Thursday, June 28, 2007

Vidovdan (St. Vitus' Day)

On this day in 1389 Serbian forces did battle against a larger Ottoman army on the plain of Kosovo in southern Serbia. When the battle was over, Prince Lazar, the commander of the Christian army, and Murad, the ruler of the Ottomans, lay dead. The Battle of Kosovo marked the end of an independent, united Serbia and the beginning of 500 years of oppressive Ottoman rule.
The following is a speech that Saint Nikolai, gave about the significance of the battle to Serbs:

None of the Christian peoples has in its history what the Serbian people have in Kosovo.

Some 60 years after the Battle of Kosovo, Constantinople fell, the capital of Eastern Christianity. The Christian emperor, of Serbian blood and origin by 1 of his parents, was killed. It could be said that that disaster was like Kosovo. And it might also be said that it was an event even greater than Kosovo. God forbid! In the field of Kosovo the Christian army marched toward death, while in Constantinople they remained in the town hoping to the last moment that death would somehow turn its back on them. When the first cannonballs in history penetrated the city ramparts, terror ensued so that both the army and the citizens were panic stricken. All the churches were filled with crying and prayer to God for the salvation of the city, that is for the salvation of their bodies and for the salvation of the state and the earthly kingdom. That is why the Greeks recorded the fall of Constantinople as night and not as day, as destruction and not as victory. It is true that it was a battle between the cross and the crescent, but without an epopee (epic poetry) and without any inspiration for future generations.
For a defeat understood only as defeat cannot arouse anybody's enthusiasm. Nor can Golgotha itself without the Resurrection inspire and strengthen anybody.
The Serbian Kosovo is a totally different matter.
As the dead are dressed in new and expensive clothes, so was the Serbian army dressed in its best robes. The glowing procession hurried from all the borders of the empire onto honor and fame, to the field of Kosovo. Shaded with cross-shaped banners and the icons of their family saints (slava), singing and cheering, singing and playing musical instruments, with song and joy, the army rushed toward its execution. Does not that remind us of the first groups of Christians who in such a mood went under the sword or to the fire or before the beasts?
Not a single Christian martyr is known to have prayed to God to save him from his approaching death, while thousands and thousands are known to have prayed not to be spared from a martyr's death. Neither did Lazar's army hold prayers for salvation from death. On the contrary, it confessed its sins and took Communion in preparation for death. An entire people as one Christian martyr, obedient to the thoughtful will of the Almighty, accepted the bitterness of death, and that not as bitterness but as a life-giving force.
And has not Kosovo right up to the present day, indeed, served as a vital force to dozens of generations?
In the history of the Christian peoples there is not another case of 1 entire army, an entire nation being imbued by the wish to die in order to meet death for the sake of its religion. This was not to meet a suicidal but a heroic death. Kosovo is unique in the 20 centuries old history of the Christian world. Those are mistaken who say that Kosovo stopped the wheel of our history and held us back. If it had not been for Kosovo, we would have been a great nation today! It was Kosovo that made us a great nation. It is our Golgotha; but it is at the same time our spiritual and moral resurrection.
Still, the holy body of Lazar, imbued with Heavenly power, lies whole even today curing all human disabilities. The bodies of the other knights of the cross were not lost, although they remained on the battlefield. Their bodies were sanctified by their holy souls, and the entire land of Kosovo was dedicated by their holy bodies. Thenceforth Kosovo became the campo santo, the holy field.
That is why the Serbs, even those living in America, come and take a handful or a bag of soil from the holy field of Kosovo to carry it and keep it as a sacred relic in their places of worship and their homes, as is done from the tomb of St. Dimitrije in Salonika or the graves of other Christian martyrs. Kosovo is the greatest tomb of Christian martyrs killed in a single day. No other of such magnitude is known to us. And celebrating the deathday of their saint, the whole Serbian people honor and commemorate St. Vitus' Day (Vidovdan). He who honors the holy martyrs, such as the archdeacon Stefan or Djordje or Dimitrije or Teodor or Trifun or Good Friday and Easter Sunday or Saints Petar and Paul, does not honor the defeated but the victor; neither does he honor the dead but the living.
Therefore, by celebrating the great martyrdom of the Kosovo martyrs, we do not celebrate the defeated ones but the victors, not the dead but those who are alive. Vidovdan is the greatest Slava of the Serbian people. It is day and not night - it is the Day.

"Whoever keeps his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."Matthew 10:39
The book itself preached to the Tsar: "Tsar Lazar of noble ancestry! Which kingdom will you choose? Will you choose the earthly kingdom? Or will you choose the heavenly kingdom?
If you choose the earthly kingdom ...All the Turkish host will perish. If you choose the heavenly kingdom ... All your army will perish, And you, O Prince, will die with them."
After the Tsar heard these words, He pondered all sorts of thoughts: "Dear God, what shall I do and how shall I? Which kingdom shall I choose?
Shall I choose the earthly kingdom? Or shall I choose the heavenly kingdom? The earthly kingdom lasts only a brief time, But the heavenly kingdom always and forever."
So the Tsar chose the heavenly kingdom ... Then the Turks mounted their attack against Lazar.
And the Serbian Prince Lazar perished, Together with his entire army, Seventy-seven thousand in number, And all was holy and honorable And acceptable to gracious God ...
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99 Comments:

Blogger Hellenian said...

Having read other excerpts from Saint Nikolaj Velimirovic that you have previously posted on your weblog, which were truly enlightening, I was very surprised to read this one given its interpretation of the Fall of Constantinople. A lot of what is written in Saint Nikolaj's interpretation is clearly not the case (at least in my fallible opinion).

I understand the significance of Vidovdan and the Battle of Kosovo (i.e., that although the Serbs were defeated militarily they were victorious spiritually) and although there are obvious differences between the Battle of Kosovo and the Fall of Constantinople, I don't believe their impact and significance is as different as has been made to look.

Ever since the Fall of the City, Constantinople has been the inspiration for every single generation of Hellenes. Just as Serbs remembered Kosovo and Prince Lazar during the dark period of Turkish occupation, Greeks looked to Constantinople and Emperor Constantine. So when the Greek Revolution began, its ultimate goal was the re-creation of the Eastern Roman Empire (i.e., the so-called "Byzantine Empire"). That was the dream of every enslaved Greek and it remains the dream of every (genuine) Greek nationalist. Every so often, the leftist and pro-Western newspapers will post "shocking" and "disturbing" statistical evidence about how a large portion of Greek youth view the capital of Greece as being Constantinople rather than Athens. Only recently, the liberal Kathimerini newspaper posted the results of a survey that uncovered that 37.9% of Greeks view Constantinople as an "unliberated land". (The relevant news article is found here and the relevant graph is found here.) Helleno-Orthodox nationalist newspapers such as Stohos regularly proclaim slogans that read "And Don't Forget Hellenes: The Capital of Greece is Constantinople". And, of course, on 29 May hundreds of Greeks commemorate the Fall of the City with a procession in Athens that leads to the statue of Konstantinos Dragasis Palaiologos.

