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Orthodox Community Holds Mass in Earthquake-Ruined Greek Church of Antioch

Rescue work in Hatay Province following the earthquake which destroyed the Antioch Greek Orthodox Church.
Rescue work in Hatay Province following the earthquake which destroyed the Antioch Greek Orthodox Church. Credit: State Emergency Service of Ukraine. CC BY 4.0/Wikimedia Commons/State Emergency Service of Ukraine

The Antioch Greek Orthodox Church in Antakya, Turkey, which was reduced to rubble by an earthquake last year, saw an emotional mass ceremony held for victims of the disaster recently.

The deadly earthquake that rocked southern and central Turkey and northern and western Syria on February 6th last year killed more than 50,000 people and erased entire cities, with bridges collapsing, roads and airport tarmac cracked, and an estimated 850,000 buildings obliterated. Rich cultural and religious heritage sites also turned to rubble.

The natural disaster destroyed the Antioch Greek Orthodox Church of Antakya, a municipality in modern-day Turkey which was once called Antioch and founded by the Seleucid dynasty, a Greek power in West Asia during the Hellenistic period.

Antioch Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey Sees Mass for Victims of 2023 Earthquake

Speaking at the mass held yesterday, February 6th, for victims of the earthquake, Hurigil said, “Our churches are levelled and our bell towers are silent” with one attendee at the mass, an eighteen-year-old medical student, telling Reuters, “I saw the church for the first time after the earthquake and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was deeply affected.”

However, awaiting only the results of a soil survey, the church, which was also brought to rubble during an earthquake in 1872, is set for another rebirth.

“This city has been destroyed and rebuilt seven times. It was demolished for the eighth time, and hopefully, it will be rebuilt again,” Fadi Hurigil, head of the Greek Orthodox Church Foundation of Antakya told Reuters.

He added that some 370 Greek Orthodox families were living in Antakya before the 2023 quake, but only twenty remain today.

Hurigil, 49, who has lived in Antakya his whole life, said forty-five families had relocated to Mersin province, a three-hour drive away, according to Reuters. The church leader also made mention of his own family home in the city center, explaining that it was only slightly damaged but that he and his family are, nevertheless, currently staying in their summer home in Hatay province.

“Antakya holds a special place in the hearts of those who had to leave, as it is where they have roots and land. Giving up this city is not easy for us,” he told Reuters.

David Cagan, another member of the Greek Orthodox community in Antakya, said it was essential to rebuild the churches. Even before the quake, he told Reuters, Antakya’s Christian community had been decreasing in size ever year in a predominantly Muslim Turkey, and this most recent disaster has brought it to the brink of extinction.

“Our house of worship is what unites us, and without it, we cannot gather,” he told Reuters, adding that Turkish authorities and international organizations ought to be promoting projects that encourage people to return to Antakya.

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