The Builder of Aghia Sophia

The following is a repost of an article that appeared on our Diocesan website concerning Aghia Sophia, the ancient Christian temple which for a whole millennium stood for worship of the true and living God worshipped in Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When it was conquered in 1543, it was viciously ransacked, desecrated then rededicated as a mosque for several hundred years. In the past century or so it has served simply as a museum; now by decree of Turkey’s current president, it is reverting again to a mosque. Please pray with me for peace and wisdom to know the proper response to such an important decision.

The Holy Right-Believing King Upravda-Justinian – The Builder of Hagia Sophia

20 July, 2020.  † Metropolitan of the United States, Canada and Australia – Joseph

With the title of Holy Right-Believing King, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has added Emperor Upravda-Justinian in its Calendar of Saints on the date of November 14th.

We recall his life and achievements on the occasion of the recent conversion of the church he built “Hagia Sophia” to a mosque by the Turkish authorities. We ask our readers to pray from the heart to St. Right-Believing Upravda-Justinian to help us in our efforts and struggles. He knows how to do that.

This glorious Emperor of Byzantium is a Slav from his mother’s side, and his father’s. He was born in the outskirts of Sredets (today’s Sofia). He made his way to Istanbul thanks to his uncle, the Byzantine Emperor Justin I (518-527), who visited the capital of Byzantium with his wife and sister. His sister subsequently became Upravda’s mother and her good fortune worked to his benefit. It so happened that after his uncle, Upravda asended the Byzantine Imperial Throne, whose name (meaning “a just one”) translated from Slavic to Latin became Justinian.

The historian of that time, Procopius, testified that under Emperor Justinian, the Christian Empire expanded its borders both to the East and the West thanks to his best Christians-Slavic generals and soldiers— all spiritual children of St. Nikita Remesianski, apostle on our lands with center Remesiana (now Bela Palanca, Serbia).

Emperor Justinian valued the Christian faith highly and understood well both its exaltation and its beneficial influence on mankind (Bishop Parthenii Levskii).

In a short time in Istanbul and Asia Minor, he baptized about seventy thousand gentiles for whom he built ninety temples. He did his best to strengthen and purify Christianity among the Slavs who already lived in the empire, and to bring to Christ those who decided peacefully to live within its borders. For the Slavic churches, he issued his famous Novella 131, which reads: “The Bishop of First Justiniana, our homeland, is to be independent (“autocephalous”) and to ordain the bishops of Coastal and Middle Dacia, of Upper Mizia, and part of second Pannonia.”

St. Church honors the memory of the Emp. Upravda-Justinian also for many of his godly accomplishments. For example, he built so many wonderful temples that the gentile historian Procopius ironically wrote about him that he supposedly spent his whole life doing one thing – building Christian churches.

His most famous buildings are the Sinai Monastery with the Church of St. Kathryn and the famous Istanbul Cathedral “Hagia Sophia.”

Due to a riot in Istanbul, the old temple “St. Sophia” built by St. Emperor Constantine the Great (d. 337) was burned down. Emperor Justinian gathered the best master builders, and sparing no funds or expensive materials, built a temple on the site of the burnt one, to indeed amaze for centuries for its size and its rich artistic merit (Bishop Parthenii).

Here is what we know about the building: four pillars stand in the middle of it, at an equal distance from each other, carved from huge stones, joined together by arches.

The dome has a diameter of nearly 28 m. The entire temple is 85 m long and nearly 77 m wide. The columns of the inside galleries are made of marble, porphyry, and serpentine.

The altar was separated from the middle part of the temple by fourteen silver columns, arranged two by two and capped with gold. On these columns were the icons of the Savior, the Mother of God, and the Holy Apostles.

The four sides of the Altar Table were gold surfaces, and the upper surface was poured out of gold, decorated with precious stones and placed on gold columns. Above the Altar Table there was a canopy made of silver. Sixteen thousand kilograms of silver were used for beautification of the main altar.

How immense this temple was we can imagine the number of employees who Emp. Justinian appointed to serve in it. He himself writes: “In the holy Great Church there must be priests: no more than sixty people, deacons: one hundred, deaconissas: forty, subdeacons: ninety, readers: one hundred and ten, chanters: twenty-five. And the whole number of the venerable clergy of the holy Great Church must be four hundred and twenty-five people, and in addition to them a hundred janitors.”

The benevolent Emp. Justinian also took care for the purity of the Christina doctrine. In 536 he issued an order that a hymn must be sung at the Great Church of “Hagia Sophia” — “The Only-begotten Son and immortal Word of God,” which he co-created and which we still sing throughout the Orthodox Church, as a verdict against the heretics Nestor and Evtihii.

During his reign, the Fifth Ecumenical Council was convened in 553, at which the Orthodox belief was pronounced and these two heresies were condemned.

Contemporaries of the Holy Right-Believing King Upravda-Justinian testify that for the rest of his life, he remained a strict defender of Christian morality, faith, and virtue. He always spent Lent in strict fasting and prayer: he did not even take bread throughout the fast, but satisfied his hunger only with vegetables and water.

He surrendered his spirit to God on November 14, 565.

St. Orthodox Church honors him as a Right-Believing saint – Emperor of Byzantium.

2 thoughts on “The Builder of Aghia Sophia

  1. Justinian is a mixed bag. He executed 30k people in one event alone, and had others executed. This is not the evangelical way. As Origen said to Celsus –Origen, who was far more saintly than Justinian– those among us who are good at governing serve [not the government offices but] the churches”

    • This posted before it was supposed to. I didn’t get to finish. The _Institutes_ of Justinian are wonderful, and codify the mish-mash of Roman law prior to that point; it is to be praised. It was recovered in the 12th century Renaissance in the West, if I’m not mistaken. But while Justinian’s campaigns may be models for modern statesmen, they cannot be models for Christians, who must reject the massive bloodshed they entail. If peacemakers are the sons of God, what are the warmakers?

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