Hagia Sophia, Prince Vladimir and the Light of the World

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (5:14-19) 

The great cathedral of Constantinople, known as the Hagia Sophia or Church of the Holy Wisdom, was first built in 360 a.d. It was burned to the ground twice and then built again a third time under the order of the Emperor Justinian, who is considered a saint of the Church. This final structure was completed in 537 a.d. and remains standing today. We heard during the past week that the Turkish government has decided to convert the great Orthodox Christian cathedral, the Hagia Sophia, in Constantinople, from it’s current status as a museum and cultural site, to allow it once again to serve as a mosque, a place for Islamic prayers to a god that is certainly not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Many of us do not know that the Byzantine empire, which was centered in Constantinople, existed well into the 15thcentury. The two most dramatic events that led to the downfall of the empire were the fourth crusade in 1204, which was led and supported by the Roman Catholic church and specifically by Pope Innocent III. During this so-called crusade, the city was sacked, it’s treasures and wealth stolen, it’s holy sites and churches desecrated and it’s holy relics were taken. The soldiers from Rome and Europe behaved worse than barbarians but for the sake of the young and the innocent ears, I will not say much more. Byzantium never completely recovered and the attack by the Ottoman empire led to it’s downfall in 1453. 

This week we also celebrated the memory of Holy Prince Vladimir. Price Vladimir lived in the 10thcentury, and he was looking for the true faith, for the true God. He sent out emissaries who travelled all around the globe in search of the truth. Upon reaching Constantinople, they saw the magnificent Hagia Sophia and entered into the great church to find that the Divine Liturgy was being celebrated. Who can imagine the glory of the vision that they saw? It is very likely that they saw a hierarchical liturgy with multiple bishops, dozens if not hundreds of priests and deacons and thousands of people together praising the name of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. They were blown away by what they saw and when they returned to Prince Vladimir they exclaimed “we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth.” Wow. The witness of the faithful Orthodox Christian people in Constantinople was so bright and so powerful that Prince Vladimir became a devout Orthodox Christian and compelled his people to accept the Orthodox Christian faith, this forever changed the trajectory of Slavic and European history. 

In today’s gospel reading we hear those familiar words of Our Lord Jesus Christ “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in heaven.” The course of history was forever altered by the light that shined out of the great Christian city of Constantinople, her great cathedral and those holy men and women who filled that cathedral with their voices and their prayers. Each and every person was a light and allowed their light to shine before men. 

We are like these people who lived in Constantinople during all of those centuries. We believe in the same God, the All holy Trinity. We pray the same exact liturgy, we worship in the same exact way as they did. We have received the very same adoption as sons and daughters of God, as children of light. But are we becoming light to the darkened world around us? 

When was the last time that we invited someone to come and pray with us at the church? When was the last time that we introduced someone in our lives to our Lord and savior Jesus Christ? When was the last time that we encouraged someone and prayed for them about the things with which they were struggling? When was the last time we gave the people who were struggling around us, a glimpse of our hope in Christ?

We can go further still: We are similar to those Christians of Constantinople on Sunday mornings, but are we like them during the other 6 days of the week? One of the risks of our modern life is that we have more time at our disposal, this is both a gift and yet it can also be a curse. How we spend our time and where we focus our attention, is quite literally, the stuff that makes up our lives. What is our focus, and where is our time being spent?

Today we have the great joy of welcoming new members into the Orthodox Christian faith. What a beautiful and joyous occasion that we are able to celebrate together with you and for you.The true and living Christianfaith passed down from the Holy apostles and disciples, is now yours. The faith of the valiant saints and martyrs is now yours. The faith of the Holy Prince Vladimir, that his emissaries travelled around the world to discover, is now yours. The faith in the One who tellsus that we are the lightof the world, is now yours. The faith that allows us to grow in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ is now yours. The faith that allows us to know Him and to commune with Him to our fullest potential, is now yours. All of this is now yours, butwhat will you do with such wonderful gifts? How will you use this grace? What will you do with this beautiful treasure that has been handed on to you? Will you grab hold of it with all of your heart and mind and strength, or will you allow the world and it’s cares and desires and temptations, to grab hold of you and lure you away?

This question does not apply only to our newly illumined members, but to the whole of the Orthodox Christian Church, to all of the faithful in Christ. Are Christ, and the things of Christ and His Church going to be our focus in this immoral, lost, andconfused age, or will we focus only on the things that the world tells us are worthy of our focus? Are we consumed by the love of God or are we consumed by material things, by consumerism? I pray that we are consumed by the love of God.

The proof is whether or not we live the teachings of Christ our Lord. The proof that we are consumed by God is that His light will invade our being and we will reflect His love and His mercy and His peace outward to communities, and individuals and to a world that is in desperate need of the love of God and His presence. May we be energized through the grace of the Holy Spirit and rise to the occasion of this present darkness. May we “let our light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” AMEN.

Source: Sermons