An interview with the Archbishop of Cyprus, who used unfavorable words for detractor bishops as well as the Patriarch of Moscow, is causing all sorts of reactions on the island where campaign drama is unfolding both in a highly contested presidential election and a looming replacement for head of church.
In a two-part interview that appeared in daily Politis this week, Archbishop Chrysostomos II of Cyprus did not hold back on criticism towards Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and other metropolitan bishops on the island who oppose the hierarch’s way of doing things including his pro-Kiev stance.
“I never believed the issue was an ecclesiastical one. It is absolutely political and not only about Ukraine,” Chrysostomos said, adding that Moscow’s culture was still under the influence of communism when Russian bishops were being assigned to territories during the Soviet era.
The archbishop, who is battling cancer, said he told Bishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk to relay a message to Kirill to “undo mistakes” -referring to Moscow’s termination of Chrysostomos’ commemoration during church service- but doubted the chairman of Russian external church relations would do that because the patriarch is “very selfish and metropolitan bishops are scared to approach him.”
“I have come to understand that the Russian Orthodox Church used to be under communism in the old times and they couldn’t speak out, they did whatever they were being told by the secretary general of the party,” Chrysostomos said.
The comments were made public a day after the first part of the interview drew criticism, when Chrysostomos likened independent presidential candidate Nikos Christodoulides to the politically-unbowed Archbishop Makarios, the first president of the Republic of Cyprus, drawing a response from ruling party Dysi leader Averof Neophytou who cautioned against populism.
Moscow believes the rival patriarch in Istanbul is in cahoots with the West as they seek to weaken Russia and sow divisions between brotherly peoples of Russia and Ukraine
But the archbishop’s latest comments also touched on Kiev with references to Cypriot bishops who opposed him back in 2020, accusing him of overturning a previous position of neutrality when he recognized the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
Two years ago Hilarion confirmed that Moscow “deeply regretted” that Chrysostomos commemorated the name of Epiphany Dumenko in a manner that officially recognized him as the primate of OCU, prompting Moscow to terminate the Eucharistic communion with the Cypriot archbishop himself but “not with the Church of Cyprus as such."
Chrysostomos’ move had drawn public reaction from detractor bishops who cried foul over the decision, saying it was against ecclesiastical rules and procedures.
“I think they got carried away,” Chrysostomos said in the interview, remarking that he did not want to believe metropolitan bishop Nikiforos of Kykkos had taken money from Moscow while making known his suspicions that metropolitan bishop Isaiah of Tamasos, where a Russian patron built a church, may have had a need for cash.
Nikiforos weighed in on the issue on Tuesday following the publication of the second part of the interview, in which Chrysostomos also described the detractor bishops as “protestants.”
“Even though our respect for His Beatitude and his health challenge is a given, we are saddened to say that His Beatitude unfortunately is once again throwing mud in people’s faces and distorting the facts,” Nikiforos said in a statement.
The metropolitan bishop of Kykkos went on to reiterate that there were two unanimous decisions by the Holy Synod on the Ukrainian issue, referring to decisions on 12 February and 9 September in 2020, saying Chrysostomos violated them on 24 October of that year.
“Who violated these decisions during a service in the Holy Monastery of Chrysorrogiatissa, where the ordination of most beloved Bishop of Pagrati was taking place, by commemorating Epiphany unbeknownst to the Synod?” Nikiforos asked.
Chrysostomos also had critical words for two other metropolitan bishops, Athanasios of Limassol and Neophytos of Morphou both of whom initially protested Epiphany’s commemoration, saying the two of them were stubborn and could not agree on how to remain neutral.
“Someone ought to help them sort things out, and that someone is me. Nobody else had the guts to stand up to the Patriarchs of Constantinople or Moscow and tell them they were wrong,” Chrysostomos argued.
The Moscow Patriarchate has also ceased commemorating the heads of other Orthodox churches that have officially recognized the OCU, including the Orthodox Church of Greece and Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Moscow says Istanbul in cahoots with West to weaken Russia
Kirill has been at odds with Istanbul after the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople in 2019 formally recognized the independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, a country where the Moscow Patriarchate claims jurisdiction.
But the head of the Russian church also says the rival patriarch in Istanbul was in cahoots with the West as they sought to weaken Russia and sow divisions between brotherly peoples of Russia and Ukraine.
The patriarch of Moscow made the comments after he was criticized by the acting head of the World Council of Churches for not speaking up against the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February.
Outgoing Russian ambassador to Cyprus Stanislav Osadchiy has criticized Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople for granting autocephaly to Kiev, saying such a move was “unacceptable.”
“We believe that Bartholomew breached the rules of the Orthodox Church, acted unilaterally and did not discuss the matter with the other Orthodox Churches,” Osadchiy told the Cyprus News Agency in December 2020.
In late March, local theologian Theodoros Kyriakou argued that an article by a close associate of Bartholomew was “suspicious” ahead of archbishopric elections in Cyprus, saying it could be seen as confirmation of earlier suspicions that Istanbul was interfering on the island to rule out a pro-Moscow candidate.
Back in Ottoman times, the ecumenical patriarch delegated to the Russian church the authority to ordain Kiev’s top bishop, with Moscow saying the transfer was permanent while Istanbul argues this could only be temporary.
American support for the establishment of the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine prompted Russia to accuse the US of having a hand in the schism but Washington religious officials maintained they were supporting Ukrainian self-determination.