Friday, July 24, 2020

The Stench of Hagia Sophia

In the Russian Primary Chronicle it is reported that in the year 987, after consultation with his boyars, Vladimir the Great sent envoys to study the religions of the various neighboring nations whose representatives had been urging him to embrace their respective faiths. The result is described by the chronicler Nestor. Of the Muslim Bulgarians of the Volga the envoys reported there is no gladness among them, only sorrow and a great stench. But in Constantinople they found their ideal: "We no longer knew whether we were in heaven or on earth," they reported, describing a majestic Divine Liturgy in Hagia Sophia, "nor such beauty, and we know not how to tell of it." This impressed Vladimir enough to embrace Orthodox Christianity for himself and his people.

When I visited Istanbul in 2001, I had the long-dreamed of opportunity to visit majestic Hagia Sophia. Though it was a museum and construction was taking place, my mind was transported to the many events that took place there over the centuries, as I walked up and down and throughout over the course of a few hours. I was happy to see how well it was kept, that it was clean, and there was active restoration and upkeep going on. All in all, it was a satisfying visit.

Then I visited the Blue Mosque which was built centuries ago directly across from Hagia Sophia. It was built in order to rival the beauty and exceed the majesty and size of Hagia Sophia, as a building designed and built by Muslims as opposed to Hagia Sophia which was designed and built by Christians. I walked up to the entrance, took off my shoes as required, and planned to spend at least thirty minutes inside. I then walked in, and realized why the envoys of Vladimir avoided embracing Islam. It is true that for such a magnificent structure there was nothing inside that brought much gladness, but more than that when I walked inside I was confronted by such a stench that I wanted to vomit. It took me no more than sixty seconds to look around inside before I headed straight for the exit.

The horrible stench of feet in the Blue Mosque was absolutely repulsive. I honestly didn't understand why it stunk so much, when Muslims are required to wash their feet before they enter. Nonetheless, it stunk, and it stunk bad. I've been to other mosques, and some of those smell bad too, though not all of them. Usually the ones that don't have a lot of people in them smell better than popular ones. Still, I thanked God that day that Hagia Sophia was no longer a mosque, because there would have been no way I could have spent any substantial time inside as I did that day and had such an enjoyable experience.

And here we are today, 24 July 2020, a day of rejoicing for Muslims and a day of mourning for Christians, because as of today Hagia Sophia is once again a mosque. Within three years I predict reviews of visitors to Hagia Sophia will complain of its stench. Hagia Sophia will be the most popular mosque in Istanbul. This means a lot of people with stinky feet will be walking around in it every day, at least five times a day. Hagia Sophia is going to stink, and it will stink bad. Most visitors, even Orthodox Christians, will want to avoid it like the plague, or spend as little time in it as possible. This is something we have to look forward to with the reconversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque. Unlike Vladimir's envoys, Hagia Sophia will be a place to avoid rather than be admired.