Religion is closely tied to one’s cultural identity in Cyprus. The majority of Greek Cypriots identify as Christians, while most Turkish Cypriots identify as Muslim. There are also small Maronite, Armenian Apostolic, Anglican and Catholic Christian communities. Despite the ethno-religious partition of the population, faith has not been a common point of conflict between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. There has been a history of tolerance between Christians and Muslims on the island.
Cypriots are generally relaxed in the practice of their faith. Religion influences many people’s sense of morality and their practice of traditions. However, one’s faith is generally thought of as a personal matter and many religious activities are undertaken privately at home. Regular church or mosque attendance is still common among elderly Cypriots. However, fewer people among the younger generation believe in God. Often, members of the older generation take it upon themselves to be responsible for organising the religious duties of other family members.
Christianity was introduced to Cyprus in 45 CE by Paul the Apostle. The Apostles founded the Church of Cyprus, making it one of the oldest independent churches in the world. Cypriots are very proud of this and claim that the practice of Christianity has the closest similarity to the practice of Christianity that was followed in ancient times.
The Church of Cyprus has been the dominant religious institution for centuries. Almost all Greek Cypriots embrace as an element of national belonging, even if they do not practise the religion regularly. The church’s power has varied surrounding historical factors. For example, it was suppressed under Catholic Venetian rule, but then returned to power under the period of Ottoman rule. However, it has always been a consistent cultural force in Cyprus. The Church continues to be influential in the culture, politics and daily life of Cyprus. Many institutions and services continue to be church sponsored, and it continues to have influence in government.
Important sacramental moments in the tradition act as significant timestamps in people’s lives, such as baptism, Confession and Holy Communion. Matrimony (marriage), holy orders (ordination) and (anointing of the sick) are also important practices. Easter is the biggest event of the year for Cypriot Christians. Some Greek Cypriots may fast in the weeks before Easter (Lent). This involves a restricted diet as well as abstinence from activities (such as smoking or drinking).
The leading figure of religious authority for the Church of Cyprus is the Archbishop of Nova Justiniana and All Cyprus. However, his position of power does not have much influence in Cypriots’ lives. Most religious Cypriots show a stronger allegiance to the ideas and teachings of their local priest rather than the Archbishop.
Islam was introduced to Cyprus in the 16th century after the island became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1571. Today, the majority of the Turkish Cypriots identify as Sunni Muslims. However, they are often described as some of the most (laik) Muslims in the world. Many believe in a higher power and an afterlife, especially the older generation; however, data shows that most Turkish Cypriots are non-practising Muslims. Contrary to Islamic doctrine, it is common to drink alcohol, and people rarely wear traditional Islamic attire (such as the ). It has been noted that Turkish Cypriots hold mixed feelings towards organised religion.1 Most people only engage in religious activities when it is related to a traditional life event, such as a wedding or a funeral.
Generally, the majority of those Muslims who are religiously active and observant are Turkish mainlanders that have migrated to Cyprus. The Turkish Cypriot practice of Islam closely resembles that in Turkey in many ways due to the cultural interchange they share with the country. Turkey has paid for the construction of mosques in northern Cyprus. However, many Turkish Cypriots are pushing back against the Turkish government’s influence over their religious practice in recent years.
1 Yeşilada, 2009