PARSIPPANY, N.J. – The Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, the top decision-making body of the Church of Cyprus, backed the move by Archbishop Chrysostomos, the primate of the church, to officially recognize the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), overturning a previous position of neutrality on the issue. The move, made on November 23 at the Holy Synod’s meeting in Nicosia, Cyprus, had 10 out of 17 bishops vote not to contest the archbishop’s decision to recognize the OCU during liturgical commemorations that included Metropolitan Epifaniy as head of the OCU.
Bishop Nikiforos (Metropolitan of Kykkos), a dissenting voice, said the Holy Synod’s decision was not binding on those who disagreed because it was a matter of “faith and holy canon.” The bishop added that the Holy Synod rejected his compromise proposal not to go against the archbishop’s move, but not to be in full communion with Metropolitan Epifaniy either. Bishop Isaias, another dissenting voice, said his opposition was premised on his belief that Metropolitan Epifaniy was not properly enthroned as head of the OCU in line with church rules.
However, the Holy Synod’s spokesman, Bishop Gregorios, said the body’s decisions are binding according to its Constitution, whether made unanimously or by majority. He added that the Synod called on all Orthodox churches to work “in order to overcome the present crisis that threatens the Church of Christ with a schism,” referring to the Moscow Patriarchate’s efforts to rally other Orthodox churches to oppose the move by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to grant the Tomos of Autocephaly to the OCU. The Moscow Patriarchate has cut ties and ceased commemorating the heads of Orthodox churches who have officially recognized the OCU, including the Patriarchate of Alexandria, the Orthodox Church of Greece, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and now the Church of Cyprus.
The OCU’s Holy Synod issued a statement of gratitude to the Church of Cyprus, and Archbishop Chrysostomos, the Cypriot hierarchs and its Holy Synod, saying “that the communion of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and the Orthodox Church of Cyprus has been completed, as among the Autocephalous Orthodox Brothers.” Metropolitan Epifaniy, during a press briefing after the meeting of the Holy Synod of the OCU, said that “the Primate of the Local Orthodox Church of Ukraine on his behalf and the entire Church expressed gratitude for the union of the Church of Cyprus with those local churches that followed the Tomos of Autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.”
Archbishop Chrysotomos noted that, through the Tomos that was granted to each of the new autocephalous Churches by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, there was no reason to question the Tomos of Autocephaly of the OCU. Other local churches, including the Russian Orthodox Church, must accept that a Tomos has been given to the OCU and that it exists in the Dyptich of the Autocephalous Churches (a list of the heads of the recognized autocephalous Orthodox Churches who are commemorated during each divine liturgy). The archbishop also invited Metropolitan Epifaniy to visit the Cypriot Church.
In an interview on November 26 with Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation, Archbishop Chrysostomos said: “There is no schism within the Church of Cyprus. No Crisis. The stance of arbitrariness will fade away. I won’t let them get away with this. In 10 days the Council will meet to approve the budget of the Church. I am the president of the Council and the Metropolitan of Kykkos is the vice-president. We will meet there. We will have a discussion on Tuesday at the meeting for the coronavirus.”
There were two meetings of the Holy Synod of Cyprus, and there was a consensus reached at the first meeting as well, he added, and he did not know what the four dissenting bishops said at the meeting. He underscored that those dissenting bishops had no power to disrupt the decision of the Synod. “They don’t get a say in it. What they can say is that they won’t concelebrate [divine liturgies] with me. We all concelebrate the divine liturgy a few times a year during festivities. If I invite them, they cannot come only if they get sick,” he explained. “If they choose not to attend, then there are punishments. The punishments provided for range from reprimand to defrocking. We cannot do what we want within the Church of Cyprus,” he underscored.
Russia’s ambassador to Cyprus, Stanislav Osadchiy, in response to the decision by the Holy Synod of Cyprus to recognize the OCU, launched a verbal attack against Patriarch Bartholomew, calling the patriarch’s actions to grant autocephaly to the OCU “unacceptable.” “We believe that Bartholomew breached the rules of the Orthodox Church, acted unilaterally and did not discuss the matter with the other Orthodox Churches,” he told the Cyprus News Agency. Patriarch Bartholomew, he added, “caused a schism in the Orthodox Church, which unfortunately continues to exist. There is no unanimity among the Cypriot hierarchs, as it was shown by the meetings of the Holy Synod,” he said.
It remained unclear why a secular government official was commenting on religious matters and the moves made by religious decision-making bodies, but clearly relations have become increasingly strained between the Russian Federation, the Moscow Patriarchate, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal visited Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul on November 29 for the Thronal Feast of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Mother Church of the OCU. During the visit, Patriarch Bartholomew announced that he plans to visit Ukraine in August 2021 on the invitation of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to celebrate Ukrainian Independence Day.
Sources: Associated Press, Risu.ua, OrthodoxTimes.com.