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21 May, 2024
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Holy alliances begin after Orthodox Cypriots pick top three

Openly pro-western candidate drives wedge between two others but still not a shoo-in for archbishop throne


The top three candidates for the archbishopric throne in Cyprus emerged after a popular vote on Sunday, with the Holy Synod now taking center stage as it prepares to pick the winner before the year is out.

Six candidates vying for the top spot in the Church of Cyprus were narrowed down to three, with Limassol Bishop Athanasios securing 35%, while Paphos Bishop Georgios and Tamasos Bishop Isaiah each getting 18%.

The election took place following the death of Archbishop Chrysostomos last month, with the war in Ukraine and relations with Russia creeping back into Holy Synod backrooms after the late primate irked some members in 2020 when he sided with Kiev.

Voter turnout was 30.2% according to Chief Returning Officer Yiannis Harilaou, who said 165,750 came out to cast their vote.

Georgios, who is currently the lieutenant of the throne and beat Isaiah with just 0.29%, said “there is no first or second” when forming the triumvirate.

Some observers suggested Georgios could drive a wedge between Athanasios and Isaiah supporters, who may have no other choice than to walk to the Paphos camp

“Having the people rule out some candidates is a tradition in Cyprus,” Georgios told state radio on Monday morning.

“Holy Synod will [have to] work with the new archbishop and so the members are the ones who know best with whom they can work together,” Georgios said.

The bishop from Paphos also said there would be no external factors as members of the Holy Synod would be asked in a secret vote to pick the winner, with a minimum of 9 out of 16 votes needed for the win.

But media pundits have been pointing to a deeply divided church and society where influences from East and West were being renegotiated, including views on Ukraine.

Back in 2020, the late Chrysostomos moved unilaterally to recognize the new Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s independence from Moscow, overturning an earlier Holy Synod position of neutrality on the controversial issue.

A number of bishops have either openly declared support for or made a move towards Georgios, who supported the western view against the patriarchate in Moscow.

But two bishops, Vasilios from Famagusta and Chrysostomos from Kyrenia, have yet to reveal their intentions.

Vasilios, who was thought to be on the western camp, shocked media pundits after the bishop said the vote was completely respected and “we accept it.”

Athanasios, who won the popular vote, is considered neutral on the political spectrum, while Isaiah had warned that the Ukrainian issue ought to have been decided with consensus and an adherence to canonical rules.

Political pundits suggest the Holy Synod may have a tough time to pick the new archbishop in round one, as at least nine votes are needed in the secret voting procedure.

But some observers suggested Georgios could drive a wedge between Athanasios and Isaiah supporters, who may have no other choice than walking into the Paphos camp.

Athanasios told state radio on Monday morning that there were no camps in this election but simply holy fathers who had their own preferences and theologians with their own perspectives.

Asked if he expected to get votes beyond the known number of bishops backing him, he said “people can change opinions.”

“Have a little patient and we shall see the results,” Athanasios said.

The Holy Synod will meet on Thursday to confirm the results and set a date for picking the new Archbishop sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

If nobody gets at least nine votes in round one, then simple majority will decide the winner between the two candidates with the most Holy Synod votes. In case of a tie between the top two, a coin flip will decide the winner.

Cyprus  |  church  |  election  |  archbishop  |  east  |  west  |  politics  |  religion

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