NEWS

Confidential USSR document

To the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party, July 3, 1969: Among the 20 Orthodox monasteries on the Athos peninsula in Greece is the Russian monastery of (Saint) Panteleimon, founded 800 years ago by (monks) of Russian origin. The monastery has accumulated great wealth, consisting of valuable and unique ecclesiastical objects, murals, rare books and items valued in 1913 at over 200,000 gold rubles. Today the monastery of (Saint) Panteleimon is populated by monks from Russia. Although ordinarily under the jurisdiction of the Istanbul Patriarchate, the monastery is a traditional channel for relations between Russians and Greeks. It has always been a singular seat of Russian culture in the Balkans, even though the monks have become citizens of Greece. Over the past 10 years the Greek government has obstructed contacts between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Mount Athos monastery in every way possible, trying to… expropriate valuable monastic property. The Greek military dictatorship has been particularly active recently, contravening all traditions and international treaties based on the autonomy and independence of the Mount Athos monasteries, and has declared them under state control by means of special decrees. There is the real risk that the junta will expropriate objects of inestimable value in the Russian monastery. Following recommendations by the Council on Religious Affairs, Patriarch Alexios of Moscow and All Russia has sent a telegram to the Greek government protesting the junta’s actions… and has asked the Ecumenical Patriarchate to call an emergency session of the Pan-Orthodox Synod to discuss the situation. He has called on the World Council of Churches to take the necessary steps to defend the interests of the Orthodox Churches on Mount Athos. It was decided that the USSR Ambassador in Athens would lodge a demarche with the Greek government. The Soviet press has also covered the issue. International church circles have responded, and the Greek government has given assurances that it has no desire to violate the status quo on Mount Athos, nor to interfere in monastic life. However, it is our opinion that further steps should be taken to avert the junta’s interference in the monastery and to strengthen the Moscow Patriarchate’s influence there. It would also be useful to broaden contacts between the Russian Orthodox Church and the monastery by sending monks from the USSR and assistance in restoring the monastery building damaged recently by fire. The USSR embassy in Greece is of the opinion that these measures are mandatory. The USSR Cabinet’s Council for Religious Affairs… asks the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party to give the Moscow Patriarchate permission to send: 20-25 monks from the Soviet Union to Mount Athos to work permanently at the monastery; a delegation from the Russian Orthodox Church to the monastery’s 800th anniversary celebrations in early August; building equipment to Mount Athos for the repair of monastery buildings… (Signed by the president of the USSR’s State Council on Religious Affairs, V. Kuroedov.)