Saturday, May 19, 2012

Cyprus and the Church of Antioch

From the Great Cyprus Encyclopedia, translated by this blog's favorite blog, NOCTOC.

Among the hierarchs of the Cypriot church who served in the patriarchate of Antioch, were Anthemios (17th-18th century, bishop of Helenoupolis and patriarch of Antioch from 1724 until his death in 1813), Sylvester (18th century, patriarch of Antioch from 1724 until his death in 1766), Anthimos (18th century, bishop of Irinoupolis (Baghdad) of the Patriarchate of Antioch) and Ioannikios (18th century, bishop of Epiphaneia of the Patriarchate of Antioch). It is also worth mentioning the case of Athanasius, patriarch of Antioch, a non-Cypriot, who later became Archbishop of Cyprus (Athanasios II of Cyprus, Athanasios III of Antioch). Of Cypriot origin was also the patriarch of Antioch Spyridon I (late 19th century). We should also mention the Cypriot in origin (from his father's side) Nectarios, Bishop of Aleppo.

The Church of Antioch was the Church which raised several claims for control over the Church of Cyprus during the first centuries after Christ, with the excuse that Christianity prevailed in Cyprus through Antioch. The proof from the finding of the relics of Barnabas the Apostole, the apostolicity of the Church of Cyprus  put an end to these claims and patented the autocephalous Church of Cyprus. However, Antiochian designs on the Church of Cyprus still occurred during that period and later, in various forms. One example is the prerogative of the patriarchs of Antioch to ordain their own bishops. Attempts had been made to implement this privilege also in Cyprus, since 431 by John of Antioch, but the Cypriots did not succumb. Another attempt at interference by the Church of Antioch, which was aimed at the destruction of the autocephalous Church of Cyprus, was in 1600 (during the Ottoman period) by Patriarch Joachim. Taking advantage of the disruption which was caused in Cyprus by the acts of Archbishop Athanasius I (1592-1598), the patriarch intervened into the affairs of Cyprus on the grounds that the Church of Cyprus was subject to his spiritual jurisdiction rather than that of the Ecumenical Patriarchate which in turn felt that Antioch had incorrectly interfered.  The patriarch of Alexandria Meletius Pigas, who was at the time acting as Vicar of the Ecumenical Throne of Constantinople and who was asked by the Cypriots to investigate their accusations against archbishop Athanasius, successfully opposed his claims over Cyprus.

During the Ottoman period, the poverty that plagued Cyprus did not, apparently, put the island in a more difficult position than that of the Patriarchate of Antioch during the early 18th century. At the end of 1735, the patriarch of Antioch Sylvester (who was Cypriot in origin) came to Cyprus and conducted fund-raising on the island for the economic relief of the patriarchate. Even though Cyprus was in a horrible socioeconomic  position, Sylvester managed to collect the sum of 1,680 piasters from the Cypriot people.

The Patriarchate of Antioch, as the nearest to Cyprus, was asked repeatedly by the Ecumenical Patriarchate during the Ottoman period to act on the island, especially in cases of ordinations. Indicatively, we mention here the command of the Grand Vizier to the Ecumenical Patriarch Gabriel IV in 1783, and then of Gabriel to the Patriarch of Antioch Daniel, that the latter should send to Cyprus bishops to ordain new hierarchs (uncanonically) for the Church of Cyprus as replacements for Archbishop Chrysanthos and the bishops, upon the request of the tyrant of Cyprus Muhassil Haci Baki Agha.

In this case, judging correctly, the patriarch of Antioch considered any election of new prelates in Cyprus to be improper and refused to intervene.

Another case was in 1821, when, after the decapitation of archbishop Kyprianos and the bishops, Seraphim of Antioch sent three bishops to Cyprus (Cypriot Ioannikios of Epiphaneia, Gennadios of Seleucia and Methodius of Emesa) for the ordination and the establishment of new prelates for the island.

The Church of Cyprus was involved to some extent in the so-called Antiochian issue (1897-1909)  in the early 20th century even though it faced a formidable issue regarding its own archbshop. The Antiochian problem was created when the last of the Greek patriarchs of Antioch, the Cypriot in origin Spyridon (1891-1898) was forced to resign and, with Russian intervention, an Arabic-speaking patriarch was elected, Meletius Doumani. A schism occurred which was not resolved until 1908, but since that time an Arabic-speaking patriach is elected who, however, retains all the Greek Orthodox traditions and has regular relations with the other patriarchates, as with the Church of Cyprus.

Today, the Patriarchate maintains good relations with the Church of Cyprus. In recent times, we will mention the involvement of the patriarch of Antioch Elias at the ecumenical synod in Nicosia which was convened by Archbishop Makarios III in June 1973. This synod defrocked the Cypriot bishops Gennadios of Paphos, Anthimos of Kition, and Kyrianos of Kyrenia.

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