Athens, July 9, 2020
After years of appeals and other delays, the legal issue surrounding the schismatic brotherhood of Esphigmenou Monastery on Mt. Athos, known for its “Orthodoxy or Death” banners, has finally been settled by the Greek Supreme Court.
Yesterday, July 8, the Court rejected the appeal filed by the brotherhood, the so-called real estate squatters, 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 Esphigmenou brotherhood, currently based in the Athonite capital of Karyes, reports Vima Orthodoxias.
Esphigmenou 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 Esphigmenou 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 Esphigmenou brotherhood was established, which is recognized by the rest of Mt. Athos but has no historical connection to Esphigmenou Monastery.
Following the June 17 decision, the pro-schismatic brotherhood website “ESPHIGMENOU MONASTERY - MOUNT ATHOS,” reported that, “The monastery is currently home to over 100 elderly monks that have lived at the monastery for more than 50 years. Last week, in a mockery of true justice usually seen in banana republics and totalitarian regimes, the Greek government ordered the monks to leave the monastery.”
“We call upon the Greek government to stop this immoral and unchristian action and to let us pray in peace as this brotherhood has for over 1,500 years,” said Abbot Methodios of Esphigmenou Monastery.
The issue has been settled ecclesiastically and administratively since the early 2000s, writes Vima Orthodoxias, though the implementation of the decisions was held up for years by a number of appeals, requests for suspension, and other delays.
Now the issue of implementation is in the hands of the state bodies responsible for the protection of Mt. Athos. The Esphigmenou website alleged on June 23 that the Greek government has “imminent plans to raid the monastery to seize and imprison the abbot and monks.”
On July 1, Russian Athens reported that several police ships approached the monastery of Esphigmenou on Monday, June 29, while several police cars were on duty near the monastery, preparing an assault with 80 special police officers. The monks were given an ultimatum to vacate the monastery by that Thursday, though they refused, even allegedly threatening to blow up the monastery.
According to one member of the schismatic brotherhood, the monastery has been under siege for a month and police do not allow the monks to go out for food and also block the delivery of products from the sea, reports the Red Spring Information Agency.
In April 2019, a Thessaloniki appeals court handed down a sentence of 17-years’ imprisonment and a fine of $675 (600 euros) for Esphigmenou abbot Fr. 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.
Abbot Methodios and Monk Antipas, the main instigators, were originally sentenced to 20 years in 2017 and the other monks to 10 years and 4 months, though those sentences were appealed.
The incident in question occurred when court bailiffs arrived to the Esphigmenou administrative offices in Karyes on July 29, 2013 to evict the schismatic monks, who responded by throwing three Molotov cocktails and an explosive device.
Meanwhile, the monks and their supporters continue to pray for peace and for cooler heads to prevail in the Greek government, writes the Esphigmenou website. “Why don’t they just leave them alone? All they want to do is to be left alone to pray in peace,” commented John Rigas of Friends of Esphigmenou.
“They are literally bothering no one. They are monks,” he said.