A Divine Liturgy marking the Dormition of the Theotokos was held at the historic Sümela Monastery in the northern province of Trabzon on Wednesday, concluding with messages of peace.
It is the third time that a religious service has been held at the monastery in the history of the Turkish Republic. Wednesday’s event saw much lower participation compared to the previous two annual services, with many citing the economic crisis that has hit Greece hard as the primary reason. Some 300 Orthodox Christians attended the service.
Since 2010, the Turkish government has allowed a church service to be held at the monastery once a year in a gradual loosening of restrictions on religious expression. This year’s service was officiated by Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I -- as in the past two years.
Following the religious ceremony, he addressed participants in Greek and then in Turkish, speaking on the importance of the occasion and delivering messages of peace. He expressed his joy at being able to gather for Divine Liturgy with other believers in a sincere atmosphere for the third time at Sümela Monastery, which, he said, is considered one of the most important places of worship of the Virgin Mary.
Bartholomew noted that visiting Sümela is a holy experience for believers of all faiths and thanked the Turkish authorities for opening it up to religious services once again. He added: “We grew up remembering this place of worship, which we couldn’t reach for years, and listening to stories about it, and we tried to be happy praying away from it. Thank God that this hope of ours came true and the Lord God destined us to be here.”
Bartholomew also noted that all three services held at the monastery have coincided with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and said: “In this sense, this coincidence indicates that Muslims and Christians, who have worshiped one common Creator for hundreds of centuries even though they do it in different ways, live together. Building a monastery on this mountain, hundreds of meters high … wouldn’t be possible without surrendering to God, loving God with one’s body and soul and, of course, without God’s consent.”