An issue of national importance which has been capturing the attention of the whole country for decades as well as the various Greek ministries and the Greek national security authorities, has become a matter of internal political squabbling, of investigative committees and of unrestrained chit-chat because of ‘additional external factors’. The consequences of such furor will possibly be felt by the entire nation for years to come. read more…
The issue has to do with the fate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Konstantinoupoli. It is regarded as Ecumenical for all the Orthodox people everywhere except the Turks.
The problem which the Patriarchate faces in Konstatninoupoli is well known: Since it is not recognized as Ecumenical by the Turkish state, it is regarded as an institution which deals with Orthodox Turks alone and therefore its hierarchy must be Turkish natinals. This position contravenes the Lozane treaty and prevents the Orthodox community worldwide from dealing with its own affairs. This matter must be seen in connection with the expatriation of the Greek orthodox people from Konstantinoupoli and the closing of the theological school of Halki, which Turkey has purposely carried out. It means that now there is no fresh local brood of priests to take up offices in the Patriarchate. For this reason the slow death of the Patriarchate is inevitable.
Therefore, if for example the Head of the Ecumenical throne meets with a sudden or anusual “problem”, then his throne becomes empty. It has been estimated by Pasok and rightly so since 2000, that Russia will contest the base of the Ecumenical Throne, especially since the most numerous cohesive mass of Orthodox people in the whole world live in this country.
However, since 1978 the problem has also been seen in another context. Then Turkey (and not Russia) was the biggest threat. Just a few years after the political reform, Greece was entering a transitional area. The then Prime Minister, Konstantinos Karamanlis had invited the minister of Education, John Barvitsiotis, to his office and had asked him to look for a place to house the Patriarchate of Konstantinoupolis in case the status quo in the city would change in finally and irrevocably. In 1978, only four years after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, Turkey had toughened its stance towards the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The dire events in the city of the last few decades were still raw and the diplomatic relations between Greece and Turkey had been at their lowest point.
This is where one may find the epicenter of the unknown to many story which has evolved and reached the well known so called Vatopedi ‘scandal’- a ‘scandal’ which has not yet been proven as such in any financial way. All the specialists who have testified to the special ‘Committee of fighting against the legalization of income from illegal activities’ (Gkrozos, Mantoyvalos, Yousios) have declared that “there is nothing illegal, nothing reprehensible, no bribe” found in the Vatopedi case.
The member of parliament for New Democracy party, Savvas Anastasiades, also a member of the investigative Committee has said in an interview that the Vatopedi case is not a scandal but “a normal legal case”.
Despite all these, the case in the conscience of most Greeks (aided by the information services of foreign agencies) even today remains complicated and mysterious. It may even have contributed a great deal to the fall of the Karamanlis government.
As we have said, it was judged in 1978 that the developments would sooner or later lead to the expulsion of the Patriarchate from Konstantinoupoli. Even if the Turks did not carry this unilaterally, afraid of the American reaction, the lack of young people in the Greek community of Konstantinoupoli would cause difficulty in the election of a new Patriarch in the long run. This would inevitably lead to the search for a new place to house the “Vatican” of Orthodoxy. This same question rose again around the year 2000, mainly because of American foreign policy.
In 1978, it was proposed to house the Patriarchate on its own land in Geneva. But this was quickly dismissed since it would cause the Patriarchate to immediately lose its geographical reference as the Eastern Orthodox Church. The next possibility which was examined was the Holy Mountain. But again it was dismissed because of its inaccessibility to women. Even Patmos was considered, but again this was regarded as unacceptable because of the lack of infrastructure. Mr. Barvitsiotis had then examined the area of Mystras and this was an idea which Mr. Karamanlis espoused. This place also possessed a national symbolism, since it was the place the Palaiologian dynasty stayed at immediately after the fall of Konstantinoupolis into the hands of the Turks. However, the issue was degraded to lower importance as soon as the national leader became President after his Prime Ministerial office.
Ever since 1993, the issue became urgent again since information had been flooding in about threats against the life of the Patriarch. At the same time a new war front was being opened against the Patriarchate of Jerusalem (by another state and by another information agency). Here the planning and the execution of a mission to his rescue had been undermined by leaks which unfortunately resulted in the absolute triumph of the designs of the information agency of the foreign state. (Much later, a notable member of the Greek information agency, the well known Vavilis, was been uncovered by foreign agencies and the whole Greek mission was regarded as another scandal, just as the corresponding issue of Vatopedi is regarded as a scandal by some people these days)
Bartholomew’s rise to the throne brought the issue back to the agenda. This time Holy Mount Athos was chosen and the goal was very clear: to create the necessary infrastructure so as to move the Patriarchate there in case of emergency. It was regarded as the best solution, despite the ‘thorn’ of its inaccessibility to women. The Holy Mountain was self governed and constitutes a spiritual point of reference for Christendom.
