The first Christian missionaries to Cyprus were the Apostle Paul, Cypriot Barnabas and John Mark in 45 AD. Paul and Barnabas had been commended as missionaries in Antioch and were sent out on their first missionary journey:
As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. Acts 13: 2-4.
They arrived at Salamis and as was their custom, they preached the Word of God in the synagogues to the Jews. Incidentally, Barnabas is believed to have come from Salamis and was later martyred there for preaching the Gospel.
Acts 13 states that they journeyed through the island to Paphos and records their exploits there. The temple of Aphrodite was situated in Old Paphos, a pagan sanctuary where much idolatry and sexual immorality were practised. The area also contains the "birthplace" of Aphrodite, Petra Tou Romiou, which many people visit to this day.
Petra Tou Romiou (Aphrodite's Rock)
(Picture courtesy of Dimitris Vetsikas)
New Paphos, built in the 4th century BC 16 km further west, became the administrative centre of Cyprus under Roman rule and is most likely the location of the events recorded in Acts 13:
Now when they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time". And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
Acts 13: 6-12
Bar-Jesus, the magician, opposed Paul and Barnabas because they bore the light of Christ and exposed his dark, wicked ways. Demonic opposition was not enough to keep the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, from receiving the truth of the Gospel and turning to the Lord. Several inscriptions bearing his name have been found in Cyprus and also near Psidian Antioch (southwest Turkey), where historians conclude the proconsul's family estate may have been situated. It is significant that Paul and Barnabas continued on their journey to Psidian Antioch after the conversion of Sergius Paulus, perhaps to bring the message of Christianity to his family and friends.
According to tradition, Paul was beaten publicly in Paphos and today the site is known as St Paul's Pillar, pictured below. It is situated near the Agia Kyriaki Church, Panagia Chrysopolitissa Basilica Ruins and the Gothic Church Ruins, in the area known as Kato Paphos. Perhaps Paul had been preaching the Gospel, was publicly flogged and news of this reached the proconsul. At any rate, we read that Sergius Paulus called for Paul and Barnabas, which proves that news of their preaching God's Word had reached the Governor's palace. We know from other Biblical records that Paul suffered much for the sake of the Gospel, having been beaten, flogged, stoned, shipwrecked, imprisoned and endangered as he travelled (2 Corinthians 11: 24-27).
The Archaeological Site in Paphos displays sites and monuments from the 4th century BC to the Middle Ages, with the majority from the Roman period. There are well-preserved mosaics from four Roman villas as well as the Agora, the Odeon and remains of baths pictured below. The site extends to The Tombs of the Kings with other monuments which need time to reach on foot. The House of Theseus, which was built in the 2nd century AD, was used as the Governor's Palace until the 7th century. During Paul and Barnabas' visit to Sergius Paulus' house, they would have encountered villas with lavish mosaics similar to those featured at the site today.
The mosaics below are from Roman villas, including the House of Aion, the House of Dionysus and the House of Theseus.
Luke's account in Acts 13 of Paul's first missionary journey is awe-inspiring as we remember that the message of the Gospel impacted hearts against such a stark backdrop of pagan Hellenistic and Roman culture. The same message two thousand years later is still changing hearts and bringing life to those who, like Sergius Paulus, desire to hear the Word of God and believe it.