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Today the Georgian Church commemorates the martyrdom of all the thousands of Georgian Orthodox clergy and laypeople who suffered persecution and death at the hands of the Bolsheviks.

The years following Georgia’s independence from the Russian Empire, 1917-1921, were accompanied by a sense of great hope. Since Georgia’s annexation by the Russian Empire in the early 19th century, the Georgian Church had been forcibly incorporated into the Russian Church in contravention of the the Treaty of Georgievsk. The Russian Church was like no other Orthodox jurisdiction in the world; instead of being run by a bishop (a Patriarch), it was run by committee; a Synod made up of civil servants loyal to the Czar as well as bishops from throughout the Empire. Georgia’s political independence also allowed for the Georgian Church to restore its autocephaly (self-rule) established in the 5th century.

The invasion of the Soviet Red Army in early 1921, backed by local Bolsheviks, was a traumatic period for the Church, with many clergy executed and church treasures looted. To preserve the many holy relics and icons, Patriarch Leonid requested that the treasures be moved from Sioni and Svetiskhoveli Cathedrals to Kutaisi for safekeeping. They were buried under the porch of the the house of Metropolitan Nazar of Kutaisi-Gaeneti, who lived within the grounds of Bagrati Cathedral.

Metropolitan Nazar was a distinguished and highly educated bishop, from a long line of clergymen. After suffering the tragic loss of his wife and two daughters, he was tonsured as a monk in 1904 and became Metropolitan (bishop) of Kutaisi in 1918.

Between 1922-1923, over 1200 Georgian churches were razed to the ground by the Bolsheviks and manuscripts, icons and other treasures destroyed. In 1922, Metropolitan Nazar was arrested and tried for anti-Soviet agitation and theft of State property (namely, the church possessions buried under his porch). He was sentenced to death by firing squad but the sentence was commuted, and he was later released in 1924. He was rather fortunate, as in 1922, over 8000 Orthodox clergy throughout the Soviet Union were martyred for identical “offences”. He returned to his diocese where he continued his work under great difficulties, having been expropriated of his modest house.

On August 14 1924, a group of Christians from the village of Simoneti approached Metropolitan Nazar and requested that he consecrate their local church, an act that was legally dubious at the time. With his assisting clergy, he travelled to Simoneti and consecrated the church. That night, agents of the Cheka (forebears of the KGB) arrested the Metropolitan and his fellow clergymen, and presented them to a Troika at the village for trial. They were immediately sentenced to death and shot in Sapichkhia Forest. Martyred alongside Metropolitan Nazar were Archdeacon Besarion Kukhianidze, Father Simon Mchedlidze, Father Ieroteos Nikoladze and Father German Jajanidze.

In 1994, these five clergymen were canonised by the Georgian Church, and today we commemorate not only their memory, but the tens of thousands of Georgian clergy and Orthodox laity who were martyred by the Communists. It is a sobering thought that many of the people who engaged in state-sanctioned persecution of Christians in the post-World War II period are still alive and living amongst us. Not a few are reported to have repented, accepted baptism and become Christians, a dramatic transformation.

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From John Sanidopoulos’ excellent “Mystagogy” blog

In many icons of the Dormition of the Theotokos, one can see a strange scene near the bottom: an angel invisibly cuts off the two hands of a certain man.
 
What is the story behind this scene?
 
Bewailing their separation from the Mother of God, the Apostles prepared to bury Her all-pure body. A solemn procession went from Zion through Jerusalem to the Garden of Gethsemane. Unbelieving inhabitants of Jerusalem, taken aback by the extraordinarily grand funeral procession and vexed at the honor accorded the Mother of Jesus, complained of this to the High Priest and scribes.
 
The Jewish priest Jephonias (or Athonios), out of spite and hatred for the Mother of Jesus of Nazareth, wanted to topple the funeral bier on which lay the body of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, but an angel of God, some say the Archangel Michael, invisibly cut off his hands, which had touched the bier. Seeing such a wonder, Jephonias repented and with faith confessed the majesty of the Mother of God. He received healing and joined the crowd accompanying the body of the Mother of God, and he became a zealous follower of Christ.