Much poetry does, in fact, exist about the Fall of Constantinople. (How epic it is in comparison to Serbian poetry regarding Kosovo, I can't say, but there is no doubt of its existence.) Here is one such poem/song (found in my old Greek school booklet, which explains why the translation is not so great):

God is great, Earth is great, Heaven is great too;
The greatest of all is Agia Sofia, the Great Church.
It has four hundred chimes and sixty two bells.
Each bell a priest, each priest a deacon.
In its left side the King chants, the Patriarch in the right.
From the exciting chanting even the pillars trembled!
Time for the cherubic Hymn and the procession of the Christ-king.

A voice came from heaven, from the lips of the archangel:
"Stop the cherubic Hymn and cease the sacred procession.
Priest may take the sacred vessels away, let the candles be put out.

"For it is God's will that the City become Turkish...
Only send a message to France for three ships to come.
One for the Holy Cross, the other for the Holy Gospel.
The third and most important for the Holy Altar.
To save them from unfaithful dogs who may defile them.
The Holy Mother was shocked, and many icons wept.
--Don't cry Holy Mother, please don't weep so much.
After many years to come, they shall be ours once more..."


Reflecting the great significance of Eastern Roman civilization and that, despite our physical defeat in 1453, it has not been lost spiritually or ever will be, the Cypriot poet Basilis Mihailidis wrote "Romiosini will be lost when the world no longer exists".

The fact that, following the establishment of a Greek state, the Greeks believed in the Megali Idea (which literally translates to "Great Idea" in English) demonstrates that the memory of the Fall of Constantinople had not ceased to inspire. Every Greek believed in it and dreamt of the day when Constantinople would, once again, be the capital of Greece. Saint Nikolaj actually lived during the time when this idea was still popular, which is why his appraisal is so surprising. But he was also alive to see Greeks fail in achieving this dream and actually lose the land they had control over in Asia Minor, something that had a devastating psychological effect on Greeks.

Aside from the obvious reasons, the Fall of Constantinople had immense significance for Greeks because (as the ballad above implied) it was the will of God that the City fall so that its inhabitants could be saved. Although the greatest Christian empire fell, its people remained Orthodox. Given how decadent we had become, it is possible that we would have lost our faith if things had turned out different. So God, in His great wisdom, willed it that our empire fall so that we wouldn't. Thus, Greeks are still an Orthodox Christian people today. Things are nowhere near ideal (in fact, this contemporary era of Westernization probably represents the greatest state of degeneration in all our history) but, as we are Orthodox, we still have the capability to improve -- something we wouldn't have if the Latins had Catholicized us.

Although the Fall of the City did not inspire Greeks in the same way as the Battle of Kosovo inspired Serbs it, ultimately, served the same purpose as the latter: to keep the people Orthodox and to galvanize future generations.

All of this said, I want to emphasize that I'm not trying to go against what a saint said. I'm just a man and I certainly don't consider myself more wise than a saint. I'm just searching for answers why Saint Nikolaj would have interpreted the Fall of Constantinople in the way that he did. Maybe I don't have all the facts of what Saint Nikolaj said or maybe I'm misinterpreting something; if I'm wrong in my belief, I certainly want to be shown how I am wrong through the truth of Orthodoxy.

11:09 PM  
Blogger Nikola said...

I freely admit I am no expert on the fall of Constantinople. But given that I posted this speech, I tried to research further and see if I was able to reconcile the substance of the speech with reality, since you bring up some very valid points.
It turns out that what I came across and posted is only about half of the original speech (found here: http://www.rastko.org.yu/kosovo/duhovnost/nvelimirovic-kosovo.html). Unfortunately, not only is what I found and posted incomplete, but this chunk does not even appear in the original as a continous piece of text. So there are bits missing inbetween various paragraphs in the speech I posted.
I will try to translate those parts which may shed light on some of your points.

8:30 PM  
Blogger Hellenian said...

Thanks for looking into this. I appreciate it and look forward to reading the missing translation.

1:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hellenian as a fellow Greek I agree with your assesment and it was eloquently stated. Personally I am no expert on the fall of the Holy City but like you I understand its grand significance for our people, it seems that too many of us have fallen to the the "sickness" brought on by complacency and the West. Either way the Battle of Kosovo has similar significance to our Serbian friends and hopefully both will be returned to two devoutly Orthodox peoples. I also understand that Serbians and Hellenes must aid each other in our mutual goals and only through cooperation and friendship may this be achieved. May our two people forever be friends

5:37 AM  
Blogger Nikola said...

Ok I’ll try and separate your points and respond to them methodically.

I understand the significance of Vidovdan and the Battle of Kosovo (i.e., that although the Serbs were defeated militarily they were victorious spiritually) and although there are obvious differences between the Battle of Kosovo and the Fall of Constantinople, I don't believe their impact and significance is as different as has been made to look.
Ever since the Fall of the City, Constantinople has been the inspiration for every single generation of Hellenes. Just as Serbs remembered Kosovo and Prince Lazar during the dark period of Turkish occupation, Greeks looked to Constantinople and Emperor Constantine. So when the Greek Revolution began, its ultimate goal was the re-creation of the Eastern Roman Empire (i.e., the so-called "Byzantine Empire"). That was the dream of every enslaved Greek and it remains the dream of every (genuine) Greek nationalist.


I don’t doubt that this is true. I don’t think that St. Nikolai was downplaying the heroism of the last stand, and the righteous resistance.
It might be useful for me to explain in slightly more detail the significance of the Battle to Serbs. Everything revolves around the oath or covenant of Tsar Lazar, derived from the New Testament tradition of martyrdom that it was better to obtain freedom in the celestial empire than to live in a morally corrupt earthly kingdom, and it is not an exaggeration to say that this formed and influenced the Serbian consciousness more than any other event in history.
The Serbian people's spiritual choice of Heaven over earth was manifested most fully and evidently in the fateful choice made in 1389. This choice was made by the soldiers and martyrs, who were led and given an example by the Tsar Lazar. Christ's words about the road of suffering which leads to the Kingdom of Heaven reach - through the spiritual self-denials of the first Serbian saints and through the descriptions of the poets reached their culmination in the act of the martyr-deaths at Kosovo.
This is seen in the following extract from the epic poetry that St. Nikolai refers to:
And thus the letter itself speaks to the Tsar:
'Lazar! Lazar! Tsar of noble family,
Which kingdom is it that you long for most?
Will you choose a heavenly crown today?
Or will you choose an earthly crown?
If you choose the earth then saddle horses,
Tighten girths- have your knights put on
Their swords and make a dawn attack against
The Turks: your enemy will be destroyed.
But if you choose the skies then build a church-
O, not of stone but out of silk and velvet-
Gather up your forces take the bread and wine,
For all shall perish, perish utterly,
And you, O Tsar, shall perish with them."
And when the Tsar has heard those holy words
He meditates, thinks every kind of thought:
"O, Dearest God, what shall I do, and how?
Shall I choose the earth? Shall I choose
The skies? And if I choose the kingdom,
If I choose an earthly kingdom now,
Earthly kingdoms are such passing things-
A heavenly kingdom, raging in the dark, endures eternally."
And Lazarus chose heaven, not the earth,
And tailored there a church at Kosovo-
O not of stone but out of silk and velvet-
And he summoned there the Patriarch of Serbia,
Summoned there the lordly twelve high bishops:
And he gathered up his forces, had them
Take with him the saving bread and wine.
As soon as Lazarus has given out
His orders, then across the level plain
Of Kosovo pour all the Turks.

