For the 3rd year in a row, the historic Greek Orthodox Monastery of Panagia Soumela, in Trabzon Turkey, opened its doors to religious services. The Assumption of the Virgin Mary, recognized the world over by Christians on August 15th, was the occasion for this historic day.
Historically, the Turkish government recognizes this site as a museum and under normal circumstances Panagia Soumela monastery like all other historic-museum sites would be off limits for religious prayer. However, just three years ago, the Turkish government gave way to the repeated requests and global politics that have continued to throw the media spotlight on it’s backward thinking policies.
Once the historic homeland “Pontos”, (Black Sea Greek) for thousands of years, Christian Greek Orthodoxy has now resumed, albeit once a year (August 15th). Adding to this annual pilgrimage (Greeks through out the world attend) the second of three great monasteries in Trabzon, Turkey has also resumed services, or at least it appears that way.
Following August 15th services, at Panagia Soumela monastery, just two days later, his all holiness Patriarch Bartholomew, walked 1 hour in to the foothills above the village of Kustul. Just 30 kilometers from the historically Greek coastal city of Trapezounda, today Trabzon Turkey, where he ascended along a rocky worn path. His destination was Saint George Peristereotas, where he had visited the year before and promised to return again this year.
There, a small religious ceremony took place. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew led a contingency of Greeks, local Turkish officials and tourists to visit the remains of the monastery and to be part of a short religious service. Following a short ceremony, photo op and speech the group descended back down the mountain reflecting happily on this some what surreal moment.
The Pontian Greek community has made several global strides these last years. It appears that two monasteries have reopened for Orthodox Christians. One being Panagia Soumela, which opened in 2010 (after 88 years) and Saint George Peristereotas, also in the same area. St. George Peristereota was closed on January 17, 1923, when the monks along with other Greeks were expelled to Greece. On this day August 17th, 2012, (some 89 years later) services appear to have resumed in a semi-unofficial form.
Trabzon, Turkey is famous for three Orthodox monasteries. Panagia Soumela, Agios Yiorgios Peristereota and Vazelon. With Turkish restrictions being relaxed, and the second of three monasteries being opened to Greek Orthodox Christians (which Muslims also attend), it appears that there may be a movement for more religious freedom in the area. His All Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew said he would return again next year, leaving us with the impression that the political climate in this area and it’s historically Greek ties could again blossom. Could the Vazelon monastery be next? Privately, many Greeks have expressed great interest in seeing this dream come to fruition, but it’s a long way out. Director of the St. George Peristereota Research Centre in Greece, Theodosios Kyriakidis has organized several youth group trips to the monastery to clean it up. The idea is that if its accessible people will come. There is no doubt that relations between Pontian Greeks and Turks living in this area of the Black Sea Coast are growing.
Greek tourists continue to come and visit. Some search for their historic homes or to experience their religious and or cultural ties of their forefathers. But efforts are also being made in other ways. Every year, dance troupes and musicians from the Eastern region of the Black Sea, cross the border in to Greece, invited and hosted by Greek organizations. The effort is reciprocated. Greek dance troupes and performers come in to the Black Sea region welcomed and hosted by Turkish organizations. These cultural exchanges are welcomed and encouraged by local governments on both sides and continue today. The historic and cultural bond is obvious and continues to weave its way through the geopolitics. What unites Turks and Greece is the sharing and mixing of music, dance and even to some extent, the Pontic Greek language, also still spoken here today.
By Eleftherios KostansPosted on in Culture & History