Church of Cyprus
The Church of Cyprus is one of the autocephalous churches of the Orthodox Christian communion whose territory consists of the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea. The church is led by the Archbishop of Nova Justiniana and All Cyprus. Although through the centuries the island has been occupied by various parties, the church has retain its independence.
Christianity was originally brought to Cyprus by the Apostle Barnabas in the first century. The Apostle Mark is considered to be the first bishop of Cyprus. Its autocephaly was established at the Council of Ephesus in 431, overriding the claims of the Patriarch of Antioch. This status was confirmed by the Roman Emperor Zeno in 478 who granted its Archbishop “three privileges, that is: to sign his name in ’’cinnabar’’, to wear purple instead of black under his vestments, and to use an imperial scepter instead of the episcopal crosier.
The Arab invasions of the seventh century forced the Archbishop to flee the island to Hellespont, where under the protection of Emperor Justinian II he established a new city called Nova Justinian in honor of the emperor. In 698, the Arabs were driven out of Cyprus and the Archbishop returned to the island, but retained the title of Archbishop of Nova Justiniana and All Cyprus. With the occupation of Cyprus by the Crusades from 1191 to 1571, the Orthodox hierarchy found itself subordinated to the occupying Latin French and Venetian kings, who forced a reduction in the number of Orthodox bishops from 14 to 4. Additionally, the Latin bishops attempted to gain concessions on the differences in doctrine and practices between the two churches.
The occupation of Cyprus, from 1571 to 1832, by the Ottomans resulted in return to the Orthodox of the privileges they previously had but under an environment that was insecure and under which their lives and property were always at the disposal of the Ottomans. Under the Ottoman ruling practices the christian populous of Cyprus (Rum millet) was considered a separate nation with the Orthodox church the only legal christian church. They considered the Archbishop to be the political head of this christian nation, with responsibility for collecting taxes. The news of the revolution for Greek independence in 1821 resulted in the death of Archbishop Kyprian and many other members of the Cyprian hierarchy, clergy, and Orthodox people.
In 1878, after the British assumed control of Cyprus the church gained more freedom in their religious practices, including return of use of the bells in the churches. Yet, the British interfered seriously in church activities, resulting in an uprising by the church in October 1931, after which the British imposed additional restrictions on election of the archbishop. The British occupation lasted until 1960 when Cyprus regained its independence with the election of Archbishop Makarios as head of state of Cyprus as well as being head of the church. This unique combination continued until his death in 1977.
As a consequence of an attempted military coup in 1974, Turkey invaded and occupied about a third of the island, forming an independent government, with almost all Orthodox moving to the remaining Greek portion of the island. Since then within the Turkish occupied part of the island Orthodox property has sustained substantial damage. The Turkish occupied territories contain 514 churches, chapels, and monasteries.
The Archbishop’s see is located in the city of Nicosia. The current primate of the Church of Cyprus is His Beatitude Chrysostomos, Archbishop of Nova Justiniana and All Cyprus. The Holy Synod of the Autocephalous Church of Cyprus is the highest Church Authority. There are five bishoperics with the ruling bishops styled as Metropolitans. These bishoperics are: Paphos, Kitium, Kyrenia, Limassol, and Morphou. The Royal Monastery of Kykkos with the Cross is located in Nicosia.