And it’s time it published audited accounts

The election result of the first round of the ecclesiastical elections was significant in that the voter turnout was striking low at 30 per cent, despite the extensive publicity and the wide coverage of the event and notwithstanding the fact that the electoral process itself was well organised, making it easy for the voters to cast their vote.

In my opinion, the very low participation in the electoral process clearly deprives the Church of Cyprus of claiming that it has a mandate to speak on behalf of the Greek Cypriots in respect of non-ecclesiastical issues and, in particular, the political future of Cyprus and other state functions, such as education.

I believe that the time has come for the church to completely distance itself from the state, which must operate independently of religious beliefs. Such distancing would allow the church to promote the basic principles of the Christian faith, which have been set aside as a result of the church’s claim to political power.

Most of the members of the Holy Synod have neither the training to deal with political issues nor the objectivity of judgement that is necessary to protect Cyprus from the political threats confronting her. Clearly, I do not want to see my homeland being “talibanised” and I am sure neither the Turkish Cypriots (at least in their overwhelming majority) would like to see such a development. Regrettably, the naïve conviction of most of the Holy Synod that we can adequately protect our country against such threats by merely proclaiming our views on various political issues has proven totally inadequate to afford us the protection and support we seek from the international community. This is, indeed, the line that has always been followed by the Cyprus church and by many politicians that has led to the on-the-ground partition (and, potentially, to the complete Turkification) of the island.

The Church of Cyprus has a sinful past. I am referring to the ecclesiastical coup of 1972-73, which paved the road for the military coup in July 1974 and all that followed in the ensuing weeks. At the meeting of the Holy Synod convened on March 2, 1972, the bishops of Paphos, Kition and Kyrenia asked Archbishop Makarios to resign his position as president of the Republic, on the basis that the position of the president was incompatible with that of the archbishop. On March 19, Makarios accused the members of the Holy Synod of conspiring against him in collusion with Greek junta and George Grivas, who by then had formed Eoka B, an outlawed organisation.

The bishops insisted on their initial position and, following the re-election of Makarios to the position of the president of the Republic, they convened an extraordinary meeting of the Holy Synod and proceeded with deposing Makarios from his ecclesiastical post.

Makarios reacted by convening a “Mega Synod”, comprising representatives of numerous orthodox patriarchates which, on July 14, 1973, annulled his deposition and, instead, deposed the three bishops.

The deposed bishops reappeared on the scene during the military coup in July 1974. The tragic irony of these events is that – despite the possibility that their position on Makarios’ two posts were incompatible proving correct – when I personally met them in the Archbishopric Palace, on July 18, 1974, where they established their office shortly after the military coup, it was readily apparent that they did not have a clue about the tragedy that was going to hit Cyprus within a couple of days and for which they carried significant responsibility.

The Church of Cyprus is an autonomous and independent self-governing organisation, which has and exercises the right to choose the persons who govern it from amongst its ranks. This is a right that must be fully respected, but, like any other organisation operating in the Republic of Cyprus, it has the obligation and the duty to comply with the rules of the state.

Both in the case of the recently deceased archbishop and that of the newly elected archbishop, it has been confirmed that the head of the church is essentially chosen by the church prelates. That is perfectly reasonable and to be expected.

Of course, that being the case, the question arises as to what purpose does it serve to incur an expense of the order of one million euros to create the illusion that the laypeople are also involved in the electoral process? The new archbishop has been chosen by 5.5 per cent (30,188 out of 548,793) of the registered Greek Cypriot voters, which is slightly less than the percentage of voters (6 per cent) who – according to the latest polls – support the candidacy of Achilleas Demetriades for the presidency of the Republic. The question which logically arises is the following: Why should the archbishop, but not Demetriades, have a say in the political affairs of Cyprus?

Clearly, the church cannot be above the law; it does not have the right to set foot on ancient monuments for the purposes of constructing luxury hotels, nor to demolish listed historic buildings for the purposes of constructing majestic temples. I believe that in respect of its profit-making activities the church should be subjected to taxation, like any other organisation legally operating in the country.

I also believe the church should compile and publish audited financial statements. It should promote honesty and transparency by being a shining example of good and transparent administrative practices. It is widely rumoured that some metropolises are financially supported by foreign powers, whose interests directly clash with the national interests of Cyprus. I would like to believe that these are malicious rumours aimed at damaging the standing of the church. However, I do not subscribe to the school of “believe and do not investigate”. Without the necessary transparency, without good external testimony, I am inevitably led to the conclusion that the aforementioned rumours are not unsubstantiated.

I therefore ask the newly elected archbishop and the members of the Holy Synod to focus on their ecclesiastical duties and to take the lead in restoring honesty, fairness, transparency, morality, dignity and trustworthiness, which are values that are gradually disappearing from our society. Then, and only then, will I feel proud of being an Orthodox Christian.

I wish all the readers of The Mail a Happy New Year!

Christos Panayiotides is a regular columnist for the Cyprus Mail, Sunday Mail and Alithia