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Patriarch Calls Turkey’s Decision to Aghia Sophia in Mosque “Unjust and Unfortunate”

BOSTON – Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, speaking at the Church of All Saints in Weirton, West Virginia, referred to Aghia Sophia in Constantinople, emphasizing “the unjust and unfortunate decision of the government of the Turkish Republic” to convert Aghia Sophia into a mosque.

He said that, “unfortunately, as you know, last year it became a mosque, this famous Cathedral of the Ecumenical Patriarch, of Christianity. From a museum that was open for all the people to visit who came to admire the City of Cities and the Aghia Sophia, this Immortal Monument of Our Fathers that has stood for centuries has now been turned into a mosque only for our Muslim brothers, and we are sorry for this unjust and unfortunate decision of the Government of the Turkish Republic.”

The Ecumenical Patriarch made the statement after his visit to and the blessing of Evyenia’s House of Hope, which was the home of the grandmother of Michael Psaros, who bought it and donated it to the Christian Center of Weirton. The Patriarch went to the church of All Saints, where he officiated at the Doxology in the crowded nave.

Michael Psaros, his father George, his mother Mary-Ann, his wife Robin and daughter Alexandra with His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. (Photo by GOA/D. Panagos)

After reading his prepared text, the Patriarch extemporaneously, saying that, “today God demands that we come even for a few hours to your community, to the Metropolis of Pittsburgh in the greater West Virginia area.”

He referred to the late Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh, with whom he had a long and close friendship beginning in the years when they were students at the Theological School of Halki. He said, “I visited the Metropolis of Pittsburgh many years ago when Metropolitan Maximos was the ruling Bishop, a precious brother in Christ with whom we had a sincere friendship and spiritual ties since our years at the Theological School of Halki. He was in an upper class, he graduated, went to Belgium, and studied at the historic University of Louvain, and then came to Rome as a priest, where I was a deacon and a student at the Institute of Oriental Studies. Maximos was appointed for a time as an observer from the Ecumenical Patriarchate at the Second Vatican Council. Our friendship was lasting and sincere until his death. In a little while I will offer a Trisagion for the repose of his soul, which I would like to have done at his grave, but the Metropolitan Savas of Pittsburgh told me that it is a little far and could not be included in our current program.”

At another point, the Patriarch said that, “when our beloved brother Metropolitan Savas spoke a while ago, he said that all the communities of his Metropolis, small and large, are happy with the presence of the Patriarch here today. He will allow me to make an addition, an observation about what he said, in order to emphasize to you, to emphasize before you, that there are no small and big communities, small and big parishes, small and big churches, because in every church, in every chapel where the Divine Liturgy takes place, that church, that place is always great, because the great sacrament of the Eucharist is taking place there. The smallest church in your villages in Greece, in my village in Imvros, wherever the Divine Liturgy is offered some place, that church is as big as St. Sophia in Constantinople, which unfortunately, as you know, became a mosque last year, this famous Cathedral of the Ecumenical Patriarch, of Christianity. From a museum that was open for all the people to visit who came to admire the City of Cities and the Aghia Sophia, this Immortal Monument of Our Fathers that has stood for centuries has now been turned into a mosque only for our Muslim brothers, and we are sorry for this unjust and unfortunate decision of the Government of the Turkish Republic.”

Ecumenical Patriarch honored Michael Psaros with the cross of the Order of the Archons of Pammakaristos of Greece. (Photo by GOA/D. Panagos)

The Patriarch said, “I want to conclude by conveying to you the love, affection, thought, and blessing of our Ecumenical Patriarchate, which is the Mother Church of us all. We all have the privilege of belonging to the First-Throned Church of Orthodoxy. We are fifteen Autocephalous Churches, separate, each one free within itself, in its administration, but First and foremost is the Church of Constantinople, whose faithful and devoted children are you all.”

The Patriarch praised Archbishop Elpidophoros, saying that, “I also commend before you the brother Archbishop of America, because since he took over the reins of this great Eparchy of the Throne, the Holy Archdiocese of America, A new wind of reconstruction, regeneration, vitality, progress, and organization began to blow, and I wish all of you first – first the Metropolitans of the Holy Eparchial Synod  Synod such as brother Savas, the organizations in all the states of America, and all of you faithful administrators, charitable brotherhoods, all the greatest and least of the faithful of our communities, to gather around him, your new, active and worthy Archbishop to write brilliant pages of glory for our Orthodoxy, for our Ecumenical Patriarchate, for the Holy Archdiocese of America. May God be with you and bless your lives and the works of your hands.”

He then performed a Trisagion for the repose of the soul of the late Metropolitan of Pittsburgh Maximos.

Alexandra Psaros delivers her speech announcing the creation of a foundation in the name of Patriarch Bartholomew. The income will pay the salary of the priest of All Saints church forever. (Photo by GOA/D. Panagos)

That was followed by a luncheon in the community hall, which was decorated with 2,400 red carnations. The Patriarch honored Michael Psaros by awarding him the cross of the Order of the Archons of Pammakaristos of Greece.

Psaros’s daughter, Alexandra, said in her speech, “my sister Marina and I will create a Foundation in your name. This Legacy will develop over the next decade, and then this income will pay the salary of the priest of this church forever. We pray that this little gift shows the faith of our generation, following the great example of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.”

Patriarch Bartholomew was received with feelings of love, respect and honor by all generations of the community of All Saints and was also addressed by Metropolitan Savas of Pittsburgh.

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