Thoughts for the Day

Saturday, 11th December 2021: Hagia Sophia

Ember Days Hagia Sophia God Worship Psalm 84

Reading : Verses from Psalm 84

Hagia Sophia

O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob!....

For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than live in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
he bestows favour and honour.
No good thing does the Lord withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts,
happy is everyone who trusts in you.

(Church in Wales Lectionary, New Revised Standard Version)


While doing my MA in Pastoral Liturgy in Heythrop, a Roman Catholic College in London, a few years ago I wrote a long dissertation on the church of Hagia Sophia (now a mosque), in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul). This church has fascinated me ever since. First built by the son of Constantine the Great in the early 4th century, it was rebuilt by Justinian the Great in the 6th century. It is one of the greatest surviving example of Byzantine architecture. For over 900 years Hagia Sophia was the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople and a principal setting for imperial ceremonies. It was converted to a mosque at the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

Justinian made Constantinople the base of his Empire rather than Rome, and services in Hagia Sophia were often 'stational liturgy' (moved around the city) and so the church had 56 doors with 100 door-keepers. As the Patriarch and the people waited outside, the great doors of the narthex would open and all could see the incredible interior filled with gold, silver, and mosaic icons and furniture. They could see all the way down the nave to the ambo (a raised stone platform which housed the 160 singers) and beyond it to the sanctuary - the place where heaven and earth would meet at the culmination of the Service. We might think of Hagia Sophia as an earthly place filled with heavenly reality.

How wonderful to be a door-keeper in the house of my God, says Psalm 84! Does this make you rethink your church building, or its worship?


Lord God Almighty,
creator of all that is,
You come to us in our worship
where heaven and earth meet.
May we never take this for granted,
but enter Your house with
expectation and hope this Advent
to await the coming of Your Son our Lord
this Christmas

Follow Up Thoughts

You might like to look at this article with its lovely artwork on the doors in Hagia Sophia:

Return to index