Vatopaidi’s statement for the Church’s people
27 Οκτωβρίου 2008
A N N O U N C E M E N T
By the Holy Great Monastery of Vatopaidi Mount Athos
The Holy Great Monastery of Vatopaidi has, through a sense of responsibility to the Greek people, its history, its spiritual tradition and its spiritual and ethical authority in both the Orthodox and the Greek community and due to the unjust attack and public vilification that it has suffered due to various factors, been compelled to inform the Christian flock in the Church.
The Church is entitled to hold property, in accordance with the plethora of resolutions by not only the Greek Courts but also by the European Human Rights Commission of the European Council, to which the Monasteries of our nation resorted contra to Law 1700/87. Every Monastery with movable and fixed assets secures the running expenses for dining and hosting, building repairs, preservation of relics, as well as for the conduct of the missionary and philanthropic work.
The Vatopaidion Monastery in accordance with history was blessed by Divine Providence to play a dual role, of living a hesychast life and providing missionary activity to not only the Hellenic State but also outside it. Through the passage of the centuries… it has made its mark as an Orthodox bastion, a fortress for Orthodoxy, asceticism, theology, missionary activity, confession and martyrdom, an enlightened coenobium for Aghion Oros, the bearer of many, holy and good offspring. Many saints in our Church have lived the hesychastic life at our Monastery, such as Gregorios Palamas, saint Nikodemos the Hesychast, saint Philotheos the Red who subsequently became a patriarch at Constantinople, saint Savvas the Fool in Christ, as well as some others, who with God’s will undertook to also transmit the pure Orthodox Tradition outside of Aghion Oros to other Orthodox nations, such as saint Savvas of Nemania, the first archbishop of the Serbs and saint Maximos the Graecian who enlightened the Russians. During the Turkish occupation in 1749 the Monastery established the Athoniada (Athos) Academy, from which originated many holy identities such as Aghion Kosmas o Aitolos the national apostle, Aghios Athanasios of Paros, the Holy Martyr Agapios, the recent martyr Athanasios Koulakiotis and many teachers of the Nation. The Monastery has contributed to the re-establishment of the Megales Scholes tou Genous (on the list of the benefactors – donors, second only to the Patriarch Joachim II). It has provided many grants to the National University at Athens, the Theological College at Chalkis, the Ecclesiastical College of Lefkosia (the present day Pan Cyprian Secondary College), the Drama Agricultural College; it has undertaken the building of a Language College in Constantinople, while it has also financially assisted all of the Educational Institutions in the Greek Realm.
We have been compelled by the present defamatory conditions to discuss the missionary and philanthropic activities of the new brotherhood, despite the fact that it ought to be concealed; because that is appropriate for the monastic order and subsequent generations must be able to evaluate its work. Approximately two million Euros are provided every year for scholarships, aid to poor families, sick people and prisoners, camps and Institutions, church organisations in Greece, Cyprus, Russia, Rumania, Serbia and Africa and for monasteries and church organisations in America and to many regions of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The first major project that is in progress is: an aged care facility with a budget of five million Euros. In addition to this effort it must be stressed that Vatopaidion Monastery become a coenobium in 1990 and has been charged with the restoration of the 35,000 square metre building complex for the H. Monastery that dates back to the 10th century; it is responsible for the restoration of the Holy Hermitages and Cells that belong to the Monastery that amount to another 30,000 square metres. It has also assumed the maintenance and the preservation of the relics of an inestimable cultural and historical value, the maintenance and the preservation of the Monastery’s surrounding area, the provision of free meals and accommodation for 25,000 visitors annually and its 150 employees. The daily expenses for meals fluctuate between 4,000 and 5,000 Euros. Furthermore, another sector of the services offered by the Monastery is constituted by the edition of books that are beneficial to the soul, the theological and scientific treatises and the organisation of intra Orthodox theological Conferences in order to promote the Orthodox tradition and the publication of their minutes.
Now in relation to the exchange of Lake Vistonida and the surrounding lake property, the Monastery has through its representatives sought and is continuing to seek, as it has the responsibility and the duty under coenobic rules to protect its legal rights by legitimate means and transparent procedures before the institutional authorities of the Hellenic State. The H. Monastery has not participated in any illegal transaction not has it committed any illegal act.
