1273 – the story of the two Esfigmenou "konaki"

In addition to the last three posts about the Konaki in Karyes and the item about the ‘old’ and ‘new’ Esfigmenou konaki – buildings nr 23 and 23A – , our reader Hans Overduin send us this article. He found the information about this subject in his own archive (the yearbooks of The Friends of Mount Athos) and on the Internet. Especially for our weblog he made a reconstruction of what happened.

“The cause and outline of the violent argument between the schismatic Esfigmenou and the rest of Athos or the Ecumenical Patriarch is, he presumes, well known to our readers.

Fights between monks and police in 2009 – see 810

In 2002 he made his last visit to Esfigmenou. The monks were certainly not unkind and – to Greek standards – not unreasonable, but they weren’t easy to deal with either. The monastic complex breathed the atmosphere of a Commandery of Knights Templar, with many icons of St. George the dragon slayer and such. In the monastery shop they sold books about Jews, whereas in the Netherlands, if an attempt was made to print or sell them, you would end up in jail.

The whole thing began to take shape of a soap opera or Greek tragedy (which is about the same) in the following year when, in 2003, a police cordon was laid around the monastery and nobody could get in or out. Now the latter is not entirely true, because the monastery, by American members of the orthodox church, has (or has had) a speedboat, Q (James Bond) would have been envious about, and with this boat every cordon could be broken.

End of October 2005 the court granted the Greek Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, the right to found a ‘new’ Esfigmenou on Athos, being the “de jure” official Esfigmenou, with all rights and obligations of the original monastery. On October 3th 2005 the Patriarch appointed the Elder Chrysostomos Katsoulieris, from the kelli of the Annunciation (belonging to Simonas Petras, in the valley near Kapsala Karyes), Abbot of the ‘new’ Esfigmenou.

Of course the chosen abbot of the ‘old’ Esfigmenou, Methodios, remained in office, but was only recognized by his own monks. In a press release, dated October 24, 2005, issued by the ‘old’ Esfigmenou, this abbot compared with the Dalai Lama and Patriarch Bartholomew cs with the Chinese dictators and occupiers of Tibet.

In November 2005 Katsoulieris and his monks tried to take over the ‘old’ Esfigmenou konaki in Karyes (building 23), but failed and the police had to be invoked to separate the parties.

“Orthodoxy or death”

On Sunday, October 22, 2006 Patriarch Bartholomew himself placed the “foundation stone” (Vasilis mentiones this in his posting) of the new and official konaki of Esfigmenou. This is the new building near the old konaki (nr 23A). Temporary this konaki is, as it were, the (official) monastery itself. For this event a heavy police force had been mobilized, because it was feared that the schismatic monks, who entrenched themselves in the ‘old’ konaki (building 23), would severely disrupt the ceremony. Unexpectedly they did not appear to be such bad guys after all and the ceremony was completed calmly and peacefully.

Video of the 2006 incident

A month later, on Wednesday, December 20th, 2006, things managed to get out of control anyway. The monks of Abbot Katsoulieris, the official monks of Esfigmenou, planned to celebrate the liturgy in the chapel of the Assumption of Mary on the grounds of the ‘old’ konaki, which they were used to ever since the visit of Bartholomew. However, the schismatic monks, who are still entrenched in the ‘old’ konaki,  attacked them with fire extinguishers, crowbars and sledgehammers. Other sources speak of the fact that the ‘official’ monks wanted to enter the ‘old’ konaki to establish a library and that the schismatic monks defended themselves with whatever they had at hand: the afore mentioned attributes. The result of this incident were seven injured: four of the ‘official’ monks and three of the schismatic monks. All were brought to hospital by the police outside Athos. The last three were not allowed to return to the Holy Mountain.

I do not know if there still live schismatic monks in the ‘old’ konaki, but it seems unlikely.

Since the Eastern Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Church attach great importance to the ‘new’ Esfigmenou in Karyes, the building of the new konaki will be funded by the relatively wealthy Greek Orthodox Church.
The Esfigmenou monastery: “a medieval castle”

At the moment the ‘Esfigmenou-soap’ is at a stalemate: the original monastery is placed outside the community of Agion Oros, but they do not want to evacuate the monastery by force or violence, which has happened with the Russian residents of the skiti Ag. Elias. In the case of Esfigmenou it is also more difficult: the monastery can be defended like a medieval castle (with an emergency exit !) and it has a lineup of more than one hundred militant monks.

In the meanwhile it looks as if you are able to visit the monastery like ussual.
The latest reports are that the government of Russia is interfering with the case for the schismatic Esfigmenou. It turns out the soap opera will be continued ………”.

thanks to Hans Overduin

Wim, 8/2

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3 Responses to 1273 – the story of the two Esfigmenou "konaki"

  1. mf says:

    dear friend, you said “greek tragedy” is equal with soap. Only an idiot could say that. Greeks did create “theater and tragedy” and rest west countries invent “soap”. And as for mount Athos things pls dont deal with, bcs you seem idiot again with such kind of critic you do. You see the surface and loose the real issue. Pls deal with things you can understand. Greeks the last 700 hundred years are occupied. From Turkey (until 1821), and sly foreign loaners (after 1821) and they came in Greek economy after 1821 in order to “help” Greece to be “free”.

  2. Bertinos says:

    Αγαπητέ MF,

    This weblog is only about the Holy Mount Athos. That’s why, so far, the political and economical situation of Greece has not been an issue, and I can only hope that it stays this way. There are plenty of other weblogs about the current problems Greece is going through.

    The autors of this meanwhile reknown weblog, who are evidently not Greek nor Orthodox Christians, are nevertheless very much appreciated for their unbiased, open, respectful and curious approach to the Agiorite life, nature, culture and history. This explains why this weblog has been part of an exhibition at the Mount Athos Foyer (Αγιορειτική Εστία) in Thess/niki.

    To the point: there is evidently a huge difference between a classical Greek tragedy and a soap opera (or a telenovela for that matter). It seems to me that these terms are used here as a metaphore, not in a literal sense. No matter what label one would put on the relations between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the monks who live at Esfigmenou, the point is that it is a very emotional issue, it is very sad(dening), especially for Orthodox Christians as I am, and that a happy end is not to be expected, at least not soon.


  3. Vasílis says:

    Update: almost one and a half year later on now and the problems are again urgent, it seems: see http://nftu.net/armed-greek-police-plan-forcibly-remove-peaceful-monks/

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