For the first time in half a century, the Armenian community of Cyprus was on Sunday able to worship at the newly-restored Sourp Asdvadzadzin Church in occupied Nicosia.
Speaking to The Cyprus Daily on Monday, Chairman of the Diocesan Council of the Armenian Church Sebouh Tavitian said the liturgy had been very moving for all who attended.
“It was very successful in that it was attended by representatives and religious leaders. Many ambassadors were present as well as the representatives of many organisations from all the communities,” Tavitian said.
“Most importantly, the Armenian community was there in big numbers including those of a young age and the very elderly so it was clear special effort had been made for this special occasion.”
He said that, talking to people afterwards, it became clear those who crossed the Green Line to attend the service, the first at the church since December 1963, had been moved by the experience. “Many were in tears,” Tavitian said.
He said the service, performed by the Armenian Archbishop of Cyprus Varoujan Herkelian had included a reconsecration of the old church and main entrance as the buildings had not been used as a place of worshop for 50 years.
“In his sermon the Archbishop thanked God for making it possible to once again worship there after 50 years and also thanked all those who contributed in different ways to make this day possible,” Tavitian said.
“He also emphasised the importance of love and of creating peace.”
Also speaking at the event, parliamentary Armenian Religious Group representative Vartkes Mahdessian thanked the people and organisations who contributed to the church and monastery’s restoration and the organisation of the service.
He also talked about the need to bring up the new generation to respect existing differences in belief and ways of approaching things.
Tavitian on Sunday also read out some of the numerous e-mails received on the occasion, including from the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Heiner Bielefeldt, and the architect and engineer responsible for the restoration Stefano de Vito and Paolo Vitti, expressing their joy that a church service was once again being held at the historic place.
“The church was packed,” Tavitian said, “there was not even a place to stand and quite a few people had to stay outside.”
He added that two of the neighbouring school buildings had been left open for the occasion so that people could visit their childhood classrooms, reminisce about their teachers and remember where they sat.
Tavitian said it was unfortunately impossible for services to be held at the church every Sunday but that it would be used on special holy days and occasions, particularly those honouring the Virgin Mary.
The restoration of the 14th century Gothic Armenian Church and Monastery complex in the Arabahmet neighbourhood of northern Nicosia is an initiative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The buildings were abandoned in the course of the inter-communal troubles in 1963.