Reflections on the Fall of Constantinople


Our annual commemoration, unique in our Holy Archdiocese, has sought to remember this historical event, the Fall of Constantinople, in a manner that is more praise than lament, a celebration of what was blessed and good rather than mourning what no longer is. Of course, we must acknowledge the lamentable. We acknowledge the pain and the tragedies.

Yet on this Feast of the Ascension, we recognize that we can aspire to rise up above the tragic and lamentable, that the history of our people—both culturally and spiritually—is such that the Capture of the City was no final defeat. In many ways, it has shaped our consciousness in a manner that is, paradoxically, often sub-conscious.

In any event, those of us who spiritually, intellectually and culturally claim to be the heirs of Byzantium, the remnant of a culture that was centered in this Queen of Cities, have come to terms (after 561 years!) with the passing of Byzantium, yet retain what has not passed, what has not died. Our Mother Church continues to reside there, we continue to have sisters and brothers there, we continue to appreciate cultural and historical markers such as Haghia Sophia as a glimpse to our past.

Perhaps there is the possibility of more. It is commonly reported that visitors to Hagia Sophia, when entering the nave for the first time for the central Royal Gate at the west end, cannot help but feel their eyes lifted up and up until they are gazing at the dome; it is a special effect of the architectural plan, intentional or not. Yet we know that the dome in our churches suggests the vault of the heavens and often when looking up we behold Christ Pantocrator.

As the Emperor’s vision resulted in the construction and beautification of this extraordinarily wondrous edifice, so perhaps we may benefit from the lessons of its origins and building in our contemporary Church. We too often fail to gaze up into the heavens above. Too often we fail to grasp our true Autokrator’s vision for the world in which we live. Too often we fail to find innovative solutions when faced with the difficulties of constructing or beautifying, for our Lord, a world in which to live.

Solomon built his temple after the Lord actually resisted, knowing that His people might be tempted to believe He was limited to one location. In the Church we know that the building does not constitute the fullness of the Church, it is simply where the Church meets and is reminded that we are called to make God’s Kingdom to come present even now. In the end, we will be able to top both Solomon and Justinian when we begin and continue to construct through our faith, hope, and love a more magnificent edifice: the manifestation of the Body of Christ throughout the oikoumene.

It has been our custom to close our program with a brief memorial prayer. I would only note that memorial services of all types in the Greek Orthodox tradition are not simple reminiscences or recollections of those who have been, nor is it a simple expression of grief or mourning of those lost. They are not lost. Our prayer for them is an affirmation of the truth that those from our history are not relegated to the past. Even death cannot take them from us for, as we pray, we look forward to the future Kingdom where, because they remain remembered, they will be with us once more.

Note: The aforementioned post were the concluding remarks given by Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, Chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago at the Metropolis’ annual Commemoration of the Fall of Constantinople, held every year on the actual anniversary. This year, the event featured the screening of a National Geographic documentary about the building of Hagia Sophia and a performance by the Chicago Metropolis Byzantine Choir. 



  1. Western Europe, with ancestral memories of jealousy of Byzantine civilization, with its spiritual advisers denouncing the Orthodox as sinful schismatics, and with a haunting sense of guilt that it had failed the city at the end, chose to forget about Byzantium. It could not forget the debt that it owed to the Greeks; but it saw the debt as being owed only to the Classical age. The Philhellenes who came to take part in the War of Independence spoke of Themistocles and Pericles but never of Constantine. Many intellectual Greeks copied their example, led astray by the evil genius of Korais, the pupil of Voltaire and of Gibbon, to whom Byzantium was an ugly interlude of superstition, best ignored. Thus it was that the War of Independence never resulted in the liberation of the Greek people but only in the creation of a little kingdom of Greece. In the villages men knew better. There they remembered the threnes that had been composed when news came that the city had fallen, punished by God for its luxury, its pride and its apostasy, but fighting a heroic battle to the end. They remembered that dreadful Tuesday, a day that all true Greeks still know to be of ill omen; but their spirits tingled and their courage rose as they told of the last Christian Emperor standing in the breach, abandoned by his Western allies, holding the infidel at bay till their numbers overpowered him and he died, with the Empire as his winding-sheet.

    Steven Runciman, The Fall of Constantinople.

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