Hundreds demonstrate against decision to forcibly evict rebel monks

Posted: Friday, February 07, 2003

OURANOUPOLIS, Greece (AP) -- More than 600 people chanting ''Orthodoxy or death'' protested against a decision to forcibly evict rebel monks from a monastery on Mount Athos.

The monks oppose efforts to improve relations between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, which has put them at odds with Orthodox leaders. They claim they have stockpiled enough food to remain in the monastery of Esphigmenou for two years.

Dionissios Avramides, a member of the Friends of Esphigmenou Society which organized last weekend's demonstration in support of the rebels, said, ''Forces of evil have surrounded the monastery. They have taken decisions to defrock the monks but we will not allow it.''

About a dozen police officers last week cordoned off the monastery after Mount Athos' authorities told its 117 inhabitants to leave. Police have orders to expel any monks who leave the walled monastery compound, but the officers say they will not storm the building.

The 1,000-year-old Esphigmenou is one of 20 active monasteries on Mount Athos, also known as the Holy Mountain.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew -- spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians -- last year declared the actions and beliefs of the Esphigmenou monks ''schismatic.'' His decision, backed by the other 19 monasteries, allowed Mount Athos' Greek civil administrator to order the monks evicted.

The monks have appealed to Greece's highest administrative court.

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