Paphos bishop elected as new leader of Cyprus Church

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus’ Orthodox Church on Saturday elected Paphos Bishop Georgios as its new leader following the death last month of Archbishop Chrysostomos II.

The 73-year-old cleric received nine votes from the 16-member Holy Synod, the church’s highest decision making body, against four for runner-up Limassol Bishop Athanasios. There was also one blank ballot.

The Holy Synod’s decision followed a Dec. 18 lay vote from among all Orthodox Christians on the east Mediterranean island nation in which Athanasios topped the poll, followed by Georgios and Tamasos Bishop Isaias.

According to the Church’s constitution, a lay vote is held to select the top three bishops and then the Holy Synod holds its own secret ballot to elect the new archbishop.

Georgios had been pegged as the favorite to win the synod’s approval despite Athanasios’ lay vote victory because of what numerous media reports suggested was the network of allegiances and dynamics within the synod.

In remarks before the synod’s vote, Athanasios said the will of the people should be respected, but that he would accept any result “with peace and love,” urging supporters to demonstrate “respect.”

Shouts of “truly worthy” from gathered supporters greeted the announcement of Georgios’ election inside the 16th-century Cathedral of St. John on Archbishopric grounds in the capital Nicosia.

“I first of all thank God who permitted today’s election, the synod members who selected me with their vote and the people who chose me to be among the tripartite, Georgios said after his election. “I will try not to appear lesser than my predecessors.”

Among the first to congratulate Georgios was Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades who posted on Twitter that new archbishop would carry on the “great spiritual work of the Church of Cyprus for the benefit of its flock.”

Georgios is considered a steady hand as having held the post of Synod secretary, echoing the positions of his predecessor regarding the island’s ethnic division as well as the church’s support for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s independence from the Moscow Patriarch, in line with the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul.

Georgios studied chemistry and theology in Greece and later the the U.K. before rising in the ranks within the church to be elected Paphos bishop in 2006.

According to his biography, he won a European Court of Human Rights ruling against Turkey for violating his human rights after his arrest and maltreatment by Turkish authorities during a 1989 protest against the island’s division.

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