Orthodox Christians take historic mass in Turkish monastery
More than 5,000 Orthodox Christians were able to celebrate the feast of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary at a monastery in Turkey for the first time in 87 years Sunday, after receiving special permission from Ankara, dpa reported.
The Soumela monastery, standing at the foot of a cliff in the Altindere valley near the city of Trabzon, was founded in 386 AD, but has not been used for worship since the Greek-Turkish population exchanges of 1923.
A petition to have the monastery used for the mass, known in Western Christianity as the Assumption of Mary, by Patriarch Bartholomew I was accepted by the Turkish government in June, the Greek news agency ANA reported.
Orthodox believers from Russia, Georgia, Romania and Bulgaria came to attend the ceremony.
The monastery remained closed to Christian worshippers, although not tourists, through years of emnity between Muslim-majority Turkey and Orthodox Greece.
"Let Maria be the guarantor of better days for both people," said Patriarch Bartholomew at the ceremony.
"This feast should be a further bridge of communication and trust between the two peoples," he said.
In May Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan met to pledge better relations between the two nations.