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Father Demetrios Serfes
   Fr. Demetrios Serfes

O Lord Jesus Christ,
Son Of GOD,
Have Mercy,
Upon Me,
A Sinner!

"The Jesus Prayer"
Also known as
"The Prayer of the Heart"

Eastern Orthodox Spirituality

Monasticism In Cyprus

Compiled By Fr. Demetrios

Weeping Icon Of Panagia-Theotokos-Paranythia
Weeping Icon Of Panagia-Theotokos-Paranythia.
(From Monastery of Eliakon, near Kykko, Cyprus)

An Honorable Dedication To The Greek Cypriot Peoples Of Cyprus
Men, Women And Children!

Pray Humbly With Love, For The Cypriot People!
"Works Of Love Are Works Of Peace"
Let Cyprus Be Free Today!
"Peace And Goodwill Among All Men"

Introduction by Father Demetrios Serfes

Cyprus is an island situated in the Eastern Mediterranean, and is close to Europe, Asia and Africa causing it to rightly claim to be a stepping stone to three continents. The third largest island in the Mediterranean, Cyprus stretches 150 miles (240 km) from the west coast to its eastern most tip, and 60 miles (96 km) from north to south.

There are six major towns, NICOSIA, the capital, situated inland in the middle of the Mesaoria plain, and the 5 coastal towns of LIMASSOL, LARNAKA, PAFOS, KYRENIA, and FAMAGUSTA. The latter two, in the north and east respectively, have been under Turkish occupation since the 20th of July 1974.

Since the 1974 Turkish invasion of the Republic of Cyprus, the island has been divided in two. Heavily armed Turkish troops occupy the northern part of the island. Two hundred thousand people were forcibly deprived of their land and houses and became refugees in their own country. Thousands of settlers were then transferred to the occupied area. I have personally met Greek Orthodox Christians from Cyprus who had to leave their homes to go the free side of the island.

After the horrific events of July 1974, many people were reported missing. The Red Cross managed to track a number of them down in Turkish prisons and some of them were eventually released. Nevertheless, 1 6 6 5 Cypriots are still missing (this includes three American citizens, other reports say 5 Americans) and Turkey refuses to provide any substantial information about them. We also have more horrific reports that 5,000 Greek Cypriot people have been killed since the invasion, and daily we are learning and are hearing reports that this number is ever growing....

The destruction of the island's cultural heritage has been a disturbing issue for archaeologists and historians everywhere. The Greek Orthodox Church (a majority religion on the island Orthodox 78%, Muslim 18%, Maronite, Armenian Apostolic, and other 4%) has suffered as well... Several Church's and Monasteries have been destroyed, and holy icons are missing. Priests, monks and nuns have been tortured! Icons have been found in other parts of the world for sale, and are now found unlawfully in museums. Men, Women and Children have been persecuted. Children are crying, where are my parents, where are my relatives? Women, as well are crying, where is my husband, where are my relatives, and my fellow neighbors! All Orthodox Churches and Monasteries should be protected in the occupied area, and the destruction and disrespect for Orthodox Christianity must cease now, today! This should be the earnest appeal of the free world! We, who are in the free world, must show concern and ask about the humanitarian causes in Cyprus! Brother loving brother, and sister loving sister, peace and good will -shall prevail by returning all property to the people of Cyprus, and the return of those who occupy the island to their homes. Let all of Cyprus be free today!

The humble prayer of the free Christians across this world, should be that the people of Cyprus be freed, following the immediate termination of the invasion and occupation through the unconditional withdrawal of the Turkish military forces.The pursuit of all freedom-loving peoples should be to cry out this humble appeal. Pray for Cyprus and light a candle for Cyprus! Cry for Cyprus! Appeal for Cyprus! Express your love for Cyprus! Pray for a peaceful withdrawal of all troops in Cyprus! Pray for the missing men, women, and children! Our works of love are the works of peace, and goodwill among all men!

Everyone of us should appeal to every free government of every country to appeal for withdrawal and peace in Cyprus! At the same time we should ask for support and concern for the humanitarian causes in all of the total withdrawal of all troops, and the return of all properties to the Greek Cypriot people of Cyprus! Now! Today!

