Introducing the Spiritual Fabric of Cyprus
There are a few things that are non-negotiable for the people of Cyprus. These things can be defined as their delicious cuisine, their exceptional wines, their culture and traditions, and their religion. You could describe the various religions in Cyprus as a tapestry with various distinct designs. The tapestry wasn’t made in a day and the beautiful final product that we see today was woven over many, many years. Picture prehistoric inhabitants talking to nature’s spirits, cities and temples dedicated to deities, breathtaking mosques with people giving their all in prayer, and a mother reading to her children from the Bible.
A History of Faith: Understanding the Past
The Prehistoric Period
It’s common knowledge that things were vastly different in the prehistoric period. Well, this certainly includes religion because the inhabitants of Cyprus during this period (around 10,000 BCE) put all of their beliefs into animistic things. They believed that the elements of nature had their own inhabitants, known as spirits.
The Bronze Age
As the Bronze Age neared, so did the need for more complex religions. During this age, the inhabitants of Cyprus shifted their focus from spirits trapped in natural elements to deities.
The Big Shift
While the shift between the prehistoric period and the Bronze Age was a big one, there was an even bigger religious change in the years that followed. During this time, Cyprus became home to Phoenicians, Hittites, Assyrians, and Egyptians. When these empires started inhabiting and moving through the island, they brought their religions with them.
The Archaic Period
The Archaic Period was an important time for Cyprus. During this period, the island was introduced to Greek Culture, which then introduced Hellenistic religious traditions. The people’s belief in deities was strengthened when they constructed temples dedicated to popular names like Apollo, Zeus, and Aphrodite.
The Byzantine Era
This era brought the building blocks that shaped Cyprus’s Christianity to the table. When the Lusignan and Venetian periods came along, the Orthodox Christian practices were blended with Western practices as Gothic cathedrals were constructed over time.
The Ottoman Conquest
The first real challenge to the Orthodox faith was the introduction of Islam during the Ottoman Conquest in 1571. It was clear that the Islamic religion was on the rise as mosque after mosque was constructed on the island.
Along with Cyprus’ Independence in 1960, the ability for religions to coexist came along. From this year on, the locals in Cyprus made their own religious choices.
The Greek Orthodox Church
The Greek Orthodox Church is basically the heart of this Mediterranean Island’s religious identity. For many Cypriots, Orthodoxy is the most important aspect of their lives and once you visit Cyprus, you’ll immediately note the heartfelt passion that these people have for their religion. Most of their decisions are based on their beliefs and they take the church’s rituals very seriously.
Greek Orthodox Beliefs
Greek Orthodoxy and Christianity are mostly symmetrical when it comes to beliefs. Both have the Bible as their religious handbook and both believe in and worship the Trinity. However, there are some minor differences, like the fact that the Greek Orthodox church believes that the Trinity proceeds from God.
Greek Orthodox Traditions
There are many special traditions in Greek Orthodoxy There are four mandatory sacraments, which include Baptism, Chrismation, Confession, and Holy Communion. It’s also considered tradition to avoid any event or gathering for 40 days after someone dies and then another memorial service is held.
Islam in Cyprus
The Islamic faith is the second most present religion in Cyprus. You could say that Northern Cyprus is the Islamic side of Cyprus, as this is where the call to prayer has led the Cypriot Muslims.
The Muslims don’t believe in the Holy Trinity like the followers of the Greek Orthodox religion. For them, there is only one God. The other important roleplayer in the Islamic faith is Muhammad, God’s messenger. Their religious textbook is known as the Quran and they pray facing Mecca five times every single day. This practice is known as Salat.
There are many Islamic traditions, like Shahada, the act necessary to be accepted as a Muslim. Then, there’s also Zakat, which is a Muslim tax used to support the poor. Another tradition is Hajj, which is a pilgrimage that all Muslims need to take to Mecca at least once.
Religious Festivals: A Year-Round Celebration
There are various religious festivals held in Cyprus. Year in and year out the people of Cyprus gather to celebrate their beliefs and the significant events that have shaped the religion that they choose to follow. Here are some major religious festivals celebrated annually on the island:
Easter is the Orthodox religion’s biggest celebration of the year. It generally starts as a week of celebration that ends on Easter Weekend, which is when the magic happens. There are many mini-traditions that happen over the course of Easter, like fasting, dyeing eggs, making souvla, and mourning in Church.
The Muslims in Cyprus honor their religion by celebrating Ramadan in the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. The entire principle behind Ramadan is fasting for an entire month, which means no food, drinks, or gum during daylight hours. Eid al-Fitr, the feast of fast-breaking, is celebrated at the end of Ramadan and it involves a big feast, visiting the graves of relatives, and praying in mosques.
Sacred Sites: Must-Visit Religious Landmarks
Cyprus is considered an open-air museum filled to the brim with landmarks and monuments that tell great stories about the island’s rich cultural and religious history. Here are some landmarks that you can look out for when visiting the island:
The Kykkos Monastery
The Holy, Royal, and Stavropegic Monastery of Kykkos was founded by the Byzantine emperor, Alexios I Komnenos, at the end of the 11th Century. Today, it’s the most popular monastery in Cyprus and home to the icon of the Virgin Mary, which is covered as it’s believed to blind you when you look at it.
The Omeriye Mosque
Before this mosque, one of Cyprus’ most sacred Islamic buildings, was built, the piece of land was home to the Augustinian Church of Saint Mary. The mosque was built on instruction by the Ottoman Commander, Lala Mustafa Pasha. Turkish Cypriot folklore suggests that this mosque was the first to be used for prayer in 1571 after the big conquest.
Religious Art and Architecture in Cyprus
Everything in Cyprus speaks to culture and religion, from the exterior of most buildings to the ancient frescoes gracing the walls of the oldest structures on the island. There’s not much to say about the beautiful mosques on the island and the Greek Orthodox churches are also built in the traditional style.
What stands out is the presence of Byzantine iconography that tells deep stories about the saints and miracles that form a part of the Orthodox Christian religion. These artworks can be seen on the walls of most religious buildings and museums around Cyprus.
The island is also home to Islamic art, which you could say is a celebration of the Islamic religion. These artworks are more vibrant, with geometric patterns that represent the various aspects of this faith.
The Relationship Between Religion and Politics
When it comes to politics in Cyprus, a lot of the decisions are made based on religion. This could be due to the history of the Greek Orthodox Church and the significant role it played in Cyprus’ political landscape. On the other hand, it could be because of the Cypriot government’s inclusion of all the island’s people and their religious beliefs. The people of Cyprus are 100% free to choose their own religion and there’s no law or political system that prohibits them from making this choice.
Minority Religions: The Lesser-Known Faiths
While Orthodoxy and Islam are the two main religions in Cyprus, there is a small portion of locals on the island who have chosen to follow other paths. Here are some minority religions in Cyprus:
Sikhism: The number of Cypriots who refer to themselves as Sikhs totals up to 1.1% of the population.
Hinduism: When it comes to Hinduism, the people following this faith, known as Hindus, take up less than one percent of the population.
Buddhism: The number of Buddhists living in Cyprus is estimated to be 1% of the population.
Judaism: There is a very small portion of Cypriots, estimated at around 6,000 in 2022, that’s a part of the Jewish faith.
Atheism: Less than one percent of the Cypriot population are atheists, which means that they choose to follow no religion.
The Complexity of Faith in Cyprus
While Cyprus is divided and the two major religions play the biggest part in daily life and political decisions, there is still a place in the sun for the smaller religions that hide in the corners of the island. The people have learned to find their own harmony and embrace the beauty of being able to choose their own belief system.