June 6, 2015

"The City Has Fallen", But It Also Lives (3 of 3)

...continued from part two.

4. The Siege and the Fall

The descriptions of the siege are horrifying. The combatants in the City were not many. The number of the combatants of both camps were very uneven. Emperor Constantine Palaiologos invited his secretary Sphrantzis to make an inventory of the men in the City who could bear arms. Sphrantzis found that "there were only four thousand nine hundred eighty-three available Greeks and just under two thousand foreigners. Constantine was amazed by the numbers and told Sphrantzis not to publish them." The Ottoman army consisted of about eighty thousand men and rebel hordes.

The valor of the besieged was great. The Emperor fought as a simple soldier. But it seems that the Genoese showed a neutrality in critical moments of the struggle, and sought peace and agreement with the Sultan. Emperor Constantine was proposed to escape from the City, but he refused. "He was so tired, so that at the time of speaking he fainted. When he recovered, he told them again that he could not abandon his people. He would die with them."

The military fought at the walls, but they were helped by all the people. Women and nuns "rushed to the walls to help transport materials to strengthen the fortifications, and carried jugs of water to quench the thirst of the defenders."

Apart from the heroic struggle of the militants as well as the people, the Emperor ordered that services be conducted with processions and prayers to God and the Panagia. The final Liturgy that took place in Hagia Sophia was very moving, where they were crying and forgiving one another and in the end communed together.

The Byzantine historian Leonardo of Chios collected details of the situation prevailing in those days and on the eve of the fall of Constantinople. There were religious ceremonies and processions and all the people would sing "Lord have mercy." He mentions the way the last Divine Liturgy was celebrated in Hagia Sophia, and as described by an English historian: "The great service that night, which should have a special place in history, was the last Christian service that took place in the church of Hagia Sophia... The sacred service was in reality a dying liturgy. The Empire was facing the distress, and relative to its dying spirit, the service had to be public, in the most beautiful church with the most brave Emperor. If the scene of the coronation of Charles the Great and the creation of an Empire is one of the most graphic in history, then the scene of the last Liturgy that took place in Hagia Sophia is certainly the most tragic."

After the fall of Constantinople, the death of the last Emperor Constantine and the entry of the Turks into Constantinople, the massacre, looting and subjugation began. Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror promised the soldiers they had the right to plunder the City for three days. Indeed, the destruction was very great. "The private houses were systematically looted, and at each part that was looted there was left a small flag at the entrance to show the house was completely looted. Along with their belongings they also took those who resided there. Anyone who fainted or who fell from weakness was slain together with other children who were deemed to have no value, but usually as a rule they would not kill their prisoners. There were even large libraries in the city, some secular and most in the monasteries. Most of the books were burned, but there were some Turks who were smart enough to understand they were marketable objects and some they sold later for derisory sums to anyone who was interested. Within the churches were scenes of debauchery. Many crucifixes with precious gems were carried with Turkish turbans wrapped around their heads. Many buildings suffered irreparable damage. In the evening there was not much to be plundered, and nobody complained when the Sultan announced that the looting should be stopped. The soldiers had enough pastime for the remaining two days to share the spoils and count their captives. They surmised that there were fifty thousand, of which only five hundred were soldiers. The rest of the Christian soldiers were killed, except the few men who escaped with ships. The dead, including civilians who were victims of the massacre, were said to be four thousand." The Sultan freed most of the noble sovereigns, but kept for his harem the most beautiful of the boys and girls. Also, it is said Mehmed (Muhammad) "had sent four hundred Greek children as a gift to each of the three main Islamic rulers: the Sultan of Egypt, the King of Tunis and the King of Granada."

Doukas lamented for the fall of Constantinople in 1453: "O City, City, head of all cities! O City, City, center of the four corners of the earth! O City, City, the pride of Christians and the ruin of barbarians! O City, City, a second Paradise laden with spiritual fruits! Where is your beauty, O Paradise? Where is your beneficial spiritual graces that strengthen the soul and body? Where are the bodies of the apostles of my Lord, that have long since been planted in the evergreen paradise, having amid these the scarlet robe, the spear, the sponge, the reed, which are embraced as we imagine the Cross raised before our eyes? Where are the relics of bones? Where are the martyrs? Where are that of Constantine the Great and the corpses of other kings?..."

