World Public Forum Conference Saves Mount Athos From Tourists and Women

An official English-language website of the Russian Orthodox Church has details of a recent conference on the subject of Mount Athos:

A conference on ‘The Contribution of Mount Athos to Europe’s Religious and Intellectual Tradition’ was held on July 8-9, 2011, in Salzburg, Austria. It was organized by the Dialogue of Civilizations world public forum. Among the participants were Mr. Walter Schwimmer, former general secretary of the Council of Europe, Princess Katarina of Serbia, Great Britain, Prince George Yourievsky of the Romanov Family, Switzerland, representatives of the Friends of Mount Athos, Oxford, the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge, the Amsterdam Center for Eastern Orthodox Theology, public and governmental bodies, the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England, business and scientific communities, as well as clergy from the Churches of Russia, Georgia, Greece and other Local Orthodox Churches and brethren from monasteries on the Holy Mount Athos.

The conference was opened by Mr. V. Yakunin, president of the Dialogue of Civilizations.

Yakunin runs Russia’s railways, and he is known as a confidant of Vladimir Putin and as a keen promoter of Orthodoxy. Like other events organised by the Dialogue of Civilizations World Public Forum, the conference appears to have been erudite and international, although not entirely disinterested:

…During plenary and section sessions, participants spoke in one voice for the preservation of Mount Athos’s unique status, the need for comprehensive legal defence of the principle of ‘avaton’ whereby women are not allowed to the peninsula, against turning the Holy Mount into a free tourist zone or a place of commercialization and pointed to the tendency of interference in the internal life of the monasteries.

Mr. Schwimmer, who is chairman of the international coordinating committee of the Dialogue of Civilizations forum, stated that ‘the Holy Mount Athos is important for the cultural heritage of the whole world but in the first place for the spiritual and intellectual heritage of Europe. For this reason it is necessary to protect this place and to involve various forces in Europe and the world in this endeavour’.

Mr. Jan Figel, chairman of the Christian Democratic Movements in Slovakia and former Euro-commissioner for science, education and culture, said, ‘We [in the European Union] have a common market, a common currency but we still have failed to avoid a crisis… The importance of Christianity in Europe is enormous, and Christians have a clear system of values. Europe will be beautiful if the mosaic is united, not split into East and West’.

Other participants included Archimandrite Ephraim, abbot of the Vatopedi Monastery; there has been little need to worry about the monastery’s prospects under his tenure, given his remarkable ability to negotiate profitable land-deals. Further details of the conference can be found on the WPF website, under the heading “Europeans to Salvage Mount Athos”. According to the blurb:

…There are voices in the European Union that favour turning Mount Athos into a tourist area, with unrestricted access for all kinds of visitors. That would be yet another step towards the “mcdonaldization of the society” (J. Ritzer), reducing it to the universal standardization that makes the world more controllable and predictable, but deprived of the “multiplicity in unity” which is characteristic of a viable, dynamically evolving culture.

The “Dialogue of Civilizations” is a project of the “World Public Forum”, which in turn was an initiative of an Orthodox organisation, the Center of the National Glory of Russia and St. Andrew’s Foundation. Back in March, Yakunin presented a prize on behalf of the Dialogue of Civilizations to Nursultan Nazarbayev, two weeks before Nazarbayev was re-elected as President of Kazakhstan with 96% of the vote. It should be remembered that in 2007 Time described the Russian Orthodox Church as Russia’s “main ideological arm and a vital foreign policy instrument”; further, the Russian Church has been keen to promote itself as the international defender of Orthodoxy, and to sideline Bartholomew, the Patriarch of Constantinople.

The conference does not appear to have involved Yakunin’s WPF co-chairman, Nicholas Papanicolaou. Papanicolaou, as I’ve blogged here, is part of the neo-Pentecostal end of the US Christian Right.

2 Responses

  1. […] I previously wrote about Vatopedi and Ephraim here. Ephraim was also at a WPF conference on the subject of Mount Athos which took place in July. […]

  2. […] with the Foundation’s interests: the WPF held a conference on the subject of Mount Athos last summer (again in Austria) involving Archimandrite Ephraim, abbot of Athos’s Vatopedi Monastery. […]

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