06 July 2020, 15:43
Patriarch Kirill calls for preserving Hagia Sophia's museum status (updated)
Moscow, July 6, Interfax - Patriarch Kill of Moscow and All Russia made a special statement on Monday to call on the Turkish government to preserve Hagia Sophia's museum status.
"I hope for the Turkish state leadership's good sense. The preservation of the current neutral status of Hagia Sophia, one of the greatest masterpieces of Christian culture, a cathedral that millions of Christians around the world see as a symbol, would serve to further develop relations between the peoples of Russia and Turkey and strengthen interreligious peace and accord," Patriarch Kirill said in his statement.
Built in the 6th century in honor of Christ the Savior, the cathedral is of great importance to the whole Orthodoxy and is especially dear to the Russian Church, the patriarch said. "Prince Vladimir's envoys stepped across the threshold of this church and were captivated by its heavenly beauty. Having heard their story, St. Vladimir received baptism and baptized Rus', which followed him into a new spiritual and historical dimension - Christian civilization," he said.
"Many generations conveyed to us admiration for achievements of this civilization, with us now being its part. And Hagia Sophia has always been one of its devoutly venerated symbols. The image of this church has become deeply ingrained in our culture and history, having given strength and inspiration to our architects of the past in Kiev, Novgorod, Polotsk - in all the major centers of the spiritual formation of Early Rus'," Patriarch Kirill said.
The patriarch admitted that there were different and sometimes quite difficult periods in the history of relations between Rus' and Constantinople. "Yet, with bitterness and indignation the Russian people responded in the past and respond now to any attempt to degrade or trample upon the millennium-old spiritual heritage of the Church of Constantinople," he said.
"A threat to Hagia Sophia is a threat to the entire Christian civilization and, therefore, to our spirituality and history. To this day Hagia Sophia remains a great Christian shrine for every Russian Orthodox believer," he said.
"It is a duty of every civilized state to maintain balance: to reconcile the society, and not aggravate discords in it; to help unite people, and not divide them," the patriarch said.
Pointing out that the relationships between Turkey and Russia are developing dynamically these days, the patriarch insisted that it should be taken into account that most people in Russia profess Orthodoxy. "And so, what may happen to Hagia Sophia will inflict great pain on the Russian people," he said.
The debate on the future of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was given a boost by the Koran reading in the church on May 29, the anniversary of the fall of Constantinople. A week later, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered that the possibility of transforming the Hagia Sophia into a mosque be studied. Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul called for reinstating the cathedral as a mosque, and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu supported the call. In turn, Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople Sahag II suggested that both Christians and Muslims come to the Hagia Sophia to pray. Representatives of Orthodox churches and high-ranking diplomats, among them U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have made calls against transforming the Hagia Sophia into a mosque.
The Hagia Sophia became a museum in 1934, on the orders of First Turkish President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The cathedral was put on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985. The Turkish Supreme Court decided on Thursday that the cathedral's status could be reviewed via a presidential order. The Turkish Council of State discussed the issue the same day and pledged to present its opinion within the next 15 days.