Church of St Nicholas open to local mufti, but closed for mass on the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas
- 2005.12.07 Asia News:
Church of St Nicholas open to local mufti, but closed for mass on the Feast
Day of Saint Nicholas
by Mavi Zambak
Although the church belongs to the Orthodox Patriarchate, the authorities
have turned it into a museum where the Eucharist cannot be celebrated. The
local mufti can however use it for his Santa Claus association.
Demre (AsiaNews) In a warm and fertile land where a turquoise sea gently
splashes against a beautiful shoreline rises a small Turkish town, Demre,
which would have been lost to history were it not for the fact that it once
was the Episcopal See of Saint Nicholas, the same Saint Nicholas whose
venerated mortal remains now lay in the Cathedral of Bari (southern Italy),
the same Saint Nicholas known to the many as Saint Nick, Old Saint Nick,
Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, Santa Claus, Santy, or simply Santawhose
home is usually given as either the North Pole in the United States
(Alaska), northern Canada, Korvatunturi in Finnish Lapland, Dalecarlia in
Sweden, or Greenland, depending on the tradition and country, the same
old, bearded man who on Christmas Night travels the world in his red and
white costume bringing gifts to children.
According to one tradition in fact, the practice of gift-giving comes
directly from Saint Nicholas, bishop of Myra, who put three bags of gold in
stockings left to dry belonging to three young women, who had no dowry, so
that their father may not sell them into prostitution.
A recently renovated church in Demre is dedicated to the same Saint
Nicholas, a church, according to tradition, that was built in the 4th
century, when the town was called Myra and Saint Nicholas was its bishop.
Despite complaints, the church has now become a museum open to the local
mufti and his Santa Claus Association but closed to the Eucharist by a
decision of the local authorities. Gone is also the statue of the Saint.
The Saint, who was buried in the church until a group of merchants from
Bari spirited his remains away in 1087, had fame as a thaumaturge, drawing
pilgrims and believers from around the region.
According to ancient chronicles, pilgrims came to the shrine, poured oil
into the tomb and collected it after it was sanctified by contact with the
Saints bones so that it could be used on the sick.
Today, although the building is the property of the Greek Orthodox Church
(but known to local Turks as the Santa Claus Church), it is used as a
museum. The Saints sarcophagus may be empty but tourists are charged a fee
to visit the burial chapel
And it is this church, the church of the bishop of Myra, famous for his
generosity and piety that has become a bone of contention and a source of
The statue of Saint Nicholas, a bag full of gifts over his shoulder,
surrounded by children, which was a gift of the Russian Orthodox Church, no
longer stands in the square in front of the building. It has been replaced
since last spring by order of the towns mayor, Suleyman Topcu, with a
modern and multicoloured painting of Santa Claus.
Furthermore, for the past two years, the Eucharistic celebration has been
banned on the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas.
Yesterday, the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas, Orthodox Christians had to meet
in a private home for mass despite repeated formal requests by Patriarch
Bartholomew I they be allowed to use the church.
The church-turned-museum was instead made available to the citys mufti who
had organised a prayer for peace during which, and this takes the cake,
the local Turkish Santa Claus association handed out its annual Santa Claus
Peace Prize to Jeannine Gramick, an American Catholic nun, who was being
acknowledged for her ardent defence of gay and lesbian rights, Turkish
newspaper Radical reported.
In her acceptance speech, the 63-year-old nun asked for forgiveness for the
Pope and believers who do not respect homosexuals.
Local Christians were left dumbfounded and baffled over what the Turkish
state is trying to achieve with such impudent and contradictory actions.
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