Persecution of the Holy Monastery of Esphigmenou pushed forward
(THIS IS A TRANSLATION OF AN ARTICLE WHICH APPEARED ON THE DAILY GREEK NEWSPAPER "ETHNOS" [THE NATION] on DECEMBER 2nd 2002.)
THE THIRTY YEARS "HOLY WAR" BEGINS AGAIN
A Series of measures of the Holy Community against the Esphigmenou Monastery brings to light a dispute of over thirty years. The Monks are not being recognized.
A dispute, which started thirty years ago on Holy Mountain Athos, concerning the Esphigmenou Monastery, came to light recently again. Some people in the Monastic Community intend to end this issue with its zealot Monks.
In 1972, the Monks of Esphigmenou raise black flags on their Monastery, protesting in this way against the meeting of [the then] Patriarch Athenagoras and the Pope, expressing their theological objections to these openings towards the roman catholic church.
A four months siege from land and sea of policemen and Coast Guards followed during the "[military] junta" years while the enclosed monks answered with the slogan "Orthodoxy or Death".
In the years that followed, the Zealot Monks flourished in the Mount Athos, while the monks of Esphigmenou, with their exemplary ascetic life, gained the esteem on Mt. Athos of even those who theologically disagreed with them. This reputation was the reason that prevented those who wanted to take over the Monastery in many different ways from materializing their goal. Many episodes took place, which cost even their position to the Governors e.g. Costas Papoulides, when they refused to execute and apply instructions from higher authorities for the use of force in order to enter the Monastery and evict the Monks.
There were periods when the Holy Community approached the Esphigmenou Monks, and there was a tendency to solve the differences as it had happened four years ago, when a majority of thirteen Monasteries (except Esphgimenou) in a total of twenty had been formed. This majority disagreed with the abolishment of the selfgoverning Status of the Holy Mountain and the wishes of the Patriarchate.
Instructions and pressures from higher authorities which were then exercised, stopped this procedure of rapprochement, which had succeeded in having the representatives of the majority of the Monasteries of the Holy Community repeatedly visit the Monastery and discuss about its return to the Holy Community.
This special selfgoverning status, as well as the autonomy which the Monasteries have always enjoyed have been the reason that the Holy Mountain has survived throughout the centuries. The [principles of] tolerance, understanding, and respect are being exercised in the Holy Mountain and constitute vital achievements of Orthodoxy itself, thus helping the preservation of the monastic life.
All those years, many Holy Community Commitees, the "Holy Epistasia" (the Secretariat of the holy community), as well as many patriarchal missions who have at times visited the state of Mount Athos, have occupied themselves with this issue.
The passage of times and the tedency of the Esphigmenite Fathers not to provoke, showed that a situation of a "de facto" acceptance stabilized and only the theological-dogmatical difference remained.
But the last Holy Community Committee which is composed of the hieromonks Nikodemos of Laura Monastery, Nikodemos of Saint Paul Monastery, Photios of Gregoriou Monastery and John, chief Secretary of the Community, chose a forceful way of handling the whole issue.
A series of measures again made difficult the life of the Esphigmenites Zealots since last summer. Again the Holy Community does not recognise the Abbot Methodios, the Members of the Governing Committee of the Monastery, as well as 110 of its 114 Monks. The rest four are being recognised because they were registered in the List of Monks ( Monachologion ) of the Monastery before 1972. Ever since the Holy Community refuses to accept the List of Monks which is being sent by the Monastery. In this way the new Holy community Committee considers all those Monks as "occupants".
The first measure was the limitation of the visitors to the Monastery of Esphigmenou, which had as a result the unrest among the people who were hindered from visiting the Monastery. For the first time in Mount Athos the solution of issuing a special permit for the Monastery of Esphigmenou was chosen. The bearer of such a permit can visit the Monastery of Esphigmenou but no other Monastery in Mount Athos.
[ Another measure] was the disruption of the provision of tax free gasoline while the vehicles bearing food to the Monastery were forbidden to reach it. After an order of the Assistant Civil Governor of the Holy Mountain all Bank accounts of the Monastery were "frozen" while the State stopped from paying to the monastery the annual amount of money it pays as a compensation for the expropriation of a great number of real estate which the monastery owned outside the boundaries of Mount Athos.
The monks faced this embargo by buying [through donations] a big speedboat which travels safely even at eight beaufourts seas. In this way they "break" their embargo up till now. They are afraid however that the next step will be the prohibition of the use of the speedboat, as the Secretary of the Monastery, Monk Theokletos has stated.
Many monks of the Holy mountain who lead a simple monastic life disagree with these actions. In this way the monastic community has been divided and many of the monks are against the use of power against the zealots of Esphigmenou. They say that tolerance in a conquest of Orthodoxy and the Holy Mountain; [they also claim] that any of the problems which arise among the Mount Athos monks should be solved by the monks themselves in a spirit of patience,love and prudence as well as in a depth of time.
Recently the Holy Community Committee has sent through a Judicial Clerk a summons to each one of the monks of Esphigmenou, among them the dead ones, in which eighty eight charges have been addressed to each one of them and calls them to confess in groups of twenty five people, up till the next Thursday, December Fifth. To these summons the monks answered in writing, stressing the fact that the accusations against them are vague and without any evidence. After the end of this deadline a Double Holy Committee is expected to convene, which will evaluate the situation and decide for further actions. What persistent rumors state is that a new group of the Monastery of Esphigmenou will be created, composed of monks from other monasteries, and a new abbot will be established, who now is a member of the Holy Community Committee.
This new group, with a new seal of the Monastery, will be temporarily established in the [premises of] the Russian Skete of Prophet Elijah, and will posses all privileges and supports. In this way two Monasteries of Esphigmenou will be created with an ultimate goal to evict all zealots from the Monastery in the future.
The Holy Monastery of Esphigmenou appeals for the moral support of all people, so that the Human Rights and Religious Freedom of its 117 monks will not be percecuted, so that the Monastery will continue, without hindrance, to pursue its spiritual life and philanthropy towards all people.
You can send a message supporting the Monastery of Esfigmenou to the following e-mail addresses, regular mail addresses and fax numbers.
We have been informed by the European Union that they will be investigating the situation. Please write to:
Mr. Nino Gemelli, Chairman, Committee on Petitions, European Parliament, Members' Activities Division, L-2929 LUXEMBOURG and refer to Petition 361/2002. You can also send an online petition at: http://www.europarl.eu.int/petition/petition_en.htm
Minister of Foreign Affairs G.Papandreou e-mail: dialogue@m...
Minister of Foreign Affairs G.Papandreou fax number: +30 210.368.1433
Under Secretary M.F.A. J. Magriotis e-mail:
Under Secretary M.F.A. J. Magriotis fax number: +30 210.368.2410
Holy Community fax number: +30 23770 23315 - Regular Mail: Iera Epistasia, Karyes, Greece
You can send email to the monastery: ath153@... - Regular mail: Holy Monastery of Esphigmenou, P. O. Box 5913, 630 78 Ierissos, Greece