Moscow, May 17, 2022
There could be an attempt to forcibly evict Russian monks from Holy Mount Athos soon. This could be connected with the upcoming visit of Patriarch Bartholomew at the end of this month, warns a representative of the Russian Church’s Department for External Church Relations.
“Patriarch Bartholomew is scheduled to visit Mount Athos at the end of May, and perhaps this will coincide with the police action that the Greek police have already carried out against the monks of Esphigmenou Monastery who disagree with Bartholomew’s policy,” Fr. Dimitry Safonov, the Secretary for Interreligious Relations, said at a press conference on Monday, reports TASS.
“I’m not saying that Esphigmenou Monastery [a schismatic monastery on Mt. Athos—Ed.] took the right line—that’s a separate conversation—but as a precedent: just a political eviction of monks, forcibly, with the use of force, with the use of special means. And we fear that, perhaps, Russian monasticism, the Russian monks of Athos, could be threatened with the same thing,” Fr. Dmitry said.
A number of reports about supposed Kremlin influence on the Holy Mountain and the corresponding need to expel Russian and pro-Russian monks have appeared in the Greek and international media in recent weeks.
According to a recent article from Vima Orthodoxias, the recent glut of articles portraying Mt. Athos as being largely under Kremlin influence is meant to prepare the ground for a coming expulsion of Russian monks. Pronews-gr reports that Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland is directly involved in the political pressure “to neutralize Russian influence” on Mt. Athos.
“Patriarch Bartholomew recently visited Greece and met with the Prime Minister and received from him, according to the press, according to open sources, consent to evict Russian monasticism from Mt. Athos,” the DECR rep commented. This meeting is mentioned by Vima Orthodoxias and other sources.
Fr. Dimitry also points specifically to an article from the German outlet BILD as part of the information war against Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church. Such outlets “are now devoting entire pages about the alleged need to evict all Russian monks from Mt. Athos, although there’re so few of them there,” he said.
While there were thousands of Russian monks on the Holy Mountain in the early 20th century, the number is now very small, Fr. Dmitry explained, mostly living at St. Panteleimon’s Monastery.
Note that Ukrainian monks also make up a significant percentage of the brotherhood of St. Panteleimon’s Monastery.
The BILD article is based on a “secret report about the criminal activities of Kremlin-affiliated monks on the secluded Mount Athos” that is also referenced in Greek articles, which claims that Russian oligarchs on Mt. Athos were talking about the war in Ukraine before it happened, and that far-right Russians are occupying the schismatic Esphimenou Monastery.
According to Fr. Bartholomew, the abbot of New Esphigmenou, a brotherhood organized by Patriarch Bartholomew to replace the schismatic Esphigmenou, Russian oligarchs frequently visited and donated to Mt. Athos in order to curry favor with the powerful monasteries and facilitate supposed Russian expansion. The abbot and other sources also level serious legal accusations against Russians on Mt. Athos, including money laundering and human trafficking.