A bomb, an earthquake and a religion story in Istanbul

PhanarGreetings from Istanbul. Isn’t WiFi interesting. Just think, someone from NATO security is probably reading this message as I type it. The airport here really is locked down.

I am carrying in my shoulder back a dead-tree pulp copy of the very Ruth Gledhill article that Doug blogged, concerning the Church of England, St. Paul and, well, sex outside of marriage. I was going to bring it home for Doug. Amazing how, in this big cyberworld, we read some of the same things.

It really is stunning how seriously the British papers take the Church of England. It is treated, however, as political coverage rather than religion. Gledhill has always been a bit different because she grasps the doctrinal content of symbols, liturgies, etc., and can recognize a change when she sees one. The church is part of the government, still, so I guess that explains the press behavior.

The CofE still gets blanket coverage, even as other forms of faith pass it in terms of attendance statistics. This is kind of like the massive coverage that the Episcopal Church gets in the United States. Why is that? I think it is because ECUSA is a church that acts like journalists believe a church should act, yet photographs like the Catholic Church, which is the default church for most religion coverage.

Looks Catholic, acts PC. That’s the ticket.

I have been here for two days and head to Greece today. We arrived just before a bomb rocked a a very conservative neighborhood of this very modern city. This was followed by a 3.2 earthquake and now, worse for the locals, the security blanket greeting George W. Bush and the NATO crowd. I must admit that I am glad to be clearing out ahead of that show.

The religion news in town here is related to the European Union. It seems that, in the next few days, the Turkish government may take a highly symbolic step in terms of religious liberty for minorities — allowing the tiny, byt historically important, Eastern Orthodox heirarchy here to reopen its one seminary.

This is news in Greece, more than Turkey. Here is a piece of the story.

Turkey is racing to meet the European Union’s political criteria before the end of the year to win a date from the bloc to begin accession talks sometime next year. Among the reforms the EU wants to see are rights guaranteed to Turkey’s non-Muslim residents, including an easing on restrictions on opening houses of worship. …

Turkey closed the Halki seminary on Istanbul’s Heybeliada island in 1971 under a law limiting activities at post-secondary religious schools, including Muslim institutions.

Athens has urged Turkey to re-open the seminary as a sign of its commitment to democratic pluralism. Relations between the historic rivals have eased considerably, and Greece has strongly backed Turkey’s EU candidacy.

There are fewer than 2,000 Greek Orthodox Christians left in Istanbul, most of them elderly. Turkish law requires the patriarch to be Turkish and, quite literally, if the current patriarch died tomorrow he would be almost impossible to replace.

I was at the Phanar yesterday and the staff was rushing to get ready for a meeting with President Bush. The spokesman for the patriarch said he did not know if the Turkish goverment was going to play the seminary card this weekend.

The photograph with this post is of the historic gate to the Phanar, which was welded shut in memory of Patriarch Gregory V, who was hanged there by Turkish officials in retaliation for the 1821 Greek rebellion. A staff member in the Phanar said that the government keeps saying that Turkey will allow the church to reopen the seminary if the church reopens the gate. The church says it may reopen the gate if the Turks allow the seminary to be opened. Then the government says it will allow them to reopen the seminary if church officials open the gate. You get the idea.

I will watch the Greek newspapers for this story. I imagine it will be a footnote in the American newspaper coverage of the NATO meetings. But this symbolic change will be news in this part of the world, where religious symbols carry more weight. They carry centuries of weight, in fact.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.


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