Constantinople rejects Moscow’s “interference” following the affair.
Synod at risk?
It came after more than two weeks - the official response of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople to the arrest of Archimandrite Ephraim, Abbot of Vatopedi, the main monastery of Mount Athos - and it did not spare a barb at the orthodox “brothers” of Moscow who sought to use the event to increase their influence on the Holy Mountain.
The silence of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, on whom The Holy Mountain formally depends, has made headlines: in support of the popular monk - friend to many of the powerful in Greece - the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow immediately jumped into the fray with vehement declarations.
Patriarch Kirill actually ended up writing a letter to Greek President Karolos Papoulias to ask for his release.
In a statement issued on 10 January, the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate remains extremely cautious on the subject of Ephraim, whose business activism was watched with some concern by Phanar.
The Patriarchate of Constantinople expressed “sorrow” for what happened to the Archimandrite, but reiterates its “established policy” to “respect…the independent investigation of the justice system,” avoiding “any kind of interference in outstanding judicial matters, especially inasmuch as it is not privy to the content of the relevant legal briefs.”
But the more interesting note concerns the “interference” of the Moscow Patriarchate, which - thanks to the closeness it developed with Ephraim - has tried to assert its authority on Athos at the expense of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The move has created tension, especially after the Archimandrite’s decision to bring Athos’ most precious relic - a belt that belonged to the Virgin Mary - “on tour” through Russia. Now, after his arrest, it even calls into question the Pan-Orthodox Synod that has been in preparation for years.
The statement of the Patriarchate of Constantinople reads: “As a result of statements made on the part of a sister Orthodox Church on this matter, the Ecumenical Patriarchate emphasizes that, as its canonical territory, the Holy Mountain indeed comprises Orthodox monks of different ethnicities but this does not lend a Pan-Orthodox character that would permit any kind of intervention therein by other Autocephalous Churches.”
It is if to say: “Moscow, stay out of the issue of Athos, and don’t take advantage of the Ephraim affair to appropriate what is not yours.”