Orthodox churches in North Dakota are asking their state lawmakers to protest religious restraints on Christians by the government of Turkey.
The North Dakota Senate has yet to act on Senate Concurrent Resolution 4014, which asks the U.S. State Department and Turkish ambassador to forward the state's support for religious freedom to the Turkish government. Sen. Tim Mattern, D-Fargo, and Rep. Andrew Maragos, R-Minot, are sponsoring the resolution.
A Muslim country, Turkey does not recognize the position of the Ecumenical Patriarch as senior leader of the worldwide Orthodox Church. The government is requiring that only Turkish citizens vote in church elections. The government shut down a seminary, confiscated church property and prohibits priests from wearing clerical garments in public. Priests from abroad must go through a difficult process of obtaining work permits to operate in the country.
St. Peter’s Greek Orthodox Church is located at 109-6th St. SE in Minot.
Photo by Jill Schramm/MDN
"Turkey wants to be a modern nation and to be a part of the international community," said Father Igumen Anatassy with St. Peter's Orthodox Church in Minot. "Any kind of religious opposition is not acceptable any more in the modern world, in a civilized society."
Anatassy said the hope is that pressure on Turkey may persuade the government to restore freedom and re-open the seminary. He said a number of priests in America have been educated in the seminary in Turkey. Closure of the school has been a serious blow to the church.
The congregation of St. Peter's built its Minot church in the mid-1930s as a Greek Orthodox church. Another Orthodox church exists in Fargo. Both are members of the Orthodox Church in America. Ukrainian Orthodox churches in Wilton and Belfield no longer operate, although their ornate buildings remain.
Anatassy noted that persecution is not new to the church. Government domination over the Russian Orthodox church oppressed Christians in Russia for many years, he said. With the change in government and removal of controls, the Orthodox church has seen tremendous growth since 1990.