Lazar was offered a choice between an earthly or a Heavenly kingdom, which would result in a victory or defeat, respectively, at the Battle of Kosovo. Lazar, naturally, opts for the Heavenly kingdom.
The following extract is part of the speech that I originally posted. Together with the original, it is still not quite complete, but I believe this is the most relevant part. (Since he compares and contrasts the Battle of Kosovo, with other Serbian battles, and outlines that which made Kosovo unique).


And our lifegiving tradgedy at Kosovo 550 years ago divides those that try to interpret it. Some see the Kosovo golgotha as a tragedy, some as a victory.
Let us for a moment examine some other defeats and victories in Serbian history, to see if we can shed some light on the matter of Kosovo.
The victory of King Milutin against the infidel Huns and against the Latin crusaders were of immense importance for the Serbian state and Orthodoxy in the Balkans. Yet who knows the date of those victories? Who celebrates them today?
The victory of St. Steven of Decani at Velbuzda represents one of the most glorious victories in the times of the Nemanjic’s. That victory went down in history, but not in the (Church) calendar.
Dusan decorated his name with many victory wreaths. But all those wreaths seem like wilted leaves when they are compared with the lasting ever-green of Lazar.
Obilic returned from Plocnik to Krusevac to notify the honrouble Tsar of the glorious victory over the sultans army, but that episode is just a small sidenote compared to the terrible disaster of Kosovo.
Then let us examine the defeats. There were more of them. But none is as similar to the defeat at Kosovo as Maritsa. There also the cross and the crescent clashed. And there the ruler died, a very powerful one, and a multitude of knights and dukes, the entire Serbian army. But even so the defeat at Maritsa is without that halo of martyrdom, a defeat which does not lend itself to poetry. The poetic genius of the Serbian nation did not want to concentrate on this occurrence. He gave us only one splendid poem on a loosely connected event (…)
Kosovo is unique amongst all Serbian victories and defeats based on two distinctions.
1. The unity of motive regarding doing battle
2. The resolution for martyrdom

How can we identify these 2 characteristics?
Let us again examine the afore-mentioned victories and defeats.
King Milutin went into battle against the Huns with 2 motives: in the name of Christianity and the Serbian state. He wanted to defend the Christian faith from infidels and to defend his earthly Kingdom from external invaders. He also did battle with the Papal crusaders with the same motives; the first motive was to defend Orthodoxy from Latinist’s and the second was to defend his state, his earthly kingdom.
Those two motives can be seen with the Holy King of Decani also. He was obliged to do battle against Sisman to uphold the law against agression and to safeguard his nation and state. He clearly stated this in his letter to Sisman.
Dusan also had in mind 2 aims for his battles in the Balkans: to strengthen his state and with this to eradicate Islam from the Balkans and to contain it within the borders of Asia. He fought therefore for the Christian Balkans that the Balkans would not fall into Turk hands, that it would remain Christ’s- and Dusan’s.
And Obilic fought at Plocnik for two causes: for the faith and for the state, for the Christian faith against unbelievers and for the state against foreigners.
King Vukasin could have inspired the Serbian army at Maritsa with Christ against Mohammed; but infact he wanted to secure victory against Turks for his own prestige compared with other Serbian dukes and again, again- for the earthly glory of the Serbian empire.
Let us also note that in all of these battles there wasn’t a particular will on the part of the commanders or soldiers to die, a readiness to willingly die, to accept death and the wreath of martyrdom. We do not by this wish to say that our fore fathers that took part in those wars and battles were not heros. Absolutely not. Their heroism is unquestionable. They went into battle ready to win or to die, but with a wish to win and remain alive.
Let us also mention a more recent battle (…)
When the Duke Sindjelic saw that the Turks were hesitating and jumping into the Serbian redout he lit a barrel with gunpowder and filled the redout with death. (…)
But even this cannot be compared to Kosovo because it was at the spur of the moment, and the decision to die came only when death was inevitable.
It is different with Kosovo. There there was a total unity in terms of the aim and motive of battle, and a resolve to die. The battle was for the Heavenly Kingdom, not for the nation, state or Tsar, or anything earthly and temporal.
And the honrouble Tsar, and his dukes, and his entire army set out for Kosovo with a determination to willingly lay down their lives for the heavenly kingdom


As St. Nikolai says of Lazar:

after a long struggle remeniscent of Gethsemane, and after much sweating in Krusevac he chose death and eternal values and threw away the temporal, that which fades and is illusory.

And he makes it clear that it wasn’t just Lazar who knew they were going to death:

And not just the Jugovic’s. All the lesser and greater Serbian dukes were aware that they were marching to death.

In the consciousness or subconsciousness of the entire nation there hummed a mysterious message, that at Kosovo Christ was distributing wreaths of martyrdom, and that those wreaths musts be siezed, that one kingdom was being sacrificed and another gained; and that the fateful hour had arrived when for the honrouble cross everything was being sacrificed.

The Tsar’s decision to accept the heavenly kingdom, was taken in the name of the whole nation, and it was the greatest possible event in our entire history and the standard and idea by which we judge everything.


He explains the meaning of the battle:

It is for us our national Golgotha but at the same time our national resurrection, spiritually and morally.

