For fiftyfive days, an army of 7,000
Greek soldiers held out against 80,000 Ottoman soldiers led
by the aggressive and ambitious Sultan Mehmet. The Emperor Constantine
Palaiologos turned down Mehmet's promise of security if he surrendered
the city. Mehmet warned that Islamic tradition requires that
cities aquired by force are subject to three days of pillage.
The Emperor Constantine declared "I
shall never give you the city".
Finally, on 29 May 1453 Constantinople
fell to the Turks. The Ottoman Turks conquered the city and
proceeded to plunder the great treasures of the city, the Churches,
the libraries, and
to massacre and enslave the population. One of the first to
be captured as a slave was the Monk Georgios Scholarius, prominent
scholar and theologian who became Patriarch of Constantinople
when order was restored in the city.
George Scholarius was the leader of the
anti-Unionists who rejected both the false doctrines of the
Latin Church and the Church of Rome's blackmail to withhold
aid unless the Greeks capitulated and accepted the Latin Church's
theological innovations. It can be argued that the fall of Constantinople
and the destruction of Byzantium had more to do with the treachery
of the Latins than with the Ottoman Turks. It was the invasion
and occupation by the Latins during the Fourth Crusade that
left the Empire of New Rome weak and unable to restore its position.
The city of Constantinople was founded
by Constantine the Great in 330 AD. From the very beginning
it was dedicated to the "glory of
God". The Church of Constantinople included Patriarchs
such as Saints Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom, Ignatius,
and Photius the Great.
The late historian and scholar Steven
"For eleven hundred years there had stood on the Bosphorous
a city where the intellect was admired and the learning and
letters of the classical past were studied and preserved. Without
the help of Byzantine commentators and scribes there is little
that we would know today about the literature of ancient Greece.
It was too, a city whose rulers down the centuries had inspired
and encouraged a school of art unparalleled in human history,
an art that arose from an ever varying blend of the cool cerebral
Greek sense of the fitness of things and a deep religious sense
that saw in works of art the incarnation of the Divine and the
sanctification of matter."
was too, a great cosmopolitan city where along with merchandiseideas
were freely exchanged and whose citizens saw themselves not
as a racial unit but as the heirs of Greece and Rome, hallowed
by the Christian faith."
The Fall of Constantinople,
1453. Steven Runciman
The historical significence of Constantinople
and the Empire ofNew Rome to western civilization is immense.
Arab Muslims waged war against Constantinople in 674 and 718
AD. If the city had fallen to Islam during these assaults Europe
would have fallen and America would likely have been discovered
indeed the significence of the Byzantine victory of 678 cannot
be overestimated. For the first time an Arab advance was really
checked and the invasion which had swept forward
as irresistibly as an avalanche was now halted. In the defense
of Europe against the Arab onslaught this triumph of Constantine
IV was a turning point of world-wide historical importance,
like the later victory of Leo III in 718, or Charles Martel's
defeat of the Muslims in 732 at Poitiers at the other end of
Christendom. Of these three victories which saved Europe from
being overwhelmed by the Muslim flood, that of Constantine IV
was the first and also the most important.
There is no doubt that the Arab attack
which Constantinople experienced then was the fiercest which
had ever been launched by the infidels against a Christian stronghold,
and the Byzantine Capital was the last dam left to withstand
the rising Muslim tide. The fact that it held saved not only
the Byzantine Empire, but the whole of European civilization."
History of the
Byzantine State. George Ostrogorsky
from Europe by the impregnable walls of Constantinople and the
unyielding spirit of the Emperor and his people, the armies
of the Prophet were obliged to travel the entire length of the
Mediterranean to the Straits of Gibraltar before they could
invade the continent- thus extending their lines of communication
and supply almost to breaking point and rendering impossible
any permanent conquests beyond the Pyrenees. Had they captured
Constantinople in the seventh century rather than the fifteenth,
all Europe- and America- might be Muslim today".
