ROC: Changing status of Hagia Sophia will upset religious balance in Turkey

Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Istanbul. Photo:

Metropolitan Hilarion believes that any attempt to change the current status of Hagia Sophia will lead to the violation of the inter-faith balance in Turkey.

On June 6, 2020, the head of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, expressed hope that Hagia Sophia in Istanbul would continue to be a museum, and any attempts to change its current status would not provoke inter-religious tension, reports the DECR Communication Service of the ROC.

Commenting on Muslim prayer in Hagia Sophia and the "Festival of conquest" at the temple walls by the Turkish authorities, the bishops recalled that the Hagia Sophia complex has been a museum since 1934 by the decision of Kemal Ataturk, and since 1985 it has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage list.

“For millions of people around the world, especially for Orthodox Christians, this church is a symbol of Byzantium and a symbol of Orthodoxy,” the archpastor stressed, “It was built in the 6th century by Emperor Justinian precisely as an Orthodox church of the Eastern Roman Empire.”

 According to the hierarch, Orthodox Christians "hold this church dear also because it was precisely in it that Prince Vladimir’s ambassadors felt during the liturgy that they did not know ‘whether they were on earth or in Heaven’ and decided to tell about it to Prince Vladimir. As a result of this mission, Prince Vladimir made the historic decision to baptize Rus’”.

“Any attempt to change the present status of Hagia Sophia as a museum will upset the fragile inter-confessional and interreligious balances which have been established by now,” the DECR chairman’s is convinced.

In this connection, Metropolitan Hilarion expressed hope that “this church will remain a museum and that access to it will be open to all those who wish to come to it and that such developments will not provoke interreligious tension”.

As reported earlier, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered to study the issue of converting Hagia Sophia in Istanbul from a museum to a mosque. The day before, the Turkish authorities had had a Muslim prayer in Hagia Sophia and staged the “Festival of Conquest” near the temple walls.

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