Published July 24, 2020
ATLANTA–Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv, Archbishop of Atlanta, joined Metropolitan Alexios, Bishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Atlanta, in releasing this July 20 statement about Hagia Sophia:
“As brothers in Christ and leaders of our respective communities in Atlanta, we mourn and condemn the recent decision of the Turkish government to reconvert the precious Hagia Sophia into a mosque, especially after nine decades as a museum, and a subsequent UNESCO World Heritage site. We echo the sentiments of His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew I, and His Holiness Pope Francis, who have each expressed their sadness as well as grave concern for interfaith relations considering this serious change.
Hagia Sophia was the most renowned Christian church for nearly a millennium, until the fall and conquest of Constantinople precipitated its forceful transformation into an Islamic house of worship. Wishing to demonstrate the values of respect and toleration, the secular Republic of Turkey wisely took into account the feelings of all faiths when transforming Hagia Sophia into a space which acknowledged its centuries as a mosque, but also its foundation as the preeminent church in Christendom.
This current situation grieves us as both Christian Hierarchs, and as citizens of this great land whose commitment to religious tolerance still shines forth as a beacon to other nations. The fact that the Turkish government would choose to reverse this decision of nearly a century, violates not only that same spirit of tolerance, but also insults the faith and wounds the hearts of Christians worldwide, Orthodox and Catholic alike.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has called upon all its parishes to observe a day of mourning on Friday, July 24th, asking that ‘… every Church toll its bells in lamentation … every flag of every kind that is raised on the Church property be lowered to half-mast … And … every Church … to chant the Akathist Hymn in the evening, just as we chant it on the Fifth Friday of the Great and Holy Fast.’ Similarly, her Catholic brothers and sisters enjoin our faithful to echo this special set of prayers to the Holy Mother, by praying the Rosary.
Standing together as brothers in Christ, we call upon all Christians throughout America to not only pray for, but to speak up for Hagia Sophia. We must all do our part, through whatever means at our disposal, to ask that our elected officials pressure the Turkish government to reaffirm its commitment to the principles of religious tolerance and mutual respect. For the sake of peace and justice, this decision that has caused such pain and uncertainty must be reversed, and Hagia Sophia must be reinstated as a monument that includes all—Christian and Muslim–and rejects none.”
Alexios, Metropolitan of Atlanta
Most Rev. Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., Archbishop of Atlanta