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07/13/2020 Turkey (International Christian Concern) – Following the Turkish Council of State’s June 10th ruling in favor of converting the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, two imams and four muezzins (callers to prayer) will be appointed to the Hagia Sophia. President Erdogan also announced on Friday that Muslim prayers would begin at the mosque on July 24th.

On July 10th, the Chief Secretariat of the Holy Eparchial Synod expressed his concern on behalf of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America regarding the Turkish decision. “For Orthodox Christians around the globe, and also for the entire Christendom, Hagia Sophia, Constantinople, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate are sacred spiritual centers and comprise a repository of our Christian Faith and tradition.”

“Therefore, we call the Turkish government to respect the pan-Orthodox and pan-Christian consciousness, which today has been deeply wounded by this decision,” he continued. “We hope that this decision is not a manifestation of the deterioration in the stance of the Turkish government toward the Ecumenical Patriarchate and other religious minorities in Turkey.”

The Greek Orthodox Church is not alone in its sentiments against the conversion, as the World Council of Churches (WCC) published a letter on July 11th, asking Erdogan to maintain the Hagia Sophia’s museum status. Rev. Prof. Dr. Ioan Sauca, Interim General Secretary of the WCC, made this statement: “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. Regrettably, this decision has also been taken without prior notice or discussion with UNESCO regarding the impact of this decision on Hagia Sophia’s universal value recognized under the World Heritage Convention.”

The Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) also published a statement condemning Turkey’s conversion decision. In the statement, the MECC suggests filing an appeal before the Turkish Supreme Court to enforce “the historical symbolism represented by the church of Santa Sophia.” The Council also notes this decision as a serious blow to Islamic-Christian relations, not just in Turkey, but across the Middle East.

In the wake of the recent court ruling, the Greek government is planning to push for the European Union (EU) to sanction Turkey in response to the Hagia Sophia conversion. Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias made it clear that “Athens will respond harshly” to Turkey’s latest actions. The leader of the Italian Northern League has likewise expressed his criticism of the conversion.

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