Religion in Cyprus
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Christians make up 78% of the Cypriot population. Most Greek Cypriots, and thus the majority of the population of Cyprus, are members of the Autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus (Church of Cyprus), whereas most Turkish Cypriots are officially Sunni Muslim. In addition to the Orthodox Christian and Sunni Muslim communities, there are also small Baha'i, Jewish, Protestant (including Anglican), Roman Catholic, Maronite (Eastern Rites Catholic) and Armenian Apostolic communities in Cyprus.
Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus
The most important church in Cyprus, the Church of Cyprus, is an autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church within the Orthodox tradition using the Greek liturgy. It recognised the seniority and prestige of the ecumenical patriarch in Constantinople, while retaining complete administrative autonomy under its own archbishop. The Great Schism, as the split between Catholic and Orthodox became known, had major consequences for the Church of Cyprus. Under Lusignan and Venetian rule, the Church of Cyprus was pressured to recognize the authority of the Roman pope. Under the British, there was an attempt to secularize all public institutions, but this move was bitterly opposed by Church authorities, who used the conflict with the state to gain leadership of the Greek nationalist movement against colonial rule. At independence Archbishop Makarios III, a former monk, was elected president of the republic, holding this position until his death in 1977. His successor, Archbishop Chrysostomos, was still head of the Church of Cyprus at the beginning of the 1990s.
The church had long been composed of four episcopal sees: the archbishopric of Nicosia, and the metropolitanates of Paphos, Kition, and Kyrenia. New metropolitanates were created by Makarios in 1973 for Limassol and Morphou, with a suffragan, or assistant, bishop in Salamis under the archbishop. A bishop had to be a graduate of the Orthodox theological seminary in Greece and be at least thirty years of age. Since Orthodox bishops were sworn to a vow of celibacy and parish clergy were usually married, bishops were recruits from monasteries rather than parish churches. Bishops were not appointed by the archbishop, but, like him, were elected through a system granting representation to laymen, other bishops, abbots, and regular clergy.
Individual churches, monasteries, dioceses, and charitable educational institutions organized by the Church of Cyprus were independent legal persons enjoying such rights and obligations as holding property. In exchange for many church lands acquired by the government, the government assumed responsibility for church salaries. Parish clergy, traditionally married men chosen by their fellow villagers, were sent for brief training before ordination. In the 20th century, modernizers, most notably Archbishop Makarios, were instrumental in strengthening the quality and training of priests at the Cypriot seminary in Nicosia.
The monasteries of Cyprus had always been very important to the Church of Cyprus. By the 20th century many had long lain in ruins, but their properties were among the most important holdings of the church, the island's largest landowner. Although the number of monks decreased in the postwar era, in the early 1990s there were at least ten active monasteries in the government-controlled areas.
In the Orthodox church, liturgy is to a great extent the centre of the church's activity, for Orthodox doctrine emphasizes the mystery of God's grace rather than salvation through works and knowledge. Seven sacraments are recognized: baptism in infancy, followed by confirmation with consecrated oil, penance, the Eucharist, matrimony, ordination, and unction in times of sickness or when near death.
Formal services are lengthy and colourful, with chanting, incense, and elaborate vestments according to the occasion for the presiding priest. The veneration of icons is done often, located on the church's walls and often covered with offerings of the faithful, is highly developed. Easter is the focus of the church year, closing the Lenten fasting with an Pascha Easter Eve vigil and procession. Marriage is a highly ritualized occasion. Formal divorce proceedings are required for broken engagements that have been ratified by the church. The wedding sponsors play an important role in the family, for they usually act as godparents of all children born of that union.
Religious observance varied. In traditional rural villages, women attended services more frequently than men, and elderly family members were usually responsible for fulfilling religious duties on behalf of the whole family. Church attendance among Greek Cypriots is relatively high, making the Republic of Cyprus one of the most religious countries in the European Union, along with Malta, Greece and Poland. For much of the population, religion centred on prayer at home, veneration of icons, and observance of certain feast days of the Orthodox calendar.
Armenian Church in Cyprus
The presence of Armenians in Cyprus dates back to 578. Currently, Armenian-Cypriots maintain a notable presence of about 3,500 persons, mainly inhabiting the urban areas of Nicosia, Larnaca and Limassol. Recently, some Armenian immigrants have settled Paphos.
The Armenian Prelature of Cyprus has had a continuous presence on the island since its establishment in 973 by Catholicos Khatchig I. This see was abolished in 1571, when the city was captured by the Ottomans. Traditionally, the Prelature has been under the jurisdiction of the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia, while today it is the oldest theme that falls under its jurisdiction. Between the 12th and the 16th centuries, Armenians in Cyprus had a second Bishopric, located in Famagusta. Since 1997, the head of the Armenian Prelature is Archbishop Varoujan Hergelian. The Prelature, which is housed on its own premises on Armenian street, Strovolos, Nicosia, next to Nareg School and the Virgin Mary church, has its own Charter and publishes the Keghart (Lance) newsletter.
