Written by Father Moïsis, Monk of Mount Athos
It is difficult today not to be overwhelmed by the outcry in the media and the stone-throwing on the part of the mob, but, undaunted and unafraid, we shall attempt to achieve this for the sake of the truth. We shall not delve into the heart of the matter, which, of course, we do not know. Instead, we shall speak of certain parameters, certain statements which have been made, certain intimations we have and the climate which obtains.
The issue is the Monastery of Vatopedi. In the first place, the Monastery of Vatopedi is considered to be- and, indeed, is- one of the foremost monasteries of Orthodoxy.
It has a splendid history stretching back more than a thousand years, has produced saints, has a wealth of heirlooms, superb architecture, a total 35,000 sq. m. building space, 100 monks (most of whom are young and well-educated) more than 150 workers (architects, engineers, builders, craftsmen and labourers). Factor in visitors and this represents some 600 servings of food a day.
Today’s brotherhood,… under the Cypriote theologian Archimandrite Efraim, converted the idiorrythmic monastery into a coenobium, has organized it properly, renovated it, conserved and made an inventory of the heirlooms, published a series of noteworthy books, organized important conferences and undertaken multi-faceted works of charity.
The monastery’s property was already there when the monks came and they are bound to preserve it. This property was acquired over centuries. In return for their eternal commemoration, God-fearing Byzantine emperors and Balkan princes made gifts of lands, recorded in official documents which enjoy lasting and unaltered legal validity.
The Monastery of Vatopedi gave thousands of acres to landless people in Halkidiki and elsewhere following the Asia Minor catastrophe. Mount Athos as a whole gave 1,500,000 hectares to refugees.
Many of the monastery’s dependencies in Romania and Russia were seized and therefore lost. It ought to be noted that these same properties had been respected even by the Turkish conquerors, unwilling as they were to tamper with religious lands.
Since 1998, in collaboration with the then government, an exchange was discussed and then effected between land at the Lake of Vistonida (Bourou), near Xanthi, and land in various other places. The value of the lands exchanged was fixed not by the monastery, but by local officials and state services.
We would never lend our support to anything illegal or unfair. Any irregularity can and must be rectified, whatever the cost, wherever and provided it exists. Transparency, the truth and honest dealing deserve to be and must be our watchwords.
It is sad for the Athonite monks, however, that occasion has been found by some to condemn them publicly and without the slightest hesitation. The problem ought to be addressed with care, discretion, knowledge, patience and sobriety. Such important issues deserve better than to be treated in a slapdash and superficial manner. Today, though, everybody has an opinion about everything.
The names of other Athonite monasteries are already being mentioned. So what is happening? Are we seeing the start of the looting of all monastery and Church property?
I fear that a well-orchestrated effort is being launched against the Church and the Holy Mountain. Has the Church done so much harm to the country? Statements have been made to the effect that, even if the exchanges were legal, the property should still be taken away from the monasteries. Are we then returning to the seizures of earlier times?
Are there no laws, no state, no property and ownership rights? There is competition as to who can strike hardest. If there be some who would like to topple the government in order to hasten an alliance which would result in the total separation of Church and state, let them be patient. Let them not imagine that by inflating and exaggerating matters, by scandal-mongering and yelling, they will achieve their aim more quickly.
But those who have used the Church have been disappointed. The anti-Church frenzy engendered by organized minorities will not serve our country well.
I also believe that, because the Holy Mountain has a rich history, a great legacy and a significant presence today, efforts are being made to misconstrue and play down its spirituality. Some people are determined to leave nothing sacred standing.
It behoves us to protect the Holy Mountain with all the means at our disposal from mudslinging and unholy attack. It is one of the last strongholds of resistance. If mistakes have been made, there is always rectification and repentance.
The Holy Mountain has a lot to offer to a world which is devoid of sense and love, yet full of stress and vicissitudes. The Holy Mountain does not fear, it is merely saddened at the scandal-mongering and prays for the enlightenment of all concerned. For goodness’ sake, let us not flatten everything in sight!
Cheap popularism and inflammatory slogans are not going to bring about the anticipated transparency. Saint John Chrysostom says: “Make sure that when you strike the sin, you don’t catch the sinner as well”.
Let us respect the sanctity of the person, whoever he or she may be. All of us are sinners. We have been reduced to a country of man-eaters. Let us come to our senses. As things stand, whoever swears more nauseatingly is deemed to have won.
Today, Christianity is flourishing in the countries of yesterday’s material paradise. The Church is not afraid of martyrdom. It forgives those who crucify it. It is pained that they are deluded but has hope.
The Holy Mountain can live without property; the world cannot live without the Church.
Written by Father Moïsis, Monk of Mount Athos