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May 15, 2014

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on the Future of Hagia Sophia and Ukraine

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, during his latest visit to Germany a few days ago, was interviewed by Deutsche Welle. Among other things, the Patriarch spoke about Hagia Sophia possibly becoming a mosque and the situation in Ukraine. Below are excerpts:

Hagia Sophia as a Mosque

"In Nicea and Trebizond they have become (mosques). Formerly also in Vizye of (Eastern) Thrace. Ultimately I don't believe Hagia Sophia in Constantinople will become a mosque, but logic and the real interests of Turkey will prevail, which is to maintain it as a museum. I have said it publicly in my statements and in interviews. I also said it to the President of UNESCO, as Hagia Sophia is under the protection of this international organization. Today Hagia Sophia is a museum that is open to the world. Indeed hundreds, even thousands come to it every day. And Turkey receives a large income from selling entrance tickets. I also said about Hagia Sophia in Trebizond: It will only be a mosque to Muslims; but as a museum it is for the whole world. It is not worthwhile for Turkey to tread this path and quarrel with the whole Christian world, with the entire civilized world. I said in an interview with all my courage and boldness that if Hagia Sophia is to become again a place for the worship of God, it must become again a church because it was built as a Christian church, not as a mosque. And in any event, the conversion of it to a mosque would be against the will of the founder of the Turkish republic. Mustafa Kemal made it into a museum. Now if it is converted back into a mosque, it is contrary to the wishes of the founder of the Turkish republic. From every viewpoint, it is in the interest of Hagia Sophia for it to remain a museum."

The Situation in Ukraine

"The issue is purely political. I think that in Ukraine East and West collide, to say it simply. The E.U. and the U.S.A. is on one side and the Russian Federation is on the other. It is a matter of political influence. Besides prayer, we cannot do many things. Before this current crisis we had the problem of the schism in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, a schism from which have come three factions of Orthodox churches, with one being canonical and the other two being non-canonical and unrecognized by any other church, but they do not cease to be our Orthodox brethren.

The Ukrainians received Christianity and civilization from Constantinople through Cyril and Methodios in Moravia. Vladimir the prince, when he sent envoys to Constantinople and they investigated the Liturgy in Hagia Sophia, they were so impressed that when they returned to Ukraine they told the Prince: We knew not whether we were on earth or in heaven, and that the greatest religion was Orthodoxy. Having said this, Vladimir decided to have the people baptized Orthodox. And of course, at that time there was no Russian patriarchate. Everything was done through Constantinople and by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which until and before 300 years ago sent her bishops there.

I want to say that I am pained for the Ukrainians because they were spiritually and ecclesiastically born and bred from the Church of Constantinople. Six years ago I visited Ukraine at the invitation of the then President Viktor Yushchenko, who honored me very much and tried to make a move for the reunification of the Orthodox, which so far has not borne fruit. But we have not abandoned the matter. It is our duty and that of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the whole of Orthodoxy to restore unity to the Orthodox Ukrainian people."

Translated by John Sanidopoulos.