The most important pilgrimage site is the Sourp Magar monastery, located on the Turkish-occupied Pentadhaktylos mountain range. The monastery was established c. 1000 and by 1425 it had passed into Armenian hands. Due to the 1974 Turkish invasion, the monastery has been abandoned and it is presently in a terrible condition. By initiative of the Armenian MP Vartkes Mahdessian and the Armenian Ethnarchy, visits-pilgrimages have been organised annually since 2007; however, no Liturgy has been held since 1974.
Also in the Turkish-occupied areas of Cyprus are the historical churches of Notre Dame de Tyre in Nicosia (1308) and Ganchvor in Famagusta (1346). These two churches have been abandoned since 1963, during the Turkish-Cypriot mutiny. The Notre Dame de Tyre church is currently under restoration (since 2009, expected to be completed in early 2012), while the Ganchvor church is in need of restoration.
In the government-controlled areas of Cyprus, there is the cathedral of the Virgin Mary in Nicosia (1981), the church of Saint Stephen in Larnaca (1909) and the church of Saint George in Limassol (1939). In the Nicosia cathedral Liturgies are held regularly, while in the Larnaca and Limassol churches Liturgies are held every other Sunday.
In the vicinity of Nicosia there is also the chapel of Saint Paul (1892), the chapel of the Holy Resurrection (1938) and the chapel of the Saviour of All (1995). The oldest chapel celebrates once a year, while in the newest chapel Matins are held once a month. The middle chapel has not been celebrated since the 1974 Turkish invasion.
Cyprus holds a recognised minority of Maronites (Eastern Rites Catholics). In the 1891 census, out of 209,286 Cypriots 1,131 were Maronites. In the 1960 census they were 2,752, in four villages all situated in the north of the island, occupied from 1974 by Turkey. Their present estimated population is about 6,000, of whom 150 live in the Turkish-occupied part. The origin of the Maronite Church is Lebanon.
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The Roman Catholic Church in Cyprus is part of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope and curia in Rome. There are around 10,000 Catholic faithful in Cyprus, corresponding to just over 1% of the total population. Most Catholic worshipers are either Maronites under their Archbishop, or Latins, under the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, with a Patriarchal Vicar General. Maronites are Christian.
Protestantism and Anglicanism
Turkish Cypriot Protestants and Anglicans are a very small community living in northern Cyprus and amongst the Turkish Cypriot diaspora. The community numbers around five hundred and can be found living throughout northern Cyprus. The leader and Pastor of the community is Kemal Başaran. The vast majority are Anglican and use Anglican churches in the Kyrenia area along with the island's British expatriate community. However, in recent years, the community are demanding their own Church. Despite the general tolerance of the native Turkish Cypriot community, the community faces threats and sometimes attacks at the hands of mainland Turkish settlers and by island nationalists.
Muslims make up about 18% of the Cypriot population.
Islam was first introduced to Cyprus when Uthman, the third Caliph of the Arab Rashidun Empire, conquered the island in 649. Cyprus remained a disputed territory between the Greeks and Arabs for the following centuries, until it passed to Latin authority during the Crusades. The island was conquered by the Ottoman general Lala Mustafa Pasha from the Venetians in 1570. This conquest brought with it Turkish settlement from 1571 until 1878. During the 17th century especially, the Muslim population of the island grew rapidly, partly because of Turkish immigrants but also due to Greek converts to Islam.
Turkish Cypriots are the overwhelming majority of the island's Muslims, along with Turkish settlers from Turkey and adhere to the Sunni branch of Islam. Sufism also plays an important role. Historically, Muslims were spread over the whole of Cyprus, but since 1974 they have lived primarily in the north.
Several important Islamic shrines and landmarks exist on the island including:
- The Arabahmet Mosque in Nicosia (built in the 16th century)
- The Hala Sultan Tekke/Umm Haram Mosque in Larnaca (built in the 18th century)
- The Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque, Selimiye Mosque and the Haydarpasha Mosque; former Catholic cathedrals left from the Crusader era, which were meant to cater exclusively to the Catholic minority which ruled the island and were converted to mosques after the Muslim conquest in the Middle Ages.
All of the listed, apart from the Hala Sultan Tekke, are in Turkish-occupied territory.
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Many of Cyprus' Indian and Nepalese residents are Hindu. Most of the population of Cyprus is covered by Christians and then by Muslims. Small minorities are the Jews and the Hindus. In the societies of Nicosia, Larnaca and Limassol there are some Hindu residents.
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In 2008, 2% of the population of Cyprus positively identified themselves as atheists. The 2011 Cyprus governmental census did not include atheism as an option.
- Mirbagheri, Farid (2010). Historical dictionary of Cyprus. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 9780810855267.
- "Cyprus: Virtual Jewish History Tour". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved February 21, 2013.
- The Oxford Handbook of Atheism, ed. Stephen Bullivant and Michael Ruse (Oxford: OUP, 2013), page 561