The greatest building of the Byzantine world was the Hagia Sophia - the Church of Holy Wisdom. Designed by the architects Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus, construction of the third church was begun in A.D. 532, under the supervision of Emperor Justinian. The previous two churches had been burned down, the first in A.D. 404 by the angry supporters of the city's favorite preacher, John Chrysostom, after he was exiled by the Empress Eudoxia; the second during the infamous Nika (victory) revolt when 30 000 people were slaughtered in the hippodrome in front of the emperor's palace. Hagia Sophia is vast in size and significance. Though a museum since 1935, its 55 metre high central dome still calls worshippers to look up to the heavens, and its glittering mosaics move us to bow down before Christ, the judge and ruler of all. The Hagia's ability to humble the human heart is exemplified by the fact that the Emperor Justinian would take off his crown and unbuckle his weapons before entering the church to worship. In the presence of the eternal God even he was a man among equals.
While walking through that sanctuary today a tour member was overheard to say: 'I just took a selfie in Sophia.' Now taking photographs of historical places is natural, and inserting yourself into the breathtaking scenes is inevitable, but is there a cautionary tale in that caption? After all, humans are experts in promoting themselves. We crown ourselves with self-congratulation and blindly buckle on the weapon of self-defense to protect ourselves from any threat to our pride. And therein lies our problem! Unlike the Emperor Justinian, people believe they can nonchalantly whistle their way up to God, with no thought of dethroning their self before a greater, higher sovereign, the only wise God who opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. Nor are they willing to unbuckle the weapons they use to keep God's searching and sanctifying Spirit from disturbing their selfish soul. "For this is what the high and exalted One says- he who lives forever, whose name is holy: 'I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. (Isaiah 57:15) 'If you plan to build a tall house of virtues, you must first lay deep foundations of humlilty.' (Saint Augustine)