The (Lutheran) Church of Norway says two of its representatives were due to be present at a court case hearing on 11 February regarding the future of one of the world's most ancient monasteries, Mor Gabriel in eastern Turkey.
The future of the ancient Syrian Orthodox monastery, with traditions going back to the 5th century, is expected to be determined by a court sitting near Midyat in eastern Turkey.
The Church of Norway will be represented by its general secretary, the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, and attorney Helge Aarseth. Tveit will act for the World Council of Churches and Aarseth will represent the Geneva-based Lutheran World Federation, the Church of Norway said in a statement on 10 February.
The hearing is expected clarify the outcome of a series of ongoing legal processes that concern the right to properties cultivated by the monastery for 1600 years. The court case concerns a conflict which involves the monastery over against local land owners and the Turkish government regarding rights to confiscate the land in question.
The case has attracted international attention, particularly among European churches. The purpose of the presence of church representatives is to show solidarity with the Syrian Orthodox Christians, said the Church of Norway.
"It is also important to let the Turkish authorities know that the world is paying attention to this development and that obligations of human rights must be respected," said the church in its statement.
"If Mor Gabriel disappears, this will mean the end not only of one of the world's oldest monasteries, but also of the last significant remnant of Syrian Orthodox presence in Turkey," said the Church of Norway.
The Conference of European Churches had in December criticised what it said was Turkey's lack of legal protection for churches, and called on European institutions to protect the monastery.
"The Conference of European Churches is deeply concerned about the threat to the survival of the monastery," said the Rev. Rüdiger Noll, director of CEC's Church and Society Commission and associate general secretary of the grouping of about 120 European churches, principally Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox. "CEC invites political leaders to do everything in their power to protect the continued existence of the monastery."
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]