Istanbul, June 25, 2020
Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople is upset by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s current attempts to convert the world-renowned Agia Sophia from a museum back into a mosque.
“What can I say as a Christian clergyman and the Greek patriarch in Istanbul? Instead of uniting, a 1,500-year-old heritage is dividing us. I am saddened and shaken,” the Patriarch said exasperatedly in an interview with the Washington Post yesterday.
The Post explains the history of Agia Sophia as,
a 6th-century Byzantine cathedral and one of the most precious architectural wonders of the world, into a mosque. For centuries, the terra-cotta-colored building served as the largest church in the Christian world. When Ottomans conquered Istanbul in 1453, they carefully covered the mosaics and turned it into a mosque. In 1934, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state, turned it into a museum—both as a testament to the country’s new secular principles, but also as a signal of its desire to be anchored to the Western world.
Erdoğan now hopes to turn the UNESCO-protected monument back into a mosque, envisioning it as a glorious symbol of the Muslim conquest of Byzantium. The State Council of Turkey will officially review the possibility of such a change on July 2, which would mean the canceling of Ataturk’s 1934 decree.
“With a handful of Greeks left in Turkey, how long can empty churches survive?” asks the Washington Post.
“We survived for 17 centuries and we will stay here forever, as God wants us to,” replies Pat. Bartholomew.
The Greek government and the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece have already raised their voices in protest, though Erdoğan bluntly informed them that the fate of Agia Sophia is none of their business.
Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the head of the Russian Church’s Synodal Department for External Church Relations, also referred to the Turkish President’s intentions as “alarming,” noting that many Russians go on pilgrimage to Agia Sophia every year.