September 24, 2021

Holy New Hieromartyr Haralambos Michailides of Louroujina in Cyprus (+ 1924)

St. Haralambos of Louroujina (Feast Day - September 24)

The difficult living conditions of the years of Ottoman rule contributed to the fact that many Greek residents of Cyprus converted to Islam in order to survive. In many cases this accession was fictitious and the neophyte Muslims, while declaring publicly faith in Muhammad, secretly remained Christians.

Unfortunately, over time the descendants of many of the Islamized were Turkified and lost permanently their Hellenism. However, many Linobambaki Christians, as the Crypto-Christians were called in Cyprus, resembling a fabric that has two sides, one of linen and one of cotton, continued to experience the tragic situations created by their dual religious status, until the first years of British rule, when the free exercise of the religious rights of the inhabitants was allowed and many identified themselves as Christians. Faced with this development, the Turkish minority of the island reacted and sought to assimilate the Linobambaki by establishing schools and building mosques in the Crypto-Christian villages.

The consequence of this action was to create a climate of terrorism among them, with the result that many of them chose to remain in hiding even during the first years of British rule. This was compounded by the fear they felt of their imminent punishment for abandoning Islam in the event of the island returning to the Ottoman Empire.

A typical example is the case of the village of Louroujina, where many residents of the so-called "Ottomans" continued to be baptized and participate in the mysteries of the Orthodox Church, until the beginning of the 20th century. Many others, however, adopted the Turkish-Islamic way of life and its ideology in the early 1880s.

Then, a dervish went to the village, where he managed to persuade about seventy young Linobambaki to be circumcised and to be the first nucleus for his Turkification. That is, something that had not happened during the difficult years of Ottoman rule, now took place in conditions of religious freedom, during the years of British rule.

Meanwhile, the people of Louroujina continued to experience their dual existence throughout this period. Finally, in the early 1920s, the fanatical newcomer teacher Ratzi Effendi settled in the community, who tried to Turkify the remaining Linobambaki. Ratzi Effendi, since taking over the management of the Turkish school, which in the meantime had reopened as a mosque school at the expense of a wealthy Turk from Nicosia, after instilling in his students aversion to the Christian faith and its sacred symbols, led the way in creating conflicts between the children who attended his school and the Christian children.

The whole situation that had been created contributed to the Linobambaki inhabitants of the village gradually being cut off from their spiritual relations with the priest of the community, Papa-Haralambos Michailides, and stopped baptizing their children. Papa-Haralambos tried to bring them back to their old habits, but it was an action that infuriated the fanatics, who, one night, stoned him and beat him. It seems, however, that the priest continued his ecclesiastical activity and for this reason it was decided to assassinate him, so that the fanatics would get rid of any obstacle in the implementation of their plan for the complete Turkification of the community.

Papa-Haralambos Michailides was born in 1862 in Louroujina and married at a young age the daughter of the former priest of the village, with whom he had three daughters. His wife, however, passed away very young, leaving to Papa-Haralambos, who had meanwhile been ordained, the responsibility of raising their children. The humble priest proved to be a loving father and in the very difficult conditions of the time he managed to raise his children, who later started their own families. Unfortunately, one of his daughters died at a young age, leaving four young children orphaned, which caused him great grief.

From various references in sources of the time we are informed that Papa-Haralambos was a hospitable, hardworking and compassionate man and took care of the improvement of the living conditions of his fellow villagers, regardless of origin and religion. For this purpose he had offered an area of his own land to the Agricultural Department, in order to create a model vineyard, from which to guide the inhabitants of the villages of the area in their agricultural activities. In the early 1920s, when the systematic action of Ratzi Effendi began, Papa-Haralambos used to spend the night in his field, which was located just outside the village. He was assassinated in this area with an axe, on the night of September 24, 1924, while he was sleeping.

The investigation of the murder was undertaken by the policeman Tillyros, who immediately ruled out the possibility of robbery and focused his investigations on the action of the fanatics and the racial hatred that they had cultivated. Shortly afterwards, brothers Mustafa Bairam Batta and Yusuf Bairam Burundi, as well as Osman Hassan Karaoli, all residents of Louroujina, were arrested. In court, however, the latter appeared as a prosecution witness, after the police considered him an "accomplice witness", in order to testify against the first two. According to him, the murder was committed by the two brothers, while he had accompanied them to the crime scene and was present at it, after threats made by the killers against him.

From the minutes of the trial and the publications of the newspapers of the time, valuable information is extracted about the role that Papa-Haralambos played in the secret spiritual life of the Linobambaki inhabitants of the village. It is noteworthy that one of the detainees, Mustafa Bairam Batta, pointed to the "accomplice witness", Osman Karaoli, as the murderer, and stated that the latter cited as the reason for the execution of the priest the latter's interest in the Linobambaki by continuing to baptize their children.

It is noteworthy that the hearing was conducted in the Greek language, since this was the only language known to both the "Ottoman" defendants and the prosecution witnesses. Eventually, the Nicosia Criminal Court found Mustafa and Yusuf guilty and sentenced them to death.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.