Religion in Cyprus

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Religion in Cyprus is mostly divided into two parts, like the entire island. The Greek Cypriot community confesses Orthodoxy, while the Turkish Cypriots confess Islam. However, the communities do not think to quarrel about this – on the contrary, they respect each other’s religion.

Historical information

Until the beginning of our era, paganism reigned in Cyprus. But in 45 ad, the first followers of Christ came to the island, and they also brought Orthodox Christianity with them. This faith quickly spread across the small island and became so ingrained in it that it is still the most extensive in terms of the number of its parishioners. According to some sources, in Cyprus today 85% of the population are Orthodox Christians.

Of course, this wasn’t always the case. Orthodoxy has endured both persecution and prosperity over the past two millennia. Around the 9th century ad, Catholicism dominated the island. The Frankish and later Venetian nobles who ruled the island were of the Catholic faith. Orthodoxy was persecuted, and many icons and churches were destroyed. Instead, Catholic churches were built in the Gothic style, which later underwent reconstruction.

They were rebuilt by the Ottomans, who captured Cyprus in the middle of the XVI century. They turned churches into mosques or allowed them to be converted into Orthodox churches. This was due to the fact that the Ottoman authorities could control the indigenous people through representatives of the Orthodox spiritual nobility. Thus, Islam remained the dominant religion, but Orthodoxy was allowed.

Historical evidence suggests that the Turkish Cypriot community was formed from two branches: on the one hand, descendants of the Ottoman conquerors and immigrants from Anatolia, on the other – Greeks and other Christians converted to Islam. According to data from the late Ottoman and early British periods, Muslims made up about 20% of the island’s total population.


The fine line that separated one faith from another defined the category of people known as linowamwaks (the term means cotton-linen, reflecting their dual nature). Most of these people were followers of Islam in public, but they continued to practice Christianity in private. There were cases of voluntary return to Christianity. The Cypriot Orthodox Church tried to force linovamvak to do this, forbidding them to take part in religious rites until they officially convert to Christianity. But such a policy has contributed to the alienation of most linowamwaks, and the result of their commitment to Islam only increased. Linovamvaki existed in Cyprus until the 50s of the XX century.

The British, who got Cyprus in the late XIX century, professed Anglicanism. It was only after Cyprus declared independence in 1960 that Orthodox Christianity finally became the island’s official religion. Although the vast majority of the population professes Orthodoxy, it is not forbidden to be a follower of any other religion.

For example, today there are Protestants, Maronites, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus in Cyprus. But all of them are much less than Orthodox Christians.

Orthodox holidays

The most important Orthodox holidays in Cyprus are marked by public holidays. This means that most institutions are closed, and Cypriots celebrate this day according to tradition.

Official holidays in Cyprus are: Epiphany (Baptism), Green Monday (the beginning of Lent), Good Friday and Saturday, Easter, Trinity and cataclysm (the day of the great flood), the assumption of the virgin and Christmas.

As a rule, Orthodox holidays are usually spent with the family. On some holidays, such as Epiphany and Cataclysm (the day of the great flood), mass celebrations, entertainment, fairs and amusements are organized.

Visiting the Orthodox Church of Cyprus

The first thing that surprises Russian Orthodox Christians in the Church of Cyprus is the lack of headdresses for women. According to Cypriot rules, uncovered head is not considered a sin at all. The situation is similar with trousers. A woman can enter the temple in trousers if they look decent and do not have bright, flashy colors.

Why can women not cover their heads when entering a Church? The fact is that for Cypriots it is an important symbol of independence. When the island was under the yoke of the Ottoman Empire, all women had to cover their heads. When Cyprus became independent, Greek Cypriot women first abandoned this attribute of”enslavement”.

Today in Cyprus there are many Orthodox churches that have ceased to be active. They remain a historical architectural and cultural heritage, they store ancient icons and people can freely enter them. Services are not held there, but you can touch the shrines or light a candle.