Mt. Athos, September 23, 2020
Earlier this week, it was reported that Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin is tentatively scheduled to make an unofficial visit to Mt. Athos tomorrow and Friday, where he will meet with Athonite leadership in Karyes and stay at the Russian St. Panteleimon’s Monastery.
A final decision on his visit has not been made due to the situation with the coronavirus on Mt. Athos, where several monks in several different monasteries and sketes have reportedly tested positive for the virus.
However, an informed Church source reported to RIA-Novosti yesterday that Greek Church and state representatives who oppose the Russian presence in Greece and on Mt. Athos are trying to declare a quarantine on the Mountain under the pretext of fighting the coronavirus.
PM Mishustin’s visit to Mt. Athos, which is under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, would be the first of a high-ranking Russian official since the Russian Church broke communion with Constantinople after it invaded Russian Church territory in Ukraine.
St. Paul’s Monastery on Mt. Athos has been placed under quarantine with a reported 8 cases of the coronavirus, including one monk in critical condition being treated at a hospital in Thessaloniki. It is also reported that there is one case in the Serbian Hilandar Monastery and four more in Athonite sketes.
However, according to RIA-Novosti’s source, the only actual case of the coronavirus is the monk being treated in Thessaloniki. “There is no outbreak of the disease,” the source said.
“They are trying to close Athos because of political considerations. They’re giving out diamantiria [mandatory permission to visit Mt. Athos—OC] every day there without any problems. There can’t be any cases of infection if visitors undergo testing before they arrive,” the source said.
However, it seems a compromise was reached, and the Sacred Community of Mt. Athos, the administrative body consisting of one representative from each of the 20 ruling monasteries, issued an encyclical stating the Mountain remains open but under stricter measure to prevent any further spread of the virus. In particular, the main monasteries are limited to 10 visitors per day, and visitors can not move from one monastery to another.
According to another source connected to Mt. Athos who spoke with OrthoChristian, the monks say the new measures and the attempted lockdown are being forced on the Mountain from outside.