Archbishop Elpidophoros of America met with President Trump and Vice President Pence late on Thursday to discuss Turkey’s recent decision to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque.
The previously-unannounced meeting with the President and Vice President at the White House was an opportunity for the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese to air their deep concerns over the seizure of the Byzantine-era building.
US President Donald Trump expressed his strong dissatisfaction with the decision of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque at the meeting.
After the scheduled 30-minute meeting on Thursday that Archbishop Elpidophoros had with US Vice President, Trump, informed of the Archbishop’s presence in the White House, called him to his office and spoke with him on critical issues for about 15 minutes.
The US President appeared very annoyed and expressed his concern about the issue of the protection of human rights and especially religious freedoms of minorities in Turkey. In fact, he declared himself a helper and supporter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and personally of Patriarch Bartholomew, as well as of Hellenism, and stressed that he would proceed immediately with the necessary interventions.
Following the meeting with the President and Vice President, the Archbishop stated “I am grateful to have met with President Trump and Vice President Pence in the White House and communicated our grave dismay at the re-conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, as well as ongoing security concerns for the Ecumenical Patriarchate and issues of religious liberty.
I am grateful to have met with President Trump (@POTUS) and @VP Pence in the @WhiteHouse and communicated our grave dismay at the re-conversion of #HagiaSophia into a mosque, as well as ongoing security concerns for the Ecumenical Patriarchate and issues of religious liberty.
— Elpidophoros (@Elpidophoros) July 23, 2020
“In view of tomorrow’s day of mourning, we persevere in prayer but also bring our struggle to the highest levels of authority.”
After the meeting Pence said that “America will stand firm with the Greek Orthodox Church in the call for Hagia Sophia to remain accessible as a source of inspiration and reflection for every person of every faith.”
As I told Archbishop @Elpidophoros today, America will stand firm with the Greek Orthodox Church in the call for Hagia Sophia to remain accessible as a source of inspiration and reflection for every person of every faith. pic.twitter.com/OsuMMuXqBC
— Mike Pence (@Mike_Pence) July 23, 2020
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has already declared Friday as a day of mourning over the reconversion of the hallowed building, which served for almost a thousand years as the seat of all Eastern Christianity.
The cathedral of Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque after the 1453 fall of the city of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks. It was made into a secular museum in 1935 and is included on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
Friday, July 24 marks the first day that a Muslim prayer service has been scheduled to take place in Hagia Sophia in many years.