Archbishop Elpidophoros, head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, met with U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at the White House as part of a last ditch effort to appeal against the conversion of Hagia Sophia in Turkey into a mosque.
Elpidophoros, a Turkish citizen who spent most of his adult life in the service of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and literally in the shadow of the massive building— has lobbied heavily against the conversion by the Turkish president.
In addition to a strongly worded encyclical to Greek Orthodox faithful in America, he announced that today, July 24, has been designed a national day of mourning for Greek Orthodox Christians in the United States— a move that has been supported by the nation’s 70 million Roman Catholics who have also been asked to take part by their national leadership.
The details of the meeting were not released by the Archdiocese or by the White House but in an announcement immediately after the meeting with the President and Vice President, the Archbishop stated:
“I am grateful to have met with President Trump and Vice President Pence in the White House and communicated our grave dismay at the re-conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, as well as ongoing security concerns for the Ecumenical Patriarchate and issues of religious liberty. In view of tomorrow’s day of mourning, we persevere in prayer but also bring our struggle to the highest levels of government for action and consideration.”
Fr. Alexander Karloutsos was also present at the meeting.
Vice President Pence posted a Tweet after the meeting stating that “America will stand firm with the Greek Orthodox Church in the call for Hagia Sophia to remain accessible as a source of inspiration and reflection for every person of every faith.”
Although welcomed by the Greek Orthodox Church, the Vice President’s message may not be exactly what those lobbying against the conversion were hoping for.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, when announcing the conversion of the museum into a mosque, went on to say that the Muslim house of worship will remain open to all— but was adamant that the building will be a mosque and not a public museum.
In the process of the conversion, Turkish officials have already covered the vast Christian mosaics that adorned the building with tarps and curtains. According to numerous Turkish news outlets, complex lighting structures were being used to mute the iconography and essentially hide them from view.
The Vice President went on to comment on his own Tweet that “Protecting Religious Freedom at home and abroad is a foreign policy priority for the United States of America. We cherish the faith and charitable works of the 1.5 million members of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States.”
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