The shadow of the war in Ukraine hangs over the Cypriot Orthodox Church
When the powerful Cypriot Greek Orthodox Church enthroned its new leader this month, one bishop stood by in silent protest over the controversy stemming from Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Neophytos of Morphou, who is on the Moscow side of the church divide between Russia and Ukraine, said Archbishop Georgios preferred to pray alone during the enthronement ceremony.
Morfulu Neophytos, who is known for his outspoken views on many controversial issues in Cyprus, says that Ukrainian Orthodox bishops, considered pro-Russian, have been “threatened and harassed” by allies of President Volodymyr Zelensky since the war in Ukraine began nearly a year ago. . A position that contrasts with Georgios, 73, who was elected to succeed Chrysostom II, who died of cancer in November at the age of 81.
The rift underscores the wider impact of the war in Ukraine on the Mediterranean island, an EU member that has long had close cultural, religious and trade ties with Russia.
Cyprus hosts a large Russian diaspora. Public opinion there is more pro-Russian than in almost any other EU country, according to a European Parliament poll in December.
– “Great Impact” –
However, Cyprus accepted all EU sanctions against Moscow and suspended direct flights with Russia while accepting many Ukrainian refugees.
“The election of a new archbishop is important for Cyprus,” notes theologian Theodoros Kyriakou. Because the Church has great influence on the Cypriot government, which exercises authority over the southern two-thirds of the island. The other third, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), is recognized only by Turkey, which has occupied it since the 1974 war.
The Church of Cyprus maintains a strong conservative influence on public and political life and is a major economic player with extensive land holdings and holdings in the liquor and banking sectors, among others.
High-ranking political and military leaders of Cyprus attended the enthronement ceremony of Georgios in the capital Nicosia on January 8. But Russian Patriarch Kirill, a close supporter of President Vladimir Putin, did not send any official representative.
Relations between the Church of Cyprus and the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine have been frozen since 2020, even before the start of the war, when it sided with the Orthodox Church recognized by the most influential authority of the churches, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople.
The Russia-Ukraine conflict has caused both soul-searching and discord among the Cypriot clergy. In November, Bishop Isaias of Tamasos, once a strong supporter of Russia, told state radio that “his position changed after the first bomb fell in Ukraine.”
For his part, Georgios supported his predecessor over Ukraine and emphasized Bartholomew’s authority, but he said he wanted to restore harmony in his Orthodox family.
– “The real problem” –
Andreas Pitsillides, a theologian and former member of the European Parliament, told Politis radio that “the late archbishop created a team of clerics within the Holy Synod who share his position on several issues, including the Ukraine issue.”
Achilleas Demetriades, an independent candidate for the presidency in Cyprus in February, lawyer Achilleas Demetriades, said that tension with Russia could have a great impact on the island in the religious, political and economic spheres.
Mr. Demetriades noted that as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia could block the renewal of UN peacekeeping forces patrolling the Green Line that divides the island.
“Russia is a big problem for Cyprus, especially for the application of EU sanctions because it affects business,” he told AFP.
Now he says that, unlike the EU, in the absence of sanctions imposed by Turkey, Russian investments are flowing to the TRNC: “This is a real problem.”