Daily we hear reports of someone being shot! Let us all remember the 24 year old Tassos Isaac, and how can we forget Solomos Solomou who was killed as he climbed up the flagpole in order to detach this symbol of oppression... Let us all not forget the constant fear among the children who wonder who will be next, my father, my mother, my brother, my sister...etc? Cyprus has been wounded and continues to be wounded, and is not free! The flames of martyrdom must be put out, and "peace and goodwill among all men" should prevail. Now - today! No one has the right to "occupy" an island that is a known Republic.The Republic of Cyprus does not belong to any other peoples but to the Greek Cypriot people.

We should show honor and respect to those who love Cyprus, and cry for it's freedom every hour of every day! Freedom can happen only when we all cry out to those who are truly free in the world, to appeal for an island that is not free today!

We cannot abandon the Greek Cypriot people; men, women and children, who are totally dependant on us to make our voices, and our prayers, known to them and to the free world. All of us have a humanitarian duty and a Christian responsibility to show concern and to help our fellow friends who are suffering and are not free today! All free and honorable governments should show a serious and grave concern for the island of Cyprus! All of the world's churches should stop hiding behind one another and instead,come forward and appeal to the free world, that Cyprus must be freed from oppression and occupation immediately!

Everyone of us should offer support, and constantly cry out in prayer to our Almighty God, that peace and goodwill should prevail among all men, by allowing no one to occupy or oppress the island of Cyprus. We need to, as well, turn to the loving saints, and to the holy martyrs of Cyprus in asking our All-Good God, to help, protect, and watch over the men, women and children who are constantly in fear of not knowing if this hour will be their last! No one can hide from the truth, nor can we be in denial: we have an island that is not free and cannot gain it's freedom without our support, and our prayers. We should cry out for the cause of freedom in Cyprus everyday in our actions, Cyprus needs us and we can be satisfied only when we know our fellow friends, brothers, and sisters are free in Cyprus! Let us offer an understanding of the grave situation that is occurring on a daily basis in Cyprus, and open up our hearts with love for all Greek Cypriot people!

In fully understanding the situation in Cyprus, which computer accessibility makes possible, we see the grave need for the free people of the world to cry out in concern for those other than ourselves who are suffering.

I humbly appeal to all loving Christians to pray for the Cypriot people in the Republic of Cyprus, and know well that God will, and has, heard the many prayers of these much suffering people. May our Gracious-God preserve and protect the people of Cyprus. May the most holy Theotokos, protect and watch over the people of Cyprus. And may the holy saints and holy martyrs interceed on their humble behalf.

God Love And Bless You All!
In The Love Of The Peace Of Our Lord God,

+ Father Demetrios Serfes, Priest
Who Stands With You, And Kneels In Prayer For You All!

Pray For Cyprus, Pray For Peace & Good Will Among All Men!
Peace With God, Peace Of God, And Peace In God!

Sites to access for more information on Cyprus and the Cyprus problem:
  • The World Of Cyprus
  • The Cyprus Problem
  • The Republic of Cyprus Home Page, and the University of Cyprus

  • Monasticism In Cyprus
    In The Name Of The Father,
    The Son,
    And The Holy Spirit:

    Forward by Father Demetrios Serfes:

    Now beloved Christians and Friends in Christ Our Lord, I would like to humbly present to you "Monasticism in Cyprus", and in doing so all of us should ask for the intercessions of these God-loving Saints and Martyrs of Cyprus for the Greek Cypriot people. In learning about these saints and martyrs of Cyprus, we spiritually discover that the monks kept alive the spirit of self sacrifice at a time when holy martyrdom had ceased, but it seems in time we will see more martyrdoms in the age to come. However, our faithfulness to Christ and His Church the Holy Orthodox Faith is essential, and the way of a pious Orthodox Christian is by prayer and contrition of heart, as was seen as essential support for the social and spiritual fabric of the Cypriot children of our Lord and God. This of course can apply spiritually to any society, or any country to allow monasticism to prevail and be a source of spiritual strength all because of prayer and its struggles! We ourselves only become far more blessed by these prayers and these struggles of our monastic brothers and sisters in Christ our Lord.

