In the summer of 2015, Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary Professor Deacon Andrei Psarev led an excursion to Istanbul with members of his Byzantine History Class. Below is a day to day account of their trip. This page will contain daily updates from their trip.
Postscript from the City: The Eighth Day - by Deacon Andrei
Saturday, August 1, 2015
Although I meant to visit to metochion (dependency) of the Athonite St. Panteleimon's monastery while we were on a field trip (July 14-21), I only made it there between the flights on my way back to Jordanville. The metochion is located on the top floor of a six-story apartment building raised in the Galata district of Constantinople by the monastery in the 1860s. On the same block there are also former metochia of St. Andrew’s and St. Elija’s skete. The Russians lost control of St. Andrew in the 1960s due to inability of the diaspora to send new monks to the Holy Mount; St. Elija Skete and therefore its dependency were lost in 1992 due to the refusal of ROCOR monastics there to commemorate an ecumenical patriarch. Sunday was the feast of Prophet Elijah and a representative from Pantocrator monastery was supposed to serve Divine Liturgy.
Again I was impressed by thoughtfulness of the Turkish people. On our way to the metochion, my taxi driver called the metochion and I was met on a street by Oleg, a Turkish-speaking parishioner. Then I met a couple of parishioners, originally from Moscow region, and felt as though we belonged to one big family. One of the ladies organized on regular basis here a Russian school. Both monastery representatives, Fr. Timothy and Hierodeacon Evlogy, were very hospitable. I met a parishioner who had applied to Jordanville Seminary, but was refused an American visa. Now he is completing his studies in Ryazan Seminary. I also learned that the current parish has existed since the early 2000s and that the other Russian parish with some descendants of Old Russian emigrants is St. Andrew’s metochion. Oleg kindly accompanied me to Ataturk Airport. And now I feel that I owe hospitality to these who might need it. Hoşçakalın Istanbul!
Letters from The City: The Seventh and Final Day - by Brother Angelos Stanway
Monday, July 20th
For our last day in the city, we had a variety of places to visit, a mixture of Byzantine churches, Ottoman sites of interest, and others. We started our circuit by heading back down into the oldest part of the city, along the coast, to the area of Kumkapi, a former stronghold for the city’s Christian population.
Our first stop was the church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, which was built by Emperor Saint Justinian the Great during his period of civic construction. Now being used as a mosque and retaining only a few features of its previous interior beauty, the church still maintains its interesting history, which cannot be whitewashed. The church, known locally as the ‘Little Hagia Sophia’ because of its scaled-down similarity, was used as a place of refuge by Pope Vigilius during the Fifth Ecumenical Council (553). As a result of this, it eventually became an unofficial centre of Latin Christianity in the City, with many of the Papal legates and Western bishops serving here.
We then proceeded to the renowned Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Stoudios, also known as the Studite Monastery. Here was the original site of the ‘Unsleeping Ones’, who kept continual monastic services all day and night. At the end of the 8th century, the site was eventually taken over by those that came to be known as the ‘Studite’ monks, their most famous leader being Saint Theodore the Studite, known for his erudition and bravery in standing against the imperial authority during the iconoclast controversy. After the fall of the City, it was converted into a mosque, but its roof collapsed due to an earthquake in the 19th century and the church has remained in ruins ever since. It is surrounded by a fenced wall, and is not open to the public, so we were only able to gaze at its apse from an exposed section of the wall.
Our next site was also closed to the public. This was the city walls, and the Golden Gate, which was where the Emperor entered the City after returnng in triumph from campaign. We drove around the outskirts of the site, which was used as a prison for political enemies and some foreign diplomats in Ottoman times, in order to find a place to have a better look, albeit from a distance. We managed to find a place where we were able to see the huge marble gates. Unfortunately, the area is in a state of neglect and has become overgrown with weeds.
We then headed back into deepest Kumkapi’s winding and narrow streets, where we paid a short visit to the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople. This Patriarchate was established after the Ottoman conquest, and was responsible for the Monophysite Armenians of the empire. To this day, the Armenians remain the largest Christian group in modern Turkey, with around 70,000 people. The patriarchal cathedral was a former Orthodox monastery, which was seized by the Ottomans and given to the Armenians, along with many other churches in the City. The cathedral is larger than that of the Ecumenical Patriarch in both structural size and interior space, but has a more modest iconographic presence, with its bare, though marbled, walls standing in direct contrast to the rich interior beauty of our Orthodox monasteries and parishes. The interior layout is more akin to that of a Latin church, with no iconstasis and a large, wonderfully decorated, high altar surmounted by a painting of the Mother of God.
