Below is an article which appeared in Kathimerini newspaper on December  31, 2006.  Editors Note: While Kathimerini has written several articles on the Esphigmenou situation, the newspaper has taken an editorial position against the monastery.  This bias, where they report the facts of the situation mixed in with their own opinions against the monastery, is unfortunately evident in all the news stories they write on the subject.  However, in today's world of media bias, we have all become accustomed to separating facts from opinion, and we have posted their article on our web site in that spirit. 

Kathimerini  of Athens Greece, article published, December 31, 2006

Russian Intervention for Esphigmenou Monastery

Anxiety is expressed by the Moscow Patriarchate in a letter to the Fanar.

The United States and Turkey also showing interest in the developments.

By Stavros Tzimas (Kathimerini Staff  writer)

(Translated into English by John Rigas)

Russians, Americans and Turks are following with interest, each for their own reasons, the developments of the continuing dispute between the monks of the Sacred Monastery of Esphigmenou on Mount Athos and Fanar [translator's note: Fanar is the neighborhood in Istanbul where the Patriarch resides, and the term Fanar is shorthand for "the Patriarchate"].

The atmosphere on Athos remains extremely tense after the latest sad events, and relations between the Agioreites [translator's note: Agioreites is a term for monks of Mt Athos] and the State are walking a tight rope.

In a move that Agioreite sources attribute to a wider Russian game of influence on Mount Athos, The Moscow Patriarchate, after a being petitioned by the monks, is taking an open position in the dispute, cautioning the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate “to abstain from irrational measures and the use of force.” In its letter, sent to the Chief Secretary of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople [Istanbul], the powerful Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, responsible for the external relations of the Russian Church, for the Patriarchate of Moscow, expresses “anxiety because of the tensions which prevail regarding the Esphigmenou Monastery and threatens to evolve in a confrontation with the use of force.”

As an excuse for the intervention, in an issue, which clearly touches upon the spiritual responsibilities of Fanar, the Metropolitan of Smolensk references “a letter of archimandrite Methodios [the abbot of Esphigmenou Monastery] to the Most Holy Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexis, to whom he complains about all the oppressive measures taken by the Civil Authorities of Mount Athos which threaten,” according to his opinion, “the existence of the Holy Monastery.” The most interesting of all in this initiative, according to the same sources, is an attempt by Moscow, indirectly but clearly, to connect the decision to expel from Mount Athos the monks of Esphigmenou, with the methodical attempt of the Fanar to displace the centuries old Russian presence from Athos.

“…In Russia, also, this Monastery is very precious to us, because it is the place where the founder of Russian Monasticism, that is Saint Anthony (of the Kiev Caves) was tonsured a Monk. And on the other hand the events taking place now at the Sacred Monastery of Esphigmenou remind our faithful of the sad history of the last decade, when similar violent actions, in the Skete of Prophet Elias on the Holy Mountain [Editors note: in 1992 monks of Russian descent were expelled from there] which was built by the monks and their benefactors from Russia and which has now become unapproachable for Russian Monks” he characteristically notes.

Other sources friendly to the Holy Community, talking about the open intervention of Moscow in the case of Esphigmenou associate it, with the loss of the Russian dominance in the Holy Monastery of Saint Panteleimonos, the most important center of Russian monasticism on Mount Athos, whose administration passed on to the majority voting Ukrainians after the fall of the Soviet Union.

They also made mention of the Russian Church’s attempt, given the opportunity, to inflict one more “blow below the waist” against the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the continuous struggle of the Russians to be the “Third Rome,” the transfer that is, of the center of worldwide Orthodoxy from the Fanar to Moscow. 

Also showing interest in the oppressive measures against Esphigmenou, is the American government, but for different reasons. Officials of the Embassy in Athens and its Consulate in Thessalonika have been frequent visitors of late to Karyes [Mt. Athos] to get first hand information about conditions. The difference that for the Americans, the whole issue is one of nothing more than an issue of Human Rights.  They are involved because of the pressures which are put on their Government from the powerful lobby of the Old Calendarists in the United States of America.

The evolving events, besides, are being also closely monitored by Ankara, even though at first glance they may appear not to concern her. Diplomatic sources have told “K” [Kathimerini] that the handling by Fanar regarding this matter is being documented by the Turks and a possible bloody confrontation will support the arguments as to how not only Greece is perceived, but also the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in areas such as tolerance of  those with different views in religious faith. These are some of the same subjects that have been placed as hurdles for Turkey to overcome in order for it to be able to proceed with the negotiations for its  inclusion in the E. U.

