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Dissident Greek monks complain of persecution

March 30, 2014

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — The abbot of a Mount Athos monastery said Sunday its more than 120 Greek monks face food and medicine shortages because of the stance of the Orthodox Church, which considers them apostates and wants to evict them from their 1,000-year-old abode.

Abbot Methodios of the Esphigmenou monastery told reporters and a throng of faithful supporters in this northern Greek city about the monks’ lack of access to doctors.

Methodios and his monks have effectively barricaded themselves inside the Esphigmenou monastery from which authorities want to evict them. They can only enter and exit the premises surreptitiously, fearing arrest by police that want to enforce court orders evicting them.

“We enter the premises at night,” Methodios said.

The Esphigmenou monks have estranged themselves from the official Orthodox Church by their attacks on the Ecumenical Patriarch, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, residing in Istanbul. The incumbent Patriarch, Batholomew I, and his predecessors, Demetrios I and Athenagoras I, have, since the 1960s, tried to improve relations with the Catholic Church.

Even though he tried to appear conciliatory and, in his words, “open to dialogue,” Methodios couldn’t avoid taking a swipe at Bartholomew. “He is not an Orthodox,” he said. He also denounced the Patriarch’s attempt to install new monks, obedient to him, in the monastery, saying that the new monks number no more than five and that they have illegally obtained aid from the EU to improve the monastery’s administrative offices.

On the other hand, he lauded Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, saying he had assurances that what Methodios called the “siege conditions” would be relaxed. The government hasn’t commented on Methodios’ claim.

Like many other monasteries, Esphigmenou owns several prime pieces of real estate and Methodios’ detractors claim that it makes millions in profits.

The all-male Mount Athos monastic community, located in a peninsula east of Thessaloniki, has existed since the 10th century. Its 20 monasteries are under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch on religious matters and it is a self-governed part of the Greek state, which deals with it through its foreign ministry.

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