Saint Paul's Journey through Cyprus
Program coordinator: Savvas Prastitis
We trace the steps of the Apostle Paul, visiting the places where he travelled and preached. In his own account, Paul, though not a member of Jesus’ inner circle, took on the apostolic mantle after receiving a divine call. He possessed three attributes that made him ideal for the role. First, his Jewish heritage, to which he owed his tenacity and fighting spirit. Second, his classical greek education, to which he owed his intellectual gifts. Third, his Roman citizenship, a status that afforded freedom of movement throughout the vast Roman empire, then coterminous with the known world.
In 45 AD Apostles Paul and Barnabas and Mark travelled from Antioch to Silesia, then boarded a ship to Cyprus. They docked at Salamis, the largest port on the island at the time (Acts 13:5).
In Paphos their preachings eventually persuaded the Roman Proconsul to embrace the christian faith, making Cyprus the first country in history to be ruled by a christian.
Visitors are picked up at the airport and shuttled to the hotel in Larnaca.
The program commences in the town of Deryneia with a virtual tour of two sites of signal historical importance: the ancient remains of Salamis and the Saint Barnabas Monastery, the latter erected at the location where he and fellow Apostles Mark and Barnabas first docked in 45 AD. Both ancient Salamis and the Saint Barnabas Monastery have been under occupation by Turkish Troops since 1974. The venue of the presentation is the Famagusta Municipal Cultural Centre, based in Deryneia, which has a view of Famagusta, a ghost town since the 1974 invasion.
The tour continues with visits to three churches. First, to the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin, a fifteenth century construction that features a beautifully carved wooden iconostasis (itself was made in 1911) bearιing icons of eighteenth century vintage or older. Then on to the Church of Saint George, built at the turn of the sixteenth century. This is a byzantine style construction that features a dome. An exquisitely carved gold-plated iconostasis crafted in the sixteenth century separates its sanctuary from the nave. Under an arch on its north-facing wall, adjacent to the iconostasis, is a large mural of Saint George on horseback, surrounded by images depicting scenes from his martyrdom. The third temple is the Church of Saint Modestos, the patron saint of livestock.
Next stop, the Agia Napa Medieval Museum, the drive to which takes visitors through Protaras and Prophetis Helias resorts. A tour of the facility will be followed by a short presentation by program coordinator Savvas Prastitis.
A traditional lunch at the town of Sotira is next on the agenda. Sufficiently nourished, visitors will then be given a tour of churches and other notable sights in Sotira.
Rest, dinner, and recreation at the hotel–and around Larnaca–bring a busy day to an end.
First stop of day 3, the Monastery of the Virgin of Machairas, which houses an icon of the Virgin attributed to Saint Luke the Evangelist. Legend has it that a hermit whose identity remains unknown brought the icon from Asia Minor during the age of iconoclasm (between the eighth and ninth centuries). The hermit retreated to a cave in the mountains of Machairas. In 1145 AD, hermits Neophytos and Ignatios reached the very spot and found the cave covered in shrubbery. When a knife materialized before them, they cut their way through the shrubbery and recovered the icon. Hence the name “Machairiotissa” (machairi is the greek word for knife). A monastery bearing the same name was later built on that site and remains one of the three monasteries in Cyprus that have the distinction of being stauropegic (accountable directly to the Patriarchate and not to the local Church authorities).
The Church of Saint Thekla comes next in the village of Mosfiloti–reportedly an endowment by Saint Helen, who visited Cyprus in the fourth century AD. Upon reaching the area, a lack of drinking water prompted her to pray to God to ask that He quench the thirst of everyone present. Soon thereafter, water sprang from the ground. Hence, the motivation to build a church on that very spot dedicated to Saint Thekla, an early christian martyr and equal-to-the-Apostles. The holy water is kept inside the premises and often used by the faithful to treat skin ailments.
