08/16/2010, 00.00
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Bartholomew I celebrates first Mass at Our Lady of Sumela after 88 years

by NAT da Polis
The monastery, called the "Monte Cassino of the East”, was destroyed by the Neo-Turks in 1922 and converted into a museum. Attended by 15,000 people from around the world, Christians and Muslims. The Ecumenical Patriarch stresses Christians and Muslims devotion to Our Lady. Experts point out that it was Ataturk who purged the Christian presence with pre-Nazi methods, forcing Islam on survivors. A positive sign in relations between the Fanar and the Turkish State.

Trabzon (AsiaNews) - After 88 years the first Mass was celebrated in the ancient monastery of Our Lady of Sumela, 50 km from the city of Trabzon (ancient Trebizond on the Black Sea, the land of myths and great visions).

Sumela Monastery, called the "Monte Cassino of the East" has a long history. Founded in the fourth century, it was destroyed by the fury of the Neo-Turks in 1922, transformed into a museum and finally partly restored with the assistance of UNESCO in the early 90s. An ecumenical mass, primarily due to the arrival of pilgrims from around the world (Greeks, Georgians, Bulgarians, Russians, Romanians, Ukrainians, Albanians, Arabs, ...).

At least 15 000 climbed the mountain where the monastery stands, perched on a cliff, putting serious strain on its limited structure. Those who were unable to climb the mountain due to lack of space, followed the ceremony on two giant screens at the foot the valley.

Mass was celebrated by Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, assisted by Metropolitan Tychon, representing Kiril, Patriarch of Moscow. The celebration took place on the day of the Dormition of the Virgin (the eastern feast of the Assumption) and during Ramadan, opening spaces for dialogue with Islam.

In the days running up to the celebration it was feared that something would happen – riots or fights, if not worse - because of protests from some sections of Turkish society that Christians were “permitted” to celebrate mass in this museum. Instead, everything went peacefully, with a large participation of Christians and not only.

Bartholomew, a convinced advocate of dialogue, for years has emphasized that the Christian message is a source of true freedom for mankind and is therefore the bearer of respect and forgiveness towards others. His homily - of great depth and with important and meaningful messages for those who want to understand - was read in a voice hoarse with emotion and sometimes interrupted by sobs, thanking the Lord for having gifted him this historic moment.

"Today - he exclaimed at the beginning - believers in God celebrate.   Those who believe in Christ, who worship the Virgin as the Theotokos, are celebrating today. Because even though today we celebrate the Dormition of the Virgin, she has never abandoned the world, but intercedes for us with the Lord, for the entire world".

"Dear friends  - he continued - now is a great moment for the church of Constantinople (the Mother Church of that world to which it made known the Christian faith). Thanks to the courtesy of the Turkish government, to which we are grateful, after 88 years of lethargy we can all celebrate together, coming from Russia, Georgia Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and the rest of the world, the Dormition of our Lady. "

"Today with us - continued the Ecumenical Patriarch - the founders of the monastery, Varnavas and Sofronios, and benefactors of the monastery, the great Comnenus, celebrate. But today, with them, we believe that the souls of the Ottoman sultans such as the Beyazit II, Selim I and II, Murat II, Ibrahim I Mehmed IV, Suleiman II Mustafa II and Ahmet III participate in this feast, because in various ways, they cared for this monastery and over the centuries helped the monastery of Our Lady of Sumela”.

"A special welcome address to the representatives of the Turkish government and local authorities for allowing us to celebrate Mass in this holy place. And we say to the people of these lands that the multitude of Christian people who have flocked here from all parts of the world like angels of peace. On the other hand, the Virgin unites us all, because as is well known, Our Lady of Sumela has always blessed Christians and Muslims, regardless of their ethnicity. When in Adelaide (Australia), a few years ago they painted a blasphemous picture of the Virgin, the first to protest was the representative of Muslim communities in the city. "

"Let us pray - concluded Bartholomew – that Our Lady of Sumela become the guarantor of the peaceful coexistence of the two peoples, Christians and Muslims who now gather on this sacred place. . A place of pilgrimage for Christians and Turks. And this our pilgrimage to become a bridge between the two peoples. Today we can truly say that the Black Sea is once again the Good Sea”.

According to many experts, the Patriarch’s homily was rich in content. First, thanks to various historical references, Bartholomew stressed respect for the figure of the Virgin, which nourishes Muslims, meaning that religion is not and should not be a battleground between peoples.

Instead, everyone remembers the responsibilities of Mustafa Kemal, later hailed as Ataturk. He, was sent to that area in 1919, in order to protect Christian minorities, which then counted 1.65 million people and were rooted in the social fabric, against fury of nationalist neo-Turks. Ataturk, however, has took steps to purge them, using methods which anticipated those Nazis. With the pretext of establishing a secular neo-Turk state, he did not hesitate to eliminate the majority of them and to order the forced Islamisation of those who resisted, finding an ally - an irony of history – in the Bolshevik regime.

As if to redeem the past history, Bartholomew thanked the Patriarch Kyrill for having sent a large representation and invited him to participate in a future celebration of Mass at the monastery of Sumela.

Some historians have pointed out yesterday an even more painful fact, highlighted by the words of the last Metropolitan of these lands, Chryssanthos. Indeed, it was reported that the purge and massacre of Christians on these lands took place with the complicit tolerance of so-called Christian countries [of the West]. The "sick Ottoman Empire," according Cryssanthos could not venture alone and without the tolerance of large so-called Christian, countries to purge Christians. Economic interests, in short, prevailed over the cultural and religious ones.

Yesterday's celebration and historical considerations are also a warning for those who think a new model of development of neo-Ottoman oppression, in which the subordination of humans prevails, rather than respect.

The Greek Metropolitan Messinias, a great visionary figure, interviewed by AsiaNews on the importance of this extraordinary event, said: "This event has the significance of a pilgrimage. The relationship between the Fanar and the Turkish state have entered a new phase and in the end Turkey is showing that it intends to be integrated into the European Union with the recognition of the rights of minorities. "

In short, many things have begun to change in Turkey because as evidenced by Theodosis Kyriakidis, a young scholar who descended from these lands, "the younger generation in Turkey no longer trust the information that the State has so far served up to them and are looking for new sources to know about its past. "


(with the collaboration of Geries Othman)


Photo: Nikos Manginas

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