Thousands of Greek Orthodox pilgrims, some coming home after 40 years absence commemorated the crucifixion of Jesus in a rare Good Friday service at the 14th-century St. George Exorinos church in Famagusta, North Cyprus on Friday.
The ceremony was the idea of local authorities who invited Greek Cypriots to visit the church. A local Muslim cleric also joined the service as a symbol of interfaith harmony.
For reasons of security, the traditional procession of an icon of Jesus, which would, once upon a time, have been paraded through the neighbourhood, was limited to the church grounds which was heavily guarded by police.
“This is one of the happiest days of my life,” said Anna Marangou, a Greek Cypriot archaeologist and historian who lived in Famagusta until her family was forced to flee in 1974.
“This is a grassroots movement with significance to people and what we are capable of achieving.”
Alexis Galanos, the Greek Cypriot mayor-in-exile of Famagusta, said this week he hoped the Good Friday service can be a precursor to lasting peace.
“It gives a message of reconciliation and cooperation of Greek and Turkish Cypriots throughout Cyprus, and particularly for a reunified Famagusta,” he said.
Issuing statements that the Good Friday service was a testimony to inter-communal cooperation, UN Secretary General’s Special Representative in Cyprus Lisa Buttenheim said that she welcomed the first [Easter] service at the church since 1957.
“After so long, it’s a positive development. I appreciate that the Mayors of Famagusta Mr. Galanos and Mr. Kayalp have once again come together to help make this happen. Such initiatives improve the atmosphere and build trust.”
The Ambassador of the Netherlands, Brechje Schwachofer said she felt very privileged to have been at the church service tonight, “at this special and moving religious ceremony, here in Famagusta,” as she noted.
“To me it is proof of the capacity of both the Turkish and Greek Cypriots to unite, to work together. It sends a very welcome message of confidence and the ability and willingness to work towards a common future,” she added.
The British High Commissioner Matthew Kidd, said that he was “pleased to join today’s celebrations with so many others.”
This, he pointed out, is “an example of how both communities can work in partnership to foster respect for each other and deliver results.”
Reuters and Cyprus Mail