The Diocese of New York and New Jersey of the Orthodox Church in America joins our fellow brothers and sisters in the Faith in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and 300 million Orthodox Christians throughout the world, in mourning the recent decision to convert the Great Church of Holy Wisdom, Hagia Sophia, for nearly a millennium the cathedral of the Patriarch of Constantinople, into a mosque for a second time.
It was this magnificent basilica that drew the envoys of Saint Vladimir to bring Kievan Rus, the ancestral home of so many of our forebears, to Holy Orthodoxy. This is their testimony: “We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendor or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you: only this we know, that God dwells there among humans, and that their service surpasses that of all other places. For we cannot forget that beauty.”
In solidarity with the Orthodox Christians in Turkey and throughout the world, I urge our clergy and faithful to join in a “day of mourning” for this act of religious aggression – on Friday, July 24, when Islamic rites will be reinstituted in Hagia Sophia. I ask that every church toll its bells in lamentation at 12:00 noon on this day. I call on every flag that is raised on church property to be lowered to half-mast on this day. And I enjoin every church in our Diocese to chant the Akathist Hymn in the evening of this day, just as we chant it on the fifth Friday of the Great and Holy Fast.
In this time of grief and mourning, let us appeal to the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary. She is the “only Hope of the Hopeless”; she is “the Repository of the Wisdom of God,” as the Akathist proclaims. Through her intercession, may this violation of religious toleration be overturned – lest we must ask, What houses of Christian worship will be next?
- Archbishop Michael of New York and New Jersey