Bid to subdue rebel monks

Stepping up its 30-year war with a community of ultra-orthodox monks, the ruling body of the autonomous Mount Athos monastic community yesterday issued a last warning to the recalcitrant monastery, delivered by a policeman and a bailiff. The 100-odd monks living in the 1,000-year-old Esphigmenou Monastery were summoned to provide explanations for their three-decade-long refusal to behave as loyal dependants of the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate and mention the patriarch in their prayers. Furthermore, leaders of the 20-monastery Mt Athos community called on Esphigmenou to explain why it insists on abstaining from the community’s administrative and religious bodies, which are made up of representatives from all monasteries. But the rebellious monks, who regard Patriarchate officials as renegades for having established contact with the Roman Catholic Church, refused to take receipt of the official summons. It is unclear what will happen next. A past attempt by the Mt Athos authorities to bring Esphigmenou to heel resulted in the monastery’s six-month siege by police forces before the ultra-orthodox monks were abandoned to their own devices. A Patriarchate source yesterday told Kathimerini that the use of force to expel the rebels has been ruled out. «It is a spiritual matter, and we will not back down,» Esphigmenou’s abbot, Methodios, told Kathimerini. «We have to protect Orthodoxy from the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate and its approaches toward other Christians.» The monastery’s leaders broke with the Patriarchate, and the Mt Athos authorities, after Patriarch Athinagoras’s «act of treachery» in meeting Pope Paul VI in Istanbul in 1964. The monks have draped their ancient walls with a huge banner reading «Orthodoxy or death.»

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