About 1,000 Greek Orthodox gathered in central Turkey this weekend for a pair of emotional liturgies led by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as the Greek faithful seek to reclaim a cultural and religious link to their ancient homeland.
Elderly women wept as black-clad nuns and monks recited mournful chants on Sunday in the 19th-century St Theodore’s Church in Derinkuyu, a sleepy hamlet Greeks once called Malakopi in the popular tourist region of Cappadocia. Most of the worshippers were the descendants of Greeks who were expelled from Turkey almost 90 years ago with the collapse of the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire. (Photo: Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at St Theodore’s Church in Turkey, 27 June 2010/Simon Johns)
Bartholomew of Constantinople faced the altar flanked by three crowns: Patriarch Theodore of Alexandria, Archbishop Ieronymos of Greece and Archbishop Hilarion, the head of Russian Orthodox external relations. Hilarion has been a key player in a rapprochement between the Churches of Moscow and Istanbul. Bartholomew said Hilarion came on a pilgrimage to Cappadocia.
Hilarion urged worshippers to continue returning to the land of their forebears to maintain Orthodox holy sites. “Cappadocia is a much suffered land, as its churches, once magnificent and beautiful, have fallen in desolation,” he said. “We believe that the light of Christian faith will be rekindled in this holy land.”
Bartholomew began presiding over annual June services a decade ago in Cappadocia’s deconsecrated churches as Muslim Turkey, a European Union candidate, relaxed restrictions on Christian worship. In a sign of the growing tolerance, Bartholomew recently won permission to celebrate the Divine Liturgy this August at the more politically sensitive Sumela Monastery on the Black Sea for the first time since 1923. Last year, local authorities and residents tried to block Greek and Russian tourists from praying there.