The Church of the Kyriotissa was the next site we visited. It is also currently being used as a mosque, having being handed over after the fall of the City to the members of an ultra-conservative Muslim sect. It is still named the Kalenderhane Mosque to this day, in memory of this sect. The church, dating from the 12th century, has no remaining iconography inside, the surviving frescoes having been moved to the Archaeological Museum. The church’s turbulent history also includes a period of occupation by the Franciscans following the catastrophe of 1204. It is one of the few ‘square in dome’ churches in the City.
Lunch was followed by another church that has been converted into a mosque, the Church of the Myrelaion or, as it is now known, the Bodrum Mosque. This is a 10th century construction takes its name from the Myrelaion palace which was the residence of Emperor Romanos I. It was later converted to a nunnery before its eventual handing over to muslims in 1500. Underneath the church is a large cistern, from which the mosque takes it name – ‘bodrum’ means basement or vault. The contemporary cistern is best known as an underground shopping arcade, popular with Russian tourists looking for cheap fashion purchases.
Our group then divided into two, with some people paying a visit to the Topkapi Palace and its museum, while Dr Permiakov and myself paid another visit to the Hagia Sophia, spending yet more time soaking in its ethereal atmosphere and grandiose architecture. The visit to the Hagia Sophia was followed by a short look around the Sultan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque, which lies opposite Hagia Sophia, divided by an expanse of garden and a fountain. Our group then reassembled for supper at a restaurant which is built literally next door to the ruins of the imperial palace, with a fantastic view of the Sea of Marmara.
Here, we gifted our tour guide, and new friend, Marc Madrigal with a large coffee table book ("Constantinople: Istanbul's Historical Heritage" by Stephane Yerasimos) and thanked him for his tireless efforts to make our trip work in all ways. If it wasn’t for his constant help and hard work on our behalf, we would not have achieved half of what we managed during our time in the City. We toasted to his health and work and said our farewells after he drove us back to our hotel.
As we await our various connections to onward travels, we can look back on the past week with a sense of awe over what we have managed to achieve. We have covered most of the major sites related to Byzantine history in the city, and some of the surrounding area, as well as learning about some facets of Ottoman history and more contemporary aspects of Christian life in modern Turkey. We are incredibly grateful to all of our benefactors who have made this trip what it is – an educational field trip and a true pilgrimage all in one. It was the journey of a lifetime and none of us will forget our week in Byzantium any time soon.
THANK YOU all who were following these daily reports, compiled by Brother Angelos, on our Facebook page, as well as on the website of Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary - we are grateful for your support, your "likes," and your prayers. As we depart the Imperial City (Br. Angelos is already on his way to the airport), we ask for your prayers for our safe travels to our homes and destinations.
Letters from The City: Day Six - by Brother Angelos Stanway
Sunday, July 19th.
Being a Sunday, today was a more relaxed affair for our party. We started our morning early, with a brisk but short walk to the Phanar to pray at the Divine Liturgy in the Patriarchal Cathedral of Saint George. We were present from the beginning of Orthros in an almost-empty church, but by the time that the Patriarch had made his entrance, just prior to the Matins Gospel, there were around 100 people in attendance. By the end of the Divine Liturgy, there were between 175-200 people, a mixture of local Orthodox Christians, pilgrims, and intrigued tourists.
The service was chanted wonderfully by the church’s psaltis, and the congregation were able to raise their hearts and minds to the Lord, along with the invisibly present angels. Although His All-Holiness did not serve the liturgy, he presided from the Patriarchal throne, giving his blessing and, at the end of the service, gave a brief homily in Greek to the gathered faithful. All of our party were able, with the blessing of Patriarch Bartholomew, to partake of the Holy Mysteries, along with around 80 others.
After the Divine Liturgy, we spent some time standing in the courtyard of the complex, speaking with a variety of people, including some Greek pilgrims from the United States, and some high rankig Cossack officeres, who are stationed in Istanbul. We were then taken to the Patriarch’s reception hall, and from there to his dining room, where our party was joined by another small party of Greek pilgrims. We were served a delicious meal and were able to speak freely with the Patriarch, although most of the table conversation was in Greek. His All-Holiness even spoke of his joy at the reunion of ROCOR with the Moscow Patriarchate, and recalled meeting the ever-memorable Metropolitan Laurus.
