By Angelos Anastasiou
A public row on Tuesday between Archbishop Chrysostomos and the Ecclesiastical Committee of Panayia Trachonas parish over funds intended to be used in the construction of a new church has prompted a decision by the head of the Cyprus church to summarily replace the entire committee.
Trachonas is a small village in the occupied suburbs of Nicosia, and parishioners claim the committee’s savings – €450,000 in bank deposits – were intended to be used in building a new church, and buying a parking lot adjacent to the church.
But, committee representative Lefteris Kokkinos told state radio on Tuesday, Chrysostomos eyed the cash as the Archbishopric has run into liquidity problems, and is trying to exchange it for Hellenic Bank securities.
“The Holy Church of Panayia Trachonas has maintained deposits at a Co-operative and a bank, which had been offered for the construction of the Panayia church, as well as the creation of parking space for churchgoers, which is one of the major problems in the area,” Kokkinos said.
He argued that Chrysostomos had originally asked the parish for €100,000 on January 30, which he pledged to return by March 13.
“He signed an internal loan order, and we expected that the money would have been returned by March 13,” Kokkinos said.
But instead of returning the money, Chrysostomos asked various parishes – including Panayia Trachonas – to purchase the Archbishopric’s holdings in Hellenic Bank securities, which they would later be allowed to sell.
Long a major shareholder in Hellenic Bank – as well as maintaining minor stakes in the island’s two largest banks – the Archbishopric recently announced it would be pulling out of banking investment after taking heavy losses and losing control of Hellenic.
Though Kokkinos acknowledged that the Archbishopric has oversight privileges over spending by parishes, he denied that the Archbishop has effective control over the money.
“We will file a complaint to the Holy Synod with signatures we have already started collecting, and await their guidance,” he said.
But it is unlikely that it will ever get to that.
“Tomorrow morning the Trachonas Ecclesiastical Committee will receive their dismissal from me, and I will appoint others to replace them,” a furious Chrysostomos told state radio on Tuesday.
“I want everyone to realise that the administrator of all parishes, and especially chapels, is the Archbishopric, not some committee.”
The Archbishop gave his own account of the facts, saying the Panayia Trachonas committee was the only one to deny his request for exchanging bank securities for cash.
“I asked four or five committees that kept cash in their accounts, and informed them that the Archbishopric has liquidity needs,” he said.
“I offered them Hellenic Bank securities for the value of their deposits, and said that when they sold the securities the Archbishopric would cover any shortfall but waive any potential profit. All parishes accepted the offer, but the Trachonas chapel said no.”
Chrysostomos asserted that the Archbishopric maintains the sole administration of parish funds, and that committees may not spend a dime without its explicit consent.
“My answer to Mr Kokkinos is that if they go into the church in broad daylight and take anything from it, they are thieves,” he said.
“If I go in the middle of the night, even if I break the door to get in, and take anything, I am not a thief – I am the administrator of the church’s holdings.”
An increasingly enraged Chrysostomos used a strange analogy to warn that he would be showing the door to any dissenters.
“My position is not that of a flag, waving according to the wind,” he said.
“I am here to manage, and whoever doesn’t like my management is free to leave.”
And in a clearly spiteful remark, he said he would take every last cent from the accounts of Panayia Trachonas.
“I will take everything,” he said. “I will not leave a dime in the accounts of Panayia Trachonas.”