Updated: Thousands of Greek Orthodox pilgrims, some returning home after 40 years of absence, celebrated on Friday in memory of the crucifixion of Jesus in a rare Good Friday service at St George Exorinos church in Famagusta.
The idea of the ceremony came from local authorities who invited the Greek Cypriots to visit the church. A local Muslim cleric also joined the service as a symbol of interfaith harmony.
For security reasons, the traditional procession of the icon of Jesus, who at one time would have 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 deep meaning for people and what we are capable of achieving.”
Alexis Galanos, Famagusta’s Greek Cypriot mayor-in-exile, said this week that he hoped the Good Friday service would be a precursor to lasting peace.
“It gives a message of reconciliation and cooperation between Greek-and Turkish Cypriots over the whole of Cyprus, and in particular for a reunited Famagusta,” he said.
Greek Cypriots have been given permission to hold a Good Friday Mass at a church in the walled city of Famagusta for the first time in decades.
Famagusta mayor-in-exile Alexis Galanos (right) said that the Friday service in St George Exorinos church will send a message of reconciliation for one of the most important dates in the Greek Orthodox calendar.
On the question of security, he said the Turkish Cypriot Mayor of Famagusta, Oktay Kayalp, he works closely with, has taken action and the event will be held with the approval of the Turkish Cypriot religious leader.
It will be Famagusta Church’s first service on Easter in nearly 60 years, says Galanos, joined together with Turkish Cypriot mayor Oktay Kayalp to organize the mass, which is expected to draw about 4,000 worshipers. “This event is bigger than any of us,” said Galanos who told reporters on Wednesday. “A message of reconciliation will be provided through this service.”
Because of inter-communal problems before the island became independent from Britain in 1960, worship services at St. George Exorinos ceased 58 years ago.
But as confidence has improved the Church in Famagusta hosted Greek Orthodox morning fairs twice since December last year.