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The Legacy of New Rome, Constantinople
by Theodore G. Karakostas
May 2002


On April 2, 1453 the day after Orthodox Easter, Ottoman Sultan Mehmet began his siege against the imperial city of Constantinople, New Rome. From the outset the Greeks of Constantinople defiantly resisted the aggressive ambitions of the Sultan. Mehmet sent messages to the Emperor guaranteeing the safety of the Christian population if the Greeks surrendered. Led by their Emperor, the population of Constantinople refused to surrender.

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 Runciman wrote,
"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."

"It 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 by Muslims.

"And 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

"Blocked 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".

Byzantium, the 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 significence.
"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."

Russian envoys report to Prince Vladimir
Medieval Russia's epics, chronicles, and tales

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 a Mosque".

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.



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