The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Theophilos III, released a statement this week drawing on the experience of the Christian community in the Holy Land of the demands of coexistence, to call on the government of Turkey not to turn the Hagia Sophia into a mosque.
The current building of Hagia Sophia was the Cathedral of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the senior bishop of the Eastern Orthodox Communion, from its construction in 537 until the fall of Constantinople to Ottoman forces in 1453. Two prior churches at the same site served that purpose before 537. Hagia Sophia is therefore a place of significant spiritual importance to Eastern Orthodox Christians around the world.
Patriarch Theophilos draws on his experience in the Holy Land to call on the Turkish government to reconsider its decision to turn the building from a museum into a mosque, as it was from 1453 to 1935. “It has been to Turkey’s credit that for nearly 100 years it has administered the Hagia Sophia as a museum in order to maintain an extent of neutrality over the site”, he writes.
“Hagia Sophia today remains a symbol of tolerance… [doing] the best possible justice to the site, which without question was always intended to inspire awe and to glorify Almighty God…
“As stewards of sacred heritage in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, for nearly 2,000 uninterrupted years, in a land over which three Abrahamic faiths lay equal claim, we strongly attest to the fact that accessibility promotes peace and mutual respect, whereas attitudes of exclusivity promote conflict and bitterness.
“We hope and pray, for the benefit of all people of good will, and for Turkey as a nation with the potential to influence our entire region down a path of growth and mutual co-existence, that the present status of the Hagia Sophia is respected and preserved.”