And I think this is the difference that St. Nikolai is getting at. I do not know, was the defeat at Constantinople viewed in such a positive light? Did the people feel at the time that they were consciously and willingly sacrificing their earthly kingdom for spiritual fruits in the future? That there was a purpose and reason for the fall of Constantinople is not up for dispute. Another point which deserves clarification is that Constantinople is your Jerusalem, and St. Nikolai is not saying that Kosovo (on a physical, territorial level) means more to Serbs than Constantinople to Greeks. On that level, the meaning of the 2 territories themselves is comparable. What I think he is getting at is the following. As we have discussed before, during the world wars St. Nikolai explained that our state was destroyed, that God allowed the destruction of the state to save the nation which was degenerating. I fully agree that there is a similar reason for the fall of Constantinople. But just as in the world wars the will of God ordained that the state would fall (the Serbian nation did not consciously and willingly choose this), the same could be said (as far as I am aware) of the fall of Constantinople. Whereas with Kosovo it was a conscious choice.
Also Greek’s are inspired to reclaim that which was lost in the defeat. In other words they remain optimistic despite defeat. Whereas Serb’s celebrate Kosovo because of the defeat. Lazar and the army chose the eternal over the temporal. It is not really to do with reclaiming (even though we also lost it eventually and subsequently reclaimed it) anything physical or reestablishing an earthly empire. In the case of the Battle of Kosovo nothing was lost compared to that which was gained. It was a sacrifice that was deliberate and calculated. From the poetry that you have posted there is an optimism that Constantinople will be reclaimed. The Serb poetry does not focus on the physical reclamation of the lost land, or the re-establishment of an earthly kingdom, but on the spiritual meaning of the sacrifice. It was at that point in history where on a national level Serbs decided to sacrifice everything temporal and earthly for the heavenly homeland. And it served as an example in both the lives of individuals and as a guide to how the nation should be organised in the future. There is of course such a meaning for the loss of Constantinople as you rightly conclude. But God ordained that Constantinople would fall. It is clear from the epic poetry that St. Nikolai refers to that Lazar had a choice at Kosovo, and he chose defeat and martyrdom. I think this is the key difference that is being highlighted. Lazar was offered an earthly kingdom and victory, or earthly defeat, and a heavenly kingdom. His oath or covenant was therefore a deliberate sacrifice that inspired and guided Serbian people spiritually for the rest of our history. That is why it is more important than any other point in Serbian history. Like I have said the fall of Constantinople was a brave and heroic last stand that is rightly commemorated (bravery and steadfastness is celebrated), but I’m not sure that it has the spiritual meaning that Kosovo has for Serbs.
This is another extract from the poetry which shows that there was a full awareness of why defeat had to be chosen:

‘Know, Oh splendid founder of the Lazarica church, that this day is the turning point for your nation from evil to good. Forgetting the will of God, mindless self-will was dragging the nation into the crater of eternal death. From now your nation will have to submit to the will of foreigners, so that he can be schooled to submit to God’

‘When your nation becomes enslaved under non-Christian rulers as many centuries as Israel was enslaved by the Egyptian pharoes, the cross will utterly fill the soul of your people and become embedded within it’

Oh wonderful martyr for Christ, what a truly glorious oath you have left to your nation, binding it to the eternal kingdom!

It will illuminate the nation, lead it, and deliver it to the promised land of freedom- not a symbolic one in time, but a truly free and eternal angelic one.

From the moment of defeat, there was already an indication and rejoicing of the meaning and future fruits of the conscious sacrifice:

A man who sows seeds on a field is making himself poorer in the eyes of an ignorant observer, for he is wasting and emptying his granary. But the calculation is not made before the sowing, but before the harvest. This day is a great day of sowing for this nation in the field of time. And when the harvest arrives, from the seeds you sowed today, oh worthy sower, you will observe from heavenly heights, and rejoice with unutterable joy.

We await to celebrate the day of the Kosovo defeat as the greatest national day!



Every so often, the leftist and pro-Western newspapers will post "shocking" and "disturbing" statistical evidence about how a large portion of Greek youth view the capital of Greece as being Constantinople rather than Athens. Only recently, the liberal Kathimerini newspaper posted the results of a survey that uncovered that 37.9% of Greeks view Constantinople as an "unliberated land". (The relevant news article is found here and the relevant graph is found here.) Helleno-Orthodox nationalist newspapers such as Stohos regularly proclaim slogans that read "And Don't Forget Hellenes: The Capital of Greece is Constantinople". And, of course, on 29 May hundreds of Greeks commemorate the Fall of the City with a procession in Athens that leads to the statue of Konstantinos Dragasis Palaiologos.


I don’t think the issue here is about whether Greeks viewed Constantinople as their Jerusalem. I’m sure they do, and understandably so. One cannot lose such a glorious and significant city and not desire to reclaim it. I don’t think Nikolai is saying that Greeks have forgotten it, or do not desire to reclaim it. He is saying that the defeat itself did not have the same effect on the Greek people as Kosovo had for Serbs.

Much poetry does, in fact, exist about the Fall of Constantinople. (How epic it is in comparison to Serbian poetry regarding Kosovo, I can't say, but there is no doubt of its existence.)

Given my ignorance I tried to find out more about Greek poetry in general, and about the fall of Constantinople in particular. As far as I can see there is more poetry similar to what you have posted. The difference seems to be that Serbian poetry and songs subsequent to Kosovo are almost exclusively about Kosovo. And not only that, but we had no poetry from before that period. I don’t think the fall of Constantinople was such an exclusive influence on Greek national poetry and I don’t think there is anything that can be referred to as ‘epic’. St. Nikolai does not say that the Greeks had no poetry on Constantinople, but nothing that can be referred to as an epopee. Try searching ‘epic poetry kosovo’ and ‘epic poetry constantinople fall of’. Even when I left out the word ‘epic’, there is still a vast disparity between that which I found on Kosovo, and that on the fall of Constantinople. As far as I can see there is not an entire genre or historical period characterized by poetry about Constantinople, as there is for Serbs in the case of Kosovo. So as you imply could be the case, the difference is relative. It’s not that Greeks have no poetry.
St. Nikolai also said somewhere else:
In the period of our enslavement our nation created something so enormous, which can be compared to the church architecture of the Nemanjic period. It is the Serbian national poetry. No other nation on earth produced something similar under similar circumstances.


The fact that, following the establishment of a Greek state, the Greeks believed in the Megali Idea (which literally translates to "Great Idea" in English) demonstrates that the memory of the Fall of Constantinople had not ceased to inspire. Every Greek believed in it and dreamt of the day when Constantinople would, once again, be the capital of Greece. Saint Nikolaj actually lived during the time when this idea was still popular, which is why his appraisal is so surprising. But he was also alive to see Greeks fail in achieving this dream and actually lose the land they had control over in Asia Minor, something that had a devastating psychological effect on Greeks.

It is interesting that you refer to the loss of Asia Minor having a devestating psychological effect on Greeks. Is not St. Nikolai saying that the fall of Constantinople had the same negative psychological effect on Greeks? Naturally Greeks did not give up their desire to reclaim Constantinople, but it was as he says ‘night and not day’.

Aside from the obvious reasons, the Fall of Constantinople had immense significance for Greeks because (as the ballad above implied) it was the will of God that the City fall so that its inhabitants could be saved. Although the greatest Christian empire fell, its people remained Orthodox. Given how decadent we had become, it is possible that we would have lost our faith if things had turned out different. So God, in His great wisdom, willed it that our empire fall so that we wouldn't. Thus, Greeks are still an Orthodox Christian people today. Things are nowhere near ideal (in fact, this contemporary era of Westernization probably represents the greatest state of degeneration in all our history) but, as we are Orthodox, we still have the capability to improve -- something we wouldn't have if the Latins had Catholicized us.

