Turkey opens its first state-built church after a century


Southern Europe


Consecration of the new church in Turkey. Photo X, Mor Aphrem II

After a century, Turkey opened its first state-built church. At the same time, Christians still face restrictions in the officially secular state.

The Turkish government covered all the costs of the Mor Efrem Syriac Orthodox Church building in Istanbul, Evangelical Focus writes. That is unique because since the founding of the modern Turkish state, which emerged in 1923 after the Ottoman Empire fell, it has not happened before. According to Vatican News, the construction of churches is only allowed since the early 2000s.

The opening ceremony of the Mor Efrem Syriac Orthodox Church was planned for February 19 but was postponed because of the earthquake that took place on February 6. The new church can accommodate up to 750 people. Its construction started in 2019. The church consists of a five-story building. One floor is a cultural hall where the congregation can meet after the services and where baptisms, condolences, weddings, meetings and conferences can take place, Daily Sabah writes. The actual sanctuary is located, as well as living space for the Metropolitan, some guest rooms and a parking facility.


The church is part of the Syriac Christian community of Istanbul, Evangelical Focus reports. This community consists of about 17,000 people.

The Syriac Orthodox community says to be very happy with their new church building, leader Sait Susin told the media. Up till now, the Turkish Christians had been building churches without the official permission of the government. Other times, they used buildings from other religious communities, Metropolitan Cetin said, as reported by Vatican News. However, these buildings were too small sometimes, and people had to stand outside to attend some occasions. “That is difficult when it is very cold or very hot”, Cetin said. He is happy that the community now has its own building that they can use whenever and however they want.


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was also present at the opening ceremony of the new religious building. He referred to the conflict in Israel and emphasised that he “finds it very important to see the solidarity shown today.”

However, Erdogan is not particularly known for his respect for religious freedom, Evangelical Focus reports. Three years ago, there was a big uproar in Turkey and abroad because Erdogan turned the famous Hagia Sophia church museum into a mosque. And that was only the first of several mosques that were established under his rule.

In addition, Christians continue to experience difficulties in practising their faith in Turkey. At least 60 pastors and Christian workers from abroad have been put on a blacklist so that they can no longer enter the country. In addition, Turkish Protestants complain about problems with their houses of worship and increased hate speech towards them on social media.



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