According to The National Herald, Fr Ephraim, the abbot of the Vatopedi monastery on Mount Athos was arrested in connection with a land-swap deal that allegedly netted the monastery several millions of dollars (see: Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds). It is unclear whether any laws were actually broken given the fact that many both here and abroad made millions with the buying and selling of real property. That being said, the “optics” of monks being engaged in financial dealings do not make for a pretty picture –at least on a superficial level. Given that such deals helped create a housing bubble which precipitated the current financial crisis is problematic. On the other hand, no one can say for sure whether the economic straights that the Greek government finds itself in is not driving the arrest of Abbot Ephraim. And let’s not forget that the European Union has long wanted to open up Mount Athos to tourism.
Our concern here at Monomakhos is not the adjudication of this affair, as it will take years for the wheels of justice to grind. Instead, it is the fact that no one throughout the Orthodox world has spoken about the arrest of the Abbot. No one that is except for the Russian government. This is curious. No one at the Phanar, no one in the GOA, none of the Archons, not even the Church of Greece has seen fit to protest the arrest and jailing of Abbot Ephraim. (Are we to assume that he was a danger to himself or his fellows, or that he presented a flight risk?)
Why Russia? There is no way of course that spokesmen of one sovereign government can (or should) solve the legal problems of another sovereign government. That’s not the point. A sister Church however can be concerned with the actions of another sister Church. And given that the two other sister Churches involved (Greece and Constantinople) are mute on this issue leaves a vacuum that Russia is all too emboldened to fill.
Let us not forget that the protector of Mount Athos is the Patriarch of Constantinople. It is in his jurisdiction, not Russia’s. All monasteries commemorate the Ecumenical Patriarch in all their services, whether they are Bulgarian, Georgian, Greek, Russian or Serbian. Is it not therefore incumbent on the Phanar to adjudicate this matter? Where are the ostensible “protectors” of the Patriarchate of Constantinople–the Knights of St Andrew–on this matter? Why their silence?
The Russian Orthodox Church for its part is observing the correct protocols in that it has not weighed in on the recent arrest. One can’t help but wonder though if the Russian government is acting as a proxy for His Holiness +Kirill in this matter. If so, then it is possible that in time the Patriarch of Moscow will intercede in this matter, especially if the Greek-speaking Churches continue to remain mute.
One thing for sure: 2012 will prove to be an interesting year.