Orthodox monks seek state mediation in eviction tussle

Dissident monks occupying one of Greece’s oldest monasteries yesterday invited government mediation in a 30-year dispute with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate which has earned them an eviction order from Mount Athos, one of Orthodoxy’s holiest sites. The monks of Esphigmenou Monastery are opposing efforts by the other monasteries on Mount Athos, in northern Greece, to remove them following a ruling by the country’s top administrative court that their presence there is illegal. «How can the monks of this monastery, some of whom have completed 80 years of continuous residence, be considered squatters?» Abbot Methodios, spiritual leader of around 100 monks living inside the fifth-century Esphigmenou Monastery, told a press conference. The Esphigmenou monks, who still observe the old Julian Calendar, oppose the Orthodox Patriarchate’s decision in 1972 to improve ties with the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican. Their refusal to leave has brought them into conflict with another group of monks approved by the self-governing Mount Athos community to replace them. Both sides have traded accusations of intimidation and violence. The Esphigmenou monks yesterday said they were not responsible for a reported assault on the rival group’s leader Father Chrysostomos, who charged earlier this month that he was sprayed in the face with an irritant by two unknown assailants. In contrast, the dissidents say that a blockade enacted to force them out is endangering the health of the faction, which includes two monks aged over 100. «The monks have been deprived of foodstuffs and medicine to an extent which could even lead them to death by starvation,» monastery physician Athanassios Papageorgiou told reporters. The recent death of one 88-year-old monk from a stroke could have been prevented had he had access to medical attention, Papageorgiou said. «We invite Deputy Foreign Minister Panayiotis Skandalakis to visit our monastery, so that he can see the situation for himself,» Abbot Methodios said. Skandalakis has pledged to work on breaking the impasse. Abbot Methodios yesterday said he is willing to discuss religious matters with Patriarch Vartholomaios I, but added that under Mount Athos tradition, each monastery is entitled to run its own affairs. (AFP)