Conspiracies Claimed as Reasons for Vatopedi Abbot Arrest

From the Voice of Russia:

In the late hours of Tuesday [27 December], 10 police officers appeared on Mount Athos. It was rather strange to see policemen in a place where no strangers can be usually met except for pilgrims – the more so because the monasteries on Mount Athos have a special status which makes them to a large extent independent from the Greek government.

Father Ephraim was arrested and taken to a police office in Athens, as if he was not a respectable abbot but a gang boss.

The sight could have been a lot stranger: it seems that the Greek state was respectful enough of the site’s “special status” not to send in any policewomen.

Father Ephraim heads the famous Vatopedi monastery – and for a “respectable abbot” he is particularly astute when it comes to real estate deals:

The abbot is accused of financial embezzlement and fraudulent realty deals. The deals involved exchanging less valuable land for higher-value land which belonged tom the state. But, later, the Greek authorities decided that the bargain was unequal – and are now claiming that, as a result, the state has lost at least € 100 mln.

The land swap has been a source of controversy since 2008, as I blogged here.

Ephraim was in the news a few weeks ago, when a relic from Vatopedi was displayed in Russia – this was the Belt of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and its tour across Russia was organised by the St Andrew the First-Called Foundation. This organisation is controlled by Vladimir Yakunin, a close confidant of Putin, and Yakunin believed that the belt would promote “family values” in Russia. In September, Ephraim spoke at a conference in Austria on the subject of Mount Athos – the conference was arranged by the World Public Forum, which was co-founded by Yakunin, and it had the aim of “protecting” Mount Athos.

The Voice of Russia and Interfax both carry quotes from Sergey Rudov, head of a charity called “The Society of Friends of the Vatopedi monastery”. According to Rudov:

“Staying in cold Russia was a serious trial for him. And when he visited Patriarch Ilia in Georgia, he wasn’t far from dying. Father Yefrem needs constant medical attention. He was questioned for 30 hours in Greece. And they told him during questioning: you’ve been to Russia, you talked to Putin, Medvedev, but they won’t help you,” Rudov said. 

Ephraim met Putin at the end of the tour, and he asked for Russia to assist Greece “under these challenging conditions”.

Rudov adds:

“There could be two reasons behind Abbot Ephraim’s arrest… One is that the EU has now been insisting for a long time that the Athos monasteries should be stripped of their special status and subordinated to the Greek government to a greater extent, because the EU is unhappy about the fact that currently, one needs a special visas to be able to visit the monasteries on Mount Athos. The second reason is that some people in Europe are unhappy about the growing influence of Russians in Greece – mainly because of the close ties between the Greek and the Russian Churches.”

Certainly, the Russian Orthodox Church has in recent years been positioning itself as the natural protector of Orthodoxy in Greece and other countries, and it has sought to sideline the Ecumenical Patriarch, who resides in Istanbul.

The Voice of Russia adds a third theory:

…the Greek government is trying to put press on the Church in an attempt to make it help the Greek state financially – something which Greece, as a country most affected by the financial crisis in Europe, badly needs.

The Friends have created a petition condemning the arrest:

We hereby condemn with abhorrence the judicial ‘’crime’ committed in Athens on the 23rd December 2011, against the Church in the face of Elder Efrem, Abbot of the Great, Holy Monastery of Vatopaidi in theHolyMountain.

The decision to take Elder Efrem into custody was based on hatred and prejudice. This is manifested in the following:

