The churches will be full on Sunday as elections are held for the next archbishop, even though the popular vote may not definitively influence the position the Holy Synod will take after the top three candidates are selected.
And beyond the significance of the popular vote a larger issue remains for whoever is the next archbishop, as recent polls suggest he will have his work cut out appealing to a younger generation. The new prelate will have to find ways to retain the importance of his role, as a generational split has emerged over the actual position the leader of the church should play.
Sunday’s election will establish the top three or triumvirate of bishops from among the six candidates, Limassol Athanasios, Morphou Neofytos, Tamassos Isaias, Constantia-Famagusta Vasilios, Paphos Georgios, or Kyrenia Chrysostomos.
People will vote at their holy metropolises polling stations, which will be set up across Cyprus.
The general commissioner of the elections Ioannis Charilaou said that 942 stations will operate around Cyprus. The results of the popular vote will be expected on Sunday evening sometime after six, but it was difficult to determine exactly when, Charilaou said on Friday.
Speaking to the Sunday Mail, religious specialist Aristides Viketos said that Sunday’s election will select the triumvirate, but then it goes to the Holy Synod for the second round of elections.
The triumvirate will be confirmed by the Holy Synod after a two-day objection period and a five-day period for the synod to examine objections, if there are any.
But significantly, the results of the popular vote do not necessarily mean that the favourite among the people will be the next archbishop, as the Holy Synod will then convene to vote among the top three.
“The Holy Synod is not tied to popularity in selecting the next archbishop,” Viketos said.
If no one from the triumvirate secures an exclusive majority, which out of the 16 synod members means nine, then the top two will go to a second round of voting.
In this round, if the Holy Synod is split and each candidate receives eight votes, then the two names are dropped into a vessel and a name is drawn to select the next archbishop.
The Holy Synod will most likely convene sometime after Christmas, and the new archbishop is expected to be announced in the week between the holiday and New Year, if the synod outcome goes as planned.
Favourite among the people so far seems to be Limassol Bishop Athanasios, while Tamassos Isaias and Paphos Georgios are fighting for the second and third place in the triumvirate.
At least the system is more democratic than previously. Prior to 2010 the popular vote was not used to select the triumvirate of bishops that would be put on the table for the position of the archbishop.
An electoral college system was used, and at the last elections in 2006 the late Archbishop Chrysostomos II managed to convince one of his contenders to step down and support him, despite having the least votes.
But the question remains as to how important the next archbishop will be, as a generational shift has shown that the significance of the prelate’s role is waning.
Will they continue to play a role in state policies, as is the case with their involvement in education ministry policies, or the national issue, or will they become more a spiritual and moral guiding force?
This sentiment of greater involvement in education was echoed by Paphos Georgios earlier in the week. Cyprus is also still one of the countries where morning prayers are said at school, ahead of the start of classes.
A 2019 row over the issue, resulted in the education ministry saying that prayers should be practised at all public schools. And of course, the church has a say in who is selected education minister.
But a recent poll by state broadcaster CyBC of 1002 individuals, most respondents (61 per cent) said that they rarely or never go to church.
Only 39 per cent said that they attend church regularly, or at least two or three times a month.
A total of 41 per cent said that the church’s influence on the Cyprus problem and other state issues is larger than it should be.
Trust in the church has also declined significantly in the past decade, with 69 per cent of people in 2011 saying they had trust in the religious institution, while now it is 49 per cent.
Most respondents also said that they have little interest in the archbishopric elections and that they feel disconnected from the institution, which is something prevalent among the younger generations.
In comments to the Sunday Mail, Gianna Rolandou, 24, said: “I don’t trust that any one of them is different, so I prefer to spend my time elsewhere.”
On Sunday’s vote, she added that she was not even sure that it mattered that much, and she would only vote if there was a candidate with a more modern outlook.
John Eleftheriou, 20, echoed this sentiment, saying that he would not vote because he felt it is giving value to an institution that needs to modernise.
“It really bothers me that in Cyprus, the church has a say in social and political issues, and for this reason I choose not to vote,” he said.
For him, whoever takes on the role of archbishop needs to be focused on the spiritual matters and administrative issues solely relating to the church.
Some say they wished there was more love and spirituality in the entire process.
Lisa Constantinou, 25, also said that she feels disconnected from the institution and the elections.
“I don’t feel it has managed to send an ecclesiastical feeling but rather one being run by a businessman,” she said.
She said she would have preferred if the process for selecting the new archbishop is more spiritual, like in the Coptic Orthodox Church, where there is an air of mysticism in selecting their prelate.
“The final stage of the selection process in the Coptic church for instance, involves a blindfolded child selecting a name out of three from a chalice. It sends a message of it being guided by ‘the will of God’,” she told the Sunday Mail.
Stelios Ioannou, 35, said that he would not vote as the church under the late archbishop had done more bad than good to the culture and civilisation of the island.
“Classic example is the ruins in the old town to build a huge temple, over culturally vital buildings that define the character of the old town,” he said.
The late Archbishop Chrysostomos II had often been criticised for his business-like approach to many issues.
Commenting on the elections, Maria Argyrou, 34, said that she would try to vote if she had time, and that she would vote for Constantia-Famagusta Bishop Vasilios, because he talks more about love than self-interest.
She said that the role is important in Cypriot society and that many people believe the positions the church takes.
“For me, the archbishop should have a spiritual and social role, and not a national one,” she said.
However, these opinions are not so prevalent among older generations, who believe the role of the archbishop should remain unchanged.
Some did not mind the past archbishop’s positions on national issues, including the Cyprus problem and commentary on other state policies.
Eleni Eftychiou, 74, told the Sunday Mail: “I think it is fine for the archbishop speak his mind on these [political] matters.”
The late Chrysostomos II had even shown indications of favouring presidential candidate Nikos Christodoulides to be the next one to take up the position.
In a wide-ranging interview with daily Politis published in July, Chrysostomos praised presidential candidate Christodoulides as being the only person since Makarios to command popular support, even offering advice on how to campaign.
Andreas Solomou, 65, added that the archbishop needs to have a say in these matters, as he is an important figure among the people.
“We need a spiritual leader that can help guide us on other matters as well [including politics], because it is the church that helps people.”
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