A Historical Background and Overview of the current situation of Esphigmenou


1924. Unilateral change from the Julian calendar to the calendar of Pope Gregory. The Mt. Athos Community, with the exception of the Monastery of Vatopaidi (who accepted the new calendar from 1924-1971), collectively ceased commemorating the Ecumenical Patriarch.

1927. As a result of much pressure the Patriarchate negotiated a “compromise” that was accepted-but not by all the Mt Athos MONASTERIES- and NOT by  all the Mt. Athos MONKS. Esphigmenou did not accept the compromise. The Patriarchate assured the monks, the calendar was to be reconsidered in an upcoming Pan-Orthodox Council and persuaded the Mt. Athos Community to resume commemorating the Ecumenical Patriarch, pending the resolution of the calendar question by a Pan-Orthodox Council.   The Pan Orthodox council was never convened to consider and agree on the issue.

1965. The Ecumenical Patriarchate “lifted” the anathemas against the church headed by the Pope of Rome. This event caused upheaval across Mount Athos, as one monastery after another ceased commemorating the Patriarch. Ultimately, most of monasteries, sketes, and dependencies of Mount Athos ceased commemorating the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

1971. A special session of the governing representative body of Mount Athos—was convened. This special session resolved that: 

On the issue of resuming the commemoration of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, each Holy Monastery, as a self-governing entity, is to remain free to choose a course of action according to its conscience.” 

Along with others, the Monastery of Esphigmenou continued to operate under the 1971 resolution, but not long after the Abbot Andreas and Abbot Eudokimos, the of St. Paul and Xenphontos Monasteries, who also remained faithful to the resolution were removed and exiled by the Patriarchate and replaced with hand picked appointees.

1972. The Monks of Esphigmenou raised black flags over their Monastery in protest against the prayer service held by the then Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople and the Pope. The Monastery of Esphigmenou ceased participating in joint prayer services with representatives of the other monasteries.

1974. The Mt. Athos Community, lead by Fr. Theokletos of Dionysiou and in cooperation with the Patriarchate, consented to the unjust and unethical resolution of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, condemning the Esphigmenou fathers moreover, ordered the exile of the Esphigmenou Abbot and 3 other leaders of the monastery.  As a result, under the Military Junta, a Navy Warship enforced a sea blockade and Marines surrounded the monastery for weeks.  Unwilling to be intimidated by this overwhelming military force the monastery unfurled a now famous banner over the monastery wall facing the battleship which read “Orthodoxy or Death”.


Abbott Efraim from the Mt Athos Monastery of Vatopaidi was threatened with excommunication when he left to join the Russian Orthodox Church which does not commemorate the Patriarch.  After the threat he came back.

And now Esphigmenou has been declared schismatic, even though they have not changed their faith.

The ruling is simply an abuse of authority to cast the monks in a negative light and to invoke the Greek Constitution which forbids schismatics from Mt Athos.  Just because the Patriarch labels them Schismatics, doesn’t mean that they are truly schismatics, as defined by the teachings of the church.  An unbiased ruling – even one conducted by all Orthodox Churches would most certainly agree that they are not truly schismatics.

If the Greek Law forbids schismatics aren’t they required to leave?

1.     When the law was written, the intent of the Greek law was to prevent schismatics from building Monasteries on Mount Athos, namely Protestants and Roman Catholics-with whom we do not share a common faith.  It was not intended to be used as a sledge hammer by the Patriarch to force Orthodox monks to obey his every desire.

2.     Mt. Athos is an independent monastic community set up so it can act as it had historically, as defenders of the faith, not as yes-men of the Patriarch.  Today though the Monastery leaders are stacked with Patriarchal appointees – a departure from the historic election of Abbotts by the monastic brotherhoods of the individual Monastery.  In this way the Patriarch controls the leadership, what they preach and how they might vote.  Since individual monks do not vote, but just the leaders of the monastery the decisions are skewed to what the Patriarch wants and are not a reflection of the majority of the monks on Mt Athos.

3.     Nowadays when the all the monasteries of Mt Athos  raise an issue with the Patriarchs teachings as they did with Bartholomew in letters dated 1999 and 1993, the Patriarch threatens them with disciplinary action including excommunication and defrockment if they do not apologize for offending him.  This way he never addresses the underlying issues and continues on his path.

4.     Forcing the monks to leave by police force and these hardball tactics is destroying the very essence what was once a truly autonomous community.  The forced commemoration of the Patriarch goes against the very essence of Mt Athos.  The Patriarch wants to silence dissent by showing everyone else what happens to people that do not obey him.

What about the death of the monk?

The situation is under investigation.  Regardless of the outcome if he was chased… whatever the details…. This would have never arisen (to drive the tractor at night to avoid detection) if the police blockade were not here.  The Patriarch and leaders that put the blockade in place are responsible for causing his death.

Isn’t the eviction legal?

The eviction violates the autonomy of the Mt Athos charter.  The label of schismatics is not based in any orthodox church teaching.  An eviction can only be performed when you are on someone else’s property.  The Monastery is private property and belongs to the brotherhood of Esphigmenou.  This was affirmed by Greece’s Minister of Culture, Evangelos Venizelos, as reported by Athens News Agency on Jan 17, who stated at a meeting in Brussels “all the land there belongs to each monastery and is therefor private, without exception, and without any of it belonging to the public or the Greek state.”  The eviction is illegal.  The Patriarchate is putting strong pressure on the government as a means of resolving a dispute by force without having to discuss the underlying issues in an open forum – a Orthodox Church Synod, violating a long tradition of how differences have been resolved in the Orthodox church.  Issuing a Papal like ruling of  being schismatic and then calling on the use of military force to enforce it.  This is no different than what the crusaders did to other Christians.