It was the greatest defeat in the history of Christianity – and according to several Christian authors, history is repeating itself.
On May 29, 1453, the Ottoman empire under Sultan Mehmed II achieved the dream of Muslims for centuries and conquered Constantinople, proud capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and once the center of the Christian world.
The thick walls of the imperial city had held back the Islamic tide for so long the New Rome seemed invulnerable. But a European turncoat named Orban, eager for the high salary offered by the Ottomans, built large siege cannons for the Turks allowing them to finally breach the defenses.
Offered his life in exchange for surrendering the city, the final Roman emperor, Constantine XI Palaiologos, refused. Largely abandoned by the West, Constantine personally led the defense, aided only by a small group of Genovese under Giovanni Giustiniani. The siege began April 6, 1453, and the 7,000 defenders, outnumbered and outgunned by an estimated 60,000 Turks, were slowly choked off from supplies and food. On May 22, 1453, a lunar eclipse, by some accounts a “blood moon,” appeared over the city. The Romans saw it as the fulfillment of a prophecy of the doom of the city.
On the final night of the Eastern Roman Empire, the desperate population gathered in the Hagia Sophia, the great church built by the emperor Justinian. The emperor thanked the Genovese who had stayed with the defenders and urged his people to fight for the legacy of Greece and Rome. He spent the remainder of the night in prayer.
The next day, the towers were finally overrun, some say after one of the gates was opened by a traitor. According to the account in Lars Brownworth’s “Lost to the West,” the emperor threw off his imperial regalia and cried, “The city is lost, but I live!” Drawing his sword, he personally led a charge into the enemy ranks – and disappeared. To the fury of the Muslim conquerors, his body was never found. No one knows how the last Constantine met his end.
The people fled to the Hagia Sophia in panic, believing God would not let the church itself fall to the invaders. Yet the Muslims burst in even as a final service was being held, smashing the icons, desecrating the worship and slaughtering the priests and congregants. The city was looted for a full day before order was restored, all males of noble birth were murdered, and thousands of men, women and children were enslaved. The Hagia Sophia was transformed into a mosque. Victorious, Mehmed II added “Caesar” to his titles.
Though they had done little to prevent the conquest, the people of Western Europe were profoundly shocked by the fall of Constantinople. The Turks would continue their expansion until they finally were turned back in 1683 by a great European alliance at the Battle of Vienna – on the date of Sept. 11.
But some Christians warn the real Islamic offensive is just beginning, as once again the West is facing the forces of expansionist Islam, including jihadists who swear to re-establish a universal Islamic caliphate and conquer Rome itself. And just as Eastern Christians suffered under Islamic occupation and outright slavery for centuries, today Christians in what was once the heartland of the faith suffer martyrdom for remaining true to their Christian beliefs.
Joel Richardson, an expert on Islamic prophecy and a New York Times bestselling author of works including “The Islamic Antichrist” and “Mideast Beast,” sees the Christian world as falling prey today to the same short-sightedness, pettiness and greed that enabled the destruction of a great Christian civilization.
He told WND: “With the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to Mehmet II Fetih (the Conqueror) came the fall of the final vestiges of the historical Roman empire. It is a tragedy for many reasons.
“First, it was a defeat that could have easily been prevented had the European Christian states come to support their Eastern brethren. But due to political infighting, the Europeans sat back idly as this long shining gem of Christianity fell to the invading Turks.”
Richardson finds it impossible to ignore the parallels between the failure of Europeans to rescue Eastern Christians in the 15th century and the West’s abandonment of Middle Eastern Christians today.
“When I consider the suffering of our Christian brethren in Syria, Iraq and much of the Middle East today, and how relatively little support we are giving them, I see shadows of history being repeated.
“American Christians love the Gospel of ‘the victorious life’ and the gospel of prosperity. Too many believe that in this present age we are called to live our best lives now, but too few believe we are called to suffer along with those who are suffering. If financial commitment is the barometer, then it is quite fair to say that American Christians love their dogs far more than they love their Eastern brethren. The Scriptures tell us that when one member of the body suffers, we all suffer.”
Richardson is also the director of the blockbuster documentary “End Times Eyewitness,” which traces the transformation of once secular Turkey into a radical Islamic state. Richardson sees the conquest of Constantinople as inspiring the Turkish Islamic radicals of today.
