stdClass Object ( [image_intro] => [float_intro] => [image_intro_alt] => [image_intro_caption] => [image_fulltext] => [float_fulltext] => [image_fulltext_alt] => [image_fulltext_caption] => )
"I've learned to distinguish the Yunan (Greeks) in all the years I travel this route. Worshipers from Yunnanistan (Greece) never stop visiting Halki Theological School. They come all year round", said an old man, sitting beside us on the boat, on our way to Halki.
A strong sense of Greece
He was the first and the only Turk we heard pronouncing Halki with its Greek name, during our trip in Constantinople. No one else seemed to understand what this word meant.
"I suggest you walk up to the School so that you can enjoy the view and the scents of nature", Omer told us. And he immediately added: "It won't take more than fifteen minutes.
Most of the Greeks seem to be in a hurry and prefer horse carriages to go there, but they miss out on seeing the island's magic that way".
Truth be told, the climb uphill was not an easy task, but the School, which suddenly appeared in front of us after the last turn, compensated us by giving us a strong sense of Greece.
It is grand, but it doesn't weigh on you and it seems frugal and plain. It does not deviate from the unique Greek architecture, which constrains large sizes and make them look elegant and smaller.
Not a grain of dust
The School of Halki is very well preserved and it literally sparkles with cleanliness; there is not even a speck of dust inside it. Even though has been closed for 46 whole years, it is always ready for the great restart. The students who are going to sit on its magnificent desks and explore its legendary libraries are really lucky.
That which makes the School of Halki important, though, is not the amazing building it is housed in, but the purpose of its operation, which doesn't have much to do with the decimated Greek diaspora's spiritual needs, but mostly with the whole Orthodoxy's needs in general.
Even before 1984, when it was housed in an old and not at all durable wooden building, it was of the same importance for Orthodoxy. Its role is ecumenical and defined by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Even though limited in extent, the Patriarchate produces spiritual work of great range and importance.
For the previously mentioned work to be continued, people with high level of theological training are going to be needed. The School of Halki is the ideal incubator for these people. Its closing in 1971 was a great blow for Orthodoxy.
It will respond to the spirit of its time
During the dozens of years that the School of Halki has remained closed, important social and technological developments have occurred internationally. The Patriarchate has taken them seriously into account.
When it begins its operation once again, the School will be ready to face the contemporary challenges and its graduates won't be inferior at all concerning their training, against the graduates of the most important international universities.
The Patriarchate of Constantinople, which impresses with its active and non-pretext involvement in the contemporary humanitarian and ecological movements, will surely “infect” the School's future graduates with this mood for creative and innovating social initiatives.
The School's quality will be of a high academic level and will have a four-year course of study. It will be flexible and will apply modern educational programs, just as the times demand.
The School will be international and bilingual from the start; the classes will be both in Greek and in English. After so much international discussion about it, it can't be like any other school. It must definitely be distinguished and respond to the spirit of its time. By teaching only in one language it can't be distinguished.
The School of Halki won't be different from the other theology schools only for its international character, but also for its approach of orthodoxy as an ecumenical value. This School used to be and it will always be, ecumenical by DNA; that has always been its difference from the other theology schools. It always had an answer for every environment, whether it was Orthodox or Muslim.
Exceptional construction's quality
Another issue is the building's static adequacy, due to the increased seismicity of the area of Constantinople and Princes' Islands. Fortunately, scientists from Thessaloniki University undertook the gratis study of the School's building infrastructure and found it in a good condition, which proves the construction's exceptional quality.
It should be noted that the School's wooden building, which used to stand in the same location, was completely wrecked, by a terrible earthquake in 1984.
After that disaster, a benefactor, Pavlos Stefanovic took over the cost of the new building's construction under the supervision of architect Pericles Photiades. It was built within 18 months.
Very few Greeks
The School of Halki is not just an educational institution, but also a monastery, which offers both spiritual and real food to its exhausted visitors, such us ourselves. At the end of our visit, the monks offered us a marvellous meal of chickpea soup, halvah and olives. We ate with a great appetite and left in order to catch the boat to Constantinople.
As we were walking up the green hill to the island's port we could see the beautiful Prigkipos on the other side, the fourth and last one in the row of Princes' Islands.
When we entered Halki village we stopped for a while outside some empty Greek houses that our friend Omer had shown us this morning. As he had told us: "I nostalgically remember the Yunnan who used to live on the island. It hasn’t been very long since we used to hear only their voices in the streets. Today, almost all the residents of Halki are Kurdish. The Greeks are very few".
Into all Greek hearts
On our way back, the boat passed very close to Constantinople's hill, where Hagia Sophia stands. It was raining and it seemed blurry and sad behind the haze. We were looking at its skyline, silent and depressed, feeling a tightness in our hearts. That image is in some strange way settled into all Greek hearts, even in those of people who have never travelled to Constantinople.
The Turkish passengers of the boat didn't look at Hagia Sophia or anywhere else. They were only trying to calm down their countless children, who were running around on the boat's deck. The Turks have lots of children and their number has significantly increased. Sometimes we even thought they were uncountable.
TEXT-PHOTOS: GEORGE ZAFEIROPOULOS