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A Day of Mourning for Hagia Sophia Cathedral

Catholicos of All Armenians His Holiness Karekin II and Diocesan Primate Bishop Daniel have supported Orthodox Christian leaders in condemning an outrage against one of the wonders of the Christian world.

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A Message from Bishop Daniel

Dear Faithful:

This week I have received a solemn request from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and its leader Archbishop Elpidophoros, my dear brother in Christ, to share their grief over a deeply dispiriting turn of events in the life of Orthodox—and indeed all—Christians.

You are all aware that the Turkish government has rendered a decision to convert Constantinople’s magnificent Cathedral of Hagia Sophia—“Holy Wisdom”—into a mosque. The decision is an outrage to Christians across the globe, and its fulfillment would be a tragedy of historic proportions.

Our Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, His Holiness Karekin II, issued a strong statement of condemnation last week, which powerfully expressed the feelings of our entire church. I would like to quote it here at length:

“From the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, we regretfully learned of the July 10 decision of the President of the Republic of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to turn the Hagia Sophia Cathedral—a shrine of enduring, eternal value to the Orthodox churches and the entire Christian world—into a mosque.

“Against the appeals of countless Christian organizations, Christian church leaders, and political authorities, the Turkish government has made this unilateral and reprehensible decision, violating the rights of Turkey’s national religious minorities. The concerns of millions of Christians were ignored—in spite of the fact that Hagia Sophia has long been listed among UNESCO’s World Heritage monuments.

“The Armenian people, who survived Genocide in Ottoman Turkey, share the pain and anxiety of our Orthodox brothers and sisters. The Armenian Church, which lost thousands of our own precious churches in the Armenian Genocide, condemns the decision of the Turkish government, which greatly hinders the progress of understanding and dialogue among religions. We call for its reconsideration, and for a return to the principle of peaceful, prayerful coexistence among the diverse religious communities.”

The words of our Catholicos speak for all Armenian Christians, and we thank him for expressing our sense of outrage with such clarity and conviction.

Indeed, the decision to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque is so contrary to common decency that we must see the mildly supportive statements issued by Christian authorities in Istanbul, including Armenian ones, to have been made under duress, and possibly coercion.

With this message, the Eastern Diocese joins the near universal condemnation of this act of cultural genocide. It represents a radical suppression of Christianity in one of our faith’s oldest, most magnificent homelands: the ancient realm of the Byzantine Orthodox Church in Asia Minor. Hagia Sophia was conceived and built 1,500 years ago as the splendid jewel in the great Byzantine capital of Constantinople—a city that has been, and continues to be, an important center of Armenian Church life. Faithful Armenian architects and artisans contributed to the design, construction, and upkeep of the cathedral for centuries. Today we stand with our brother and sister Orthodox Christians in their righteous cause, and along with our Catholicos convey supportive love to the Ecumenical Patriarch, His Holiness Bartholomew I.

In Archbishop Elpidophoros’ message to me, he notes that the leaders of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America are inviting all Christians to join them on Friday, July 24, in a day of mourning over the evident fate of Hagia Sophia. Quoting an encyclical from the Greek Orthodox Church, he writes:

“Knowing that Friday, July 24 will be an ‘inauguration’ of this program of cultural and spiritual misappropriation and a violation of all standards of religious harmony and mutual respect, we call upon all the beloved faithful of our Holy Archdiocese to observe this day as a Day of Mourning and manifest grief. We urge you to invite your fellow Orthodox Christians, and indeed all Christians and people of goodwill, to share in the following observances. We ask that every church toll its bells in lamentation on this day. We call for every flag of every kind that is raised on the church property be lowered to half-mast on this day.”

WITH THIS DIRECTIVE, I inform our faithful that the Eastern Diocese and all its parishes will join our Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters, in a spirit of loving solidarity and familial support, during this Day of Mourning over the conversion of the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia, on Friday, July 24.

I direct that on that day, every Armenian Church in the Eastern Diocese should lower its flags to half-mast, and at the hour of 3 p.m. (according to respective local times) should toll its bells for a period of one minute. I have asked our clergy to follow the bell tolling by offering solemn vesper prayers before the Altar of Our Lord. While most of us cannot come together for communal prayer under the current pandemic situation, I ask that every faithful Armenian offer a prayer at home at that hour.

These have been difficult, often painful weeks for all of us, in so many ways. The outrage against Hagia Sophia is truly an occasion for grief among us as Armenians, Christians, and civilized people. We hold out hope in the mysterious workings of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ, whose purposes may seem unknowable to us, but whose hand is surely guiding all human events towards their fulfillment in him. May our Lord grant strength and perseverance to all his faithful children.

With my prayers,

Bishop DANIEL
Primate

July 22, 2020

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