  1. The timing of the decision: Christmas Eve
  2. The surrounding of the Holy Mountain by armed police forces despite the declaration by the attorney representing the Elder that the latter intended to present himself to the police willingly.
  3. The sentence passed is normally given to people who have the intention to repeat the offences accused of.
  4. During the preliminary hearing the reason given for the sentence was the Elder’s recent trip to Russia, when he accompanied the Holy Belt of the Most Holy Mother of God. During this visit millions of people, including the President, the Prime Minister and the Attorney General of the Russian Republic came out to greet them.
  5. The investigation lasted more than three years and no incriminating evidence has been found.
  6. The offence which the Elder is accused of is ‘aiding and abetting’ even though the suspects of this offence have been acquitted.
  7. During the last three years of the investigation, the Elder has taken numerous trips abroad and if he had intended to leave the country he had plenty of opportunity to do so.
  8. The Elder, as a spiritual figure, is honored and praised worldwide and constitutes an excellent envoy for Greece.
  9. The people who have been revealed as the masterminds of the conspiracy against him have been honored with ministerial posts and are attempting to cover up their deception at all costs.
  10. In Greece, enormous scandals have been uncovered and established while those responsible are not only walking free but are also given political posts.

We are convinced that the decision is a deliberate political act intending to defame the Holy Mountain and the Church.

Meanwhile, the Voice of Russia reports that:

The Russian St. Andrew Foundation, which organized the coming of Mary’s belt to Russia, has sent its representative to Greece. The representative is already in Athens, and is trying, together with Father Ephraim’s lawyers, to find ways of helping him.

The Foundation also called for protests; Greek Reporter notes:

In its latest announcement, the foundation mentions that “the order and persistence, evident in the persecution of the Athonite elder, allow us once again to assume that the separate litigation between Vatopedi Monastery and the Greek state, constitute a reason to affect the foundation of values of the European community and an attack on global Orthodoxy, the spiritual center of which is Holy Mountain Athos” and expresses his surprise because “Greek judicial authorities ignored the unanimous appeal of the Holy Community of Mt. Athos in support of the priest, and that expressed by tens of thousands of orthodox people in online social networks”.

The announcement of the Russian Foundation concludes with an appeal to the faithful “to show their indignation on the inhumane decisions of the Athens Court of Appeal chamber, and following the example of orthodox citizens in Russia and Cyprus, to organize protests at the Embassies of Greece and the agencies of the European Union in several states”.

A 2008 article by Ioannis Michaletos and Christopher Deliso has further background context, although tending towards the speculative:

…The implication has been raised that Ephraim of Vatopedi seemed to have the ambition of becoming an important behind-the-scenes figure in an emerging ‘Orthodox Vatican’ centered around his own monastery. Its bank accounts were recently found to be in excess of 200 million euros…

By piecing together a variety of off-the-record diplomatic sources and anecdotal material, one can create a patchwork of activities for which the monastery, and the Holy Mountain in general, seem ideally suited.

These activities include major international business deals, high-level, third-party communications linkages, meetings of minds, political intriguing and even espionage. Indeed, rumors of intelligence agencies’ protected ‘safe houses’ on the isolated shores of Athos persist and it would seem that the remote, well-regulated and controlled nature of the place would by nature make it ideal for any kind of activity requiring discretion and silence.

5 Responses

  1. […] Conspiracies Claimed as Reasons for Vatopedi Abbot Arrest ( […]

  2. […] the St Andrew Foundation is currently leading protests against the recent arrest in Greece of Archimandrite Ephraim, abbot of the Vatopedi monastery on Mount Athos (and home of the […]

  3. We need to convert Greek churches to Latin speaking because all the Yuvrey who were born in Greece and pretended to convert under Mussolini come to practice their Greek and all the Slavs come trying to make us Tsarvrey. Why do you think the Russian letters for Tz and Sh are identical with the Hebrew? If the Greeks were such nationalists, why do they allow Southern Italy to call itself Magna Grece ( Because the Greeks know the Slavs are all coming from being Yuvrey with all their crazy bubble studies and fasting and stuff. We all want to be diverse, parochial, feudal and belong to the land and no Tsarvrey universalist globalizations. That is why we all marry Catholic Italian and stay away from Slav churches.

  4. […] Grace for GraceFlowing Faithoutside the walls…Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion […]

  5. […] release from prison of Archimandrite Ephraim, the Abbot of Vatopedi on Mount Athos; as I blogged here, Ephraim was arrested for suspected fraud shortly after his return to Greece from a tour of Russia […]

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