 

 

According to Elisheva Revel-Neher, in her study of “The Image of the Jew in Byzantine Art”, the earliest known artistic depictions of the scene are from Cappadocia around the ninth and tenth centuries, with subsequent examples from much later periods.
 
The Theotokos is all-pure and ever-virgin, and her conception of the Son of God was foreshadowed in the Old Testament by the Ark of the Covenant. The procession of the body of the Theotokos by the Apostles is thus also seen as a foreshadow of a particular event in the Old Testament, when the Ark of the Covenant was captured by the Philistines, and eventually brought to Jerusalem.
 
In 1 Samuel 5:1-5 we read:
 
After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon. When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained. That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon’s temple at Ashdod step on the threshold.
 
Here the pagan god Dagon is depicted as not being able to stand in the presence of the Ark, to the point that it fell and its head and hands broke off. Numerous other disasters were said to have befallen the Philistines for stealing the Ark, until they finally gave it back to the Jews out of fear.

 

 

Years later King David desired to bring the Ark to Jerusalem, and a great procession followed the Ark. In 2 Samuel 6:3, 4, 6 and 7 we read:
 
They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it… When they came to the threshing floor of Nakon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God.
 
This incident is said to have struck fear in the heart of King David, and it made him realize how great and significant the Ark of the Covenant truly was.
 
This iconographic scene in the icon of the Dormition, therefore, is an illustration to serve as a warning to believers and unbelievers who question and despise the mysteries of God, and do not hold the proper reverence for these sacred mysteries.
A miracle recorded by St. John Moschos in The Spiritual Meadow (Leimonarion) further details the moral described above. It concerns a certain actor named Gaianas who blasphemed the Holy Mother of God in the theatre. He writes:
Heliopolis is a city of Lebanese Phoenecia. There was an actor there named Gaianas who used to perform at the theatre an act in which he blasphemed against the holy Mother of God. The Mother of God appeared to him, saying: “What evil have I done to you that you revile me before so many people and blaspheme against me?” He rose up and, far from mending his ways, proceeded to blaspheme against her even more than before. Three times she appeared to him with the same reproach and admonition. As he did not mend his ways in the slightest degree, but rather blasphemed the more, she appeared to him once when he was sleeping at mid-day and said nothing at all. All she did was to sever his two hands and feet with her finger. When he woke up he found that his hands and feet were so afflicted that he just lay there like a tree-trunk. In these circumstances the wretched man confessed to everybody (making himself a public example) that he had received the reward for his blasphemy. And this he did for love of his fellow men.
From “Mystagogy

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Mariamoba is upon us on Tuesday August 28 (or August 15 in the Julian Calender). This excellent article with detailed analyses of the iconography associated with this feast provides a wonderful introduction to this important Feast.

A Reader's Guide to Orthodox Icons

On August 15, the Dormition of the Mother of God is celebrated by most Christians in the world. The Church year begins on September 1, and the first Great Feast of the year is the Nativity of the Theotokos, making the Dormition of the Theotokos the last great feast of the year. It is entirely fitting that these two feasts – celebrating the birth and falling-asleep of Mary respectively – should buttress the entire church calendar. The Church calendar tells us the story of our Salvation in the traditional way, with the climax of the story coming in the middle, which is when Easter is celebrated, before ending in a way which is somewhat symmetrical and complimentary to the beginning. Therefore, the final “scene” in our story of Salvation is the Dormition of Mary, the Mother of God.

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The Apostle Matthias was selected by lottery from the seventy close followers of Christ after Christ’s Resurrection to replace Judas Iscariot, who had hanged himself. The Apostle Matthias is reputed to be buried near Batumi, being the second of the Twelve Apostles to have been martyred in the service of the Church in Georgia (the other is the Apostle Simon the Zealot, martyred in Abkhazia).

