July 13, 2020

My Kingdom for a Church


My Kingdom for a Church
Fun fact: the Hagia Sophia was the world's largest building for nearly a thousand years. Dennis Jarvis, Wikimedia Commons

Here's a historical debate for the ages: the Russian Orthodox Church's Metropolitan Hilarion  recently decried the Turkish government's plan to turn the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque. The Metropolitan called the plan "unacceptable": "we can't go back to the Middle Ages now." And with the handing down of a Turkish court decision Friday, which would allow for the chuch's conversion, religious Russians may become even more rankled.

You may be wondering why the Russian Orthodox Church cares. The answer is complicated.

Hagia Sophia was built as a cathedral in the sixth century, when Instanbul (then Constantinople) was the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Russia's brand of Orthodoxy reached Kievan Rus' in the tenth century from Constantinople, and religious, political, and trade ties between the two were myriad. In fact, many of the pieces of graffiti in the Hagia Sophia (including these) may have been left by people from medieval Russia.

When Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453, the Turks turned the church into a mosque by removing the cross on top of the dome, adding four minarets, and plastering over the Christian mosaics inside.

In the early twentieth century, when the Ottoman Empire secularized itself into the Republic of Turkey, the Hagia Sophia was secularized into a museum, and is now a major attraction and site of veneration. It became a protected UNESCO site in 1985. The modern Turkish government, however, argues sovereignty.

For now, Russia might have to make do with its own eleventh-century Sophia cathedral.

You Might Also Like

Sophia Paleologue
  • March 01, 2013

Sophia Paleologue

History offered Zoe Paleologue little hope. Her homeland overrun, her royal pedigree in tatters... And then the Tsar of all the Russias needed a new wife...
Orthodox-Catholic Summit
  • February 14, 2016

Orthodox-Catholic Summit

This week, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill met in Havana. Why was this such a big deal?
Saints Cyril and Methodius
  • May 24, 2017

Saints Cyril and Methodius

A few words about two brothers who rejected their family's wealth and became known as the Apostles of the Slavs. They never visited Russia, but they translated the Gospel into Slavonic.
Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

White Magic

White Magic

The thirteen tales in this volume – all written by Russian émigrés, writers who fled their native country in the early twentieth century – contain a fair dose of magic and mysticism, of terror and the supernatural. There are Petersburg revenants, grief-stricken avengers, Lithuanian vampires, flying skeletons, murders and duels, and even a ghostly Edgar Allen Poe.
The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The fables of Ivan Krylov are rich fonts of Russian cultural wisdom and experience – reading and understanding them is vital to grasping the Russian worldview. This new edition of 62 of Krylov’s tales presents them side-by-side in English and Russian. The wonderfully lyrical translations by Lydia Razran Stone are accompanied by original, whimsical color illustrations by Katya Korobkina.
Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

In this comprehensive, quixotic and addictive book, Edwin Trommelen explores all facets of the Russian obsession with vodka. Peering chiefly through the lenses of history and literature, Trommelen offers up an appropriately complex, rich and bittersweet portrait, based on great respect for Russian culture.
Murder at the Dacha

Murder at the Dacha

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin has a problem. Several, actually. Not the least of them is the fact that a powerful Soviet boss has been murdered, and Matyushkin's surly commander has given him an unreasonably short time frame to close the case.
Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

This astonishingly gripping autobiography by the founder of the Russian Women’s Death Battallion in World War I is an eye-opening documentary of life before, during and after the Bolshevik Revolution.
The Little Golden Calf

The Little Golden Calf

Our edition of The Little Golden Calf, one of the greatest Russian satires ever, is the first new translation of this classic novel in nearly fifty years. It is also the first unabridged, uncensored English translation ever, and is 100% true to the original 1931 serial publication in the Russian journal 30 Dnei. Anne O. Fisher’s translation is copiously annotated, and includes an introduction by Alexandra Ilf, the daughter of one of the book’s two co-authors.
Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar is a hilarious and insightful memoir by a diplomat who was “present at the creation” of US-Soviet relations. Charles Thayer headed off to Russia in 1933, calculating that if he could just learn Russian and be on the spot when the US and USSR established relations, he could make himself indispensable and start a career in the foreign service. Remarkably, he pulled it of.
The Little Humpbacked Horse

The Little Humpbacked Horse

A beloved Russian classic about a resourceful Russian peasant, Vanya, and his miracle-working horse, who together undergo various trials, exploits and adventures at the whim of a laughable tsar, told in rich, narrative poetry.
22 Russian Crosswords

22 Russian Crosswords

Test your knowledge of the Russian language, Russian history and society with these 22 challenging puzzles taken from the pages of Russian Life magazine. Most all the clues are in English, but you must fill in the answers in Russian. If you get stumped, of course all the puzzles have answers printed at the back of the book.
Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

A book that dares to explore the humanity of priests and pilgrims, saints and sinners, Faith & Humor has been both a runaway bestseller in Russia and the focus of heated controversy – as often happens when a thoughtful writer takes on sacred cows. The stories, aphorisms, anecdotes, dialogues and adventures in this volume comprise an encyclopedia of modern Russian Orthodoxy, and thereby of Russian life.
Driving Down Russia's Spine

Driving Down Russia's Spine

The story of the epic Spine of Russia trip, intertwining fascinating subject profiles with digressions into historical and cultural themes relevant to understanding modern Russia. 

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
PO Box 567
Montpelier VT 05601-0567

802-223-4955