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L’Eglise de Chypre (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 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 septembre 2012    AHarris Stavridis

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