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Christians of the Byzantine liturgical tradition both Orthodox and Greek Catholic. Early accounts suggest that the site of this, the grandest church in Christendom, in the first millennium had been the site of a pagan temple appropriated for the service of the new religion. The first church on the site was built by the Eastern Roman Emperor Constantius, son of Emperor Constantine, who had liberated the Christian faith from centuries of persecution. Constantius' church was consecrated in 360 AD. At first it was known as the Great Church because it was the largest at the time. Later it became known as Holy Wisdom, a name attributed to Christ by theologians of the 4th century. In 404 AD. the church was destroyed by mobs set into action when Emperor Arcadius sent Archbishop John Chrysostom into exile for his criticism of the Empress. In 415 AD Emperor Theodosius II rebuilt the church. It too fell victim to a rampaging mob at the time of Monophysite heretics in 532 AD. The new Emperor Justinian, firm defender of orthodoxy, made short work of the howling heretics and ordered that construction begin on a new basilica such as had never been seen before. The construction work lasted from 532 to 537; the new church was consecrated by Patriarch Menas on December 27,

In 1204 AD, Roman Catholic crusaders of the Fourth Crusade attacked and sacked Constantinople and the Great Church, leaving behind a legacy of bitterness among Eastern Christians which continues to this day. For more that 1000 years Holy Wisdom served as the cathedral church of the Patriarch of Constantinople as well as the church of the Byzantine court but that function came to an end on May 29, 1453, when the Ottoman Turkish Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror seized the Imperial City and converted the Great Church into his mosque. It remained a mosque until 1935 when Turkish head-of-state Mustafa Kemal converted it into a museum. Years later the plaster which had been applied by the Muslims to cover the icons was removed revealing for the first time to modern eyes the extent of the desecration perpetrated by the Muslims in their effort to render the structure appropriate for their own purposes. In its heyday as the Imperial church, Hagia Sophia was served by 80 priests, 150 deacons, 60 subdeacons, 160 readers, 25 cantors and 75 doorkeepers. It was the model for other Byzantine churches throughout Eastern Christendom as seen for example in the Church of Holy Wisdom in Kyiv. In the Slavic East the style was modified to suit the