Cyprus Critical Issues VII: The Contemporary Orthodox Church

I didn't feel I could not say something about the Orthodox Church given its enduring importance in contemporary Cypriot society.

Under the Lusignans there was initially great tension between the Orthodox and Latin churches with the Latin Church attempting to subjugate Orthodox practice and bishops. Tensions gradually reduced and co-existence was possible. Little changed under the Venetians. With the arrival of the Ottoman Empire the Orthodox Church was recognized as the only legal church and the legitimate political leadership of the Christian population. As such it was also given responsibility for collecting taxes.


But after the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence in 1821 trouble started and the leaders of the Church were accused of fomenting rebellion. As a result the Archbishop and his archdeacon were summarily hanged, three bishops were beheaded and hundreds of notables were dispatched by Ottoman Janissaries (infantry units).


Marc Rubin in the really excellent Cyprus Rough Guide does not beat about the bush regarding his judgment of the Cypriot Orthodox Church,


It is a (if not the) major obstacle to communal reconciliation, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, homophobic, thoroughly corrupt, and often involved in enterprises (especially real estate) that would be the province of lay mafias in other countries.’ (Rough Guide, 2009: 404).


Rubin details a series of scandals between 1998-2008 that are jaw-dropping that range from the framing of rivals, through embezzlement and fraud, to the establishment of convents that may be more than they seem, to electoral and succession shenanigans.


He concludes his coruscating entry in the Rough Guide thus,


The church’s prestige as at an all time low, unlikely ever to recover until or unless a progressive bishop … attains the top office (p. 405).


The church is a massive property owner and dealer but pays no taxes as it is deemed a charitable institute.

See this nice blog entry by M Persianis (28 March 2013) who noted that whilst most Cypriots were acting calmly after the banks re-opened after the March 2013 bailout the Church of Cyprus was at the courts getting an injunction to protect its assets in the bailed out banks.


Hitherto the most powerful of the largest shareholders in the largest banks (both now in trouble), the Church felt cheated when it was told it will have to give up its shares because it owns a business that failed. The Supreme Court accepted a writ freezing the move by which existing shares are used for the banks’ debt and replaced by newly issued stock owned by the depositors who are to be bailed in.