Hundreds flocked to the mediaeval Agios Georgios Eksorinos church in occupied Famagusta yesterday, for the first Greek Orthodox service in 56 years, described as the largest gathering of Greek-Cypriot faithful in a service held in the occupied territories since 1974.
Agios Georgios Eksorinos, situated within the walled city, had been abandoned from 1957 because of an outbreak of inter-communal violence.
Officiating was Constantia-Famagusta Bishop Vasilios, with Mayor Alexis Galanos and the municipal council attending.
In his sermon, Vasilios made extensive reference to a famous work by mediaeval writer Leontios Machairas, who had provided ample evidence of the city’s leading role in the strengthening of the Greek Orthodox Church in Cyprus.
Famagusta, the Bishop said, is referred to as the city ‘of one church for every day’, with 365 temples built within its boundaries.
It was, Vasilios stressed, a financial and commercial hub for the region and became an axis of political developments on the island for a long period, during and beyond mediaeval times.
Given the line of succeeding conquests of Cyprus by Christians of different dogmas, Famagusta is marked with many architectural gems of historic significance, such as St John’s Cathedral where the kings of Cyprus and Jerusalem were crowned, as well as Saint George of the Greeks.
The Famagusta Bishop congratulated organisers for their initiative to reopen the church for the first time since 1957 and said that ‘this is the first but not the last service that will be held’.
On a practical basis and in spite of the political difficulties, Famagusta Municipality and a Church committee have taken up the responsibility of holding services on a regular basis, with voluntary input from locals who want to see another rare piece of cultural heritage preserved and brought to religious life.
Ayios Georgios Eksorinos, an imposing structure of clear architectural influence, was built in the 14th century, during Venetian rule and has been turned into a concert hall. It’s one of the better preserved churches in the occupied north but does however require extensive conservation work, due to humidity damage to the icons and frescoes.