Saturday, October 16, 2010

Turkey's dwindling Orthodox Christians fear end is approaching

Andreas Zografos left Turkey in 1974 amid economic and political turmoil to find work in Europe, but he always knew he would return home.

"The ties of this land are strong. I was drawn back by the blue of the sea, the colour of the sky," he says.

A Greek Orthodox Christian, Zografos, 63, and his wife today tend to the 19th-century St Nicholas Church, where his grandfather painted vibrant icons, on Heybeliada, or Halki in Greek, an island off the Istanbul coast.

Heybeliada was home to a few thousand ethnic Greeks when he left, Zografos says. About 25 remain, part of a dwindling community of 2,500 Greeks in Istanbul, capital of the Greek Orthodox Byzantine Empire until the Ottoman conquest of 1453.

Istanbul, a city of 13 million Muslims, is still the seat of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the world's 250 million Orthodox.

"We are proud our patriarch is still here in the land where our faith began. This is holy land," Zografos says.

But vast numbers of Christians have left their ancient homeland and now make up just 0.13 percent of Turkey's population of 73 million people.

He remembers Sundays in the 1960s when the congregation would fill the basilica-style church and spill into the narthex.

"If I don't do this, who will?" says Zografos, who says he is not religious but feels a duty to serve his community.

"Soon there will be just one or two of us left on the island. I don't see anything else but the end."


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