New Rome: The Patriarchal Cathedral of St George
I will attempt to provide information to my Latin readers (or any interested parties) on the Pope Benedict's sixth apostolic journey - this time, to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the City of Constantinople, the New Rome.
So now, on to the first installment:
The Cathedral of St George in the Phanar is the fifth patriarchal cathedral since the fall of the Constantinople to the Turks in 1453 and the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople since the fifteenth century. Pope Benedict XVI will attend a Divine Liturgy celebrated by the Patriarch Bartholomew at St George's on the second day of his three-day long visit.
With the Great Church of Hagia Sophia having converted to a mosque by the occupying Turks in 1453, the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch has shifted frequently in the centuries following the fall of the City. The patriarchal cathedrals since 1453 have been:
* The Church of the Holy Apostles (location of today’s Fatih Mosque), 1453–1456
St Mark's Basilica in Venice (pictured) is said to have been modelled on the Church of the Holy Apostles
* The Church of Panagia Pammakaristos (today’s Fethiye Mosque), 1456–1587
* The Church of the Virgin Mary of Vlahseraion in the Phanar, 1587–1597
* The Church of St Dimitrios in Xyloporta, 1597–1600
* The Church of St George in the Phanar, 1601–present
St George's, formerly a convent for nuns, has since served a large community of monks. To this day, the Ecumenical Patriarchate still comprises a monastic brotherhood under the spiritual guidance of the Ecumenical Patriarch.
The building is reminiscent of 6th century basilicas, with its classical threefold division of the narthex (vestibule), nave and altar area.
The icon screen of St George's does not adhere to any specific iconographic style, resembling instead a conglomeration of Byzantine and Renaissance, as well as Baroque and even Ottoman influences. It is carved out of wood, and was recently gilded. The icon screen is divided into three sections and three levels. Smaller icons are placed before the icon screen itself in order to render them more accessible for personal devotion and veneration.
Damaged by anti-Greek pogroms of the 1900s, the Cathedral of St George has since been restored to its former beauty and redecorated through the generosity of the Grand Benefactor of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Panagiotis Angelopoulos, and his family.
The cathedral of St George's remains a poignant symbol of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Small and serving a dwindling flock, St George's does not accurately reflect the primacy of the Patriarch of Constantinople as first among the Eastern bishops - it has been said that even minor Russian bishops have far grander cathedrals and larger congregations. Under the harsh and unreasonable laws imposed by the Turks on the Church and ethnic Greek alike, it is highly unlikely that Orthodoxy will survive in the City for more than twenty years.
Let us hope that Pope Benedict's visit will shed some of the international spotlight on the plight of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Let us also pray for the conversion of the Turks, that the City may once again be the jewel of Orthodoxy.