Layover in Cyprus
April 18th, 2006 - Post No. 58
At about 5:30 this morning, Sarkis and Fr. Ananya drive me to the Hariri Airport to catch the 30 minute flight to the isle of Cyprus, where I will spend one night before going on to Jerusalem. Formal diplomatic relations between Israel and Lebanon have been cut off since the Arab-Israeli War in 1967, and direct travel by road or air between the two countries is not an option. To reach Jerusalem one must either travel to Amman, Jordan and hire a service taxi to the Allenby Bridge and there take another service taxi to Jerusalem; or one can fly to Cyprus and from there to Tel Aviv as I have opted to do.
Bishop Clive Handford -- pictured here in front of his cathedral church in Nicosia -- is waiting to greet me once I've made my way through Cypriot immigration and customs. In an email message he had said that he would send someone along to collect me at the airport, but in the end he has come to meet me himself. This provides a good opportunity for a first conversation with Bishop Handford who is now the Primate of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, a province of the Anglican Communion that includes the dioceses of Egypt, Jerusalem, Iran, and Bishop Handford's own diocese of Cyprus and the (Arabian or Persian) Gulf.
Of particular interest in the context of my ecumenical pilgrimage, Bishop Clive is also an official participant the formal conversations between the Anglican Communion and the Oriental Orthodox Churches ( the latter group includes the Armenian Orthodox.) Unfortunately, this conversation was formally suspended over a year ago in the wake of movement in the North American Anglican churches towards the acceptance of same-sex relationships.
The airport in Cyprus is in Larnaca on the southern shore of the island (highlighted in the map above, centre right) and the Bishop's home is in the see city of his diocese, the capital Nicosia in the north centre of Cyprus (white spot).
The bishop's wife, Jane greets us when we pull into the drive way of their home near the centre of Nicosia. Jane and Bishop Clive have spent most of their years of ministry in the region, serving as chaplain, at different periods, to the English congregations in Beirut, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar; Dean of St. George's Cathedral, Jerusalem; and Archdeacon in the Gulf. The couple returned to England when their daughter Catherine reached school age where the bishop held a variety of posts including, eventually, Archdeacon of Nottingham and then Bishop of Warwick. The couple came back to the region when Clive was elected bishop of his diocese 10 years ago. Jane is a joy to meet, very welcoming, and she has a hearty English breakfast waiting for us when we arrive from the airport ... including toast and marmalade, and brewed coffee -- rarities for me over the past three months!
After breakfast, I join Bishop Clive when he goes to his offices in the centre of Nicosia, a couple of blocks (south and west) from the old walled city.
At the office I meet the members of the diocesan staff, including Annette, Georgina and David pictured here. It is a very warm and welcoming group, clearly devoted to their bishop.
Bishop Clive offers to drive me into the old city, suggesting that I spend the morning exploring Old Nicosia, making my way back eventually to the diocesan offices.
The bishop drops me off at the Headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Cyprus. Cyprus is an autocephalous (independent) apostolic community founded by the apostle Barnabas, a native of Cyprus. The stature of another famous son of the island, one of its greatest political and spiritual leaders, Archbishop Makarios dominates the front yard of the Archbishopric. I begin my exploration of the Old City visiting the small chapel that now serves as the Cathedral here, and the wonderful Makarios collection of icons from Cyprus next door.
There are several ancient churches within the walls of Old Nicosia. Unfortunately, most are closed to visitors, like the church of Agios (Saint) Antonios whose entrance way is pictured here (above).
I can find only one other church that is open to visitors, in addition to the cathedral, and this is Tripiotis Church (its interior, picture above) very near the main pedestrian sector of the old city.
Nicosia is the last remaining divided city in Europe, with the green line separating the "occupied sector" (Turks) from the Republic of Cyprus (Greeks) running through the centre of the old walled city of Nicosia.
The twin minarets visible in this photo, taken from the tallest building in the old city, have been added to the former Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Agia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), now converted into a mosque on the other side of the green line ... only a few blocks and a border crossing away.
The United Nations is involved in projects to restore the old city as a world heritage site. Both the need for repair and the success of recent efforts is easily visible throughout the old walled city -- something of a "before and after" situation is pictured here. More than 80% of the old city has yet to benefit from any form of restoration, but many of the un-restored sites are still of great interest to the visiting photographer!
The main work of restoration has been focused on the pedestrian sector in the south western sector of the old city. Lidras street, the main road in the old city, has seen several face lifts in recent years, and the work is far from finished! The result, however is quite pleasant and pleasing for the many tourists, European for the most part, visiting the city during the Easter holiday. Near the southern wall of the city, just east of Lidras Street, there is a network of very narrow streets and charming open spaces lined with a colourful array of tourist shops and restaurants.
It takes a bit more than two hours to make my way, slowly but surely, to the diocesan offices, where Bishop Clive is finishing his office work for the day. We drive back to the bishop's residence and Jane has prepare a wonderful lunch for us featuring leftovers from their Easter supper -- some of the ham and Easter cake! I must say that, as comfortable as I was for my three months in Antelias, it is real treat to enjoy this taste of English cuisine again ... and with another cup of freshly brewed coffee!
In the afternoon there is time for a walk along the border of the occupied sector, a short nap, and Evening Prayer with the Hanfords taken from the new Irish prayer book. We then head off for supper at the home of Annette (diocesan staff) and her husband Andy (pictured, above right). Joining us are Mary and John (pictured left) former residents of the island and now retired in Surrey, England. The two are spending a few weeks in Cyprus: John is here to provide analysis of the diocesan finances, and Mary serves as the principle organiser of an annual reunion of the friends of the diocese, a major fund raising activity taking place each year at Pilgrim Hall in England.