Early Centuries. John Julius Norwich
In the ninth and tenth centuries, the
Greeks converted the Slavic world to Christianity. The conversion
of Russia was of immense religious, historical, and political
"When we journeyed among the Bulgarians we beheld how
they worship in their temple, called a Mosque while they stand
ungirt. The Bulgarian bows, sits down, looks hither and thither
like one possessed, and there is no happiness among them but
instead only sorrow and a dreadful stench. Their religion is
not good. Then we went among the Germans, and saw them performing
many ceremonies in their temples; but we beheld no glory there.
Then we went to Greece, and the Greeks led us to the edifices
where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were
in heavan or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor
or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We
know only that God dwells there among men, and their service
is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations. For we cannot
forget that beauty."
report to Prince Vladimir
Medieval Russia's epics, chronicles, and
Eleven centuries of civilization, culture,
theology, and learning came to an end on 29 May 1453. The Emperor
Constantine Palaiologos who had refused to leave the city died
in battle defiant to the end. He was canonized shortly after
by the Patriarch Georgios Scholarios Gennadius.
Myths and legends were told about the
Emperor Constantine during the dark centuries of Tourkokratia.
The myth of "The Marble Emperor" which stated that
Constantine had been saved by an Angel and would one day awaken
and chase the Turks to the Red Apple Tree came into existence.
Other myths told of the Priest in the Church of Aghia Sophia
who had dissapeared into the walls of the Church so that the
Eucharist would not be defiled by the Muslims.
Sultan Mehmed "the Conqueror"
became feared throughout Europe following the conquest. It could
be said that he was the Osama Bin Laden of his day. The most
effective resistance to Mehmed came from Romanian Prince Vlad
who was known as the "Impaler" but soon all the Balkans
had fallen to the Ottomans.
Orthodox Russia soon declared itself
"the Third Rome", and defender of Orthodoxy. In 1589,
Patriarch Jeremias of Constantinople gave his blessing to the
Russians to establish a Patriarchate and to the Russian claims
to leadership in the Orthodox world. In 1774, 1853, and 1878,
the Russians challenged Muslim rule in Constantinople but the
Muslims received the support of the western powers who pursued
anti-Christian policies in the east.
Then in 1919, the Hellenic nation which
had achieved independence one century earlier took control of
Smyrna in Asia Minor. The western powers however intervened
and supported Mustafa Kemal's terrorists in Anatolia who slaughtered
the Greek populations of Smyrna andPontus, and who with the
assistance of the western powers seized Constantinople from
the Greeks forever.
The Greek dream of retaking Constantinople
vanished as did the dream of worshipping Jesus Christ in the
Great Church of Aghia Sophia. Mustapha Kemal converted Aghia
Sophia into a Museum in 1936. Regardless, the ground of Aghia
Sophia remains hallowed.
In 1920, National
Geographic published an article by James Hosmer Penniman which
stated, "For more than thirteen centuries it has been
the most magnificent Church in the world and Saint Peter's,
Cologne Cathedral, and York Minister are even now surpassed
by the richness
of its interior, as they are excelled by it in age and historical
associations. Saint Sophia was more venerable before those ancient
Churches were begun."
An Anglican Priest, Reverand John Douglas
wrote in 1919, "Without treachery to England's history
and England's boasted calling, that fleet cannot sail away and
leave the great Greek city of Constantinople a Turkish city,
its Christian people in the underworld, and its mother Church
In 1930, Mustapha Kemal renamed the city
Istanbul, which comes from the Greek expression "Is
tin poli". In 1955, five centuries after the
fall of the city, a pogrom sponsored by the Turkish government
led to the final assault against the city's Greek Orthodox population.
During the 1960's, tens of thousands of Greeks were expelled
from the city.
Today, there are only 2,500 Greeks left
in a city that has a population of over ten million. The Patriarchate
has remained in the city and has continued to perform its international
role among autocephalous Orthodox Churches but it very likely
in its last days. The closure of the Patriarchal school of theology
on the island of Halki has deprived the Patriarchate of Priests.
The city that was once the center of
Christian civilization is now symbolizes the status of Eastern
Christians who have been steadily forgotten, if not abandoned,
by their western counterparts.