Police besiege Mount Athos monks
Helena Smith in Athens
Wednesday January 29, 2003
Armed police, bent on expelling a group of maverick monks vehemently
opposed to reconciliation between the Greek Orthodox and Roman
Catholic churches, last night began blockading their high-walled settlement
on the all-male monastic republic of Mount Athos.
In an unprecedented step the holy mount's civilian administrator
called for the police as the rebellious monks vowed to defy an order
that they leave the far-flung peninsula today.
"We could hold out for two years," declared a defiant Abbot
Methodius, who heads the ultra-conservative Esphigmenou monastery. "We are
to fight on even though the authorities have cut off our electricity,
water, heating and food supplies."
The 117 monks, the most doctrinally rigid of the 2,000 who inhabit
an array of monasteries on the semi-autonomous republic, have denounced the
Pope as a heretic.
For years they have shrouded their medieval settlement with a banner
proclaiming "Orthodoxy or death" while demanding that the Orthodox
faith's spiritual leader, Bartholomew I, tone down his overtures towards
The two main branches of Christianity have been separated since the
Great Schism of 1054. But patience seems to be running out with the monks.
Last month Bartholomew - who, as the Ecumenical patriarch, is based
in Istanbul - pronounced the monks "schismatics". As such, he said, the
clerics no longer represented the spirit of Orthodoxy and should be
expelled - a decision that allowed the republic's state-appointed
administrator to step in.
Last night, the Greek authorities said police would remain outside
the monastery until "every one" of the monks left.
The row comes amid growing demands that Mount Athos lift its
centuries-old ban on females, which extends to animals.
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