Nearly 1,000 Orthodox Christians gathered for a historic service at Sümela Monastery in the Black Sea coastal province of Trabzon early Monday, marking the second religious ceremony held at the monastery in the history of the Turkish Republic.
The Divine Liturgy, held on the occasion of the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos according to the Orthodox liturgical calendar (also known as the Assumption of Mary), was officiated by İstanbul-based Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomew I. Pilgrims from Greece, Russia, Georgia and other countries traveled to the monastery, which currently serves as a museum. Around 500 pilgrims were admitted to the monastery during the service, and the remaining participants watched the event from large screens set up outside Sümela.
Beginning the homily by saying “Our Muslim brothers,” Bartholomew thanked the Turkish government, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism for allowing a second service at Sümela. Stating that Mary has a special place for both Muslims and Christians, he recalled a Quran verse which says: “And (remember) when the angels said: ‘O Maryam (Mary)! Verily, Allah has chosen you, purified you (from polytheism and disbelief), and chosen you above the women of the ‘Alamin’ (mankind and jinns) (of her lifetime),” the patriarch called for peace and brotherhood in Turkey and in the world during his speech.
“The peace that we long for is vital, in particular during these days. We cannot rid ourselves of the burden of the tragic events in Norway yet. There is ongoing bloodshed in neighboring countries. Mothers are crying in our country. … Let’s make a call from the high Sümela Mountain, from the presence of the feet of the Virgin Mary — who is above all women — to all Christians and Muslims for us, for humanity and for our future. This call can be a single word: peace, peace, peace. Mutual respect and love should be our only prayer,” the patriarch said.
Bartholomew also wished Muslim a happy Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr. “May God accept your fasts,” he added.
The monastery was abandoned after the foundation of the Turkish Republic and the subsequent population exchange between Turks and Greeks. It has since become a major tourist destination along Turkey’s Black Sea coast.
The Turkish government last year allowed for an annual religious service to be held at the monastery in a gradual loosening of restrictions on religious expression. The government accepted the patriarchate’s request to hold last year’s celebration of the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos on Aug. 15 at Sümela Monastery. The service was again officiated by Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomew.
Armenians celebrate ‘Feast of the Virgin Mary’
The Feast of the Virgin Mary was celebrated in Vakıflı, Turkey’s only Armenian village, located in the province of Hatay, on Sunday. Many Armenians from various provinces in Turkey and also those from Syria, Germany and Lebanon attended the service. The bishop of the Hatay Armenian Church, Avediş Tabaşyan, presided over the service while Deputy Patriarch Aram Ateşyan joined as a guest.
Ateşyan said that every year on the Sunday nearest to Aug. 15, Armenians from around the world come to Turkey to join the celebration.
This year, the Feast of the Virgin Mary coincides with Ramadan. “Christians and Muslims are celebrating at the same time. In this time of fasting, I hope the fasts of our Muslim brothers and sisters are good and are accepted. Without fasting, prayer and charity work is not accepted,” Ateşyan said.