The church's origins go back to the IV century when Nicholas was the bishop of the city Demre, then known as Myra. Currently under renovation, it has now been transformed into a museum. For many years, religious and political authorities have argued over whether the Eucharist should be celebrated there. It has not even been possible on December 6th, the date in which the saint's death is traditionally remembered, presumably around 343.Gaudium magnum!
And just like that, for years no celebrations have been permitted, nor even prayers. Just guided tours after having purchased a ticket from the Turkish Tourism Agency, like a normal entry to any museum.
This, however, has never discouraged the faithful, the locals or the pilgrims. And mainly the Russians are the ones who travelled there, since it was from Byzantium that the image of Saint Nicholas and the traditions were taken to the Russian cities, where after centuries, they became so embedded there that the saint was then made the national patron. Only in the first half of 2007, according to a survey by the journalist Serpil Yilmaz from the newspaper Hurriyet, two hundred and fifty thousand Russians visited the site.
Now it seems that the Saint, who distinguishes himself from the others by his generosity, justice, and capacity to intervene decisively and fairly, has performed a "miracle". With great joy and satisfaction on behalf of the entire Orthodox church, the ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew I, after five years of patience and insisting determination towards the authorities of Ankara has now been granted permission to celebrate the Eucharistic liturgy in the church of the Saint.
The meeting last year in Ankara between the patriarch and the new Minster of Culture, Ertuğrul Gunay from the AKP party ( a party of the government known for its Muslim elements) was the decisive turning point. The Minister said, "I earnestly want every citizen in this country to be able to freely celebrate their own religion in the place seen as most important for worship." And the proof that he did not want to go back on his word was that not only did he allow the mass to be celebrated in Saint Nicholas in Demre, but he also gave forty-thousand Turkish Lira (approximately twenty-five thousand euros circa) for the completion of the basilica's makeover. Especially in the winter and in the spring, the basilica is submerged under rain water because it is three meters under the street level damaging the mosaics and the frescos found in the crypt of the sarcophagus of the Bishop Nicholas.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
And ... on the eve of the Feast of St. Nicholas ...
Finally a mass in the church of Saint Nicholas and Myra