The summer is hot here, as I know it is most everywhere, and busy, and I've been inconsistent in my journal writing. I will be brief again this week, as I am finally heading out for a real break and rest.
I'm grateful for the places this hectic summer has taken me, and all we've learned as producers and people. Istanbul is the most exuberant city. It is as rich with history in the making as in remarkable layers of past that form the present. We will produce other shows in the coming year inspired by the environmental summit we attended on the tiny, ancient island of Heybeliada.
This is the second and final show we'll be creating from our conversations in Turkey. Two Christian voices follow our show with Muslim journalist and political commentator Mustafa Akyol. The land we now know as Turkey, after all, was the birthplace of the Apostle Paul, the site of early church communities like the Ephesians, and later the site of the pivotal Council of Nicaea. To this day, Istanbul is known in Greece as Constantinople — named after the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity.
The story of one of the city's great monuments, the Hagia Sophia, offers a kind of microcosm of the story of Christianity here. This architecturally astonishing structure was the largest church in the world for 700 years, and one of the very oldest. It was first the Byzantine center of Christianity and later a mosque of the Ottoman Empire. Today it's a museum of the Turkish Republic.
It was at the suggestion of several Muslims that I visited Alberto Fabio Ambrosio at his monastery. He has lived in this city since he was in his 20s. He is an emerging teacher about Islam within Roman Catholicism. And he wrote his doctoral dissertation on the whirling dervishes — whom the poet Rumi inspired in this land in the 13th century.
He is a lovely, warm presence. From him we learn about the "art" of living as a religious other and with religious others. The journey he's lived in Istanbul for most of his adulthood (and he is only 40) is fascinating and unique. And yet he has wisdom — practical and spiritual — for all of us in the world we inhabit now.
The other conversation in this show, with Eastern Orthodox bishop and abbot Elpidophoros Lambriniadis, was pure serendipity. Several of our team ventured to the Halki monastery on a Sunday morning on Heybeliada. This is the main monastery of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of 300 million Christians worldwide — and the site of part of the environmental summit. This building housed the main theological school of this tradition, but it was closed over 40 years ago as the successors of Ataturk sought to further secularize Turkey. There is hope that it may be re-opened by Turkey's current prime minister, a devout Muslim, whose government is more open to religious expression of all kinds. And that is just one layer of the long, ever-evolving history of Christianity on this land.
Metropolitan Elpidophoros, as he is known to his faithful, surprised my colleague Trent Gilliss with a personal welcome and an impromptu interview. We had only one microphone, and were not always able to pick up Trent's questions. So you will hear two conversations in this week's show — my questions of Trent, and some of his dialogue with the Metropolitan. To Alberto Ambrosio's language about the "art" of interfaith existence, Metropolitan Elpidophoros offers the magnetic and helpful image of the "dialogue of life" he is creating as he revitalizes his communities in this now-Muslim land.
There is great beauty in the discovery of Christianity's long existence in the land we now call history, and great tragedy — some of it enacted by Christians against other Christians. The two leaders of ancient orders we meet here are refreshingly hopeful and joyful — open, as Alberto Ambrosio says, to "what God creates, and still creates." They embody and illuminate the paradox that has long fascinated me: of the vibrant identities that flourish within the most profound interreligious encounter.