NEWS

Faith-based resistance to vaccinations

Mt. Athos monks taking the lead in promoting skepticism or outright hostility to immunization

faith-based-resistance-to-vaccinations

The number of people vaccinated against the coronavirus is rising and at an accelerated pace. The spike in cases, deaths and intubations, as well as expanding vaccination mandates affecting more professions and, now, a whole age group – those over 60 – have led to a significant rise in bookings for a first dose, indicating that an increasing number of people are setting aside their skepticism, out of fear of the disease or sanctions or both.

There is, undeniably, a hard core of people who refuse the vaccination. And, Kathimerini understands, many have turned to the monastic community of Mount Athos for advise, support or confirmation of their anti-vaccination beliefs. 

Men – for men only are allowed to visit the monastic community in northern Greece – flock to monasteries and hermitages to seek the advice of the monks. Women, unable to make the trip, correspond. 

One such monk, Efthymios, writes to a woman correspondent, presumably an abbess, that he finds it difficult to answer the “flood” of letters seeking his advice. Men line up every day, even before dawn, outside his cell to ask what should they do about the vaccine mandates.

Efthymios, respectfully called, like all senior monks, Geron Efthymios by the faithful – Geron meaning an old man and, therefore, a wise one – responds that vaccines are for those who are afraid. The faithful, he adds, know they have something stronger than the vaccines: the Holy Sacraments.

Efthymios is considered an especially important figure in the anti-vaccination movement, because he is regarded as the successor of a revered figure, Geron Paisios, who died in 1994. Besides providing advice in person, by phone or by correspondence, he propagates his views on the Internet via a web page maintained by an acolyte. This web page is considered especially aggressive against vaccination.

There are many other monks preaching against vaccination and much more explicit in peddling conspiracy theories and railing against globalization and the Pope.

The monks’ influence extends beyond the laity: it is widely rumored that a bishop who recently made the news for refusing to be hospitalized because of Covid, relenting only when his situation became critical, is heavily influenced by his “spiritual guide,” an Athonite monk.