    Monasticism nowadays, perhaps more than ever, as a Christian society is desperately in need of rejuvenation, monasteries have a role to play in our quest for self realization and personal growth which may involve a return to traditional Christian values and struggle during this time when life has become very difficult for all of the Cypriot people, who have loved God and His Church. Cyprus in itself can be a great example of a Christian country that finds Peace with our God, a Peace of God, and a Peace in God. Let all God-loving Christians not only pray for this "Peace", but also act upon it in prayer, and in fasting for our fellow-brothers and sisters in Christ our Lord. Pray for Cyprus, please!

    CYPRIOT MONASTICISM should not be considered independently of Orthodox Monasticism as a whole. Just as the authocephalous Church of Cyprus is a member of One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, so Cypriot monasticism is grafted onto the main body of Eastern Orthodox Monasticism. It has perpetuated this monasticism, it has served it and thus has perceived its mission.

    From its very first days, Orthodox Monasticism aimed at the complete surrender of the work of God and to the lasting union on the two, so that the monk became sanctified and acquired the Grace of the Holy Spirit. The inclination to the divine, the longing the repentance and the purging of sin, the need to attain the state of tranquility constitute the triptych of Eastern Orthodox Monasticism. Characteristic features of monastic life are chastity, poverty, and obedience.

    Asceticism, silence, work, love, pslmody, prayer, fasting and charity have one aim: perfection, spiritual fulfillment and deification through grace. Thus the Orthodox monastic life continues and resembles to a high degree the life of Christ the Saviour and the Holy Apostles. It has its origin, both as an institution and as an act, in divine roots in the time of Jesus Christ.

    Initially, monasticism developed autonomously, separately and independently of the administration of the Church, it appeared as a personal movement of individual initiative. It involved well-known Christian communities which lived in a way different from the norm, in poverty and devotion to the worship of God. With the passing of time, and in their desire to escape from the moral decadence of their time, the monks found refuge in the deserts and on the mountains where, undistracted by the cares of life, they devoted themselves to prayer and ascetic life.

    Gradually monasticism entered the bosom of the church. The ecclesiastical foundations of the monastic life were laid down by the 4th Ecumenical Synod of Chalcedon in its 4th Canon.

    It was only natural that Cyprus, being close to the great centres of asceticism of the East, should have received an cultivated monasticism very early on, from the 4th century.

    ST. HILARION, who came from Gaza, was the first to bring monasticism to Cyprus. He landed at Paphos on his was from Sicily, together with one of his famous pupils, ISYCHIOS, in AD 364, in search of a quiet place where he could devote himself to prayer. He settled in the Paphos district, not far from the town. Soon, however, he became famous here as well and a very large number of visitors came to his hermitage. For this reason he wished to return to Egypt but his pupil Isychios persuaded him to retire to less accessible place, on the top of a precipitous cliff above the village of Episcopi, which still bears the name of Ayis Larkos. There he reposed in the Lord and was buried in AD 371.

    It is said that the great saint of Asia Minor Nicholas, Bishop of Myron in Lycia, lived the life of a hermit in the Paphos area for a short time during the same period. His companion was the hermit St. Eftychios, with whom he found the Monastery ton Iareon, today a dependency of Kykkos Monastery. The information about the building of the Monastery ton Iereon by St. Eftychios and St. Nicholas was discovered by Ephraim the Athenian in an ancient parchment manuscript which in his time was in the sacristy of the monastery. It said that the church was built with stones from the temple of a "pagan goddess" (i.e. the temple of the goddess Gera, which was built by the last king of Paphos, Nikoklis).

    St. Epiphanios, another pupil of St. Hilarion,undertook the administration of the Archbishopric of Constantia (Salamina). One of the main concerns of Epiphanios was the founding and strengthening of monasticism in his see in the form of community life. He was one of the most prophetic writers of religious works of the 4th century.

    There is insufficient information about when and which monasteries were founded first on the island - monasteries in the sense of community life and the existence of buildings.

