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Continuing Communion Stands With Orthodox Church on Hagia Sophia

Continuing Communion Stands With Orthodox Church on Hagia Sophia
CEEC.CHURCH International College of Bishops Condemns Conversion of Hagia Sophia for Use as a Mosque

By Abp Robert Gosselin, General Secretary, CEEC
July 27, 2020

FLORIDA, Friday July 24, 2020 was a day that changed history -- at least from the perspective of historic Christianity.

Four muezzins called Muslims to their Friday prayers at what had been the largest Christian church in the world for over 1,000 years, and what has existed for the last eight decades as a public museum. Now, for the second time since the Christian Basilica of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople was built in the sixth century, the stately building that was once the first cathedral in the Roman Empire has officially been re-converted into a mosque that will be used for prayers of Islamic followers of Mohammed. Hagia Sophia was a significant place of Christian worship for centuries until Constantinople (today Istanbul), way taken over by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. The Turks turned the building into a mosque shortly after taking control. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk turned the mosque into a museum in 1934 as part of his secularization of the culture.

All that changed early on the morning of Friday, July 10 as the Council of State, Turkey's top administrative court, struck down the 1934 cabinet decision ending its use as a mosque and establishing it as a secular museum, ruling that it did not comply with then-current Turkish law and was therefore overturned with immediate effect. Within hours of the order being published, Turkey's President Recep Erdogan signed a presidential decree that Hagia Sophia be restored as a mosque.

The decision to make this radical change was greeted by an outcry from broadly divergent groups from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew, the current archbishop of Constantinople and ecumenical patriarch of approximately 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.

Patriarch Bartholomew was not the sole Christian leader voicing his concerns. Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church proclaimed that this decision was a "threat to the whole of Christian civilization." Pope Francis mentioned Hagia Sophia two days after the decision was made in his next Sunday sermon, saying the decision pained him. The Pope said, "I think of Hagia Sophia, and I am very saddened."

Bishop Hilarion, who heads the Russian Orthodox Church's department for external church relations, spoke out and said this decision was "a blow to global Christianity". Even the World Council of Churches, which represents 350 Christian denominations, said it had written to Erdogan expressing their "grief and dismay".

The International College of Bishops, the ruling body for the Continuing Evangelical Episcopal Communion (CEEC.CHURCH), has taken the decision to add our voices to those from around the world decrying this decision. The Communion's General Secretary, Archbishop Robert Gosselin, said "I remember participating in the joint prayer service at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem in May 2014, when Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis stood together and encouraged unity in the Body of Christ. We need to demonstrate that unity today and stand together against this decision." This Communion stands strongly and without reservation in support of Patriarch Bartholomew and our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox Church.

We agree with the assessment of Archbishop Ieronymos, the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church of Athens and all Greece, who said, "this outrage and the arrogance doesn't just concern the Orthodox Church and Christianity but all of civilized humanity... independently of religion."

The CEEC is a communion of the one, holy catholic and apostolic Church created by a convergence of the three great historical expressions of faith and practice: the Evangelical/Biblical, the Charismatic/Pentecostal, and the Liturgical/Sacramental traditions. Serving 2.1 million adherents on five continents, we proclaim the message of the historic Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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