Monastic slugfest rocks Greek abbey

As Christianity and Islam vie for the title of “religion of peace”… From AP, Dec. 21:

THESSALONIKI – Rival groups of monks wielding crowbars and sledgehammers clashed yesterday over control of a thousand-year-old monastery in a community regarded as the cradle of Greek Orthodox Christianity, police said. Seven monks were injured and transported by boat to receive treatment but released after several hours, police said. No one was arrested, but three monks were banned from re-entering the Orthodox sanctuary of Mount Athos, on a self-governing peninsula in northern Greece.

Esphigmenou monastery is the scene of a long-running dispute between Orthodox authorities and rebel monks who occupy it. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, leader of the Orthodox Christian church, and Greece’s highest administrative court have both ordered their eviction, but the monks have refused to budge. The rebels vehemently oppose efforts to improve relations between the Orthodox church and the Roman Catholic Vatican.

The fighting yesterday broke out between the rebels and a group of legally recognized monks outside Esphigmenou. The outsiders attempted to force their way into the monastery offices in Karyes, the administrative centre of the monastic community, to begin construction of a new building. Occupying monks attacked the outsiders with crowbars and fire extinguishers.

Esphigmenou’s rebel abbot Methodius said his monks had been provoked. “We were attacked and had to respond,” he said. “They should be ashamed to call themselves men of the cloth.”

In October, a court in the nearby city of Thessaloniki handed down two-year suspended sentences against nine monks and former monastery members for illegally occupying Esphigmenou’s offices. Supplies to the rebels are shipped in by supporters using dinghies from the nearby island of Thassos. Esphigmenou is one of 20 monasteries on Athos, where women are banned.

See our last posts on Esphigmenou and other monastic slugfests.