Istanbul, July 10, 2020
Following statements from Patriarchs Bartholomew and Kirill and the Church of Greece, the Patriarchs of the Churches of Jerusalem and Romania and the Patriarchate of Georgia have also raised their voices concerning Turkish officials’ plans to convert the iconic Agia Sophia into a mosque.
Meanwhile, Turkish media is claiming that an official decision from Turkey is expected today.
On Wednesday, July 8, His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem stated: “It is with utmost seriousness that We express Our concern over recent calls from members of the Turkish government to alter the current status of the Agia Sophia from a museum to a mosque.”
“This magnificent Byzantine Church structure, which captivates the world until today, has a history stretching even farther back into Christendom than the 6th century,” he continued, noting that it is to Turkey’s credit that it has maintained the cathedral as a museum for nearly 100 years, “in order to maintain an extent of neutrality over the site.”
As a museum open to all, Agia Sophia remains “a symbol of tolerance,” His Beatitude said, noting that the Church’s experience of protecting holy sites in Jerusalem for 2,000 years testifies that accessibility “promotes peace and mutual respect.”
The same day, His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel of Romania sent a letter to Pat. Bartholomew expresses the Romanian Church’s support for maintaining Agia Sophia’s status as a museum.
“The initiative of the Romanian Patriarchate takes into account the inestimable value of this basilica, unanimously recognized as a symbol of Christian faith and civilization and of universal art, which determined its inclusion in the universal cultural heritage of UNESCO in 1985,” the Romanian Church’s press release reads.
“In this context, the Patriarch of Romania,” together with all the hierarchs, clergy, and faithful of the Romanian Orthodox Church, “expresses his solidarity with all those who defend this symbol of the universal Orthodox Church,” the statement reads.
In a statement published yesterday, the Georgian Orthodox Church also called upon Turkish leaders to show some wisdom and leave Agia Sophia as a museum.
The Georgian Church is closely following the news surrounding the fate of the building, according to the statement.
“At a time when humanity is facing many global challenges, it is very important to maintain and strengthen good relations between Christians and Muslims,” the Patriarchate stressed. “We believe that it would be a wise step if Agia Sophia remains a neutral space.”
The Church also expresses the hope that Turkish officials will not interpret their statement as interference in internal Turkish affairs, but rather as an expression of “the opinion and heartache of one of the oldest Orthodox Churches.”