MOSCOW, December 25 (Itar-Tass) – Russian Orthodox public organization, the Foundation of St Andrew the First-Called, has spoken up in defense of the archimandrite /abbot/ of the world-famous Vatopedi monastery on Mount Athos in Greece.
Archimandrite Ephraim recently stood at the head of a monastic delegation that brought a greatest relic of Christianity, the girdle of the Virgin Mary, to Russia. It was taken then to different parts of the country and the total number of believers who came to venerate it exceeded 3 million.
Upon a decision of the Athens court, archimandrite Ephraim has been arrested and placed under guard in his monastery cell. The arrest follows a litigation concerning an exchange of real estate between the monastery and the Greek government.
“Such actions on the part of authorities of a country that is Eastern Orthodox under the provisions of its Constitution can only be regarded as an instance of inadmissible politicization of court investigations,” the Foundation of St Andrew the First-Called said in a special statement.
The foundation urged the Greek judiciary to ensure a fair and unbiased investigation of litigations between the state and the monastery. It also called on the Greek nation to remain committed to the spirit and values of Eastern Orthodox Christianity and to stay away from involvement in the politically motivated court cases.
The statement also said the Foundation officials were quite astonished upon noting the fact that the court passed a decision on taking archimandrite Ephraim to custody soon after his return to Russia where he escorted the Virgin Mary’s girdle.
Friday, the Greek court of appeals passed a resolution on arresting the archimandrite and putting him into a pretrial ward until the end of the trial. According to the Athens News Agency /ANA/ the Vatopedi abbot is one of the main defendants in the case over an exchange of the monastery’s real estate with the government.
Greek mass media indicate that an investigation done by the attorneys in the period after 2008 highlighted a series of transactions, in which the supposedly low-value plots of land belonging to the monastery had been swapped for expensive real estate in Athens.
In one of the swaps, the brethren received a building in the Olympic village in Athens that had been built for the 2004 Summer Olympic Games and where a ministry was to move in after the end of the Games. It was supposed to house a ministry later.
Instead of this, the building was re-sold via commercial companies.
Also, the government ceded to the monks some 800 hectares of land valuable from the angle of tourism. The area is located near the town of Ouranoupolis in the vicinity of Mount Athos.
In exchange, the monks handed to the government some 8,000 hectares of land in the country‘s north. The attorneys claim the transactions inflicted a damage of $ 100 million as a minimum on the national budget.
In the meantime, archimandrite Ephraim told the court of appeals Friday that he did not recognize any guilt on his part. He vehemently denied all the charges with attempts to exert pressure on Greek politicians so as to complete the deals with the swapping of real estate.
The media said his arguments failed to produce any impression on the judges.