The Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, Sahak Mashalian, has endorsed the idea of restoring Hagia Sophia in Istanbul to a place of worship instead of simply a tourist attraction.
The issue of the status of Hagia Sophia has been the focus of media attention recently after Turkish authorities stated that it could also be used again as a place of Islamic worship.
Patriarch Sahak II, who leads the largest Christian community in present-day Turkey, said in a series of statements on Twitter that "Hagia Sophia was built with the labour of 10,000 workers, spending a fortune.".. "It has gone through numerous renovations and all those efforts were meant to keep it as a worship place but not to serve as a museum." He said: "I believe that believers' praying suits better the spirit of the temple instead of curious tourists running around to take pictures."
The Patriarch said he hopes the former place of worship will be reopened for both Muslim and Christian prayer, thus becoming a tangible sign of a possible "alliance" between Islam and Christianity.
He pointed out that the site "is large enough to allocate a space for Christians," so that "the world can applaud our religious peace and maturity." The Patriarch further stated that humanity was praying for such unity. "Even though our faiths are different, don't we believe in the same God?" Having been a place of worship for Christians for 1,000 years and another 500 years for Muslims, he stated that Hagia Sophia won't mind it.
"We cannot afford the luxury of a new conflict between the cross and the crescent. The salvation of the world is the covenant of the cross and the crescent. And the honour of manifesting such peace to the world is worthy of the Republic of Turkey."
In early June, Turkish media published rumours that President Erdogan himself had given instructions to change the statute of the monumental complex of Hagia Sophia, so that it can also be used again as a place of Islamic worship, without closing the building for tourist visits.
The Turkish Council of State is due to the discuss the issue, in a session on their agenda for Thursday 2 July.
First built in the year 360 by the emperor Constantine, on a site previously occupied by pagan temples, Hagia Sophia was later destroyed by two fires, one in 404 and another in 532. The emperor Justinian undertook its reconstruction in 537 as a Byzantine cathedral. In 1054 it became a Greek Orthodox cathedral. From 1204-1261 it was a Roman Catholic cathedral. From 1261 to 1453 it was a Greek Orthodox cathedral. From 1453 -1931 it became an Ottoman Mosque. In 1934, the Turkish government converted Hagia Sophia into a museum.
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