Two more historic churches open for liturgy in Turkey
Two more historic churches open for mass [liturgy] in Turkey
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Friday, July 29, 2011
Hundreds of people from the diaspora will be attending religious services in various churches all around Turkey in the next few months. Annual services will be held at Sümela Monastery in Trabzon and at the Surp Haç Armenian Church in Van for the second time, following permission granted last year by the Culture and Tourism Ministry
Two more long-dormant churches in Turkey have been opened for annual mass, adding to a number across the country that will host impressive ceremonies for the Greek and Armenian diaspora later this year.
Hagia Voukolas Church in the Aegean province of İzmir and the Surp Giragos Armenian Church in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır will become the two latest churches to be opened up for an annual mass ceremony. Mass has not been conducted in the Hagia Voukolas Church since 1923 and at Surp Giragos since 1915.
A commencement ceremony will be held Oct. 23 at Surp Giragos, while annual services will also be held at Sümela Monastery in the Black Sea province of Trabzon and at the Surp Haç Armenian Church in the eastern province of Van for the second time, following permission granted last year by Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay.
“Direct flights from Moscow to Trabzon have been planned. It is expected that there will be an impressive service like last year. We have informed Ankara about the service,” Father Dositheos Anagnastopoulos told the Hürriyet Daily News on behalf of the Fener Greek Patriarchate, adding that high-ranking clerics from Greece and Russia would also attend the ceremony.
The service at Sümela will again be held on Annunciation [Dormition] Day on Aug. 15, in accordance with Orthodox Christian tradition, while the mass at Surp Haç will be held Sept. 11.
“Unless there is peace between religions, it is more difficult for there to be peace between states,” Anagnastopoulos said, inviting everyone to join the ceremony. The Virgin Mary is considered a sacred figure in the Muslim faith just as in Christianity, he added.
Surp Giragos has been closed to mass service since 1915 when the German army used it as an arms depot, while it was later used by the Turkish bank and holding company, Sümerbank.
Istanbul’s Greek Orthodox community also reserves the right to hold annual services in İzmir’s Efes Church and two other rundown historical churches in the provinces of Niğde and Nevşehir near Cappadocia.
“The initiative [taken by] the Turkish government in restoring and opening up Sümela and Akdamar as museums with permission for limited religious services by Greeks and Armenians was a very positive step, mainly because it was a change in direction,” said Raffi Bedrosyan, an Istanbul-born Canadian Armenian.
Bedrosyan has been involved in worldwide fundraising efforts for the renovation of Surp Giragos and is recognized as a moderate voice in the Armenian diaspora.
“After negative efforts in the willful destruction [through] neglect of the Christian minority’s churches, [and] not even allowing minor repairs to minority institutions, of course this initiative is a positive step. However, this is only a very tiny first step on a long path and the expectations [we have,] especially outside [of] Turkey, in reversing past injustices are very high and cannot be easily satisfied,” Bedrosyan said.
Akdamar has been a sacred place of worship for Armenians for thousands of years, Bedrosyan said.
“[The] Turkish state [kept] it as a state museum... The decision to keep it as a state museum, and not give it back to the rightful owner, the Armenian Church, disappointed both Armenia and the diaspora,” he said.
“The issue of having a cross installed or not just became an excuse to express the disappointment. Unfortunately, the overall disappointment by Armenians did not diminish even after the cross was installed and the considerable efforts of the Turkish state in trying to demonstrate to the outside world that it has a new positive initiative went to waste,” he said in relation to the squabbles that appeared in the Turkish press last year over the installment of a cross on Surp Haç’s roof.
Hundreds of people from the diaspora will attend the service in Diyarbakır, Bedrosyan said, adding that they were also planning to visit Istanbul, Kars, Van, Kayseri and Malatya.
Surp Giragos, which can hold 3,000 people for mass, is considered to be the largest church in the Middle East and dates back to the 15th century, according to Bedrosyan.
© 2011 Hurriyet Daily News
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