Cyprus clergy wobbles over Ukraine Church

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Friction over the Cyprus Church recognising the new Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s independence has resurfaced with the balance of power shifting within the clergy.

The move of a top Limassol Bishop Athanasios to break camp with his fellow clergy has overturned the tables ahead of a possible election for a new Archbishop.

Cyprus’ Holy Synod of 17 bishops was split in 2020 over the decision by Archbishop Chrysostomos II to extend blessings to the leader of the newly proclaimed Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Epiphanius I.

Ten out of 17 bishops voted not to contest the decision by Archbishop Chrysostomos II, with seven bishops openly disagreeing with the decision.

The seven bishops, according to reports, included Athanasios, Tamassos Bishop Isaias, Kykkos Bishop Nikiforos and Morphou Bishop Neophytos and another three junior clergy.

They have come out against the recognition of the Ukrainian Church, lining themselves with the stance of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Athanasios’ move has, according to church sources, also shifted the balances between ‘camps’ formed within church circles ahead of an expected succession of Archbishop Chrysostomos, who is in frail health.

The thorny issue of the Ukrainian Church is the formation of a camp to support a common candidate at an upcoming election for a new Archbishop should the time come.

According to church sources, the camp opposing the recognition of the Ukrainian Church would have backing from Limassol Bishop Athanasios for the throne.

According to church sources, although the camps do not want to highlight the gravity of the clash between high-ranking clergy members on the matter of the Ukrainian Church, the issue will be a key factor for electing the head of the Cyprus Church.

The Ukrainian Church gained its autocephalous after Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, who is considered first among equals in the Orthodox patriarchy, in 2019 granted independence to Ukraine’s new Orthodox Church, severing its centuries-long ties with the Russian Orthodox Church.

Bartholomew’s move angered the Russian Orthodox Church, which cut ties with the Patriarchate.

The Patriarch’s decision also divided the Orthodox world, with some churches expressing support and others criticising it.

It also caused division in the Cyprus Church, with many ready to switch sides when Chrysostomos II is replaced.