Greek police and coast guard enforce state religion by blockading food, medicine, water, to monastery who disagree with the Greece ’s official religious leaders.

 Mt Athos, Greece , January 22, 2003 -- In a move that has shocked Europeans across the continent, Greece , the current president of the European Union, is using its Police and Coast Guard to enforce its state religion.

 The monastery of Esphigmenou, on the remote Greek peninsula of Mount Athos , is currently under siege because their beliefs have not been approved by the state. 

 Blockaded on land by Police, and at sea by the Coast Guard, the monks can no longer pray for peace unless they accept the state’s religious and political version of the orthodox faith.

 “The monks have two choices, either change their beliefs, or face the consequences.  It’s outrageous!” said , a prominent Boston theologian “While the Greek government and Europe lecture Turkey on its human rights record, Greece stands poised to storm a monastery to enforce their version of orthodoxy.”

  Greece has no separation of church and state - in fact Greek priests are civil servants whose salary comes from the Greek Government. So the order for who stays and who goes comes from the government-paid bishop of Athens and the Patriarch of Istanbul, a Turkish citizen.

 The monks at the largest and most historic Esphigmenou monastery on Mt. Athos , disagree with the Patriarch's unorthodox teachings, particularly as it pertains to unity with the other Christian denominations, and as a result are facing his wrath.

 According to Abbott Methodius, "Our role is to dedicate our lives to praying for the souls of our fellow man and for the world.  Our battle is for truth, and the true orthodox way of life, which the pPatriarch is attempting to silence.  The blockade of food and medicine, the eviction, these are not just unchristian, they are wrong.”

 The eviction process is being challenged in the courts. A legal adviser to the monks, Ifigenia Kamtsidou, said the monks were not given an opportunity to respond before the eviction order was issued.  "Constitutional procedures were not   upheld," Kamtsidou said.  Clutching his knotted prayer rope in his hand, Abbott Methodius vowed to appeal this to a higher authority.  "We will fight with our prayer beads." Methodius said.

 “Aside from the illegality of what the government is doing, it’s stunning that George Papandreou would be so brazen to try to get away with this” said a prominent theologian. Due to the fact that Mount Athos is a semi-autonomous region of Greece , the power of the state is vested in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, headed by Foreign Minister George Papandreou, who because of Greece 's current presidency of the EU, is now also Foreign Minister of the European Union as well.  “Aside from the indecency of it all, we are witnessing serious human rights violations here.  And this is from a man who is a US born citizen.”  George Papandreou was born in Minnesota .

 Many of the monks, some of whom have been there for over 30 years, have no other homes, having forsaken everything to become monks.  “These monks are EU citizens.  Where is civilized Europe ?”

 The monks live a life of spiritual and monastic tranquility in the unbroken tradition of the brotherhood that has occupied the monastery for over a thousand years. 

 This draconian blockade is a rare glimpse into the dark side of the political workings of the church-state axis that controls much of Greek life.

  Mount Athos is the 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.  It is now threatened with extinction.

 For further information please contact:

John Rigas, tel:  (617) 524-4724, fax:  (617) 524-7142