Alan Stillitoe’s novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is the story of the adventures of Arthur Seaton, a somewhat wild and irresponsible 21 year old living in Nottingham in the late 1950s? Our Saturday night and Sunday morning during our short holiday in Larnaca is not so controversial but quite exciting nevertheless in its own way.
We are finally in our lovely apartment overlooking the Larnaca Marina, several floors up in the Nicolaides City Seaview building. It is around 6.00 p.m. on our first Saturday in Larnaca. After a nice long sleep (following the traumatic events of the previous day) we are sitting on our balcony having early evening drinks and nibbles as it is now wine o’clock. We sit watching the boats sailing into the Marina and the planes sweeping in over the bay as they come in to land at Larnaca Airport. We see the lines of cars travelling slowly along the promenade tooting their horns at regular intervals – it seems to be some kind of ‘ritual’ – and we hear the excited voices of the crowds walking along the streets below our apartment as they wend their way into the city centre for their Saturday night fun. We put on our best togs and join them. We are heading into the heart of Larnaca for dinner … a ‘Fish Meze’ is on the cards – 23 small fish dishes – making up a whole meal. It is a Greek speciality which we have enjoyed before and are looking forward to having again. There is a beach side fish restaurant at the end of the Promenade just by the old fort which we know well (having been there twice before) and which we are headed for once again
Larnaca is very busy with lots of people out on the town. We enjoy waking along the Promenade recalling familiar sites and enjoying the hustle and bustle of happy people out for a good night out? When we arrive at the old fort we suddenly realise that our Fish Restaurant – which was situated on the beach by the fort – is no longer there!? There has been some kind of ‘regeneration’ of the area and the beach has been cleared of all its old shops and restaurants. Happily we suddenly realise that our restaurant is still there – it has relocated across the road. It is also not too crowded, even though it is a Saturday night, so we dive in and find a nice table overlooking the beach. We order our Fish Meze, and a carafe of local white wine, and spend the next couple of hours vainly trying to eat our way through the constant stream of excellently cooked fish dishes that regularly appear before us. We fail hopelessly to eat all that is set before us – even with the aid of a second carafe of wine – but it is great fun and at least we fail valiantly!
After dinner we wander into the old Moslem district, round by the Mosque, and find our way to St Lazarus’ Church. We are planning to have a Meat Meze later in the week at a nice restaurant we have also visited before overlooking the church square. Sadly we discover that it is now closed for good … so we will have to find an alternative venue. We stop for an ice cream on the promenade on our way back to our apartment and a wander around the Marina as well. It is so good to be back here in Larnaca.
Sunday morning we are up early because we want to go to church. The big question is do we go to the rather Reformed Evangelical Church (where we have been before), or do we try the seemingly rather lively, and go-ahead, charismatic Community Church (which has an excellent webpage). Ideally we would probably prefer something somewhere between the two. A church that has the biblical emphasis of the Reformed tradition coupled with the life and energy of the charismatic tradition. We eventually plump for the Community Church. We walk through the back streets of Larnaca and finally find our way to a block of flats where the Community Church meet having taken over the entire bottom floor. A nice jolly lady comes to welcome me and wants to know all about us. The church is filling up quite quickly and soon there is not a seat to be found in the place. There must be 150-200 people, of all ages, here including lots of children and young people. There is a nice music group who are practicing in preparation for leading worship. They have flutes and a saxophone as well as guitars.
Before the service starts we are engaged in conversation with an older couple seated behind us. They are resident in Cyprus and tell us all about the problems and pleasures of living in Cyprus today. We are getting along famously until Julia observes that Cyprus at this time of year seems very much like Israel. The response is immediate: ‘Are you FOR Israel?’ we are asked. We sense that this is ‘the key question’! Whether or not we are accepted, deemed ‘sound’ (or otherwise), all depends on our answer to this question!? I pause just that moment too long! ‘Well’ I reply, ‘we are certainly not against Israel!’ It is too late, however, and my answer was not good enough, we have failed the test?! I ought to add at this point that we have been to Israel a couple of times. The last time was about three years ago and we went for a month specifically to ‘look behind the scenes’ and try and work out what is truly happening there between the Jewish-Israelies, the Arab-Israelies, and the Palestinians. We came away probably with more questions than answers? We are not ‘Zionists’ but we are not ‘anti-Semitic’ either. Israel has a right to exist although we must not confuse the modern state of Israel (which is actually quite secular) with God’s ancient biblical people (at their best). Israel as a nation has a right to exist and (whatever the rights and wrongs of the Balfour Agreement) we cannot turn back the clock.
