This is what Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Moscow Patriarchate department for external church relations of the Russian Orthodox Church has to say about Mount Athos in an interview with the BBC on the 17th of October 2018:
– After the decision made by the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, a hot discussion began on such a question as prospects for pilgrimage to Holy Mountain Athos. There are different opinions. Some say that it is not recommended to anybody to pray on Mount Athos, others say it is permissible to pray on Athos but not for the clergy and the clergy will be punished for that. So, who can go to Athos; will any sanctions follow with regard to the clergy?
– Anyone can go to the Holy Mountain who has a Greek visa and permission to enter Athos. We can pray to God in any place on the Earth.
There is such notion as the Eucharistic communion. It is an opportunity for a believer of one Church to take communion and to make confession in churches of another Church. We have broken off the Eucharistic communion with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which exercises jurisdiction over Athos. For us, the rupture of communion means that we cannot celebrate divine offices in Athonite monasteries, nor can we take communion in them; however, we have an opportunity to visit these monasteries as believers and as tourists. That is, there is no rupture in human relations whatsoever.
– And can the clergy visit monasteries on Athos?
– The clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church can visit them.
– They will not be punished if they come to the Holy Mountain, will they?
– If a priest takes part in divine services at Athonite monasteries, then this matter will become a subject for discussion with his ruling bishop. There are various forms of canonical suspensions in such cases.
– For instance?
– One of the existing means is suspension in ministry.
– And this straight away after only one trip?
– This is up to the bishop. There are various means. It may be a reprimand.
– Russian benefactors and patrons have donated over 200 million dollars. These are private donations. Do you know about it?
– Then what is to be done by those who have invested funds in the adornment of Athonite monasteries? And another question: Is some response expected from Athonite starets to the recent events; is it possible that they will protest against Constantinople’s decisions?
– We have warmest and most respectful feelings for Athos. We do not want to prompt to Athonite starets what to do.
History shows that when Athos is concerned over something, the monasteries on the Holy Mountain do find ways to inform the Patriarch of Constantinople about it. For instance, when Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople met with the Pope of Rome, Athonite monasteries expressed their protest against it; some even stopped to mention the name of the Patriarch of Constantinople during the liturgy. But, I repeat, it is an internal affair of Athos.
As for the Russian businessmen who donate to Athos, I would advise them to switch their attention to the monasteries of our Church and invest in their restoration and adornment. We have our own saints, our own Athos – the Solovki and Valamo Monasteries, the St. Sergius Monastery of the Trinity; in Ukraine, there is the Kiev Monastery of the Caves. If there is a wish to donate one’s funds to a God-pleasing cause, then we have no less but perhaps even more holy places than the Holy Mountain has.
– What will happen to the Russian monks on Athos? For instance, in the St. Panteleimon Monastery which is considered Russian from of old? As is known, the president of Russia is received in it according to a special protocol. Where are the monks to run to now?
– They do not have to run anywhere but should continue their existence and their work there. I do not think that anything will change in the monastery status.
– But in the St. Panteleimon monastery, the name of the Ecumenical Patriarch is mentioned during the liturgy. At the same time, the monastery lives at the expense of Russian donators; it is visited by eminent pilgrims beginning from Igor Sechin to Irog Shuvalov. Where to will they travel now?
– I think it is also an internal affair of the monastery. They have a council of starets and I think they, in this situation, will make an appropriate decision. I would not like to prompt them, especially through the mass media, nor to predict their decisions. I think they themselves will understand how it will be done better.
Read here the whole interview. Thanks to our reader Joseph Skinner.