Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew thanked the Turkish government


Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew thanked the Turkish government yesterday for granting permission for religious services to be held at the Church of St. Nicholas in Demre this year. Reviewing the year 2007 at a New Year's reception after a religious service at the Fener Greek Patriarchate, Patriarch Bartholomew listed the Ministry of Culture's permission for religious services to be held at the Church of St. Nicholas among the important events of the year for Orthodox Christians.

The Church of St. Nicholas in ancient Myra - modern Demre - near the city of Antalya is a ruined Byzantine church containing the tomb of St. Nicholas of Myra, the inspiration for the Santa Claus figure, as well as many fine mosaics and murals. The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism allocated YTL 40,000 for restoration on the Church of St. Nicholas following a visit to the church by Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay on Oct. 29. The urgent work includes repairs on the roof, the building of a path to protect the marble at the entrance, repair of the pumps that remove rainwater and the protection of the church's paintings from sunlight and humidity. While the urgent restoration is scheduled to be completed in a short period of time, planning for the long-term projects will continue. Patriarch Bartholomew said he had been to Ankara twice in 2007 to discuss the Greek Orthodox community's problems with Turkish officials. The Greek Orthodox community has been seeking permission to hold religious services in some remote areas of the country. The Orthodox community has come under intense pressure from Turkish nationalist elements. The patriarchal seminary of Halki in the Princes' Islands has been closed on government orders since 1971. Patriarch Bartholomew also mentioned efforts to draw attention to the world's environmental problems. As part of the Religion, Science and the Environment (RSE) movement - originally conceived in 1988 on the Isle of Patmos at a meeting of environmental and religious leaders - Patriarch Bartholomew attended the 2007 Arctic Symposium in Greenland Sept. 6-13. The patriarch has gained a reputation as a prominent environmentalist, putting the support of the Patriarchate behind various international environmental causes. This has earned him the nicknames "the Green Patriarch" and "the Green Pope" in addition to various awards. Among the significant events of the last year the patriarch listed his address in January to the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly on the necessity of interfaith dialogue. In that speech Bartholomew had stressed the importance of dialogue with the Muslim world. "As we say in Turkey, we have with our Muslim brothers not only an academic dialogue but that of living together side-by-side," he had said in his Jan. 22 speech last year.