The Monks are preparing for a new round.

As the Holy Mountain community is preparing to celebrate, with the Old Calendar, the Birth of Christ, the atmosphere of calmness and reconciliation is overshadowed by the Esphigmenou Monastery problem. In Karyes their “Kouki” [editor's note: Kouki refers to a Greek Monastery during in the 1821 war of independence against the Turks, which held out to the bitter end, until the abbot Gabriel gave the order to blow it up rather then let it be sacked by the Turks] as the monks of the Konaki like to refer to it, is being reinforced by monks sent in from the Esphigmenou Monastery who are prepared for everything.

At the old administration building light sensors have been installed and hidden cameras so that any unwanted presence will be detected in time. The fathers of Esphigmenou are clear, that they are preparing for the third round and are taking all measures to repel the “invaders,” as they label the members of the legal brotherhood.

The planned (Special Forces Police) operation which did not take place.

An organized police attempt for the forceful removal from the Konaki on Christmas eve was aborted at the last moment, due to the timely mobilization of the monks inside and outside the Holy Mountain. About seventy men of the Special Forces arrived on Friday evening, 22 December, two days after the sad events at Karyes, with orders to expel from the Konaki the three or four remaining Esphigmenou monks.

Information from Karyes said, that the attack was decided upon, after pressure from the Fanar and also from the Holy Community and that Ms. Dora Bakoyianni concurred, but the official responsible for affairs on the Holy Mountain, Deputy  Foreign Minister Theodore Kassimis, was against it.

Even though the operation was known by only four to five individuals, the operation was leaked and the whole plan appeared on the web site, even before the Special Police Forces reached Ouranoupolis! The excellently organized and executed  plans of the monks was set in motion; telephones of journalists began ringing in the deep of night, camera crews from friendly T. V. Stations with their equipment were invited to be given “hospitality” at the Konaki and somewhere in between all these things, the planned Special Forces Operation went for a walk.

The Fanar “… is a Red Cloth”

Besides being the guardians of the genuine Orthodox Christian Faith, the Esphigmenou monks have presented themselves also as supporters of the Nation. In their web page they present themselves as “Greek citizens” who are being persecuted from a …”Turkish citizen”, that is what they call the Ecumenical Patriarch, who also, according to them, directs the actions of the Foreign Minister Ms. Dora Bakoyianni!

All these things one would have thought of as a joke, if it were not that behind the subject of Esphigmenou are recorded the amassing and the mobilization of the Old Calendarists and those opposed to the Patriarchate, all around the world. In a world where decisions are made in centers of economic power and influence, such as the United States of America, Canada, Australia, Russia but also here in Greece; the Ecumenical Patriarch is "the Red Cloth”, the glory seeking “conqueror” of their Jerusalem, as they think of Esphigmenou, and the Pope and the Turks as the “Trojan Horse”, and the Greek Foreign Ministry as his implementation tool. 

There is no doubt that the Fanar has got itself into a difficult position with regard to Esphigmenou issue, in a period indeed where the Ecumenical Patriarchate has need, for many reasons, of a positive public image worldwide.

Its handling of the issue has put it in a corner. 

Its insistence on the use of force for the expulsion of the monks brought about the frontal attack in a dispute which was “dormant” for decades.

The monks, with the help of those outside the Holy Mountain, are using the weapon of communications flawlessly and it appears that they are winning the war against legality which the Fanar is justly invoking.

The Role of the State

The state got involved in this dangerous tug of war with a “heavy heart,” and finds itself between the “anvil and the hammer”. It is the state which according to the Charter must send in the Police to throw out from the Konaki and the Monastery of Esphigmenou the “illegal and schismatic” as they have been labeled by the Patriarchate, or “Taliban” as some agioreite monks called them. A probable bloody encounter, would make the rounds of the world through  televised pictures, which will then be assessed to the government of Greece.

This is why it is trying to avoid by all means the bitter “cup” of Police intervention.

But this course threatens to cool relations with the Patriarchate and with the Holy Mountain leadership. As for the relations with the agioreite and the Government, these were non existent in essence, until the Prime Minister Mr. K. Karamanlis made an unofficial but successful visit to Athos in the summer and restarted them.