Next stop of the day, the Stavrovouni Monastery, located at the top of an isolated mountain, with splendid views in every direction. The mountain’s original name was Olympus. During the Frankish era the name “Mount of the Holy Cross” gained currency, which later, during the Ottoman era, morphed into Stavrovouni (a contraction of the earlier term). It was another fourth century endowment by Saint Helen, mother of Constantine the Great. She transited Cyprus on her way back to Constantinople from the Holy Land (where she reportedly discovered the Holy Cross). Following a divine revelation, Saint Helen went to the peak of Olympus, destroyed the existing pagan temple dedicated to Zeus, and erected the original christian temple, bequeathing it the Cross of the Good Thief, one of the nails of the Crucifixion, and a fragment of the Holy Cross. The temple soon thereafter became a monastery, and its monks the custodians of the relics. These days the brotherhood that resides in the monastery numbers about thirty and is known for its piety. A spectacular ceremony is held yearly on September 14, the day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Please note that women are not allowed on its premises.
Moving on to the Church of Panagia Angelokristi, which features sixth century mosaics in its arch, one of which depicting the Virgin holding an infant Jesus and flanked by Archangels Michael and Gabriel. The building was erected in the eleventh century AD atop the ruins of a paleochristian fifth century basilica. According to local lore, the builders were denizens of ancient Kition whom the Arab raids had forced inland. When they reached the area, they decided to build a church in honor of the Virgin. During the construction process, they woke up every morning to find that the foundations somehow had shifted to a different location the night before. It soon became apparent to them, it is told, that a troop of angels had taken it upon themselves to complete the construction, keeping a nightly working schedule: hence the name Angeloktisti (built by angels). The church’s interior is adorned with important thirteenth century murals as well as several icons from different eras.
A lunch at a beachfront restaurant (with a lighthouse completing the scenery) comes before a visit to the Church of Saint Lazarus, built in the tenth century and housing the Saint’s tomb and remains. According to biblical accounts, Saint Lazarus came to Cyprus following his resurrection in 33 AD and met with Apostles Paul and Barnabas, who later bestowed upon him the office of Bishop of Kition. His tomb, as well as other related findings from archaeological excavations of the site, can be seen inside a crypt on the church premises.
Final stop of the day, the Larnaca Castle, one of the three the grandest structures of its day (the other two were the harbor fortifications and the Saint Lazarus Church), and for centuries the first line of defense against pirates and invaders.
After a walk along the Larnaca promenade, it’s back to the hotel for rest and dinner.
The day begins with a visit to Saint John’s Cathedral in Nicosia, on the grounds of the Archbishop’s Palace. The temple was built in 1662, a revamp project of an earlier temple dedicated to Saint John ‘Pipi’ (an affectionate term originating from the arabic word habib, meaning “to love”). Program coordinator Savvas Prastitis will deliver a short presentation on the history and significance of the temple.
The Byzantine Museum is up next, which contains an extensive collection of Byzantine art recovered at sites throughout the island.
Also in the vicinity is the Folk Art Museum, with a collection of hand-made exhibits in an astonishing range of traditional crafts such as weaving, pottery, embroidery, metalwork, woodwork, leatherwork and tailoring.
Moving along, visitors will be taken to the National Struggle Museum, an institution that honors the island’s anti-colonial uprising in the second half of the 1950s.
From there, visitors will be taken to three historically significant temples situated in close proximity: first, the Church of the Archangel Michael Trypiotis, in a parish that has been densely populated since the Frankish era; the second one is the Church of Saint Savvas, whose two icons depicting Saint George Exorinos and Saint Phanourios respectively are believed by the pious to have miraculous powers; the third one is the Church of Panagia Phaneromeni, built in 1872, the largest in Nicosia for several decades, and the resting place of a group bishops and other clerics summarily executed by the Ottoman authorities in 1821.
A light lunch at a local establishment will give visitors the necessary energy boost for the drive to the town of Athienou, where they will get to see two temples built in 1880, one dedicated to Saint George, the other to Saint Phocas.
Rest and dinner back at the hotel in Larnaca bring the day to a close.
The day begins with a visit to the Church of Panagia Chrysospiliotissa (Our Lady of the Golden Cave) in the Tamassos area. It was built inside a cave that formed part of a network of hermetic dwellings. It is adorned with murals of twelfth-thirteenth century origins as well as an icon of the Virgin that was recovered under circumstances that suggest divine intervention; it is believed by the devout to have the power to induce rain.
