How would you describe your identity in terms of religion and belief?
I am an Orthodox Christian. Orthodox Christianity is a tradition in which I grew up with. I was baptised when I was a child so this was brought naturally to me.
Would you say that GB was an equal and tolerant society, especially in relation to religion and belief?
Great Britain is, in my opinion, totally tolerant and egalitarian in relation to religion and belief.
Are there any challenges for you to live in accordance with your beliefs here? If so, are they legal, social or political in nature?
There aren’t any legal, social or political challenges for Orthodox Christians in the UK. So, it is easy for me. If I want to go to Church there is an Orthodox church outside Manchester and I could go there.
Has Christianity influenced the world’s understanding of human rights?
In my view, Christianity has influenced the way human rights are perceived, at least in some parts of the world. Christianity teaches that everyone is equal and that you shouldn’t judge other people.
I am not saying that the principle of equality comes entirely from Christianity, but at least Christianity does not say that we have more value as Christians than other faith believers… Equality is one of the main principles of Christianity.
Does the Orthodox church make a practical contribution to HRs in contemporary GB?
I am not aware of any campaign in which the Orthodox Church is involved in Britain. To be honest with you, I haven’t followed the Orthodox Church in the UK. When I go home, I go back to the church. In my opinion, the purpose of the church is to try to help you when you ‘re facing difficulties, and, on that note I believe that the Orthodox church can have a practical contribution to the HRs in the UK.
Do you think that public authorities get the balance right between freedom and protection when it comes to intervening in the lives of citizens, especially in relation to religion and belief?
I think public authorities are totally neutral in terms of religion and beliefs. I think the Government or the authorities see you as a person first and they don’t care about your religion, as long as you are a law abiding citizen. The only reason that they may intervene about it is if you are have extremist past/views, but generally they don’t interfere with your beliefs as long as you don’t interfere with other peoples’ freedoms.
For Cyprus, I believe the question is the other way around. Does the church intervene in the State’s decisions? Christianity is the core religion in Cyprus, with the vast majority of the population being Christians and hence the church may intervene, indirectly, in the State’s decisions as it has a some support by the Christians on certain aspects. Unlike the UK, in Cyprus people are more religious and closer to the Church.
In relation to the dichotomy between parents and the State, parents should be able to point their child to a specific direction, including in matters of belief, instead of having general beliefs being imposed by the Government or by the State. No one should be forced to believe in something that is in contrast with his/her personal, first, or family, second, beliefs.
What do you think about faith schools?
As far as faith schools are concerned, I know that they were quite popular in Greece during the 80s. My father studied over there and he used to stay in one of those school-dormitories, which from what I was told were quite strict. I don’t believe this hasn’t affected him, but I believe that if you put a person in a religious based school, if he/she doesn’t want to believe what he/she is being taught, he/she won’t believe it. No matter how hard the school tries.
In Cyprus there’s a Christianity related module in high schools that is compulsory for all students, regardless of your beliefs. I remember there were some students who were not Christians, but they had to follow that course, which I believe that must have been hard for them. I feel it should have been more flexible. The school should have been more flexible, because even if only one kid is not Christian, why does he have to follow that course and be taught about Christianity?
The English non denominational teaching of religion in State schools is much better. If it is not strictly proposing a specific theological direction which the kids should adopt, I don’t see any problem with that.
Do you think that religious groups and businesses should be granted some exemptions from discrimination law?
The ongoing conflict between religious freedom and prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation? That is a tricky question. I had never thought about these matters to be honest with you and I really don’t have an answer.
When should public authorities intervene to limit people’s manifestation of religion or belief?
Public authorities must necessarily intervene [in people’s manifestation of religion and belief] when they are disrespecting others or limiting other people’s freedoms. When an individual’s or a group’s manifestation of religion affects the freedoms or the safety of others, the public authorities should interfere to safeguard those.
I ‘m of the opinion that the police should be able to see your face, no matter what your faith is. So I believe that the State must be in a position to see if you are doing something illegal. How would the police know if a person behind a full face burqa is a criminal, should that be the case? What France is doing, prohibiting the full face jilbab is might actually be a good point, because France states that first you are a citizen of France and your beliefs come second. And just to make it clear, I am not a racist in any case, I ‘ve got quite a lot of Muslim friends.
The French model is in my opinion better. So, two different things; Religion and State. First, you are a citizen of the State and then you choose your religion.
Do you believe that living in a democracy is a positive thing? Is there any system of government which you would prefer?
I prefer democracy over any other form of Government. Although the “level” of democracy that you experience I believe strongly depends in which “democratic” country you live, the concept democracy is the ideal form of government system.
Have do you feel about the first past the post voting system here in Great Britain?
I am not familiar with the voting system in the UK at all. I know there is a lot of involvement of the communities and that if something is going to be happening in your neighbourhood you ‘ll most likely have the chance to express your opinion; and that is as much as I know.