Although the Fall of the City did not inspire Greeks in the same way as the Battle of Kosovo inspired Serbs it, ultimately, served the same purpose as the latter: to keep the people Orthodox and to galvanize future generations.


I agree entirely. I also believe that this is the very reason why Constantinople had to fall. But I think the crux of the matter is this: Why did the fall of Constantinople not inspire Greeks in the same way as the Battle of Kosovo did the Serbs, even though it served the same purpose? I can only posit that Serbs were more aware of the purpose, as a result of the stark choice that they made, and as witnessed by the masses of subsequent poetry, and the celebration of the day as a positive occurrence (the most positive in their history).
St. Nikolai also said somewhere else:

And truly the nation held out and survived everything, giving thanks to Kosovo and the Church. The Church was the interpreter of Kosovo, and Kosovo was the explanation of everything that happened before and after the fall of the Serbian kingdom.

What do you think, I’d be interested to learn more about the fall of Constantinople…

1:03 PM  
Blogger Hellenian said...

This additional information changes the interpretation of Saint Nikolaj's words considerably. I would have to agree in that, as far as I know, the Serbian experience (i.e., being given a choice between spiritual defeat and temporal victory or spiritual victory and temporal defeat and consciously selecting the latter) is unique, not only in comparison to the Greek experience but probably to all Orthodox nations. I can think of nothing else in history like that.

In regards to your question, the people of Constantinople, prior to the fall of the City, viewed the impending destruction as a punishment for their sins -- which has a lot to do with (illegitimate) unions that were being made with the Papists (i.e., the Catholics) for purely temporal objectives usually surrounding some sort of Western aid.

This began in 1274 when, only a handful of years after Constantinople was liberated from the Crusaders, Michael VIII Palaiologos signed a union between the Greek Church and the Latin Church. (This is also the reason why these "unions" were illegitimate: they rested on the emperor's signature and perhaps the support of a few hand-chosen corrupt bishops rather than an Ecumenical Synod.)

As seen from the following excerpt from "The Fall of Constantinople: 1453" by Steven Runciman, the actions of emperors like Michael VIII were in the totally opposite direction of the action of Prince Lazar (who choose the spiritual over the temporal):

"But to many Byzantine statesmen it seemed clear that the Empire could not survive without help from the West. If such help could only be obtained at the price of submission to the Roman Church, then the Greeks must submit. Michael Palaeologus had tried to counter western plans for the re-establishment of the Latin Empire by committing his people to union with Rome at the Council of Lyons. His action was fiercely resented by most Byzantines; and when the danger was over his son, Andronicus II, repudiated the union. Now, with the Turks enveloping the Empire, the situation was far more alarming. Union was needed now not to buy off a Christian enemy but to win friends against a worse and infidel enemy. There were no powers in the Orthodox East who could bring aid. The princes of the Danubian lands and of the Caucasus were too feeble and themselves in grave peril; and the Russians were too far away, with problems of their own. But would any Catholic potentate come to the rescue of a people that he regarded as schismatic? Would he not consider the Turkish advance as a just punishment for the schism? With that in mind the Emperor John V had personally submitted to the Pope in Italy in 1369. But he prudently refused to involve his subjects, though he hoped, in vain, to persuade them to follow him".

It's interesting to note that an omen took place during the imperial delegation's unholy voyage to the Pope, which is mentioned in "The Last Centuries of Byzantium, 1261-1453" by Donald M. Nicol (even though the Western author unsurprisingly seems to ascribe absolutely no significance to the event):

"The Orthodox Church was to be represented by the former Patriarch Germanos III and by Theophanes, Bishop of Nicaea. Neither had any special qualifications or commanded any great respect; and Theophanes at least had private doubts about the whole affair. But they were the best that the Emperor could find in the circumstances. The delegation set out from Constantinople in two ships early in March 1274. Towards the end of the month, when they had got no further than the Morea, they ran into a storm off Cape Malea. The ship carrying the cargo of treasures and icons which were to be presented to the Pope was lost. There was only one survivor. But Akropolites, with the ex-patriarch and the Bishop of Nicaea, managed, after a short delay, to reach Italy."

It must be mentioned here that the vast majority of the people and the Church were completely opposed to these attempts to submit to the Pope. Emperors who committed to such heretical dealings waged ceaseless propaganda, deposed and replaced patriarchs, and arrested and persecuted huge masses of outraged civilians and clerics in their attempts to neutralize the Orthodox -- which they naturally failed at.

The fact that these "unions" had little effect to convince the populace is testified by the great occasion that took place following the repudiation of Michael's pseudo-union by his own son Andronikos II:

"His first official act was to renounce the Union of Lyons and proclaim the restoration of Orthodoxy. [...] Andronikos was under very strong pressure from many quarters to make a public renunciation of the promises that his father had obliged him to make to the Popes. His aunt Eulogia, who had latterly been confined in exile, was most insistent that he should be seen and heard to confess his sins and recant. She even persuaded the widowed Empress Theodora to abandon any hope that her late husband's soul might be saved from damnation. Another of Michael VIII's victims, Theodore Mouzalon, who had now been promoted to the position of Grand Logothete, also strongly advised the young Emperor to break with the bad past. Andronikos did not require much persuasion. He was a devout Christian with a deep interest in theology. He hesitated only because he was very attached to the Patriarch John Bekkos, whom it would now be necessary to remove from office. For the former Patriarch Joseph, though now elderly and an invalid, would have to be reinstated. But Andronikos could not afford to let his personal feelings override the wish of most of his subjects, and on 26 December 1282, barely a fornight after Michael VIII's death, John Bekkos was arrested and taken to a monastery in Constantinople. He went quietly and the Emperor's agents were careful to offer no violence to him. A few days later Joseph was carried back to the patriarchate on a stretcher. The streets were thronged with cheering crowds and the church bells were ringing.

"The prisoners and survivors of Michael VIII's reign of terror were now set free and became the heroes of the hour. The monks Meletios and Galaktion, the one rendered dumb, the other blind in the cause of the Orthodox faith, were paraded as martyrs. The zealots and the monks made the most of the occasion. The cathedral of St Sophia was purified with holy water and re-dedicated, as it had been when the Latins left the city in 1261. The monks took it upon themselves to impose various penances on those, both lay and religious, who had favoured union with Rome or worse still taken communion with the Latins and their supporters. A monk called Gennadios denounced them in prophetic tones as violators of the Scriptures. The Patriarch Joseph was too ill to be able to take much part in these cathartic proceedings, but he was prevailed upon to decree that all unionist bishops and priests must abstain from the sacrament for three months. Priests like Constantine Meliteniotes and George Metochites, who had served as envoys to the Pope and attended Mass with him, were unfrocked. The Emperor allowed these things to happen even against his better judgment so that, as Pachymeres puts it, 'the storms of yesterday might be stilled and peace be restored, and that his own conscience, which had been sorely troubled by having to support his father's policy, might be set at rest'.

