A Cypriot theologian has blown the lid off the game of thrones in archbishopric elections on the island, suggesting anti-Russia agenda is behind efforts to take the vote away from believers who might favor a pro-Moscow candidate in order to task the Holy Synod with naming the winner.
Local theologian Theodoros Kyriakou took to the media last week saying he found the timing of a recent article by a close associate of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to be “suspicious” ahead of archbishopric elections in Cyprus.
Kyriakou criticized Greek theologian Anastasios Vavouskos who wrote an article arguing the next Archbishop of Cyprus should be elected by members of the Holy Synod and not with direct votes from the people, with the Cypriot expert adding this could be seen as an “intervention by the Ecumenical Patriarchate into church goings-on in Cyprus including elections.”
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The possibility of having a new Archbishop without open elections was tossed around months ago, with reports suggesting at least one member of the Synod was pushing for a change in the voting process.
But according to Kyriakou, eliminating direct voting by the people was “taking out a tradition in the Orthodox Church” that has been running for decades in Cyprus.
Kyriakou went on to suggest that Vavouskos’ position on Cyprus archbishopric elections could be seen as confirmation of earlier suspicions that the Istanbul-based Patriarchate of Constantinople was interfering on the island to rule out a pro-Moscow candidate.
The local theologian also argued there was no valid legal argument in favor of using non-election articles in the Charter to legitimatize taking the vote away from the people.
Orthodox believers including foreign nationals who have resided on the island for over one year may not follow party lines in the upcoming elections
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It has been suggested that many Orthodox believers could be friendly towards pro-Moscow candidates. Local media have also been reporting that church followers in Cyprus typically vote for their favorite bishop along political party lines.
“I know there are ongoing political consultations with parties to promote specific candidates,” Kyriakou said last month.
But orthodox believers eligible to vote in archbishopric elections, including foreign nationals from eastern Europe and the Balkans who have resided on the island for over one year, may not follow party lines.
Kyriakou also pointed out that the many bishops were gearing up for elections, including the metropolitan bishops of Kykkos and Limassol who mended their relationship after the latter signaled a withdrawal of his objection over Chrysostomos’ recognition of Ukrainian church’s independence from Moscow.
Members of the church have the right to vote for the next archbishop by writing the name of their favorite candidate, who could be any male member of the clergy who is unmarried and meets general criteria regardless of whether or not he is known to have declared candidacy or mounted a campaign.
Church split on Ukraine leads to vote splitting risks
But Kyriakou asserted that bishops who objected to the way Archbishop Chrysostomos unilaterally moved on the Ukraine issue have been flagged by the Patriarchate as “pro-Russian candidates” and one of them could end up winning if there was an open election.
Back in 2020 Chrysostomos, who is expected to be replaced by elections possibly next year due to a battle with cancer, moved unilaterally to recognize the new Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s independence from Moscow, overturning an earlier position of neutrality on the controversial issue.
A Holy Synod approval had previously failed to pass twice by members due to canonical objections as well as opposition to the way such authorization was being decided.
According to the Holy Synod decision, the archbishop is pre-authorized to decide whether or not to extend blessings to the leader of the new Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Epiphanius I during a liturgical service, something which is seen as de facto recognition.
But Tamasos metropolitan bishop Isaiah, who last week headed a humanitarian mission along Ukraine’s borders, had warned that the issue ought to have been decided with consensus and an adherence to canonical rules.
“The one at the top cannot do away with the Synod, and the Synod cannot do away with the one at the top,” Isaiah said in late 2020.
Isaiah has been accused of leaning towards Moscow but he maintained his criticism was based on the lack of neutrality by Chrysostomos and the Patriarchate.
Unprobed gift to Patriarchate raises eyebrows
Kyriakou highlighted that Istanbul’s favorite could be a shoo-in if elections were to be held by the Holy Synod votes, adding that he was shocked a recent donation by the Church of Cyprus to the Patriarchate had not been probed.
“Some were being suspicious that the loot in Brussels worth €4.5 million was linked to the archbishopric elections, so that the Patriarchate would favor specific candidates,” the local theologian said.
Kyriakou went on to say money from a sale of the property in Belgium could have funded 100 young poor couples who needed help in owning a home, with €45,000 each.
“People are starving and the Church made a 4.5 million donation to the Patriarchate,” Kyriakou said.
Critics in the past pointed out that wealthy Russians have also funded church projects on the island.
But last year Isaiah, who pointed the finger at Chrysostomos when the archbishop was implicated in the country’s golden passports scandal, argued that wealthy Greeks and Americans also funded projects “but no one accuses the hierarchs of being under Greek or American control.”