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From Reader Ros in Istanbul

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – From a Reader in Istanbul!

Like the rest of Christendom here in Istanbul we are celebrating the week of prayer for Christian Unity. It is however a week of going to services in each others churches followed by food and today even wine was on offer. 

I was the only woman to robe and be in the procession of priests and others who attended a service at St Tateos’ church in a small Armenian Apostolic Church near to the Marmara Sea. It is in quite a run-down area of the city and had been an Armenian neighbourhood but now only a few Armenian families live near the church. The church is well maintained and we sat and had our post service eats in a large hall. The Surp Tateos Partogimeos Church was opened in the neighbourhood on June 18, 1848. The last time it underwent a restoration was in 1969er. Services are held regularly in the church. 

The week started on Saturday night with a service in a Greek Orthodox Church about 15 minutes walk from where I live. The priest was a young man who addressed us in both Turkish and English for the sermon. The rest of the service was in Greek and with no indication of what was happening. I dutifully stood and sat down with everyone else! After the service we were all offered some bread – representative of the loaves of bread that were consecrated during the service. 

Sunday night we were all together again at the Dutch Chapel – the Union Church of Istanbul, where an American Presbyterian Church uses the building for a very active programme of Sunday services and mid-week activities. During the service some members of the Chinese congregation sang Christian songs in Chinese. 

Tomorrow we go to the German Lutheran Church and on Wednesday evening it is the turn of my church, Pera Church of the Resurrection to host the evening. On Thursday the Syrian Orthodox Church will provide a very good spread of food after their service where they say the liturgy antiphonally. The last two days of the week we will visit the Armenian Catholics and then the Latin Catholics.

The Armenian Bishop at today’s service rather bemoaned the fact that we were all divided. There are in Istanbul lots of Christians of different Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant persuasions. For a week eight churches open their doors and welcome Christians from the other denominations. It is a week of celebration, of being together and as the psalmist says in Psalm 133: 

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore. 

That Psalm is the one appointed to be read on Wednesday when we host the evening. I will be preaching as Engin, our priest, is away for a couple of weeks. In a country where we are in a minority it is easy to feel isolated and nervous but being together with brothers and sisters in these services reminds us that we aren’t alone - that we have our common faith in Christ. Often in the services we will say the Lords Prayer in different languages and recite the Nicene Creed. 

Tonight in the Armenian service I felt very moved to think that we were present as ancient prayers and liturgy were recited. The Armenian people date their conversion to Christianity to the work of Bartholomew, one of Jesus’ disciples. Later Gregory the Illuminator came along and converted the King and at that stage the whole nation became Christian in the 4th Century. 

I felt very welcomed as the only woman and apparently some of the women in the congregation were amazed to see a woman robed and in the clergy procession. Later, after the service I was near to the young daughter of the Syrian Orthodox Priest who couldn’t believe that I was the same person she had seen robed up
– women aren’t able to be clergy in the Orthodox churches. 

I hope you can capture some of the thrill and excitement of this week. If you want to make a winter trip to Istanbul this is the week which has the most
ecclesiastical colour! 

Every best wish from an Anglican Reader in Istanbul. 


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