Greece’s highest court orders rebel monks out
By Karolos Grohmann
ATHENS, March 22 (Reuters) Greece’s highest administrative court has ordered a group of Orthodox monks, who reject efforts to rebuild ties with the Roman Catholic Church, to leave their 1,000 year old monastery, their lawyer said on Tuesday.
The Holy Community on a northern peninsula ordered the 100 monks at the Esfigmenou monastery, one of 20 on Mount Athos, to leave two years ago after a row over the Orthodox Patriarchate’s efforts to restore ties with Rome.
The monks refuse to acknowledge the authority of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos in Istanbul, the spiritual leader of the Orthodox Church, or his moves for closer ties with Rome. They have condemned Bartholomeos as a heretic and refused to leave their monastery, even after a brief siege.
They then lodged an appeal with the Council of State.
``Their appeal has been rejected. The eviction order stands,’’ the monks’ lawyer Ifigenia Kampsidou told Reuters after receiving the court’s decision.
Under Greece’s constitution, the Patriarchate has supreme spiritual authority over the semi autonomous Mount Athos region on a peninsula near the northern city of Thessaloniki.
Kampsidou said she had advised the monks to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights to allow them to stay at the monastery.
``I have advised them to do that as a next step to fight the eviction and stay in their monastery,’’ she said.
Father Methodios, the abbot of Esfigmenou, said the monks had not yet decided what to do next.
``We still have to officially receive the ruling so until then we cannot say anything specific,’’ he told Reuters.
The monks have been holed up inside the monastery for about two years, even after police ended a brief siege and threatened to arrest any monk who ventured out after the eviction order.
The Esfigmenou monks are considered the most radical in their opposition to Rome.
They refuse to recognise the authority of the Greek Orthodox Church and have refused to accept funds from the European Union to restore their monastery, unlike most other communities.
The northern Mount Athos peninsula, considered as Orthodox Christianity’s spiritual home from which all females are banned, is administered by an official appointed by Greece’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.