An academic study of the ban on women at the historic monastic community of Mount Athos and the arguments for and against it

The recent demand that women be allowed to visit the all-male monastic community of Mt Athos is not the first time that Greeks or foreigners, male or female, have raised the issue in the name of sexual equality. People who do not share these religious convictions, who regard the spiritual tradition of 10 centuries solely from the cultural point of view, ignore significant factors that have imposed this regime, particularly the fact that the entire monastic community has accepted that only one female presence is acceptable within that community – its patron, the Virgin Mary. Mt Athos is dedicated to the Virgin, and through her, belongs to all the women in the world, throughout the ages. The Lady of Mt Athos is the only woman that the monks have served for centuries now and their service to this woman symbolizes each woman as the protector of her home – her own Holy Mountain. This spiritual-religious symbolism not only does not demean women but, on the contrary, lifts them to the same level as the Holy Virgin. Those who are fighting this tradition, whether agnostics, intellectuals or reformists, interpret this relationship as an attack on the equality between the sexes. They have seized upon the question of funding from the European Union to save various buildings and artifacts on the Holy Mountain to rebel against traditions and to call for an abolition of the ban on female visitors. «We have given you our money and so you are obliged to open your gates,» is the substance of the message from Europe, which is not only contrary to religious traditions but to the Greek Constitution and Greece’s accession treaty to the European Union, which all member states have signed. One should not forget the many voices raised in recent years in warning to the monks, including that of Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios, against secularization and financial excesses. «At some point, you will be asked for something in return, apart from the risk to your historical-religious image.» Now it is time to repay the debt to all manner of European atheists, irrespective of whether or not this (lifting the ban on women) will actually eventuate. Professor Ioannis Konidaris of Athens University’s faculty of ecclesiastical law recently issued a study on the legal and religious aspects of the case, as well as the situation in other parts of the world. Analyzing all arguments both for and against the ban, he reached the conclusion that the existing rules should not and could not be changed. Konidaris himself wrote the English edition as a source of information for Europeans and other foreigners. Both texts have been issued in an elegant edition by Sakkoulas Publications.

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