Following on from lunch, and having received the Patriarch’s blessing and a selection of books for the seminary’s library, we said our farewells to the members of his staff who had assisted us in our visit, in particular George Sarraf, who had been incredibly helpful. We were all moved by the incredible hospitality and generosity offered by His All-Holiness and the fathers and staff at the Patriarchal complex.
We then walked back to our hotel, just in time to prepare for a lecture, which was delivered on the hotel terrace by Professor Adrian Saunders. Professor Saunders is a philologist and lecturer in Classics at Koç University in Istanbul and he spoke about the development of the Ottoman perspectives of Constantinople before and after its fall in 1453. His lecture was followed by a question and answer sessions over some refreshments, in which he was able to demonstrate his knowledge in both historical and current events pertaining to social, cultural, religious and political trends, not only in Turkey, but the greater Arab Muslim world.
After this fascinating discussion, our weary pilgrims relaxed over Turkish coffee at a local café before retiring early. Tomorrow, our last day in the City, will take us to the Studios monastery and the ‘little Hagia Sophia’ – the Church of Saints Sergios and Bacchos - among other sites. After this, our journey back to Byzantium will have ended and each member of our group will be departing individually to their respective destinations in Jordanville, Latvia, and Moldova.
Letters from The City: Day Five - by Brother Angelos Stanway
Saturday, July 18th.
Today’s programme kept us inside the old part of the City, as we took in some more of old Constantinople’s venerable monasteries and churches. Since all of the places we visited today were fairly close together, we were able to spend our time lingering at each site and savouring the beautiful works we discovered.
Our first visit was to the Pammakaristos church, a splendid Paleologian-period (14th cent.) construction which has since been converted into a mosque. While the main part of the building is in use for mosque prayers, the parekklesion (chapel) is open to the public as a museum and features a beautiful selection of excellently-preserved mosaics. The walls are lined with the Church Fathers, venerable monastic saints, and the apse contains a striking Deisis. Also captivating was the Pantokrator in the main dome, in which Christ is surrounded by the holy prophets of the Old Testament. Our attempts to join in with the silent doxologies offered by those depicted on the walls was interrupted by an irate security guard, who sternly reminded us that it was ‘just a museum’.
Following this, we made the short trip to the famed Chora Church, ‘just a museum’ that happens to house one of the greatest collections of excellently-preserved mosaics and frescoes in the City. The main part of the church building – also dating from the Paleologian period - is currently closed for repairs, but this does not take anything away from a visit, as the majority of the mosaics and icons are outside this area. The main collection of mosaics depict the life of the Mother of God, and the early life, ministry, and miracles of the Lord Jesus Christ. The most famed of all the church’s artwork is found in the parekklesion, where the glorious fresco of the Anastasis hovers triumphantly over the altar, with six of the great Fathers of the Church standing beneath.
Our next pilgrimage point was one of the most spiritually powerful and uplifting places in the City: the Church of Panagia Blachernae. This church is the site of some of the most famous events in Orthodox and Byzantine history, including the vision of Saint Andrew of the Mother of God’s Protecting Veil, the location of the Robe of the Mother of God, the miracle of the veil at the famed wonder-working icon, which is still located in the modern church building and the Holy Well, which still produces sanctified water for the flow of pilgrims (both Christians and local Muslims) who visit the site daily. Also worthy of note is that this church is associated with the City’s deliverance from barbarians, and the reason for the composition the famous kontakion, “To Thee, The Champion Leader.” In this holy and peaceful place, where heaven meets earth, our pilgrims offered up supplications and prayers to the Mother of God, asking for her continual protection on our journey. Two candles, produced at Jordanville, were left burning in the candle stand, one for the work of Holy Trinity Monastery and Seminary, and the other for the whole Russian Church Abroad.
Prior to our schedule visit to the Phanar, our group stopped briefly at the Fatih Mosque, which stands on the former site of the Church of the Holy Apostles. This is quite relevant to our group, as Fr. Andrei is writing his doctoral thesis on the First-Second Council, which was held here in 861 AD. Thanks to a local contact, we were able to receive a short history of the mosque and a brief explanation of Islamic prayer practices from one of the mosque’s religious officials.
After a brisk lunch, we made our way to the Phanar, were we were met by our host, Mr George Sarraf, a Lebanese-American who currently works at the Patriarchate’s English Office, alongside his academic studies in Thessalonika. He gave us a detailed tour of the Patriarchal Church of Saint George the Martyr, showing us its many treasures: the wonderworking icon of the Theotokos “Phaneromeni,” the holy relics of the Three Hierarchs – our seminary’s patrons, the relics of Saint Solomonia, Holy Empress Theophano, and Great Martyr Euthymia, and their greatest treasure, part of the pillar were Our Lord was scourged prior to His Crucifixion. Prayers were offered at these holy objects by all of our group before we continued our tour of the Patriachal complex. We were taken to the main building and were shown around the reception room and, with His Holiness’ blessing, were taken into the Patriarchal Synodia, were the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate meets monthly to discuss matters pertaining to the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s life and mission.