The Saint Iraklidios Convent is the next stop, built in honor of the first person that the Apostles Paul and Barnabas proselytized on their original mission, and the first ordained bishop in the Church’s history. He is buried on the premises and his tomb features intricate mosaics. The convent was founded during the early Byzantine period (330-350 AD). Vasili Barsky, a Russian monk who visited the convent in 1735, found its surrounds to be a true oasis, complete with low forested mountains, streams, vineyards, orchards and livestock. Barsky also reports the existence of three sarcophagi in the convent’s medieval mausoleum, those of Bishops Iraklidios, Mnasonas and Rodonas.
Next stop on the day’s itinerary is a visit to the Tamassos and Orini Diocese for a look at the exhibits and relics kept at the on-site museum, followed by a short presentation by program coordinator Savvas Prastitis and a meeting with Bishop Isaiah.
Then on to the Saint Nicholas Convent in its very scenic countryside setting in the village of Orounta. Built in the sixteenth century, it houses an icon of New Martyr Philoumenos of Jacob’s Well, who was born in Orounta. The convent has been the frequent target of pillaging at the hands of the island’s many colonial masters. One such raid shortly after the Ottoman conquest claimed the life of the Abbot, who was thrown in a well. The Turks subsequently used the property in a utilitarian fashion–its chambers were converted to livestock pens and the surrounding fields were cultivated. Later, they sold it to a monk by the name of Paisios, a man from the village of Nikitari, who in turn donated it to the Kerynia Diocese. In 1973 the convent came under the jurisdiction of the Morphou Diocese and in 1994 underwent extensive renovation as part of a local regeneration initiative.
After lunch at Orounta, visitors will be taken to the village of Meniko to visit the Church of Saint Cyprian. There, the pastor will give a reading of Saint Cyprian’s prayer, believed to ward off the evil eye.
A long day ends back at the hotel with rest, dinner and recreation.
The Kykkos Monastery is first on the day’s agenda, one of three on the island with stauropegic status. A chance for a viewing of the icon of the Virgin holding the infant Jesus (Panagia Eleousa) attributed to Saint Luke the Evangelist will be followed by a visit to the Kykkos Museum and a short discussion headed by the program coordinator Savvas Prastitis on stauropegic monasteries in Cyprus.
Then on to Palaichori and the Church of the Transfiguration of the Savior, whose late Byzantine frescoes have put it on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list since 2000. The building itself is a sixteenth century construction while its collection of frescoes an Italo-Byzantine hybrid, a perfect illustration of the infusion of Western European stylistic elements in native religious art during the days of Venetian rule.
The Byzantine Heritage Museum of Palaichori is next, before the Church of the Holy Cross in the village of Pelendri, another site with UNESCO recognition. A short presentation entitled “The Church of Cyprus during the early christian centuries” will be given by the program coordinator on the church grounds before visitors get a chance to inspect the unique architecture of the edifice and the icons adorning its interior, both of twelfth century vintage.
Lunch at Pelendri gives visitors the energy for the trip to the Monastery of Timios Prodromos in Mesa Potamos, an area deep in the Troodos forest. It too has twelfth century origins.
The Monastery of Christ the Counsellor is next, an institution whose roots go back to the turn of the seventh century, making it one of the oldest on the island.
Back at the hotel in Larnaca the day comes to a close with rest and dinner.
Going west on day 7 to the Paphos district. First on the list, the Church of Panagia Chrysopolitissa, the scene of Apostle Paul’s flogging prior to the island’s christianization.
Then on to the Mansion of Theseus, a short walk from the Paphos harbor. It features exceptional mosaics depicting several mythological episodes. The Mansion is thought to have been the residence of the Roman Proconsul Paulus Sergius, who eventually embraced Paul’s teachings and abandoned paganism for christianity.
The Paphos Diocese is next and its Byzantine Museum.
A break for a meal will be followed by a visit to the Saint Neophytos Monastery, near the village of Tala. The Monastery was founded in 1159 by Saint Neophytos. He lived and preached in the area until his death in 1219 at the age of 85. The main temple on the site was built about 200 years after his death and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
On the way back, a stop at Geroskipou for an opportunity to see the temple of Saint Paraskevi.
Rest and dinner back at the hotel conclude another full day.
Visitors will be shuttled to the airport.