Greek Government Escalates Blockade of Esphigmenou Monastery

Phone Service was Disconnected, Food and Medicine rations are dwindling at the Centuries old Mount Athos Monastery


Mt Athos, Greece, October 24, 2005 – More than two years after lifting an initial blockade, the Greek government re-instituted an even harsher full blockade of food and medicine, and essential supplies like heating oil to the elderly monks of Esphigmenou monastery on Mount Athos.  On October 21, all telephone service was cut, including emergency telephone lines, in an attempt to silence the monks and cut their communication to the outside world.  On the same day, when the monks attempted to go to the nearby town of Karyes to get food and medical supplies their vehicle was seized.


The monks of Esphigmenou, the most populous monastery on the remote Greek peninsula Mount Athos, disagree with the politicizing of their faith by patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople (Istanbul), and as a result, are once again under siege.  The patriarch, obsessed with quashing dissenting voices, has ordered the Greek police to enforce a blockade, to starve the monks into submission.


Sadly, it is not just food and medicine the patriarch seeks to deny the monks.  In a particularly insidious move, patriarch Bartholomew has pressured the Greek government and local authorities to create an imposter monastery with the same name, Esphigmenou, in order to transfer all property, divert mail, and transfer bank accounts to his new creation, while he starves the real monastery of Esphigmenou.  This shadow brotherhood violates the charter of Mount Athos in that the brotherhood and the new abbot do not meet the qualifications set forth in the time honored rules of the historic charter.  It marks a new low in the patriarch’s attempt to rid his critics. 


“Our monks can no longer pray in peace unless we accept the patriarch’s religious and political views which trouble our conscience. The patriarch will not allow a dialogue on this.” Abbott Methodios the elected head of the monastery said, "We chose to become monks to isolate ourselves from the ways of the world and the politics of our day; to dedicate our life to prayer for our own salvation and that of mankind. What is happening here is chilling. It provides an uncensored view of the inner workings of politics in the modern church hierarchy and the unconscionable tactics which violate the very essence of Christianity.”


The patriarch has a history of harsh tactics against anyone who raises objections to his policies. Much like the Tibetan and Chinese government’s harsh persecution of the Dalai Lama and Falun Gong, the patriarch has no tolerance for those that do not pledge allegiance to his personal agenda and dare to speak out.   While the patriarch seeks understanding and openness from the Turkish government to preach his own beliefs in mostly muslim Turkey, he has no tolerance for any dissent on his Orthodox Church leadership.


The patriarch recently declared the monks spiritually schismatic in an attempt to evict them from their monastery home.  The monks, who are citizens of the European Union, appealed the eviction order to The Council of State, Greece’s highest court.  The court ruled that it had no jurisdiction to decide whether the Esphigmenou monks were schismatic, as the patriarch declared. The court decided that, under Greece’s constitution, the patriarchate has “spiritual authority” over the semi-autonomous Mount Athos monastic community and is not subject to judicial scrutiny of such matters.  However, as a Turkish citizen the patriarch has no legal authority over the Greek peninsula.  Each monastery is a separate private entity onto itself.


Background on Esphigmenou monastery

The Esphigmenou 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.  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. 


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 Petros Molyviatis.  The chain of command authorizing the use of Greek Police to blockade food, medicine and heating oil ultimately resides under his authority.


For further information please contact:


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