Archbishop Makarios III managed to maintain political power even after Independence, despite the fact that the Church’s narrative and political agenda were defeated and dismantled through the Zurich-London Treaties. Under normal circumstances, the Archbishop should have vanished from the political scene a failure.
All citizens of the Republic of Cyprus, be they religious or not, ought to acknowledge that all Archbishops of Cyprus across the years have been in a position to exert catalytic influence on the social and political affairs of our country. In view of the Archbishop elections to be held on December 18, the question before us is, in a nutshell, a timely one: Do we want the Church to retain its influence? If not, what kind of Archbishop do we NOT want?
Some argue that the current phenomenon is unacceptable and that after Independence in 1960, the Orthodox religious leader should not have had disproportionately more prestige than the T/C Mufti, or the Archbishops of the Armenians, Maronites and Catholics.
The observation is correct in theory, but the reality is different. The prestige of the Archbishop of Cyprus does not stem from the fact that he is the religious leader of the Greek Cypriot majority, but from the fact that historically, there is another title that accompanies the role: That of the Ethnarch.
In Cyprus, the role of the Archbishop was elevated during Ottoman rule (1571-1878). The high porte did not seek politicians in our conquered country, but recognised the Greek Orthodox Archbishop as a Millet Pasha, i.e. as the leader of the tribe, the nation (Ethnarch). To him [the Ottomans] assigned the management of the enslaved rayahs [Translator’s note: non-Muslim subjects of the Ottoman Empire], for two reasons: To keep them quiet and, above all, to collect the heavy taxes that they had imposed. Through the collection of taxes, (the Church did not have to pay taxes to the Ottomans), it gradually began to acquire enormous wealth both in the form of money and, most importantly, real estate.
The British (1878-1960) attempted to limit the influence of the Orthodox Church, but failed rather miserably. Their attempt to develop a different political culture came to an inglorious end after the October Events (1931), when Governor Palmer (Palmerocracy) froze any such process, banning the operation of political parties and formations.
The establishment of AKEL [Progressive Party of Working People] and KEK [Cypriot National Party], after the beginning of the Second World War (1939-1945), could not inhibit the enormous influence of the Church. In the early 1950s, the Church managed to bring its political agenda to the forefront via the Enosis Referendum (1950) [Translator’s note: on union with Greece] and the EOKA Struggle (1955-59). Archbishop Makarios prevailed as the dominant figure from 1950.
Archbishop Makarios III managed to maintain political power even after Independence, despite the fact that the Church’s narrative and political agenda were defeated and dismantled through the Zurich-London Treaties. Under normal circumstances, the Archbishop should have vanished from the political scene a failure, since instead of ‘enosis’, what emerged was a bi-communal unitary state, with himself as the Greek President and Fazil Kucuk as the Turkish Vice President.
No special explanation is needed as to why the logic of political cost did not affect the Archbishop and the Church in general. Primarily, this was due to the fact that there were no rivals, i.e. structured parties and other organisations with a distinctly different political narrative. Moreover, Makarios’ narrative was not political but national and, by extension, emotional. The glory of EOKA under the leadership of an Archbishop, “the vision of union with the motherland and our heroic dead”, left no room for rationality to defeat emotion.
The emotionality that feeds irrationality is a culture that the Church, as an ethnarchical authority, had instilled in the Greek rayahs of the country centuries ago. Consequently, the Church does not recognise, nor does it incur any political costs. It is a spiritual organisation and answers only to the Lord. With the passage of time, this irrationality has become the political culture of the Greek Cypriots, and, to be fair, it is no different from the culture of the rest of the Greeks: we are a brotherless nation. We are hunted, we are wronged, everyone tries to bring us to our knees, but we resist, because Cyprus, as Vasilis Michaelides wrote, “is sheltered by God from up high”. The struggle for union [with Greece] was not seen through to the end, not because it was misguided, but due to the faults of others. This was how Makarios blamed Zurich on others, on the Turks, even on Karamanlis. [Translator’s note: former Greek Prime Minister, Konstantinos Karamanlis] This was how we justified the events of 1963-64 and even the 1974 invasion.
