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ICC Note: In Turkey, a rise in secularism is causing a backlash against the Christian community. One such example is the Holy Theological School of Halki, a sacred Orthodox Christian site in Turkey. While this building functioned as a school, it produced more than 260 Orthodox Christian leaders, including Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople. The government, in a wave of secularist policies, closed the school in 1971. This closing has a devastating effect in the Christian community, as Halki was the only school that taught Orthodox priests. This demonstrates a more recent attempt at weeding out Christianity in the region.

07/09/14 Turkey (NC Register) – Standing on a hilltop high over the Marmara Sea, I admire the lush grounds of a sacred Orthodox Christian site, the Holy Theological School of Halki. It’s hard for me to believe the sorrow, angst and political war fought over this island paradise overlooking Istanbul.

It’s a sign of the Orthodox Church’s health that it’s responding to the scandal on Heybeliada Island (Halki Island before Turkish rule) with love — and a flowering wonderland.

Locked Out

While it functioned as a school, between 1844 and 1971, the school produced more than 260 Orthodox bishops and 16 patriarchs, including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, spiritual leader of some 260 million Orthodox Christians — and Pope Francis’ friend. A monastery on the property dates to the ninth century.

The government closed the school in 1971 when a Turkish military “soft coup” provoked a court ruling banning private institutions of higher education.

On its face, the ruling violates article 40 of the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923, which ended Turkey’s War of Independence and assured non-Muslim minorities the right to manage their own schools and practice religion freely.

Plus, neither the Ottoman state (which defeated the Orthodox Byzantine Empire in 1453) nor Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic, had any problem with the seminary.

The closure has a potentially paralyzing impact: Under Turkish law, the Ecumenical Patriarch must be a Turkish citizen, yet Halki was the nation’s only seminary. And of course, by limiting a Church’s ability to train priests, the move will effectively strangle the ability to serve believers.

Open Doors

Patriarch Bartholomew, who has been personally subjected to public humiliation and even a foiled assassination plot last year, can’t help but show his frustration sometimes, especially when there have been many occasions for hope. For example, in 2012 President Obama announced Turkey would open the seminary.

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