    The diocesan bishop consent was necessary when making a new foundation. Conditions of entry for postulants, the length of the noviciate, the solemn frocking of the novice were all set out in the liturgical books. The method of electing the hegumenus, superior, might vary in accordance with the founder's wishes, but the choice when made had normally to be confirmed by the bishop. The superior was supreme within the monastery and was responsible for the spiritual well-being of his monks and for the ordering of the daily round. Prayer, both in community and in private was the most important part of the monk's life. Corporate worship took place in the monastic church were the main offices might be said while performing household or agrarian duties, or even excused for those who allotted tasks were likely to hinder their concentrations. Administrative details might vary from place to place but ritual duties were essential in any foundation.

    There are, however, various ecclesiastical traditions connected with the lives and deeds of saints in Cyprus, which are linked with the foundation of monasteries. Thus, two large monasteries were built in the time of Constantine the Great. The Monastery of St. Nicholas of the Cats, in the Akrotiri area, was founded by the first Byzantine Commissioner of Cyprus Kalokeros in AD 327 on the instructions of Constantine the Great. If this information is correct (J. Jackett: A History of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus), then monasticism in Cyprus developed before the arrival of St. Hilarion on the island.

    According to the same source, the whole area around the monastery was infested with venomous snakes which had multiplied catastrophically on account of a prolonged drought. In an attempt to cope with the problem, Kalokeros is alleged to have put a number of cats on the peninsula to deal with the snakes - hence the name of the of Akrotiri promontory as Cape Gata (Greek for cat).

    The monastery of St. Nicholas of the Cats is the only ancient monastery whose church still survives today.

    The second monastery of the same period (4th century) is that of Stavrovouni. The monastery stands on a mountain of the same in the Larnaca district and is dedicated to the Holy Cross. Church tradition holds that it was founded by St. Helen, the mother of Constantine the Great, when she passed through Cyprus while returning from the Holy Land when she had already found Christ's Cross. In Cyprus the cross disappeared mysteriously but was miraculously discovered on the summit of Olympos, as Stavrovouni was then known, where there was a pagan temple. After the miracle, St. Helen built the church and dedicated to it part of the holy relic.

    During the 6th century the Monastery of the Apostle Barnabas flourished. It was founded at the end of the 5th century by Archbishop Anthemios with the financial assistance of the Emperor Zeno (474-491) and other wealthy men, about 3km. west of Salaminia.

    According to tradition which was recorded by the monk Alexandros, who lived in this monastery in the half of the 6th century, the Apostle Barnabas appeared thrice in a vision to Archbishop Anthemios revealing the place of his sepulchre. Accompanied by his clergy Anthemios went in procession to the place which had been so miraculously indicated and found a chest containing the remains of the saint, with a copy of St. Matthew Gospel in Barnabas' own handwriting upon his chest. Anthemios set off at once withe the precious relics for Constantinople where he reported the marvellous occurrence. Emperor Zeno, as a mark of the importance he attached to the discovery, confirmed the autonomy of the Autocephalus Church of Cyprus and conferred upon the Cypriot primates certain privileges which they have guarded ever since. The received the right of signing in red ink, a mark of distinction only otherwise enjoyed by emperors, of wearing a purple cloak on feast days and of carrying an imperial sceptre in place of the ordinary pastoral staff.

    The copy of St. Matthew's Gospel, presented to the Emperor by Anthemios, was conveyed to the chapel of St. Stephen in the imperial palace in Constantinople, where it was read annually on Good Friday.

    In the 7th century we have information about the Monastery of Symvoulou, several miles west of Curium, which predates this period. The Bishop of Paphos, Theodoros, had been a monk there before being ordained priest and then bishop. The reference comes in a sermon preached by Theodoros in St. Spyridon's church, Tremetousia, on December 14th, 655.

    During the period of Arab raids (7th-10th centuries) fanatic believers in Allah compelled a number of monks to leave Syria and Palestine. Many of these found refuge in Cyprus and the island became a "wresting ground" of asceticism for the humble monks from the East. In addition, in the 8th century, in the period of iconomachy which shook the Byzantine Empire, many iconophiles, ascetics and monks from Asia Minor came to Cyprus, where they did not face a serious danger of persecution. This stream of refugees led to the foundation of a number of monasteries. Also, Arab raids, persecutions and other disasters which beset the island (including large-scale natural disasters such as earthquakes and drought) promoted monasticism in the sense that many of these calamities were attributed to divine wrath. This led many to devote themselves to the church, taking refuge in monasticism or even bequeathing their property to the monasteries.

