Harding University in Greece
The plane touches down in Larnaca, Cyprus, beginning our first excursion for the semester. Stavros, our bus driver, points toward Ancient Salamis to get on our way. We are on the left side of the road because of the British occupation. Our guide named Androulla is familiar to me and my family and is welcoming to all.
Androulla wishes for more rain in Cyprus this past winter, stating that the vacationing Europeans have been happy but the locals have wanted more water from the sky. She tells us of the Russians with the granted Cypriot nationality because of their housing investments here on the island. Androulla shares of the history of this country before the war of 1974, the results of which separate the northern Turkish occupied section from the southern Greek Cypriot section of the island. We see the villages alongside the road on our drive. Minarets and an Orthodox bell tower share the skyline only in one village. The rest of the island’s people live in separate communities according to their religion. We drive through Red Village, and we see the color of the soil. We could’ve guessed the name. Potatoes are exported to the UK from this village. Eucalyptus trees soak up the extra water on the nearby roadside. We are in the British neutral zone. We see a Turkish watch tower on the left and a Greek watch tower on the right. Since 1974, the two peoples are separate. There is no current hostile war; there is peaceful separation. The UN patrols. Peace is needed and kept. The Cypriot tourism is a thankful industry. The road signs have three languages: Greek, Turkish, and English.
We stop at the checkpoint and hand over our passports so that the Turkish border guards can see who is entering their territory. We pass by the deserted village of Famagusta. June 11 is the name day of Saint Barnabas, so Greek Cypriots are allowed to travel into this region only once a year to go to the Monastery of Saint Barnabas, which is our destination today. Off the bus, we stop at the chapel and descend into the tomb of Saint Barnabas.
Just a short stroll away is the Church of Saint Barnabas which has been named a museum of icons. We learn of the Greek Orthodox religion and its icons — where they are placed, what their words and symbols mean, and why they are important to the Greek Orthodox Christians.
Under the shade of a carab tree, we pause to discuss new Greek and Hebrew words already in our vocabulary and new people we’ve met and different ways of living that we’ve been exposed to so far. We’ve seen six flags so far just today: Greek, Turkey, Cyprus, Northern Cyprus, British, and the European Union. We’ll also soon see the Greek Orthodox flag. Acts 4:36 introduces us to Barnabas. We discuss Barnabas and his mission and contemplate his purpose of introducing the people who lived here to Jesus. We then enjoy the Lord’s supper together
Lunch is whole grilled fish -- a couple of us even eat the eyeball -- or chicken souvlaki with salad with local olive oil and potatoes. It hits the spot. Light and delicious, it’s perfect for the warm day we are experiencing. We eat on a balcony overlooking the sea. It’s the perfect first-meal in Cyprus. I think of my friend Mandy Jo whom I got to know last summer who shared this place with me when we first starting getting to know each other well. I miss her and her precious family daily. Harding has given me this: hosting students and faculty families, we get to build and enjoy relationships for years and years. When one lives (houses, eats, learns, travels) with others, it’s easy to get to know them. We cherish the relationships Harding has allowed us to form while serving as the directors of our campus in Greece. Now I think of all the families who have come through our program. These relationships are special gifts that I lovingly appreciate daily.
Ancient Salamis is next to the restaurant. We hear of the history and enter the site. The buildings date from the second century. The Hellenistic period ruins were rebuilt during the Roman times. We tour the pools, gymnasium, latrines, cisterns, and theater and learn about city life in this marble-filled ancient place.
We arrive in the modern town of Famagusta for an ice cream treat which gives us energy for the rest of the day. Here we visit the old gothic cathedral of the city which is now a mosque. A sign tells us to remove our shoes, so we do so and enter. As we stroll out of the church past a few shops, we hear the minor tones of the afternoon call to prayer.
We are certainly seeing, hearing, tasting, and experiencing new things today, our first day away from campus. We are doing just what we are supposed to do and processing how we may take in these various cultures with whom we come in contact. Emulating Jesus by viewing the world and His people as He does should mold the way we interact with people if we claim to be His. This is my prayer for all of us. May we be used by the Father however and whenever He desires.
Paphos is our destination today. The hazy blue of today’s sky, the yellow gold earth from the winter’s lack of rains, and the green of olive and carab trees are the colors we see as we are driving west. The only bright color along the roadside is the hardy oleander’s pink, reminding me of Greece, as it will from now on, as long as I have life on earth. Like in some places in the southern United States, the oleander can handle the dry climate here in the Mediterranean. It is everywhere throughout this region.
We pass through another British base area. The homes have a sea view on one side and a mountain view on the other. There are a few lilac trees dotting the land. The houses are built in the Colonial style, each one having at least two chimneys on either end — a few have a third in the middle — and pointed terra cotta tiled rooftops instead of flat Greek roofs. The base town is fenced and neat and tidy without debris, as one expects of the English people
Neon green white grape vines are scattered along the way on my right. Hay bales are gathered in the golden fields on my left. The mountains look dry and rugged with shrubbery, as do the mountains in the Attica region of Greece where we live. Each country’s climate, land, and crops is similar.
