July 9, 2010

Archbishop Kyprianos of Cyprus and the Greek Revolution of 1821

By Kostis Kokkinofta

Towards the end of the 1810s, Archbishop Kyprianos, clerics and other notables on Cyprus were initiated into the Philiki Etaireia. However, the multiple difficulties faced by Cyprus because of its distance from the main areas of the forthcoming uprising of Greeks against Ottoman rule and, particularly, the island's proximity to Egypt and Syria, with their large Muslim populations and concentrations of Ottoman soldiers, would have exposed Cyprus to bloody reprisals and therefore the island was excluded from the initial plans for the revolution.

Despite the fact that on Cyprus there was no armed uprising in 1821, the local Ottoman authorities took measures that aimed to eradicate the island's clerical and civilian leadership and to induce fear among the general population. The events that followed were the most tragic that befell Hellenism in Cyprus during the Ottoman occupation.

The Church's leaders, headed by Archbishop Kyprianos of Cyprus and three bishops, Meletios of Kition, Chrysanthos of Paphos and Lavrentios of Kyrenia, as well as a large number of leading citizens, were executed and their properties confiscated.

'When in 1822, I was in Larnaca,' wrote the Swedish traveler Jacob Bergren, 'the Greek population of the island had been reduced to such an extent that many of the large villages were completely uninhabited. The Turkish soldiers brought death wherever they passed… The Virgin was dressed everywhere in black, many houses were abandoned and splattered in blood.'

The most distinguished figure of these terrible events was Archbishop Kyprianos, who acted as a responsible, patriotic leader and spiritual father, trying to strike a balance between supporting, on the one hand, the revolution in Greece while, on the other, attempting to protect the local population. His role was particularly tragic since he knew that he could not avoid martyrdom.

The last moments of Archbishop Kyprianos' life are described by the English traveler John Carne, who visited him shortly before his execution. As Carne notes, when he asked the Archbishop why he did not do more to save himself when he realized the political situation on the island was tense and his life in danger, the Archbishop replied that he had decided to provide whatever protection he could to the local Christians and he had determined, if necessary, to die alongside them.

Years later, Vassilis Michailides, in his poem, The 9th July 1821, attached great meaning to Kyprianos' decision to remain with his flock, having him say to the good-hearted Turk Kioroglou, who was urging him to flee the island: 'I'm not leaving Kioroglou, because if I leave, my leaving will bring death to the Romans (Greeks) here' ('Δεν φεύκω, Kιόρογλου, γιατί, αν φύω, ο φευκός μου/εν να γενή θανατικόν εις τους Pωμιούς του τόπου').

According to Carne, Kyprianos went to his death displaying unusual courage and unique dignity. With his sacrifice, he honored Romiosini, asserted his Greek identity and justified his Christian faith. Modestly, humbly, with dignity and no self-pity, he went serenely to his death and immortality.

Joseph Woolf, a Protestant of Jewish origin, who arrived in Nicosia a few days after the tragic events of 9 July, relays eyewitness accounts that a proposal was made to Kyprianos just before his execution that he could save himself if he renounced Christianity and became a Muslim. As Woolf notes, the Archbishop rejected the proposal without a second thought and went to his death repeating the phrases: 'Lord have mercy on me, Christ have mercy on me.'