Today, We Mourn Hagia Sophia

July 24, 2020

Persecution of Christians in Turkey: here is an important extract from a statement from Dr. Anthony J. Limberakis, National Commander of the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate:

His Eminence has enjoined every Church in our Holy Archdiocese to toll its bells in lamentation and to chant the Akathist Hymn in the evening of July 24, just as we chant it on the Fifth Friday of the Great and Holy Fast. Please participate. Please also sign the petitions of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ); the World Hellenic Diaspora; and the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC). See also AHEPA’s call to sanction Turkey.

And finally, please add your name to this petition of the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, by replying to

We call upon international bodies and the governments of the world to take action to reverse the Turkish government’s decision to convert Hagia Sophia to a mosque. 

Hagia Sophia, as the foremost Cathedral in the Christian world for so many centuries, continues to be a source of inspiration for billions of Christians and people of other faith traditions worldwide. To claim it as the property of one faith group alone is to deny its longstanding status as a living symbol of respect for all faiths and a part of our collective heritage.

This unwise decision casts a shadow over the commitment of the government of Turkey to religious tolerance and religious freedom. The Turkish government’s decision is a deeply ill-advised act of memoricide that ignores Turkey’s rich Christian history and further threatens the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the remaining Christians of that land. It was undertaken in defiance of the United States, Russia, France, Greece and many others.

We urgently request the relevant world bodies to pressure the Turkish government to rescind this decision, and acknowledge and respect Hagia Sophia’s thousand years as a center of Christian prayer and worship.

Read the full statement here.

For previous coverage of Hagia Sophia and the persecution of Christians in Turkey, see here.

“Today, We Mourn Hagia Sophia,” by Claire Evans, International Christian Concern, July 24, 2020:

07/24/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern)A sword will pierce her heart, yet she ponders. Such is the legacy of Mary, the mother of Jesus. It is a legacy re-encountered within the history of Hagia Sophia.

The ancient cathedral, the heart of Eastern Christianity, was pierced by the sword during the Ottoman era conquest. She was converted into a mosque, and Christians pondered their future.

Centuries later, the Ottoman Empire transformed into modern Turkey. Hagia Sophia was changed into a museum as a violent genocide targeting Christians swept across the country.

Today, Christians are forced to ponder an uncertain future. Christianity mourns as Hagia Sophia is once again converted into a mosque. Those Christian mosaics within the cathedral, many of which show Mary, are covered. The cathedral’s Christian history is hidden away. Like Mary, we ponder the future. And we mourn. “We ask that every Church toll its bells in lamentation on this day,” requested the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

Encountering the mystery of Christ remains deeply rooted in Orthodoxy. Hagia Sophia’s design testifies to the mystical union between Christ’s bride (the church) and her encounter with God. Hagia Sophia is often discussed in terms of spiritual intimacy and union, by both Christians and Muslims. For whoever occupies Hagia Sophia, it is viewed as a marriage.

For this reason, the Greek Orthodox have asked that the Akathist Hymn is sung even as church bells toll in lamentation. Mourn the loss of Hagia Sophia, but also as the hymn suggests, “Rejoice, O Bride unwedded, the world’s salvation… At a loss and perplexed am I. As ordered therefore, thus do I shout to you: Rejoice, O Maiden who are full of grace!”

Such similar language of endearment is common vocabulary when speaking of Hagia Sophia. For example, Greek [Ecumenical] Patriarch Bartholomew remarked in the days’ prior that Hagia Sophia is the center “in which East and West embrace.”

This latest transformation of Hagia Sophia is nothing less than a new type of embrace, laden with fresh symbolism. Turkey has intentionally chosen today—the anniversary of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne—to formalize the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque. The treaty established under Ataturk a secular Turkey, a country that looks at a church and sees a museum. Today, Turkey looks past Lausanne towards its Ottoman past. But what in this history bodes well for the future?

“[Hagia Sophia] became a symbol of conquest,” said one Turkish Christian as she recounts the cathedral’s history to ICC. “I wonder what will come after the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque. I can’t make sense of the cry of victory for some of the Islamic side. [They say] ‘we took your temple to the Christian world from you. We have triumphed against Ataturk.’”

Indeed, the conversion of Hagia Sophia back into a mosque is an achievement long looked towards by Turkey’s ruling party (AKP). Its reliance upon Islamic nationalism has only ostracized those who fall outside their specific belief system, isolating those of a different conscience.

“To me, Turkey is now becoming quite impatient against Christians and Christianity. [President Erdogan] seeks every opportunity to establish his own caliphate,” adds another Turkish Christian. “I think Hagia Sophia was just one of the small steps to do this. Hagia Sophia was used as a matter of revenge, and Christianity was completely ignored. This will not be the first (and it will) not be the end.”…

The Akathist Hymn sung today by churches mourning Hagia Sophia’s conversion includes the line “we your faithful inscribe to you the prize of victory as gratitude for being rescued from calamity.”

Amongst the sadness and anticipation of a more challenging future, there is hope and gratitude. “Rejoice, the only one who budded forth the unfading apple,” adds the hymn. The future may look more challenging, but there is hope. That even as Turkey fades back into an era of persecution, the church may yet still thrive.

Thus, we ponder as we mourn today’s loss of Hagia Sophia.