The rights of possession by the Monastery over Lake Vistonida and the surrounding lake property and its islets have been substantiated, indisputably and completely legitimately. All of the Monastery’s titles over Lake Vistonida have been firmly recognised by the Greek courts as property titles. The titles have been ratified in the chrysobouls of the Byzantine emperors Nikephoros Votaneiatis in 1080, Andronikos Palaiologos III in 1329, Ioannis Palaiologos in 1357 and by the Governor John Ougglesy in 1371. In due course the Ottoman invaders paid respect to the privileges of the Church and the Holy Monasteries. Further to a series of firmans that were issued by the Sultans and «Achtiname», with which Mohamed the Conqueror granted to Gennadios Scholarios, the Ecumenical Patriarch, the well known «Privileges» and assured the inalienable right of church property, with which were recognised all the privileges that the Monasteries at Aghion Oros enjoyed under Byzantine reign. The proprietorship by the H. Monastery over the lake and its surrounding area has also been confirmed in the synodic writings and signets by the Patriarchs of Constantinople in the years 1731, 1808, 1835, 1839 and 1919. The proprietorship rights by the H. Monastery over Vistonida Lake were never the objective of the spoils of war that became divested in the Hellenic State. The properties have also been recognised by the Ottoman State and never devolved to it, as they also did not devolve to the Bulgarian State. Accordingly, those rights have remained with the Monastery since the liberation of the land from the invaders. The rights of the monastery have also been confirmed by two opinions rendered by Professors at the University of Athens Law School in 1922 who were the most acclaimed representatives of the legal art at Greece during that period. The above titles, which were implemented in respect of the land by the competent Xanthes and Rhodopis Property Departments have absolutely legitimately led the Consultative Committee for State Property and the Exchange of Assets to unanimously advise with four (4) of its opinions at different points in time from 1998 up to and including 2004, with different compositions and under different Governments, in relation to the proprietorship of the H. Monastery. We consider that the tens of the Supreme State Instruments with high credibility, ethics and knowledge (Ministers derived from both the major parties, members of the Supreme Legal Committee for the State, members of the Special Consultative Committees, expert University Professors, Public Prosecutors, as well as plain Public Servants) who have signed Advices and the corresponding Ministerial Resolutions have not been misled.
The exchange of the lake and its general surrounding area for other State Property was the choice of the Hellenic State (Greece) and not of the H. Monastery. The assessment of the value of the areas being exchanged was assigned by the Hellenic State to the competent statutory authority, the Association of Chartered Assessors, which is independent and which does not belong to the broader public sector and which was carried out on the basis of the international and European assessment standards, without the participation, intervention or the capacity for intervention by the H. Monastery.
The Vatopaidion Monastery, by its letter to the competent Ministry has declared that, not only does it not have any objection, but it is ready, should the Hellenic State desire it, to return to the State any of the property that has devolved to it in terms of the exchanges and which have not been transferred to third parties, which shall be replaced by other equivalent property that the Hellenic State shall choose. In the event where the State does not desire to conduct the exchange and again the H. Monastery shall not object to the reversal of the above exchanges and the return to their former state prior to the exchange, namely the return to the H. Monastery of the proprietorship shares in the Vistonida and surrounding lake region.
The dispute over the titles that are held by the Holy Monastery challenges property rights which infringe upon the field for the constitutional protection of property and the protective regulations for private property on the First ESDA Protocol. It has also placed the jurisdictional regime into a dangerous dispute that has been founded upon titles dating back to the Byzantine and the Ottoman Period, which apply in relation to the proprietorship and the other realty rights in many areas of Greece, such as the Dodecanese and the Cyclades islands, it shall create a disturbance in relation to the proprietorship rights in the so called «New Territories», which were liberated in the 1912 – 1913 struggles and later and place into dispute the capacity for the claim of ecclesiastical property within the Hellenic state (e.g. claims by the Patriarchate of Constantinople etc.). The search to place the blame upon the State instruments in relation to the processes that were followed has also seriously challenged the principle for the protection of the confidentiality of the beneficiaries and the rights for those that are transacting faithfully with the Hellenic State, such as the Vatopaidion Greater H. Monastery and all those that have acquired rights in due course by trusting in the actions of the Hellenic state.
