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Cypriot to Russian Church: keep out of breakaway north

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Ties between the Orthodox Church of Cyprus and its Russian counterpart frayed Friday over a series of services conducted by a Russian priest in the breakaway, Turkish Cypriot, north of the divided island nation.

The Cypriot church's leader, Archbishop Chrysostomos II, said he would ask the Russian Patriarch to put a stop to the services that have raised questions about the reasons why they're being held for "40 or 50" Russian speakers.

The Archbishop said the Cypriot church doesn't wish its Russian counterpart to meddle in its domestic affairs or create its own parishes on the island, especially in the north where the Cypriot church doesn't have effective control of hundreds of Orthodox churches and other religious sites.

Chrysostomos said he would ask the Russian church to confirm whether the priest conducting the controversial services belongs to it. He said he would also appeal to Russian authorities through Patriarch Kirill to convince any Russians living in the north to leave. Although openly doubting whether his efforts would be successful, Chrysostomos said he would ask the same of the governments of other countries whose nationals are living in the north and residing in homes belonging to Greek Cypriots displaced by conflict.

Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974, when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and keeps more than 35,000 troops in the north.

Chrystostomos said the Cyprus church has its own Russian-speaking clergy to conduct services in the internationally recognized, Greek Cypriot south, where an estimated 40,000 Russian expatriates live.

The Archbishop didn't rule out that the matter may be in retaliation for the Cyprus' church's "neutral" position on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church's split last year from the Moscow Patriarchate after more than three centuries.

"We love Orthodoxy, we want Orthodoxy to remain united and we're working to avoid a schism," said Chrysostomos. "We want to have good relations with everyone, but we have the courage to speak truths no matter how bitter."

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