I see that somewhere along the line, the fine people at Touchstone magazine put my 2007 essay on the Fall of Constantinople online.
A series of omens shook the city in her last days: a lunar eclipse; thick fog for days, a phenomenon unheard of in those lands; an eerie red glow around the dome of Hagia Sophia. Some historians now attribute this glow to the local effects of a massive volcanic eruption in the Pacific Ocean, but pious and mystical Byzantines naturally interpreted it as the withdrawal of the protection of divine providence from the Second Rome.
A Mass was said at Holy Wisdom on Monday, May 28; at last, in this final hour, Catholics and Orthodox joined together in worship of the Risen Lord. Greeks who had sworn oaths never to darken the doors of a church contaminated by Romish heretics heard liturgy next to Italians who had declared the Orthodox more loathsome than the infidel Turk.
[. . .]
It is one thing to recite a great and moving story from history; to remember alone is a worthy endeavor; but it will always be asked what we can take from this history. What relevance has it for us today? Allow me to suggest some principles or lessons.
First, though the Queen of Cities did fall, and though the Holy Orthodox Church was taken into bondage, yet the faith endured. I am not myself Orthodox, but I have dear Orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ. Their church yet stands in dignity and witness. The end of a civilization was not the end of a church. The Orthodox Church has rendered, and still renders to a bewildered world, a stirring witness of suffering and perseverance in the Lord.
None should dare minimize this suffering. None should dare let his theological differences with the Orthodox Church blind him to her agony under the yoke of the Turk. Above, I called the dhimma contract “Jim Crow for infidels.” This was no piece of polemical hyperbole. The similarities are unmistakable, and gather, as it were, around the same points of emphasis.
Both the Jim Crow system in the American South, overthrown relatively peacefully in the Civil Rights era, and the dhimma system, which endures in various locales to this day—and is still, according to some studies, the genuine aspiration of millions upon millions of Muslims—were purposed toward a terrible thing: the degradation and servitude of a people.