Monastery showdown looms

THESSALONIKI (AP) – Police yesterday prepared to blockade a monastery on Mount Athos to try and force out maverick Orthodox Christian monks who vehemently oppose improved relations with the Vatican. The 117 members of Esphigmenou Monastery on Mount Athos have been ordered to leave the 1,000-year-old walled complex by today. The eviction order was issued on December 14 because of the monks’ angry opposition to Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios, who backs efforts to heal a more than 1,000-year-old rift with the Roman Catholic Church. Esphigmenou’s Abbot Methodius said his monks have water and food stockpiles and will not budge from the monastery. «We can hold out for two years,» Methodius said by telephone from the monastery. He has accused authorities of cutting Esphigmenou’s electricity, heating oil and food supplies. The monks are hoping to receive a temporary court injunction early next week against the eviction order issued by Mount Athos’s Greek government administrator. Police sources said a few officers will be posted outside the monastery to bar any monks from entering and expel any monks who come out. The monks have appealed the eviction to the Council of State, Greece’s highest administrative court, in a move that will probably delay the order. The court will first rule on a temporary injunction before reaching a final decision in a few months. The monks were declared schismatics by Vartholomaios last month. Based in Istanbul, Vartholomaios supports efforts to improve traditionally tense relations between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches and has met on numerous occasions with Pope John Paul II.

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