Moscow, July 17, 2020
During its session held yesterday and today, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church adopted a statement on the decision of the Turkish authorities to change Agia Sophia into a mosque again.
The Synod expresses its sorrow over the misuse of the iconic Istanbul cathedral, noting that the decision was made without regard for the protests of the Orthodox Churches and other religious confessions and governments throughout the world.
Echoing the recent statement of His Eminence Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus of the Orthodox Church of Greece, the Synod also points to the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s inept interference in the life of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as a major factor weakening the unity of the Orthodox Church today, and thus weakening the Church’s ability to face and respond to a crisis like that presently surrounding Agia Sophia.
The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church expresses deep regret in connection with the decision of the state leadership of Turkey to deprive the Church of Agia Sophia of its museum status and to transfer it to the worshipful usage of the Muslim community.
The aforesaid decision was made without account of the petitions and clearly expressed position of the primates and hierarchs of the Local Orthodox Churches, representatives of foreign states, numerous international public and human rights organizations, and clergy of various confession and religious traditions. It offends the religious sensibilities of millions of Christians throughout the world, which could lead to a disruption in the inter-religious balance and mutual understanding between Christians and Muslims, not only in Turkey itself, but also in other places.
At a time when Christianity is a persecuted religion in many places on the planet, when the exodus of Christians from the countries of the Middle East continues, this decision of the Turkish authorities brings a special pain. The Church of Agia Sophia was built in honor of Christ the Savior, and it continues to be a church in the consciousness of millions of Christians. This church has a special historical and spiritual significance for the Orthodox Church.
Addressing the fraternal Local Churches, we note with particular sadness that the Orthodox world disjointedly faces events today that are so joyless for the Orthodox Church, which is a direct result of the anti-canonical legalization of the schism in Ukraine and which weakened our ability to jointly confront new spiritual threats and civilizational challenges. Now, in an era of increasing Christianophobia and increased pressure on the Church from secular society, unity is more important than ever before. We call upon the fraternal Local Churches to work together in the spirit of peace and love of Christ to find a way out of this crisis.
We hope that the Turkish authorities will make the necessary efforts to preserve the priceless miraculously-surviving Christian mosaics and will provide access to them for Christian pilgrims.
Expressing hope for the further preservation and strengthening of mutual respect and mutual understanding between believers of various world religions, we also appeal to the world community to provide all possible assistance in preserving the special status of the Church of Agia Sophia, of everlasting importance for all Christians.