Tuesday our group woke up to rain in Istanbul. The winds had turned from the south overnight and that, our guide told us, means rain in Istanbul. And so it was. But that didn’t dampen spirits as our Briarwood Retreat Center/Briarwood Leadership Center Leadership Journey group toured the ancient Hagia Sophia. This massive cathedral served for almost 1,000 years as the largest Christian church in the world. After the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453 it became a mosque for 450 years (requiring a bit of a shift in the focus of the apse to the southeast from the east wall altar).
With the rise of modern Turkey the mosque became a museum and has been such for almost 100 years. Although there are nationalistic movements within Turkey to return it to a mosque. For today it was a space for all people to marvel at Justinian’s vision, supported and prodded by his wife Theodora, of a church that would exceed the temple of Solomon. We also saw where Viking mercenaries, perhaps bored by the liturgy or just wanting to make their mark, carved Runes into the marble of the gallery railing in the 11th century.
The leadership and theological learnings from this are significant as we reflected on what Paul, proclaiming a saviour crucified by the empire, would think of such an Imperial church.
We then journeyed west for many hours. Leaving Turkey and entering Greece on the modern highway that has replaced the Roman Via Egnatia. That trip got us to the port city of Kavala just before sunset. We enjoyed dinner and a walk around the harbor as the fishing boats came in for the night. Tomorrow we walk 5 minutes from our hotel to the spot where the Apostle Paul first stepped foot on European soil. From there a full day in Phillipi and onward to Thessaloniki. #NTNL #BWTX #InMissionTogether