Six out of the 12 serving bishops of the Cyprus Orthodox Church submitted candidacies on Tuesday for the post of archbishop. It is an excessive number of candidates but, presumably, this is not a high-risk contest. Bishops have nothing to lose by standing. They do not have to spend large amounts of money on an election campaign – if any at all – which will only last a few weeks anyway, and once the election is over the five losers will return to their normal duties at their respective bishoprics.
It will not necessarily be the most popular of the candidates who will become the archbishop as the three candidates with the most votes from the public will subsequently have to be elected by the members of the holy synod. Ultimately it is the synod that will choose the next archbishop from the shortlist of three decided by the people. In 2006, when the elections followed a different format, the candidate with the fewest electors (voted by the people) became archbishop because of an alliance he made with the then abbot of Kykkos monastery.
That the synod will have the final say is no bad thing as the voters do not really have any idea which of the candidates would be a unifying influence, which one would be a good administrator or reformer and which one would offer enlightened leadership. The late Chrysostomos II may have become archbishop with the smallest portion of the popular vote but he proved a very capable administrator who saw the church through difficult times and carried out many reforms. He was accused of being too concerned with earthly matters and lacking spirituality, but nobody, not even the archbishop, can be perfect.
In fact, whoever is elected will have to deal with a mundane political issue that has caused division in the holy synod. Will the Cyprus Church remain on the path taken by Chrysostomos, despite the opposition of certain bishops, and stay aligned with the ecumenical patriarch on the issue of the Ukraine church or will it opt for ‘neutrality’ that would be approved by the Moscow patriarchate? There are bishops standing for election who have been very close to Moscow in the past, opposing the alignment with Constantinople supposedly for procedural reasons, and could change the Cyprus’ church’s stance. Perhaps Russia’s attack on Ukraine, with the blessing of the Moscow patriarch, has changed the stance of these bishops.
Such matters might not be of interest to ordinary voters when choosing a candidate for archbishop, but hopefully the majority of members of the holy synod recognise the importance of Cyprus remaining aligned with the ecumenical patriarch, and will vote for the bishop who would ensure the church will not stray from this path.