Choice for new church leader on Cyprus implies statement against Moscow


Southern Europe


A kid kisses the hand of Georgios III, Photo EPA

For the first time in history, all Orthodox Cypriots could vote in the election of the head of the Cypriot Orthodox Church. Yet the pro-Russian public winner was voted out by the 16 bishops of the Holy Synod.

The Orthodox Church of Cyprus has had a new leader since Christmas: Georgios III. His election leads to a relief at the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which is in a power struggle with Moscow. This reports the Dutch Christian daily Nederlands Dagblad

Six candidates had applied to become archbishop of Nicosia, succeeding Archbishop Chrysostomos II. The latter died last 7 November at 81, after leading the island's independent Orthodox Church for 16 years. He was known for his theological openness and support for Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople in his struggle against Russian power-seeking within the Eastern Orthodox Church.

People's choice

On 18 December, all Cypriot Orthodox baptised people aged 18 and above could vote for one of six candidates. After the first round, three candidates remained. Two of them being pro-Russian, reports Vatican News. Then, a second round was opened in which the 16 bishops of the Holy Synod chose the new archbishop from among the three selected candidates. And on 24 December, the day before Christmas, which is also celebrated in Cyprus on 25 December, the Holy Synod blatantly disregarded the people's choice.

After all, Georgios had received only 18.4 per cent of the votes in the first round. Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol had won this democratic round. This pro-Russian bishop received almost double the 165,688 votes cast: 35.7 per cent.

Peace and love

Athanasios, who ran a fierce and traditionalist-nationalist campaign, warned the Holy Synod right after the first round he won. In remarks before the synod's vote, Athanasios said the people's will should be respected but that he would accept any result "with peace and love," urging supporters to demonstrate "respect." This reports Euronews.

But the 16 bishops ruled otherwise. With this, Cyprus gained a church leader who, for many years, was a member of the official dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. While this Georgios has been advocating more ecumenism for years, Athanasios, on the contrary, sharply rejects contacts with other Christian churches. He even refused to meet Pope Francis when he visited the island in 2021. According to Athanasios, Francis is "a heretic, astray from the Church and therefore not even a bishop".

Constantinople, therefore, breathed a sigh of relief after the election. So did Kyiv. For in the unfolding schism, Patriarch Bartholomew I retains necessary support against Moscow. The independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), recognised by Constantinople in 2019 to Moscow's anger, maintains recognition by Cyprus.



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