The monks do not have ownership rights nor do they serve the interests of others. It is self evident but we must now continually stress it that neither the coenobic monks nor the abbots possess any property, whereby the relevant claims in relation to personal accounts are entirely unsubstantiated and unjustified. The monk’s mission is spiritual and all his relations with people are governed by the Orthodox Patristic principles for unselfishness and genuine love. Every pilgrim to Aghion Oros senses this and as everyone has admitted they feel that that they are more closely connected to the monks than their blood relatives and feel that the monastery is like their home. It is from the monastery that they draw the spiritual dough which they transfer to their families and in this way family, society and the world are blessed and sanctified. The monk’s prototype for behaviour is the saint. Sanctity is a way of life on Aghion Oros. Aghion Oros is pre eminently the place of sanctity that has not since its foundation to date interrupted its mission both in the Church and the world. This mission is to create saints, to spread the living tradition of Orthodoxy and the experience of theosis to mankind. Aghion Oros provides the model for sanctity to society and the world, no matter how much some parties have attempted to degrade its role. And is it ever possible for a person to harm society, when their solitary aim and purpose in life is to acquire sanctity? Orthodox monasticism and consequently the Church have provided a model of behaviour to mankind that is a lot higher than that which may ever be provided by the state. We are not simply discussing a proper citizen, but a person that is devoted to God, a saint, a complete eternal person in the image of the absolute eternal face of Christ.
The vows that the monks have made to God in relation to the lack of property cannot be refuted by any transactions, since they do not provide for their personal comfort but are carrying out with a sacrificial disposition the ministry that was promised to them by Divine Providence. We must clearly differentiate between the lack of property by a coenobic monk and the property of his Monastery. And we must naturally distinguish between the needs of a cell on Aghion Oros, a hermitage and the Vatopaidion Monastery which is like a small town of approximately 300 residents with the corresponding buildings and daily expenses. The Aghion Oros monks are the unpaid guardians and ministers of those holy places, which are not only pan Orthodox places of worship but also the unique repositories of a cultural heritage. The attempt to deny the assets of the H. Monastery shall exclusively result to the detriment of its social welfare, missionary and philanthropic work, as well as its attempt to preserve its spiritual and cultural heritage and autonomy.
Many Christ loving pilgrims have questioned whether this assault against the Monastery has affected the pace of life by the fathers and has caused turmoil at the Monastery. However, when they visit the monastery they verify with «thine own eyes» that nothing has changed, they do not discern any unrest in the fathers and the Abbot of the Monastery in relation to the future developments in the matter with the property exchanges. The services are conducted with devoutness, as usual, the ministries are carried out obediently and prayer and with the Jesus prayer and study in the cell, everything is in peace and a unity of faith. Prayer however, is what probably predominates. The praying has increased during this period; it has assumed the form of «loud cries» (Hebrew: 5, 7). This «passive» reaction –with prayer and placing everything in the hands of God – to everything that has been said and written cannot be easily understood by those who are unaware of the spirit of Orthodox spiritual life and monasticism. However, it relaxes and encourages the struggling Christians, who understand more from the Monastery’s silence in contrast to the lying and sycophantic garrulity that is prevailing.
The reason for this attitude, which constitutes an attitude in life is the one hand an absolute faith by the fathers of the Monastery in the paternal Providence by God and on the other hand the peace that arises from the uncritical conscience. The peace arises from the certainty that all the processes in the exchanges, as well as any other processes that have been carried out to date have been conducted with transparency and complete legitimacy.
The Abbot and the fathers of the Monastery shall persist in viewing the entire matter through a spiritual perspective despite the fact that there are many varied interests involved in this matter.
The brotherhood at the Vatopaidion Greater Holy Monastery is convinced in Christ for its rights. Now, if there are some that want to attach the values of Orthodoxy, monasticism and Aghion Oros, the value of the politicians in our country, the Supreme State Mechanisms as well as the confidence by the citizens in the State Administration and in the institutions of our country, this will be judged by history and time.
Issued by the Holy Great Monastery of Vatopaidi
Tuesday 24-9 / 7 October 2008