Christian Orthodox Society Antakya (Antioch) / Turkey

 

Antakya (ancient Antioch) is regarded as the second most important center of the Christian world after Jerusalem and holds an important place in the Christian tradition. The Christian Arab community living in the center of Antakya is estimated to have 1200 members today. All citizens of the Turkish Republic, most members of the community conduct their worship and rituals at the church in Arabic. They also read the Bible in Arabic.

After a fifty-day Lent, during which Christians fast or give up certain luxuries, the community festively celebrates Easter. On the last week of Lent, a different ritual is enacted at the Church every day. The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the Messiah’s arrest, prosecution, and crucifixion are among these. In addition, we find some of the traces of the local culture in these events. The most important one of these is the scattering of laurel leaves (the daphne or bay tree, which is an important plant in the region and has a mythological tale) on the community on Holy Saturday. With this ritual, the bay tree and its leaves are blessed. 

Easter begins before the sun rises. With the candles lit with the holy fire brought from Jerusalem, the Easter prayer begins and the celebrations continue in the garden. The sun begins to rise just as the service ends.  

In 2013, this work was selected among the best 100 stories in the project The Other Hundred, organized in Hong Kong by the Global Institute For Tomorrow (GIFT) and was published in a photography book along with the other stories. The objective of the project was to present to the rest of the world the stories of the unspoken quiet majority. The same year, This work was awarded the "Humanity Photo Award" in the category of “Traditional Rites” organized in China by UNESCO and CFPA in 2013.

 

Between 2005 and 2014, I traveled to the area to observe and photograph the religious services of this community of nearly 1200 people living in Antakya.  Over time, I became friends with some of them. Father Sami, the old priest of the church, was one of them.  The last time we were together was in 2012, when I visited Antakya for the Easter celebrations. He once went into the church in my arm. Dressed in his ceremonial garb, he sat with the members of the congregation and recited a few prayers from hi seat. “My brain is no longer dominating my body Aydýn Bey,” he told me.

Upon hearing of his passing, I found a bus ticket and reached Antakya from Ýstanbul after a fifteen-hour ride. His body was sent to the morgue of the Church.

As a clergyman that served his church for 60 years, he held an instrumental place in the lives of the community members living in Antakya. He married them, baptized them, helped reconcile them.

For me, Father Sami was a friend I made through photography. I visited his house every time I traveled to Antakya to talk. As a friend, I had to fulfill my final duty to him. This also gave me an opportunity to photograph a different ritual. 

This work was awarded the "Humanity Photo Award" in the category of “Traditional Rites” organized in China by UNESCO and CFPA in 2015.

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