November 14, 2015

Saint Euphemianos the Wonderworker and his Church in Lysi of Cyprus

St. Euphemianos of Lysi (Feast Day - November 14)

According to the Cypriot chronicler Leontios Machairas, Saint Euphemianos lived as an ascetic near the village of Lefkoniko in the plain of Masaoria, and was one of three hundred Palestinian refugees who fled to Cyprus during the Arab persecutions against the Christians in the mid-12th century. These three hundred men were ordinary Orthodox Christian Greco-Roman men who were to fight in the Second Crusade that took place between 1147-1149, but when they arrived in Palestine the battle was over, so they went to Jerusalem and venerated the Holy Places. Then they decided to live the ascetic life in the wilderness of Jordan, but the Arab raids forced them to flee to Cyprus for refuge, where each individual went his own way to live by themselves in a remote location as ascetics. Perhaps during that time the village of Lysi and the other villages in the area were not yet founded, and this is why Machairas placed him in Lefkoniko. Lefkoniko is not very far from Lysi and maybe at that time the vicinity of the village reached as far as the area where Saint Euphemianos exercised a life of asceticism. Anyways, one way or another, after the Saint disembarked in Cyprus, he walked through many places, hills, mountains, valleys, ravines, and came to the place where the chapel dedicated to his name is now found. There, he lived as an ascetic in a cave, in a hole in the earth, and drank water from the river that was near. And after the Saint lived a life of prayer, fasting and vigils, divine grace overshadowed him, and he was given the gift to work many miracles that benefited Christians. His fame spread and many came to hear his words, receive his blessing and be comforted and strengthened in their own Christian journey. He died in old age, beloved by the people, and was buried where he lived. Later, around 1300, the faithful erected a picturesque Byzantine church in honor of the Saint, and decorated it with beautiful frescoes.

However, with time, the name of the Saint was corrupted and in the Cypriot dialect he was called Phenianos (Φηνιανός), Thymianos (Θυμιανός), or Thomianos (Θωμιανός). The church itself was colloquially known to the local villagers as St. Phenianos (Άις Φηνιανός). In an inscription at the church of the Saint he is referred to as Themonianos. Perhaps this name was given because of the hay stacks (themonies) that were piled up there by the residents of Lysi, and perhaps earlier they used to thrash their food staff at this place. Technically, the Church of Saint Euphemianos is a chapel, due to its diminutive size and the fact that it was not the main church of Lysi, there was no priest assigned to it, and services were only held there on special occasions. Before the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, thousands would visit the church on the Saint’s feast day on November 14. Today it remains in the occupied area.

In the tradition of the local residents, Saint Euphemianos cures insomnia. A few years before the Turkish invasion, a villager from Achna came to the church of the Saint asking to be cured from insomnia. And after the Saint healed him, this person went every year to the church dedicated to the Saint which is near Lysi and along with other residents of Lysi and its surroundings, made the feast of the Saint. It is in this church dedicated to Saint Euphemianos that three hunters a few years before the Turkish invasion of Cyprus came to find protection from the rain and one of them insisted to also put the dog that they had with them in the church in order not to get wet. The others however, held him back saying that such an act is disrespectful. With perseverance, however, he put the dog in as well. Then a thunderbolt fell and hit the disrespectful man and he died while the others were terrified.

The Church of Saint Euphemianos is currently under Turkish occupation. Its 14th century murals were removed by the Turks and were found in Houston, Texas. After discussions between the Menil Foundation in Houston, the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus and the Church of Cyprus, it was agreed in February of 1992 for the Foundation to keep the murals in the form of borrowing for twenty years, but this was done under the name of the Republic of Cyprus, and the Menil Foundation acknowledged that the murals were the property of the Church of Cyprus. The Foundation opened the Byzantine Fresco Chapel in 1997, a purpose-built home for the frescoes designed by architect François de Menil. The Byzantine Fresco Chapel also serves as the space for exhibition of the frescoes which are the only intact Byzantine frescoes of this size and importance to be found anywhere in the entire western hemisphere. On September 23, 2011 the Church of Cyprus and the Menil Foundation announced that they had reached an agreement for the repatriation of the frescoes to Cyprus upon the expiration of the loan agreement in February 2012.

Apolytikion in the First Tone
The luminary of the venerable ones and the boast of Lysi, let us sing praises to Euphemianos the divinely-inspired; you spread your faith, and through asceticism and intense prayer, you ardently flew your nous to the chambers of glory, as we cry out: Glory to Christ Who glorified you, glory to Him Who crowned you, glory to Him Who performs healings through you to the faithful.

You earnestly and firmly gazed, to the heights of knowledge, sacred Euphemianos, through resolute pain, defender of Cyprus, and healer of ills, you we praise.