This weekend I was granted a fascinating glimpse into Greek Orthodox Easter at the Church of St. Nicolas in Yeniköy, Istanbul. Turkey’s Rum (Greek/Byzantine) community is the nation’s smallest minority, with a community of perhaps no more than 2000 people. Here the Rum Ortodoks church serves not only as an important spiritual adviser in life, but as a way of keeping community alive and strong.
As an outsider it was a true pleasure, to feel so welcome. The Turkish-Greek community have been granting me and my family a special welcome to such events, and seem happy to receive all whether they’re Orthodox or Catholic, Muslim, Jewish or any other denomination. Since my daughter, Sofia’s birth, however, I’ve felt a real desire to share the experiences of other minorities as much as possible here in Turkey, since she too is a minority citizen. I must admit, though, I feel a special closeness with the Rum community, perhaps in part because of Sofia’s name, and its Greek origin. For me the giving of a name has a special significance, and once a person is named, that meaning begins to shape that person’s existence.
One of the most special moments, in fact, was taking the portrait above. I was drawn to her luminous face immediately on Friday night’s reenactment of the funeral of Christ. She was the very first person I photographed. It was only later when my friend, Rea, properly introduced us that I learned her name was Sofia. Saturday morning I brought my own Sofia to meet her for the throwing of the daphne leaves. Young Sofia was at first intimidated by the deep bass voice of the priest and his hymns, but was later coaxed inside by some kindly women with breadsticks. Hugely entertaining too for her was the throwing of the daphne leaves.
Midnight Saturday events culminated with the lighting of candles. This was truly spectacular, and church numbers were swollen by attendees visiting from Greece. Whether you’re religious or not there’s something special on a nights like these. You can’t help but feel moved, connected, illuminated. It’s not simply the hymns and the rites, the faces of the faithful, the candles. It’s the sense of goodwill and the lightness which is almost tangible.
My hope is that this won’t be my last Easter with Turkey’s Greek community. The events of the last weekend are one more reason I feel so fortunate to be with my family in the here and now in Turkey. Happy Easter.