The news arrived that on July 8th the Greek Surpreme Court has finally settled legal issue surrounding the schismatic brotherhood of Esfigmenou monastery on Athos, known for its “Orthodoxy or Death” banners.
The Court rejected the appeal filed by the brotherhood, the so-called real estate squatters or zealots, against the decision of the Court of Appeals of Thessaloniki from June 17, that obliged them to finally hand over all the occupied territories both on and outside of Mt. Athos to the new Esfigmenou brotherhood, currently based in the Athonite capital of Karyes. We wrote before about the conflict in 2012 and in 2017.
Esfigmenou Monastery has been in schism from the rest of the Holy Mountain, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and the rest of the Orthodox World for many years, in protest against the ecumenistic activity of the Patriarch of Constantinople with the Catholic Church and others. While the Athonite monasteries have protested such activity by ceasing to commemorate the Patriarch in the Divine services several times, the Esfigmenou brotherhood has gone further by joining a schismatic, Old Calendarist jurisdiction. The constitution and statutes of the Holy Mountain prohibit monastic cohabitation with the heterodox or schismatics, thus, in 2005, the new Esfigmenou brotherhood was established, which is recognized by the rest of Mount Athos, but has no historical connection to Esfigmenou monastery. The schismatic brotherhood still lives in the monastery with approximately 100 monks.
In April 2019 a Thessaloniki Appeal Court handed down a sentence of 17-years’ imprisonment and a fine of € 600 for Esfigmenou abbot Father Methodios (Papalamprakopoulos) for his involvement in a 2013 Molotov cocktail attack against riot police. Another monk received the same sentence, while another six were sentenced to 9 years and 5 months.
In the meantime, the conflict appears to be escalating. On July 23 2020 police officers arrived at the monastery’s dependencies in Ierissos and in Nea Roda and forced the monks to leave (for more news and photo’s by Maria Ritzaleou in Greek: Ethnos.gr – look here). And police cars are to be seen in the neighbourhood of the monastery.
The brotherhood of new Esfigmenou issued a statement announcing that it now possesses the properties and contending that the monks of Esfigmenou have nothing to do with Mount Athos. They also stated that the monks of the schismatic brotherhood “looted the facilities” a few days beforehand, “leaving behind the image of a scorched earth.” Meanwhile, the inhabitants of Esfigmenou monastery say that on July 23, “three monks of the new pseudo-brotherhood of Esfigmenou … seized property in Ierissos from the historical Esfigmenou.” (thanks to orthochristian.com)
I wonder where this leads to. I hope all parties are wise enough the settle the conflict in a sensible way and that they don’t look at what divides them, but focus on what shared values they have, while respecting differences. That is the only way to live together on this small planet ….
Wim Voogd, 26-07