Sunday, May 09, 2010

Orthodox Turks

Notes on Arab Orthodoxy is a favorite blog of mine. I was interested to see a recent post there concerning Turkish converts to Orthodoxy, found here. From all accounts, there have been a number of Turks who have become Orthodox Christians in recent years--perhaps a thousand or so. This has been occurring below the radar screen, as can be well imagined. To be sure, this is not a major trend in Turkish society, but the fact that it is happening at all, given the nature of Turkish nationalism, is itself noteworthy. As I have noted time and again, interesting things are taking place in Turkey--a country which defies simplistic categorization. An excerpt from the interview with 2 Orthodox Turks:

—Ahmet, probably your desire to become a Christian arose while you were living and working in a Christian country?

A.: No, the ground had been cultivated much earlier. Unfortunately, Christianity in Turkey is viewed as something that comes from the ”outside.” This is a mistake, because Orthodoxy is a part of our land's history. This can be seen from the privileges that Mehmet the Conqueror gave to the Constantinople Patriarchate.

I had some idea of Christianity from childhood, although it was through the prism of Islam. Many Moslems have great respect for Christians, which is bound up with the fact that the Koran accepts Jesus as a prophet. In general, Moslems also respect the Most Holy Mother of God. I think that you have seen the crowds of faithful Moslems who gather in the Romeian churches of Istanbul in order to venerate the holy shrines, and ask for help. In Turkey, we are prepared to accept the message of Christianity.

If there are problems, they are bound up with the education that both sides receive, and with ignorance. For example, many Moslems do not understand the meaning of the teaching on the Holy Trinity and think that we worship three gods, and that Christianity is a political religion. I do not say this as a criticism of Islam, but only present the fact as an example to show how uninformed they are.

—Necla, did your search also begin in Turkey?

N.: Yes, when I was studying in the university. My family was on the whole religious, but without following all the precepts of Islam to the letter. I considered myself a Moslem until I began to distance myself from Islam during my studies in Ankara. My parents allowed me the freedom to decide my relationship to religion. While I was in Islam, I felt an emptiness that demanded fulfillment. I read, and searched. I entered upon a path that led me to Orthodoxy.

—It would follow that your path to Orthodoxy was the result of ”local” experience, without any influence from outside of Turkey?

A.: Any influence from American or European Christianity can only do harm. I never felt comfortable with the Christians there. They repelled me from Christianity by turning it into psychotherapy. They go to church on Sundays to talk. However, religion has an aim of filling a certain other emptiness. In Europe, Christianity has been relegated to holidays without any connection to religion. Take the Nativity of Christ, for example. Many people greet each other with the words, ”Happy holidays,” instead of Happy Nativity.” In Europe, people have a superficial connection to Christianity, without an understanding of its spiritual meaning.

The post also has great links to Orthodox churches in the Hatay, that region around Antakya (Antioch) that was part of Syria until 1939.

And while the subject of Turkey is at hand, a young Turkish writer reflects on the Armenian Genocide (really), here. This is a must-read.

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