The Election by Lottery of the Apostle Matthias

The four Gospels mention him only in passing, but there is a wealth of information on his life preserved through Church Tradition. Because he was already middle-aged at the time of his elevation, icons usually show him as an elderly man.

“The Holy Apostle Matthias was born at Bethlehem, and was a descendent of the Tribe of Judah. From his early childhood he studied the Law of God in accord with the Books of Scripture under the guidance of Saint Simeon the God-Receiver.

When the Lord Jesus Christ revealed Himself to the world, Saint Matthias believed in Him as the Messiah, followed constantly after Him and was numbered amongst the Seventy Disciples, whom the Lord “did send by twos before His face” (Lk. 10: 1).

After the Ascension of the Saviour, Saint Matthias was chosen by lot to replace amongst the 12 Apostles the fallen-away Judas Iscariot (Acts 1: 15-26). After the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Matthias preached the Gospel at Jerusalem and in Judea together with the other Apostles (Acts 6: 2, 8: 14). From Jerusalem he went with the Apostles Peter and Andrew to Syrian Antioch, and was in the Cappadocian city of Tianum and Sinope. Here the Apostle Matthias was locked into prison, from which he was miraculously freed by the Apostle Andrew the First-Called.

The Apostle Matthias journeyed after this to Amasia, a city on the shore of the sea. During a three year journey of the Apostle Andrew, Saint Matthias was with him at Edessa and Sebasteia. According to Church tradition, he was preaching at Pontine AEthiopia (presently Western Georgia) and Macedonia.

He was frequently subjected to deadly peril, but the Lord preserved him alive to further preach the Gospel. One time pagans forced the apostle to drink a poison potion. The apostle drank it and not only did he himself remain unharmed, but he also healed other prisoners which had been blinded by the potion. When Saint Matthias left the prison, the pagans searched for him in vain – since he had become invisible to them. Another time, when the pagans had become enraged intending to kill the apostle, the earth opened up and engulfed them.”
From “The Lives of the Saints”

Historians suggest that the Apostle Matthias was crucified at Gonio, near Batumi in Ajara, and buried there. Saint Dorotheus, the Bishop of Tyre in Lebanon during the reigns of Diocletian, Saint Constantine the Great and Julian the Apostate, wrote a detailed account of the lives of the saints, including the Apostle Matthias. He mentions, “Matthias preached the Gospel to barbarians and meat-eaters in the interior of Ethiopia, where the sea harbor of Hyssus is, at the mouth of the river Phasis. He died at Sebastopolis, and was buried there, near the Temple of the Sun.”

The Roman fortress of Gonio is still standing, and his grave is marked within.

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While we enjoy the lazy days of summer in peace, it is worth reflecting upon the horrors that our Christian brothers in the Arab world have been facing over the past two years.

RealClearWorld - Arab Spring Turns to Christian Winter

Iraq’s 1970 year-old Christian community, made up largely of indigenous Assyrians but also Arabs and Armenians, has been effectively ethnically cleansed from Iraq by rival Muslim militias; less than 30% of the Christian community are estimated to remain in Iraq. Many of these refugees are living under difficult conditions in Syria, and face the threat of persecution or expulsion if a Sunni Muslim government overturns the secular Arab nationalist regime of al-Assad. Some refugees are Eastern Orthodox Christians, many are from other Christian sects.

It is interesting to track the fate of Christian refugees from this region after they resettle in a western country. In the United States, Arab Christian migrants are more highly educated, more likely to own a business, and less likely to be on government benefits than native-born Americans. It is to be hoped that the wealthy western countries that have backed the overthrow of the Syrian regime will take responsibility for the refugees they have created, by providing temporary protection visas and allowing refugees to work. It is also worth considering that Russia’s strong position against external military intervention in Syria may not be entirely self-interested; while the Russian Navy needs access to the port of Tarsus, Russia also projects itself as the traditional protector of Christians in the Middle East and has a reputation to live up to.

This article, unlike most mainstream media reportage, provides a personal glimpse of the difficulties these people face.