He explains: “Within Islamic prophecy, there is an alleged prophecy of Muhammad’s which says that the Muslims would conquer Constantinople – twice. As Mehmet’s armies surrounded the city, he sent Muslim preachers into the camps to proclaim these prophecies to the soldiers. The result was an army endued with profound sense of prophetic destiny. Conquering Constantinople, they believed, was their divinely ordained calling.
“As then, so also today are many of the Islamists throughout the region endued with this sense of prophetic destiny. Not only does ISIS believe they are being swept up by the waves of prophetic destiny, but so also do many of the Turks today believe this.
“Many of the Islamist Turks of the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Davutoğlu believe that as they snatch their nation out of the control of the secular Kemalism established by Atatürk that has dominated Turkey for the past 80 plus years, they are fulfilling Muhammad’s prophecy of conquering Constantinople ‘a second time.'”
Richardson argues Islamic radicals are basing their actions on their own beliefs about the end times and warns, “Do not tell me that Islamic apocalyptic prophecies are not relevant.”
Erdoğan’s Turkey has been accused of providing “direct support” to ISIS and using the terrorist group as a tool for realizing its neo-Ottoman ambitions. Middle East expert and former Department of Defense senior security policy analyst Michael Maloof, author of the WND special report “ISIS Rising: Prelude to a Neo-Ottoman Caliphate,” says some experts believe “Ankara’s cooperation with the jihadist army could be part of a quiet plan to re-establish the Ottoman Empire.”
As the echoes of history play out in our own time, Pastor Mark Biltz, discoverer of the Blood Moons phenomenon and the author of “Blood Moons: Decoding the Imminent Heavenly Signs,” sees great significance in the final lunar eclipse preceding the fall of Constantinople. “I definitely believe it was a sign of judgment,” Biltz told WND.
Bilz told WND astronomical signs are often an indication of the end of an age. Noting the turbulent history of Christendom before the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire, he observed: “The generation prior to the fall is the one that saw the Western Schism in the Roman Catholic Church and the rise of several anti-popes. This era saw not only the end of the Roman Empire but the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation.
“It was the sign of the end of an age. And it was the sign of the end of the Middle Ages, opening the beginning of the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery.”
Biltz says contemporary Christians are also being given signs from the heavens. In Biltz’s opinion, the current sequence of blood moons “is a sign” for today’s’ Christians as judgment always begins in the house of God.
“I believe the current blood moons also signal the end of an era.”
And terrorism expert Erick Stakelbeck, host of “The Watchman” on the Christian Broadcasting Network and author of “ISIS Exposed: Beheadings, Slavery, and the Hellish Reality of Radical Islam,” says Westerners are now in the familiar position of confronting the never-ending jihad by Muslims against the Christian world.
Reflecting on the 562 years since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Stakelbeck says: “The conquest of Constantinople was a watershed moment in the jihad against the West. For centuries, the armies of Islam had threatened – and attempted – to take the city but were turned back. Their eventual victory on May 29, 1453, teaches us a few important lessons that are very much applicable today.”
The first lesson, he said, is “that Islamic jihadists are focused, driven, resilient and patient.”
“Just as they covet Jerusalem and Rome today, they had long targeted Constantinople for strategic and symbolic reasons and literally would not stop until they achieved their goal, despite numerous setbacks,” Stakelbeck said.
“Secondly, Islam is big on symbolism, particularly when it comes to vanquishing Christians and Jews and then triumphantly lording its domination over them. Constantinople was one of the great cities of the West and the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, and it was also seen as a major stronghold of Christianity. Not only did the Ottoman armies ransack and pillage the city in 1453; they destroyed Christian symbols and converted the majestic Hagia Sophia church into a mosque. Message sent.”
In fact, the secular government of Atatürk turned the Hagia Sophia mosque into a museum in 1935. However, following Pope Francis’ public condemnation of the Armenian genocide, a top Turkish Islamic leader announced plans to convert the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque.
In the face of such renewed Islamic fervor, Stakelbeck says the final lesson of the fall of Constantinople is the need for Western unity.
“A third lesson is that a disjointed, complacent West that refuses to put aside various differences and unite to confront the relentless jihadist menace and defend Judeo-Christian, Western civilization cannot prevail in the long term,” he said.
“For Western Europe to essentially stand by and watch Constantinople fall to the armies of Islam in 1453 was inexcusable. Yet history repeats itself.
“Today, the West, led by the Obama administration, is abandoning Israel – a nation that stands as the first line of defense for Western civilization – in the face of the gathering jihadist hordes that seek its destruction. Worse still, the West is actually embracing the most dangerous of those genocidal jihadist forces, the Iranian regime.”