Greece's Highest Court lifts blockade of besieged Mount Athos Monastery

Mount Athos, Greece. March 14, 2003. In a sharp rebuke to Patriarch Bartholomew, Greece's highest administrative court issued a ruling today lifting the police blockade in place since January 28 as well as lifting the embargo for delivery of food, medicine and electricity which has been in place for a year. The ruling frees the monks to come and go from their monastery, enabling them to obtain food, water and heating oil. The court is expected to issue a final decision on the case in October.

"We are pleased with the courts intervention and are convinced that justice will ultimately prevail and the monks will be allowed to remain in their monastic home," said, Ifigenia Kamtsidou lawyer for the Monastery.

One monk has died in the standoff, a 25 year-old named Tryfonas. The tragic accident occurred February 11 when the tractor he was driving went off the road into a ravine while he was trying to avoid a police blockade that prevented the monks from leaving the property to buy food, medicine and other provisions.

Patriarch Bartholomew and Greek authorities had blockaded basic food, medical supplies and heating oil to the 116 monks at the Esphigmenou monastery on Mt Athos. The monks are being targeted by the Patriarch because they refuse to mention his name during church services, a decision which has infuriated Bartholomew.

With a sense of relief from the courts decision, Abbott Methodios said "We are obligated in the times we live to defend our rights as human beings first and then as monks. We look for a peaceful end to this conflict. We just want our regular life back."

Mount Athos is the autonomous spiritual center of the Orthodox Church, where the monks are considered defenders of the faith. The Esphigmenou Monastery established in the first millennium, is where the great St. Gregory Palamas was abbot, and where St. Anthony left for Russia to establish Orthodox monasticism. Its remoteness and rugged natural beauty attracts pilgrims and tourists alike, who come to see the art and architecture of the Byzantine Empire

The Monastery's library houses 372 original Christian manuscripts codices and 8,000 books some dating back to the 4th Century. The treasury includes numerous religious articles such as rare 13th Century mosaic icons and relics of saints. For over a thousand years the monastery has provided a place of prayer and peace for those who chose the monastic life.

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