Hagia Sophia, an essential element of Christianity, a second Jerusalem, the most revolutionary and daring church conceived in Christendom, has been turned into a museum considerably impaired by the loss of all its Christian furnishings and much of its original setting and atmosphere. At present it is part of an increasingly elaborate area of monuments, museums, and rug and souvenir shops. The Great Church, transformed into a monument/museum without life…The conquest of war does not and cannot change its spiritual nature into a civil-cultural-secular institution. For as long as the injustice done to the soul of Hagia Sophia is ignored and forgotten Christianity cannot be whole. Hagia Sophia’s reason for existing is vitally important to restoring religious integrity.
Hagia Sophia is not a public building that changed ownership with the conquest of a war. Hagia Sophia is a place of god, Christendom’s grandest place of worship for over 900 years, and arguably the most perfect and beautiful church that has been erected by any Christian people. The splendor of its overall effect, its “paradise-like” beauty and architectural brilliance were often comprehensible only in terms of repeated divine intervention.
The magnificence, spirituality and prestige of the Great Church led to its being appropriated as an imperial and religious symbol by the Ottoman sultans. The church of Christ was possessed and converted into a mosque, until it was decreed a museum. During this long time, it has been subjected to more than its fair share of abuse and denigration.
If you believe in the just case that Hagia Sophia should be restored to its proper religious role as a church, for which it was built in the first place, then we ask you to support our petition to the EU Parliament that Turkey should not be admitted as a member of the European Community until it restores Hagia Sophia to its original purpose as a church and not a museum.
We need a minimum of 1.000.000 signatures in order to force the European Union to consider this proposal seriously and debate it immediately as one of the conditions to allow Turkey to be admitted as a new member of the EU.
As you know, Turkey is doing everything it can today to convince the European Union that it is a worthy country to join it. If you agree with us that Turkey should not be admitted to the EU before restoring justice to Hagia Sophia, please click on "Your Signature" and send us your message.
We would be grateful if you could also tell your friends about this site and its purpose.
Angeliki Papagika and partners
[Editors: A kind reader informed us on 11 March 2006 that there were difficulties in accessing the weblog and in submitting signatures to the petition. We have reviewed the petition page and found it working properly at the URL indicated above. For another opinion on the status of Agia Sophia, read on for the remarks written by Dr. Anthony Limberakis of the Order of Archons of the Ecumnical Patriarchate and submitted to Greek News online in October 2005 (http://www.greeknewsonline.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=3801&mode=thread&order=0&thold=0):
Your readers may have received an email requesting them to sign a petition supporting the “restoration and reopening” of Hagia Sophia. The email states that this petition would oppose Turkey’s entry into the European Union unless or until the Turkish government “restored” Hagia Sophia (currently a museum) to a church. To my mind, Hagia Sophia is the most magnificient edifice in the world. I believe that its mosaics particularly the 14th century Deisis - is the greatest work of art ever conceived! However, this campaign is misguided and lamentable. It demeans the current survival struggle that is unfolding before us regarding the life of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to which the world community and the Orthodox faithful have barely awaken. The call to action to which all women and men of conscience should respond is the call to protect the living institution of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
For the greater part of eighteen centuries, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has preserved and passed on the Christian message. Through countless and unimaginable hardships it has remained as a testament to faith and the enlightment of all mankind. Over the course of the last several decades, elements in the Turkish government have systematically moved to extinguish the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Not only has an environment of religious intolerance been fomented, certain members of the Turkish state have persecuted the Orthodox clergy and laity, closed down its only theological school, and confiscated its properties. The litany of aggressive persecutions is vast and ghastly.
Instead of being beguiled in the comfortable click of an email signature endorsing a petition to “restore and reopen” Hagia Sophia, let us all commit to taking profound action to ensure the perpetual health of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Here are some of the many things you can do:
1. Make a donation to the Order of Saint Andrew for its Patriarchal Defense Initiatives. These initiatives will support legal actions in seeking governmental intervention against the repression of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the courts and governments of the United States, Europe and the Middle East;
2. Write President George W. Bush, copying Secretary of State Rice and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, and your Senators and Congressmen, your state, city and local representatives stating something like the following: America was established, in part, because of the desire for religious freedom. The First Amendment makes it very clear that freedom of worship is a fundamental human right recognized by the Founding Fathers and the framers of the United States Constitution. Turkey, as an ally of the United States, ought to recognize legally the Ecumenical Patriarchate; return its confiscated properties back to the Mother Church; not interfere in Patriarchal elections or in the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s canonical governance; and immediately open Halki Theological School which has been closed since 1971. For Turkey to join the European Union it must act like Europeans and Americans; i.e. recognize fundamental religious freedom and inalienable human rights.
3. Contact our brothers and sisters of all faith and creeds, whether they be Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant Muslim or Jewish and ask them to join in a united stance for religious tolerance and freedom of faith.
These are the true calls to action to which we must respond. Let us resolve to ourselves and the world that a true tragedy of our generation the extinguishment of the Ecumenical Patriarchate must be averted.
Anthony J. Limberakis, MD