We are in Istanbul. Our room is close to the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque), completed in 1616. Sultan Ahmed used treasury funds because, unlike Sultan Suleiman who conquered Belgrade and Hungary, Ahmed had not gained treasure from remarkable victories. At the time, people were upset by the cost.
When we arrived, it was cold and wet, not unusual for November.
The gateway has a chain above it, designed to force the Sultan, who rode on horseback, to bow as he entered.
We removed our shoes and entered through the tourist door. The interior is massive.
“If you have seen one mosque, you’ve seen them all,” Karen says.
“This one is blue,” I say.
“Not that much,” Karen says. “There’s just a little bit of blue on the ceiling and walls. It isn’t very blue.”
“Okay,” I say. I noted that there was no good place to sit and meditate. Visitors were confined to a roped off area and there was much talking and commotion. Tourists who sat on the floor risked being stepped on.
“We’ll go to the Hagia Sophia,” I suggested.
The Hagia Sophia (Church of Holy Wisdom) is now a museum. The first and second Eastern Orthodox churches built on the site were burned down during riots in 404 and 532. The present structure was the largest cathedral in the world from 537 to 1453. Constantinople (the earlier name of Istanbul) was conquered by Catholics during the Fourth Crusade, and, as a result, the Hagia Sofia was a Catholic cathedral from 1204 to 1261. During that time the pope excommunicated the Orthodox Patriarch, widening the schism between these Christian denominations.
We see Islamic calligraphies and Christian frescos on the upper level.
In 1433, the Ottoman Empire laid siege to Constantinople, a shock to all of Christiandom. The Catholic Church was not fully unified and did not come to Constantinople’s aid. When the city was conquered by the Ottomans, ten of thousands of its residents were slaughtered or sold into slavery and the great cathedral was converted into a mosque. Christian images were covered over with plaster. In the video, you can see six large calligraphies, Moslem representations for Allah, Muhammad, and the first four Califs (considered “rightly guided” by God).
By the 1930’s, Hagia Sophia had fallen into disrepair, but in 1935, it was secularized and converted into a museum. Several of the ancient Christian frescos, covered by plaster, were restored.
We visited the “weeping column,” which, like the statue of Jesus in Medjugorje, is thought to magically secrete liquid. Visitors who twist their thumbs for 360 degrees within a hole in the column are thought to have their wish granted. The weeping column appeared dry during our visit.
The fresco shows Emporor Constantine and his wife, Empress Zoe, donating money to the cathedral. During the 532 riot, over 30,000 people were killed and half the city was destroyed, including the Hagia Sophia. The crowd wanted to kill Emperior Constantine and had selected his replacement. Constantine considered fleeing the city but Empress Zoe stated that she would rather die as an empress than live as a regular person. A new chariot race was organized, gathering the two chariot teams (Blues and Greens) which represented the two political/ideological groups (Constantine was a Blue.) Constantine sent his eunuch to bribe the Blue leaders, a dangerous task. The leaders accepted the bribe, left the arena, and their followers also left. Constantine’s army then slaughtered the Greens and soon afterward executed the man selected to replace him. He then began building the present Hagia Sophia cathedral to replace the one destroyed in the riot.
“What do you think Jesus is saying to Constantine and Zoe as they present him with the money?” I asked Karen.
We see an image of Jesus, portrayed by an Orthodox artist, perhaps before 1204.
We learn that Pope Francis will be visiting the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, accompanied by the Grand Mufti of Istanbul. The pope seeks to close the gap between Christians and Muslims.
We wanted to see Pope Francis. We saw helicopters, drones, security personnel and police snipers on the minarets.
We see Pope Francis, leaving the Blue Mosque. He is the white figure getting into the white car. The audience applauds.
“And…he’s in!” Karen exclaims, as the pope gets into the car.
The telephoto lens brings him closer.
Lao tsu writes (chapter 55):
“He who is in harmony with the Tao
is like a newborn child.
Its bones are soft, its muscles are weak,
but its grip is powerful.
It doesn’t know about the union
of male and female,
yet its penis can stand erect,
so intense is its vital power.
It can scream its head off all day,
yet it never becomes hoarse,
so complete is its harmony.
The Master’s power is like this.
He lets all things come and go
effortlessly, without desire.
He never expects results;
thus he is never disappointed.
He is never disappointed;
thus his spirit never grows old.”
Then Pope Francis met the Istanbul Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church. They said the Lord’s Prayer together.
It is easy for people of all denominations to pray together if they remain silent. Those who do not believe in God can meditate with them. Lao tsu is in harmony with this.
The next day, we went back to the Chinese Consulate and submitted our paperwork, including extra documents. They said we should come back in a week and pay the fee required to get our visas for China. This is good news. Before, it had seemed that we would be unable to get a visa.
My friends at home suggested that we had been blessed by seeing the pope. We are blessed by being silent. You can also be blessed. Sit in silence with us.