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June 11, 2009

The Apostle Barnabas and the Church of Cyprus

Saint Barnabas the Apostle (Feast Day - June 11)

Barnabas was born in Salamis, Cyprus and joined the Apostle Paul to spread the Gospel throughout Cyprus and Asia Minor. However, the two men split up over the objection to Barnabas' cousin John Mark coming along too. John Mark and Barnabas thus went on their own missionary journey throughout Cyprus without Paul.

In 57 A.D., the Jewish community in Salamis objected to his preaching in the synogogue, and had Barnabas dragged out, tortured and stoned to death. The Jews then had his remains wrapped in a sheet and hid them in some marshland, prior to being disposed at sea. The Apostle John Mark, who was a witness of this barbarous action, together with some converted slaves rescued the body of Saint Barnabas and buried it in an old tomb under a carob (some say cherry) tree to the west of Salamis. On the chest of Saint Barnabas his cousin placed a Gospel book of Matthew written by Barnabas. Hotly pursued by the Jews, who had discovered their plan, they escaped to Nicosia, where they managed to elude their pursuers and escaped to Egypt. The relics of Saint Barnabas, one of the first christian martyrs, remained hidden in this tomb for the next four hundred years unknown to anyone.

Saints Paul and Barnabas the Apostles

In 115 one of the most terrible events in the history of Cyprus occurred. A revolt arose by the Jews throughout the Roman Empire. In Cyprus, under the leadership of Artemion, the Jews slaughtered over 240,000 fellow-citizens. This revolt caused such prejudice against the Jews to spread, that it took centuries before another Jew was allowed to step on the island of Cyprus without being severely punished. The one positive outcome of this atrocity was that since the Jews were expelled from Cyprus, Christianity could flourish among the pagans.

A few of the Bishops who helped spread Christianity on the island were Lazarus the bishop of Kition (whom Jesus rose from the dead), Herakleidios the bishop of Tamasos, Avxivios the bishop of Soloi, and Theodotos the bishop of Kyrenia. Saint Spyridon the Wonderworker was bishop of Tremithous and represented Cyprus during the First Ecumenical Synod along with two other bishops of Cyprus (one historian says there were twelve bishops from Cyprus). Towards the end of the fourth century, Christianity had spread throughout the island. During this time Saint Epiphanius, the great defender of Orthodoxy, was Metropolitan. His seat was in Salamis, which was renamed Constantia.

The island of Cyprus had been part of the civil diocese of the East and administered by an official sent from Antioch. Since the jurisdiction of Cyprus was under Antioch on the civil and political level, it was believed by the Patriarch of Antioch that this jurisdiction should also be extended ecclesiastically as well. To gain the support of Pope Innocent I of Rome, a letter was written by Patriarch Alexander I of Antioch in which he made the unwarranted claim that his predecessors laid claim over Cyprus until things lapsed during the Arian schism of Eustathios. Without questioning the intentions of his fellow bishop, Innocent supported Antioch in its claim over Cyprus and ordered Cyprus to submit under Antioch. The Christians of Cyprus refused.

In 431 at the Third Ecumenical Synod of Ephesus, the Church of Antioch represented by Patriarch John tried to prevent the Church of Cyprus from gaining autocephaly, insisting it be under the jurisdiction of Antioch. The Church of Cyprus, represented by Metropolitan Rheginos, insisted on independence by claiming "ancient custom" be upheld in which Cyprus always ordained its own bishops and never was under the jurisdiction of Antioch. The same metropolitan also listed a series of grievances against Antioch for interfering in its election processes of bishops in the past and even harassing visiting Cypriot bishops to Antioch. The bishops of Antioch had no evidence to support their claims. The Fathers of the Synod ratified the autocephalous status of the Church of Cyprus in its seventh session on August 31st (some say July 31) with the third canon and prevented any further molestation by the Patriarchs of Antioch.

In c. 488 Peter the Fuller, the famous Monophysite patriarch of Antioch, appeared in Constantinople to renew the old claims for jurisdiction in Cyprus from Emperor Zeno. Peter, unlike John, asserted his rights to supremacy not on ancient custom, but on the belief that christianity originally spread from the apostolic foundations of Antioch to Cyprus. Antioch claimed as its first bishop the Apostle Peter. Bishop Anthemios of Salamis (Constantia) and Metropolitan of all Cyprus was summoned to the capital to give an answer. They knew they also had apostolic foundations in the person of Saint Barnabas, but the problem was that there was no proof to back up the claims of the Cypriot christians.

There is no doubt the claims of Peter the Fuller would have succeeded had not divine authority intervened. After Anthemios was called to Constantinople he began having dreams over a period of three nights. Saint Barnabas started appearing in the dreams of Bishop Anthemios directing him to his long forgotten tomb under a carob (some say cherry) tree. The bishop found the tomb exactly where the vision had indicated, complete with a skeleton clutching a copy of the Gospel of Saint Matthew written by the hand of the Apostle Barnabas. Theodoros Lector, a Church historian of those days, reports that both the relics and the gospel book were presented by Anthemios to Emperor Zeno who received them with great joy and had the gospel book covered in gold and jewels. Peter the Fuller was immediately dismissed after a synod was called by Patriarch Akakios of Constantinople confirming the independent status of the Church of Cyprus. Zeno also granted its bishop, Anthemios of Salamis, the status of Archbishop and ranked after the five ancient patriarchates, along with the so-called "three privileges" which have been zealously guarded ever since: namely 1. to sign his name in cinnabar, a red ink made vermilion by the addition of the mineral cinnabar which was only used by the emperor (this red ink was used when Archbishop Makarios signed the document granting Cyprus independence from Britain in 1959); 2. to wear imperial purple instead of black robes under his vestments; and 3. to hold an imperial sceptre instead of the regular episcopal pastoral staff.

