WASHINGTON – A year after Hagia Sophia of Istanbul was officially converted into a mosque, on July 14, in a Greek orthodox church of Washington, DC, prayers and speeches of religious leaders and advocates lamented Ankara’s move.
“I was born in Turkey. I know Hagia Sophia very well,” said Archbishop Vicken Aikazian, Ecumenical Director and Diocesan Legate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, in the opening part of his speech. “The Greeks built Hagia Sophia, but it is the pride of all Christians,” he added.
James Winkler, President and General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, highlighted that even though the site is now used as a place of prayer “we cannot but note the cynical politics that lead to this unfortunate decision.” Winkler particularly referred to the Turkish leadership’s decision to convert the Christian heritage site into a mosque. “The great church was misappropriated but not our faith,” noted Winkler.
The speeches and prayers were in line with this statement: even though it’s been a year that the magnificent Christian temple is being used as a mosque, the hope to undo the injustice supports those present. “We pray for the Christians around the world, but not just for their safety and protection. We pray for our commitment to stand up for them,” added pastor Dr. Bob Roberts. Archbishop Elpidophoros, the supreme leader of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, prelate of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church, gave prayers for St Sophia, for peace, wisdom, and betterment of the Christians.
The foundation of Washington’s Greek Orthodox church was laid in 1956 by then-President Eisenhower. The temple is named Hagia Sofia after the magnificent site in Istanbul, historic Constantinople.