Perhaps the reason the island of Heybeliada is internationally-known is the controversy surrounding Halki Seminary (Θεολογική Σχολή Χάλκης), which sits on a hill just above town. It’s the main school of theology for the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Unfortunately, because of a Turkish government ruling that all private universities must be affiliated with a state-run university, the seminary has not been allowed to hold classes since 1971. Several high-profile international efforts by human rights groups and foreign governments to urge Turkey into reopening the seminary based on the basic human right of freedom of religion have thus far failed to make progress.
I visit the seminary on a brisk March afternoon with Isaac. We biked up the hill to the gates where the attendant immediately came out to question why we were there. I spoke to him in Greek and asked if it was ok for us to walk around. He let us pass and told us to take as much time as we wanted.
Located on the site of the former Holy Trinity Monastery dating back to the 9th century, the seminary was founded in 1844. The original school buildings were destroyed in an earthquake in 1894 but rebuilt by architect Periklis Fotiadis in 1896.
The attendant let us walk the grounds and go into the main building, but only on the ground floor. Inside the main entrance is the grand staircase. We weren’t able to visit the dormitories or the library, which contains a collection over 120,000 historic books.
Down a long, dark hallway, we were able to peek into some classrooms. Exactly 990 graduates studied in these rooms, including Ecumenical Patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, scholars, and other clergy. The classrooms are set up exactly as they were in 1971, waiting for students to someday return.
Behind the main building is a small chapel. When you turn around and look at the seminary, a plaque from 1844 sits above the doors.
Before leaving the complex, we noticed a reminder that the Turkish government is always looming over the seminary. As required by Turkish law, a bust of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and the Turkish flag were placed on the grounds.