June 20, 2021

The Church of Hagia Sophia in Thessaloniki

Just as Constantinople is adorned with the unique work of art dedicated to the Wisdom of God, so Thessaloniki has its own "Hagia Sophia". It is a representative example of the Byzantine churches of the city, revealing its deep theology. And indeed Thessaloniki is the city that respectfully maintains its churches. It keeps all its churches in operation. Thus, the Church of "the Wisdom of God", which is located in the center of its marketplace, stands loftily inviting passers-by to rest mentally in its peace. Although it is a monument of the Byzantine period and in fact of the first centuries and it could have been deserted, the deep faith of the Christian does not leave it. It always gives her the value and grandeur she deserves. It is very characteristic that of all the cathedrals dedicated to the Wisdom of God, only the church of Thessaloniki is in operation.

The Church "of God's Wisdom" is a building of the 7th-8th century in the place of an early Christian church in honor of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Mark (end of the 5th-beginning of the 6th century), as shown by the recent research and study on the history, worship and art of the holy Church of God's Wisdom (see Christian Thessaloniki, Proceedings of the 1st International Scientific Symposium, Thessaloniki 2007). The cathedral from an architectural point of view is a combination of a basilica and a cruciform with a dome. Four massive square pillars and six columns of green marble support the gynaeconite on which rise similar pillars and thinner columns, an excellent combination with which four large arches are created, on which the dome rests. The side aisles with the vestibules surround the central cruciform body of the temple on three sides like a peristyle. From the ancient decoration of the temple, beautiful mosaics are preserved both in the niche of the sanctuary, on a golden ground, where the widest one dominates, and in the dome, where there is the Ascension of Christ (work of art of the 9th century). This mosaic is an excellent combination of extreme faith and sacred art. Entering the sanctuary and raising his gaze, the believer feels that he is becoming one with God, as he faces Him in the center of the dome, while at the same time accepting the serene, pacifying influence of the Apostles around him.

The two great temples of the Hagia Sophia of Constantinople and Thessaloniki celebrated with brilliance their commemoration on the day of their consecration, the temple in Constantinople on December 22 and the temple in Thessaloniki on January 25. Looking back at the Byzantine festal calendar there we find about 25 commemorations of consecrations of holy temples. The Bible describes the consecration of the tabernacle (Exodus ch. 40), the temple of Solomon (3 Kings 8) and of Zerubbabel (Ezra 6:16), and the consecration of the temple in Jerusalem during Judah of the Maccabees (1 Macc. 4:52).

Regarding the service of consecration we must note that in the 14th century it was mentioned by Saint Nicholas Cabasilas and in the next century by Saint Symeon of Thessaloniki.

In the time of Saint Symeon, Archbishop of Thessaloniki (15th century), the Church of Hagia Sophia became the liturgical center of the city. Saint Symeon of Thessaloniki, a connoisseur of the liturgical tradition, a lover of liturgical precision and an advocate of the right order in worship, established in his time that the services continue to be performed in Hagia Sophia according to the parish (asmatic) typikon with its clear distinction from the corresponding monastic typikon. He is considered the last of the Byzantine commentators. He reposed peacefully shortly before Thessaloniki fell to the Turks. 
During the Turkish occupation the church was turned into a mosque. After the liberation of our city from the Turkish yoke, it was worshiped in again. In the 1978 earthquake it suffered measurable damage. During the restoration works, the tombs, which belong to Archbishops of Thessaloniki, were discovered. They were found behind the hierarchical throne. Among them are the relics of St. Basil the Confessor, Archbishop of Thessaloniki (9th century) and St. Gregory Palamas, also Archbishop of Thessaloniki (14th century). The works that took place after the earthquake was completed and today it is a jewel for the city and for our apostolic Metropolis.

Today the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Thessaloniki celebrates on the Sunday of Pentecost, as established by the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki Gennadios in the last century. It should be noted, of course, that throughout Byzantium it celebrated Mid-Pentecost (a great Despotic holiday, but unknown to most Christians), as Constantine VII the Porphyrogennitos, son of Leo VI the Wise, informs us in "Imperial Order" in ch. 26.

Source: Bimonthly Newsletter of the Holy Metropolis of Thessaloniki "Evlogia", issue 74, November-December 2016, Thessaloniki. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.