    The Monastery of Megalos Agros was founded, in all probability, about the end of the 8th century, the period of iconomachy. The tradition survives till today that the founders of the monastery were 40 monks who had fled from the monastery of the same name at Kyzikos, and that the Abbot was Theophanis. They brought with them the icon of the Virgin. These monks first took refuge at the Monastery of St. Nicholas at Akrotiri, where they remained until the Monastery of Agros was built. This explains the close connection between the two monasteries until the 16th century, even as regards their income, which was reckoned jointly.  In the same way, foreign monks founded other monasteries too during the iconomachy period, bringing with them icons of the Virgin, "miraculously coming over the sea" according to popular tradition.

    The Monastery of St. Antonios was already in existence in the episcopal see of Chytron (Kythrea) during the period of Arab raids (7th-10th century). It was on a high, precipitous peak of Pentadactylos and had a small number of monks. The monastery must have been completely destroyed quite early on because no reference is made to it by any writer or in any document of the Lusignan period (1192-1489). The main reference to the monastery is in the "Life of St. Demetrianos", who served as Abbot of the Monastery until he became Bishop of Chytron in 885.

    The wall paintings in the present day church, formerly the Monastery, of Panayia ton Phorbion (Asinou) go back to 965, so this monastery dates back to the 10th century too. The Monastery of St. Nicholas tis Stegis is the 11th century on the evidence of the first wall painting in the church. An ancient building in the monastery enclosure is evidence of the existence of cells, unfortunately now in ruins, which is also the case at the Church of Panayia, Asinou.

    Refugee monks probably founded the monasteries of Panayia ton Katharon (Katharkotissa), near Larnaca tis Lapithou, Panayia Aposinthiotissa, near Sychari and the Monastery of Antiphonitis, also on Pantadactylos.

    Among the great figures of Cypriot monasticism mention should be made of Georghios Hozevitis, who spent his youth in Cyprus, lived as a hermit in the Holy Land and then continued the ascetic life at the monastery of Hozeva in the Wadi Kelt gorge in Jordan. There was also Georghios the Cypriot who lived as a hermit for years in the mountains of Asia Minor and became famous for his fight against the heretic iconomachists in the 8th century, and St. Athanasios, the founder of the monastic community of Mt. Athos, who found refuge in the Monastery ton lereon at Paphos the second half of the 10th century.

    When the confrontation of Byzantines and Arabs in Cyprus came to an end in the second half of the 10th century and the Byzantines dominated the island, the Emperor's interest was shown in various ways. One of them was the encouragement of monasticism in Cyprus, including the founding of monasteries by imperial decree and their endowment and/or support with grants, privileges and rights. Thus some "royal" monasteries were founded, that is with imperial funds.

    The Monastery of Kykkos is most famous of them. It is, indeed, known all over the Orthodox world, for within its walls is sheltered one the three icons attributed to St. Luke the Evangelist.

    The monastery, which is situated in the region of Marathasa, was founded sometime between the close of the 11th century and beginning of the 12th century during the reign of the Emperor Alexios I. Komnenos (1080-118 A.D.), when his representatives in Cyprus was Manuel Vutomites.

    The Emperor donated the icon of the Theotokos, then in the imperial palace in Constantinople, to the island at their request of the hermit Isaia who lived in a cave on the mountain of Kykko. After receiving a divine intimation, the hermit miraculously cured the emperor's daughter of an incurable malady. Although grieved at the prospect of losing his precious treasure, the Emperor sent it to its new home with every mark of honour together with the necessary funds for the erection of a monastery where the sacred relic should be deposited. At the hermit's solicitations, Vutomites also bestowed three villages upon the monastery as an endownment. This gift subsequently confirmed by an imperial charter, led to the establishment being regarded as an imperial foundation.

    Another imperial foundation is the Monastery of Makhairas, second only to that of Kykkos in sanctity and importance. It is situated on the slopes of Mount Kionia. Its singular title of Makhairas (or the Sword) is supposed to derive from the name of the first owner of the mountain on which it is built or, according to legend, from the miracle working icon it possesses which was originally found in a cave with a sword buried in front of it.

