Metropolitan Abba Seraphim Visits Turkey

The British Orthodox Church – October 2013 

Metropolitan Abba Seraphim visited the south-eastern Turkey on pilgrimage to various historic centres of Christianity, along with Bishop Christopher of Southwark and other pilgrims. On 5 October they travelled from Erzerum to Kars, where they visited the former Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Apostles, which had been built in the tenth century by the Armenian Bagratid King Abas. During the frequent changes of political rule, as Kars fell to different invaders, the church was used as a mosque and later restored to Christian use. In the nineteenth century when Kars came under Russia, it was even converted into. Russian Orthodox Church and a stone ikonostasis erected. It is now, once again, a mosque but the external carvings of images of the apostles and finely incised crosses are still very evident. Sadly the crosses on the ikonostasis inside have all been vandalised. They also visited another, purpose-built Russian church in the city, which is also a mosque. It’s once impressive tower and dome have been removed but it’s distinctive architecture, along with many of the Russian style houses and street plan in this part of Kars are poignant reminders of another age.

On 6 October Abba Seraphim, in company with his fellow pilgrims, visited the ancient Armenian royal capital of Ani on the Armenian-Turkish border. The magnificent ruins, stretching over more than a square mile on the edge of a deep ravine of great natural beauty, witness to this beautiful city and include the great cathedral of Ani with several churches in various stages of decay. They are a poignant reminder of the great Christian civilisation that once flourished in this area. Sadly, although a world-class monument it is neglected by the Turkish and restoration has not always been sensitive.

On 7 October Abba Seraphim and his fellow pilgrims visited Lake Van in south-eastern Turkey from where they took a boat to the island of Aghtamar, once the capital of the Armenian kingdom of Vaspurakan under the Artsruni dynasty, as well as the seat of an independent Armenian Catholicosate, which existed for over a thousand years until 1915. This part of the lake is also the ancestral home to Abba Seraphim’s three Van cats. The beautiful palatine  built by King Gagik Artruni has recently been restored, as well as the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople being permitted to celebrate the Divine Liturgy each tear on the Feast of the Holy Cross.

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