Vartholomaios asks Turkey to reopen key theological school

ANKARA (AP) – Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, asked the Turkish government yesterday to reopen a key training center for the world’s Orthodox clergy. The Halki Theological School, on an island off Istanbul, was closed in 1971 by Turkish authorities in a huge blow to the spiritual heart of Orthodoxy. The Orthodox say that without the seminary, they are denied a center for theological study and clerical training in what was the ancient Byzantine capital. Greece and the United States have been lobbying Turkish authorities to reopen the school, shut down under a law that put religious education under state control. Turkey has argued that if religious schools are left outside state control, they could turn into fundamentalist training grounds. Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country, has strict secular laws. The patriarch said he raised the issue during a visit to Turkey’s Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, who is also the deputy premier. «Our demand will be considered with good will and with a positive approach,» Vartholomaios told reporters as he left Gul’s office in Ankara. «I am… very pleased and thankful.» The Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul dates from the Orthodox Greek Byzantine Empire, which collapsed when the Muslim Ottoman Turks conquered the city in 1453. Vartholomaios said he also discussed some other problems of the Orthodox minority, but he did not elaborate. Although only a few thousand Greek Orthodox remain in Turkey today, Vartholomaios’s Patriarchate is still based in Istanbul and directly controls several Greek Orthodox churches around the world.