by Konstantinos Loulis
former Civil Governor of the Holy Mountain
Allow me to begin by saying that for two months now we have been dealing with a very delicate and complex issue, which I see that some people have precipitated, accelerated, analyzed, prejudged and, all too easily, reached a verdict of guilty.
In my view, however, the matter requires a great deal more time and a great deal more knowledge on our part, as I would be the first to admit.
Since I cannot be sure how clear it is to everyone how we came to find ourselves in such deep waters, I suggest that we realize that we require profound, specialist knowledge- and composite knowledge at that- regarding matters of history, the law, the Church and theology, as well as some experience of monasticism. Not, of course, subjective, individual views, but those based on the canons of the Church.
I do hope that at least those who have undertaken to clarify this complicated issue are possessed of this composite knowledge.
If we are to analyze the matter properly, we need to be clear from the beginning which of all the many possible headings we shall be dealing with, and these are:…
1) The Monastery’s rights of ownership to the lake.
2) The actual exchange and who have the final say as regards its potential benefits and any evaluation.
3) The extent to which Abbot Efraim who, at the moment is weathering a veritable storm of abuse, bears the onus of responsibility- if any be proven.
And we must be clear in ourselves about whether we accept the following basic parameters:
A) that the principles of Orthodoxy are unaltered by time
B) whether Church property should be confined within its own walls, or whether the Church should have substantial economic reserves in order to meet its needs, to be outward-looking and to effect social works, which, in accordance with the edicts of the Church Fathers, it generally refrains from trumpeting abroad.
1. PROPERTY RIGHTS
Issues regarding the invalidity of the chrysobulls, which some people have been swift to raise, are particularly delicate and full of pitfalls, and we would do well to weigh carefully our every word concerning chrysobulls and the status of Church property.
You know that, in three other countries, there are Greek, Orthodox patriarchates which base their claims to property on Byzantine chrysobulls, patriarchal sigillia and Muslim legal documents, the validity of which has been recognized in European courts.
Some of us would be well advised to weigh the value of these possessions- acquired over 16 centuries- which are unique outposts of the religious and cultural tradition of Greeks everywhere and which have survived over time, with the Greek flag fluttering above them. Particular care is necessary lest these people undermine similar property rights of the three Greek, Orthodox patriarchates and the Monastery on Mount Sinai.
The legal documentation mentioned above has always been recognized as entirely valid by the Greek state.
There are only two logical ways of looking at this, with no possibility of a third.
One is to suppose that over a period of ten years, a variety of collective State institutions i.e. ministers, courts, legal advisors to the State, public land services, public chartered surveyors and so on have all been ingenuous. Common sense would rule this out. We would have to accept not only collective naivety over a period of years, but also that successive incumbents of these offices were as inane as their predecessors.
The second possibility is to suppose that Abbot Efraim, over the same ten-year period, arranged a conspiracy with all the various people involved in all the government agencies mentioned above, the overall aim being for all of them to abuse the public interest in order to further their own ends.
But that Efraim conspired against the public sector with so many different members of collective State institutions- with a variety of responsibilities, at different levels, over ten years- is a scenario that no-one with the least common sense would accept, however badly-disposed they were towards him.
So concerning the involvement of state officials, the question is whether we see them as ingenuous or as conspirators (regardless of whether some would escape sanctions because of the statute of limitation). There is no other possibility. A woman is either pregnant or not.
3. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF ABBOT EFRAIM
However, on the part of the Monastery as well there is a question that justice needs to address: whether or not there was the motive of personal gain.
First and foremost, it ought to be remembered that Efraim did not exchange his own property, but that of the Monastery. Monasteries are legal entities in public law, that is they belong to the State and to the Greek people. They do not belong to any Efraim, Ioakeim or Ierotheos. Most people, unfortunately, are not aware of this.
In the case of Vatopaidi, we begin with ownership of a property (Visthonida) by a legal entity in public law. This property, having been evaluated and studied by experts over a ten-year period, was exchanged for another public property. The actions of these experts were duly ratified and the result of the exchange passed into the possession of the Monastery, which is a legal entity in public law.
So who was adversely affected? What personal onus of responsibility can Efraim bear when he did not act for his personal benefit? This is what I do not understand.
My own view is that, through his actions, Efraim’s purpose, in essence, was to preserve a public property which belongs to the Greek people, tens of thousands of whom flock to Vatopaidi- for reasons which many people clearly choose to ignore.
I am one of those who, because I am aware of these things- which are obvious enough as far as I can see- congratulate him, and ask God wholeheartedly to grant him health, patience and strength. I personally intend to stand by him with all the strength at my disposal.
(LEGAL ENTITIES IN PUBLIC LAW)
The most recent contingent decision of the plenary session of the Council of State states that those Monasteries which exercise public authority are public, while those which exercise private authority are private. The former are Monasteries, the latter Hesychasteria. They are not the same. Legally, they constitute two distinct entities. And the Monasteries on the Holy Mountain exercise public authority.