New York, June 22, 2020
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has again upset the Christian world with his plans to reconvert the world-famous Agia Sophia in Istanbul, currently functioning as a museum, back into a mosque.
Agia Sophia was built in the 6th century as an Orthodox Christian cathedral and served in the capacity until the fall of Byzantium to the Ottoman invaders in 1453, after which it was converted into a mosque. A 1934 presidential decree secularized the building and turned it into a state museum.
But now, on July 2, the State Council of Turkey will review the possibility of changing the status from a museum back into a mosque, thus canceling the 1934 decree. Erdoğan has also announced that he intends to hold Islamic prayers in Agia Sophia on July 15, and surveys have been produced claiming the majority of Turkish citizens favor the initiative.
The conversion process is reportedly already underway, despite protests coming from the Greek and American governments.
Against this background, the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle, known as the Archons of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, have appealed to President Trump to prevent the Turkish government from going through with its plans.
As a museum, Agia Sophia serves as “a monument of the human spirit and a living symbol of respect for all faiths,” and Turkey must “affirm its commitment to religious freedom and discard all plans to change the status of the Hagia Sophia,” writes Anthony J. Limberakis, MD, the National Commander of the Archons, in his letter to President Trump, published on the official Archons website.
The letter, dated June 17, reads in full:
Dear Mr. President:
An early July court hearing in Turkey will likely declare that the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul should be converted to a mosque. The Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, urgently hopes and requests that you protect the religious freedom of Christians in Turkey and the common heritage of humanity by preventing this sacrilegious and unnecessary decision.
We are truly grateful for your championing of our Christian Faith and, most especially, for your June 2, 2020 Executive Order on Advancing International Religious Freedom, which stated: “Religious freedom for all people worldwide is a foreign policy priority of the United States, and the United States will respect and vigorously promote this freedom.”
Turkey’s plan to turn the Hagia Sophia into a mosque directly challenges that religious freedom. It is part of ongoing efforts to delegitimize the remaining Christian population of Turkey, further eroding their religious freedom, and to obliterate a significant element of the Christian heritage of Turkey and the surrounding region, as well as of the entire world. Converting Hagia Sophia Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site to a mosque, would render it the patrimony of one nation, an unjust and provocative act as this historic site truly belongs to the world. Built in the sixth century by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, Hagia Sophia was known for nearly a thousand years as the Great Church of Christ. It was the foremost Christian Cathedral in the entire world, and was revered by Christians of all faith traditions, as well as by non-Christians, for its splendor and grandeur, architectural innovation, and beauty.
Converted to a mosque after the Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the Hagia Sophia rightly became a museum in 1935, a monument of the human spirit and a living symbol of respect for all faiths. To convert it into a mosque now would be to repudiate that respect and deny the Hagia Sophia’s origin as a Church dedicated to Jesus Christ and as a sacred place, a part of our collective heritage.
We urgently request that you ensure that the government of Turkey will affirm its commitment to religious freedom and discard all plans to change the status of the Hagia Sophia, which will, in effect, wipe out the quintessential historical presence of Christ and the Christian Church in modern-day Turkey.
In advocacy of religious freedom, I remain,
Anthony J. Limberakis, MD