Pasok judged correctly that this constituted the best counter offer to Russia, which has preferred to transfer the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s base to the country.
The then government of Pasok had chosen a derelict and desolate monastery and decided to finance it immediately and populate it with a worthy brotherhood, with a lot of educational credentials. The effort began systematically and had a five year life span.
It is not a matter of chance that the first land exchanges with Vatopedi took place during the Pasok government and were dealt by Messers Fotiades and Dris. And they did well. Let us not forget the perfect relations which the then government had with the Patriarchate in contrast with the difficulties it had with the Church of Greece. The basic idea was to financially support the chosen monastery (Vatopedi) so that the basic economic circumstances would be in place in case the unwanted expulsion of the Patriarchate took place and Russia launched a claim to it.
In 2004, the Pasok government lost the elections. When the government changed, the communication between the central government offices and the Church became easier. The immediate aides of the prime Minsiter, Messers Rousopoulos and Aggelou had a substantial and personal relationship with Vatopedi, perhaps as a result of the strategic plan which had been applied nationwide in the previous years.
The New Democracy government rightly continued the strategy adopted by Pasok especially since the international political arena had become even more threatening against the Patriarchate of Konstantinoupolis.
More specifically, “religious institutions” (like Patriarchates) have always been provoking an unspecified fear to the American information agencies. They believe that the expression of religious beliefs in the manner of the eastern orthodoxy may create certain political views and prototypes in countries which the Orthodox dogma is espoused by the majority. In other words, they believe that this religious expression could promote cultural prototypes which sooner or later would become expressions of policies, which will appeal to such peoples as an alternative proposal to the protestant view which now governs the social structures in the whole Christendom. This appraisal is based on the fact that such an issue was raised against a large Orthodox monastery with a large number of monks from all over the world. The American view is that their own way of life, which flourishes in the States in the absence of external enemies, must be strengthened. In our region, however, where a variety of cultures exist, such a way of life will inevitably reinforce the separatist aspirations of the people, in the absence of a strong central government. As an example we have the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the continuous disbanding of Serbia which is going on to this day. The role of the Vatican in the whole situation is being considered.
Therefore, since 2004 the plan which was drawn by Pasok was espoused by the New Democracy party and was speeded up. Perhaps the great error was made here: The fact that ND had a greater access to Vatopedi and that everything was regarded as urgent, had created the impression that things would be easy. Therefore everybody involved became more prone to making mistakes and to overlooking matters. This constituted a provocation to foreign information agencies which have permitted their informants, who are working in Greece, to launch an effort to foil the plan.
Already Karamanlis had upset foreign governments with his rejection of the Anan plan and his veto to Scopia’s Nato membership. The last straw came when Greece started cooperating with Russia in the construction of the pipelines. Then the decision was taken and the foreign agencies would achieve two goals: One to prevent Greece from preparing a place to relocate the Patriarchate and two to get rid of the only Greek Prime Minster after the war who had dared oppose the public declaration of a United States President that: “Scopia will become a Nato member” (Not even De Gaul had dared oppose a US President).
The land exchanges which took place and had to do with the pond with building plots in Marousi or other central parts of Athens were indeed provocative. The national goal though, in connection with the secretive environment of monasteries in the Holy Mountain contributed to a situation which was devoid of any common logic. It is also clear that it is only because such a plan was described as one of ‘national importance’, that so many people agreed to such an outrageous idea.
It is not possible that at least two governments and a number of officials from both of them to either take leave of their senses or to suddenly take part in a conspiracy.
In the end, a process of national importance turned out to be hot air and became a “scandal” through never ending and thoughtless statements by suspicious persons with the contribution of the media, which have been moved by either personal interest or followed the orders of foreign bosses. Instead of defending a monastery which has been chosen by various governments to become the guardian of Orthodoxy and of the nation, the media created the impression of a ‘scandal’ which at the end of the day has not been proven against anyone from anywhere despite all the investigations.
The ‘critics’ speak about an illegal state “parakratos”. The Vatopedi monastery as a legal entity has cooperated with the relevant state authorities and members of the govenrment.
The only mistake which Karamanlis made was perhaps the fact that he gave a blank cheque to people to deal with the issue, when the latter did not have the experience to deal with precise and intensified misinformation missions launched by foreign agencies in Greece. In a recent interview he had said meaningfully: “It was a personal mistake”.
This is the true Vatopedi story. But the truth has no place during propaganda missions. What is important is the story which is weaved and the impressions it creates. The truth is like a forest which burns to the ground in a matter of minutes…but needs fifty years to recover.
translated from Greek by: Olga Konaris-Kokkinos, journalist