Following Apostolic Footsteps to Cyprus
Continuing the report by the Society’s president of his recent extended service tour. The last Installment left N. H. Knorr and his secretary as they prepared to leave Turkey for Cyprus.
CHRISTIANS have long thrilled to the Scriptural accounts of the exploits of Paul, Barnabas and others of the early Christian church. It is a pleasure to relate from personal experience that their labors were not at all in vain. Even today in the very lands where these men lived and worked, true Christianity goes forward successfully. True, it is hemmed in by opposition from some of the fraudulent unchristian imitations that plague the work of Christians elsewhere, but this does not deter the true ministers of God.
Upon our arrival in Cyprus after an air journey southward across Turkey, Brother Henschel and I recollected how Paul and Barnabas had sailed to Salamis, an ancient city on the east coast, and how Paul had crossed the island to the city of Paphos where he talked to the governor of the island and converted him to Christianity. (Acts 13:4-12) This, our first visit to Cyprus, was to be highlighted by a large Christian assembly which the brothers there had arranged in the island’s walled capital city, Nicosia. The Royal Cinema, a modern theater in the residential section, was booked for three days and the city’s most prominent theater, the Pallas Cinema, for the public talk Sunday morning. According to Cyprus law, a permit was secured from the town’s commissioner, a measure necessary there for religious meetings held outside churches.
An extensive effort was made to properly advertise the assembly to Nicosia’s 50,000 inhabitants. Four large banners were prepared in both English and Greek and mounted on the side of the Royal Cinema. There were 25,000 handbills and 200 posters printed in Greek and English. Advertisements concerning the public meeting were flashed on the screens in the largest cinemas. One English, three Greek and two Turkish newspapers carried announcements of the talk, “Will Religion Meet the World Crisis?” The island’s leading Communist newspaper and the leading nationalist newspaper, both published in Greek, refused to insert the advertisements. The Communists said it was against their party line, and the nationalists said they must first have the approval of the archbishop. We did not need their publicity anyway, because when Jehovah’s witnesses got in town and started talking and going from door to door, an even greater witness would be given.
Almost at once this activity produced a division in the populace when intolerant opposers, overanxious to prevent others from hearing, tore down many of the posters. We learned of other instances of groundless opposition to the truth. Children of Jehovah’s witnesses living in the villages are subject to expulsion from school for their refusal to make the “sign of the cross”. Priests use their influence against those who show interest in our work, trying to have them fired from their employment. However, such tactics are not stumbling real truth seekers.
APPEALING SCENERY, HISTORIC LANDMARKS
On a journey to visit the Society’s branch office and missionary home at Famagusta, we had opportunity to view part of the scenic countryside. To the one side the horizon was fringed with snowcapped mountains, and to the other lay a rocky, almost treeless plain. The shepherds and their fat-tailed sheep moved across the scene. Oxen were pulling wooden plows. Heavily laden camels were on their way to the capital. A commoner sight was the humble peasant arrayed in baggy trousers, a turbanlike head covering and sitting astride the famous Cyprus donkey. We passed through several Greek and Turkish villages with their houses made from bricks of mud and straw dried in the sun. A few were plastered over on the outside, but most of them were the color of the earth around them. Near Famagusta the landscape becomes greener.
After finishing our work at the branch home, our ride back to the capital took us by the ancient town of Chittim, famous for its ships in Bible times. In the distance we saw the “Mountain of the Cross” where a Greek Orthodox monastery is perched on the summit. Tradition holds that a relative of Emperor Constantine visited the island, bringing with her a piece of the “cross” which she left on the mountain, thus giving it its name. Monasteries are plentiful in Cyprus, and it should be added that they are great landowners, renting land to the poor farmers and adding to their poverty by their collections. Another interesting landmark is the conical-shaped hill where it is said the ancient worship of Aphrodite (Latin: Venus), goddess of love and beauty, was carried on. According to the legend of the island, Aphrodite was born off the foam of the sea near Paphos. It is said that her worship had its origin in Cyprus, and excavations show that she was worshiped extensively throughout the island.
The assembly opened the following day. Everyone thrilled to the talks presented and rejoiced too in the telegrams received from London and Australia. No sign of trouble appeared during the opening sessions, but the opposers of truth and free worship became evident on the next day, Saturday.
