Patriarch Kirill, the leader of Russia’s Orthodox Church, said that calls to convert Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia into a mosque posed a threat to Christianity, Reuters reported.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has proposed restoring the mosque status of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The proposal has been criticized by several religious and political leaders, including the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch, leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, as well as Greece, France and the United States.
“A threat against Hagia Sophia is a threat to all of Christian civilization, meaning (a threat to) our spirituality and history,” Patriarch Kirill said in a statement.
Hagia Sophia was an important place of worship for Orthodox Christians for centuries until Istanbul, then known as Constantinople, fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. They turned the building into a mosque, but after the creation of the modern secular Turkish Republic under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, it became a museum in 1934.
Many Christians were comfortable with Hagia Sophia’s status as a museum because this effectively created a neutral space which respected both the Christian and Muslim heritage of the ancient building, which dates back to the sixth century.
A Turkish court last week heard a case aimed at converting the building back into a mosque and will announce its verdict later this month.