The Greek Orthodox Archbishop of America Elpidophoros issued a statement on Saturday on the occasion of the first anniversary of the conversion of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into an Islamic mosque.
”Hagia Sophia is the embodiment of our Orthodox Christian Faith,” Elpidophoros said in a tweet in his personal Twitter account.
”We mourn its conversion to a mosque. Every culture and is worthy of respect, and Hagia Sophia, the epitome of the Byzantine achievement, should have been left as a place of cultural intersection and religious harmony,” the religious leader proclaimed.
Earlier that day, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan commemorated the first anniversary of the conversion of this world monument into a mosque.
According to the translation of his Turkish tweet, Erdogan noted that the voices of Muslim prayers and the Quran will never leave the ”domes of this great temple, until the end of time.”
Medeniyet güneşimizin yeniden yükselişinin sembolü olan #AyasofyanınDirilişi bir kez daha hayırlı olsun. Bizlere bu günleri gösteren Rabbimize hamdolsun…
İnşallah bu ulu mabedin kubbelerinden ezanların, salavatların, hatmi şeriflerin sesleri kıyamete kadar eksik olmayacak… pic.twitter.com/7wUivL4Rft
— Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RTErdogan) July 24, 2021
A year ago today, Turkey turned Hagia Sophia into a Mosque
Thousands of worshipers, many waving Turkish flags, gathered on July 24, 2020 at Hagia Sophia for the first Friday prayers in decades as the UNESCO World Heritage Site was officially inaugurated as a mosque.
The 1,500-year-old site became a museum in 1934. However, earlier in 2020 a Turkish court annulled Hagia Sophia’s museum status, saying its use as anything other than a mosque was “not possible legally”.
Turkey’s President Erdogan then announced that the world-famous site would be used as a mosque for Friday prayers from July 24, 2020, a move that has become a cause of celebration for Muslims in Turkey.
Erdogan attended the inaugural prayers inside the monument along with around 500 dignitaries, as he fulfilled what he had described as the “dream of our youth” anchored in Turkey’s Islamic movement.
Why is this temple important
Hagia Sophia in Istanbul remains the symbolic center of the Greek Orthodox faith, even almost six centuries after its fall to the Ottomans and its conversion to a mosque.
From 537 to 1453, the “Great Church” – as the Byzantines called it – was the eastern heart of Christianity.
The massive temple held a total of 23,000 worshipers, and 525 priests, deacons and chanters served its liturgies.
However, the significance of Hagia Sophia (“Holy Wisdom” in English) was assuredly not just because of its imposing size.
In 1934, Turkish President Kemal Ataturk converted the iconic building into a museum. In recent years, some restoration work had been done on Hagia Sophia, and several of the mosaics had been uncovered.
Despite the ravages of time, Hagia Sophia remains universally acknowledged as one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. It was named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
In early July 2020, the Turkish Council of State annulled the Cabinet’s 1934 decision to establish the museum, revoking the monument’s status, and a subsequent decree by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the reclassification of Hagia Sophia as a mosque.
The 1934 decree was ruled to be unlawful under both Ottoman and Turkish law as Hagia Sophia’s waqf, endowed by Sultan Mehmed, had designated the site a mosque; proponents of the decision argued the Hagia Sophia was the personal property of the sultan.
This redesignation is controversial, invoking condemnation from the Turkish opposition, UNESCO, the World Council of Churches, and many international leaders.