Arab Spring Turns to Christian Winter

By William Dalrymple

Wherever you go in the Middle East today, you see the Arab Spring rapidly turning into the Christian winter.

The past few years have been catastrophic for the region’s beleaguered 14-million strong Christian minority.

In Egypt, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood has been accompanied by anti-Coptic riots and intermittent bouts of church-burning. On the West Bank and in Gaza, the Christians are emigrating fast as they find themselves caught between Benjamin Netanyahu’s pro-settler government and their increasingly radicalised and pro-Hamas Sunni Muslim neighbours. Most catastrophically, in Iraq, two thirds of the Christians have fled the country since the fall of Saddam.

It was Syria that took in many of the 250,000 Christians driven out of Iraq. Anyone who visited Damascus in recent years could see lounging in every park and sitting in every teahouse the unshaven Iraqi Christian refugees driven from their homes by the sectarian mayhem that followed the end of the Baathist state. They were bank managers and engineers, pharmacists and businessmen – all living with their extended families in one-room flats on what remained of their savings and assisted by the charity of the different churches.

RealClearWorld - Arab Spring Turns to Christian Winter

“Before the war there was no separation between Christian and Muslim,” I was told on a recent visit by Shamun Daawd, a liquor-store owner who fled Baghdad after he received Islamist death threats. I met him at the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate in Damascus, where he had come to collect the rent money the Patriarchate provided for the refugees. “Under Saddam no one asked you your religion and we used to attend each other’s religious services,” he said. “Now at least 75 per cent of my Christian friends have fled.”

Those Iraqi refugees now face a second displacement while their Syrian hosts are themselves living in daily fear of having to flee for their lives. The first Syrian refugee camps are being erected in the Bekaa valley of Lebanon; others are queuing to find shelter in camps in Jordan, north of Amman. Most of the bloodiest killings and counter-killings that have been reported in Syria have so far been along Sunni-Alawite faultlines, but there have been some reports of thefts, rape and murder directed at the Christian minority, and in one place – Qusayr – wholesale ethnic cleansing of the Christians accused by local jihadis of acting as pro-regime spies. The community, which makes up about 10 per cent of the total population, is now frankly terrified.

For much of the past 100 years, and long before the Assads came to power, Syria was a reliable refuge for the Christians of the Middle East: decades before the Iraqis arrived the people of Syria welcomed the Armenians escaping the Young Turk genocide of 1915. In 1948 they took in the Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim, driven out of their ancestral homes at the creation of Israel; and during the 1970s and 80s their country became a place of shelter for Orthodox Christians and Maronites seeking a refuge during Lebanon’s interminable sectarian troubles.

For while the regime of the Assad dynasty was a repressive one-party police state in which political freedoms were always severely and often brutally restricted, it did allow the Syrians widespread cultural and religious freedoms. These gave Syria’s minorities a security and stability far greater than their counterparts anywhere else in the region. This was particularly true of Syria’s ancient Christian communities. The reason for this was that the Assads were Alawite, a syncretic Shia Muslim minority regarded by Sunni Muslims as heretical, and disparagingly referred to as Nusayris, or Little Christians: indeed, their liturgy seems to be partly Christian in origin. Alawites made up only 12 per cent of Syria’s population and the Assads kept themselves in power by forming what was in effect a coalition of Syria’s religious minorities, through which they were able to counterbalance the weight of the Sunni majority.

In the Assads’ Syria, the major Christian feasts were national holidays; Christians were exempt from turning up to work on Sunday mornings; and churches and monasteries, like mosques, were provided with free electricity and were sometimes given state land for new buildings. In the Christian Quarter of Old Damascus around Bab Touma, electric-blue neon crosses would wink from the domes of the churches and processions of crucifix-carrying boy scouts could be seen squeezing past gaggles of Christian girls heading out on the town, all low-cut jeans and tight-fitting T-shirts. This was something unknown almost anywhere else in the Middle East.