Do you feel that you have a personal responsibility to vote?
I don’t think I have a personal duty to vote; not voting is also a choice. I know I can vote here (in some elections) however I don’t feel that I ‘m morally obliged to do so. If I feel that none of the options represent me, then not voting is probably the option. In certain cases, not voting I believe may be considered as a form of protest.
Do you think that some groups find it harder than others to participate in our democracy?
I think in British society everyone is on an equal footing.
How do you feel about the House of Lords being unelected?
I am not familiar with the composition of the UK Parliament. I don’t follow Politics here at all. I think in the UK politicians don’t have a huge impact, or at least a negative impact on people’s lives, as far as I am concerned, whereas in Cyprus, or where I lived before, in Greece (where I studied for five years), you can see that politicians have a huge impact on people’s everyday lives through their decisions. So, if I was living over there, I would probably be following the latest developments and I would be voting. But here in the UK, since –the majority of– things are working as they should be, I don’t find any reason to follow the British Politics.
How do you feel about the presence of bishops in the House of Lords? Do they speak on behalf of all people of faith?
I don’t think it is possible for Church of England bishops to speak on behalf of all people of faith. Even if they do so, maybe there are some reasons which prevent them from fulfilling this role. Directly or indirectly they may not be supporting the good of all people as a result. I don’t think it is right that bishops sit in Parliament. I think it would be better if the bishops were not involved in the Government.
Should Parliament have the final say when it comes to making and changing the law? Would you like to see judges empowered to strike down laws?
I would say that judges should have more powers, because they are there to make sure that the law is being abided. The law is there for a reason: to protect the rights and freedoms of people. If the Parliament tries to pass something that may affect people negatively or something that is not fully compliant with the law, the judges should be able to veto it. So, I think judges should have more powers, but again, I don’t know the whole situation. I trust judges more than I trust politicians.
What does your faith teach about people with power and how they should be held to account?
Christianity basically says that you will be judged on your actions. So if someone is in power and acts immorally, affecting people’s lives negatively, then he/she will be judged by God. Nevertheless, in my opinion, you should also be judged by the law and the society.
Would you say that Christians are appropriately and proportionately represented in public life?
I don’t know whether practising Christians are proportionately and appropriately represented in public bodies.
Would you say that the judiciary are sufficiently independent?
I don’t have enough knowledge to say whether the judges are sufficiently independent in Great Britain.
Have public bodies shown sufficient understanding towards your beliefs and accommodated any needs which might have arisen from them?
I have never had any experience with public bodies in Great Britain, in which my religion was relevant.
Is it important to you always to act within State law?
I don’t envisage any situation in which I would feel obliged to break the law and certainly not because of my religion. The law is not constraining me in any shape or form.
Do your beliefs mean that you feel a duty to speak out for the vulnerable in our society?
Christianity teaches you to support everyone, including the weak and vulnerable. If I have the opportunity to speak out for them, I will. I think Christianity teaches that you should actually support the person next to you, whether or not he/she is vulnerable.
In my opinion, the insights of Christianity are invaluable for our society. I ‘m not saying that everyone should become a Christian; however I do believe that Christianity can contribute to a better society. I think every religion can contribute, and they should all focus on helping each other, rather than killing each other. It is sad that many wars of the past happened for religious reasons.
Would you say that the Rule of Law is applied equally in GB? Do some groups experience preferential or prejudicial treatment?
I think Great Britain is in a better position than other countries, in terms of treating citizens equally. Perhaps Muslims receive lately prejudicial treatment, due to the latest terrorist attacks. I believe that if you have to face justice and you find yourself in the court, your religion (Christianity, Islam, etc) shouldn’t matter. You will only have to be judged on your actions.
How do you feel about the general increase in police powers and State surveillance over the past 15 years or so?
To a certain extent, this can be deemed necessary, considering the latest terrorist attacks. Twenty years ago there would have been no reason for this, but right now I think there are some issues and I think we need a stronger police. Nevertheless, the police should also be checked to minimize internal corruption.
Are there any legal rules which you find restrictive and would like to see changed?
For me it is not really a problem and I am happy with the current legal frameworks, but I assume there are some aspects of the law which affect some religions. However, as an Orthodox Christian the law does not restrict my freedom at all.
Ioannis was born in 1989 in Cyprus. He spent his early years in Larnaca, where he received his primary and high school education at the local public schools. He subsequently joined the army to fulfil his 2-year mandatory military service, where he was trained to become a Cadet Officer. Towards the end of his service, he was promoted to a Second Lieutenant and he currently is a Reservist Second Lieutenant.
Ioannis then moved to Greece to study electrical engineering at the National Technical University of Athens. He stayed there for the 5 year duration of the course and he subsequently move to the U.K. to study an masters degree in renewable energy at The University of Manchester. He is currently a professional engineer working in the renewable energy sector.