New York.- Greek American politician Chris Spyrou announced during a press conference at a hotel in Manhattan that the organisation “Free Agia Sophia Council of America” will launch an international campaign to enable Saint Sophia, in Istanbul, to become an Orthodox church again and be the Cathedral of Christian Orthodox believers all over the world.
The Saint Sophia church was built during the 6th century by the Emperor of Byzantium Justinian.
Spyrou, the founder and president of the organisation, as well as the president of the Greek American Union of Athens and former president of the Democratic party in the state of New Hampshire, presented the organisation’s plan for a free Saint Sophia with action at political, legal and economic level.
“It is an international movement which is starting from the United States and it is aimed at restoring the Great Church of Saint Sophia in Istanbul as an operating church of the Christian Orthodox faith,” he said.
The message Chris Spyrou read at the press conference is as follows:
“With a deep belief in the individual right of the faithful of all religions to pray freely, and with respect for each religion’s sacred places of worship, holy sites, and revered religious figures, we announce the formation of the International Christian Orthodox Congregation of Agia Sophia, Inc., acting as the “Free Agia Sophia Council of America.”
Our organization is chartered as a non-profit corporation under the laws of the State of New Hampshire, and a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt status determination is pending with the Internal Revenue Service.
The mission of the “Free Agia Sophia Council of America” is “to restore the great church of Agia Sophia located in Istanbul (Constantinople), Turkey, as a functioning church of the Orthodox Christian faith, and to re-establish Agia Sophia as the Holy House of Prayer for all Christians of the world and the Basilica (Seat) of Orthodoxy that it was before the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks.”
On May 29, 1453 — five hundred and fifty three years ago — the most magnificent Christian church ever built, the “Mother Church” of Christianity, the church of “God’s Holy Wisdom,” Agia Sophia, was captured and eventually transformed into a pseudo “museum.”
Agia Sophia, the “Great Church,” as it was known, was closely identified with the life of Byzantium and its renowned capital Constantinople — today’s Istanbul.
For many centuries, Agia Sophia has been the mother church of Christianity, the symbol of the Orthodox Christian Faith, the Basilica of Byzantium’s Christendom and the source of divine power throughout the Christian world.
Agia Sophia, as we know it today, was built in the year 537 by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian and it was without equal. Nothing like it was built before or after.
Agia Sophia was constructed to accommodate 23,000 people and was dedicated to Jesus Christ, “The Holy Wisdom of God.”
Upon entering Agia Sophia on the day of its consecration, December 27, in the year 537, Emperor Justinian was so struck by the grandeur of the church he had built, that he turned to heaven and exclaimed: “Glory to God that I have been judged worthy of such work; Solomon I have surpassed thee!” referring to the magnificent Temple King Solomon had built in Jerusalem.
Agia Sophia continued to be a functioning Christian Church until the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks.
The Fall of Constantinople to the Turkish forces led by the Sultan Mohammed II on May 29, 1453 resulted in the interruption of Agia Sophia’s functioning as a Christian church.
Sultan Mohammed, the “Conqueror” converted Agia Sophia into a mosque. The conversion of Agia Sophia to a mosque meant that both the interior and the exterior of the “Great Church” underwent significant alterations.
The golden cross above the magnificent dome was replaced with a crescent and minarets were constructed outside the church.
The sacred icon of Jesus Christ the Almighty (The Pantocrator) within the dome was gilded over, the Holy Altar and the irreplaceable icons disappeared, and the unique, never to be made again, majestic mosaics, on the walls of the “Great church” were plastered over.
In the centuries which followed the conquest, Agia Sophia suffered further acts of abuse and vandalism.
A HOLY SITE VIOLATED.
In the 553 years of captivity and abuse only the recent sporadic restoration work performed by UNESCO gives the world a glimpse of the extent of the violations heaped upon the church of God’s Holy Wisdom.
With the end of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the “modern” Turkish state, the use of Agia Sophia as a mosque came to an end.
In 1934 the Turkish government declared Agia Sophia a “museum”; a museum that now hosts local and international trade shows, musical concerts, commercial exhibitions, tourist photo-ops and other commercial activities.
The Turkish state has officially named the Great Christian Church “Ayasofia Müzesi.” The “Museum of God’s Holy Wisdom.”
I don’t know which God’s Holy Wisdom the Turkish state named its “museum” for, but it is not my God. It is not ours.
Talk about sacrilege. Talk about defacing of a holy site. Talk about disrespect for a Church of God. Talk about abuse of a holy space and of holy figures.
Agia Sophia, the Mother Church of Christianity, has been deliberately and systematically violated and we believe that this abuse must now come to an end.
We believe no government should participate in or condone actions, which abuse, demean or ridicule religious beliefs, debase holy sites, or dishonor religious figures. And no state should ever be allowed to deprive the faithful of any religion of the indisputable right to pray.
No government should interfere in the free expression of religious beliefs. And no government should presume to permit that a holy site be desecrated.
President George W. Bush put it succinctly on February 1, 2001, when he said, “The days of discriminating against religious institutions simply because they are religious, must come to an end.”
Agia Sophia, the ancient “Mother Church” of Christianity, has been discriminated against, ridiculed, demeaned, defaced and exploited for far too long.
Now, Agia Sophia has been transformed into an international bazaar venue in violation of every known form of respect for human rights, religious freedom and religious tolerance.
The time has come for the current political leadership of today’s Turkish state, the successors to those responsible for most of the sacrilegious acts against Agia Sophia to help us return that sacred religious edifice to its rightful status as an Orthodox Christian Church — as it was when their ancestors captured it in 1453.
Recently, many faithful of the Muslim religion rose in indignation against newspaper cartoons that carelessly and with disrespect depicted their Holy Prophet Mohammed.
The Muslim religious leaders were right to object to such insensitive representation — really a trivialization of what is most sacred to them.
Those who insisted on the overwhelming importance of respecting and honoring holy religious figures found common cause among all peoples who believe in religious freedom, and who respect the holy sites and revere the prophets, saints and holy figures of all religions.
The “Free Agia Sophia Council of America” is committed to pursuing every peaceful, diplomatic, political and legal avenues available in the United States, European and International arenas to attain our objective which is nothing less than the restoration of the great church of Agia Sophia, in Istanbul, Turkey, as a functioning church of the Orthodox Christian Faith, a Holy House of prayer for all Christians of the world and the Basilica of Orthodoxy.
We believe our cause is reasonable and just. In the end we shall prevail.
Just like the millions of Catholic Christians who pray at Saint Peters Basilica in Rome, the millions of Muslim faithful who perform their pilgrimage to the holy places of Mecca, the millions of Jews who pray at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, we, Orthodox Christians of all nationalities too, will some day pray together at our Holy Church, at our Holy Cathedral, at the Mother Church of Christianity, the church of God’s Holy wisdom, Agia Sophia.