A row is raging within the Church of Cyprus, pitting Archbishop Chrysostomos against three bishops over the autonomy granted to the Ukrainian Church by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
In a joint statement released Tuesday the bishops of Limassol, Kykkos and Tamasos fired back at earlier remarks by Chrysostomos, who chastised them for effectively being beholden to Moscow by siding with the Russian Orthodox Church in the matter concerning Ukraine.
Denying the allegations, the three bishops in turn accused Chrysostomos of breaching the neutrality of the Church of Cyprus, a position decided upon by the Holy Synod.
In 2018, the Russian Orthodox Church said it had decided to sever all relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople – the seat of the global spiritual leader of around 300 million Orthodox Christians – in protest over its endorsement of Ukraine’s request for an ‘autocephalous’, or independent, church. The move, according to Kiev was a vital step against Russian meddling in its affairs, but the Russian clergy see this as the biggest split in Christianity for a thousand years.
The Cyprus Church had been unwillingly entangled in the dispute since last year when the Russian embassy warned the Archbishop that if Cyprus took the side of Constantinople, it would affect relations between Moscow and Nicosia.
At the time, Chrysostomos remained firmly on the fence.
But he began shifting his position in early November this year, criticising the Russian Orthodox Church for having stopped Eucharistic communion with Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens, a tit-for-tat after Ieronymos endorsed the autonomous status bestowed on the Ukrainian Church.
At the time, the Archbishop qualified that he neither agreed nor disagreed with Moscow’s stance on the substance of the issue, but that he felt Moscow’s move against Ieronymos II was vindictive and divisive.
But in an interview with daily Politis published this Monday, Chrysostomos appeared to break cover, berating the metropolitans of Limassol, Kykkos and Tamasos for taking sides in the ecclesiastical quarrel among Constantinople, Moscow and Kiev.
He berated the three senior clergymen for having taken part jointly with the Moscow Patriarchate in a monastic conference, where they expressed disagreement with Constantinople over its decision to recognise the Ukrainian church as independent.
Their conduct thus violated the neutrality of the Church of Cyprus in the matter, he argued.
“To them, nothing is sacred,” Chrysostomos said in the interview.
Asked whether he had reprimanded the three bishops, the colourful Prelate replied: “I did, but they don’t listen.”
Chrysostomos also said he had made it crystal clear to Moscow Patriarch Kirill that he was wrong to exclude priests from liturgies.
Hitting back, the Cypriot metropolitans said the Ukrainian church’s break away from the Moscow Patriarchate – under which it used to come – is invalid.
The bishops said the monastic conference they attended with the Moscow Patriarchate had been a long scheduled event, and cannot be cited as being a partial act.
Turning the tables on Chrysostomos, they accused him of taking sides by endorsing a liturgy featuring Archbishop Eustratius of Ukraine in his new status as head of an autocephalous church.
They were alluding to a patronal feast in late November hosted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, and attended by the Metropolitan Vasilios of Constantia, a Cypriot bishop.
Vasilios had also concelebrated that liturgy along with Eustratius – an unmistakable sign the Church of Cyprus was openly endorsing the independence of the Ukrainian church.
And evidently all this had taken place with Chrysostomos’ blessing.
Such a move was clearly partial, the bishops said, urging Chrysostomos to look in the mirror before casting stones.