"But the excitement mounted and the storms were not stilled. The Patriarch gave his tacit approval to the idea that prominent unionists should be brought to trial as traitors; and a campaign was whipped up for the prosecution of John Bekkos, not simply as a Latin-minded prelate but also as a usurper of the patriarchal throne. A synod of bishops was convened in Constantinople in January 1283. The Patriarch was too weak to preside, but the presence of the Patriarch of Alexandria lent it some authority. The Grand Logothete Theodore Mouzalon proposed that all documents attesting the Union of the Churches should be burnt. The bishops then formally charged John Bekkos with heresy, his own arguments in favour of Latin theology being turned against him by his accusers. He refused to come and face the synod on trial until he had an assurance that he would be protected from the mob. Finally he was condemned and told that there was now no place for him, since the lawful patriarch had resumed his office. Bekkos was sent into exile in Brusa.
[...]

"The Emperor confirmed in writing all the decisions made by the synod. One of them related to his deceased father. Michael VIII was not to be honoured by any memorial or requiem, nor to be given a Christian burial. [...]

"On 23 March 1283 the Patriarch Joseph died. [...] The last word in the nomination lay with the Emperor, and Andronikos tried to steer a middle course between the Josephites and Arsenites by choosing as Patriarch the eminent scholar George of Cyprus. He was a layman, which might be all to the good; and, though he had formerly favoured union with Rome, he had long since changed his theological views. Elaborate precautions were taken to ensure that he was consecrated by a bishop free of the taint of the Latin heresy, and on Palm Sunday, 28 March 1283, he was installed as the Patriarch Gregory II. But the Arsenites felt cheated, and the anti-unionists continued to call for the trial and conviction of those who had betrayed Orthodoxy. The new patriarch convened another synod in Constantinople, in the church of the Blachernai near the palace. The dowager Empress Theodora was there required to recite a profession of her Orthodox faith, to repudiate her past, and to swear that she would never ask that her late husband Michael should be decently buried. The Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch were also called to account and ordered to renounce their unorthodox statements and deeds. The Patriarch of Antioch resigned for fear of reprisals and took refuge in Syria". (Source: "The Last Centuries of Byzantium, 1261-1453")

Obviously, some emperors took their faith more seriously than others. Another such emperor was Manuael II Palaiologos. Although he sought Western support, unlike Michael VIII, he wasn't willing to betray his faith in the process:

"Manuel may have come to the west as a beggar, but he did not behave as one, and he did not look like one. Nor did he offer as an incentive the conversion of himself or his people to the Roman Church. He asked only for the unconditional help of fellow Christians in the defence of a worthy cause of which he was a worthy representative". (Source: "The Last Centuries of Byzantium, 1261-1453")

Unfortunately, his eldest son, John VIII, wasn't as devoted to Orthodoxy and, like Michael VIII, he was willing to betray his faith for Western support against the Turks:

"Manuel's eldest son, John VIII, was so certain that only Western aid could save the Empire that, neglecting his father's advice, he decided to press for union with Rome. Only the Western Church could rally the West to his rescue. The Papacy had recovered from the Schism; but it had been restored by means of a Conciliar movement. John knew that the only chance of inducing his people to accept union was for it to be decided by a council as oecumenical as circumstances would allow. The Papacy could not now reject the plan for a council. After long negotiations Pope Eugenius IV invited the Emperor to bring a delegation to a council to be held in Italy. John would have preferred to hold it at Constantinople, but he accepted the invitation. The Council opened at Ferrara in 1438 and was moved the next year to Florence, where the vital discussions took place.

"[...] In the debates it must be admitted that the Latins had the better. Their delegation was composed of highly trained controversialists who worked together as a team, with the Pope in the background to advise them. The Greek delegation was more diffuse. The bishops were a sorry lot, as many of the more reputable had refused to attend. To improve their standard the Emperor had raised three learned monks to metropolitan sees. [...] By Orthodox tradition every bishop, including the Patriarch, is equally inspired on doctrine while the laity are entitled to theological opinions. So each Greek disputant went his own way. The Patriarch, an amiable old man called Joseph, the bastard son of a Bulgarian prince and a Greek lady, was not very clever nor in good health and carried no weight. [...] There was no coherence and no fixed policy among the Greeks; and all of them were kept short of money and were eager to go home.

"In the end union was forced through.
[...] The Patriarch Joseph, after agreeing with the Latins that their formula of the Holy Ghost proceeding from the Son meant the same as the Greek formula of the Holy Ghost proceeding through the Son, fell ill and died. An unkind scholar remarked that after muddling his prepositions what else could he decently do? [...] All the other Greek bishops, with one exception, signed the act of union, some of them under protest, complaining of pressure and threats from the Emperor. The exception was Mark of Ephesus, who would not subscribe, even though menaced with the loss of his see. The act itself, though it permitted certain Greek usages, was little more than a statement of Latin doctrine, though the clause on the Pope's relationship with the Councils was left slightly vague

"It was easier to sign than to implement the union. When the delegation returned to Constantinople it was met with undisguised hostility.
[...] The Eastern Patriarchs refused to be bound by the signature of their delegates. The Emperor had difficulty in finding anyone to take over the Patriarchate of Constantinople. His first nominee died almost at once. The next, Gregory Mammas, appointed in 1445, grimly held on to the post for six years, boycotted by almost all of his clergy, then retired to the friendlier atmosphere of Rome. Mark of Ephesus was degraded, only to be treated by the people as the true head of the hierarchy. [...] The emperor himself wondered whether he had done rightly. He would not repudiate the union, but, influenced by his mother, the Empress Helena, he ceased from pressing it. All that it had achieved was to bring division and bitterness to the dying city.

[...]

"To many Western historians it has seemed that the Byzantines in rejecting union were wantonly and obstinately committing suicide. The simple folk led by the monks were moved by a passionate loyalty to their creed, their liturgy and the traditions, which they believed to be divinely ordained; it would be sin to desert them. [...] The Byzantines knew that this earthly life was only a prelude to the everlasting life to come. To buy material safety here below at the price of eternal salvation was not to be considered. There was, too, a streak of fatalism in them. If disaster was to befall them it would be God's punishment for their sins. [...] Even in the great days of the Empire men had whispered of prophecies that it would not last for ever. It was well known that on stones throughout the city and in the books written by the sages of the past the list of emperors was written, and it was drawing to an end. [...] Even those who trusted that the Mother of God would never allow a city dedicated to her to fall into infidel hands were now few in number. Union with the heretic West could not bring salvation nor could it alter fate.

