The Russian Orthodox Church has issued a strong statement against Turkey’s proposal to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque.
In an official statement by Patriarch Kirill, the head of the powerful Russian Church and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kirill said “a threat to Hagia Sophia is a threat to the entire Christian civilization.”
In an attempt to rile up his base, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to transform the UNESCO World Heritage Site, a sixth century basilica and a centerpiece of global Christianity into a mosque.
“We can’t go back to the Middle Ages now,” Metropolitan Hilarion, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s department for external church relations, also said on state television, the Interfax news agency reported. He added that such a move by Turkey would be “unacceptable.”
“It is a duty of every civilized state to maintain balance: to reconcile the society, and not aggravate discords in it; to help unite people, and not divide them,” Kirill said in his statement.
The proposal has been criticised by other religious and political leaders.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Greek government sent a strong message to Turkey to keep the building as a museum.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide and based in Istanbul, said converting it into a mosque would disappoint Christians and would “fracture” East and West.
Erdogan has described foreign criticism over the proposal as an attack on Turkey’s sovereignty.
Patriarch Kirill’s full statement (From the Patriarchate of Moscow’s website):
I am deeply concerned over the calls of certain Turkish politicians to reconsider the museum status of Hagia Sophia, one of the greatest monuments of Christian culture.
Built in the 6th century in honour of Christ the Saviour, this church is of great importance to the whole Orthodoxy. And it is especially dear to the Russian Church. Prince Vladimir’s envoys stepped across the threshold of this church and were captivated by its heavenly beauty. Having heard their story, St. Vladimir received baptism and baptised Rus’, which followed him into a new spiritual and historical dimension – Christian civilisation.
Many generations conveyed to us admiration for achievements of this civilisation, with us now being its part. And Hagia Sophia has always been one of its devoutly venerated symbols. The image of this church has become deeply ingrained in our culture and history, having given strength and inspiration to our architects of the past in Kiev, Novgorod, Polotsk – in all the major centres of the spiritual formation of Early Rus’.
There were different, sometimes rather difficult periods in the history of relations between Rus’ and Constantinople. Yet, with bitterness and indignation, the Russian people responded in the past and respond now to any attempt to degrade or trample upon the millennium-old spiritual heritage of the Church of Constantinople. A threat to Hagia Sophia is a threat to the entire Christian civilisation and, therefore, to our spirituality and history. To this day Hagia Sophia remains a great Christian shrine for every Russian Orthodox believer.
It is a duty of every civilised state to maintain balance: to reconcile the society, and not aggravate discords in it; to help unite people, and not divide them.
Today the relationships between Turkey and Russia are developing dynamically. At the same time, one should take into account that Russia is a country with the majority of the population professing Orthodoxy, and so, what may happen to Hagia Sophia will inflict great pain on the Russian people.
I hope for the prudence of Turkey’s state leadership. Preservation of the current neutral status of Hagia Sophia, one of the greatest masterpieces of Christian culture and a church–symbol for millions of Christians all over the world, will facilitate further development of the relations between the peoples of Russia and Turkey and help strengthen interfaith peace and accord.
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia
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