5. The Nostalgia and the Dream of the City

Further below I will refer to the vision and dream of the Romans for the liberation of Constantinople, even after 1821 and the establishment of the first Greek State. But here it should be noted that it has always been the vision of a true Roman for the City to be liberated, which was their capital.

Elli Skopetea in her book The "Model Kingdom" and the "Great Idea", using archival material, gives a detailed analysis that after the establishment of the Greek Kingdom, the Great Powers pursued the integration of a "Model Kingdom" with two basic elements. First was its orientation towards Europe and its traditions, and second was the development of its ancient heritage, namely its connection with ancient Greece. They sought in every way to develop a new consciousness in the nascent Kingdom, which as a nascent Kingdom it had Europe as its sponsor. Meanwhile the dream and idea of the City never faded from the people. We will focus our attention on this point in this interesting study.

Elli Skopetea analyzes that the father of the Great Idea was Ioannis Kolettis, who spoke of the Great Idea of the Nation in a monumental speech at the National Assembly on January 14, 1844. Generally there was talk that the completion of the Revolution of 1821 was related to the liberation of Constantinople, the center of which was Hagia Sophia and its entire tradition.

But the Great Idea went through three phases. The first, which was cultivated by Ioannis Kolettis, but mainly by King Otto, was to deem Constantinople as a national center, and the dream was an Eastern Greek Empire, which was why Kolettis proposed the new Greek State not acquire an official capital, because the true capital was Constantinople. The second phase of the Great Idea, which coincided with the arrival of King George in Greece, was expressed by the increase of the Kingdom of Greece and was encouraged over the fact of the union of the Ionian Islands with Greece. So in this phase the national center was now considered to be Athens, but they sought the extension of the Greek borders. The third phase of the Great Idea developed around 1870, which functioned as a compromise between the two centers, namely Constantinople and Athens, "under the banner of Greek-Ottomanism." Greek-Ottomanism is associated with the doctrine of the integrity of the Ottoman Empire, with the strong presence of the Romans within it, so in reality with Greek-Ottomanism "there hauled to the surface a pre-revolutionary Phanariote possibility," in other words, an internal decomposition of the Ottoman Empire. But this new format worked not as "an erosion of the Empire from within, but the incorporation of the Greeks in the Ottoman State apparatus."

Of course the Great Idea of the Nation, which was associated both with the liberation of Constantinople and the reconstitution of the Roman Empire, was destroyed by the Asia Minor Catastrophe, which was worse than the fall of Constantinople on the 29th of May in 1453. However, though, the spirit of Romiosini remains in our hearts, but also throughout the world.

6. The Living Spirit of Romiosini

The fall of Constantinople was one of the most important events in history. It should be observed that the inauguration of Constantinople took place by Constantine the Great and his mother Helen on the 11th of May 330, and the fall took place on the 29th of May 1453, and the Emperor was again a Constantine and his mother was Helen. The foundation was made with splendor and ceremonies, while the decline was associated with a Divine Liturgy held with an eschatological character and perspective, extinguished throughout eternity, in the timelessness of time that permeates the Divine Eucharist, as expressed by the pronunciation of the Priest: "Your own of Your own we offer to You, in all and for all."

But despite the tragedy of the fall and subsequent events, there are positive points, as the Orthodox Church during the Turkish occupation was organized with its own powers, the unity of the Orthodox Churches was forged, the doctrine preserved. The Sultan made as Patriarch the leader of the hesychastic tradition, Gennadios Scholarios, and the Orthodox Church was a self-governing community with the Millet system defined by the Sultan.

This preservation of doctrine and the hesychastic spirit of the Orthodox Church, showed forth confessors and martyrs, the neomartyrs, it inspired strugglers, empowered ordinary people, and generally preserved the sacred and venerable things of our race and Orthodox tradition.