"[...] A few statesmen looked further ahead. Byzantium, as any cool observer could see, was doomed. The only chance of reuniting the Greek Church and with it the Greek people might well lie in accepting Turkish bondage, to which already the majority of the Greeks were subject. Only thus might it be possible to reconstitute the Orthodox Greek nation and so revive it that in time it might regain enough strength to throw off the infidel yoke and recreate Byzantium. With few exceptions, no Greek was so far lacking in pride as to contemplate the voluntary submission of his body to the infidel, any more than he would voluntarily submit his soul to the Romans. But might not the former be the wiser course if it excluded the latter? Greek integrity might well be better preserved by a united people under Moslem rule than by a fragment attached to the rim of the Western world. The remark attributed by his enemies to the last great minister of Byzantium, Lucas Notaras: 'Better the Sultan's turban than the Cardinal's hat', was not so outrageous as at first it sounds". (Source: "The Fall of Constantinople: 1453")

Ironically, Demetrios Palaiologos, who (in the words of Runciman) "saw himself as the champion of the Greek faith against the Latinizing tendencies of his brother John" attacked Constantinople with Turkish aid in 1442 but Konstantinos (who would, a few years later, become the last emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire) arrived with reinforcements. Demetrios was defeated but was allowed to stay in Constantinople.

Despite the fact that the popular hatred against the pseudo-union of Florence remained unabated, Konstantinos Palaiologos, as emperor, considered himself bound to it because of his brother's commitments. However, he took no action in regards to it, neither repudiating nor implementing it, at least at first. The West was irritated that, despite the "union" that had been signed that nothing was being done to implement it. Konstantinos actually made an effort to convince the Pope to agree to a new council that would take place in Constantinople and with the Orthodox Patriarchates fully represented:

"The Emperor Constantine was well aware of this difficulty. In the summer of 1451 he sent an ambassador to the West, Andronicus Bryennius Leontaris, who went first to Venice to arrange permission for the Emperor to recruit archers in Crete for his army. He then went on to Rome with a friendly message from Constantine to the Pope and with a letter addressed to the Pope written by a committee of the anti-unionists. They called themselves a Synaxis, as the word synod could not be legally employed by a body acting without the Patriarch. The Emperor had put pressure on them to send this appeal, apparently on the advice of Lucas Notaras. The Synaxis proposed the holding of a new council, this time at Constantinople, which should be properly oecumenical, with the Eastern Patriarchates fully represented and the Roman delegation reduced in numbers. It was signed by many anti-unionists, though George Scholarius Gennadius refused to subscribe, believing that no good would come of it. He was right. The Pope was not prepared to set aside the Council of Florence or to condone the dissidents' complaints. It was particularly unfortunate that at this moment, probably while Bryennius was still in Rome, that the Patriarch Gregory Mammas arrived from Constantinople in voluntary exile. His complaints did not incline Nicholas to be conciliatory. No answer was sent to the Synaxis; but the Emperor was informed that while the delicacies of his position were realized at Rome he clearly exaggerated the difficulty of enforcing union. Firm action was needed. The Patriarch must be recalled and reinstated. Greeks who refused to understand the decree of union should be sent to Rome for re-education. The Pope's crucial sentence read: 'If you, with your nobles and the people of Constantinople, accept the decree of union, you will find Us and Our venerable brothers, the Cardinals of the holy Roman Church, ever eager to support your honour and your empire. But if you and your people refuse to accept the decree, you will force Us to take such measures as are necessary for your salvation and Our honour'". (Source: "The Fall of Constantinople: 1453")

Sadly, Konstantinos -- with the doctrine of economy in mind (i.e., the discretionary power to relax rules in Orthodoxy) -- chose the opposite path of Lazar and, following the erection of a Turkish fortress on the European shore of the Bosporos, sent a letter to the Pope promising to implement the pseudo-union:

"[...] He was now eager to do what he could for the Emperor, as he had received a letter, written soon after the Sultan had completed the building of Rumeli Hisar, in which Constantine undertook to implement the union.

"Isidore, rejected Metropolitan of Kiev and All Russia and recently a Cardinal of the Roman Church, had been appointed Papal Legate to the Emperor in May 1452. He now left for Constantinople.
[...] Not only was Isidore welcomed with deference by the Emperor and his court, but there was even some enthusiasm among the populace. The Emperor was quick to follow this up. Committees representing the people of the city and the nobles were appointed, to give their adherence to the union. The people's committee agreed, as the opponents of union refused to sit on it. The nobles' committee, where the discussions were more serious, would have preferred a compromise by which the Pope's name would be commemorated in the liturgy but the actual promulgation of union would be deferred; but the Emperor, pushed by Isidore, overruled them. It was almost certainly Lucas Notaras who handled the negotiations, acting with great tact; but he received no thanks for it. To Gennadius and the intransigent opponents of union he seemed to be deserting the cause, while Isidore and the Latins doubted his sincerity. They were so far right in that he seems to have advocated the use of Economy, that doctrine dear to Orthodox theologians which permits a condonation of divergency in the higher interests of the Christian commonwealth; and he seems also to have hinted that the whole question could be reopened when the crisis was over. Gennadius was bitterly distressed. Before Isidore's arrival he had delivered a passionate harangue to the people, begging them not to desert the faith of their fathers in the hope of material assistance that would be of little value. But the sight of the Cardinal's soldiers had made them waver. He therefore retired to his cell in the Pantocrator, after affixing to the monastery gate an angry manifesto in which he warned the people once more of the criminal folly of their abandonment of true religion. Lucas Notaras wrote to him to say that his opposition was vain; but his influence began to be felt again. There were anti-Latin riots in the streets; and as the weeks passed and no more troops arrived from the West the enemies of union recovered their strength.

"[...] Archbishop Leonard, however, with a Latin's contempt for the Greeks, was dissatisfied. He demanded that the Emperor should arrest the leaders of the opposition and appoint judges to condemn them. It was a foolish suggestion; for it would only have created martyrs. Constantine contented himself with summoning the members of the Synaxis to meet him at the Palace, on 15 November, to explain their objections. At his request they drew up and signed a document giving reasons for their refusal to accept the union of Florence. They reiterated their theological disapproval of its formula on the Holy Spirit; but they would, they said, welcome another Council, to be held at Constantinople and to be attended by qualified representatives of all the Eastern churches. The only obstacle to this was the ill-will of the Latins. They would, they added, gladly receive back the Patriarch Gregory if he would assure them that he shared their faith. It is not known whether Gennadius was present at the meeting with the Emperor. He was not among the fifteen signatories of the document, who included five bishops, three high dignitaries of the Patriarchate and seven abbots and monks. Their attitude was not unreasonable, if the union was not to provoke a schism between the Church of Constantinople and all the other Orthodox Churches. But to the politicians unity with the West, which might bring material help, took precedence over unity with Eastern Churches which could provide no assistance.

