Today was a day I will never forget here in Istanbul. Our day began by visiting several churches and mosques. One particular church called the Chora Church of the Holy Saviour in Turkey is considered to be one of the most beautiful examples of a Byzantine church. The church is situated in Istanbul, in the Edirnekapı neighborhood, which lies in the western part of the municipality (belediye) of Fatih. In the 16th century, the church was converted into a mosque by the Ottoman rulers, and it became a secularised museum in 1948. The interior of the building is covered with fine mosaics and frescoes. The mosaics in this church were exquisite! Many of these mosaics are depicting the life of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Afterwards our next stop was truly a surprise.
At 11 a.m. Here in Turkey we had a special appointment on our tour. The appointment we had was to meet the Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in Istanbul at the St. George Church. His All Holiness, BARTHOLOMEW, is the 270th successor of the 2,000 year-old local Christian Church founded by St. Andrew the Apostle. As a citizen of Turkey, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s personal experience provides him a unique perspective on the continuing dialogue among the Christian, Islamic and Jewish worlds. What an amazing meeting we had with him. We were each greeted personally by the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church. What an experience that was to meet with a person of high stature in the Greek Orthodox Church. He spent almost half an hour speaking with all of us. Just the day before he had met with the Prime Minister of Australia. Aydin our tour guide had worked six months in planning this very special meeting.
Our next venture was to visit a mosque during their Friday prayer time. Outside visitors are not allowed to enter the mosque during their prayer time. Again Aydin our tour guide had made very, very special arrangements for us to view the Muslim religion in practice on this Friday of prayer. We were escorted very rapidly up very narrow stairs and led up to a second level area where no one could see us. We had to be very discreet and respectful and not visible during their prayer time. We were asked to sit on the floor so that we could watch and listen quietly. It was amazing to personally see how the Muslim religion is practiced.
This day was a day to remember! The two experiences we had were extremely “special” and our group was very fortunate to have been able to experience the two religions in one day. Our last days here in Istanbul will be very busy. Fortunately the weather now has been beautiful! Father Tom has already planned several things for us to do. I will keep you posted. I miss all of you!