A study of religious tolerance: Sumela Monastery vs. Ground Zero Mosque proposal

... then perhaps they should be just as willing to give Christians equal treatment in predominantly-Muslim nations, by allowing them to practice their faith with full legal recognition and protection. But it's no secret that Christians are tolerated in few of those nations, and subjected to censorship, harassment and outright violence, either by official sanction or unofficial tolerance by governmental and religious leaders in those countries.

As part of its efforts to gain entry into the European Union, one such nation, Turkey, has made very minimal concessions to Christians which fall far short of allowing them to worship freely, even in places of great significance to Christians. We're sure that Obama and others would consider it unacceptable to place similar restrictions on use of the mosque that some are seeking to build near Ground Zero in New York.

For August 15, which for the Orthodox is the feast of the Dormition of the Holy Mother of God, the Turkish government has authorized the celebration of a liturgy in a place that is a symbol of the Christian faith of the East, as much of its flourishing as of its violent uprooting: the monastery of Sumela or (its Greek name) of the Mother of God of the Black Mountain.

The concession was greeted with surprise by the Orthodox community, not only in Turkey, where the Greek-Byzantines of the patriarchate of Constantinople have been reduced to a few thousand, but also abroad, especially in Greece and Russia.

Nonetheless, it's still a concession limited to a few hours. The liturgy will be allowed to be celebrated only once, outside of the monastery, in front of the ruins.

The monastery of Sumela, in fact, after withstanding the storms of history for fifteen centuries and staying alive even during Ottoman rule, was emptied and reduced to ruins in 1923, with the expulsion of the Greek Orthodox by the modern Turkish state.

The best approach would be for tolerance to be a reciprocal, but Christian-Muslim relations have tended to follow the lines of the old Soviet rule of negotiation between the West and other nations: "What's ours is ours and what's yours is negotiable."  As such, it's hard to see why anyone would have much sympathy for the current situation, and even harder to understand why President Obama would feel the need to step into the matter.

Special thanks to Father Miguel Grave de Peralta of St. Ignatius Melkite Catholic Church in Augusta, Georgia for the story lead.

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