Morphou, Cyprus, March 1, 2021
His Eminence Metropolitan Neophytos of Morphou of the Cypriot Orthodox Church will not pay the fine he was issued on the feast of the Theophany of the Lord for violating coronavirus quarantine measures, hoping instead to challenge the restrictions in court as unconstitutional.
His Eminence and 10 others were fined in connection with the Liturgy and Blessing of the Waters served at the Church of St. Marina in the village of Evrychou on January 6 after police showed up and found attendees unmasked and more than 75 people in the church, in violation of the state’s restrictions in force at that time.
Should the state decide to pursue and file criminal charges, His Eminence and his attorney, Nicos Clerides, will argue that while the Minister of Health has the power to issue decrees, at the same time, they must be approved by Parliament before they acquire the force of law, reports Cyprus Mail.
None of the COVID decrees have gone through Parliament, and thus they are null and void, Clerides explained last week.
However, even were they to go through Parliament, Clerides said the restrictions would still be unlawful “because they violate civil liberties—peaceful assembly, free movement, and the right to worship. And whereas these rights may not be unfettered in emergencies, any constraints on them must be proportional and not sweeping.”
In mid-December, Met. Neophytos explained that he would not accept the state’s order to close churches, as the Law of God is above the law of man.
The standard fine relating to coronavirus restrictions is $360 (€300). If not paid after 30 days, the case is to be filed in court. However, as of last week, the state had still not filed any charges, although the deadline had already passed more than two weeks prior.
Some commentators speculate that the state will simply quiety drop the case to avoid the bad optics of prosecuting a hierarch, writes Cyprus Mail.
The outspoke Cypriot hierarch was also under investigation last year after police interrupted his Palm Sunday Divine Liturgy. However, the Attorney General later determined that he had not violated any quarantine measures by celebrating the service.
In September 2019, Met. Neophytos was also cleared of all charges of hate speech arising after a video surfaced in which he told the story of a young man who gave up his sinful, homosexual lifestyle after being rebuked by a monk to whom God revealed the man’s sin.