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Canon Georgia; an ecumenical first

Canon Georgia sat behind her desk Mrs Georgia Katsantonis, Personal Assistant to successive Bishops of Cyprus and the Gulf for forty years, feels honoured but bemused to have been appointed an Ecumenical Lay Canon at St Paul’s Cathedral, Nicosia. Georgia, a lifelong and committed member of the Orthodox Church, is having trouble explaining to her family just what this honour means, as she says.

We don’t have them in the Orthodox Church

She is the first such appointment in the diocese. In his press release, Archbishop Michael Lewis points to her great dedication and her unrivalled knowledge of Anglicanism, but this is far from being a straightforward reward for long service. It is a very popular appointment for one of the most respected people in the province. On hearing the news, typical responses have noted her integrity, her caring character and her willingness to go the extra mile.

As well as being the PA to four of the five Bishops of Cyprus and the Gulf, for almost forty years, Georgia has also been the provincial secretary for Jerusalem and the Middle East, which until recently included the then diocese of Egypt, and she has been receiving congratulations from throughout the area. She has been a key liaison between the Anglican and the Orthodox Churches in Cyprus but has also played a key role in arranging the many international conferences which have met in Cyprus. This is a role which she has loved as it has given opportunity for her to showcase her beloved island.

Georgia was born in Cyprus, but her family emigrated to Zimbabwe when she was eight and she did not return for twenty years, taking up her role with the Anglican Church almost immediately thereafter. She is a past President of the Zimbabwe Association of Cyprus. Despite her time in Africa, she remains a very proud Cypriot.

Georgia standing looking at a map of the province that hangs on the office wallGeorgia represented the province at the Provincial Secretaries conferences in Dublin and Hong Kong in recent years, which is remarkable for a non-Anglican, but she says,

I feel as Anglican as the rest. I feel as if I belong

She has had a unique role as an ambassador for each of her churches toward the other. There have been times when she has been saddened by the attitudes of some within Orthodoxy toward the Anglican Church, as for example when requests to hold Anglican worship in Orthodox buildings have been turned down. But for those few occasions there have been many more positive experiences when it has been possible to build bridges and to help those of goodwill in each Church to recognise each other and work together. 

She recalls the four bishops she has worked as PA for, with affection. 

They were all very different but they each brought their own gifts

Georgia has exercised her role as PA in a way far beyond any job description. She sees it as partly a pastoral role, and each bishop has had reason to thank her for the care she has shown to them and their families. She has been the epitome of confidentiality. Sometimes that has been politically important. Bishop John Brown played a key role in achieving the release of Terry Waite (as outlined in his book Mainly Uphill) and Georgia was aware of what was going on at the time but was unable to say anything about it until relatively recently when it was in the public domain.

Now nearing retirement, Georgia hopes that this new appointment will give her the opportunity to be of service to the cathedral. Looking back, she says, 

I have spent over half my life in this job. I’m not sure how I can ever give it up. I’ve loved everything about it. It’s not been a job; it’s been a life.


Photos: diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf