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 less participation compared to the previous two years, 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 there once a year in a gradual loosening of restrictions on religious expression. The 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. We [the Greek Orthodox] thank our government, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Ministry of European Union Affairs, the Maçka Municipality and the people of Maçka.”
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.”
The Greek Orthodox patriarch also highlighted that all must be free to carry out their religious requirements and yet humanity still suffers from violence between believers of different faiths. “Here on this hill where this historically and religiously rich Sümela Monastery, which is consigned to us, is located, let us all pray together for the peace of humanity. Let us work more for the peace of humanity and our country that we dream of, let us meet more and let us get to know each other more,” he said.