By Bejay Browne
CYPRUS has its first Pontian priest, ordained by the Bishop of Paphos on Sunday.
The ceremony took place at the 12th century five-domed church of Ayia Pareskevi in Yeroskipou.
In front of the 16th century iconostasis, and beneath the high vaulted ceiling, Bishop Georgios of Paphos ordained 40-year-old Georgian plumber, George Hmalantzidies.
The new priest moved to Cyprus 12 years ago, after studying electrical engineering at the University of Georgia. George, or Yiorgos as he is known in Greek, met his wife, Tamara, 40, while in Russia visiting his Aunt. Tamara lived next door with her family. This chance encounter, at the age of 25, was the only time the two met, before getting married a few years later.
“When the Soviet Union broke down, it was difficult for many of us, as we are Greek,” the newly ordained priest told the Cyprus Mail at his home this week. “Many Georgians chose to go to Greece. My brothers’ godfather lives in Paphos, he called me and told me I could find work here, so I came.
“Tamara came to join me and we were married in Ayios Spyridonas Church, in Yeroskipou in 1995.We have four beautiful children, the youngest is only one year old.”
George is now a plumber by trade, after deciding to learn a new profession, and works for WATT engineering, a job he really enjoys.
“I work in different places and I have met some really nice people.”
Yiorgos and Tamara both have strong religious beliefs, and attended Church regularly. Two years ago, Father Ioannis of Yeroskipou, told George to become a priest.
The Greek Orthodox Church has three levels of orders: deacons, priests and bishops. A married man may be ordained a deacon or priest, but if he is single when ordained, he is not allowed to marry later on. A married man cannot become a Bishop.
“This was not something I had ever considered. I love God and live my life accordingly, but I was a plumber. Then, other priests from different churches told me the same thing and I thought, God has chosen this path for me, and I must listen to him. I realised he was guiding me.”
Tamara fully supports her husbands’ ordination.
“Every human has a cross to bear, and a purpose. Yiorgos has found his cross and I am happy. I love my God and I love worshipping in church. It has always been an important part of my life. I go to church every Sunday, this is something I really like to do.
“I would like to have more children, I love them and I love being a mother. But this decision is in Gods’ hands,” she added.
George is elated at expressed how he feels about his new status.
“Two months before my ordination, I prepared to become a priest. I couldn’t quite believe what was happening. I have never, ever felt so good in my life, as I did when I was being ordained. I am very happy now. Before, I was just George. I was a plumber. Now I am not just George. I am Father George.
“Since my ordination, people have been even more friendly too me. They all think it is a wonderful thing. So many Arabs and Syrians are happy for me, and more people come to speak to me every day.”
The Church of Cyprus is autocephalous, self-ruling, and this has been the case as far back as 478AD. Men entering the priesthood are still required to wear traditional dress, and support a beard. The Bishop of Paphos, Georgios, who ordained the new priest, cited these as reasons for the decline in numbers of new priests.
“In other countries, such as England and Australia, it is not compulsory for members of the Church to wear robes or grow facial hair,” he told the Cyprus Mail. “They have a more modern approach. Young people these days do not seem interested in tradition.
“I welcome any nationality hoping to enter the Church, as long as they want to be Orthodox, can speak Greek and are good people. There is no difference between a man from Georgia or Cyprus, who wishes to be ordained. Anyway, Pontians are the same as us, we are all Greek.”
The Bishop added: “the Orthodox Church of Paphos has the first Pontian priest, and the first Syrian Deacon, who is tutoring Muslim Syrians, as they convert to the Orthodox Church.”
Two Romanian Orthodox Priests are based in the district, at the monastery of Salamiotissa and Ayia Marinouda and Achaelia. In addition, the deacon of St. Neophytos is also Romanian.
“It is important that people realise that belief spans all cultures and religions, it can bring people together. This is apparent in the diocese of Paphos. Father George will be attached to the Church of Ayi Anargiri in Kato Paphos, which has a large congregation of Pontians. I am sure his influence will be positive. He understands the community, he speaks the language, and he has lived here for a number of years,” said Bishop Georgios.
Father George is eager to fulfil his new role as one of the 133 priests in the district of Paphos.
“I am learning my catechisms now, and everything has changed for me. I have a new life. I am a new person.”
“Tamara and I both speak a few languages. I speak Russian, Greek, Georgian, a little Turkish, and a little English. It is important to be able to communicate with people. I am the first Pontian priest in Cyprus.”
The delight of his new status is apparent in George’s face, and he jokes that he only helps Tamara a little in the house.
“I don’t cook a lot. I am very good at Souvla and Souvlakia though,” he laughs.