Catholic and Jap Orthodox church buildings have fun the day of mourning for Hagia Sophia

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The U.S. Episcopal Conference said Tuesday that July 24 was a day of mourning for Hagia Sophia. The former church and museum in Istanbul are inaugurated as a mosque on that day.

In a tweet dated July 21, the USCCB said it would join the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America "to offer our prayers for the restoration of Hagia Sophia as a place of prayer and reflection for all peoples."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signed a decree on July 10 converting Hagia Sophia into a mosque. The decree closely followed a ruling by the State Council, Turkey's highest administrative court, which illegally declared an 80-year-old government decree converting the building from a mosque to a museum.

Hagia Sophia was built in 537 by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I as the cathedral of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. After the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the basilica was converted into a mosque. Under the Ottomans, architects added minarets and buttresses to preserve the building, but the mosaics with Christian images were whitewashed and covered.

In 1934 the mosque was turned into a museum under a secular Turkish government. Some mosaics have been uncovered, including depictions of Christ, the Virgin, John the Baptist, Justinian I and Zoe Porhyrogenita. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1985 by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

As a mosque, the mosaics in Hagia Sophia must be covered during the prayers, as must the seraph figures in the dome.

The members of the eparchial synod of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America wrote on July 19 that they viewed the Hagia Sophia inauguration as a mosque, which they saw as a "program of cultural and spiritual embezzlement and a violation of all standards of religious harmony and mutual respect “We call on all beloved believers of our Holy Archdiocese to regard this day as a day of mourning and obvious grief. We urge you to invite your Orthodox fellow Christians, and indeed all Christians and people of good will, to participate in the following observations. "

The observations are: “On this day, every church rings its bells plaintively. We demand that any flag of any kind hoisted on the Church property be lowered to half mast on that day. And we urge every church in our Holy Archdiocese to sing the Akathist hymn that evening, as we sing it on the fifth Friday of the Great and Holy Fasting. "

"Let us appeal to the Blessed Sacrament Theotokos and the Virgin Mary at this time of mourning and grief," wrote the Greek Orthodox bishops. "It is the" only hope of the hopeless, "and as we sing in the Akathist," the repository of God's wisdom, the treasure trove of his foreknowledge "."

The Greek Orthodox Bishops concluded: “Therefore, with full faith in the prior knowledge of our Trinitarian God and in the divine plan for our salvation, we trust the future of our beloved [Hagia Sophia] to his wisdom and beseech them, which is the treasury of this Knowledge and the repository of this wisdom to stand up for us, to comfort us, to give us our strength and to give us their advice so that we can ever do and say what is pleasing to the eyes and eyes in hearing their son , our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, for the glory of God the Father who, together with the Holy Spirit, worshiped a God until eternity. Amen!"

Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou, director of the Religion, Law, and Diplomacy initiative at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, told the CNA last week that July 24 was "widespread symbolism for the inauguration of Hagia Sophia as a mosque."

The day is the anniversary of the Treaty of Lausanne, signed in 1923 after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War, which defined the borders of the modern Turkish state and included explicit protection for Christian minorities.

Erdoğan "has stated indirectly – and increasingly directly – that he sees Lausanne as something that should be lifted," said Prodromou. It is also a signal to Turkey's NATO allies and fellow countrymen that "it is not interested in continuing under contracts that are designed to ensure stability and order in the region".

Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles and Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, the president of the US bishops and the ecumenical chairman, said on July 14: “Together with Pope Francis and our Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters, we express deep sorrow over the decree of the Turkish President to open Hagia Sophia as a mosque. "

“For many years, this beautiful and esteemed place has served as a museum where people of all faiths can experience the sublime presence of God. It was also a sign of goodwill and peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims and an expression of humanity's longing for unity and love. "

Edward Clancy, director of public relations for Church aid in Need-USA, said on July 17 that the 1934 decision to secularize Hagia Sophia, "which also allowed the restoration of Christian iconography plastered by the Ottoman authorities," she said a symbol of the Inter – religious harmony, a place where Islamic and Christian heritage can meet in peace. The loss of this privileged place of interfaith encounter is incalculable. "

“Hagia Sophia has kept the promise of peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims, an acknowledgment of humanity's longing for unity and love. Turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque also sends a painful message to Christians across the Middle East who have been persecuted and culturally cleaned up by ISIS and other Islamist groups, ”continued Clancy.

He said the decision to convert the building into a mosque reflects Turkey's ambition to regain the Ottoman fame and power in the region. This is an aggressive stance that is evident in the country's military incursions in Syria and Iraq and must further destabilize an already volatile region, the battlefield of political interests and religious values. "

In November 2019, the State Council decided that Chora Church, another Istanbul museum built as a church and later turned into a mosque, should be converted back into a mosque. Nevertheless, the Chora Church continues to be listed as one of its destinations on the city's official museum tourism website.

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