Istanbul also saw some ecumenical councils. After the first council of Nicaea in 325 another gathering of bishops was convoked. In 381, 150 bishops, all of them from the eastern churches gathered here to react to the heresy that taught that the Holy Spirit wasn’t God but it was something like divine energy. The participants of the First Council of Constantinople rejected such understanding and explained that the Holy Spirit is God. The fruit of their considerations, prayers and meditations is the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed which we recite every Sunday after the Homily. The Creed which was originally written at the Council of Nicaea was completed in Constantinople (today’s Istanbul) in 381. Particularly the sentence: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets was included so that doubts and false interpretations were to be avoided in the future.
The highlight of my visit to the city was the time I spent in the church of Hagia Sophia. It was rebuilt by the orders of Emperor Justinian in 537 and until 1453 when the Muslims conquered the city it was the cathedral of the local bishops. Hagia Sophia means Divine Wisdom but the full name of the church is the Shrine of the Divine Wisdom. However the church isn’t dedicated to a quality of God but to God himself, Our Lord Jesus Christ. In a few days when the Church begins the Christmas Novena we will pray so called “O Antiphons”. One of them goes as follows: “O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.” The Church is calling her Saviour to come and calls him Wisdom of God. That’s why the main feast of the Hagia Sophia, when it was still a Christian church was the Christmas Day. After 1453 the church was turned into a mosque, a four minarets were added to its structure, and it served in this capacity until 20th century when it was made a museum.
Visiting the church I focused on its Christian heritage. Although the liturgy cannot be celebrated here I found a little corner for myself near the section which used to be the sanctuary and quietly I celebrated the Liturgy of Hours. That’s a set of prayers which all priests pray every day. They are not simply prayers but the Liturgy which is always celebrated for the Church and in union with the whole Church. Even it a priest prays it individually it is still the Liturgy of the Church. For me it was a powerful moment when the quite prayer I said became part of the Divine Liturgy which was celebrated here in the early days of the Church.
After the Liturgy of Hours I went upstairs to the room which was used for synod meetings over centuries. There the bishops would gather to respond to the needs of the developing Christian faith. In the room I renewed my Catholic faith by reciting the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed and saying Our Father for the unity of all Christians.