Live By The Word

Angela Tilby: Anglican solidarity in Cyprus

I ACCOMPANIED the Portsmouth Cathedral Cantate Choir (12 girls, three boys, six choral scholars, organist, organ scholar, director of music, two choir matrons, the Precentor, and myself) on a six-day tour of Cyprus last month.

The first stop was Paphos, in the south. The choir gave a concert in Agia Kyriaki church, and returned for a sung eucharist (Darke in E). Next was choral evensong in the cathedral in Nicosia. Our final visit, to Kyrenia, involved crossing the UN buffer-zone into the internationally unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

I had not been to Cyprus before, although I well remember the violence that followed independence in 1960. Even before this, the island was riven by the desire of many Greek Cypriots to become part of Greece, and the counter-demand from Turkey for partition. Archbishop Makarios, the charismatic first President, tried to hold things together, but he was deposed by a coup supported by the Greek military junta who invaded the island in July 1974. Within days, this led to military intervention from Turkey as Turkish Cypriots declared their own republic.

Today, there are Anglicans on both sides of the divide. Most are British. They are in Cyprus because they work there, or because they are married to Cypriots, or because they have chosen a retirement in the sun. Some are part-timers. The regular organist in Kyrenia commutes from Belfast.

The Anglican Church is part of the diocese in Cyprus & the Gulf. On a map, this looks odd: it would make more sense for Cyprus to be in the diocese in Europe. But perhaps there is another kind of solidarity at work. Cyprus finds itself with the most troubled regions of the Middle East, including Syria, Iraq, and the Yemen.

A banner in St Andrew’s showed the disciples of Jesus hauling brightly coloured and many-shaped fish out of Kyrenia harbour. There is minaret on the appliquéd shoreline, and the diverse fruits of the Church’s pastoral mission are illustrated round the border.

It occurred to me that Anglicans here, in spite of (or perhaps because of) their British colonial roots, instinctively understand that the world around them is imperfect. The status quo, although inherently unsatisfactory for just about everyone, has at least put an end to violence for the time being, and the economy is doing pretty well on both sides of the divide.

As the choir launched into Stanford in C, the call to prayer rang out from the minaret of the mosque near by. At first, the urgent wail of the muezzin seemed discordant, but there was a glorious moment, somewhere around “and his mercy is on them that fear him”, when, for the space of a couple of bars, Christian choir and Muslim cantor almost reached harmony.

The Revd Angela Tilby is a Canon Emeritus of Christ Church, Oxford.


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