The decision of the Turkish government (in fact President Recep Erdogan) to turn the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque became a symbolic and expected move highlighting the current political course of Turkey.
While this decision was expected, taking into account previous actions of Erdogan, the move itself caused a wide backlash on the international level and from Christian organizations from around the world. This comes as the conservative part of European societies and Christian organizations face an increased pressure from the propagadists of the so-called neo-liberal world order. At the same time, the number of attacks on Christians and various incidents with churches across Europe are at least suspicious.
Just on July 18, broke out at Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul cathedral in France’s Nantes. This is a historic Roman Catholic church listed as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture since 1862. Its construction began in 1434 on the site of a Romanesque cathedral and took 457 years to finish, finally reaching completion in 1891.
Some media reports claim that the July 18 fire may have been an arson.
A year ago, in 2019, large-scale fire broke out at Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral. Most of the wood/metal roof and the spire of the cathedral was destroyed during the incident, with many speculating that it was an intentional attack (these speculations remain unconfirmed).
In these conditions, when it’s expected that the entire Orthodox World (the Hagia Sophia is a symbolic site for the Orthodox people) would unite, something different is happening. Local Orthodox churches are divided, and Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I (the patriarchate is based in Istanbul) seems to be pretty restrained in his comments on the situation. Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus (the Church of Greece) already accused Bartholomew I of undermining the Orthodox unity by supporting pseudo-church organizations in eastern Europe.
However, according to recently appeared reports, the Patriarch of Constantinople just sold his position to the Turkish government for the shaky promise to allow reopening of the historical Theological School of Halki, which would be under the control of Bartholomew I after this.
The Theological School of Halki was founded in 1844 on the island of Halki close to modern Istanbul. It was the main theology school of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople until the Turkish government closed it down in 1971 under the law banning private higher education institutions. Bartholomew I not only turned the Patriarchate of Constantinople into a provider of interests of neo-lbieral Western elites, but also publicly sells its loyalty for particular economic and political benefits. No surprise, its popularity among the Orthodox world is falling. This discredits the entire concept of the Patriarchate of Constantinople as the first among equals among the heads of the several autocephalous churches that make up the Eastern Orthodox Church. Bartholomew I wanted to strengthen the patriarchate to make it the unquestioned supremo in the Eastern Orthodox Church, but instead his political games made it almost zero.
In these conditions, the Eastern Orthodox Church strongly needs the new center of power, which would be able to unite local churches and deal with new challenges and the increasing pressure. The Russian Orthodox Church acts like it wants to be such a center. However, its ability to do this successfully despite the opposition of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and its backers is still in question.
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