The Serbian Orthodox Patriarch has launched a last-minute appeal for joint Muslim-Christian worship in Hagia Sophia, in what would be, on his judgment, a sign of “historical symbiosis, tolerance and trust”.

– “The church is big enough to provide space for everybody”

Patriarch Irinej issued the call in a July 14 statement on the future of Istanbul’s famous Byzantine basilica turned mosque turned State museum and now turned mosque again thanks to the July 10 decisions of the Turkish Council of State and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Irinej wrote that the monument’s importance “is not just in its artistic and cultural value” but in its worth as “an important shrine, witness to and source of authentic spirituality”.

“Surely, it was and has been the place of centuries-long prayerful life and inspiration to Muslim faithful as well”, the hierarch said.

“Thus it is no wonder that Kemal Pasha Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey and witness to the long historical coexistence of Muslims and Christians, found a sensible compromising solution… to turn this church into the museum, open for everybody and everyone, whereby none of the faithful, either Christians or Muslims, was deprived of the possibility to pray to the Lord silently, in the spirit of his personal faith and tradition”, Irinej continued.

Criticising the reconversion of the museum into a mosque as an “historical injustice, but also a [rash] and unnecessary political movement”, Irinej called on Erdogan to rectify his decision, or at least “to give permission for worship not only to the Muslims but to the Christians too”.

“The church is spacious enough to provide space for everybody to worship without hindrance”, the Patriarch recalled.

“Such a solution would not be a precedent in the modern world… [E]ven in Serbia and in some other regions in which the Serbian people live, both a church and a mosque often stand one by the other, testifying of historical symbiosis, tolerance and trust between the neighbours”, Irinej argued.

– Turkish ruling party hits back at critics, claims religious freedom has increased, not decreased, during time in power

Patriarch Irinej’s intervention in the debate over the future of Hagia Sophia came just as Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (in Turkish: Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi – AKP) was preparing a dossier which proves, in that organisation’s judgment, that far from limiting religious freedom as Churches, governments and international organisations have charged, the AKP’s 18 years in power have actually improved conditions for non-Muslim minorities.

“Our silent revolutions in the field of religious freedom” is the name of the dossier which, according to the Fides news agency, gives details of the support the government has offered Christian and Jewish schools and other educational institutions, the land and property restitutions the State has given those minorities after the expropriations after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the restorations and openings of churches that Erdogan’s administration has committed to, among other measures.

– Culture Ministry, Religious Affairs Directorate sign protocol to preserve monument as global heritage site

In other news related to the future of Hagia Sophia, Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) signed a protocol July 16 confirming that the now-mosque will be preserved as a global heritage site, as Sputnik reports.

“There is no need to worry, Hagia Sophia will be guarded as it used to”, Culture Minister Mehmet Ersoy told reporters at the protocol-signing ceremony.

“[The protocol] says it will be preserved as a global heritage site in compliance with international standards. Restoration works in the buildings will be accelerated. Foreign tourists will be able to attend Hagia Sophia free of charge”, the politician explained.

Diyanet head Ali Erbas, for his part, affirmed that the Turkish government expects an increased flow of visitors to Hagia Sophia.

“Hagia Sophia is a heritage of the entire humanity; it is one of the best historical and cultural sites, and we feel honoured to preserve it. I believe that the number of people coming there both for prayer and for a visit will grow to millions”, Erbas said.

As part of the preservation protocol, a total of 1,359 Christian objects from Hagia Sophia including portable icons and relics will be transported to and exhibited in a new museum, Culture Minister Ersoy added.

More on Novena on the future of Hagia Sophia:

EU Bishops of COMECE label Hagia Sophia mosque decision “a blow to interreligious dialogue”

Analysis: Could the US and Western Europe use the Hagia Sophia reconversion to create a new front against Turkey?

Vicar Apostolic of Anatolia recalls most Turks want Hagia Sophia to be mosque

17/6: Armenian Patriarch suggests compromise for Hagia Sophia Istanbul: Christian and Muslim prayer in “covenant of cross and crescent”


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Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.