Fortunately we are saved by the bell … well saved by a nice lady leading worship calling us to worship. She leads our worship sensitively and thoughtfully, the music group play well, and the congregation sing enthusiastically. All the time new people are arriving and the stewards have trouble finding seats for everyone. We sing lots and lots of worship songs – all the songs are up on a big screen over the platform area and on TV sets scattered around the auditorium where the views are constricted. After about 40 minutes the lady hands over to one the Church Elders to lead us in Communion. He seems a nice man but is somewhat methodical and ponderous as he officiates at the Lord’s Table. It is as if he is not too sure where he is going next … perhaps he hasn’t done this often or perhaps he is deliberately ‘waiting for the Holy Spirit’ to show him what to do next?! We have a long Bible reading from Isaiah 53, with some comments thrown in for good measure along the way, but at least we are having the Bible read out loud in church – the first time in the Service apart from a short quote near the beginning of worship. The whole thing descends into glorious chaos, however, when they run out of communion glasses half way through distributing the wine? Someone has underestimated the size of the congregation expected obviously. There is a moment of panic but then a couple of (clearly strong willed and authoritative) ladies take charge and the whole thing is soon sorted. The chaos is cheerily laughed off by the Elder leading Communion as ‘I wish we had this problem every week!’
Communion lasts about 30 minutes and then, after another couple of songs, it is time for the preaching. Pastor Dave is preaching this week. He turns out to be a nice young man who has been sitting just in front of us. His theme is ‘The Work of the Holy Spirit’ (John 16:4-15). He is quite a lively speaker and has a good rapport with his congregation. He wanders around quite a bit often pausing to ask particular sections of the congregation questions. He does it in a nice way, however, and is quite engaging. He doesn’t exactly ‘expound’ the passage of scripture his sermon is allegedly based on but draws out various aspects of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Apart from a glaring bit of heresy in which he clearly advocates a Complementarian view of the Trinity – the Son is subservient to the Father and the Spirit proceedes from the Son – Pastor Dave makes some good, helpful, and challenging points which we find helpful.
The Service concludes with another couple of songs after about two hours and we are invited to stay on for ‘prayer ministry’ or coffee … whichever we need most, I guess. Julia goes for prayer (she never misses an opportunity to be prayed for) and I go for coffee. There is no sign of our ‘pro-Israel’ friends … we obviously didn’t ‘pass muster’ … but the nice lady who first welcomed us comes up to talk to me again. ‘Well, what did you think of the Service then?’ she asks me. ‘It was very interesting!’ I respond. Her face falls! Clearly I have given the ‘wrong answer’ yet again! I wasn’t being critical. It really was an ‘interesting Service’ and it has left me with lots of questions and lots to think about. I have learned over the years to look for the positives not the negatives in life. I also like to ‘think things through’ rather than simply respond emotionally in the heat of the moment. To be sure there are some things here at the Community Church that I would do differently but there are also a lot of positive things to take home with us. There is nothing more annoying than someone who only sees the negatives. I remember years ago redecorating a room. Everything was perfect … apart from one small mistake with the wall papering in a distant corner. The first person to see the room commented on my decorating skills but instead of admiring all the things I had done correctly – the paintwork, the wall papering, etc. – the only thing they commented on was the only small mistake that I had made?!
We walk back to our apartment after the Service via the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Lazarus. The Service there is still in progress. They too are crowded out, and the priest in singing the service with a beautiful tenor voice. It is just as ‘alive’ in its own way although completely different to what we experienced at the Community Church. We stop for coffee at a cafe en route. We discuss all that we have seen and heard and experienced over this Saturday night and Sunday morning. We continue our walk back home along the Promenade. A whole line of Minis drive past – there must be 20 of them at least – all sounding their horns to let us know that they are there. Posers! It is all quite exhausting being on holiday. Time for a light lunch … and a long afternoon sleep!