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The ancient Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus (Greek: Εκκλησία της Κύπρου Ekklēsía tês Kýprou) is one of the fourteen or fifteen independent ('autocephalous') Eastern Orthodox churches, which are in communion and in doctrinal agreement with one another but not all subject to one patriarch. It is one of the oldest autocephalous churches. The bishop of the capital, Salamis (Konstantia), was constituted metropolitan by Emperor Zeno, with the title of archbishop.

History of the church

Roman era

The Apostle Paul, accompanied by Barnabas and Mark the Evangelist (Barnabas' kinsman), came to Cyprus in 45 AD to spread Christianity. Arriving at Salamis, they travelled across the island to Paphos, where Sergius Paulus was the first Roman official to convert to Christianity. In 50 AD St. Barnabas returned to Cyprus accompanied by St. Mark and set up his base in Salamis. He is considered to be the first Archbishop of Cyprus. In 57 AD, St. Barnabas was stoned to death by the Jews on the outskirts of Salamis, where he was also buried. He thus became one of the first martyrs of Christianity.

A few of the bishops who helped spread Christianity on the island were Lazarus, the Bishop of Kition, Herakleidios the Bishop of Tamasos, Avxivios the Bishop of Soloi, and Theodotos the Bishop of Kyrenia.

Towards the end of the 4th century, Christianity had spread throughout the island. During this time St. Epiphanius was Archbishop. His seat was in Salamis, which was renamed Constantia.

Byzantine era

This independent position by ancient custom was recognized, against the claims of the Patriarch of Antioch, at the Council of Ephesus (431 CE), and by an edict of the Byzantine Emperor Zeno. When the Archbishop of Antioch tried to abolish the Church of Cyprus' autocephaly, the Cypriot clergy denounced this before the Third Ecumenical Synod, which convened in 434 AD in Ephesos. The Synod ratified the autocephaly of the Church of Cyprus by its 8th canon.

In 478 AD, Archbishop Anthemios of Cyprus, following a vision, found the grave of St. Barnabas and his relics. On the saint's chest rested a copy of the Gospel of Matthew. The church was thus able to send a cogent argument on its own behalf to the Emperor: the discovery of the relics of its reputed founder, Barnabas. Zeno confirmed the status of the Church of Cyprus and granted its Archbishop the "three privileges": namely to sign his name in cinnabar, an ink made vermilion by the addition of the mineral cinnabar; to wear purple instead of black robes under his vestments; and to hold an imperial sceptre (i.e. a gilt staff of silver, topped by a gold globus cruciger) instead of the regular episcopal crosier.

Cyprus suffered greatly from Arab invasions in the following centuries, and during the reign of Justinian II the cities of Salamis (Constantia), Kourion and Paphos were sacked. At the advice of the Emperor, the Archbishop fled to the Hellespont along with the survivors, and established the city of Nova Justiniana (Greek: Νέα Ιουστινιανή, Néa Iustinianē), named after the Emperor, near the city of Cyzicus. In 692 the Quinisext Council (also called "in Trullo") reconfirmed the status and privileges of the exiled Archbishop and in 698, when the Arabs were driven out of Cyprus, the Archbishop returned but retained the title of "Archbishop of Nova Justiniana and All Cyprus": a custom that, along with the "three privileges", continues to this day.

Crusader era

After the establishment of Kingdom of Cyprus the Catholic kings gradually reduced the number of Orthodox bishops from 14 to 4 and forced those away from their towns. The archbishop was moved from Nicosia to the region of Solia, near Morphou, the bishop of Larnaca was moved to the village of Lefkara etc. Each orthodox bishop was under the Catholic bishop of the area. The Catholic church tried on occasion to force the Orthodox bishops to make concessions on the differences in doctrine and practices between the two churches, sometimes with threats and sometimes using violence and torture, as in the case of the 13 monks in Kantara. Moreover, the properties of many monasteries were confiscated. The persecutions, especially during the Frankish period, did not succeed in uprooting the faith of the Orthodox Greek Cypriots.

The Franks were succeeded by the Venetians in 1489 without any significant change to the status of the Orthodox Church.