The spirit of the Roman Empire, Romiosini, was not lost with the fall of Constantinople. It was preserved by the Orthodox Church, in particular by the martyric primacy seat of the Ecumenical throne, by Orthodox monasticism and by the culture of Romiosini, through hagiography, church architecture, music and the method of medical psychotherapy which preserves the nobility and grandeur of the Orthodox Tradition.

Romiosini, when it was an organized State, was in its foundation spiritual, but even now when the State has been abolished it belongs to the whole world, in all the ecumene, since Romans exist in all parts of the earth. And we hope that this spirit of Romiosini with its culture and spiritual medicine, as expressed by the neptic and philokalic tradition, will prevail throughout the world. After all, today even in Europe, America and in the East, there are Romans, in spirit and heart, who are Greek-speaking, Arabic-speaking, Slav-speaking, English-speaking, French-speaking etc. The love that is shown by all for the Romaic tradition shows that there are great forces within Romiosini. The spirit of the Roman Empire, despite the decline of the organized State, is alive. "Romiosini is a race that encompasses the world, no one has been found to eliminate it, no one, because it is covered from the heights by my God. Romiosini will perish, when the world is no longer!" (Vasilis Michaelides).

As on the eve of the fall of Constantinople when there were three trends, namely the pro-west, the ancient Greek and the hesychastic, and of course the last was vindicated, so also do these three trends prevail today, that is, there are people today who express these three traditions. But if we want to thrive in the ecumene, we must stick to the tradition of St. Gregory Palamas, St. Mark the Evgenikos and St. Gennadios Scholarios, because this tradition responds to the existential problems of humanity, and this tradition is sought by tormented contemporary humanity both in the East and in the West.

That's why today we lament not just for the fall of Constantinople, but we glorify the spirit and beauty of this culture and tradition that was able to penetrate into the depth of the last Divine Liturgy in Hagia Sophia, which was imposed into the spiritual DNA of humanity.

In this sense the spirit of the last leader of the Empire, Constantine Palaiologos, is alive. And the last Emperor is not just enclosed in marble, but he dominates and reigns in those who sense their Romanity, with their ecumenical spiritual perception. And the words of the last Emperor to the Sultan, who asked him to surrender the city, "I shall not surrender the city. To surrender the city to you is beyond my authority or anyone else's who lives in it, for all of us, after taking the mutual decision, shall die out of free will without sparing our lives," shows that the City was not delivered up, but it is alive, having followed those blessed fighters into the life-giving tomb and then rose again and is now the spiritual city of every Roman who lives in all corners of the earth, and envisions the heavenly city "whose artisan and creator is God."

After the fall of the City, the Ecumenical Patriarchate undertook a great responsibility, and the Ecumenical Patriarch became the ethnarch and witness of our Nation. Within the organization of the Ottoman Empire, despite the problems it experienced, the Ecumenical Patriarchate showed itself to be the cohesive bond of all the other patriarchates and kept lit the flame of faith, theology and communal life. The martyric Church revealed neomartyrs and many Patriarchs and Bishops emerged as martyrs of our Church. The spirit of Roman civilization survived and lives. And the most important is that even today the Ecumenical Patriarchate is the primacy seat of the Church, that chairs and assumes the responsibility of tasks and initiatives that preserve the unity of the Orthodox Churches, and in this way we are reminded that the brilliant Christian Roman Empire of a thousand years is alive and strong. Since it has vast experience in all areas, this is why the local autocephalous Churches should cooperate very closely with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The institution and ministry of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, whose life and activity is spread across the world, from America to Asia, and which expresses the universal spirit of Romiosini, and the hesychastic life of the Orthodox Tradition with the blessed presence of Mount Athos, is preserved not only in Constantinople, but in the entire spirit of the Roman Empire, what we call Byzantium.

This is why "the City has fallen", but it also lives.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "«Η Πόλις εάλω», αλλά και ζή", May 2002. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.