Cyprus – in which I visit the tomb of a man who died twice and talk to a man who thinks before he speaks
The weather has picked up a bit and whilst still cold for me is pleasant because the sun shines bright. I don a few layers of clothing and go to explore Larnaca some more. In Larnaca I visit an old church that lies at the entrance to the seaside city. It is the church of St. Lazarus the man of bible fame who died and was brought back to life. Turns out he did eventually die about thirty years later on the island of Cyprus and this Church I stand before is built over his tomb. The church of St. Lazarus dates back from the 9th century (I am always awed by things old) and is an old traditional looking church with chunky, old, misshapen stone walls. Inside it is cool, calm and filled with gold and religious iconography. I sit down, enjoying that feeling of peace that I find inside most religious places of worship. I watch as Greek Cypriot after Greek Cypriot enters the church, kisses the altar and then goes to kiss and pray before a selected saint. I watch one woman kiss a particular saint in a picture – perhaps a favoured saint or perhaps one who can help fulfil a particular prayer. One man kisses all the saints arrayed on either side of the centrally placed cross.
I feel at peace in this gaudy place of wood, gold, pictures of saints and chunky, cold stone walls. After a while of just sitting there I descend some rickety wooden stairs into the tomb of St. Lazarus. There I find two open caskets, some lamps to keep the light shining and a beautifully painted piece of iconography. Lazarus is no longer here, taken away centuries ago by Crusaders but still this place is revered. I stay awhile, enjoying the peace and calm but not quite understanding it all. I leave the church feeling invigorated.
After breakfast in Larnaca alongside Phinikoudes, the seafront walkway, I head off into the hills. My destination the ancient monastery of Stavravouni. Founded back in 327 this monastery is perched atop a rocky peak. The oldest monastery in Cyprus it follows strict rules like those of followed by the ancient monasteries of Greece.
I arrive at this austere monastery located above the hill looking down on Larnaca just in time to be admitted. They admit men only and I have ensured that I’m wearing trousers and a long sleeved top. I wander up the steep path and, unsure of where to go I wander in through a door. There I meet the bishop of the monastery and a monk. I wander into the church above the hill, awed again by all the iconography. The cross in the centre of the church has held, for the last 17 centuries according to a monk I talk to, a piece of the cross of Jesus. This little church with the cross of Jesus feels like nothing so much as an old and musty bric-a-brac shop, filled with religious ornaments. It is not an unpleasant feeling but I don’t stay long. I feel a bit uncomfortable walking around freely in the home of these monks.
I return to talk to the monk. He is dressed all in black, his clothes look homemade and his face spawns an unruly crop of facial hair. He speaks to me a little of monastery life and the rituals including predawn services that go for three hours. He tells me of a celebration service tonight that will go for eight hours and commemorates Mary being told that she was to immaculately conceive, as the Catholics like to term it. My conversation with the monk is interesting but stilted. He takes long pauses, so long in fact that I sometimes think he may have fallen asleep as he thinks of responses. We talk a little of Australia and of Vietnam but mostly we talk of the monastery. He tells me of the hours they spend in prayer and how more can be done through prayer than through direct good deeds. When I question this statement he is genuine in his belief and explanation that the prayers of people like him, directly to God to intercede on particular matters, can have greater effect than individual deeds performed by one or two people. His faith is quite profound. Once again I’m intrigued but not quite understanding it all. I’m beginning to quite like this little religious island which is offering me some unique experiences.