By MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Chrysostomos II, the leader of Cyprus’ Orthodox Church, was laid to rest Saturday with a ceremony that reflected centuries of ecclesiastical tradition, eulogized as his church’s greatest reformer and an outspoken fighter for his people.
The spiritual head of the world’s 300 million Orthodox, Istanbul-based Patriarch Bartholomew, was dressed in resplendent Byzantine vestments to preside over the funeral service at the St. Barnabas Cathedral on the grounds of the church’s headquarters in Nicosia, the capital.
“Your name will always be held in the highest respect in the our memory and in the history of the entire church and our people,” an emotional Patriarch Bartholomew said. “All you have done will be eternally remembered before God and humanity.”
Chrysostomos died Monday at 81 after a four-year battle with intestinal and liver cancer. His body has lain in state since Thursday. He was buried in a specially designed crypt in the cathedral which he commissioned that will be the resting place of all future archbishops after the remains of their predecessors are transferred to an ossuary.
One of the most active archbishops in recent memory, Chrysostomos enacted a string of reforms, including restoring the church’s decision-making independence after eight centuries by bolstering the Holy Synod with the ordination of new bishops and the drafting of a new constitution.
In his eulogy, church overseer Paphos Bishop Georgios praised Chrysostomos as the “greatest reformer” and an untiring defender of his people’s rights and aspirations.
“He left behind a body of work before which time itself will bow and he has taught us that humans justify their fleeting passing through this world struggling for the common good,” Georgios said.
The late church leader was often criticized for speaking his mind about everything from the ethnically divided country’s complex politics to the state’s finances. But Chrysostomos earned the respect of all for his unassuming work to help those most in need.
Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades hailed Chrysostomos as an “indefatigable leader” whose service elevated him as “an acclaimed spiritual personality internationally.”
“I had the honor of knowing a hierarch who did not hesitate to directly express his opinion, regardless of whether this would displease his interlocutor or even a section of society,” Anastasiades said.
Among those attending the funeral was Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou and the Archbishop of Athens Ieronymos II. In a message read by a Vatican emissary, Pope Francis who travelled to Cyprus a year ago underscored Chrysostomos’ efforts to close the chasm between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.
Earlier this week. U.S. President Joe Biden called Chrysostomos “a dedicated leader who never shied away from speaking up for the most vulnerable communities in Cyprus” and who was committed to a peaceful resolution to the island’s ethnic divide.
Chrysostomos’ successor will be selected in an election process that begins when the church’s highest decision making body, the Holy Synod, convenes next week. Church leaders in Cyprus are elected by lay voters in combination with a college of clerics, a tradition that goes back centuries.
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