Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, as part of a radio interview with the BBC and journalist Julian Marshall, has described the decision to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque “unthinkable and incomprehensible,” since there are many places of worship for Muslims in Constantinople.
The religious leader of the Greek Diaspora in America stressed that this decision deeply hurts the religious sentiment of all Orthodox and all Christians in general, as well as the sentiment of millions of other people around the world.
“This is an impressive and wonderful site of world cultural heritage, which at the same time plays a central role for the whole Christian world, and especially for us Orthodox, as Hagia Sophia has always been throughout history the center of our faith and our Church,” the Archbishop pointed out and highlighted that “until a few days ago we were all happy because it was respected by all dogmas and all religions and all people.”
As he characteristically underlined, “the reason why Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern secular Turkish Republic, turned Hagia Sophia in 1934, which then functioned as a mosque, into a museum was because he wanted Hagia Sophia to symbolize the transition from a theocratic empire, occupied by the concept of the conqueror, in a secular state, in a secular society, of which all citizens are equal, have the same rights and the same obligations. When someone is overhwelmed by the conqueror’s worldview, who invokes the conqueror’s rights in order to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque, this is substantially changing the relationship of the Turkish state with its citizens.”
And he continued: “I am a Turkish citizen and I do not want the Turkish state to be occupied by this notion, because I do not consider myself or the other Greeks of Constantinople as members of a conquered minority. I want to feel in my country, Turkey, as an equal citizen regardless of whether I am a Christian, of Greek origin or an Armenian, or a Syrian, or a Jew. We are all equal citizens, but if the State adopts the worldview of the conqueror who has the right as a conqueror to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque, then this is a dangerous path that we really do not know where it can lead us, and this is something I fear a lot.”
Finally, responding to the journalist’s remark that nothing prevents him and the Greek Orthodox from entering the mosque of Hagia Sophia and praying silently in front of the icons, he underlined: “We are talking about divine worship, which is not an individual prayer, it is the Divine Liturgy, the gatherings for worship of the faithful. In Hagia Sophia, as a museum, we could all enter and pray equally, without exception. On the contrary, in Hagia Sophia as a mosque, such a thing is impossible, because there is a specific “ritual” to enter a mosque, that is, one must take off one’s shoes, wash one’s hands and be a Muslim in order to be able to pray.” “Someone” he concluded “cannot enter the Blue Mosque, for example, and pray as a Christian.”