MACKA, Turkey — Orthodox Christians held the first Mass in almost 90 years at an ancient monastery on the side of a Turkish mountain Sunday, after the government allowed worship there in a gesture toward religious minorities.
At least 1,500 pilgrims, including from Greece and Russia, traveled to the Byzantine-era monastery of Sumela for the service led by Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians.
The Islamic-oriented government, which is aiming to expand freedoms as part of its bid to join the European Union, has said worship can take place at the monastery once a year. Services were previously banned.
The symbolic event was also likely to boost reconciliation efforts between Turkey and Greece, two NATO allies that came to the brink of war three times between 1974 and 1996 over the ethnically divided island of Cyprus and territorial rights in the Aegean Sea.
Sumela, a spectacular structure cut into the side of a mountain, was abandoned around the time of Turkey's foundation in 1923. The last Mass was held a year earlier amid conflict between Turks and Greeks. The remote site near the Black Sea has become a big tourist draw in the last few decades.