Multiple surprises were in store for the organizers of Reformation 500 celebrations in Cyprus. The Seventh-day Adventist Church community in Cyprus took the initiative to commemorate the event, but were astonished at the way islanders connected with the project, by attending the event, and actively searching for the islands oldest Bible. A group of German holiday makers on the island, attended as direct descendants of Martin Luther’s co-worker, Philip Melanchthon.
The Cyprus Ministry of Culture and Education provided its oldest facility in Nicosia, the 13th century Kasteliotissa Medieval Hall, free of charge. More astonishingly, the only available date in a fully booked calendar of events was October 31, the exact date that marks the beginning of the reformation.
The mixture of exhibition, light refreshments, a choir, and two lectures attracted a sizable audience and was publicized in both Greek and English in leading newspapers and on several radio stations. This allowed the church to connect with a number of religious and government officials, and establish contacts with local people through a search for the oldest privately-owned Bible in Cyprus.
It was the quest for the oldest Bible in Cyprus that led pastor Branislav Mirilov, one of the main event organizers, to meet with Dr. Andrija Jakovljevic, a leading Orthodox Paleontologist. He made a significant contribution to the event by loaning copies of biblical manuscripts in Cyprus for the exhibition. He also made a short presentation. The oldest Bibles, dating back to the 11th century, included a gospel of Luke preserved in Kykkos monastery.
More surprises were in store, including unexpected guests -- descendants of Philip Melanchthon, a co-laborer with Martin Luther and the first systematic theologian of the Reformation. The family was visiting Cyprus when they saw a poster advertising the event and joined the celebration.
Starting at 4 pm, visitors found themselves on a voyage of discovery as they walked through an exhibition portraying the major events in the Christian Church from its formation to the present day. Visual illustrations and video clips guided the visitors through key points in the history of Christianity and told the story of the Reformation. Also highlighted, was a display of Bibles in different modern languages, supplied by the Bible Society of Cyprus, together with copies of the oldest biblical manuscripts found in Cyprian monasteries.
The large reproduction of Yadegar Asisi’s panorama of the Lutherstadt Wittenberg was also on display giving visitors the opportunity to experience Wittenberg as it was in the time of Luther. Creative activities were also organized for visiting children.
The evening program commenced with light refreshments and a Cantabile choir sharing musical items from the Reformation era. Dr. Andrija Jokovljevic then gave an informative lecture on Cyprus’ treasure of biblical manuscripts found in different monasteries across the island. This was followed by Dr. Radisa Antic, a renowned international speaker, writer and theologian, who delivered a lecture entitled The Protestant Discovery. The participants greatly appreciated the Question and Answer session that followed.
However, what about the oldest privately-owned Bible on the island that I mentioned earlier? Some days after the event a phone call came from a retired school inspector. Dr. Mirilov met with Pavlos Ianidis, describing it as one of his highlights connected with the Reformation event. “Holding the Latin and Greek Bible dating back to the 1590’s, was a special honor and a tangible way to connect with the Reformation,” he said.
The success of the program was equally linked to the efforts of so many volunteers who willingly gave of their best: Filipino friends of the church baking hundreds of cakes and making sandwiches, a Romanian sister and an Armenian brother baking delicious cakes, a retired pastor and his wife tirelessly helping with the setting up of the exhibition. Ladies in the printing shop taking to heart the design of the banner and making every single photograph in the exhibition look perfect. Two pastoral couples working round the clock, paying attention to the smallest details, and the enthusiasm of the church elder who connected with pastors of other protestant denominations in order to develop the multi-denominational choir that she conducted. Students rushed from their classes on Tuesday afternoon to serve as exhibition guides. Even the venue caretaker was eager to go an extra mile to accommodate the vision of the event.
This one event; one evening in Nicosia, has opened doors of good will, and built significant bridges with individuals and communities. An event where 92 church members reached out to a community of 1.2 million mainly Greek speaking Cypriots and a large international community.