Trabzon, Turkey, July 29, 2020
The historic Panagia Sumela Monastery in Trabzon, Turkey finally reopened yesterday after 5 years of restoration work.
For centuries, the cliff-side monastery in the Black Sea city served as the cradle of Pontian Hellenism. After 88 years of banning access to the site, Turkey reopened it on August 15, 2010, and a new tradition of Patriarch Bartholomew celebrating the monastery’s patronal feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos there began. However, the monastery was closed for restoration in February 2016, and the Patriarch was not permitted to serve throughout the restoration process, which mostly addressed the stability of the cliff.
The monastery did partially reopen to the public last May, though 12 sections of the historic monastery are now open to the public. The opening ceremony was led by President Erdoğan and held in the presence of the Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Nuri Ersoy.
The Agia Sophia Church in Trabzon, which was actually converted into a mosque by Erdoğan 7 years ago as a precursor to last week’s conversion of Agia Sophia in Istanbul, was opened at the same time after two years of restoration. Panagia Sumela and Agia Sophia are among the most visited monuments in the Pontus region, reports the Orthodoxia News Agency.
The reopening of the monastery was repeatedly delayed, finally coming just days after the Turkish President caused an international furor by reopening Agia Sophia in Istanbul as a mosque. The timing does not seem to be coincidental, as Erdoğan declared at yesterday’s opening that “if Turkey was disrespectful toward different cultures, as some Western nations claim, it would not have restored and preserved such historical artifacts.”
During the ceremony, Erdoğan declared that the Orthodox faithful would be able to celebrate the Dormition at the monastery this year. There seems to be confusion on the issue, however. The official site of the Patriarchate of Constantinople published a note yesterday stating that Turkish officials are not allowing the Liturgy to be served due to the pandemic.
Patriarch Bartholomew spoke with President Erdoğan on the phone yesterday to thank him for reopening the monastery and to congratulate him on the upcoming Islamic feast of Kurban Bayramı.