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(source) MOUNT ATHOS, GREECE – Under the leadership of Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos, the Greek government has deployed armed police to forcibly remove the peaceful and defenseless monks of the Holy Monastery of Esphigmenou from their monastery property in Karyes. Armed police are on the scene and roads to the building have been blocked by Greek Police vehicles in anticipation of the planned assault. The police have given the monks a deadline of today,12pm local time to vacate or face an armed assault.

The Greek government has authorized the use of force to resolve a religious dispute after failing to starve the monks into leaving their monastery during a decade-long blockade. For a number of years they have denied the monks deliveries of food, medicine, heating oil, and access to medical attention while simultaneously subjecting them to a non-stop campaign of official harassment and intimidation.

This waste of taxpayer dollars has continued unabated during the financial crisis that has rocked Greece and crippled social services to the poor and for which the UN has criticized the Greek government for falling behind on its human rights obligations.

Under the Greek Constitution, the Greek foreign minister is responsible for the administration of government on Mt. Athos and has ultimate authority on the orders to use armed police there.

The monks have repeatedly requested dialogue with the Greek government as well as Patriarch Bartholomew of Istanbul to resolve this dispute. The Patriarch has refused to aid in the peaceful reconciliation of this dispute and has encouraged the government to take action against the monks.  In September, 2012 the government deployed special riot police MAT and EKAM to the peaceful monastic community in a failed attempt to remove the same defenseless monks.

Mount Athos is the autonomous spiritual center of The Orthodox Church, where the monks are considered defenders of the faith. The Esphigmenou Monastery established in the first millennium, is where the great St. Gregory Palamas was abbot, and where St. Anthony left for Russia to establish Orthodox monasticism. Its remoteness and rugged natural beauty attracts pilgrims and tourists alike, who come to see the art and architecture of the Byzantine Empire.

For over one thousand years the monastery has provided a place of prayer and peace for those who chose the monastic life.  It is now threatened with extinction.

For more info please contact John Rigas  at