Turkey’s Orthodox Christian communities celebrate Easter Sunday in predawn vigils

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Greek Orthodoxy’s spiritual leader, at ?stanbul’s Church of St. George. (Photo: EPA)
Orthodox Christians across Turkey celebrated Easter on Sunday, waking early for sunrise ceremonies that mark Christianity’s most sacred holiday.
In the predawn hours of Sunday, worshipers gathered outside of the Greek Patriarchate in the Fener district of ?stanbul, holding a candlelight vigil and praying until sunrise. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I led the three-hour ceremony, which attracted hundreds of members of ?stanbul’s Greek Orthodox community and curious tourists alike.

Turkey’s Syriac Christian communities celebrated at dozens of churches across the southeastern provinces of Mardin and Midyat, attending vigils at historic locales such as Mardin’s 1,600-year-old Deyrulzafaran Monastery and the 6th-century K?rklar Church.

At K?rklar Church, worshipers listened while Father Gabriyel Akyüz read prayers in Turkish, Arabic and Aramaic.

Syriac Christian worshipers in the southern province of Hatay gathered at the Antakya Orthodox Church, where Turkish Minister of Justice Sadullah Ergin joined religious leaders for breakfast in the church’s garden.

Ergin, who also made an official visit to members of Turkey’s Jewish community during last week’s Passover celebrations, told church officials that the visit was made in the spirit of “fraternity and peace” between Turkey’s diverse ethnic communities, the Anatolia news agency reported.

In comments to Anatolia, Fadi Hurigil, head of the Antakya Orthodox Church Foundation, said that after the weeks of fasting that precede Easter, Sunday’s celebrations are a “symbol of life renewed” and a reminder of the resurrection of Jesus, the central event of the Christian faith.

Turkey’s Hatay region has long been home to one of Turkey’s largest Christian and Jewish communities, which stand as reminders of the cosmopolitan makeup of the former Ottoman Empire.

Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Hatay deputy Adem Ye?ildal, Republican People’s Party (CHP) Hatay deputy Hasan Akgöl, Antakya Mayor Lütfü Sava? and ?aul Cenudio?lu, head of an Ashkenazi foundation, also participated in the Antakya celebration.

The Bulgarian Orthodox community of Edirne, meanwhile, held its own Easter celebrations, which took place at the St. George Bulgarian Orthodox church in Edirne’s K?y?k neighborhood. City officials and Lumobir Nikolov Popov, head of Edirne’s Bulgarian consulate, attended the event.