Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sumela monastery in Turkey celebrates mass after 88 years.

The Greek Orthodox faithful flocked to the cliffside setting of Sumela monastery in northeast Turkey on Sunday after Ankara allowed mass to be celebrated here for the first time in 88 years.
"After 88 years, the tears of the Virgin Mary have stopped flowing," the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, said during the service.
The site is of particular importance to Pontian Greeks, whose ancestors fled the region around the Black Sea during fighting after World War I and dispersed in Greece and Russia.
When Turkey fought Greece between 1920-22 during its war of independence, several tens of thousands of Pontian Greeks were massacred, or died as they went into forced exodus.
Greece says 350,000 people died and describes the event as a genocide, though the term is not used by the international community and is rejected by Turkey.
On Sunday, around 500 Pontians were allowed into the fourth-century monastery while around 2,000 others come from Istanbul, Greece, Russia and Georgia, watched the mass on a giant television screen outside.
"For us the Virgin of Sumela is more important than our own mother," said Charalambos Zigas, a 51-year-old mechanic from Greece. "You have to be a Pontian Greek to understand the importance of this mass."
He said that when his grandfather fled the mountainous region for exile in Russia in 1922, he lost his wife and son who were eaten by bears.
Many of the faithful sought out houses that used to belong to their ancestors.
"Everyone here is like me, they came to see the region, find a house... we've even met two people from here who say they're Pontian and we spoke Pontian Greek," said Greek veterinarian Maria Piativou, 42.
Turkey in May sent a letter to the patriarch authorising mass to be celebrated here once a year on August 15.
The gesture appeared aimed at Turkey's own Greek Orthodox minority, thought today to number around 2,000 people, which complains of discrimination.
In a similar gesture to Turkey's Armenian minority, Ankara also authorised mass to be celebrated in September at the museum-church of Akdamar, in the eastern Van province.

Day Opening - August 15

Patagonia, Argentina