Madeline Blount
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The Isolated Monastery

May 2, 2009 @ 3:48 PM | Permalink

I realized after writing that title that most monasteries are isolated. Monks and nuns tend to seek solitude for their prayer and study; some monasteries in Greece are even built on the top of mountains that you can only access through ladder (or goat).   The monks and priests at Agios Apostolos monastery are even further isolated: they are running a Greek Orthodox church in Turkish Cypriot territory.

The monastery sits on the edge of the island, looking out onto the Mediterranean; it would be hard not to contemplate the beauty and awesome nature of the world from here.  Except the bazaar of goods being sold outside by neighboring Turkish Cypriots might get in the way:


kitchen supplies, including plates with someone else's baby on them (??), and toy guns.

The UN-enforced Green Line separates this monastery from those who hold it sacred in the South Greek Cypriot community.  Since this border opened up more fluidly in 2008, pilgrims can come up here whenever they choose to make the crossing.  Before 2008, the monastery was open to pilgrims only once a year, when both communities said "politics aside" for one day and Greek Cypriot families could come up and worship at Agios Apostolos.  It could not have really been politics aside, however; the Greek Cypriots making the journey (apparently the lines of cars wrapped around the mountains in the area) would have seen the Turkish Cypriot flags here, and the pilgrims themselves made a profound statement by their mere presence on The Other Side.  The caravans performed Greekness.

Now, with the porous border, Orthodox Cypriots can come whenever for the trek.  Or the boat trip:

Inside the church, I felt that distinctive hush of entering the dark Orthodox sanctuary.  I strained to see if this occupied monastery felt any different, but the candles and icons and incense were only familiar.  At the nave of the church, however, I was stopped by what looked like a shrunken head.  And yet another image of a baby.

I have to admit I looked at these wax effigies in horror until my Greek Cypriot travel companion told me what they were.  The shaped candles are votive charms, brought to the monastery so that pilgrims will pray for the specific healing of a head, a baby, an arm or leg.  The focus on imagery and synecdoche in Orthodoxy extends beyond icons then.  Next to these hanging figures was a wall of metal offerings serving the same purpose:

Don't they look just like Mexican milagros?

Pilgrims also come to the monastery to drink from a sacred spring, blessed by St. Andrew who supposedly shipwrecked in Cyprus and founded a church on this spot.  I filled my water bottle with the holy water.  I think I still have some in my refrigerator.

On our way out, I stopped to take a picture of the collection box.  My Cypriot friend put some coins on the top of the safety box, not in the slot.  He says that everyone who comes here knows to put their donations on the top where the priest will take it, rather than drop it in where the Turks have the key and "will take a portion off the top, like the Ottoman tribute times."   The pain of occupation in Cyprus reveals itself in these small things most I think.

"It's just like the tributes we used to give the Ottomans," he had said.  In Cyprus Time, the Ottomans were here only yesterday, and St. Andrew and his shipwreck was only the day before.  



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Loved the ending on this. Related: I find that sometimes I remember a meeting or moment but can't recall what country it happened in. I also find that if I ...

Saleem Reshamwala on Upon Waking, and Placelessness 2009-03-23

Thanks Saleem -- I've also experienced that tonguetied delirium from speaking multiple languages in the same conversation. . . interesting to think of meaning separate from words, does meaning require ...

Madeline Blount on Upon Waking, and Placelessness 2009-03-26

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