By Annette Chrysostomou
Archbishop Chrysostomos has suggested to education minister Costas Hambiaouris that five Church holidays that see schools close for the day, be abolished, it emerged on Tuesday.
The suggestion was sent in writing to the minister.
Last month when teachers were protesting on the streets in the ongoing education row, the archbishop said he felt ashamed seeing so many teachers taking to the streets in protest over the decision to abolish exceptions from teaching hours as he had not realised that so many educators were “work-shy”.
In his letter to Hambiaouris on the religious holidays, the archbishop said he was responding to the stance of many who had voiced the opinion that too much time school time was devoted to religious holidays.
“We have noticed that few, if any, educators, take advantage of religious holidays for the purpose for which they have been established. Neither they nor their students use the time for religious worship on those days. These days are simply used as holidays,” he said.
That was why the Church proposed abolishing them, starting with his own name day which is marked on November 13.
Other days he suggests are Ascension Day (movable), the day honouring Apostolos Varnavas founder of the Cypriot Church on June 11, Three Hierarchs, a holiday honouring three people made saints by the Greek Orthodox Church for their contribution to Christian theology, which is marked on January 30, and the Feast of the Saint of community or parish.
According to the education ministry, each school declares the day which is considered to be the local feast of the saint of the community or parish. It said for instance, the Maronite schools may decide to declare as a holiday February 9, which is the feast of Saint Maronas.
The ministry lists eight religious and five political holidays for schools throughout the school year, in addition to Easter, Christmas and half-term breaks.
The Archbishop said the discontinuation of the five he mentioned, would “better serve the purpose for which they were set up as public holidays, because if it was a working day, teachers could then take at least some children to church. It will also afford additional time for teaching,” the letter concluded.
Head of the secondary-school teachers’ union Oelmek Yiannos Socratous commented on the Archbishop’s letter, saying that the timing was unfortunate as abolishing holidays was something that needed to go through a process. Specific procedures are in place which regulate matters of religious worship, he added.
“There are operating regulations for the schools that were approved one and a half years ago in 2017, and it is unfortunate that this suggestion was not put before the House education committee. We have no problem with this issue,” he said.
This is not the first time the subject has been debated. In July, Oelmek school union’s Christakis Efstathiou said the archbishop had asked for his name day to be removed as a school holiday.
Speaking on Sigma TV, Efstathiou said that the archbishop expressed this wish during a meeting with him to discuss problems faced in the education system.
At the time, primary and kindergarten teachers group, Prodeftiki, said that they supported the abolition of the archbishop’s name day as a school holiday since public schools, they said, “must preserve their secular character, impartiality and neutrality for all children, without discrimination.”
Two years ago, another group of teachers identifying themselves as the Initiative of Teachers Against Racism launched an online petition asking the education ministry to stop celebrating the name day of the archbishop following the latter’s controversial comments on homosexuals.