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Guest Viewpoints

The Redemption of Saint Sophia

 Chas G. Harrison (of the Anglican and Eastern Association) wrote a letter dated April 12, 1919 to the British Foreign Office which in turn was forwarded to Foreign Secretary of State, Arthur J. Balfour in Paris. This communication outlines its support for the restoration of the Aghia Sophia to the Eastern Orthodoxy and notes that actions of the Roman Catholic Church needed to be watched very closely. The ‘Uniates’ belong to the Eastern Catholic Church who are in full communion with the Bishop of Rome (the Pope).

Harrison's letter reproduced in full below:

“A fortnight ago I addressed a letter to the Prime Minister in Paris on the subject of Saint Sophia, calling his attention to the offence it would give to the English religious public-churchmen and non-conformists alike if, at the proposed settlement of the Near Eastern question, the building is not restored to its rightful owners. I know that he has many other letters on the same subject, and perhaps the rude shocks with the present Government has lately received at Hull and West Leyton may induce you, as Minister for Foreign Affairs, to persuade him not to dismiss this as an insignificant item in the Peace programme which may be safely bartered away for some mess of Imperial or commercial pottage.

Many of us are well aware, and we are doing our best to spread the knowledge, that the secrecy which is being made a cover for Roman Catholic intrigue at the Foreign Office. Certain permanent (who are in the habit of regarding Ministers as plastic material for their own moulding) are doing their utmost to put off this act of justice to the Orthodox Churches of the East in the hope that some situation may emerge in the shifting of the political kaleidoscope that will form a colourable pretext for transferring the great Cathedral from the Turk to the Pope that he may establish a ‘Uniat’ centre of discord in the midst of Orthodox Christendom. They know quite well that it cannot remain a Mohammedan mosque under any circumstances, and they want to re-steal for themselves – and they know also their claim is too impudent to be openly avowed.

Accordingly they are taking advantage of the recent unrest in Egypt (now happily almost over) and even trying to exploit sedition in India, which is confined to the Hindu section of the population, as a reason for [action] conciliatory [to] His Majesty's Mohammedan subjects by an act of flagrant injustice to our fellow Christians. Sir, the Mohammedans all over the world would despise us if we leave Saint Sophia in the hands of the Turk, and will attribute our policy either to fear, or indifference to Christianity.

Meanwhile let me assure you think such a betrayal as I have indicated of the interests of nine-tenths of the religious public in England, when it comes to be known will brand with infamy every Minister responsible for it. Quasi-official monitions to the Press to keep silence on the subject of Saint Sophia will be blown to the winds in the event of a General Election taking place. The question will become a burning one, and in many constitutencies will turn the seats against a Government blind as to allow itself to be a catspaw in the interests of Papal domination in the East of Europe.”

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