The discovery of the relics of Saint Barnabas by Bishop Anthemios

Severus of Antioch mentions in his letter to Bishop Thomas of Germanicea that sometime between 496 and 511 he visited Constantinople and examined the Gospel of Matthew discovered in the tomb of the Apostle Barnabas, and mentioned it "was written in large letters, and was preserved with great honor in the royal palace". Severus also noted that it was free of certain falsifications that existed in the Gospel of Matthew commentaries of Saints John Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexandria regarding a purported passage that Jesus was pierced with a spear at the crucifixion (these two Saints confused the lectionary of the Church which interpolated various accounts of the Gospels, in this case the Gospel of John, with the singular Gospel of Matthew). The eleventh century Roman historian Georgios Kedrenos mentions that an uncial manuscript of Matthews Gospel, believed to be found by Anthemios, was then still preserved in the Chapel of Saint Stephen in the imperial palace. We are informed also that every Good Friday the reading from the Gospel of Matthew was done from this gospel book in the Chapel of Saint Stephen.

The tomb of Saint Barnabas

Saint Barnabas is considered the patron Saint of Cyprus. The fact that he appeared to Archbishop Anthemios at that particular time was seen as a divine intervention to halt the spread of the monophysite heresy into Cyprus. A monastery was established on the site of Saint Barnabas' tomb in Salamis in c. 488 with funds provided by the Roman Emperor Zeno and the rich members of the imperial court. Though the gospel book remained in Constantinople, Anthemios was able to bring the relics of Saint Barnabas back to Cyprus. However, the church was destroyed by Arab raiders in the seventh century, but it was rebuilt. The present church and cloisters at the monastery of Saint Barnabas date from 1756, and parts of the building reused columns from the ancient site at Salamis.

The Monastery of Saint Barnabas in Cyprus

The independence of the Church of Cyprus was confirmed by the Trullan Synod in Constantinople in 692. Attempts were made subsequently by the patriarchs of Antioch to claim authority over the Cypriot Church, the last as recently as 1600, but in vain.

Cyprus was saved in many ways by the discovery of the relics of Saint Barnabas. One historian, Kyprianos, remembering all these benefits, writes:

"I doubt whether any other Apostle so defended his native land and proved himself such a patriot as our Barnabas, who during his life freed his fellow countrymen from the abominable worship of idols by teaching them the true faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, and after his death delivered the holy Church of his native land from the oppression of the ambitious and grasping clergy of Antioch, and raised it to such an eminence that it was the envy even of those of the highest rank in the hierarchy. Truly and without doubt the veritable Son of Consolation he, I mean Barnabas, fulfilled in all respects the injunction: 'Fight for faith and fatherland'. Under what an obligation then are we Cypriots to the deliverer of our souls, to the benefactor and originator of our Church's renown, let each decide for himself; and let us celebrate the patron and protector of his native land both in the present life and in the one to come."

The mausoleum of Saint Barnabas

A video of the Monastery of Saint Barnabas can be seen here.

Aerial-veiw of the Monastery of Saint Barnabas

A Parapalegic Walks to the Tomb of Saint Barnabas

A Miracle of the Apostle Barnabas in Recent Times 
That Left Muslims, Atheists and Doctors in Amazement.

Two months after highly reported clerical scandals in Greece, on 15 March 2005, the following miracle occurred at the Monastery of the Apostle Barnabas in Cyprus.

The man himself, the Church, and even his doctors attribute his cure to a miracle.

All hopes had vanished for the parapalegic Mario and his doctors in Cyprus and Germany that he would never walk again. But a miracle happened after he venerated the tomb of the Apostle Barnabas.

Marios Stylianos, forty years old, from the Turkish occupied Ammochosto and who currently lives in Lefkosia, was left a parapalegic after surgery on his neck, for which he traveled abroad. He related himself that he had seen in a dream the Apostle Barnabas, who told him to write a book about his life and as soon as it was finished to go to his tomb and he would walk. Marios, following his dream, went to the tomb of the Apostle Barnabas in the occupied Monastery of the same name near Ammochosto, and after the Liturgy was finished at the tomb said that he saw the Apostle Barnabas approach him holding the Gospel and extending him his right hand. Then he made a cry and felt something like an electric current flowing through him, and he continued to get up from his wheelchair and walked, though supported.

Neurologist Michael Protopapas, who was caring for the parapalegic, related that both he and the German doctors who referred him to surgery believed with certainty the clinical picture which Marios Stylianos presented, and that he would not walk again. To the question if Marios Stylianos' paralysis could be attributed to psychosomatic causes, he said that all of the specific tests had showed that the spinal cord did not send any "signal" to Marios' foot. Having been asked whether he believes that his is a miracle, he replied: "Above everything is God. This I believe personally."

Marios Stylianos with Elder Gabriel, the last monk of the Monastery of Saint Barnabas

Moreover, the Church spokesman related that there was great concern whether the event should be disclosed. Eventually, he said, the view prevailed that this fact should be the property of the people.

Of course it is always important to approach these situations with caution.

However, the Church is being cautious about proclaiming the case a miracle. The Bishop of Arsinoe said the Church did not rule out miracles but would not jump to any immediate conclusions. Echoing his comments, Bishop Chrysostomos of Paphos, who is acting head of the Church, told the Cyprus Mail yesterday he would prefer not to make any judgments, saying it had not happened on his “territory”. If he had, he said he would be more than willing to give a lengthy statement. “I believe in miracles but we should not accept them at a glance,” he said. “It needs analysis.”

Marios Stylianos taking his first steps after the miracle.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos from:

Procession with the icon of Saint Barnabas in Cyprus on June 11, 2009