By Heather Walker
ROME — Pope Francis’ trip to Cyprus was both a historic event and a peaceful visit to one of the most ancient centres of Christianity, said Lay Centre alumnus Philippos Demosthenous, who lives in Cyprus and has a personal connection to the papal visit.
The pope’s itinerary included a visit with Archbishop Chrysostomos II, leader of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus. The two religious leaders discussed the current problems facing countries worldwide. They also discussed the matter of the territories that have been under the control of the Turkish army since 1974, resulting in 200,000 Greek Orthodox refugees and 520 occupied churches.
Immediately after the meeting, the archbishop and the pope visited the new cathedral dedicated to St. Barnabas the Apostle, patron and founder of the Orthodox Church in Cyprus. The cathedral choir sang a hymn (or apolytikion) of St. Barnabas, directed by musicologist Demetrios Demosthenous, who is Philippos’ uncle.
The homilies of the two ecclesiastical leaders were followed by the exchange of commemorative gifts. The archbishop presented the pope with a sacred icon written in the style of the Palaeologue era, which spanned from the mid-13th to mid-15th centuries. The icon depicts the “Panagia Odegetria” — in English, “the one who shows the way.” It depicts the Mother of God holding the Child Jesus in one arm and gesturing toward him with her free hand. The icon bears the inscription “Panachrantos,” which in English means “most pure one.”
The pope reciprocated with a volume of the Pauline letters, a replica of the ancient manuscripts in the Vatican.
Philippos, who is a member of the Byzantine Academy of Cyprus, described the meeting as a “historic event of deep spirituality and recognition of sacred and ecclesiastical art.” He also works in the preservation and restoration of ancient monuments and ecclesiastical and cultural heritage with the Restoration Laboratory for Ancient Icons, Books and Manuscripts at the Orthodox Archbishopric of Cyprus.
His father, who is a priest of the Church of Cyprus, was introduced to Pope Francis by the archbishop as the calligrapher of the cathedral’s Book of Gospels, which was on display in front of the golden doors of the church’s iconostasis (or icon screen).
Father Demosthenis Demosthenous’ work includes 80 miniatures representing stories from the life of Christ and the Resurrection. His work took five years to complete. The pope congratulated Father Demosthenis and inquired about this artistic and spiritual work representative of Cypriot Byzantine hagiography.
The cathedral’s Book of Gospels, also called the “Evangelion Cathredrico,” forms part of the treasures of the cathedral and is used only for historical events and meetings of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus.
Pope Francis is not the first pontiff to make a visit to Cyprus. Benedict XVI had visited Cyprus in 2010.
Photos courtesy Lay Centre alumnus (2014-2018) Philippos Demosthenous (pictured below)