The Washington Post reported on Wednesday, February 6, 2019 about the historic meeting that day between His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at the Theological School of Halki, which was closed by the Turkish government in 1971. “A resolution to the deadlock over the seminary,” said the Post, “may finally be at hand.”
The Post report observed correctly that “American presidents, religious freedom advocates, the European Union and Orthodox Christian leaders have for years issued desperate appeals to Turkey’s government to reopen a shuttered Greek Orthodox seminary on an island off Istanbul, but to no avail.”
It stated that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “has recently sought to improve Turkey’s relations with Europe and the United States, fueling speculation that his outreach to the West could include allowing the seminary to resume operations.”
The Post quoted Tsipras saying: “Next time, I hope I will be here with Erdogan to reopen the school” during his visit Wednesday, and noted that Ibrahim Kalin, a senior adviser to Erdogan, was among those in attendance.
The Post said: “Many saw promising symbolism in Tsipras’s visit.” Among them was His All-Holiness himself, who said Friday: “That the visit of the Prime Minister of Greece to the Ecumenical Patriarch takes place this time not in the Phanar, but in Halki, has a special symbolism, because we all know how much we want and how much we need the reopening of our Theological School, almost half a century since its operation was unfairly suspended.”
In its report, the Post noted the pressing need for the reopening of the seminary: “The closure threatened an existential crisis for the Istanbul-based patriarchate, a remnant of the Greek Byzantine Empire that ruled for more than a thousand years from Constantinople. Because Turkish law requires the patriarch to be a Turkish citizen, the loss of the seminary — and the shrinking population of Turkey’s ethnic Greek minority — has led church officials to warn they may not be able to nurture a future leader.”
There are still obstacles in the way of the reopening of the seminary. The Post reported: “As Tsipras began his visit to Turkey on Tuesday, Erdogan reiterated his demand for the return of eight Turkish soldiers who fled to Greece after a 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. ‘We expect more cooperation from our neighbor Greece on this subject,’ Erdogan said.”
However, Erdogan also demonstrated a respect for the seminary: “He took a softer tone when it came to the seminary, fondly recalling a visit there when he was a schoolboy. ‘They had a very rich library,’ he said. ‘There were 38,000 books.’”