NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The head of Cyprus’ Orthodox Church Archbishop Georgios formally assumed his new duties Sunday following an enthronement ceremony evoking the splendor of centuries of Byzantine tradition before an audience of clergy from around the world with the notable exception of the Russian church.
Russian Patriarch Kirill sent no representatives at the St. Barnabas Cathedral ceremony following following the Cyprus Church’s decision to support the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s independence, in line with the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul.
Conversely, the Ukrainian Church’s Metropolitan Symeon and Archbishop Efstratios were in attendance as Archbishop Georgios, bedecked in crimson and gold-trimmed liturgical vestments, trailed a procession of senior clerics into the cathedral.
Although some pro-Russia bishops dissented against the 2020 decision by the 16-member Holy Synod, the Cyprus Church’s highest decision-making body, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine that began on Feb. 24 consolidated that support.
The Russian Orthodox Church cut ties with Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I after he granted independence to Ukraine’s Orthodox church in 2019.
In an interview with the Greek weekly newspaper To Vima, Archbishop Georgios said the Cypriot church’s backing for Bartholomew’s decision flowed out of orthodoxy’s own laws that put the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s primacy over all other Orthodox churches. But he offered an olive branch to the Russian church, saying he would reach out to Moscow to dispel any notions of enmity and help restore Orthodox unity.
Christian unity was the central message of greetings by Pope Francis conveyed by the papal nuncio to Cyprus Adolfo Tito Yllana.
“I know that your Beatitude will continue in this commitment to fostering the unity of all Christ’s disciples,” said the Nuncio. “In these difficult times marked by injustice, violence and war, it is all the more important that Christians give an authentic witness of unity so that the world they believe in the Lord’s message of love, reconciliation and peace.”
Georgios’ enthronement became official after he signed the Church’s constitution with red ink — a privilege granted to the head of the Cyprus Church by the fifth-century Byzantine Emperor Zeno after he was gifted a gospel found in the tomb of the Cyprus Church’s founder and apostle of Christ, Barnabas.
In his own address, the Archbishop said his prime goal will be to reinvigorate the Christian message in modern spiritual discourse, carry on with the Church’s outreach to the poor and to convey that scientific thought isn’t in conflict with the precepts of Christianity.
He also said the Church would continue to have a voice in matters of education and would oppose any political negotiations aimed at resolving Cyprus’ ethnic cleave that would embolden Turkey’s “expansionism” and facilitate Ankara’s full control of the country.
Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup aimed at union with Greece.
Georgios was elected archbishop last month following the death of his predecessor Archibshop Chrysostomos II after a long battle with cancer. The new Archbishop studied chemistry and theology in Greece and later in the U.K. before rising through the ranks within the church to be elected Paphos bishop in 2006.