WASHINGTON, June 26, 2012 – With its record-setting number of visitors this year, Israel may remain the center of the Holy Land region for faith travelers who want to walk where Jesus and His disciples walked and taught.
But there’s much more to experience in nearby countries like Cyprus.
As one of the Mediterranean’s most historic and beautiful islands, Cyprus is a sun and sea companion destination that’s only about an hour by air from Tel Aviv or Amman. Cyprus enjoys good relations with Israel, free of political or military strife, and it’s filled with biblical significance - notably the Apostle Paul’s contributions to the faith.
Because the nation was once part of the United Kingdom, English is readily spoken throughout.
When the apostle Paul embarked on his first missionary journey, he took Cypriot-born Barnabas with him. They sailed from Antioch and landed first at the Cyprus port of Salamis in the eastern Mediterranean. On the island they met John Mark and a community of Jewish believers who had taken refuge there after the martyrdom of Steven.
Paul and Barnabas traveled and preached the Gospel throughout Cyprus as far as Paphos, the island’s capital on the west coast. Cyprus was where Saul was first referred to as “Paul,” a Hellenized version of the Hebrew name.
Visitors to this eastern Mediterranean island find lots of sparkling coastal beauty, along with layers of secular and biblical history left by Greeks, Crusaders, Ottoman Turks and the apostles. Archaeological sites, Byzantine art and early church history are in the mix.
In Salamis - Paul’s landing site - there is a Roman theater, stadium, agora and several early Christian churches. Although it is not historically verifiable, tradition says Barnabas was martyred at Salamis in AD 61.
In Larnaca there’s Panagia Aggeloktisiti, the oldest known church in Cyprus dating to the 6th century. Another Larnaca stop for faith travelers is the Tomb of Lazarus, which is in a crypt beneath The Church of Aylos Lazaros.
Paphos is where the magician Elymas (Bar-Jesus) – a Jewish false prophet – opposed Paul who then rebuked and temporarily blinded him. It is also location of St. Paul’s Pillar, a stone column tradition says Paul was tied to when he was whipped with “40 lashes less one” (2 Cor. 11:24-25).
Tomb of the Kings is an ancient underground necropolis carved from rock whose chambers were a refuge for early Christians during the time of persecutions. The Monastery of St. Neophytos is a grotto created in 1159 by a monk who cut it out by hand. The site has fine frescoes from the 12th to the 15th centuries.
On the route between Salamis and Paphos, there’s Limassol. Most visitors stop at the rock there which marks the mythological birthplace of Aphrodite, ancient Goddess of Love and Beauty. Cyprus was an important pilgrimage center for the ancient world’s worship of the goddess.
For more information on touring Cyprus, go to visitcyprus.com.
Read more of Ruth Hill’s columns about faith travel at Contemporary Christian Travel in the Washington Times Communities.
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