    The first to occupy the site was an aged hermit, Neophytos, expelled from Jordan by the Saracens in the 12th century. He came to Cyprus with his faithful disciple Ignatios and built a cell on Mount Aoos, where he resided until his death, Procopious. Being unable through lack of funds to realize their project of building a monastery, they appealed for assistance to the Emperor Manuel Komnenos (1143-1180 A.D.). On receiving the annual donation of fifty pieces of money, they built an oratory in honour of the Theotokos as well as a few cells for the inmates. When Prokopios died, Ignatios was joined by Neilos in 1172 who is considered the real founder of the establishment. At the consecration of Neilos, the privilege of independence which had already been secured by imperial decree, was formally recognised by the diocesan, Nikitas Hagiostephanites, Bishop of Tamasos.

    The Most eminent figure of 12 century monastic life in Cyprus, and the pride of Paphos to this day is undoubtedly St. Neophytos, the Recluse.

    Born in 1134 in the village of Lefkara, Neophytos entered the monastery of St. John Chrysostomos at Koutsoventis as a novice, determined to break off a marriage arranged by his parents. He left Cyprus in 1158 trying for a while to live as an anchorite near Jerusalem. In obedience to a vision, he returned to his native land and found retreat in the hills above Paphos. It was St. John the Baptist's Day (24th June) 1159, when he first took up his abode in a cave, the "Enklistra" in the face of a cliff. Digging by himself, he enlarged it and completed it by the 14th September the following year. Then he dedicated the cave to the Holy Cross and erected an altar within, as well as constructing a tomb for himself in its innermost recesses. A monastic community (for which Neophytos composed a (Ritual Ordinance) gathered around the cell of the Saint who was ordained priest by Bishop Vasilios Kinnamos of Paphos (1166-1205) in 1170.

    Neopohytos' fame attracted such crowds of pilgrims that in 1199 he exhanged the Enklistra for an even more inaccessible cave hewn by the saint in the living rock. Here, in his new retreat he continued to practise the most rigid austeritiies, only descending on Sunday to enlighten his disciples.

    Not only was the Enklistra of St. Neophytos the most influential monastic centre of Paphos, but it was also a focus of ecclesiastical art. The wall paintings in the orginal Enklistra, begun, according to tradition, by St. Neophytos himself in 1170 are among the most remarkable of the 12th century frescoes of Cyprus.

    Thus a monastery was founded near the Enklistra to house the monks. About the middle of the 12th century and towards its end 4 other monasteries made their appearance: Panayia Chrysorrogiatissa, Panagyia Trooditissa, Panayia tou Araka, Lagoudera, which was painted in the reign of Leon Afthentos in 1192, and St. Chrysostomsos at Koutsoventis, where St. Neophytos first went into retreat. In the 13th century were founded the Monastery of Kantara, known by the account of the martyrdom of the 13 monks in 1231 and the monastery of Panayia at Pallouriotissa, which no longer exist.

    In addition to the monasteries mentioned above, there are also others today, particularly convents, which are flourishing, like those of St. Heracleidios, St. Panteleimon, St. Minas, St. George Alamanos, Panayia tis Glossas and St. Kendeas.

    During the 16 centuries of its existence, Cypriot monasticism has, according to conditions and historical developoments, known periods of both prosperity and decline. But whether thriving or experiencing difficult times, it has served not only the Orthodox Church of Cyprus and Orthodoxy in general but also the nation.

    In the times of tragic vicissitudes endured by our people, the monasteries were always the safest refuge not only for learning but also for the arts: icon painting, carving, decoration, calligraphy, miniatures, all bear seal of our monks.

    In the effort to survive, the monasteries were strong religious bastions against various conquerors. In the struggle of our people for freedom, the monasteries proved to be their natural leaders and the protagonists in their insurrections until the recent liberation struggle (1955-59). Through the centures they have been like blazing beacons, intellectual, moral, religious and national, which have influenced the conscience, the moral and intellectual development and the social life of our people.

    (Source: "Cyrpus Today", A Quarterly Cultural and Informative Review of the Ministry of Education and Culture., Published by the Press and Information Office, Ministry of the Interior, Nicosia, Cyprus.., Volume XXXV, January-June, 1997 Nos 1-2., pp. 2-15)


    Glory Be To GOD For All Things!

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