Patriarch of
Constantinople blockades food, heating oil, to monastery in attempt to forcibly evict monks critical of his policies.

Mt Athos,
Greece , January 29, 2003 -- In an unprecedented move, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople has blockaded basic food, medical supplies and heating oil to the 117 monks at the largest monastery on Mt Athos, Esphigmenou and has now ordered them to vacate the monastery.

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 patriarch is attempting to silence.  The blockade of our food supplies and the eviction is not just unchristian, it is wrong."

The monks at the largest and most historic Esphigmenou monastery on
Mt. Athos , the spiritual center of the Orthodox faith, disagree with the Patriarch's unorthodox teachings, particularly as it pertains to unity with the Roman Catholic church, and as a result are facing his wrath.  The Patriarch has failed to silence their dissent by this unprecedented blockade, and is now using his power with the Greek state to have all the monks forcibly evicted from the Monastery.

Blockaded on land by Greek, European Union Police, and at sea by the Coast Guard, the monks can no longer pray for peace unless they accept the patriarch's political version of the orthodox faith.

What the monks really protest is not dialogue with other Christian denominations but the acceptance of an unreformed reconciliation among Christian churches, creating a church with a diverse and conflicting set of beliefs. 

 The Patriarch cherishes loyalty to himself over fastidiousness to Orthodox Church teachings. "Rather than teaching the faith, he compromises the faith.  Instead of persuading others to come to the truth of Orthodoxy, he persecutes those who disagree with his own personal truth," said Methodius.  "The use of force to accept the faith is a concept that is totally alien to The Orthodox Church.  It is not just his teachings, but his actions which are unorthodox, and we cannot accept this" said Methodius.

Among other things, the Patriarch now accepts the baptism of any Christian church as a valid Orthodox baptism.  Anyone wanting to join The Orthodox Church from any other denomination no longer needs to be baptized.  This is an example of a fundamental change in beliefs that the monks, and many other faithful Orthodox Christians do not accept.  Patriarch Bartholomew is creating a new church and a new belief system that bears less resemblance to Orthodoxy with each passing day.

The Patriarch also teaches contrary to the Nicene Creed, the bedrock foundation of the faith.  "The church teaches us that there is "One baptism' and 'One holy Catholic and
Apostolic Church ' not that there are many baptisms and many holy catholic and apostolic churches."  Abbott Methodius said.  "The creed is the foundation of the church.  The Patriarch's teaching sets him against the teachings of The Orthodox Church.  And in that contest, I side with what the church has always taught, and not what one man invents."

According to professor George Metallinos of the
University of Athens "The monks have an obligation under church law to object to what the Patriarch is doing.  This Canon gives the right to even a lay person to question the Patriarch. According to the Sixth Ecumenical Synod's 15th cannon, the monks had an obligation to cease commemoration of the Patriarch, since the Roman Catholic church has been declared heretical by the Holy 8th Ecumenical Synod (879-80AD) and the Holy 9th Ecumenical Synod held on Mt Athos, in  (1341, 47, 51AD), the fathers of Esphigmenou correctly invoked the 15th    cannon," said Prof. Metallinos. The declaration of

heresy of the Roman Catholic church can only be lifted by another ecumenical synod, and cannot be done by any one individual in the church, Patriarch or otherwise.  The Patriarch can only enforce church law, not his own personal beliefs. 

He is not above the law and has no authority to re-create the faith.
The targeting of Esphigmenou monastery, send a chill to the rest of the Orthodox on Holy Mountain, and has been expanded by the Patriarch to now seek out and evict any individual monk located on Mount Athos that does not agree with him on these issues. Anyone  at all, that does not accept his "spiritual protection."   In the past two weeks, eviction orders have also been issued to monks living in sketes dependent on Pantocrator and Great Laura Monasteries, also on
Mount Athos .

Neither the Greek constitution, nor any Greek law gives the Patriarch, a Turkish citizen, legal authority over the monastery in
Greece or over any other part of Greece .  Nonetheless, the Greek government, now holding the European Union Presidency, is carrying out in the name of this Union of Free States, this illegal and unconstitutional eviction. It violates the European Union's due process for its citizens. It violates due process and the human rights of the monks, some of who have been there for 50 years and have no other homes, having forsaken everything to become monks.

Greece has no separation of church and state.  This draconian blockade and eviction offers a rare glimpse into the dark side of the political workings of the church-state axis that controls much of Greek life.

The humble monks of Esphigmenou 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.  Their ascetic life is widely respected on the holy mountain.

At a news conference on Monday, January 27, in
Athens ,  Abbott Methodius of the Esphigmenou monastery on Mount Athos said "We request a dialogue with the Patriarch to end this dispute.  We want a peaceful solution to this standoff."

The Patriarch has not responded to the monks call for dialogue.

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 ropes." Methodius said.

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.  It is now threatened with extinction.

For further information please contact:
John Rigas, tel:  001-617-524-4724
, fax  (617) 524-7142