Thursday, 22 May 2008

The Bishop of Karpasia and I

I had the pleasure and privilege last Friday to share coffee and eliopitta (olive cake) with the Bishop of Karpasia at my mother's house, where we engaged in an interesting discussion on various matters pertaining to politics and theology. (The bishop, for example, explained to me why a priest must have led a virtually spotless, sinless life, whereas a saint's life, at least the initial, worldly part of it, could be full of transgressions).

Anyway, Karpasia is the easternmost peninsula of Cyprus, occupied by the Turks since 1974, and Christoforos was appointed bishop last year; the first time Karpasia has had a bishop since the Lusignans abolished the post in 1222 in an effort to suppress the Orthodox church and put the island under Roman Catholic sway. His appointment reflects Greek steadfastness in Cyprus and reveals how Greeks are still in the process of shedding centuries of malicious foreign influence. (See Nostos’ post on the Fourth Crusade here).

Christoforos was in London for two reasons. To attend the annual dinner-dance of the UK Association of Yialousa and Ayia Triada – Yialousa is the pre-eminent town in Karpasia; and, more importantly, as head of a delegation meeting officials from the UK foreign office making representations regarding the state of the monastery of Apostolos Andreas, which lies at the eastern tip of Karpasia and is the most significant Christian shrine on the island.

I have written about Apostolos Andreas here.

The issue at the moment is that the Turkish occupation regime is deliberately allowing the monastery, which is a World Heritage Site, to fall into a state of disrepair, to such an extent that it is in imminent danger of collapse. Christoforos' delegation pointed out to the British that the occupation regime has failed to keep an agreement brokered by the UN and the USA in which the Cypriot government would upgrade the Hala Sultan mosque in Larnaca – Hala Sultan, Mohammed’s wet nurse, was said to have fallen off her donkey and died in Cyprus during the Arab raids in the 7th century – in return for permission to restore Apostolos Andreas. The mosque restoration was completed amid much fanfare in 2005, but the Turks have not allowed any work to be done at Apostolos Andreas.

Turkish duplicity and malice regarding Apostolos Andreas reflect Turkish reluctance to revive anything Hellenic in the occupied areas; the presence of the Turkish military in the vicinity; and attempts by the occupation regime to become involved in the restoration initiative in such a way as to get the Church of Cyprus to recognise the 'Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus' as a legitimate authority, something which the church will, of course, not do.

As I wrote previously, the occupation regime rather than facilitating the restoration of Apostolos Andreas has instead drawn up plans to transform the annexes of the monastery into a 120-room luxury hotel.


Stavros said...

I sense your Manoula at work here, behind the scenes. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall so I could listen to the exchange between his Eminence and you. It's always good to hear that we sinners are still salvageable despite our shortcomings even attaining Sainthood.

It is rather sad to note that our monasteries, where the flame of Christianity has burned so brightly are in fact threatened, either by outright violence as in Kosovo or through political efforts by the occupation authorities, as in Cyprus. One more reason why Turkey can never be considered for EU membership unless it changes in fundamental ways.

john akritas said...

Stavro, I hope you are well.
Actually, my Manoula never told me the bishop was coming – she thought I'd do a runner – and I turned up all dishevelled expecting just to see my cousin – who was accompanying the bishop to London – and got quite a shock to see his eminence in the house.
In fact, S, I did think what a blast it would have been if you had been here to join in the conversation, which didn't go on for nearly long enough.

john akritas said...

I should add that what the bishop said regarding priests and sin was similar to how you explained it in your post on village priests, i.e. that the priest's role as a leader and teacher of a community demands he set an example. The role of a saint is different – though we didn't get round to this. Regarding the priest's role, the way Christoforos described it to me made me think of the way teacher-student relationships existed in Athens, in the Lyceum and the Academy. Hermes once posted a link on MGO in which Castoriadis describes the importance of this relationship in education and ethics.

Stavros said...

I am well. I would have enjoyed very much to have been part of that discussion. Your manoula obviously knows you as only a mother can.

The priestly teacher/leader role has been partly responsible for the survival our people during the last turbulent two thousand years.

Personally I put my faith in those like your Bishop to help us keep the wolves at bay and remind us of what is important.