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Prelate aims to ‘recover the rhythm of creation’ invoking an ‘ancient art’

It is always a pleasant surprise when a high-ranking cleric is engaged in agriculture, and organic agriculture at that. But how did Bishop Neophytos become involved? «Since the days of my youth [when he studied at the University of Athens Law School], I’ve always wanted to be involved in whatever had a truth that interested me. So I took up music, philosophy and theological matters. I saw that among all the many truths in many things, there was also the truth of the earth.» He served as a monk at a monastery in Larnaca where he tried to keep up certain traditional cultivation techniques, tending olive trees and growing tomatoes and other vegetables without the assistance of chemicals. At the very young age of 37 he became a bishop of Morphou. He saw that the bishopric’s landholdings could be transformed to bear organic crops. But without the right person, he could do little. «First of all, then, I found the man who knew the ancient art – because I believe organic cultivation is an ancient art. I found Nikola Kanaris, an agriculturalist who had studied in Germany and specialized in organic cultivation. He is a pioneer of organic farming on Cyprus.» The landholdings of a monastery in the area held out the most promise, since they had lain uncultivated for a decade and thus were free of fertilizers and chemicals. Under Kanaris’s ministrations, the land began to bear fruit. But why would a bishop or bishopric become involved in organic farming? «The refugee bishoprics lack revenues. Our income is limited to a grant from the Holy Synod of the Church of Cyprus, as well as donations from wealthy people who come from the area and want to contribute to the Church’s cultural work. But this is not enough. «I don’t want to undertake the risky venture of building hotel complexes or selling the land acquired by our ancestors during the grim years of Turkish rule and turn from a bishop into a real estate agent. A prelate that cares about his bishopric needs to secure permanent sources of income without paying a spiritual price, because I believe that in the long term, the cost is people’s loss of faith.» That was one reason he became involved in organic farming. But he also wanted to play his part in «recovering the rhythm of creation… This was my soul’s deepest reason. I wanted to work this land that belonged to my bishopric so that it became as God had made it, He who established His own natural laws of how land is preserved and heals itself when it suffers due to man’s fall.» A third, highly important reason was that the bishopric of Morphou, apart from being partly occupied [by Turkish troops after the 1974 Cyprus invasion], is also a rural area that contains 55 villages. «For these people, a bishop, apart from teaching them to go to confession, pray, have faith and and hope for a better morrow, should also teach them alternative ways of working, of farm life, rural life. If a bishop neglects the body of his flock, then the soul falls easily into the temptation of self-righteousness and hypocrisy.» But it is also the general policy of the bishopric. «Our musician has created traditional music choirs so that young Cypriots, who today listen to pop, rock and heavy metal, have an alternative. We also want to create an alternative form of monasticism; we have set up a nunnery which upholds an old form of monasticism: austere, humble… We have also given architecture in the area an alternative, trying to rebuild small churches using stone and wood. In the same way, the Church and the bishopric of Morphou wants to give farming as an alternative.»