On a Saturday in late March, a group of 20 volunteers went to an abandoned church in the Turkish city of Mardin. There, they cleaned out broken chairs, a cracked pulpit and books that hadn’t been opened in decades. In the corner sat a 100 year old organ.
The old Assyrian Orthodox church has recently been handed over to a Protestant congregation, a move that marks an extraordinary change in the relationship between the two branches of Christianity.
Although only big enough to hold 50 people, the building’s transfer represents the first steps of reconciliation between Protestantism and Orthodoxy in a city where the denominations have been bitter rivals for nearly two centuries.
“At first the Syriacs were worried, but as they saw our sincerity, both the archbishop and head priest gave us permission to use the building,” wrote the pastor of a nearby Protestant church.
The church in the centre of Mardin was built by American missionaries who came to the city 150 years ago. After they left, building sat empty for more than 40 years.
Ender Peker, a protestant pastor, came to Mardin two years ago. Peker spent over a year cultivating relationships with the Orthodox leadership before approaching them with the subject of the building. Every time he drove past an Orthodox church or monastery, he stopped by to talk with clergy members.
“I told them I’m not here to steal your members. My vision is not to preach to Syriacs or Armenians, but to preach to Muslims. Your church is your church,” he said.
Peker reached an agreement with Syriac Orthodox priest that he would not reach out to any Orthodox or Catholics. He would not even let them visit his church unless they had permission from their priest to come. After this, the Syriac priest signed off the property transfer to the Protestants.
After this agreement was reached, relations began to thaw between the church leaders. Peker has worked with the Syriac Church three or four times to provide aid to hundreds of Assyrian Christian refugees fleeing Islamic State attacks in Iraq and northern Syria to reside temporarily in Mardin.
- Give thanks for the improving relationships between the orthodox and protestant churches in Eastern Turkey.
- Pray for Turkish believers, for a greater trust between different denominations and to work together for the growth of the Church and the Spread of the Gospel in Turkey.
- Pray for protection for Turkish believers, with the rise of more fundamentalist Islam in that part of the world.
John 17 vs 21: “ As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.“