To the Editor:
As deliberations continue surrounding Archbishop Elpidophoros attending the opening of the Turkevi Center (also known as the Turkish House), it is vitally important to keep an open mind regarding the interlacing of faith, national origins, heritage, culture and traditions. In short, understanding the importance of interfaith relations.
FACT: The roots of our Ecumenical Patriarchate go back to early years of first century AD when the first church was established on the coast of present day Bosphoros not more than 20 miles from its present location in the Phanar. That Greek colony eventually became the Byzantine Empire until 1453 when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks.
FACT: The Ecumenical Patriarchate has resided in Constantinople on Turkish soil from 1453 to this day regardless of all efforts exercised by the Ottoman Turks and eventually those of the new Turkish Republic to dismantle the Patriarchate and its followers.
FACT: As a result of the persecution the Greek population in Turkey, which was around two million in the 1880's, is down to approximately 1,400 in 2021.
FACT: With God's help the Ecumenical Patriarchate remains in Constantinople as for five centuries hosted by Turkey. Patriarchs, Archbishops, and Hierarchs walked a ‘tightrope’ in order to maintain a balance of interfaith understanding and religious tolerance between Islam, the religion of the host country, and Orthodox Christianity.
FACT: The existence of Aghia Sophia and the Chora Monastery as museums since 1934 in Istanbul perfectly demonstrates the value of freedom of religion and interfaith relations that Islam and Christianity can offer us. Unfortunately several months ago Aghia Sophia and the Chora Monastery were reconverted to mosques by the Turkish government. As museums, their walls echoed for fourteen centuries the cultures and values of Christianity and for five centuries to today the customs and values of Islam.
FACT: Islam and Christianity were born in the Middle East and coexisted for centuries, however, today, lives are sacrificed daily because of religious intolerance, ethnicity, and other traditional values.
FACT: Improving interfaith relations is the key to finding understanding and solutions in the world.
In consideration of the above-mentioned facts and in anticipation of furthering interfaith relations with the Turkish regime regarding so many outstanding issues, our Hierarchs need to be able to balance interfaith relations and religious tolerance – Chistians do not demonstrate religious tolerance by going to the mosque listening to prayers and the Muslims do not visit the church to show religious tolerance. Instead they should respect each other’s values, heritage, traditions, and institutions.
It should be noted that Steve Zeis was born in Istanbul on the Isle of Halki and lived the events of September 1955 hiding behind closed doors, which brought the fifty thousand Greek population to approximately 1,400 today.
All of us moved away to ’greener pastures,’ however, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is now and must remain as the First See where it was born in the early years of the first century AD. It needs to remain the shining star on the hill to illuminate all the Eparchies around the world.
Mr. Zeis feels strongly about our Cypriot brothers' sufferings because his father was a Greek National who was expelled from Turkey. He had to leave behind his fortune, allowed to only take out $22.00 when he was forced to leave Turkey.
Frosene and Steve Zeis