Converting the Hagia Sophia monument from a museum to a mosque in Istanbul would be “unacceptable,” said a senior official of the Russian Orthodox Church on Saturday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proposed restoring the EU-recognized mosque status to World Heritage United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture ̵
“We cannot go back to the Middle Ages now,” Metropolitan Hilarion, chairman of the Moscow Church’s Department of External Church Relations, said on state television.
“We live in a multi-polar world, we live in a multi-denominational world and we have to respect the feelings of believers.”
He said the Russian Orthodox Church does not understand the motive for the conversion of Hagia Sophia and believes that domestic politics is behind it.
The Turkish Hagia Sophia and the struggle to transform it into a mosque
“We believe that this act is an unacceptable violation of religious freedom under the current conditions,” Hilarion was quoted as saying.
A Turkish court has heard a case earlier this week aimed at turning the building back into a mosque and will announce its verdict later this month.
The lawsuit, initiated by a non-governmental organization for the preservation of historical monuments, denies the legality of a decision made in 1934 in the early days of the modern secular Turkish state under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the Hagia Sophia – known in Turkish as Ayasofya – from a mosque to a museum.
The proposal has been criticized by other religious and political leaders.
Istanbul-based ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, said transforming Hagia Sophia into a mosque would disappoint Christians and “break” East and West.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Greek government have also asked Turkey to preserve the building as a museum.
Erdogan has described foreign criticism of the proposal as an attack on Turkey’s sovereignty.