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The Halki seminary, formally the Theological School of Halki (Greek: Θεολογική Σχολή Χάλκης and Turkish: Ortodoks Ruhban Okulu), was founded on 1 October 1844 on the island of Halki (Turkish: Heybeliada), the second-largest of the Princes' Islands in the Sea of Marmara. It was the main school of theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church's Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople until the Turkish parliament enacted a law banning private higher education institutions in 1971. The theological school is located at the top of the island's Hill of Hope, on the site of the Byzantine-era Monastery of the Holy Trinity. The premises of the school continue to be maintained by the monastery and are used to host conferences. It is possible to visit the island where it is located via boat in approximately one hour from the shore of Istanbul. An international campaign to reopen this theological school is ongoing, as noted by American Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland in the United States Congress during the 2nd Session of Proceedings and Debates of the 111th Congress.
The seminary is located on the site of the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, founded by Patriarch Photius I almost a thousand years before the foundation of the theological school. During Ottoman rule the monastery fell into disrepair. In 1844, Patriarch Germanos IV converted the monastery into a school of theology, which was inaugurated on 1 October 1844. All the buildings, except for the 17th-century chapel, were destroyed by the 1894 Istanbul earthquake, but were rebuilt by architect Periklis Fotiadis and inaugurated on 6 October 1896. These buildings were also renovated in the 1950s.
When established in 1844, the school had seven grades, four high school level and three higher level (theological grades). In 1899, the high school division was dissolved and the school functioned as an academy with five grades. In 1923, on the establishment of the Turkish Republic, the seven-grade system was restored (4 high school + 3 higher level). In 1951, it was changed to 3 high school + 4 higher level.
The facilities include the Chapel of the Holy Trinity, sports and recreational institutions, dormitories, an infirmary, a hospice, offices, and the school's library with its historic collection of books, journals, and manuscripts. The library contains over 120,000 books.
There have been 990 graduates of the theological school and many have become priests, bishops, archbishops, scholars, and patriarchs. Many former students are buried in the grounds of the school. Orthodox Christians from around the world have attended and graduated from the theological school and the alumni are distributed around the world.
In 1971, parts of the Private University Law were ruled unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court of Turkey, which ruled that all private colleges must be affiliated with a state-run university; subsequently all private institutions of higher education either became part of state universities or closed down. It was stated in Article 130 of the Turkish Constitution of 1961 that:
Foundations are allowed to establish nonprofit colleges that are under state supervision and inspections.
However, Article 132 stated that:
Only the Turkish Armed Forces and police are allowed to open private colleges.
The seminary section of the Halki school was closed down and although the high school remains open the Turkish government no longer permits students to attend it. The school is currently only used for conferences, including the International Environmental Symposium.
Risks to the Seminary
In November 2007, the 17th-century Chapel of Our Lord's Transfiguration at the Halki seminary, which had survived the June 1894 earthquake, was almost totally demolished by Forest Guards of the Turkish forestry authority. There was no advance warning given for the demolition work, organised by the Turkish government, and it was only stopped after appeals by the Ecumenical Patriarch.
Campaign to reopen the seminary
The Halki seminary has received international attention in recent years. In October 1998, both houses of the United States Congress passed resolutions that supported the reopening of Halki. The European Union has also raised the issue as part of its negotiations over Turkish accession to the EU. US President Bill Clinton visited Halki on his visit to Turkey in 1999 and urged Turkish President Süleyman Demirel to allow the reopening of the school.
Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthens the state, which is why steps like reopening the Halki Seminary will send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond. An enduring commitment to the rule of law is the only way to achieve the security that comes from justice for all people."
Commentators have noted that while the Turkish government may outwardly seem willing to reopen the seminary, actual moves to do so are not underway because of internal political obstacles. Arrangements for reopening necessitate constitutional amendments, which may be used as a tool by opposition parties to fuel nationalist rhetoric.
In 2010, a journalist of the Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman asked officials at the Ecumenical Patriarchate if there were any plans to take the issue to the European Court of Human Rights. Patriarchate officials responded that they did not want to pursue that course of action. However, Patriarch Bartholomew has indicated that they may well have to if there is no progress towards the re-opening of the theological school.
In March 2012, a meeting occurred in South Korea between Prime Minister Erdoğan of Turkey, and President Barack Obama of the United States. In this meeting, Prime Minister Erdoğan indicated to President Obama that Halki Seminary would be reopened as part of Turkey's efforts to protect religious minorities.
In January 2013, the Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman published news that the Council of Foundations returned 190 hectares (470 acres) to the Aya Triada Monastery Foundation, which is the owner of Halki Seminary. At the time, this was the largest return of immovable property to a minority within the Turkish nation. Most of the property which was returned included forested land around the seminary.
