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Turkey Bans Liturgy at Historic Monastery of Panagia Soumela

Panagia Soumela
Nestled in a steep cliff at an altitude of about 1,200 meters (3,900 feet), Panagia Soumela is a site of great historical and cultural significance. Credit: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen , CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikipedia

Turkey has forbidden the liturgy at the historic Orthodox monastery of Panagia Soumela on the August 15 religious holiday.

The Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople informed the Christian community of the decision in a statement released on Thursday. However, no explanation was provided for the denial.

Greek diplomatic sources told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (AMNA) that the decision by the Turkish authorities is an extremely disappointing development for all the faithful and the pilgrims that expected to visit it this year.

The same sources, who have not been named, added that “the Holy Monastery of Panagia Soumela, which was a candidate for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List and has always been a significant place of religious worship for all Christians, should have the greatest possible protection and be fully accessible to everyone.”

The liturgy was held at the restored monument in both 2022 and 2021 after it had been closed since 2015 for restoration and reinforcement works.

Panagia Soumela was founded around AD 386

Panagia Soumela is dedicated to the Virgin Mother and is located at Karadağ (meaning “Black Mountain”), in the Trabzon Province in modern Turkey.

Nestled in a steep cliff at an altitude of about 1,200 metres (3,900 ft) facing the Altındere valley, it is a site of great historical and cultural significance, as well as a major tourist attraction within Altındere National Park.

Due to an increase in rock falls, on 22 September 2015 the monastery was closed to the public for safety reasons for the duration of one year to resolve the problem; this was later extended to three years. It reopened to tourists 25 May 2019.

The monastery was founded around AD 386, during the reign of the emperor Theodosius I. It is believed that two Athenian monks named Barnabas and Sophronios founded the monastery. It became famous for an icon of the Theotokos known as the Panagia Gorgoepekoos, said to have been painted by the Apostle Luke.

During its long history, the monastery fell into ruin several times and was restored by various emperors. It reached its present form in the 13th century after gaining prominence during the existence of the Empire of Trebizond.

In February 2022 Greece and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew blasted Turkey over the “desecration” of the Panagia Soumela Monastery which was turned into a nightclub for an advertising video clip.

The controversial video clip, with a DJ playing loud electronic music in the courtyard of the historic monastery and people dancing, had many Orthodox Christians reacting in anger.

Related: The Panagia Soumela Icon, the Symbol of Hellenism in Pontus

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