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Historical survey

Religious history: The Church of Cyprus during the Ottoman period

After the Ottoman conquest (1570), the prelates of the Church of Cyprus ―the Archbishop and the Bishops of Paphos, Kition and Kyrenia― received important privileges from the Sultan, resulting in (...)

After the Ottoman conquest (1570), the prelates of the Church of Cyprus ―the Archbishop and the Bishops of Paphos, Kition and Kyrenia― received important privileges from the Sultan, resulting in their acquiring of significant power, both spiritual and political/economic, over their flock. However, due to heavy Catholic influence it had received during the Frankish and Venetian periods, in the first century after the Ottoman conquest the Church of Cyprus attempted in several occasions to come into contact with European rulers, most importantly the King of Spain and the Duke of Savoy, in order to expel the Ottomans and reinstall the domination of a Catholic Christian power over the island.

These contacts continued until around 1660, when the Ottoman state, in an attempt to curb the abuse of authority from the part of the governors of the island, upgraded the role of the prelates of the Church of Cyprus in local administration, allowing them an important role in the allocation and collection of taxes in the province. This development, together with their failure to procure western aid for the liberation of the island, signalled the end of the western relations of the Church of Cyprus and secured the loyalty of its prelates to the Sultan, who perceived them as high-level functionaries and appointed them to their thrones through an imperial document (berat).

An important development occurred in 1754, when the prelates of the Church of Cyprus were officially recognized by the Ottoman state as kodjabashis, that is, leaders and guardians of the Orthodox Christians, acquiring the right to represent the people of the island and to present petitions to the Sublime Porte independently from the local Ottoman governor. This new status triggered a period of increasing political and economic power for the Church of Cyprus rivalling that of the local Ottoman governor, and in fact it was perceived by many that the Archbishop was, to all intents and purposes, the real ruler of the island.

Due to its new position, the Church of Cyprus reached the zenith of its power in the second half of the 18th and the first decades of the 19th century, a period, which is also characterized by a cultural regeneration, reflected in the founding of schools, the funding of the publication of books and the creation of a new ideology, which gave prominent emphasis on education and learning.

The struggle for power between the Church of Cyprus and the local Ottoman authorities came to a head in the summer of 1821, when the Ottoman governor, using as a pretext the revolution which had just erupted in Greece, executed Archbishop Kyprianos I, together with the three Bishops ―alongside a host of other clerics and prominent men― replacing them with puppet Bishops appointed by himself, in an attempt to reassert the authority of the local administration over the Church.

The Church of Cyprus quickly recovered from this blow and was assigned a new prominent role in the Ottoman reforms, which followed the Imperial Prescript of 1839. Although it lost its dominant role in the imposition and collection of taxes, the appointment of the Archbishop and Bishops as ex officio members of the Councils created by the reforms institutionally incorporated the Church of Cyprus into the Ottoman administration. Through this development, the prelates were officially and institutionally recognized by the Ottoman authorities as the leaders of the Orthodox Christians of the island, a fact which would acquire exceptional significance in the following decades.

D 12 September 2012    AHarris Stavridis

The Church of Cyprus (1878-1977)

With the change of 1878, in which the British took over from the Ottomans the administration of the island, the Church assumed the role of leaders and spokesmen of the Orthodox Christians of (...)

With the change of 1878, in which the British took over from the Ottomans the administration of the island, the Church assumed the role of leaders and spokesmen of the Orthodox Christians of Cyprus. During the first years after the British occupation, the prelates of the Church of Cyprus cooperated closely with the new administration in order to protect the political and financial privileges they had acquired during the Ottoman period and to put forward demands of their Orthodox flock, most prominent among which was the demand for Enosis, [union (with Greece)], which had been gaining momentum in the island ever since the creation of the Greek state in the 1830s. Through this cooperation, the Church of Cyprus assumed a political role, and several prelates were elected by the people to the Legislative Council created by the new administration.

During the 19th century two ideological tendencies were gradually formed, a traditionalist one, carrying the ideology of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and attempting to preserve the traditional authority of the Church, and a nationalist one, which was a carrier of the irredentist national ideology of the Greek state. The conflict between these two ideologies came to a head in the Archiepiscopal Question of 1900-1910, when two factions led by the Bishop of Kyrenia, representing the traditionalists, and the Bishop of Kition, representing the nationalists, struggled for the Archiepiscopal Throne.

The domination of the latter faction led the Church of Cyprus to an increasingly vocal demand for Enosis, (union with Greece) during the 1910s and 1920s, which created conflict with the British Government of the island. The latent conflict became a crisis in 1931 when, after a spontaneous revolt, the Colonial Government exiled the Bishops of Kition and Kyrenia, who had sparked the events with their actions. With the death of Archbishop Kyrillos III in 1933, the absence of the two Bishops, as well as the actions of the British Government, prevented the election of a successor, thus weakening significantly the Church of Cyprus, which was left with only one Bishop in the island, Leontios, Bishop of Paphos, who held the Archiepiscopal See for fourteen years as Locum Tenens (1933-1947). After World War II, during which the Church of Cyprus appeared to be loyal to the struggle against Fascism, the Holy Synod of the Church was reinstated and a new Archbishop was elected.

With the end of the Civil War in Greece, during which the Church suspended pro-Enosis activities, so as not to embarrass the embattled Greek Government to its British allies, the demand for Enosis started to be expressed ever more forcefully. Soon after his election in 1950, the new Archbishop Makarios III led the Greek Cypriots to a fervent pursuit of Enosis, taking the cause to the General Assembly of the United Nations and, finally, organizing an armed struggle in order to achieve it.

After the creation of the Republic of Cyprus (1960), Makarios III was elected as the first President of Republic with the overwhelming support of the public. This was the result of the prestige acquired by the Archbishop during the previous decade, as well as the leading political role of the Church among the Orthodox of the island in the previous centuries. Makarios held the office of President until his death in 1977. His tenure, characterized by constant political turmoil and inter-communal strife, enhanced the prestige of the Church and confirmed its ethnarchic (i.e. nation-leading) role among the Greek Cypriots.

D 12 September 2012    AHarris Stavridis

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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