The crucially important presence of Makarios and the culture he instilled remained unchanged until the Archbishop’s death in 1977. Until that time, political life, and especially political parties, were unable to function properly. AKEL (1941) attempted to do so in the early years (by 1961 it too had succumbed), as did some independent right-wing leaders (such as Ioannis Clerides), who were ultimately sidelined, with the first Cabinet teeming with the youth that had until that point been EOKA fighters. Until 1977, as a rule, political life involved controlled parties, mock elections and generally third-world democratic processes. One could argue here that the first dose of normality in our political system came in 1976, through the establishment of DISY [Democratic Rally], a party which functioned as the first coherent form of opposition. It was not until 1988, with the election of George Vassiliou, that the Republic of Cyprus first functioned as a democratic state, 28 years after its foundation and 14 years after its partition. However, it did of course continue to be burdened with its fundamental pathologies, which just took on new shapes: Sentimentalism, irrationalism, realism, dead-end patriotism, amoralism. These are all the political legacies of Archbishop Makarios and the Church.
These were also “values” which were defended by the successors of Makarios, Chrysostomos I and Chrysostomos II. Though their influence was far inferior to that of Makarios III, they did manage to maintain the Church’s intervention in the political affairs of the country all through 1977 to 2022.
* They maintained and expanded the Church, which became the largest landowner and businessn figure in the Republic of Cyprus. Its businesses today go beyond land, farms, and hotels to include cement plants and photovoltaics.
* The economic power of the Church can easily explain its political influence. Makarios III had the authority to decide when and which parties would be founded and even how many seats they would be granted in Parliament. Archbishop Chrysostomos II had often recounted how the Church had contributed to the founding and financing of DIKO [Democratic Party] in 1976.
* We are all aware of the ways in which Chrysostomos I had intervened in the appointment of the Education Ministers and how he attempted to conjoin public education with the Church. We also remember Chrysostomos II’s stance on the Cyprus issue during the period of the Referenda.
* We have all realised how Chrysostomos II’s reasonable stance contributed to the mass vaccination of the elderly in Cyprus. If the views of hierarchs, who are now candidates for the position of Archbishop and who had linked vaccinations with conspiracies and sinful behaviour, had prevailed, Cyprus may have mourned three times the number of deaths from the pandemic.
* Finally, we have all realised what role or complications the Church of Cyprus could cause in the foreign policy of Greece and Cyprus, if it is attached to the chariot of states (we are basically talking about Russia) that have instrumentalised religion, seeking to strengthen their geopolitical position in the region. Again, Chrysostomos II was right.
The kind of Archbishop we want
By way of proof by contradiction, what kind of Archbishop does Cyprus need today and most importantly, what characteristics of previous Archbishops should be avoided?
- By default, whoever occupies the post of Archbishop is also the country’s biggest businessman. Since we can’t expect him to be all-knowing, he should therefore have an independent team to support him – with the team preferably not appointed by him – in managing the businesses of the Church, which are worth some billions. Absolute transparency is necessary in the management of these businesses, because they belong to the Cypriot people and not to specific hierarchs and their relatives.
- The new Archbishop can function as the spiritual leader of the faithful who follow the Orthodox Christian doctrine, but he must refrain from any political activity. In a European state, he is entitled to an opinion, but he cannot have a say in who the Minister of Education will be, nor what educational programme the country’s pupils will follow.
- It should be taken for granted that the new Archbishop must also respect scientific knowlede and generally exhibit the necessary rational behaviour. Our country does not need an Archbishop who sees visions, foresees disasters, and converts young men and women to fill the monasteries with idle people. We do not need an Archbishop who, in the name of religion, calls on the faithful to abstain from vaccinations, who does not respect different sexual orientations, who does not recognise the rights of women.