There was also widespread sharing of sacred space. On my travels, in a single day I have seen Christians coming to sacrifice sheep at the Muslim Sufi shrine of Nebi Uri, while at the nearby convent of Seidnaya (recently shelled by government forces) I found that the congregation in the church consisted not principally of Christians, but instead of heavily bearded Muslim men and their shrouded wives. Now that precious multi-ethnic and multi-religious patchwork is in danger of being destroyed for ever.

As in Egypt, where the late Coptic Pope Shenouda supported Hosni Mubarak right up until his fall, the established churches of Syria marked the beginning of the revolution by lining up behind the regime. My friend Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, the urbane and multilingual Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo, was quoted as saying: “We do not support those who are calling for the fall of the regime simply because we are for reform and change.”

Initially many of the flock were unsure of the wisdom of that position, and young Christians were among those calling for the end of the Assad regime, hoping for a new dawn of freedom, human rights and democracy. But, a year on, pro-revolution Christians are much harder to find. There are more and more reports of violent al-Qa’ida-inspired salafists fighting alongside the Free Syrian Army, while Turkish backing for the opposition Syrian National Council has terrified the Syrian Armenians.

As criminality, robbery, lawlessness and car-jacking become endemic, even in places where outright fighting is absent, and as the survival of the regime looks daily less and less likely, the Christians fear they will soon suffer the fate of their Iraqi brethren.

As ever, the Christians here remain mystified by the actions of Christian America. When George W. Bush went into Iraq, he naively believed he would be replacing Saddam with a peaceful, pro-US Arab democracy that would naturally look to the Christian West for support. In reality, nine years on, it appears that he has instead created a highly radicalised and unstable pro-Iranian sectarian battleground. Now US support is being channelled towards opposition groups that may eventually do the same to the minorities of Syria.

As in 80s Afghanistan, a joint operation between the CIA and Saudi intelligence could end up bringing to power a hardline salafist replacement to a brutally flawed but nonetheless secular regime. If that happens in Syria, the final death of Christianity in its Middle Eastern homelands seems increasingly possible within our lifetime.

RealClearWorld – Arab Spring Turns to Christian Winter.

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The Transfiguration Feast is an important one for Orthodox Christians. In Greece and Romania, it coincides with the beginning of the grape harvest, and grapes would be brought to the church for blessing. In Georgia, Transfiguration psychologically is seen as the beginning of autumn by many people, but the grape vintage (rtveli) usually takes place later; late September in the East and late October in Imereti (and November in the Black Sea region). Interestingly, this year most of Georgia had a winter longer and colder than normal, a wet spring, vine budburst two weeks later than normal, and now the vintage is starting a month earlier than normal years for some vineyards, particularly in central Georgia. Don’t be surprised if you see some bunches of grapes in church today.

Jesus had gone with his disciples Peter, James, and John to Mount Tabor. Christ’s appearance was changed while they watched into a glorious radiant figure. There appeared Elijah and Moses, speaking with Jesus. The disciples were amazed and terribly afraid.

This event shows forth the divinity of Christ, so that the disciples would understand after his Ascension that He was truly the radiant splendor of the Father, and that his Passion was voluntary (Mark 9:2-9). It also shows the possibility of our own theosis.

This event was the subject of some debates between Gregory Palamas and Barlaam of Calabria. Barlaam believed that the light shining from Jesus was created light, while Gregory maintained the disciples were given grace to perceive the uncreated light of God. This supported Gregory’s larger argument that although we cannot know God in His essence, we can know Him in his energies, as He reveals Himself.

(From Orthodoxwiki.org)

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The relationship between the Orthodox Church and the modern Turkish State is a complicated one. With the exception of the churches domiciled in the former Russian Empire, most Patriarchates came under the control of the Ottoman Empire between the 15th-19th centuries, including Constantinople, Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Jerusalem, Antioch and the southwestern part of Georgia.

