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In Search of Headlines, Renegade Group Tries to Gatecrash Agia Sophia, by Gregory C. Pappas

Greek America Magazine’s publisher, Gregory C. Pappas, has posted a commentary about the group that attempted unsuccessfully to perform a liturgy at Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey this past weekend. His commentary can be read below:

In Search of Headlines, Renegade Group Tries to Gatecrash Agia Sophia

by Gregory C. Pappas

A group of Greek Americans and Greek nationals led by a man named Chris Spirou attempted unsuccessfully to enter Turkey this week with intentions of conducting a Greek Orthodox liturgy in Agia Sophia– once the greatest church in all of Christendom which is now a museum in Turkey.

The group– with no apparent approval, authorization or blessing from an organized church body including the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America or the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople– was stopped at the border crossing before entering Turkey.

The move was a publicity stunt and a provocative action that ultimately does harm to the institution of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the remaining members of the Greek minority in Istanbul. The move could ultimately derail efforts in recent months by the Turkish government to lift restrictions on religious minorities in the country.

Agia Sophia served as the Cathedral of Constantinople until its conquest by the Ottoman Empire in 1453. It was then turned into a mosque and then into a museum in 1935. Worshipping in the historic building has been forbidden since then by the Turkish government– the sovereign nation on whose territory this remarkable building is currently located and the nation whose laws must be respected–for better or for worse.

No matter how unjust, inappropriate or unfair we believe the laws of Turkey to be– especially in the case of the persecuted Greek minority there– all activists seeking change must work within the existing framework of civility and the law.

A perfect example is the movement of the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate– a group of Greek Orthodox laymen who have undertaken a systematic campaign to expose Turkey’s religious intolerance and mistreatment of the Patriarchate and the Greek minority, all within the framework of the various European institutions and courts.

They are not a group of renegades seeking to bust open the doors of a building that was once a church and perform liturgies under the watchful eye of TV cameras (not to mention nationalist groups looking for any excuse to inflict harm).

On the contrary, their efforts, led by their spiritual advisor Fr. Alex Karloutsos who understands both the spiritual and political ramifications of their actions, are well thought and systematic and have yielded much success and positive change in Turkey.

Furthermore, the efforts of the Archons and other groups in America like Ahepa, not to mention several individual politicians, have led to statements by Turkish government officials that the long-closed Greek Orthodox seminary of Halki may be allowed to re-open. Such hints haven’t been heard in decades.

Another sign of change is the recently completed Greek Orthodox liturgy in Pontos that was held under the approval of the Turkish government.

On that note, if Mr. Spirou and his followers wanted to experience a liturgy in Turkey, why didn’t they join the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and 2,500 followers in the historic Panagia Soumela monastery in the region known as Pontos on August 15th?

The historic church service there– the first one in almost ninety years– was held under the approval of the Turkish government and was a huge step forward in this government’s efforts to reform its laws toward a more Euro-centric path.

Was it enough on the part of the Turkish government? Absolutely not. This government– as well as past Turkish governments– is responsible for a quiet and methodical ethnic cleansing of a once-vibrant minority of Greek Orthodox Christians in Istanbul.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the campaign wasn’t so quiet as government-sponsored riots destroyed hundreds of Greek-owned shops and drove thousands of ethnic Greeks to flee to Greece, abandoning homes and businesses that had been in their families for generations. More recently anti-Greek hate crimes have escalated, including vandalized cemeteries and unfair laws targeted against minorities.

Much more needs to be done by Prime Minister Erdogan and the pressure must come from systematic and organized efforts within a legal framework. What’s next, Mr. Spirou? A move to rush the gates of the Halki Seminary with students and teachers and begin teaching at the seminary that has been closed for three


You got your 15 minutes of fame. You got your name in Google news.

But now, please move over so the real activists can continue their important work and ultimately, arrange a sanctioned liturgy at Agia Sophia, with all the world watching in praise.

Please stop undermining years of efforts by individuals and organizations dedicated to the cause, and not the headline.

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