Saturday, January 14, 2012

Incense and Rose

We timidly entered the foyer. Our whispers, despite our best efforts, still reverberated off the cold and gray marble. Should we go in? The priest is singing Vespers. How improper would it be to go in now? I don’t know…

Then, we were startled by a loud thud as the door behind us closed. We looked at the shorter, dark-haired man heading our way. “Tamam? Acık?” We asked with our teeny knowledge of Turkish. “Evet. Evet” He replied and threw open the huge church doors.

The sound of vocal harmony flooded our ears as the grandeur of the sanctuary was revealed.  Gold. Marble. Limestone. Silver. Massive columns and portraits. All twelve apostles numbered among uncountable Saints. The song, totally in Greek, meant nothing to us, except it was gorgeous. The divinity of the words was impossible to miss, despite not knowing more than 10 Greek words.

But all of those senses paled in comparison to the most unmistakable marker that you are now in the presence of the Almighty: Incense filled every corner as we sat, and prayed, in the Aya Trinada Greek Orthodox Church.


Our pace noticeable slowed as we stepped through the large, foreboding gates garnished with gilded Arabic calligraphy. Ok, do I take my shoes off now? Or should I wait. It’s Friday, should I go in yet, or will I be shooed out during prayer? I don’t know…

Then, suddenly. Keaton opened the canvas flap into the mosque. He immediately found the face he was looking for. “Hello! Merhada, Ibrahim!” The aged, mustached groundkeeper smiled wider than seemed possible. “Hudson! Hudson!” Ibrahim greeted Keaton in the traditional Turkish way, but did it as if he was seeing his grandson again. Throwing open his arms, he did the same to Peter and I.

We were given a tour of the impressive Tophane mosque. The intricate painted tiles shone in the dim lights. Medallions with massive Arabic words proudly presented the names of those holy forerunners. The only sound were the occasional mumble of prayer and Ibrahim’s proud voice explaining, in some twisted Turkish-German-English the incredible history of the building. We were then left at the back sitting in awe of the domes, arches, and friezes left by Mimar Sidan.

But all of those sensed paled in comparison to the most unmistakable marker that you are now in the presence of the Almighty: Ibrahim returned with a bottle of rose water and filled our cupped hands as we sat, and prayed in the Ali Paşa Mosque.

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