After a solemn Patriarchal Vespers, we were taken up to the office of Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, where we took his blessing and conversed with His All-Holiness about his work of carrying on the sacred traditions and responsbilities of his See in the circumstances which are so drastically different from those of his predecessors who led the Church throughout the Byzantine era. A visible reminder is the closed gate that we mentioned in our first post, which marks the spot where Holy Hieromartyr Gregory V was hanged by the Ottomans at the onset of the Greek War of Independence. Although there are no violent persecutions in our own times, the incredibly loud azan that drowns out all church services and conversations at the Phanar as it calls Muslims to prayer, serves as a constant reminder of the Church's fragile existence in modern Turkey.
The Patriarch gave each of us pilgrims a small golden cross which had been blessed by him, and extended his hospitality by offering us all cool water and personally handing us some snacks. We reciprocated by gifting him copies of our monastery’s recent publications and CD releases, which he said he looked forward to listening to in his car that night. After our audience, we departed with his blessing and a further invitation to join him for lunch after liturgy the following day.
Letters from The City: Day Four - by Brother Angelos Stanway
Friday, July 15th
For today’s excursion, we again had to depart the main area of the City, and headed over to the Asian side of the Bosphorus. From there, we caught a ferry to take us to the first of two of the Princes’ Islands that we would visit today – the first being the smaller of the two. From our arrival point, we took a traditional horse-driven carriage – a phaeton – to our first stop: the ‘other’ Holy Trinity Monastery and Seminary, the one at Halki, the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s premier – although currently closed - theological school.
Halki was a pleasant surprise for our group. Instead of finding an empty, disused, and depressing seminary, we found a place of activity and hope for the future. Since his arrival four years ago, Metropolitan Elpidophoros of Bursa has led the way in renovating the buildings and grounds of the monastery-seminary complex, and has started the monumental task of bringing the brotherhood, and monasticism there, back to life. Although we didn’t meet the Metropolitan, as he was abroad on business for the Patriarch, we were very warmly received by Br. John, a novice in the brotherhood, which consists of half a dozen novices, two deacons and a priest, who reside at the monastery and maintain the seminary’s buildings, gardens and, most significantly, its impressive library.
We were given a most thorough tour of the seminary’s classrooms – untouched since its government-enforced closure in 1971 – the beautifully-restored grounds, which included themed ‘Biblical gardens’ containing the majority of plants mentioned in the Holy Scriptures, the aforementioned library, containing thousands of fascinating volumes in many languages, the seminary hall, where graduation ceremonies, conferences, and concerts take place, and the catholicon church of the Holy Trinity, in which we were able to pray with some Greek pilgrims and venerate several ancient, miracle-working icons. Also worth noting was the grave of Metropolitan Philotheos (Bryennios) of Nicomedia, who discovered the Didache, one of the most important early Christian texts.
After a lunch that was strangely reminsicent of those at Jordanville (must be an HTS thing…), we walked back to the island’s port for the ferry to the larger island, where we visited the Holy Monastery of Saint George, which lies at the end of a very long, rather steep uphill walk. This small church is the site of a huge and unique pilgrimage every Saint George’s day, when over 100,000 local Muslims come to venerate the saint and his holy icon. After praying in the small church, which is continually flowing with pilgrims and tourists, we had the pleasure of meeting one of the monastery’s two permanent guardians, Monk Ezekiel from Xenophontos monastery on Mount Athos. By the prayers of Saint Theodore the Studite, who was exiled on this island in the early 9th century, this small brotherhood maintains their Athonite prayer lives while tending the church’s grounds, their monastic abode, and the small number of private chapels on the site.
After our departure from the Princes’ Islands, we stopped for supper in the Kadiköy district of Istanbul. Kadiköy is the site of the former Chalcedon, where the fourth ecumenical council condemned the monophysite heresy in 451. Nothing remains of the old city, but an Orthodox church dedicated to the Holy Martyr Euthymia, whose relics played such a significant role in that council, is still in use there. Just like Nicaea, the Byzantine sites of places like Chalcedon and the Princes’ Islands are not numerous, but the presence of active Orthodox parishes and, even more surprisingly, active monastic communities at these places, offer us an unbroken spiritual chain stretching back to the glory days of the Empire.