The experience of Orthodox Christians at the hands of Ottoman officialdom in these occupied territories was a mixed one, consisting of periods of unrelenting pressure to convert to Islam and martyrdom for those who resisted, to periods of reasonable tolerance and calm. Unfortunately, Turkey’s laws against the denigration of Turkishness make it a dangerous activity to suggest that treatment of Christians in the Ottoman Empire was anything less than exemplary.

After the fall of the Roman Empire in Constantinople in 1453, and the surrender of Trebizond (Trabzon in Turkish) to the Ottomans in 1461, the Ottomans decided to allocate responsibility for all Orthodox Christians in the Empire to the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople. This followed the medievel Turkish concept of dividing its realms up into millet or ethnic groups (The Patriarch of Constantinople was designated as the head of the Orthodox Christian millet), and also followed the established concept in post 1054-Christendom of the Ecumenical Patriarch being “first among equals” of the archbishops in the Eastern Christian world.

The city of Trebizond was a Greek trading colony on the Black Sea, surrounded by a rural population of hundreds of thousands of Laz Georgians, and small populations of Armenians, Europeans and other foreign traders. After the Ottoman conquest, Christian Laz converted to Islam (no doubt some by choice to avoid persecution or taxation, but many martyrdoms of the Laz are documented and commemorated by the Georgian Church) or fled to Georgia. There are many Georgians today with Laz surnames whose ancestors emigrated to Ajara, Kutaisi, Tbilisi or Kakheti between 1461 and 1918. The Pontic Greeks of Trebizond for the most part stayed where they were, and while some converted to Islam, it is believed that most remained faithful.

The decision of the Ottoman government to side with the Central Powers in the Great War was a tragic one; had they sided with the Allies, the Ottoman Empire could have quietly divested itself of its more restive provinces, reformed its governance and worked out an amicable settlement with its sizeable Christian community for mutual benefit. The British and French governments had long-standing amicable relationships with the Sublime Porte and had sacrificed masses of young men on the Crimea in support of the Ottomans against Russia in the Crimean War not long beforehand. By Turkey siding against Moscow, it provided Russia with ample opportunity to stir up trouble amongst the Empire’s Greek, Armenian and Assyrian subjects to weaken the Ottoman war effort.

The result of Moscow’s attack on the Empire’s northern flank was a multitude of revolts amongst the Christian population of the Empire, as well as some disgraceful and deadly anti-Muslim pogroms initiated by Christians against their Muslim neighbours. The response from the Young Turk government was swift and brutal; massacres, forced deportations and mass starvation were imposed en masse upon Pontic Greek, Armenian and Assyrian populations in Anatolia and beyond.

Many Pontic Greeks fled persecution to the Russian Empire, mostly to Georgia, and some then moved to join distant relatives in the Crimea or in Moscow. Others emigrated to the Kingdom of Greece. In Georgia, there are sizeable Pontic Greek populations in Poti, Sukhumi, Tbilisi and Rustavi. Previously, there were also many in Marneuli in Kvemo Kartli.

Those Pontic Greeks who fled Trebizond  left behind a fully functioning Greek city, with sophisticated residential districts, theatres, trading houses, banks, warehouses, and Greek and Armenian churches, with scores of 10th-15th century Georgian churches in the surrounding hinterland.

The attempt by the Greek Venizelist government in 1919 to drive the Turks out of coastal Turkey and recolonise Eastern Thrace and coastal Anatolia as Greek homelands failed. Of course, like any people subjected to a serious attempt at ethnic cleansing, the Turks still bear a significant grudge against the Greeks because of this attempt. While the Megali Idea is dead amongst Greek people, the fear of it lives on amongst many Turks.

As a result, historic Greek buildings in Turkey, instead of being seen as an important part of Turkey’s history and hallmarks of the indigenous civilisation that flourished in Anatolia for more than 1000 years before the Turks left Siberia, they are seen by some as “enemy architecture” that should either be demolished or converted to mosques.

