It is hard to draw any conclusions not knowing the particulars of the case but as a friend of mine mentioned to me earlier, criticism of the Greek Government for the arrest of Abbot Ephraim cannot be rightly constructed as “interference” in the canonical territory the Ecumenical Patriarchate. To Moscow, this is a matter of elementary justice, not administration. If, say, Moscow sprang the Abbott from jail and flew him to Russia, then Constantinople would have a point. But defending a man who quite likely is a pawn in the increasing conflict between the Greek State and the Church hardly seems the stuff of interference. Moscow is simply reminding the Greek Government the whole Orthodox world is watching — as indeed it is.
The press release is reprinted below followed by an article from Asia News outlining the conflict.
Εcumenical Patriarchate Denounces Russian Interference in the Ephraim Case
Gathered today, 10 January 2012, under the presidency of His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Holy and Sacred Synod at this tactical conference, among other things, discussed the emerged issue of the imprisonment of the Abbot of the Monastery of Vatopaidi Ephraim.
Regarding this matter we communicate the following:
1. The Ecumenical Throne and Its Holy and Sacred Synod express their sorrow for this shapening of the situation in relation to the decision of this matter.
2. The Ecumenical Patriarchate, according to its tactical consistency, respects the independence of the Justice system, always avoiding every interference in pending court cases, since, after all, they are ignorant of the contents of the case files.
3. The Ecumenical Patriarchate, in connection with statements expressed by sister Orthodox Churches in connection with this issue, recalls that the Holy Mountain, its canonical territory, is constituted of Orthodox monks from various nationalities, but this adds nothing to its Pan-Orthodox character by allowing any kind of interference within it by any Autocephalous Church.
At the Patriarchate, 10 January 2012
By the Chief Secretary of the Holy and Sacred Synod
Abbot of Mount Athos arrested. War of influence between Moscow and the Ecumenical Patriarchate
Source: Asia News
Moscow (AsiaNews) – European Union pressure on Greece, the economic and political ambitions of a “hyperactive” monk and the expansionist ambitions of the Moscow Patriarchate on Mount Athos. These are some of the conclusions drawn over the last two weeks, by the media, analysts and churchmen in an attempt to explain the arrest of Hegumen Ephraim, abbot of the Vatopedi monastery. It is considered the ‘”aristocracy” of Mount Athos, the largest and most important of the Holy Mountain, which falls under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
On 24 December, the police arrested Archimandrite by decision of the Court of Appeal of Athens as part of an investigation into a 2008 sale of land, to the loss of the Hellenic exchequer. The case has made headlines not only because of his advanced age and poor health, but also because unusual in a country where the Orthodox Church has a privileged status, with its strong autonomy on Mount Athos. In addition, Ephrem is a high-level personality who over time has managed to forge important contacts in the world of politics and business inside and outside of the border.
An example of this is his contacts with the Russian authorities and the Moscow Patriarchate, established thanks to his exploitation of the historical rivalry between the Russian Orthodox Church and Constantinople, as denounced by sources within the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Just a month before his arrest, the prior had brought the famous relic of the Virgin’s belt on tour to Russia, which was venerated by three million pilgrims throughout the Federation. Something useful for the Russian government, given its sharp decline in consensus with the legislative elections around the corner, but also for the same Ephrem – maintain the Constantinople sources – just as the circle of investigations tightened around him.
His arrest took place, in fact, immediately after his return from Russia and has generated a very strong reaction from the Moscow Patriarchate. Kirill himself has written to the Greek president, Karolos Papoulias, to ask for his release, while the Metropolitan Hilarion, responsible for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate, spoke of “hostile attack the Athos monks and the entire Orthodox Church”.
Many have noted, however, Bartholomew’s silence on the issue. Sources close to the Ecumenical Patriarch have told AsiaNews that it is only “prudence” and recalled that after repeated rebukes regarding his financial and political initiatives, Ephraim had already been deprived of the administrative management of Vatopedi, leaving him exclusively as the spiritual leader there. The Patriarchate apparently also “advised” him to resign, having no right to impose its will on him.
For Sergey Rudov, head of the Foundation of Friends of the Monastery of Vatopedi and member of the Public Chamber in Russia, Ephrem is being subjected to “legal persecution”. “There are two reasons behind his arrest – he told the official TV broadcaster NTV – the first is that under EU pressure, Greece aims to reduce the status of autonomy of Mount Athos and the second is the growing influence of ‘Russian Orthodoxy on the Holy Mountain “, favoured by the same Ephrem and not appreciated by the Patriarchate of Constantinople.