Letters from The City: Day Three - by Brother Angelos Stanway
Thursday, July 16th.
After a heavy day of travelling around Constantinople and modern Istanbul, our trip changed gear and took on a slower pace for the day, which helped our weary travellers rest their jet-lagged bodies. With Fr. Andrei in Moscow, our reduced group travelled by car to the ferry port on the Asian side of the City, before crossing the Sea of Marmara enroute to our destination at Nicaea (modern day Iznik). One notable sight from both outgoing and return trips was the mass exodus of Turks from Istanbul – most of them heading in a steady stream to their relatives’ homes in the country to celebrate the end of Ramadan.
After three hours of journeying, we arrived in the modern city, most of which is still enclosed within the ancient Roman and Byzantine walls. The first site that we visited was the city walls and the northern gate, which faces Constantinople. Although partly ruined, one can still see that they were strong ramparts to defend the city from invaders. The more adventurous among our party were even able to scale the walls from the inside, and take in the view that they offered.
As the location of the First Ecumenical Council, Nicaea remains a central part of the life and faith of the Orthodox Church – the majority of our Symbol of Faith, recited daily, was composed here. Unfortunately, due to the passage of time, natural disasters, and the departure of the Orthodox population, the location of the first council remains unknown, although there are some theories being put forward. The two most prominent suggestions are that which places the council near the northern walls, and the older theory, which places it somewhere under Lake Nicaea. Recently, a sixth-century Byzantine church was discovered at the bottom of the lake when it was at low tide, suggesting other hidden treasures.
After touring the sites of the city’s walls, we paid a visit to the ruins of what was formerly one of the main cathedrals for the Orthodox population of Nicaea, the Dormition Church, shelled and abandoned in the war of the 1920s. Very little remains besides the foundations and various broken pieces of marble. However, a short block away lies the remnants of a 6th century baptistery which houses a font, featuring inscriptions of a menorah and portions of Psalm 135 in Greek on a suspected 2nd-century marble slab.
Following lunch, we went to the centre of modern Iznik, to the Church of the Hagia Sophia, temporarily being used as a mosque. The 7th Ecumenical Council, which restored the veneration of the holy icons, was held here. This church was, in the 13th century, the heart of the Empire of Nicaea and home of the exiled Patriarchs of Constantinople. The Laskarid emperors, who led the Empire of Nicaea and the eventual retaking of the City from the Latins, were all crowned here. The church building itself maintains much of its exterior and interior ‘churchliness’, and there are even remnants of ancient frescoes visible. The former location of the Holy Table is prominently marked and respectully cordoned off from touristic feet. Also contained in one of the side chapels is an empty Byzantine sarcophagus, whose previous occupant is unknown. Due to the church’s ecclesiastical and political importance, one can only guess that a Patriarch or Emperor was buried there.
Our last stop was at the ruined (since the 2nd century) Roman theatre. Pliny the Younger started building this during his leadership of the city’s government, but construction was halted after the great earthquake of 112 or 113 AD. Pliny is most well known for his Letter to Trajan, which is the earliest known account of Christians from a pagan perspective, which mentions their ‘singing hymns to Christ as God’.
Unfortunately, most of the sites that would be of interest to Orthodox pilgrims are virtually non-existent in our days but the historical importance of the city of Nicaea cannot be underestimated and the visit was helpful because it enabled us to visualise the decline of the glorious Empire, to the extent that one of its most famous and revered cities had practically vanished by the time of the Turkish occupation. However, it also reiterated the power of the Orthodox Faith, in that despite the city, physical Nicaea, no longer exists, the Symbol of Faith, spiritual Nicaea, remains the absolute backbone and starting point for all Orthodox theology.
Letters from The City: Day 2 - by Brother Angelos Stanway
Wednesday, July 15th.
Our first full day in the City was a packed and busy affair that saw us taking in most of the well-known Christian and Imperial sites around the City's older quarters. Deciding not to stop at overviewing nearly 2,000 years of civic history, we proceeded first to the Istanbul Archaeological Museum at the Gulhane Park, which features items stretching back to mankind's origins. Included amongst the artifacts were ancient Assyrian, Babylonian and Hittite items, of no little interest to the seminary's Biblical Archaeology students, of whom two are in Istanbul. Marching through history, the museum's displays are filled with ancient sculptures, pottery and documents from the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods.
