NEWS

Thanks be to God, and to the EU

What do you cultivate on the bishopric’s land? We began with potatoes because they’re more hardy than, say, tomatoes. Currently, we are getting a lot of proposals, even from large Cypriot companies, that we dispose of our products, certified, straight from the fields. Is there a certification organization on Cyprus? No, but our agriculturalist, Nikola Kanaris… got in touch with a well-known German company, which now certifies our products. The first Cypriot exports of organically grown products were our potatoes, which were sent to Germany – 100 tons of them. Subsequently, the English asked us for another 100 tons. Can you meet growing demand? Yes. We have expanded to include another two fields, which lie on lower ground. So we are exploiting the difference in climate. In the area of Panaghia Skouriotissa, there is a nice large landholding, with olive trees, part of which lay fallow for 10 years. We planted potatoes there, beans and wheat. On the plain, within no man’s land, there is a large piece of land, 10 hectares in size… We have land at three different altitudes and it is all used appropriately, according to the season. What did people think of you when you started out? The authorities discouraged us. «Yes, Your Grace,» they would say to me, «You can make a start, try it out, but don’t suggest it to the farmers in the area.» But my concern was precisely that my flock follow me, because I did not want to go it alone, I didn’t want to become an entrepreneur of farming. However, they told me: «Even in Germany, organic farming is at a low level. Greece has not gone ahead with this vision of organic farming; we haven’t even got the people to help.» That’s what they told me and they were right. So I replied that they should leave us alone to give it a try, but also to give us some funding because the bishopric had no money. We experienced a feeling of being the lone cowboy in the desert; we also put up with the mockery of the simple farmers who sprayed their potato crop every week. One of them told me, «I’m sorry to have to tell you this, my bishop, but you won’t get to eat a single panful of potatoes.» Afterward, I sent him a sackful of potatoes, and he said, «We have to pay very serious attention to this; it reminds us of the art of our grandfathers.» Which is precisely what it is: Organic farming is traditional farming; it’s something old that’s coming back into our lives. Now, here we owe the European Union numerous favors. We priests have judged and condemned the European Union on a number of issues which do not fit in with our Orthodox traditions. However, with respect to its vision on living standards, the EU is much more aware than us, perhaps because it has suffered as a result of the industrial revolution and the unchecked use of land. The European perceives land as something to have dominion over and nature as something to be tamed, while the Orthodox mentality is that «we are custodians of the earth and it is our home; if we don’t cultivate it and if we don’t beautify it, it will crush us.» We were initially influenced by Europe but now Europe comes to remind us of our Orthodox theological heritage. Former Cypriot President George Vassiliou took very positive action on our behalf. He became aware of the importance of organic cultivation during the [EU] enlargement process. Cyprus, too, will take part in programs for organic agriculture; the projected percentage of organic crops (10 percent by 2005) is important and a cause for hope. The minister of agriculture came here and declared a state of protection for organic crops… Subsequently, a bill was drawn up and I went in person to Parliament and spoke about my experiences. The bill was unanimously voted into law. Thus there is a law which defines the conditions somebody needs to meet to be called an organic farmer, provides for funding for organic farmers and, most important of all, training for conventional farmers in order to turn them into organic farmers. This will be a gradual process, I imagine. Indeed. But now we have two agriculturalists, Kanaris and a younger man. They go from village to village, delivering small catechisms to the farmers to detoxify, first of all, their thinking, and then their land. I often go with them, and apart from farming, we talk about church affairs, our political problem, the lack of water and water management. They see the Church is interested in their daily affairs. At first, they viewed me with bafflement, but because the Church of Cyprus has always been in the lives of Cypriots, when people see it becoming involved in daily farming affairs, it makes them happy. And now that the State and Europe have also come on the scene to support their bishop’s vision, which seemed so strange and new at first, as the only one that will pull poisoned farming out of its dead end, this creates excellent pastoral conditions. You forestalled me. I had wanted to ask you how all this affects your pastoral duties. Do you want to add anything? Yes, about young people. Before Easter, I went to the schools and talked to the students… Already, some of these children have told me that they are interested in working in the fields during the summer instead of going to hotels. They want to learn the art of their grandfathers. …I have already suggested to the Ministry of Education that a summer seminar be conducted at one of the district’s schools to train young farmers, who will in turn transmit the spirit, this style, of respect for the earth, to their own areas, which are far away from the Morphou bishopric. People in the old times drank water and said, «Praise be to God;» they ate bread and it was so sweet – because it had not been drenched with chemicals – that when they ate it with one olive and one tomato, their thankfulness emerged spontaneously from within. This «Praise be to God» was the product of taste and not of an oppressive theology, that one must give thanks to God. That was the case in former times with dances and music as well; everything was done to please and give praise. If we achieve this in the modern world, then I think we will have taken a great step forward.