FALSE RELIGION INSPIRES MOB ACTION
The false religionists became very much disturbed when nearly 200 brothers and sisters began advertising the public lecture by means of placards. During the day no serious disturbance occurred. On Saturday evening, however, we learned how the Greek Hierarchy really felt. Young men attached to the Greek Orthodox Church were out on the streets with leaflets “exposing” Jehovah’s witnesses. Their printed material was headed: “ATTENTION, KEEP AWAY FROM THE MILLENNIALISTS.” Part of the leaflet’s contents follows:
“Again the men of error have arisen and try to draw you away. They can never be reformed and are unrepentant. But they also never get tired of advertising their false ideas. They are the famous Millennialists. They are the ones who call themselves ‘Jehovah’s witnesses’.
“Be careful lest they draw you away. Close your ears to their nonsense.
“Do you see? They have invited a stranger also to uphold them. . . .
“They are wolves in sheep’s clothing who come to devour the sensible sheep of Christ. For this reason drive them away and tear in front of them the books and leaflets which they offer you.
“The Millennialists are the greatest heretics.
“Do not approach them, don’t give them any attention. Ignore them, maybe they will come to their senses and be corrected.
From THE HOLY ARCHBISHOPRIC”
22. 12. 1951
That very night the hoodlums inspired by this spiteful source cut down the four banners advertising the public talk and took them away. The brothers prepared at once for further trouble.
The police too, on hand throughout the assembly, were out in good numbers when the public lecture began at 10:30 Sunday morning. As anticipated, a mob of ruffians mingled with the crowds and tried to gain admission. However, the brothers recognized them from previous occasions and prevented all but a handful from getting in. These few that did get into the hall were not bold enough to cause any trouble. Outside, the frustrated mobsters banged on the doors. The police quickly halted this. But they could not prevent the troublemakers from milling about. Some tried to sneak in singly with others of the public, but they were always ferreted out. Shortly after the talk began there were 420 persons present inside, including a large number of strangers. They listened attentively and were happy to receive a free booklet at the close of the meeting.
On learning that the meeting had concluded, the mob of Greek Orthodox fanatics, whose activities had evidently been instigated by “The Holy Archbishopric”, crowded into the arcade or entranceway. Apparently their scheme was to force the exiting crowds to mill through their midst. The brothers, seeing the situation, opened other exits at the side and in a few minutes all the audience was out on the streets. Whatever the mob had planned was thus put to nought; in fact, everyone was out of the theater before the mob in front of the place knew what had happened. The brothers rejoiced in this victory for theocratic worship.
APOSTLE’S PLANTING REAPS INCREASE
The assembly’s closing sessions that afternoon passed quickly and brought near the termination of our joyful visit to Cyprus. It would be fitting to mention that on our way from Famagusta back to the capital before the assembly, we had made a point to stop at the ruins of ancient Salamis visited by the apostle Paul. While there, our minds went back to the time when that energetic traveling missionary preached the message there that Jehovah’s spirit had directed. His work, like that of God’s modern-day witnesses, centered on declaring Jehovah’s supremacy and purposes. Some heard and accepted then, while others opposed. Still, the good news of the Kingdom fell on much fertile ground and other ministers took up the work.
How would Paul feel if he could visit the Kingdom publishers in Cyprus today? Five years ago, when the Society sent its first missionary, there were but 33 publishers in the entire island. In 1951 the report showed an average of 272 active in the work, with a peak of 337! They had realized a 33 per cent increase in 1950. Typical of their energy and zeal is the elderly pioneer minister who has been in the full-time service for fifteen years and says he has visited all but three cities and villages on the island. There is reason for confidence that the 450,000 “Cypriotes”, as the islanders are called, will receive a thorough witness concerning the Kingdom. Paul’s planting work was not wasted.
A large turnout of the brothers, anxious to send their love and best wishes to their companion Kingdom publishers in other parts of the world, was on hand to watch us board our plane. The growth of technical science since Paul’s day made possible a much quicker and easier departure from the island for us than was possible for him. But as respects the work of preaching Jehovah’s kingdom, only in this, as well as in the growth and maturity of the true Christian worship, have conditions changed in Cyprus since that time.
[Map on page 301]
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