New York Times
Seminary in Turkey Is Ready but Empty
Turkey, Aug. 6 -- The marble floors are polished to a high gloss.
The latest scholarly journals are arranged with care in the famous
library. The sparse dormitories are spotless, and in one huge
hallway, two Ping-Pong tables stand ready, nets taut.
Everything is in
perfect order at the Holy Theological School of Chalki, one of the
most historic and important seminaries in Orthodox Christianity. But
the only students are the ghosts of monks and priests who lived and
trained here for more than 1,000 years before the Turkish government
closed the school in 1971.
Despite the appeals
of Orthodox leaders and Turkey's allies, most recently President
Clinton, the Turkish authorities insist that the school remain
closed under a law that gave the government control over higher
education in religious and military affairs.
The primary motive
for the law was to impose government authority over training Islamic
clerics, but it also snared the theological seminary run by the
Greek Orthodox Church on picturesque Heybeli Island, in the Sea of
The island's name
means "saddle bag" in Turkish, and derives from the two
hilltops that embrace the lower harbors, though the Greeks called
the island Chalki. It is part of a small archipelago known as the
Prince's Islands, about an hour's ferry ride from Istanbul.
In the sixth
century, the monasteries and convents on the islands became infamous
as a place of exile for ousted Byzantine rulers, with emperors and
empresses alike finding themselves banished to cells there. In the
late 19th century, the start of steamboat service allowed wealthy
Istanbul residents to build summer villas in the islands.
Trotsky lived in a
mansion on the largest island from 1929 to 1933. The islands retain
a quaint charm, despite the profusion of villas and apartments. Cars
are used only by the police and for garbage pickup, and on a summer
weekend the air is filled with the clip-clop of horse-drawn
carriages and the shouts of bathers fleeing Istanbul's heat.
school on Heybeli was built in 1844 atop one of the two hills, on
the site of the Holy Trinity monastery and school, which dated to
the ninth century. The school's library is regarded as one of the
richest in the world in old and rare works. Like the rest of the
school, the library is cleaned meticulously each day by the 4
clerics and 14 employees who maintain the school.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the world's
220 million Orthodox Christians and leader of the Greek Orthodox
Church, arrived at dockside here aboard a private boat with an
entourage of archbishops and priests. The patriarch's primary
residence is in Istanbul, but he regularly visits the island to lead
services in the school chapel for island residents and tourists.
gawked, the black-robed, bearded patriarch stepped agilely into a
carriage for a trip up the winding road to the seminary. Like each
patriarch before him, Bartholomew, 60, was educated here. Sitting in
his sparse quarters after his arrival, he reminisced about the
scholarly atmosphere during his years here and lamented the
seminary's closing. "For a religious institution like the
ecumenical patriarchate, which is accepted and recognized throughout
the world as the first seat of the Orthodox Church, it is
inconceivable not to have a school, an educational institution to
prepare coming generations," he said.
Fewer than half of
Turkey's 75 Greek Orthodox churches are open, in part because of a
shortage of priests. And the population of ethnic Greeks, with an
average age of 60, has been whittled from 150,000 to about 2,500
over a century of expulsions, attrition and migration, church
officials said. The Turkish authorities have kept the seminary
closed partly out of traditional antipathy for the Greeks. But the
more pressing fear is that opening this school would lead to demands
for similar freedom from Islamic religious groups, on which the
secular government keeps a firm grip. Still, last spring brought a
glimmer of hope. Mr. Clinton had pressed Turkey on the issue in
Istanbul the previous November, and warming relations with Greece
seemed to make the timing good. Opening the school was regarded by
officials on both sides as a gesture that would keep progress going.
Even President Suleyman Demirel privately supported the move, church
officials were told.
But Mr. Demirel was
denied another term, stepping down in May, and the pace of improving
relations between Turkey and Greece has lost some momentum in the
continuing disputes over such obstacles as boundaries in the Aegean
Sea and how to govern Cyprus.
Ministers from both
nations have exchanged sharp words in recent weeks, and the two
architects of the closer ties, Foreign Minister Ismail Cem of Turkey
and Foreign Minister George Papandreou of Greece, postponed a
meeting last week.
rapprochement will be difficult to sustain if nothing happens this
fall," a Western diplomat said.
one in authority is saying relations between the countries are on
the rocks, but prospects for reopening the seminary have dimmed.
Still, each day the floors are shined and the library is dusted in
preparation for the next class of students.