Strengthening the ties

2010, Istanbul European Capital of Culture

According to certain media reports, this decision was unexpected. Its political repercussion is not a surprise, but let us remain on the cultural plane. For those living in this city, it’s more than natural! In fact, it could be said that the ancient city of Constantinople shares the Christian roots of Europe. Starting from the Hagia Sofia Basilica, an unparalleled monument throughout the centuries, majestically overlooking the city, to the Saint Salvador of Chora Church, a small jewel, history is indelible. Indeed, all these prestigious monuments of priceless value today serve as museums, the vestiges of a bygone era. And an admonition to all those who want to conceal their past disregarding their own roots! Those who live in Turkey cannot avoid being impressed by the succession of the three empires, the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empire. All three strongly rooted in Europe. While today Istanbul harmoniously encompasses the two shores of the Bosphorus, building marvelous bridges towards the Asian region, its origins are nonetheless strongly anchored to the European area. The small local Christian community, inheritors of this long history, share these same long-dated European roots. How could we forget that from the first millennium the Christian world combated from Europe, on the two shores of the Golden Horn. The rupture between the two Churches, the Eastern and Western Church, was consumed on the European side of Constantinople. For a long time still, the right and the left shore of the Golden Horn represented a natural severance between the Byzantine and the Latin Churches. This was the situation encountered by the Ottoman conquerors in 1453, who skillfully negotiated with both sides. This year, during the World Week of Prayer for Christian unity, the various communities in Istanbul convened every day in a different church, composing a beautiful cultural and religious mosaic. This indicates that the Christian presence, however modest, is not foreign to the multicultural image of Istanbul, as the city’s highest dignitaries have recalled on various circumstances. For this reason, also we, the Christians of Istanbul, receive this European cultural event with joy and wish to take part in it, in our own way. The Pauline Year that has just ended brought us a record number of pilgrims on the footsteps of Saint Paul, who came here to be regenerated at the fountainhead of the faith. Indeed, defining contemporary Turkey as the natural extension of what the Christians call Holy Land is not an overstatement. This can only but strengthen our ties with Europe, especially in its Christian dimension, and it’s a joy and an honor for the Christians of Turkey to give their contribution to this cultural rapprochement.

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