NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) – Archbishop Chrysostomos II, the outspoken leader of the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus whose attacks on the country’s complex politics and finances drew supporters and detractors alike, died Monday. He was 81 years old.
Chrysostomos had been suffering from liver cancer for the past four years and spent his last days at the church’s headquarters in the capital.
A bulletin issued by the medical team said the archbishop “passed peacefully after facing the trial of his illness with courage, patience and Christian endurance” at 6:40 a.m. Monday.
“All who were close to him during the difficult hours of his illness experienced his humility, kindness and deep faith, as well as his concern for his flock,” the bulletin said. It added that the archbishop left behind a legacy marked by his “vision”. , courage, respect and renewal of the church’s historical tradition as well as innovative changes that have always aimed at the unity of the church.”
What we will always follow is his directness, kindness, courtesy and his smile,” the newsletter said.
CyBC announced that the Holy Synod – the church’s highest decision-making body – will meet to make arrangements for the funeral, to which other heads of the Orthodox Church will be invited.
Tall and imposing with a white beard in keeping with Orthodox priestly tradition, Chrysostom rarely held back from speaking his mind on issues ranging from politics to the country’s finances, rallying supporters but causing consternation from some politicians and other critics who chided him for not observes his religious duties.
Before the multibillion-euro island nation was bailed out by international creditors in March 2013, Chrysostomos said he would prefer the cash-strapped country to abandon the euro as its currency rather than accept a bailout deal he said would will set its economy back decades. He said that exiting the euro would at least save the dignity of Cyprus.
After the deal was signed, which forced big depositors at the country’s two biggest banks to put their savings at risk, an outraged Chrysostom said: “This is not the Europe we believed in when we joined.”
The archbishop also did not hold back from making his comments personal. He once told former communist-rooted president Dimitris Christofias to engage in self-reflection after getting “a prosperous, happy nation and leaving it with some people who are hungry.”
The priest criticized politicians and bankers whom he called “thieves” who ran for cover while “poor people paid madmen” for their disastrous decisions. He also warned that he will not hesitate to call the people for an uprising to prevent the technocrats from “cracks” in the country’s banking sector.
His comments about the world of finance led some critics to say that he acted more like a businessman and banker than a spiritual leader.
Although Chrysostomos has openly courted Russian investors and political support from the Kremlin in the past, relations with the Russian Orthodox Church were strained when he followed the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s decision in 2020 to recognize the independence of the new Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
His forays into conflict zones in the region included a visit to war-torn Syria in 2016 to lend support to the country’s Orthodox faithful. During the corona virus pandemic, he fully supported the recommendations of scientists for vaccinations and other restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.
His accession to the throne in 2006. , after his predecessor and namesake could no longer perform his duties due to ill health, reflected his political dexterity.
Church leaders in Cyprus are elected by the laity in conjunction with a college of clerics, a tradition that goes back a long way. Hardly the popular favorite and trailing the two favorites in the lay vote, Chrysostomos outlasted his rivals by garnering the support of a majority of the college to win.
Chrysostom was always open about his right-wing politics and was not afraid to use his influence to direct the Holy Synod to bend to his will, even before he became leader.
Chrysostomos spoke openly about his distrust of Turkey’s intentions in Cyprus. In a 2018 interview, he said he never believed a peace deal to reunify the ethnically divided island nation was possible because Turkey wanted to establish a Turkish state in the country.
Cyprus was divided in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of the union with Greece. Turkish Cypriots have declared an independent state in the north of the Mediterranean island, recognized only by Turkey, which maintains 35,000 troops there.
In 2004, Chrysostomos campaigned for the church to take a stand against what was believed to be an unjust peace plan drawn up by the UN, which the vast majority of Greek Cypriots subsequently voted for in a referendum.
Addressing Pope Benedict XVI during the pontiff’s visit to the island in 2010, Chrysostomos accused Turkey of trying to carry out “its obscure plans that include the annexation of the country that is now under military occupation and then the conquest of all of Cyprus.”
Chrysostomos also said that the Turks had “ruthlessly looted” Christian artworks, claiming that they were trying to make Greek and Christian culture disappear from northern Cyprus. Just as he called on former Pope Benedict, the archbishop also appealed to Pope Francis during the papal visit to Cyprus in 2021 for help in ensuring the protection of sacred Christian monuments.
Despite his politics, the archbishop worked closely with the Muslim mufti, the religious leader of the Turkish Cypriots, as well as other Christian leaders to restore religious buildings to send the message that faith is an anchor, not an obstacle to peace.
The great influence of the church in Cyprus dates back to the Middle Ages, when the Ottoman rulers recognized it as the only representative body of the Greek Orthodox Christian population. This continued until 1960, when Cyprus gained independence from British colonial rule by electing the then Archbishop Makarios as the country’s first president.
Born on April 10, 1941, Chrysostom’s religious vocation came early when he joined the famous Cypriot monastery of Saint Neophytes as a lay brother right after finishing elementary school. He continuously rose through the church ranks until 1978, when he was enthroned as bishop of his native prefecture of Paphos.
As archbishop, Chrysostom secured the church’s finances and implemented a series of reforms, including restoring the church’s decision-making independence by strengthening the Holy Synod by ordaining new bishops and drafting a new constitution.
Chrysostomos also opened a church office at the European Union headquarters in Brussels and was a strong advocate of closer relations between the Orthodox and Catholic churches.
“I want to do real work, not just show off.” I came and eventually I’ll leave, so I want to leave something for this country, that’s what’s important,” Chrysostomos told CyBC 2022 state television.