I’ve been spending the week in Northern Cyprus, out here for the wedding of some friends in the beautiful and romantic ruins of Bellapais Abbey close to Kyrenia. It was in the village, opposite the remains of the abbey, that Lawrence Durrell lived and wrote his novel ‘Bitter Lemons’. The name of the abbey is a corruption of the French for ‘Beautiful Peace’. It is an idyllic spot and a sense of peace hangs around it, even when a wedding party gathers in its shadows.
This was my fist visit to any part of Cyprus and I had been hoping to get to the ruins of Salamis close to modern day Famagusta. As things worked out – a combination of the heat and various mishaps (holidays are complicated things) – I didn’t get there. But the particular attraction would have been to have seen the place of which I had read in the Acts of the Apostles. It was one of those amazing coincidences last week that the day before I was flying to Cyprus I read the following in the Cathedral at Evensong.
‘So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews.’ Acts 13.4-5
The ‘they’ refers to Saul, Barnabas and their companions. What is also fascinating about the place, apart from the fact that this was the birthplace of Barnabas, is that as it is recorded in this passage from Acts, it was in Salamis that Saul was also known as Paul (v.9) and from this point on is always referred to as such. So it’s an interesting place to be, given this close connection with Paul’s missionary journeys.
It is also interesting because of the proximity of the island to Turkey, Syria, Israel and Palestine, as well, of course to Greece. The Anglican Church here is in the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf, a diocese that encompasses the Holy Land, Iraq and other places in the Middle East. So it feels very much at the heart of our response as a church to all that is happening at the moment just a short distance across the sea on the mainland.
Today (Sunday) we joined the Anglican congregation for the Eucharist at St Andrew’s, Kyrenia. The little church is on the road that leads down to the ancient harbour, close to the Castle once occupied by Richard the Lion-heart during the Crusades. The church quickly filled up with locals and tourists – the locals mainly being ex-pats – but there was a very good sized congregation all looked after by the Chaplain, the Revd Wendy Hough. It is a small world in many ways and lovely to find that Wendy is also a member of the Society of Catholic Priests (SCP) of which I am Rector General. She has not been long at St Andrew’s but looks as though she has settled in.
At the beginning of the Eucharist she announced that there was to be a special speaker during the service, Elizabeth Jadon, a young Palestinian Christian, a lawyer whose family live in Jerusalem but who now lives in London. Elizabeth is part of an organisation called the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD), a non-violent group which opposes the demolition of Palestinian homes by the Israeli Government.
It wasn’t so much that important work that Elizabeth spoke so movingly about but rather the present situation in Israel and Palestine and especially Gaza. She kept reminding us that this was her perspective, her views but in order to give us an insight into what life is like she relayed to us five stories of friends of hers caught up in the war and experiencing the terror and the violence at first hand. She did all of this without bitterness or aggression and with real compassion for the Israelis caught up in the war. At one point she said ‘this is not a competition for who has suffered most.’ She said that all suffering was wrong and all loss of life wrong.
But it was the story she told at the end which was most affecting because after describing the situation she then asked herself the question ‘where is the God of love in this?’ Her answer was in the personal response that Christians can make. She told of her own recent journey back to London from Isreal. At Ben Gurion Airport she want through the usual lengthy security check which resulted in her missing her flight. But she had explained how she had approached the checks and the guard doing it with a different attitude, born out of her own Christian faith.
The guard was a young woman just like her and as she undertook the checks Elizabeth engaged her in conversation and even made her laugh and though the checks had to be completed yet the atmosphere was different and as Elizabeth commented, there were ‘new possibilities’. At the end, as they parted, the guard thanked her for the attitude that she brought to it and apologised for what she had just had to do. As Elizabeth said to us ‘We have to love those we see as our enemies because God loves all ‘Jews as well as Greeks” as it says in Romans 10.
It was amazing to be given this insight into the troubles that have been troubling my waking and my sleeping – and not just those in Gaza and Israel but in Iraq, for my bothers and sisters there, for Canon Andrew White in Baghdad, for all caught up in what seems like an ever deepening crisis. God gave me a glimpse of a better way through Elizabeth’s Palestinian eyes.
Paul landed on this island with the Good News of Jesus Christ; I heard it again today in this small world in which we all must learn to live and create again that sense of ‘beautiful peace’ to which the ruins of the abbey stand as testimony.
God of peace,
in this small world,
like a hazelnut in your hand;
give us peace,
that we may learn to live
as brothers and sisters,
your own children.