NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Chrysostom II, the leader of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, was laid to rest Saturday in a ceremony that reflected centuries of church tradition, hailed as his church’s greatest reformer and outspoken champion of his people.
The spiritual head of the world’s 300 million Orthodox, Constantinople-based Patriarch Bartholomew, was dressed in resplendent Byzantine robes to lead the funeral service at St. Barnabas Cathedral at the church’s headquarters in Nicosia, the capital.
“Your name will always be held in the highest respect in our memory and in the history of our entire church and people,” said an emotional Patriarch Bartholomew. “All that you have done will be eternally remembered before God and mankind.”
Chrysostomos died on Monday at the age of 81 after a four-year battle with colon and liver cancer. His body has been in state since Thursday. He was buried in a specially formed crypt in the cathedral, which he commissioned and will be the resting place of all future archbishops, after the remains of their predecessors are moved to an ossuary.
One of the most active archbishops in recent memory, Chrysostom instituted a series of reforms, including restoring the church’s decision-making independence after eight centuries, strengthening the Holy Synod by ordaining new bishops and drawing up a new constitution.
In his eulogy, the bishop of Paphos Church, Bishop George, praised Chrysostomos as the “greatest reformer” and tireless defender of the rights and aspirations of his people.
“He left behind a body of work before which time itself will bow, and has taught us that men justify their fleeting passage from this world by striving for the common good,” said George.
The late church leader was often criticized for speaking his mind on everything from the complex politics of the ethnically divided country to the state’s finances. But Chrysostomos won everyone’s respect for his unassuming work of helping those most in need.
Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades hailed Chrysostomos as a “tireless leader” whose service made him “an internationally recognized intellectual figure”.
“I had the honor of meeting a prelate who did not hesitate to express his point of view directly, regardless of whether it would displease his interlocutor or even a segment of society,” Anastasiadis said.
Among those present at the funeral were the President of Greece Katerina Sakellaropoulou and the Archbishop of Athens Ieronymos II. In a message read by a Vatican envoy, Pope Francis who traveled to Cyprus a year ago highlighted Chrysostom’s efforts to close the gap between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
Earlier this week. US 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 of the island’s ethnic divide.
Chrysostom’s successor will be chosen in an election process that begins when the church’s highest decision-making body, the Holy Synod, meets next week. Church leaders in Cyprus are elected by popular voters in conjunction with a college of clergy, a tradition that dates back centuries.