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The Legacy of Joseph Barnabas in Cyprus

Paul's mentor and missionary traveling companion

Sufi Muslims Praying at the Tomb of Barnabas

October 2nd, 2011

Sufis at the tomb of Barnabas. Lynne watches and listens.

On Thursday, we returned to CAARI from the Archbishopric at 2:30. At 3:45, Steliana picked us up in her Volvo and off we went to Salamis. Along the way, she gave us lessons in Cypriot language and culture. When we arrived at the Church of St. Barnabas, we went first to the small chapel over the cave where, according to tradition, Barnabas was buried. We descended the steep steps, and met two Cypriot Greek women. One comes to the tomb every week to fill the lamp containers with oil and care for the tomb area. The other woman has a 16-year old son with leukemia, and she came to the tomb of Barnabas to pray for healing.

As we were talking, five Muslim men descended the stairs. I thought to myself, “Oh, no. This could be trouble.” The Imam told us that they wanted to “Say the prayers.” I wondered what kind of prayers they would say. Was this going to be one of those Muslim expressions of dominance over Christians?

Allahu Akbar. They seemed reverential, and their prayers sounded sincere. I understood a little, such as when they said “Allahu Akbar” (God is the greatest) or salaam (peace) or “Muhammad.” When they finished, we briefly spoke with them and discovered that they were Sufis (they seek to purify themselves of evil and experience a mystical union with God). I saw no defiance in their eyes. They seemed to be gentle people.

Traditional Tomb of St. Barnabas

The Imam explained at length that Barnabas was one of the original followers of the holy prophet Jesus and knew Jesus before the corruption of the New Testament (Muslims commonly believe that the NT experienced considerable corruption and is not a reliable witness to Jesus). He also said they believe that Jesus will return this year to set things right on earth, and the saints (including Barnabas) will rise from the dead and help Jesus rule the earth for 40 years. Steliana kept trying to get in her comments about Jesus being the Son of God, but the Imam gently dominated the conversation. He seems used to lecturing people.

He explained that saints have such a strong connection with God that being at their tombs is a powerful experience. The men were all pleased to show us photos on their iPhones of their spiritual master.

When we asked for a card with contact information, however, the Imam said, “Not here. This is a holy place.” So I went up the stairs and outside to talk with them. The Imam is from Bulgaria, and has attended an ecumenical peace conference in Washington, D.C. The others were from Turkey, London, and Panama. They were on a pilgrimage to the tomb of Barnabas.

I asked them what other Muslims would think if they knew that these men came to pray at the tomb of a Christian saint. He said, “Some of them are angry about everything. No matter what we do, we are criticized.” He added that they do not like to be classified with the angry Shia or the Wahhabi Sunnis. “True religion is about love and peace,” he said. “We reject all this anger and violence.”

After they left, Lynne and I looked at each other like “Can you believe what just happened?” We never dreamed that going to the tomb of Barnabas would result in such an amazing interaction with a group of Sufi men. We were stunned to learn that they hold saints in such high regard that they go to their tombs to pray.

The Chosen One. On the drive back to Nicosia, Steliana said she believes that Barnabas has called me to come to Cyprus to learn about him, and he will empower me to write my book. “Everything is coming together like pieces of a puzzle,” she said. I told her that I do not think that I do not have the knowledge or the skills to meet her expectations. She replied, “Barnabas would not have called you to Cyprus if you were not the right one for the job.” If Father Gabriel thinks the same way, it would explain why he is being so very helpful. But more about that next time, when I describe our pigeon dinner at the monastery.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

3 Responses to “Sufi Muslims Praying at the Tomb of Barnabas”

  1. Patience Nave Says:

    I know that on a spiritual scale of 1-10, with 1 being super liberal and 10 being super conservative, I am probably about an 8.75 or a 9. I guess I have to say that as a caveat in which to phrase what I am going to say.

    I, too, think that GOD has called you–to write for greater understanding of his Word and of his Church and of his Christ. Somehow all this fits into his plan.

  2. liebherr saldytuvai Says:

    Awesome blog article.Really thank you! Awesome.

  3. Iphone Text Tones Says:

    Great Post!straight to the pointi have emailed a link to my friend


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