Church Leaders’ statements concerning Hagia Sophia
President Erdogan of Turkey has announced that Hagia Sophia in Istanbul will become a mosque, with the first prayers taking place there next Friday, 24 July. The building, which was a Christian cathedral from around 500AD, became a mosque in 1453 following the Ottoman conquest. Since the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1934, Hagia Sophia has been a museum.
Following the announcement, the Presidents of Churches Together in England issued a joint statement, which reads:
‘The Presidents of Churches Together in England, representing the full breadth of Christian traditions in England, are saddened at the decision of the Turkish Government to change the status of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
For a long period of time Hagia Sophia has been a unique centre symbolising a co-existence of people of faith. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, as a place where the rich history of Istanbul is told visually, can be a living example of religious tolerance and respect. The decision to alter the status quo in this way is a powerful, symbolic change that is lamentable and painful for many people of faith the world over.’
Signed by the Presidents of Churches Together in England (Archbishop Justin Welby, The Archbishop of Canterbury; Cardinal Vincent Nichols, The Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster; Revd Dr Hugh Osgood, The Free Churches Moderator; Archbishop Angaelos of London, Archbishop of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of London and CTE President for the Orthodox Churches; Pastor Agu Irukwu, head of Redeemed Christian Church of God UK and CTE Pentecostal President)
His Holiness Pope Francis said simply, ‘My thoughts go to Istanbul. I think of Santa Sophia and I am very pained.’
Revd Professor Dr Ioan Souca, Interim General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, wrote a lengthy open letter to President Erdogan, which includes the words:
‘Dear Mr President
Since it began functioning as a museum in 1934, Hagia Sophia has been a place of openness, encounter and inspiration for people from all nations and religions, and a powerful expression of the Republic of Turkey’s commitment to secularism and inclusion, and of its desire to leave behind the conflicts of the past. … Today, however, I am obliged to convey to you the grief and dismay of the World Council of Churches – and of its 350 member churches in more than 110 countries, representing more than half a billion Christians around the world – at the step you have just taken. By deciding to convert the Hagia Sophia back to a mosque you have reversed that positive sign of Turkey’s openness and changed it to a sign of exclusion and division.
The decision to convert such an emblematic place as Hagia Sophia from a museum back to a mosque will inevitably create uncertainties, suspicions and mistrust, undermining all our efforts to bring people of different faiths together at a table of dialogue and cooperation. Moreover, we greatly fear that it will encourage the ambitions of other groups elsewhere that seek to overturn the status quo and to promote renewed divisions between religious communities.’
Read the full text of the letter from the World Council of Churches HERE.