Because justice is independent, its servants do not bow to the pressure of the political leadership; and because institutions must be respected, especially during these times of chaos and turmoil, there is nothing to discuss about the decision to remand the head monk of Vatopedi Monastery, Ephraim, on Christmas Eve. That is what the council of appeals court judges ruled and that is what it did.
It was a pleasant surprise, however, to see how fast and effectively the state authorities acted on the council?s decision. Maybe it is an indication of an unexpected regrouping of state services, which have been strongly criticized for being completely ineffectual in carrying out a plethora of other decisions.
What is most interesting, on a vital and broad level, is the fact that the arrest of Ephraim provoked such an immediate and terse reaction from Moscow, first from the Russian Orthodox Church and then from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The reason is that Russia is eager to take on a leading role on Mount Athos and not because of Ephraim himself.
Some will argue that the Russian reaction — ecclesiastical and political — is the result of Ephraim?s initiative to display in Moscow the Holy Belt of the Virgin Mary on the eve of general elections in Russia. It would, however, be a mistake to see the Russian reaction as merely opportunistic.
In the early 1980s, under the omnipotent Leonid Brezhnev, the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda — the political arm of the Soviet youth wing — published an article stating the strong interest of the Communist regime in the ?cultural heritage of the USSR? that specifically mentioned Mount Athos and the Holy Lands. Later, Vladimir Putin, as president of Russia, confirmed this interest during a visit to the monastic community.
So, while the Russian interest is clear, the silence of Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios did come as a surprise, given how often he likes to confirm his spiritual authority over the Greek Church and, of course, Mount Athos. The issue, of course, is not over whether Vartholomaios should support or condemn Ephraim, but that an issue that is so critical to Mount Athos is met with silence.
Why the government does not want to take a position on a judicial order is perfectly clear. Yet the arrest of Ephraim and the speed with which the warrant was executed shows, in contrast, the unacceptable negligence and tolerance displayed for the members of a very elite club of well-known figures who have been clearly condemned for crimes of an economic nature in the minds of the citizens.