Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios is due to pay a two-day visit to Mount Athos, home to the oldest surviving monastic community in the world, as Russia’s ongoing incursion into Ukraine has created a rift in the worldwide Orthodox Church.
Vartholomaios, the spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians, faces several challenges, not least Moscow’s purportedly harmful influence over the formally self-administered male-only community; a mounting neo-zealot movement primarily backed by the monks of the Esfigmenou Monastery who challenge the hegemony of the Istanbul-based patriarch; and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Foreign media reports regarding money-laundering and other criminal activities by Kremlin-affiliated monks have fuelled speculation about planned deportations and a forced evacuation of Esfigmenou. There has been no official reaction to the reports.
The police, meanwhile, has bolstered its presence at Karyes, Mount Athos’ capital.