It was very disappointing to hear that President Anastasiades cancelled his scheduled meeting with Archbishop Elpidoforos of America, citing a heavy work schedule as his excuse. This was not the reason he had called off the meeting, which had been included in the schedule of his stay in New York before his arrival.
The reality was that the cancellation was a very public demonstration of his disapproval of the presence of Elpidoforos at the official opening of the Turkevi Centre in New York, which was inaugurated by President Erdogan on Monday. The Archbishop’s presence was considered a big mistake that reportedly angered the big-wigs of the Greek and Cypriot communities of the US.
It was unheard of for the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America to rub shoulders with Turkey’s president, be present at the inauguration of the latter’s 35-storey vanity project in Manhattan and be involved in the cutting of the ribbon. Incidentally, Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar also attended the event as did the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
In cancelling the meeting, Anastasiades’ primary concerns were to keep the Cypriot community leaders happy and avoid any negative press in Cyprus; after all, the Turkevi Centre will also house offices of the ‘TRNC’, it was reported. He gave no thought to Elpidoforos’ reasons for attending the ceremony – maintaining good relations with the Turkish government is vital for the Ecumenical Patriarchate which is based in Istanbul and elected him Archbishop in 2019.
Attending the opening ceremony was not an act of betrayal, as some seemed to think, but an act of political pragmatism, necessary for safeguarding the Patriarchate. It would have been a grave error for Elpidoforos to have declined the invitation of the Turkish government in order to curry favour with the Greek and Cypriot community leaders in the United States. Was political grandstanding worth causing tension in the relations of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Turkey’s authoritarian leader?
Anastasiades should have shown he understood this reality by meeting Elpidoforos regardless of the criticism he would have faced. It would also have been a message of support for the Ecumenical Patriarchate that is being undermined by the Russian Orthodox Church, ever since it decided to recognise the independence of the Ukrainian Church. Several Cypriot bishops had sided with Moscow against the patriarchate in this dispute. Anastasiades should have shown his support for the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew by going ahead with the meeting, instead of giving more ammunition to the pro-Moscow bishops in Cyprus.