On 30 January 2013, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote to the Ecumenical Patriarchate affirming support for the reopening of Halki and linking its continued existence to religious freedoms and inter-ethnic dialogue in Turkey and the Islamic world:
Together, we have done a great deal to promote inter-religious and inter-ethnic understanding and to raise the profile of religious freedom issues in Turkey and beyond.
You are an inspiration to many with your contributions to the rich tradition of religious diversity in Turkey. I look forward to the day when Halki Seminary will reopen its doors as a shining symbol of religious freedom.
After a meeting on 25 April 2018 with Erdogan and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I stated that he is "optimistic" after both Erdogan and Cavusoglu "assured him that the School would soon reopen". In February 2019, for the first time, active Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, visited Halki on his visit to Turkey and urged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to allow the reopening of the school and the next time to visit the Halki seminary together.
In the history of the theological school there have been 990 graduates in total. The alumni include:
- Saint Chrysostomos of Smyrna
- Saint Raphael of Brooklyn
- Antim I
- Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople
- Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios I of Constantinople
- Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople
- Ecumenical Patriarch Constantine VI of Constantinople
- Ecumenical Patriarch Germanus V of Constantinople
- Ecumenical Patriarch Maximus V of Constantinople
- Patriarch Parthenius III of Alexandria
- Archbishop Chrysanthus of Athens
- Archbishop Spyridon of Athens
- Archbishop Spyridon of America
- Archbishop Michael of America
- Archbishop Iakovos of America
- Archbishop Stylianos of Australia and Exarch of Oceania
- Cornelius of Petra
- Christoforos Knitis
- Makarios II
- Ioakeim Martianos
- Metropolitan Nikiforos of Didymoteicho, Orestiada and Soufli
- Metropolitan Panteleimon of Belgium
- Theophylactos Papathanasopoulos
- Panteleimon Kotokos
- Nikolaos Xexakis
- Commander opposed Halki Seminary reopening over fears Archived 22 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine Today's Zaman, 21 January 2011.
- H. CON. RES. 50 United States, House of Representatives, 28 March 1995.
- The Holy Theological School of Halki Archived 26 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine Ecumenical Patriarchate, Patriarchate.org
- Theological School of Halki, Hon. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland Archived 17 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine Commission on Security & Cooperation in Europe, U.S. Helsinki Commission, Proceedings and Debates of the 111th Congress, 2nd Session.
- The never ending story of Halki Theological Seminary reopening HurriyetDailyNews.com
- Arınç says legal barriers will be overcome to open Greek seminary Archived 25 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine Today's Zaman, 4 January 2011.
- Halki Theological School Graduates Association Archived 26 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine EstiaHalkis.org
- PM Erdogan asserts Turks rights in Greece in return for Halki Seminary Hurriyet Daily News, 4 January 2010.
- Gov’t seeking delicate balance in regards to patriarch’s rights Archived 20 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine Today's Zaman, 19 January 2011.
- Renewed Persecution of Theological School of Halki Archived 13 June 2010 at the Wayback Machine Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Press Release, 3 November 1998.
- Renewed Persecution of the Theological School of Halki Archived 13 June 2010 at the Wayback Machine Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Orthodox Observer, 5 November 1998.
- Board of Trustees of the Patriarchal Theological School of Halki to be restored Archived 13 June 2010 at the Wayback Machine Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Press Release, 25 November 1998.
- Halki’s Chapel of the Transfiguration left in ruins AsiaNews.it, 17 November 2007
- Monastery on Halki wrecked Kathimerini, English Edition, 16 November 2007.
- Halki’s Chapel of the Transfiguration almost destroyed by forest guards Vaticans.org, 17 November 2007.
- Clinton criticizes Turkey for shrinking Christian population Archived 1 May 2010 at the Wayback Machine Xinhuanet.com from Chinaview.cn, 3 November 2009.
- Remarks by President Obama to Turkish Parliament Archived 8 February 2011 at the Wayback Machine America.gov, 6 April 2009.
- Address of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the Dinner Honoring Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew Archived 15 April 2013 at Archive.today Patriarchate.org, 5 November 2009.
- Clinton echoes Obama’s call to reopen Halki Archived 13 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine Today's Zaman, 7 November 2009.
- No easy formula for resolving Halki seminary issue Archived 13 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine Today's Zaman, 30 Jun 2009.
-  White House, 25, March 2012.
- 190 hectares of forest given back to Halki Seminary Archived 11 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine Today's Zaman, 10 Jan 2013.
- http://www.amen.gr/article13079, Hillary Clinton's Letter to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew 30 January 2013
- . The Greek Observer http://thegreekobserver.com/greece/religion/article/42440/bartholomew-halki-theological-school-will-be-opened-soon/. Missing or empty
- "Alexis Tsipras visits Hagia Sophia and the Orthodox Seminary of Halki". ERT, 6 Feb 2019.
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