Orthodox Christians Aspire to Celebrate Seminary 50 Years Later …… | News and reports

ISTANBUL (RNS) – The classrooms and halls of the Orthodox Halki seminary on the Turkish island of Heybeliada in the Sea of ​​Marmara south of Istanbul look a lot like they were when Konstantinos Delikostantis was a student there. over 50 years ago.

Wooden chairs and black desks line the classrooms, some still bearing the graffiti (in Turkish and Greek) of their former occupants. The chalkboards, which can be found under the portraits of Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, appear to need a good wash.

At 73, Delikostantis is among the youngest alumni of the school, which counts among its 990 graduates at least two saints, seven patriarchs, seven archbishops, six metropolitans and countless other clergymen, authors and theologians who have gone on to serve as Orthodox leaders. Christianity in the world.

In its heyday, Halki’s seminary was a place of intense study, deep introspection and strong brotherhood, recalled Delikostantis, now advisor to the spiritual leader of Eastern Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, another Halki graduate. .

“Halki was the theological iron arm of the Ecumenical Patriarchate,” said Delikostantis, leaning against a sofa in the office of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul’s Fener district.

The island’s first monastery, known in Greek as Halki, was founded in the 9th century by Patriarch Photius I. A second was founded by Byzantine Emperor John VIII Paleologus a few decades before the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453.

The school itself was founded in 1844 when the then patriarch Germanus IV converted part of the Monastery of the Holy Trinity of Photius into a high school and seminary.

However, for 50 years no new students have been allowed through its halls. In 1971, the Turkish government closed the school under a law nationalizing all higher education institutions. It was the last school to train priests in modern Turkey, an area that has been the center of the Orthodox Church for over 1,600 years.

The school closure is just one chapter in the history of forced migration, pogroms and other forms of persecution that saw the Greek Orthodox community in Turkey drop from nearly 2 million at the turn of the 20th century. century barely 5,000 today.

But with the 50th anniversary of its closure, the long-standing petition from Orthodox leaders to allow the school to reopen has taken on new life.

Many Orthodox Christians who remain in Turkey feel they have been deprived of decades of spiritual leadership, while those in lands far from Orthodox Christianity have seen their ties to unique Constantinopolitan theological traditions almost severed.

“We have lost two generations of priests, clergy and bishops of the Church, who are not educated in the only school that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has in Istanbul,” said Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, who reports of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, said in an interview marking the 50th anniversary of the school’s closure earlier this year.

In July, the US State Department issued a statement urging Turkey to allow the school to reopen.

Turkish authorities retaliated, arguing that it was in fact the Patriarchate that was responsible for the continued closure of the school, as the Patriarchate would not consent to Halki being administered by the state-run theological faculty.

Ankara has made several attempts to use the possible reopening of Halki as a bargaining chip in Turkey’s strained relations with Greece.

During a 2019 visit by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested he could allow the school to reopen if Greece opens a mosque in Athens.

“Listen, you want something from us, you want the Halki Seminar. And I tell you (Greece), come on, let’s open the Fethiye Mosque, ”said Erdogan, referring to a 17th century Ottoman mosque in Athens and Greece’s blocked pledges to open a new place of worship for Muslim residents. from the city.

According to Laki Vingas, a former president of the community, the seminary’s involvement in the fight between Athens and Ankara has frustrated the remaining Greek Orthodox population in Istanbul.

“It’s so sad to see that Halki is no longer about education or religious training, but has taken on a political role and has become a symbol of antagonism,” Vingas said. “For a church that is two millennia old, it is very difficult.”

Over the years, the generation that remembers the place as something other than a political bargaining chip fades away. A quick scroll of the school’s alumni Facebook page mainly shows obituaries above photos of graduates dressed in both the black robe of the priesthood and the secular habit.

In the absence of school, the Turkish Orthodox community had to send its young people of ecclesiastical spirit to Greece for training.

Delikostantis believes the distance has had a significant effect. “It is not good for the Patriarchate that our theologians study in Thessaloniki or Athens,” he said. “They lose something in the four or five years they are there.”

It is not that Greek schools are lacking; during his time at the seminary, they had much of the same learning materials in Turkey and Greece, he said, but what was lost was “the spirit of Halki.”

After a lifetime of teaching across Europe, Delikostantis returned to Fener to advise his old friend Patriarch Bartholomew I as an expert on the intersection between human rights and orthodox theology.

Although the Patriarch is just under ten years his senior, the two go back a long way. Both are from the Turkish island of Gökçeada – known in Greek as Imbros – and Delikostantis boasts of having been there when the future Patriarch was first appointed deacon in 1961.

Despite Delikostantis’ time in seminary, he never ended up joining the priesthood like his old friend, instead he continued his research on the intersection of philosophy and theology. Today, Delikostantis seems as comfortable quoting the words of Emmanuel Kant as those of the Nazarene.

Delikostantis says he first embarked on this path during his time in Halki.

“The main feature of our school was this combination of university study and church life,” he explained. “During my seven years there, I lived between the church, celebrating the liturgy, and the classroom and the library.

Halki students have also thrived in Istanbul’s diverse environment. Despite the school’s isolated location on Heybeliada, the surroundings of 1960s Istanbul demanded a certain openness – not only an openness to other sects of Christianity and other faiths, but an appreciation of scientific studies and a necessary dialogue with modernity.

“It’s not easy to be faithful and to be open,” said Delikostantis, but it’s something the school has instilled in him and the current Patriarch. “It was, I think, the power of Halki, that combination of faith and science.”

What the future holds for the school remains uncertain. Although there has been little movement from the Turkish government, the Patriarchate remains optimistic, having even made renovation plans for potential future use.

“For Turkey it could be an ornament, you know, a school that produces open people,” Delikostantis said. “Open-minded, non-fundamentalist people of dialogue who accept diversity. “

This is the seminar he remembers.

Sharon P. Juarez