A Kissonerga priest who was slammed for leaving his congregation and walking out of an Easter church service on Saturday night because it was disrupted by firecrackers, on Monday defended his decision to move the liturgy to another church.
The right path to the message of the Resurrection of Christ was through the church and not through lighting big fires, according to the priest, Father Andreas who could no longer bear the noise of the bonfire revellers and the firecrackers, all of which symbolise the burning of Judas Iscariot for betraying Christ.
According to reports, Father Andreas stopped his Holy Saturday liturgy at the Metamorfosis tou Sotiros church in Kissonerga, Paphos, a little before 12am, when the message of the Resurrection was to be heard, and resumed the liturgy at the nearby church of Ayios Kononas, which was standing empty.
Some church goers followed the priest, while the majority of the congregation at the initial church, listened to the Resurrection message through a car radio instead. The priest’s move angered many, while Kissonerga community leader Giorgos Stylianou, called on the Bishop of Paphos and the Archbishop to deal with the issue. He added that they were already gathering signatures for the removal of Father Andreas.
The lighting of the bonfire was scheduled to take place at 11pm, Stylianou told the Cyprus News Agency, but “due to a delay, the priest abandoned the church before the Resurrection message was heard”. The Resurrection message is heard at around midnight.
Paphos Bishop Georgios however, defended the priest’s actions, and said that he was right to do what he did.
He added that it was agreed that the bonfire should be lit at 11pm, and that there would be no loud explosions close to midnight when the majority of the followers go to the church to hear the message of the Resurrection. But instead, the Bishop said, “a very loud bang shook the whole of Kissonrega. He (Father Andreas) said that he could not continue and went to the nearby church. He acted correctly,” Bishop Georgios said.
Defenders of the priest, said that the noise pollution and commotion outside the church due to firecracker-throwing and the bonfire was unbearable, while churchgoers’ safety was threatened.
The Easter bonfires, or lambradjies as they are locally known, are a major headache for the police. The bonfires are lit typically around churches or empty fields following the Holy Saturday midnight mass.
Father Andreas’ move, Stylianou said, was “arbitrary” and “such actions werenot in line with Orthodoxy”.
But Father Andreas said in his announcement on Monday that his departure “showed the right path to the meaning of the Resurrection, which is not through lighting big fires reminiscent of outdated cultures of times long gone”.
“The light of the Resurrection is not experienced through the custom of the bonfire”, the announcement said, but through prayers within the church. “It is my duty to be the guide of my flock and not the follower of social traditions”.
“Those who believe in bonfires, let them defend it”, he said, “and they should let the priest defend the right of the truth of Jesus Christ as he knows best”.
He added that he did not force the Kissonerga community council not to light the bonfire, or to put it out, and that he did not force anyone to follow him. “All ye faithful come to the bonfire, and others to the church,” he said.
He added that as a proof, the church of Ayios Kononas, “came to life with the faithful who chose like every year to experience the meaning of the Resurrection,” he said.
On the other hand, he said, the Kissonerga sports field, where the bonfire was burning, was left empty by the defenders of the custom, who tried to spread “inaccuracies” through the internet, as to the incident.