Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople has responded to comments made by Doğan Bekin, a member of the Welfare Party (YRP), about the Orthodox liturgy at the Sumela Monastery. The Patriarch emphasised the significance of the Treaty of Lausanne in safeguarding the rights of religious minorities.
The dispute stemmed from the Turkish authorities’ initial refusal to grant permission for the Divine Liturgy on 15 August, a tradition that had been taking place since the monastery’s reopening for religious services in 2010. However, the written authorisation was eventually issued on 11 August.
Doğan Bekin, YRP MP, commented, “Bartholomew’s supposed title as Ecumenical (World Patriarchate) should be well understood: … it is no coincidence that Bartholomew will hold a liturgy in Sumela… on 15 August, the conquest day of Trabzon.”
The initial decision not to allow the Divine Liturgy was met with disappointment and concern, and deemed an “extremely unpleasant development” by diplomatic sources who spoke to the Orthodox Times. “The Monastery of Panagia Soumela, which is to be included on the World Heritage List of UNESCO, must be protected as much as possible and be fully accessible to all,” the diplomatic sources added.
The Patriarch also referenced the cancellation of the exhibit “Yeniden Buluşacağız: İmroz’un 1964 Belleği” (We Will Meet Again: The 1964 Memory of Imbros) which aimed to explore the pre- and post-1964 Rum/Greek identity on Gökçeada (Imbros) island. The exhibition was cancelled due to pressure from Turkish nationalists who had settled on the island after the expulsion of Rums in 1964. Patriarch Bartholomew criticised the decision, stating, “It shouldn’t have happened! Why be ashamed to face reality. We have to come to terms with history, with our past.”
He expressed further disappointment at the initial denial of permission for the Sumela Monastery service, which was eventually granted on 11 August. Questioning why a simple act of faith faced resistance, Bartholomew remarked, “They do not let us enjoy the joy of the service in Sumela. Why not? These are such simple things. Let’s go for a few hours to pray according to our faith, according to our religion and we will return to our homes. Not even a day, just for a few hours.”
The remarks highlight ongoing challenges for religious minorities in Turkey, emphasising the necessity of open dialogue and respect for historical truths and religious freedoms.
The Sumela Monastery, located in the Maçka district of Trabzon, Turkey, is a Greek Orthodox site dating back to the 4th century.
2005: Monastery declared off-limits for religious ceremonies.
2009: Limited annual ceremony allowed.
2022: Objections raised to religious ceremony, but ninth ceremony hosted on 15 August.
2023: Permission initially denied due to ‘restoration work’, written permission finally granted on 11 August.