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It is extremely provocative to say the least to put into prison the Abbot of the Vatopaidi monastery, Efrem, when politicians who have confessed to accepting bribes are still at large! The judicial council decided on December 23 to remand into custody Fr. Ephrem in order to ensure that he will not leave the country. The prosecutor clashed with the investigator on the issue. After the elder’s apology, the prosecutor, Panayiotis Matzounis, argued in favor of the imposition of restrictive conditions rather than the custody remand. The conditions were prohibition of travel, bail of 200,000 Euro and personal appearance at a police station twice a month. Mr. Yiannis Matzouranis, who appeared for the Elder argued that ‘the remand into custody decision had no moral or legal base’.
The custody decision against a clergyman renowned world wide for his charitable work and spiritual mission a few days before Christmas comes to add to the woes which befell the country as a result of the gloomy political and financial conditions. Needless to say no one has so far been accused or found guilty or imprisoned for the country’s degradation! It was only yesterday that the Vice President of the government, E. Venizelos told the plenary of the House of Representatives that any investigation into money laundering in Switzerland on behalf of Mps constitutes a mockery since ‘anyone can set up an offshore company rather than keeping a personal account’.
Deep down no one wants to remember those who confessed that they had accepted bribes from Siemens, which they either put in their pockets (as in the Manteli case) or in the party coffers (as in the Tsoukatou case). Yet justice and the political system have found a monk as a target for their purging; a monk whom for a long time they hold hostage to political intrigue without any evidence as to his personal involvement in any issue under investigation. In this indescribable Greek reality show, monk Ephrem is judged as ‘likely to leave the country’ and is remanded into custody. Yes, during the entire time of his judicial ordeal, this ‘likely to leave’ monk has visited several countries and gave 48 presentations. Recently he even visited Moscow at the invitation of the Russian President and the Prime Minister. At the end of these visits, Elder Ephrem always returned to his country and his monastery even though he suspected that the outcome of this whole process might be regrettable.
Elder Ephrem of Vatopaidi is therefore accused of financial machinations, him that once returned from Russia, gave away all the money he had gathered from donations (made by the faithful venerating the Holy shrine: “the belt of the Virgin” during his recent pilgrimage to Russia) to the Greek dioceses and a philanthropic canteen from the cities of Thessaloniki and Athens, to help the suffering believers due to Greece’ recent economic crisis.
Abbot Father Ephraim received the unexpected news with Christian love and deep faith in the divine providence. He appeared ready to comply with any provision of the authorities, including preventive detention. Elder Ephrem addressing to his monastic community of Vatopaidi, had asked the fathers of Vatopaidi to receive these news with spiritual eyes and not to condemn those who accuse him, and to continue their religious asceticism in unity, love and harmony.
The Russian Church believes that the arrest of Abbot
Ephrem of Vatopaidi is a groundless sanction
Moscow, December 26, Interfax – The decision to arrest the Rector of Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos, Archimandrite Yefrem (Ephrem) is “unreasonably tough”, the secretary for Inter-Orthodox Affairs in the Synodal Department for External Church Relations Archpriest Igor Yakimchuk told Interfax-Religion.
”It is an unprecedented event and, of course, we’re concerned. Even if Father Yefrem is someway guilty, to arrest of a rector, a monk is an extreme sanction,” Father Igor said.
According to him, it is difficult to say whether there are grounds for detaining as it requires good knowledge of Greek legislation and the essence of the case, but the very fact of detaining Father Yefrem on the Eve of Christmas in Greece “raises big questions.”
Father Igor is perplexed that “a new turn of this case” started after Father Yefrem triumphantly returned from Russia with the Belt of the Mother of God. ”Perhaps, is a coincidence, but many people see some political backgrounds here,” the interviewee of the agency said. The Foundation of St. Andrew the First-Called believes that such legal decisions can be explained only with “political engagement of certain circles of Greek establishment, which thus want to demonstrate the West that they are ready to refute principles pertaining the spiritual life fixed in the Greek Constitution.”
”The fact that court actions were turned against a spiritual leader, one of the most respected people on Athos, an elder suffering from many diseases is especially outraging,” the Foundation officials wrote in their statement. The Foundation urges the governing body of Athos, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, representatives of other local Orthodox Churches and ordinary believers to speak for Father Yefrem as he “is exposed to prosecutions, which exceed the formal reason for launching the case.” Earlier, the Foundation of St. Andrew the First-Called had for the first time received the Belt of the Mother of God from the Vatopedi Monastery. After visiting St. Petersburg the shrine was taken to other Russian cities. The last point was Moscow. The belt returned to Athos on November 28. Three million of people venerated the Belt of the Holy Virgin while the shrine was in Russia.
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Cyprus stands by Elder Ephrem