The Tombs of the Kings sits at the seaside of Paphos. They were used during the Hellenistic and Ptolemaic periods. We learn that Alexander the Great’s kingdom was divided upon his death. Some Ptolemites took over the island, so there are really no kings buried here but high government officials. The architecture of the tombs is like that of kings of Alexandria; thus, the name is for the kings.
On our walk to the tombs we pass wild capers, rosemary, and thyme. Someone remarks that we just lack olive oil for a quick salad. I see a pomegranate tree to my left. After a time of exploration in the tombs, we are off to see the pillar of St. Paul.
We see the early Christian basilica that was used from the 4th to the 7th century. After reconstructions, it is still used today. We find a shady spot and discuss the beatings, shipwreck, and hardships that Paul endured during the time of the strength of the Roman Empire. We are seated under a tree, near a column said to be where Paul was tied and beaten. Philippians 3 was written during a time of house arrest (Acts 28). In verse 4, Paul establishes his Jewish heritage and self-discipline. He then goes on to the greatness of Christ as compared to man’s keeping the Law. He references Christ’s suffering of which Paul received more suffering than I will ever have to endure.
Lunch is along the seafront at Paphos. The nearby House of Dionysos’s floors are made of mosaics decorating the public areas of the house. We do not know the owner of this home from the 3rd century BC. But we do know that he had wealth and was of influence in this area.
On the way back to the hotel we stop at the Rock of Aphrodite. A couple of us swim and jump from the rock. The rest wade and enjoy the sunshine. A snack of watermelon is sweet and makes us cool.
The Church of Saint Lazarus, which was built in 890 A.D. in Larnaca, ancient Kition, welcomes us this morning. Three flags fly above the Byzantine church. The Greek Orthodox Church flag, the Greek flag, and the Cypriot flag which has the country outline with two olive branches underneath, symbolizing the two different cultures living in peace.
The cross of Jerusalem is carved on the door — the big one in the middle represents Jesus, and the four others in each corner represent the four gospels. We see this special cross in Bethlehem each time we visit. This is a three-aisle church, a three-dome church, and a three-entrance/exit church.
As we walk inside, we see people paying for candles, placing them in the sand after lighting them, offering their prayers, and crossing themselves three times. They move to kiss the gold-framed icons, paying their respect. Our guide explains the relics’, icons’, and lights’ meanings and tells the story of Lazarus and what he did in this area after Jesus raised him from the dead. She also explains that there is no singing and no musical instruments, only chanters who, to me, sound as if they sing throughout the Orthodox service in minor tones. Ostrich eggs, holding the lights, represent the Church looking after the congregation. Above the ironostasion, is always the cross, oftentimes leaning down toward the people. Jesus and Mary are on either side of the cross, the twelve apostles are below, and the twelve most important scenes are below.
We take a seat on the high-backed, red velvet chairs and read together the story of Lazarus from John 11. Jesus predicted that Lazarus’s illness will not end in death. He knew. He already knew the beginning, middle, and ending of the call of Lazarus because He was the author of Lazarus’s role that he would play on the Kingdom. We discuss the Jewish belief that the soul would stay around the body for three days. We discuss that death is the absence of life. It’s important to contemplate that Jesus was all-the-way-dead on the cross and that Lazarus was all-the-way-dead before Jesus raised him so that more would believe. He did this for his friends’ faith and for ours. We then read from Acts 11:19 which mentions that people traveled from persecution all the way to Cyprus.
We leave the sanctuary to go downstairs to see the tomb of Lazarus underneath the church. There are wads of paper with prayers written on them tucked into crevices of the stones. We see up close the paintings that are called icons.
After some free time shopping and eating lunch in Larnaca, we are heading to the Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque. On the way we pass a six-square kilometer salt lake. Legend says that when Lazarus walked from Bethany to Kition (current day Larnaca), he walked by a lake and saw a lady picking grapes. He was hungry and asked her for some grapes, but she didn’t share. He cursed the lake to be salt. The guide doesn’t believe the legend, but she likes the flamingoes that migrate over the lake. As we pass, their spindly legs support them as their heads are stuck underwater eating the shrimp they find. They stop here as they travel from Kenya to Turkey and back again. What a treat to see them on their break from flying!
The lady buried here is considered to be the aunt and wet nurse of the prophet Mohammed. She is surrounded by green velvet curtains, which symbolizes paradise. The carpet is burgundy with cream-colored patterns separating spaces for the people to bow and pray on the floor. Some Muslims consider this to be the third most holy place; some consider it the fourth most holy place.
After our tour, our guide offers us some Cyprus delights — just like the ones from Turkey. We catch the flight back to Greece and ponder on our experiences in Cyprus learning about another culture on the globe that we share. Our world is getting smaller and more approachable day by day.