After 40 Years, Halki Seminary Awaits Opening

ISTANBUL — Although shut down for more than four decades, one of the Orthodox Church’s most pre-eminent seminaries is kept in pristine condition in the hope that it may reopen one day to educate future patriarchs and clergy.

The Theological School of Halki, perched atop a hill on Heybeli Island off Istanbul’s coast, closed its doors in 1971 under a Turkish law that required private higher education to be controlled by the state.

Since then, classrooms with desks dating back to the 19th century are ready to be used again at a moment’s notice while dormitory-style bedrooms await the next class of theological students.

The religious season of Lent began this week and the school isn’t any closer to reopening. But Archbishop Elpidophoros Lambriniadis, whose first name means “he who brings hope,” will be prepared if his prayers are answered.

“If the decision is taken today, tomorrow I am ready to host the first class,” said Lambriniadis, who is in charge of the monastery and the seminary on Heybeli.

Since coming to power in 2002, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has enacted reforms to improve the rights of ethnic and religious groups in Turkey. Despite pressure from the U.S. and the European Union, the status of the seminary remains unsettled.

Erdogan has said Halki’s reopening depends on reciprocal measures from neighboring Greece that would improve the rights of Muslims there.

“We have two mosques in Athens,” Erdogan has said. “They (Greece) have promised us many times (to open the mosques to worship.) It has been on the agenda for 10 years. Unfortunately, we’re still being strung along.”

The Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul dates from the Orthodox Greek Byzantine Empire, which collapsed when the Muslim Ottoman Turks conquered the Byzantine Empire of Constantinople, today’s Istanbul, in 1453.

The Halki seminary, founded in 1844, was the training center for many Orthodox leaders, including current Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of more than 250 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.

His patriarchate is considered to be the center of the Orthodox Christian Church and yet the church can’t train its own clergy, said Istanbul-born Lambriniadis, 46, who was too young to make it to Halki and was forced to study to join the clergy in a Greek seminary.

(Ayse Wieting)

1 Comment

  1. “A trail of broken promises from Turkey on religious freedom: It’s time for the deception to end and the respect for human rights to begin.” This blog said it well and lists many of the publicly reported broken promises of opening the school:

    Examples: September 2003: During a meeting between Prime Minister Erdogan and then Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomew, Erdogan “said this is an issue that, for him personally, should not be a problem” according to one layman who attended the meeting.

    September 2003: ”Two days after that meeting, Turkish Education Minister Huseyin Celik openly
 expressed support for the reopening of Halki in an interview published in the
Turkish daily Milliyet under the title A Substantial Move by the
 Government: ‘The Theological School Should Open’. “If the people want a school related to their theology and religion to open, then the state, the government and the education ministry should facilitate 
this issue.”

    May 2004: A leaked cable reveals that “Erdogan told Karamanlis that the Turkish government is working on the reopening of Halki Seminary.”

    Thank you “Koumbare” for all your promises and with no conditions too…its nice to know religious freedoms are protected and encouraged in Europe…I mean Asia…whatever the results remain the same


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