"A few days later there occurred the sinking of the Venetian merchant-ship by the guns of Rumeli Hisar. A new wave of panic swept through the city; the need for Western aid seemed more urgent than ever. The unionist party won back supporters. Gennadius, fearing, as he admitted, that the desire for help would spread like a forest fire, issued another broadsheet, to emphasize that Western help involved union. He repeated in it that he at least would not allow his faith to be sullied in the hope of help the efficiency of which was very doubtful. His words were read and noted.

"On 12 December 1452 a solemn liturgy was held in the great cathedral of the Holy Wisdom, in the presence of the Emperor and the Court. The Pope and the absent Patriarch were commemorated in the prayers, and the decrees of the union of Florence were read out. Cardinal Isidore, anxious to show that his fellow-Greeks had been won over, reported that the church was thronged; only Gennadius and eight other monks were absent. But other members of his party painted a different picture. There was no enthusiasm among the Greeks; and henceforward few of them would enter the cathedral, where only priests who had accepted union were allowed to serve. To Archbishop Leonard even the Emperor seemed to be lukewarm and weak in his efforts to enforce the union, while Lucas Notaras was, he thought, its open foe. If Notaras did indeed make his oft-quoted remark preferring the Sultan's turban to the Cardinal's hat, it was doubtless provoked by irritation with the intransigence of such Latins as Leonard, who would not understand his efforts at reconciliation.

"After the union had been proclaimed there was no more open opposition. Gennadius kept silence in his cell. The bulk of the people accepted the accomplished fact with sullen passivity; but they worshiped only in churches whose priests were untainted. Even many of its supporters hoped that if the city were spared the decree would be amended. Had the union been followed quickly by the appearance of ships and soldiers from the West its practical advantages might have won it general support. The Greeks, with the doctrine of economy in their minds, could have reflected that the abandonment of their religious loyalties would be well compensated by the preservation of the Christian Empire. But, as it was, they had paid the price demanded for Western aid, and they were cheated".
(Source: "The Fall of Constantinople: 1453")

With the pseudo-union officially proclaimed, it is clear why Constantinople fell and indeed why it had to fall: the state along with part of the hierarchy and part of the populace had betrayed Orthodoxy. Even though it's clear that the pseudo-union was not genuinely accepted by anyone but a few individuals, what occurred went beyond the limits of economy and into the terrain of heresy. The fact that the "union" was proclaimed in the Church of Holy Wisdom was itself a desecration of the church and one of the highest order when one recalls the blasphemous actions of the Latins (who were now being commemorated) in that very church in 1204.

Just before its fall, there were many clear omens that divine providence had left the City.

Here follows Nicol's narrative:

"[...] The anti-unionists refused to enter the doors of St Sofia now that it had been polluted by the Latin mass. Their followers turned on the Emperor and shouted abuse at him in the streets as one who had betrayed Orthodoxy and so involved the faithful in ruin. Many must have believed them. But it was too late now to reverse the process. The just must suffer with the unjust, the innocent with the guilty. The wrath of God was turned against all his children, as it had been foretold. The end of the world seemed to be nigh.

"There was an atmosphere in which coincidences were translated into the fulfilment of oracles and unusual phenomena into half-expected portents. On the night of 24 May the dome of St Sophia appeared to be suffused with a red glow that crept slowly up and round from its base to the great gilt cross at the top. The light lingered there for a moment and then went out. The crowds who saw it were in no mind to explain it as a reflection from the flames of the Turkish bonfires beyond the walls. It must be an omen. Nicolo Barbaro says that it looked like an eclipse of the moon. Had not the prophets warned that the city would fall in the days when the moon was waning? Others interpreted it as a sign that the holy light in the cathedral of the Holy Wisdom, and with it the guardian angel of the city, had gone for ever. The Virgin too, who had always been its protectress, seemed to be wavering in her affections. When the most hallowed of her icons was brought out to be paraded round the streets, it slipped off the framework on which it was being carried aloft; and almost at once a thunderstorm broke out and the city was deluged with torrents of rain and hail. Such a coincidence would have made the Byzantines anxious at the best of times. In their present state of terror and credulity it moved them to hysteria".


And here follows Runciman's narrative:

"[...] There were signs that Heaven itself was turning against the city. During these days everyone remembered again the prophecies that the Empire would perish. The first Christian Emperor had been Constantine, son of Helena; the last would be similarly named. Men remembered, too, a prophecy that the city would never fall while the moon was waxing in the heavens. This had cheered the defenders when they faced the assault during the previous week. But on 24 May the moon would be at the full; and under the waning moon peril would come. On the night of the full moon there was an eclipse and three hours of darkness. It was probably on the following day, when the citizens all knew of the hopeless message brought by the brigantine, and when the eclipse had lowered their spirits still deeper, that a last appeal was made to the Mother of God. Her holiest icon was carried on the shoulders of the faithful round the streets of the city, and everyone who could be spared from the walls joined in the procession. As it moved slowly and solemnly the icon suddenly slipped off the platform on which it was borne. When men rushed to raise it it seemed as though it were made of lead; only the greatest effort could replace it. Then, as the procession wound on, a thunder-storm burst on the city. It was almost impossible to stand up against the hail, and the rain came down in such torrents that whole streets were flooded and children nearly swept away. The procession had to be abandoned. Next day, as if such omens had not been enough, the whole city was blotted out by a thick fog, a phenomenon unknown in those lands in the month of May. The Divine Presence was veiling itself in cloud, to conceal its departure from the city. That night, when the fog had lifted, it was noticed that a strange light played about the dome of the great Church of the Holy Wisdom. It was seen from the Turkish camp as well as by the citizens; and the Turks, too, were disquieted. The Sultan himself had to be reassured by his wise men who interpreted the sign as showing that the light of the True Faith would soon illumine the sacred building. For the Greeks and their Italian allies there was no such comforting interpretation.

"Lights, too, could be seen from the walls, glimmering in the distant countryside far behind the Turkish camp, where no lights should be. A few hopeful watchmen declared that these were the camp-fires of troops coming with John Hunyadi to rescue the beleagured Christians. But no army appeared. The strange lights were never explained.

"Now once again the Emperor's ministers went to him to beg him to escape while still it might be possible and organize the defence of Christendom from some safer spot where he might find support. He was so weary that while they talked to him he fainted. When he revived he told them once more that he could not desert his people; he would die with them.

"The month of May was drawing to a close; and in the gardens and the hedgerows the roses were now in bloom. But the moon was waning; and the men and women of Byzantium, the ancient city whose symbol had been the moon, prepared themselves to meet the crisis that all knew to be upon them".


To understand the full extent of the slaughter that followed, you can consult Runciman's narrative, which is probably the best narrative on the Fall of Constantinople in English. But for the reasons of the fall itself, they should be clear.

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