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NICOSIA (Reuters Life!) - The leader of Cyprus's ancient Orthodox Church lashed out on Tuesday at criticism of Pope Benedict's upcoming visit to the island on June 4-6.
Some members of the Holy Synod, the Cypriot Church's governing body, have expressed opposition to the Catholic Pope's visit to the Mediterranean island, calling him a "heretic."
At least five members of the Synod were planning to boycott the welcoming ceremony for the Pope, the daily Phileleftheros reported.
But seeking to quell dissent, the leader of the Cypriot Orthodox Church on Tuesday told critics they must toe the line and avoid offending a guest of the church and state.
"There is democracy in the Church, freedom of speech and expression. But people cannot just do the first thing that comes into their heads," said Archbishop Chrysostomos, leader of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus.
Benedict's visit follows a formal invitation from Chrysostomos and Cypriot President, Demetris Christofias.
Chrysostomos, a skillful if often blunt speaker, added: "People can believe what they like, but that does not mean offending a guest."
Cyprus's Greek Cypriot population are predominantly members of the Orthodox Christian faith. There is a small community of Catholics, and religious differences or disputes have rarely, if ever, been a problem in recent times.
A key difference between Orthodox and Catholicism is the Catholic doctrine that the Popes of Rome have absolute authority over all other bishops. Orthodoxy and Catholicism formally divided in the 11th century in what is known as the Great Schism.
Cyprus's Orthodox Church traces its lineage back to some of Christ's earliest followers. According to the Book of Acts in Christian scripture, Paul visited the island in 47 AD with Barnabas, the founder of Cyprus's Church, and Mark the Evangelist, Barnabas's kinsman.
According to local legend, Paul took lashings at a pillar in the western city of Paphos, which still stands in an archaeological site.
Writing by Michele Kambas, editing by Paul Casciato