WITH Friday Islamic prayers to be recited in Hagia Sophia for the first time in 85 years, Christian leaders around the world have expressed deep regret at Turkey’s decision to change the status of the famous place of worship.
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge and the head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, Archbishop Makarios expressed “deep regret, saying Hagia Sophia’s revised status as a mosque risks sowing division in a world seeking common ground.
Hagia Sophia, which was a Christian cathedral for more than 900 years before becoming a mosque in the 15th century, became a secular museum in 1935.
The archbishops said the grand building has, for the past 85 years, been “a monument of world cultural heritage and a symbol of inclusivity”.
“Our fear is that this could aggravate tension between Christians and Muslims at a time when we need to pursue the path of dialogue and seek common ground,” the statement said.
“The path of nationalist ideology and the political decisions it prompts can lead only to division, which is never the fruit of the holy wisdom all religions seek.”
The pain of its reconversion into a mosque runs deep in the Orthodox world – and, there are Greek fears that Turkey’s move might be a warm-up for a more substantial action in the Aegean involving ships and energy rights.
The navies of both countries are on high alert.
Archbishops Coleridge and Makarios prayed for the people of Turkey, including the Christians “who have been especially grieved by this decision”.
“We pray too that in time the decision will be reversed, so that Hagia Sophia/Aya Sofya can again be common ground for all people and an emblem of peace,” they said.