FaithWorld

Istanbul’s last White Russians pray for rooftop church’s survival

August 5, 2013

(Greek Orthodox priest Visarion of the Ecumenical Greek Orthodox Patriarchate (L) chats with a Russian Orthodox woman following a service at St. Elijah Church in Istanbul August 2, 2013. REUTERS/Murad Sezer )

About 25 Russian Orthodox have celebrated a divine liturgy for the first time in four decades at their rooftop church they fear may be demolished to make way for a tourism project.

A choir chanted hymns and women wearing scarves bowed their heads at the crumbling 134-year-old St Elijah Church as they marked the prophet’s name day on Friday according to the Julian calendar.

Istanbul’s tiny White Russian community, whose families fled here in the 1920s after losing to the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War, worries that St. Elijah and its two sister churches could fall victim to the country’s frenetic building boom.

(A Russian Orthodox woman leaves St. Elijah Church after a service in Istanbul August 2, 2013. REUTERS/Murad Sezer )

Dubbed Galataport, the redevelopment of Karakoy, a historic district on the European side of the Bosphorus where St. Elijah is located, envisages a cruise-liner port, hotels and a mall.

“Today’s service is a first step to attaining the old spirit of the church,” said Kazmir Pamir, an ethnic Russian working to save St. Elijah. “Perhaps now we can a hold baptism or a wedding. It is alive again, it has taken its first breath.”

Galataport is on a long list of infrastructure projects in Europe’s fastest-growing city.

In late May, opposition to government plans to raze a small park to build a replica barracks that could house a mall flared into Turkey’s fiercest anti-government protests in decades.

 

(Greek Orthodox priest Visarion of the Ecumenical Greek Orthodox Patriarchate (L) leads a service at the Russian Orthodox St. Elijah Church in Istanbul August 2, 2013. REUTERS/Murad Sezer)

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