Ottoman era

File:Kykkos,district of nicosia.jpg

Kykkos Monastery in Troodos Mountains, District of Nicosia.

The conquest of Cyprus by the Ottoman Empire in 1571 led to the recognition of the Orthodox church as the only legal Christian church. The church was considered by the Ottomans to be the political leadership of the Christian population (Rum millet) and was responsible for collecting taxes. Because of the different policies of the Ottoman Empire towards Muslim and non Muslim citizens, especially regarding taxation, some Christians converted to Islam. These are known in Cyprus with the name "Linopampakoi".

Attempts were made subsequently by the patriarchs of Antioch to claim authority over the Cypriot Church, the last as recently as 1600, but in vain.

Nevertheless, during the Ottoman period (1571-1878) Cyprus went through hard times. People lived in insecurity and their life and property was constantly at the disposal of the Ottomans. The role of the Church in the preservation of faith, national identity and traditions of orthodox Greek Cypriots was particularly important. The churches were not mere places of worship but were transformed to schools and places of ethnic inspiration.

The revolution in Greece in 1821, together with information of a revolutionary movement in Cyprus, resulted in the execution of Archbishop Kyprianos on 9 July 1821 and Bishops Chrysanthos of Paphos, Meletios of Kitium, Lavrentios of Kyrenia, of the Abbot Josef of the Kykkos Monastery and other notables, clergymen and common people.

In 1872 archbishop Sofronios of Cyprus participated in a council in Constantinople which condemned nationalism, triggered by the unilateral declaration of autocephaly by the Bulgarian church.

British colonial rule

The purchase of Cyprus by the British in 1878 allowed more freedom in religious practices, such as the use of bells in churches (which were forbidden under the Ottomans). Some linopampakoi took advantage of the political change to convert back to Christianity.

John Hackett published "A history of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus" in 1901. At about the same time the church went through a crisis regarding the succession of the archbishop. The two candidates, Kyrillos II and Kyrillos III had mainly political differences (one was a nationalist whereas the other was a moderate).

Although the Church gained more freedom under British rule, the British Administration interfered, in certain cases, using restrictive laws on the management of the Church and other areas of national and cultural activity. This led to the October 1931 riot organised by bishops who were also members of the legislative assembly. As a consequence of this uprising, bishops Nikodemos of Kition, and Makarios of Kyrenia were exiled, and restrictions were imposed on the election of the Archbishop. As a result, the filling of the Archbishop's throne was pending from 1933 (the death of Archbishop Kyrillos III) to 1946, when the Bishop of Paphos, Leontios, was elected as the new Archbishop.

In 1950, Makarios III was elected Archbishop. While still Bishop of Kition he had demonstrated strong intellectual and national activity. In 1949 he founded the Apostle Varnavas Seminary, and in 1950 he organised the referendum on the Union (Enosis) between Cyprus and Greece. While archbishop he was the political leader of the EOKA liberation struggle in the years 1955-1959. The British exiled him to the Seychelles because of his activities.

Cypriot independence

File:Archbishobic palace.jpg

Statue of Makarios III outside the Archbishops' Palace in Nicosia.

In 1960, Archbishop Makarios III was elected President of the newly established Republic of Cyprus. Disagreements of the other three bishops with Makarios lead to the Ecclesiastical coup. Following the dethronement of the Bishops of Paphos, Kitium and Kyrenia for conspiring against Makarios, two new Bishoprics were created: the Bishopric of Limassol which was detached from the Bishopric of Kition, and the Bishopric of Morfou which was detached from the Bishopric of Kyrenia. The Coup d'état of 15 July 1974 forced Archbishop Makarios III to leave the island. He returned in December 1974.

Turkish invasion

The coup was followed by the Turkish invasion of 20 July 1974 which affected significantly the Church and its flock: as 35% of Cyprus' territory came under Turkish occupation, hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Christians were displaced and those that couldn't or didn't want to leave (20,000 initially) faced oppression. As of May 2001 figures only 421 Greek Cypriots and 155 Maronites remain in North Cyprus.

