On 30 June 2020, during the Divine Liturgy for the feast of the 12 Apostles celebrated in the church of 12 Apostles at Feriköy, Istanbul, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew made the following comment concerning the fate of Hagia Sophia, the basilica of the Holy Wisdom built by Emperor Justinian in 537, which used to be the cathedral of the Ecumenical Patriarchate until it was turned into a mosque in 1453 before it became a museum in 1935:
“The conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque is a widely discussed topic. In the context of the various discussions that have taken place about this subject, our Modesty has repeatedly expressed the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and its spiritual children all over the world. In 2016, we even sent a Letter to the then Director of Religious Affairs, Prof. Mehmet Görmez, to whom we expressed our concern for the proposed alteration of the status of Hagia Sophia and we underlined that this unique monument obtained sacred value for both monotheistic religions, because it had served as a place of the worship of God for 900 years for the Christians and for 500 years for the Muslims. We concluded that Letter by saying that we consider as detrimental, Hagia Sophia, which, due to its dedication to the Wisdom of God is a point of encounter and a source of fascination for the faithful of both religions, to become, in the 21st century, a cause of confrontation and conflict.
The temple of the Wisdom of God is undoubtedly one of the most significant classic monuments of the universal civilization. “Classic” is that which always transcends the boundaries of the people and the time of its creation and that which does not belong only to its possessor, but to the whole humanity. In this sense, the Turkish people has the great responsibility and the highest honor to give prominence to the universality of this exquisite monument. As museum, Hagia Sophia can function as place and symbol of encounter, dialogue and peaceful coexistence of peoples and cultures, mutual understanding and solidarity between Christianity and Islam, which is extremely vital and beneficial for the contemporary world.
During these days of the heated discussions about this topic, a notable Turkish journalist wrote that whilst the return of Hagia Sophia to the worship of God is requested, it seems that the youth is turned more intensively towards arts and culture. Shouldn’t this turn of the youth be an issue of concern for all of us? Shouldn’t we also turn toward the common principles, toward the ideals that unite the youth of both religions, an initiative that would safeguard a better future for mankind, instead of highlighting and bringing back to the forefront issues that cause divisions and tensions? The conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque will disappoint millions of Christians around the world, and Hagia Sophia, which, due to its sacredness, is a vital center where East is embraced with the West, will fracture these two worlds, more so at a time when the afflicted and suffered mankind, due to the deadly pandemic of the new coronavirus, is in need of unity and common orientation.”