A Remembrance of Constantinople

“Today, the Queen of all cities lays down the crown of the earthly kingdom, offered to torment, the gift of Constantine is purified by fire, the City of the Mother of God, and from the hands of the Creator of ages, receives a radiant crown of eternal glory, the house of the saints and the beloved City.”

(from the Service for the Fall of Constantinople)

No other toponym in world history embodies such glory, admiration, supremacy, and mystery as the Holy City of Jerusalem and the Queen of cities – Constantinople. The first bore witness to the most salvific events for humanity and the dawn of the divinely revealed Christian faith, while in the latter, that faith received its most brilliant expression and exalted glory. Constantinople, the city of the Holy Emperor Constantine, the city dedicated to the Most Holy Theotokos, the city of Saints, whose streets were once trodden by illustrious and holy emperors, whose churches were graced by the sermons of the wisest patriarchs, and whose monasteries nurtured the most venerable and God-bearing monks, became the archetype and model for all Christian communities. It became the center from which the rays of Christ’s Gospel shone forth to all four corners of the earth, the throne of Orthodox contemplation, theology, art, and culture, a beacon for both East and West. Therefore, neither the East nor the West must forget this cradle of civilization from which they continue to benefit to this day.

The Queen of  all cities, the City founded by the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Emperor Constantine the Great, “City of the Saints”, “Seat of the Ecumenical Councils”, “praise of the Christians, glory of the Orthodox”, “light of the world”, and “joy of the whole earth”, for more than 11 centuries stood as the center of an elevated Christian society. This society, which grew from ancient roots, integrated Eastern culture and spiritualized it with the faith of Christ, bringing forth wonderful spiritual fruits – Theology, Liturgy, Philosophy, Science, Art, Literature.

“Fatal siege of the city in 1453 AD” Church of Moldovita, Romania

Constantinople fell, but the idea of it did not. For its spirit, the spirit of the Easter Roman Empire, continues to live among all peoples spiritually connected to Byzantine civilization, not only the Orthodox in the East but also the Western peoples who owe a great deal to the Imperial City for their progress and culture. Our cultural and spiritual heritage directly stems from that Eastern Roman commonwealth and, as its inseparable part, continues to live with the legacy of that sacred wealth. This is evidenced by the historic decision on May 9, 2022, whereby the First-Throned Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, embraced our Most Holy Archbishopric of Ohrid in Eucharistic and canonical unity with the entire Orthodoxy. Therefore, today, 571 years after the physical conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman conquerors, the Sacred Monastery of Bigorski once again gratefully and prayerfully remembers the City from which our people received holy enlightenment and prayed for the repose of all those who fell at the walls of Constantinople, defending the Holy Places and suffering for the salvific Orthodox faith.

To them, and to all others who laid down their lives for the one true Divine Revelation, may their memory be eternal!

“Indeed, we Orthodox must never forget the city of Constantinople, the city of our Most Holy Lady Theotokos, the city of countless Saints, where the redemptive faith was affirmed and from which Orthodoxy shone forth towards many nations and regions. That Divine Providence arranged this centre of universal Orthodoxy and that God’s grace maintains and cares for it, is confirmed by the very fact that to this day, the Mother Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate lives there. Faced with attempts for demeaning it and taking away its glorious seats, first and foremost the magnificent Hagia Sophia, it was finally, not without God’s knowledge and providence, moved to the district known as Phanar, from where it humbly continues to shine its light to all in spirit and truth. The Mother of God has not forgotten her imperial city; the Saints have not forgotten the city of the Ecumenical Councils, but even today protect their heritage in it and call us, their children, all Orthodox, to unite around the first Throne of the faith and civilization of ours. To honour and support it, thereby gaining the blessing from the heavenly city of Saints. Unity in the faith of the Gospel and in the tradition of the Fathers is one of the aspects of conciliarity, I would say – its quality, but also a condition. Only he who gathers, who strives to bring the estranged and separated back into Christ’s flock, only he who heals wounds according to the remedies prescribed by the Fathers of the Church – he is the one who builds, renews, and unites. He performs the works of light, which simultaneously reveal the works of darkness, standing opposite. Today, trying with my modest abilities to discern the events in the world and in the Church, I wonder – has the nature of the Christian changed, losing Christ? Have we lost empathy, the need for the common collective and the individual need of every brother when in suffering? Do we use the opportunity, when someone is burdened by the yoke of temptation, to fulfil some of our desires and ideas, which are passionate, power-loving, and vanity-like? However, Lord never allow us to be without hope, but calls us to endure to the end, for ours is to “stand firm, to stand with fear, to be attentive,” and He supplements weaknesses and establishes justice.

And indeed, is not Constantinople the cornerstone of our Orthodox civilization? Is it not the cradle in which Romiosini was born and grew, that nationally incomprehensible entity, not only as a historical phenomenon, but also as a living and eternally active existence of the indestructible spirit of Orthodoxy, intertwined with human reach into the sublime and beautiful? The saga of Romiosini is not confined to the annals of history; it is a vivid, pulsating presence that echoes in the heart of every Orthodox, regardless of his current national affiliation. It embodies the synthesis of the Christian faith and the wisdom and experience of the centuries. This enduring legacy, forged in the fire of trials, challenges, and triumphs, serves as a beacon, guiding the Orthodox person through the vicissitudes of history. The essence of Romiosini transcends geographical and temporal boundaries, personifying the eternal quest for truth, beauty, and virtue. The legacy of Romiosini also stands as a monument testifying the capacity of the human spirit to endure, adapt, and thrive amidst the shifting sands of time. The wealth of this heritage, contained in Liturgy, art, philosophy, aesthetics, and communion, offers a source of wisdom and inspiration for navigating through the complexities of the modern world. It is a heritage, which calls all Orthodox to live in accordance with the values of faith, hope, and love. Thus, fostering a sense of unity and purpose that transcends individual and collective challenges, while simultaneously preserving the authenticity and distinctiveness of everyone equally and incorporating differences into a commonwealth of culture and beauty. Hence, it is imperative to recognize that the true strength of the New Rome lies not in the realm of temporal power or worldly recognition but in the depth of its spiritual and cultural heritage, in holiness and blessing, and most of all, in the Cross and Resurrection testimony. For what is the highest reach in the spiritual biography, if not the humble-like suffering that surpasses all human logic and overcomes forces? It is then we truly realize how much God loves us, but at the same time how much we, persevering in the struggle, can show to Him that our heart is His throne. I will conclude this contemplation with the exclamation of today’s father of Romiosini, the Ecumenical Patriarch Mr. Bartholomew: “And you, most beloved Romiosini, carry firmly the omophorion of the Most Holy Theotokos and follow her steps to the Praetorium, to martyrdom, to the Cross, to the taking down from the Cross, and to the Tomb. So that before the new day even dawns, we could hear together with her: ‘Pure Virgin, rejoice! Thy Son hath risen from the grave on the third day,’ and you, and you, our sweet Romiosini together with Him, together with the Risen Christ!

Bishop of Antania Parthenij, Abbot of the Holy Bigorski Monastery