Under previous secular-nationalist governments in Turkey, all religious groups were held in contempt by the State. Oddly enough it took the election of an Islamic party to government for State-Church relations to improve. Recent permission for Armenian clerics and Constantinople clerics to celebrate liturgies in decommissioned Armenian and Greek churches in Turkey’s East has been seen as a major step forward for Christianity being recognised as a normal part of the fabric of Turkish life that poses no threat to the Turkish state.

Despite these advances, there are still difficulties, such as this case where some local activists wish to convert a Greek church into a mosque (its current status is as a museum). Of course the Ecumenical Patriarchate would prefer it to remain as a museum rather than as a mosque, as it still no doubt holds onto the hope that one day the church will be reconsecrated and used by an indigenous Christian community, perhaps supplemented by people returning to their ancestral home from abroad.

The Georgian Church also has grave concerns for decommissioned Georgian churches in Tao-Klarjeti and Lazeti regions of eastern Turkey, which are crumbling or being vandalised. While we may hope that these churches may be reconsecrated and used to baptise new Christians from Turkey’s Laz population (or even their Turk neighbours) one day, a more immediate concern is preserving these ancient churches from collapse. Unfortunately, the Georgian Patriarchate’s channels of communication with the Turkish government are limited at this time. It is to be hoped that dialogue and mutual understanding can be further developed with time.

Bartholomew I: Do not transform Hagia Sophia in Trabzon into a mosque

by NAT da Polis

The Ecumenical Patriarch is opposed to the proposal of the Vice-President Bulent Arinc because there is “no need” for worship. Bartholomew is also supported by the head of the Muslim community, who points out the many mosques, which remain largely empty. Regarding minorities, the government is Turkish makes “one step forward, one step back.” Anti-conformist sentiments on the up.

Trabzon (AsiaNews) – There is “no need” to transform the ancient church of Aghia Sophia in Trabzon into a mosque, it is better that it remains a museum open to all religions: Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, expressed with clarity his opposition to the idea supported by the Deputy Turkish Prime Minister, Bulent Arinc who would like to turn this monument of Christianity in an exclusive place of worship for Muslims.

The church of Aghia Sofia (Saint Sofia) is a gem of ancient architecture and dates back to the era of the Comnenus Emperors (1204-1461). It testifies to the ancient presence of Christians of Pontus on the Black Sea, wiped out as a result of various genocides and purges first by the Ottomans, then by the neo-Turks.

Yesterday, the Ecumenical Patriarch visited the church and met with the mayor of the city, Genc. In front of reporters, Bartholomew said: “We respect all mosques and all places of worship, but in this case – turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque – I see no need for worship.”

He added. “We are in favor of maintaining the church of Hagia Sophia as a museum. Moreover, as stated by the head of the local [Islamic] community [here] there are already many mosques to meet the needs for worship of the faithful, and they remain largely partially empty. “

The Patriarch recalled the recent statements by the President of the Muslim community of the place, Zeki Baytar who reacted strongly to the Arinc proposal, even threatening a revolt, and said: “First we must fill the mosques, then, if necessary, transform Saint Sophia into a mosque.”

“If Hagia Sophia in Trabzon is converted into a mosque – continues Bartholomew I – it will be made available only to our Muslim brothers. Conversely, if it remains as a museum, it can offer its services to the entire international community, with sizeable profits for its inhabitants.”

Among the journalists present, many remember the words of the same Bulent Arinc during his visit to the Phanar – the seat of the patriarchate – in January 2011: “As a government we have a duty to meet the needs of these citizens who have a centuries old presence in these lands.”

Therefore, the position of the Ecumenical Patriarch is hardly surprising. What is of wonder however, is the Turkish government policy towards minorities of “one step forward, one step back”, depending on the circumstances and political conjunctures. Precisely for this reason anti-conformist courageous groups voicing anti-conformist sentiments are on the increase in Turkey.

Trabzon, in the far north-east of Turkey, is inhabited by a population of almost 300 thousand inhabitants. Of these few are Christians.

TURKEY Bartholomew I: Do not transform Hagia Sophia in Trabzon into a mosque – Asia News.

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