In 1453, Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire, fell to the Ottomon Turks. The new rulers thereafter grudgingly tolerated the conquered people’s religion, but forbade any Muslim to join them under pain of death. That was still true under Sultan Mehmed IV, who ruled from 1648 to 1687 (a contemporary of King Charles II).
AHMED was a curator of the library in seventeenth-century Constantinople. He had two Russian slave women, one a beautiful young girl whom he kept at home, and the other an older lady he allowed to go to church.
When she returned, Ahmed noticed, the two women would be closeted together for a time, and afterwards a delightful fragrance would hang around the younger one. He pressed the girl about these conversations, and she revealed that her companion brought home blessed bread for them to share.*
It was taking quite a risk for a Muslim, but Ahmed just had to see what went on in this church for himself.
From a discreet corner, he watched the strange rites, full of unfamiliar music and colour and movement, and was astonished to see that whenever the Patriarch gave a blessing with his fingers, rays of light danced upon the congregation. This happened several times, but the lights never danced upon Ahmed, and it cut him to the heart.
* This ‘blessed bread’ is not consecrated communion bread, but the loaf from which the communion bread has been cut. The leftover bread, known as ‘antidoron’, is distributed to everyone without distinctions at the end of the service, and often taken home to those who have been unable to attend for any reason.