Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the highest cleric in the Russian Orthodox Church, recently spoke out against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plans to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque, calling it a threat to Christianity.
In an official statement, which was released on Monday, July 6, the Russian Patriarch expressed his concerns regarding the changes to “one of the biggest monuments of Christian civilization,” stressing the fact that the site is extremely dear to the Russian Church.
“A threat against Hagia Sophia is a threat to all of Christian civilization, meaning our spirituality and history,” the Patriarch declared in the statement.
Despite the monument being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, President Erdogan has proposed converting Hagia Sophia into a mosque, with the country’s Council of State recently giving him sole authority in deciding whether or not the plans should be initiated.
The proposal has been criticized by both religious and political leaders, including prominent figures all around the world, including the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well as leaders of European countries including France and Greece.
The Patriarch of Moscow also said that “Any attempt to humiliate or trample on the thousand-year-old spiritual heritage of the Church of Constantinople will be taken by the Russian people – in the past as now – with bitterness and exasperation.”
The Russian Orthodox Church also directly called on Turkey to display prudence in response to President Erdogan’s proposal for Hagia Sophia, the center of the Eastern Christian world for almost one thousand years.
Kremlin spokesman Dimitry Peskov also stated “This is a beloved world masterpiece for tourists from all countries who visit Turkey, including for tourists from Russia, for whom Hagia Sophia, in additional to its tourism value, has an very deep sacred spiritual value.”
The Kremlin also added that Turkish authorities would take into account Hagia Sophia’s status as a World Heritage Site, which is seen as an iconic Byzantine monument for many who visit.
Even if the proposal were to be approved by the Turkish government, permission would still need to be obtained from UNESCO in order to convert the museum back into a mosque, which it was turned into by the Ottoman Turks after the Fall of Constantinople.