The destruction of Christian monuments was another important consequence.[1] Churches containing Byzantine icons, frescoes and mosaics of incalculable value have been pillaged by antiquities dealers and sold on the black market. One of the most prominent cases of pillage was of the mosaics of Panayia of Kanakaria of the 6th century AC, which were finally returned to the Church of Cyprus, following a ruling by the Indianapolis Court.[2] In the occupied areas of Cyprus there are 514 churches, chapels and monasteries, many of which were converted to mosques, museums or abandoned.[3]

Recent events

On 3 August 1977, Archbishop Makarios died and was succeeded by Archbishop Chrysostomos I. In 1979, the new Statutory Charter of the Church of Cyprus was drawn up and approved replacing the old one of 1914.

In old age, Archbishop Chrysostomos suffered from Alzheimer's disease and was unable to carry out his duties for a number of years. In May 2006, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I chaired a broader meeting of church elders which called for Chrysostomos' "honorary removal."

Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Paphos, 65, was elected the new archbishop on November 5, 2006, after a long-running election campaign, becoming Archbishop Chrysostomos II, Archbishop of Nea Justiniana and All Cyprus.

Holy Synod

The Holy Synod of the Autocephalous Church of Cyprus is the highest church authority in Cyprus. Its task is to examine and provide solutions on all issues concerning the Church of Cyprus. It consists of the Archbishop of Cyprus as the Head of the Holy Synod, the Bishops of Paphos, Kition, Kyrenia, Limassol and Morphou, the Suffragan Bishops of Salamis, Trimithous and Arsinoe and the Bishop of Kykko Nikiforos, as regular members.

The Holy Synod meets regularly in the first week after Easter and in the first fortnight of the months of February and September. It meets in ad hoc sessions when it is deemed necessary or when two of its members put forward a request.

See also: List of Archbishops of Cyprus


Religious sites in Cyprus

  • 9 Byzantine churches in the Troodos mountains are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage sites, pictured here.
  • Kykkos Monastery, guardians of the holy Kykkotissa Icon, an unusual representation of the infant Jesus kicking with joy on his mother's lap.
  • Icons smuggled from the Bishopric of the Holy Metropolis of Kyrenia and Church of Panaghia Asinou in the northern Turkish-occupied part of the island were repatriated by a collector in the United States of America in 2007.
  • Icons from Kalopanayiotis village stolen even earlier, before the division of the island, have also been returned to the Church's custody.
  • Some estimate that since 1974 looters in Northern Cyprus have stripped an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 icons; several dozen major frescoes and mosaics dating from the sixth to the fifteenth century; and thousands of chalices, wooden carvings, crucifixes, and Bibles. Efforts by the Autocephalous Church of Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus to return some of these objects are described in a 1998 issue of Archeology magazine but the majority remain lost.
  • Churches in capital Nicosia such as Chrysaliniotissa Our Lady of the Golden Flax and Panayia Chrysospiliotissa Our Lady of the Gold Cave, along with the Byzantine Museum of the Archbishop Makarios III Foundation, listed for interested visitors
  • Monasteries listed separately.
  • Photo gallery of the ruins of the Roman Catholic Augustinian cloister named Bellepais near Kyrenia

See also

External links

  • Orthodox Church of Cyprus, official site
  • Background on events curtailing religious freedoms and reports of signs of hope, such as the November 30, 1994 celebration of the Eucharist at St. Andrew monastery on the Karpas peninsula, the first event in the north in 20 years, from the CNEWA (Catholic Near East Welfare Association).


  1. Bachman, Carolyn (2003). "An Introduction to the Issue of Preserving Cultural Heritage". Brown Classical Journal 15. Retrieved 2007-01-29. 
  2. Bourloyannis, Christiane; Virginia Morris (January 1992). "Autocephalous Greek-Orthodox Church of Cyrprus v. Goldberg & Feldman Fine Arts, Inc.". The American Journal of International Law 86 (1): 128–133. doi:10.2307/2203143. Retrieved 2007-01-29. 
  3. Morris, Chris (2002-01-18). "Shame of Cyprus' looted churches". BBC. Retrieved 2007-01-29.