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Statement on Murder, Fire and Robbery at Shrine of St. Therapon of Patriarchate

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Jan 17, 1998


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For Immediate Release:

Statement of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and General Facts Surrounding the Murder, Fire and Robbery at the Shrine of Saint Therapon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

January 17, 1998

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America expresses its grave concern over the murder of the Greek Orthodox custodian of the Shrine of St. Therapon in Istanbul. Vasilios Haviaropoulos, the father of a Greek Orthodox Priest of the Ecumenical Patriarchate was found murdered and the Church plundered and vandalized this past week. Below is a description of the events which the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has ascertained.

On Monday, January 12, 1998, at about 5:00 p.m. (10:00 a.m. EST)) the Patriarchate was informed that a fire had broken out at the historic Agiasma (Shrine) of St. Therapon, which is located in the Sirceci district of Istanbul in the vicinity of Hagia Sophia.

His Eminence Metropolitan Meliton of Philadelphia, Chief Secretary of the Holy and Sacred Synod, accompanied by members of the Patriarchate, went immediately to the Shrine. The fire department had already arrived, broken the lock on the doors and was in the process of extinguishing the fire. Clouds of smoke poured from the doors of the Shrine.

After about half an hour, and after the windows on the other floors of the building had shattered, the fire was extinguished. The members of the Patriarchate entered the Shrine and verified that eight holy icons, a holy Gospel Book and a blessing cross were missing. The authorities proceeded to seal the door of the Shrine and everyone departed the premises.

It should be noted that His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW was immediately notified, as was the Grand Chancellor of the Patriarchate.

Inasmuch as the doors forced open by the fire department had been locked from the outside, no one noticed that the sacred well of the Shrine had been shut.

Around 10:30 p.m., the Rev. Fr. Iakovos Haviaropoulos, the son of Mr. Vasilios Haviaropoulos, the custodian of the Shrine, arrived at the Patriarchate with his brother-in-law and another friend. He explained to Metropolitan Meliton that his father had not returned home that evening. They had checked at nearly all the hospitals, but to no avail. They asked the Patriarchate for help.

Metropolitan Meliton and the Grand Chancellor called upon the local police assigned to the Patriarchate. After about a half an hour of waiting, Metropolitan Meliton contacted the Istanbul General Director of Security on duty and requested that the police investigate the site of the Shrine for the whereabouts of Mr. Haviaropoulos.

A half an hour later a squad car arrived at the Patriarchate and took Metropolitan Meliton, the Grand Chancellor and other members of the Patriarchate to the Shrine. The police, with necessary permission from higher authorities, removed the seal and entered the Shrine.

The Shrine was searched throughout, but no one was found. One of the Patriarchal staff asked that the area where the candles (paraffin) and containers of olive oil (about 10) were stored be searched. They also found blood stains in front of the miracle-working icon of St. Therapon. The fire department had said they were drops of paint, but others maintained that it was blood mixed in a pool of water.

At that point, one of the Patriarchal staff asked that the sacred well of the Shrine be searched. At first the police were reluctant, supposing that the opening to the well was too small for a body to fit through. However, the police did summon the fire department to dig into the well. The first item discovered was a sweater, then shoes, and a pack of cigarettes. Finally the body of Mr. Haviaropoulos surfaced. His forehead had been visibly fractured.

At this point the crime squad was called in, fingerprints were taken and the District Attorney and coroner were summoned. After confirmation of the death of Mr. Haviaropoulos and further tests, an ambulance was called to remove his body. At the conclusion of the on-site investigation, the authorities ordered the Shrine to be sealed again and a guard was posted.

On the next day, January 13th, the son of the victim, Fr. Iakovos Haviaropoulos went to the coroner’s office, where he encountered discrepancies in the story he was told. One person told him that his father, fearing for his life, had probably tried to hide in the well and drowned. Fr. Iakovos rejected this explanation. Another coroner stated to Fr. Iakovos that his father had been murdered, and that before being murdered, his father’s hands and feet had been bound and that he had been tortured. Gashes were present on the victim’s forehead and rear of his skull, as well as bruises on his back. Results from the autopsy will determine whether Vasilios Haviaropoulos was murdered before being thrown into the well, or whether he ultimately died by drowning. The report has not been released as of this date. The funeral was held yesterday, January 16th, at 4:00 p.m. in the Church of St. Dimitrios the Great Martyr in Tataoula.

Such evidence points to the fact that this abhorrent and shocking event was premeditated. Robbery might have been a motive, but arson cannot be ruled out, inasmuch as the fire was started near a pile of paraffin and the plastic containers of olive oil.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate is shocked, grief-stricken and deeply concerned over this horrific crime. Coming a few short weeks since the bomb attack against the Patriarchate, this act of violence has left the remaining Greek Orthodox faithful in Istanbul emotionally shaken and traumatized.

His Eminence, Archbishop Spyridon of America voiced his deep personal regret and the sentiments of millions of Orthodox Christians throughout the United States over this despicable crime and the implications it might have for the Greek Orthodox Community of Istanbul and Turkey in general.

“We are deeply shocked and saddened by the murder of Mr. Haviaropoulos. Americans of Orthodox background expect that their fellow Christians will be protected in accordance with established international standards of law and order. We must insure that the religious, legal and basic human rights of all peoples are respected and properly observed. Justice for the least in any society is the true measure of justice for all. Our communities in Turkey may be small, but they are of great importance to hundreds of millions of their fellow human beings around the globe. We must work together to protect the vulnerable in our midst and guarantee the safety and liberty of every person.”


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