Unwavering Gestures of Respect Between Religious Leaders at the Feast of Apostle Barnabas of Cyprus
On 11 June 2018, Reverend Father Ioannis Ioannou of Saint Barnabas and Greek Orthodox pilgrims taking part in the Feast of Apostle Barnabas were joined by Imam Fuat Tosun representing the Mufti of Cyprus. Saint Barnabas is the founding Apostle of the Church of Cyprus. Hundreds of Greek Orthodox Christian faithful commemorated the day at the Monastery and Cathedral of Saint Barnabas near Salamis, Famagusta.
Showing her appreciation to the joint efforts of the religious leaders of Cyprus and their commitment to dialogue, H.E Ambassador of Sweden Ms. Anna Olsson Vrang joined the liturgy to witness the good will gesture of the religious leaders and celebrate the occasion. As the peacebuilding initiative of the religious leaders of Cyprus, known as the RTCYPP functions under the auspices of the Embassy of Sweden, her presence was warmly welcomed and greatly appreciated by all parties.
The celebration began with a divine liturgy in the main Cathedral and culminated with prayers at the site of the tomb of Apostle Barnabas. Imam Tosun and the rest of the RTCYPP delegation were received with enthusiasm by the clerics of the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus.
“This is the kind of leadership we want”, exclaimed one of the older pilgrims when greeting the religious leaders, “The presence of the Mufti’s representative fills our hearts with hope that our faith unites us even if we are different and we care for each other’s rights”.
In congratulating the Church of Cyprus on this important feast, Imam Tosun expressed the commitment of the Muftiate of Cyprus to religious freedom, dialogue and peace. “I bring you this painting of a door which for me symbolizes an opening in the walls that separate us, a light in the darkness” said Fuat Tosun, when presenting his gift to Father Ioannis after the liturgy. “If we can respect each other and all that is precious to each one of us we can coexist with one another. The RTCYPP for us is the hope that can break the ‘doors’ that keep us apart and build bridges instead.”
Father Ioannou expressed his sincere thanks to Imam Tosun for being there despite the fact that it is Ramadan. “Let us be the peace that comes from Apostle Barnabas who is love”, said Father Ioannou “For us we have a mandate to love everyone and build bridges. It’s an obligation to dialogue and work together as religious leaders. We greatly appreciate your presence and the support extended by the Mufti and all Imams.”
Together Father Ioannis and Imam Fuat thanked the Swedish Ambassador for honoring them with her presence and for Sweden’s unwavering support to the Office of RTCYPP and the peacebuilding efforts of the faith communities in Cyprus. They both affirmed to continue to build bridges of communication, cooperation to restore religious freedom all over the island and nurture reconciliation.
The goodwill gestures and meetings of the religious leadership of Cyprus at Christian and Muslim places of worship is a result of agreements within the framework of the Religious Track and is facilitated by the Office of RTCYPP. “Religion and religious leaders can and should play a positive role in a conflict.” Said Salpy Eskidjian, Executive Director of the Office of RTCYPP. “The regular pilgrimages to St Barnabas and Hala Sultan for hundreds of faithful who were not able to visit religious sites for worship due to the political situation in Cyprus are among the achievements of the Religious Leaders of Cyprus upholding a fundamental freedom”.
The Saint Barnabas monastery consists of a church, the Cathedral of Saint Barnabas, now serving as an icon museum, the monastery, now housing an archaeological collection, and a chapel housing the remains of the Saint. Since 2016 prayers take place monthly at the chapel and there are regular worship services at the Cathedral, led by the Dean.
Apostle Barnabas was born in Cyprus and was stoned to death in Salamis in 45 AD. He is described as 'a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith' (Acts 6:24). Barnabas, means 'son of consolation' or 'man of encouragement.' Although Barnabas was not among the original Twelve Apostles, he is traditionally thought to have been among the 72 commissioned by Jesus to preach; thus, he is given the honorary title of Apostle. He is considered the founder of the Church of Cyprus.