Greek Orthodox delegation seeks to reopen Halki

ISTANBUL – A Greek Orthodox delegation from the United States arrived in Turkey on Saturday to press calls for the government to reopen a Greek Orthodox theological school closed three decades ago. Anthony Limberakis, the national commander of the Order of St Andrew, said ahead of talks with Turkish government officials today that it was his hope that the seminary would be reopened. «It is my understanding that the Turks take great pride in being a tolerant people and in maintaining religious tolerance in their country,» Limberakis said. Many of today’s Greek Orthodox leaders, including Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios, were trained at the Halki Greek Orthodox Theological School, which was closed by Turkish authorities in 1971 under a law that put military and religious education under state control. Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country, has strict secular laws. The country is under increasing pressure to reopen the school, including from the European Union, which it aspires to join. «We look forward to cordial discussions with our Turkish friends regarding issues of mutual concern… and issues that would benefit the Orthodox Christians of America by opening up the school of theology,» Limberakis said. Tomorrow, the delegation is scheduled to visit Heybeli island, or Halki in Greek, where the seminary is located. The reopening of the Halki Theological School «is something that everyone in the Greek Orthodox world has been hoping to see happen,» said delegation member Arthur Anton. «There is no reason for the Turkish government not to… give a chance to religious freedom,» he said. On Saturday the delegation visited the sixth-century Monastery of the Life-Giving Font of the Virgin Mary and met with members of Istanbul’s Greek community. The delegation was expected to attend the Sunday service yesterday at the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Vartholomaios, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, has long lobbied to reopen the theological school. The Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul dates from the Orthodox Greek Byzantine Empire, which collapsed when the Muslim Ottoman Turks conquered the city in 1453. Istanbul, then called Constantinople, was the Byzantine Empire’s capital and heart of Greek culture for more than 1,000 years.