reading of vespers for the feast which is taken from the Proverbs of Solomon and speaks of the Wisdom of God.

The entire text of both these chapters in the Gospel of John present the fierce conflict between Christ and the Scribes, Pharisees and Jews. The reactions were varied. Some said, "He is truly a prophet", "He is the Christ" (Jn 7:40-41), "No man has ever spoken like this Man" (Jn. 7:46), and some said He was a Samaritan and that he had a demon (Jn. 8:48). This resulted in "a division among the people because of Him" (Jn. 7:43). They even attempted to capture Him and kill Him.

What interests us here is that Christ took the occasion of the two symbolic events made by the Jews during the feast of Tabernacles to highlight two great truths. With the transfer of the water from the Pool of Siloam and pouring it on the altar, Christ taught that He is the water of life that quenches a person's thirst. John the Evangelist writes: "On the last day of the great feast (of Tabernacles), Jesus stood in their midst and cried out, saying: 'If anyone is thirsty, come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as it is written, a river of living water will flow from their belly." John the Evangelist affirms that He spoke this "of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive" (Jn. 7:37-39). Also, from the event of the lighting of the fires to be seen throughout the city, Christ preached that He is the Light of the world. The next morning Christ entered the Temple, after having spent the night on the Mount of Olives, and He preached: "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life" (Jn 8:12).

From this confession we clearly see that Christ was the one who helped the Israelites throughout the course of their journey from the land of Egypt to the Promised Land, since all of the revelations of God in the Old Testament were revelations of the pre-incarnate Word. Characteristic is the interpretation given by the Apostle Paul of the journey of the Israelites: "For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ" (1 Cor. 10:1-4). The interpretation of the Old Testament is christological and christocentric.

And our worship is tied in with the theology of the Church, that Christ continues to be with the new people of Grace, the new Israel, and guides them to the Promised Land. We chant in the Apolytikion of the feast:

Mid-way in the feast, refresh my thirsty soul with the flowing waters of piety. For You cried out to all, O Savior, "Let him who thirsts come to me and drink." You, O Christ our God, are the Fountain of Life, glory to You.

Humanity thirsts for love, justice, God, and Christ is the one Who is not simply the water of life, but the source of life, and He can quench the thirst of afflicted humanity.

In the Exaposteilarion we chant:

You who have the wine-bowl of gifts which never empty out, vouchsafe that I may draw water unto remission of my sins. For I am taken with great thirst, O God of mercy and compassion.

Here it is said that we continue to have spiritual thirst. And this thirst can only be satisfied by Christ, who has the wine-bowl of inexhaustible gifts. But when we speak of Christ we cannot separate Him from the Orthodox Church, which is why Christ works within the Church. Therefore, within the Church people will find rest and satisfy their thirst from the unbearable hunger and thirst that dominates.

Hence, during the course of this great feast of Mid-Pentecost, during which Christ is praised as the water of life and the light of the world, Who is the Wisdom of God, we should celebrate Hagia Sophia, Holy Wisdom, to show the perspective of the Church to pious Christs, that they may be connected with Christ who is the water of life and the light of the world, and Who fills humanity with His wisdom and power. In this way Christians, who celebrate this event, will seek the light and water of life from Christ, and will ask Him to fill them with His wisdom.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos