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Chrysostomos II, a patron saint for Cyprus

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.presseurop.eu/en/content/article/3923491-chrysostomos-ii-patron-saint-cyprus Chrysostomos II, a patron saint for Cyprus 28 June 2013 Archbishop
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 8, 2013

      Chrysostomos II, a patron saint for Cyprus
      28 June 2013

      Archbishop Chrysostomos II, leader of the orthodox Church of Cyprus,
      behaves like a head of a wealthy business empire and wields considerable
      influence in public policy. To meet him is to encounter an indispensable
      figure of this country marked by financial and social crises.
      Fabrice Nodé-Langlois

      As the small Mediterranean island republic of Cyprus finds itself in the
      midst of an historic economic crisis, the head of its Orthodox Church
      appears prominently in political debate. Archbishop Chrysostomos II is
      ever-present and never holds back.

      At the end of March, in exchange for €10bn in aid, the Europe rescue
      plan imposed a haircut on accounts of over €100,000 in the country’s two
      main banks. With barely a moment gone to waste after new Cypriot
      president Nicos Anastasiades accepted this plan, the prelate demanded
      the resignation of the minister of finance and the governor of the
      central bank, despite having supported Anastasiades during his
      presidential campaign.

      Chrysostomos II, “Archbishop of new Justiniana and all Cyprus”, offers
      his opinion on all subjects. The prelate is above all a businessman at
      the head of a very wealthy church. He is also said to enjoy privileged
      relations with Moscow. This key figure on the island, and without a
      doubt its most influential personality, inevitably stirs wild emotions.

      “You’re going to see the Archbishop?” asks an amused Panicos, taxi
      driver, on the way to the Archdiocese in the heart of old Nicosia,
      surrounded by Venetian ramparts. “Keep an eye on your rings! The Church
      is extremely wealthy. It’s the mafia!”
      The beatific businessman

      The prelate receives visitors in the Episcopal Palace, a
      Byzantine-revival structure built on elegant arcades in the 1950s. In
      the courtyard stands a statue of Archbishop Makarios III, famed
      predecessor of Chrysostomos II and first president of independent Cyprus
      in 1959.

      This morning, Chrysostomos II welcomes his visitor wearing a simple blue
      cassock. The red-lined sleeve falls back to reveals a large gold watch.
      After the ritual handkissing, which imposes a certain distance, the
      septuagenarian with a thick grey beard exudes warmth. His eyes sparkle
      from behind his wire-rimmed glasses, and his smile is generous.

      On the subject of the financial rescue plan and its draconian quid pro
      quos, which President Anastasiades has been trying to soften, his
      Beatitude hands down harsh judgment. “The situation has been created by
      Germany, the IMF and the ECB. They have punished Cyprus.” It’s a sense
      of injustice widely shared by investors, many of whom have seen their
      savings go up in smoke from one day to the next.

      As expected, the Church has been opening soup kitchens and helping those
      in greatest need. With its wealth, the Church helps the nation with a
      keen business sense. Cluttered with folders and adorned with a meeting
      table, Chrysostomos II’s vast office evokes that of a CEO.

      Beyond its real estate wealth, the Church of Cyprus is the leading
      shareholder in the brewery that produces the national beer, Keo. It is
      also a major shareholder – with a 29 per cent stake – in the Hellenic
      Bank, the country’s third-largest financial institution. “We will not
      abandon it,” assures the Archbishop, adding with a little laugh that
      shakes his beard: “We told the government not to touch it.” The Church
      also owned five per cent of the shares of the Bank of Cyprus, which is
      now being fully restructured. Those shares, the top financier admits,
      were lost.
      Privileged links with Moscow

      In Paphos, for €1.5m a year, the Church has leased 50,000 square metres
      to Russian investors who plan to build a hotel. The Church is said to
      enjoy privileged ties with Russia, and Chrysostomos II makes no secret
      of it. When the previous government wanted to ask Moscow for an
      extension of the deadlines for the loan of €2.5bn in 2011, he says, he
      arranged “a meeting in Europe with the Russian Patriarch, who went to
      intercede with Putin. President Christofias was to call Putin
      immediately. That call took him thirteen days to make.” It was an
      affront to the Kremlin, reasons the prelate.

      Like his Orthodox cousins in Russia, Chrysostomos II “is very
      nationalist”, says a foreign observer. The housing boom and the growth
      of the past years have drawn some 100,000 Romanian, Bulgarian, Filipinos
      and Pakistani immigrants to the Greek side of the island, where the
      total population is 800,000. “These are all God’s children, and I don’t
      want them to leave,” the Archbishop begins. “If they were not there,
      though, there would be no unemployment.”
      A Church that holds out against everything

      How to explain his continual intervention in the political debate?
      Chrysostomos II’s answer is quick and firm: “The Church states its
      opinion because it has been here for two thousand years.” The tradition
      goes back to Saint Barnabas, contemporary of Christ, who crossed the
      stretch of the Mediterranean separating the Holy Land from the island of

      “One must not try to understand the Church of Cyprus using Western
      references,” warns Andreas Theophanous, Professor of Economics at the
      University of Nicosia and supporter of a controlled exit from the euro.
      “Cyprus was dominated by the Ottomans in the 15th century. The Pope did
      not come to our rescue, because he asked us to submit to his authority
      in return. The Turks turned to the Archbishop, who had become the
      island’s de facto political leader. People ceded their property to the
      Church so that it would be protected, and that is how the Church became
      rich,” the professor says. Chrysostomos II has the last word: “If this
      island has remained Greek and Christian, it is 100 per cent thanks to
      the Church.”

      The coming years look to be very difficult for Cypriots. According to
      forecasts from Brussels, the GDP will fall up to 9 percent in 2013 and
      unemployment will climb above 17 per cent in 2014. There is a looming
      threat of Greek-style austerity. “Everything fell apart in just a few
      weeks,” repeat many of the inhabitants of Nicosia, some of whom saw half
      their life savings vanish overnight. Everything collapsed except the
      Church, which still stands firm on its Cypriot rock, as it has for 2,000

      Translated from the French by Anton Baer
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