After spending two hours immersed in the Ancient Near East, we moved on to the former patriarchal Church of Hagia Eirene, a grand church that escaped becoming a mosque after the fall of the city. The church was the scene of many upheavals during the iconoclastic controversy, and to this day is known for the large cross in its apse, which is thought to be of iconoclastic origins. The church still maintains a dignified and solemn stillness, despite being used for occasional concerts. The Great and Holy Council scheduled for 2016 will take place here. One little-known fact about Hagia Eirene is the sarcophagus kept behind the main church building, which is believed by some to be that of Saint Constantine the Great, Equal to the Apostles.
After lunch at one of Sultanahmet's family-owned restaurants, we went to what will remain one of the most significant stops on our itinerary: the Church of Hagia Sophia, which to Byzantines was simply 'the Great Church'. Basking in its grandeur, we tarried for a while in its narthex as our guide, Marc, made some comments about the church's history and Dr. Permiakov gave a short talk on the Imperial Gates and their role in the Byzantine rite. Inside the main body of the church, where Saint Vladimir's emissaries knew not whether they were in heaven or on earth, we could only imagine what the divine services were like in the glory days of the Empire. We wandered around the interior of the Great Church in awe, and were able to admire the beauty of the few remaining mosaics, including the famous 12-th century Deisis and the magnificent mosaic of the Theotokos in the apse.
Following our journey through the Hagia Sophia, we paid a short visit to the City's 'Basilica Cistern', a huge underground water storage area famed for its pillars recycled from ruined pagan temples, including the famous medusa heads. The final part of our day was spent in the older part of the city, exploring recently-uncovered ruins from the Great Palace of Saint Constantine and his successors. This would have been impossible if it were not for the excellent knowledge of our guide, as the majority of these ruins, including a previously-unknown private imperial chapel, are under the floors of small restaurants, carpet shops and travel agencies. Also included among these ruins is the former clubhouse of Constantinople's 'Green' faction, which currently houses an exhibition about the Hippodrome. Of the Hippodrome itself, which we walked through on our way to the tram to Karakoy, little remains besides three ancient columns, one of which, a 15th c. BC Egyptian obelisk, was brought to the City in the late 4th century AD.
A long, tiring day ended with dinner by the Bosphorus and a short journey back to our residence. Tomorrow, we will be going to Nicaea over on the Asian side, but Fr. Andrei will be making a brief trip to Moscow for an Inter-Conciliar Meeting in Moscow. Tonight we will sleep in the comfort of knowing that this will be the last night in which we are awoken at 2 a.m. by the banging of drums summoning the locals to their midnight Ramadan meal.
Letters from The City: Day 1- by Brother Angelos Stanway
Now that the group has, at long last, arrived in Constantinople, daily updates and reports will be provided by second-year seminarian Novice Angelos, accompanied by photographs taken by members of the group. On the photo, left to right: Dr. Vitaly Permiakov, Fr. Hegumen Constantine Churchin, Novice Brother Angelos
Tuesday, July 14th. Having gathered from the four corners of the Russian Orthodox world (Jordanville via Moscow, Riga via Kiev, Kishinev, and Moscow via London), we intrepid pilgrims met with our local contact and guide, Marc Madrigal, who drove us to our hotel, located in the Phanar district of The City and only a stone's throw from the Patriarchal complex.
After establishing our living quarters, our first trip was made to the front gates of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, permanently locked in memory of the Holy Hieromartyr Gregory V, who was hanged here by the Ottoman authorities at the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence in 1821. Here, before we embarked on our week-long exploration of The City's near-2,000 heritage, we sang prayers and troparia to Our Lord and His saints, asking for protection and guidance on our journey.
The main activity of the evening was a boat trip around the Bosphorus, which allowed us to familiarise ourselves with the area and, assisted by Marc's prodigious knowledge of local history, identify some of the important historical landmarks dotted along the rugged coastline, as well as some more modern developments in the area. The trip on the waters, accompanied by a pleasant coastal breeze, afforded us dramatic views of highlights such as the church of Hagia Sophia, Suleiman and Fatih mosques, Galata Tower, and the massive suspension bridges that connect Europe with Asia. Other notables sites included the Roumeli and Anatolian Castles, which were used to defend the City from attacking navies. Many of these places represent important events that happened outside the city walls, and seeing them from our boat helped us to visualise that which we had learned in Byzantine history class.
After our boat trip, the group enjoyed an excellent fish dinner on the seafront, consisting of locally-sourced fish and vegetables – a real Byzantine meal!