Why Patriarch Bartholomew is going to Mount Athos

24 August 2019 21:59
Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. Photo: UOJ Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. Photo: UOJ

The main purpose of the trip of the Phanar’s head is to “reason" with dissenting monasteries and monks unwilling to recognize OCU and see schismatics on the Holy Mount.

On August 3, 2019, the delegation of the Holy Kinot of Mount Athos arrived in Istanbul to meet with the Patriarch of Constantinople. The delegation consisted of Monk Nicodemos Lavriotis, Monk Nicodemos Agiopaulitis and Hieromonk Sisoes Xenophontinos.

According to various sources, the main purpose of the arrival of the Athonites to Phanar is to discuss with Patriarch Bartholomew the details of his October visit to the Holy Mountain.

According to the schedule, Patriarch Bartholomew will arrive on Mount Athos on Saturday, October 19. The first place of his stay on the Holy Mountain will be the Xenophon Monastery. On the pier of the monastery, the patriarch will be greeted by the Protepistat of the Holy Mountain Simeon from the Dionysiou Monastery, abbots and representatives of 20 holy Athos monasteries. The formal reason for the arrival of Patriarch Bartholomew to Mount Athos is the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the opening of the cathedral church in the Xenophon Monastery. It is there that on October 20 the patriarch will celebrate the Divine Liturgy.

This will be followed by a visit to Karyes, where the patriarch will venerate the icon of the Holy Mother of God “It is Truly Meet” in the Protaton Church, and will also visit the holy monasteries of Vatopedi, Pantokrator, the Sketes of St. Andrew (Serai), St. Panteleimon and the prophet Elijah.

At first glance, there is nothing unusual about this visit – the patriarch is coming to the territory under his jurisdiction. It’s his right, as they say. However, in this case, everything is not so simple. From the UOJ sources, it became known that the October visit of the head of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to the Holy Mountain seriously alarmed the monks. And they did have the reasons for this alarm.

Athos’s attitude to the OCU

We recall that due to the legalization of the Ukrainian schismatics and the creation of the unified schismatic structure called “OCU”, the monastic brotherhood of Athos split up – some monasteries, sketes and cells supported Patriarch Bartholomew, others criticized his actions sharply.

So, those who accepted the legalization of the schism in Ukraine include Xenophon, Dionysiou, New Esphigmenou, Pantokrator, Iviron, Great Lavra and Koutloumousiou Monasteries. Those who did not accept are the Panteleimon, Hilandar, Karakalou, Filotheou, Esphigmenou, Agiou Pavlou, Docheiariou, Osiou Grigoriou and Zograf Monasteries.

In addition, 12 Athos elders, monks of various monasteries, sketes and cells (Panaguda cell, Koutloumousiou Monastery; St. Gerasim’s cell, Koutloumousiou Skete; a cell of Holy Unmercenaries, Osiou Grigoriou Monastery; St. Demetrius’ cell, Hilandar Monastery; a cell Sts. Theodores, Agiou Pavlou Monastery; a cell of Archangels, Hilandar Monastery; a cells of St. Nectarius, Stavronikita Monastery; a cells of the Monk Christodulus, Koutloumousiou Monastery; a cells of St. John the Forerunner, Koutloumousiou Monastery; a cells of St. John the Theologian, Great Lavra Monastery) wrote a letter to the Holy Kinot in connection with the "Ukrainian issue" and warned of the global threat of a split for the entire Orthodoxy.

Later, the Protos (the central self-governing body of Mount Athos) addressed the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece Georges Katrugalos with a strong protest in connection with the visit of the OCU delegation to the Holy Mountain. In a letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Holy Kinot recalled the provocative actions of OCU “Metropolitan” Mikhail Zinkevich and his delegation, who came to Mount Athos with the state flags of Ukraine and chanted its national anthem.

According to the Holy Kinot, this action "is incompatible with the hesychastic, spiritual and sacred nature of our Holy Land and its thousand-year tradition, creates a dangerous precedent for the repetition of such actions by either side and the transmission of nationalist conflicts in them; completely contrary to the Charter of the Holy Mountain". In this regard, the central executive collegial governing body of the Holy Mountain asked the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs to take the necessary measures and prevent similar actions in the future so that the character of the Holy Place could remain untouched.

At the same time, according to the Greek publication ΒΗΜΑ ΟΡΘΟΔΟΞΙΑΣ, Patriarch Bartholomew exerts severe pressure on those monasteries that have taken an irreconcilable position regarding the OCU. So, he turned to the abbot of the St. Panteleimon Monastery, Archimandrite Eulogius, with a demand to give explanations about his negative attitude to the Ukrainian delegation of the OCU, headed by the "bishop" of the new church, which tried to visit the monastery in February of this year.

Greek media reported that the text of the appeal of Patriarch Bartholomew said that if such an attitude to the OCU continues on Athos, "the Ecumenical Patriarch will be forced to take the necessary measures to maintain canonicity and obedience to the Mother Church". In other words, sanctions may be imposed against non-acceptors.

The real purpose of the visit – to “reason” with those who disagree

Athonites themselves are convinced that the real purpose of the visit of Patriarch Bartholomew has nothing to do with the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Xenophon Cathedral Church, and therefore when it became known about the upcoming visit of the patriarch to Athos, many monasteries and monks were alarmed. Many of them believe that Patriarch Bartholomew will try to “reason” with those monasteries and sketes that protest against his actions in Ukraine. The question is how (or rather, with whom) will he do this – with or without Epiphany?

It is believed Patriarch Bartholomew will bring with him the head of the OCU. However, there are more those who think that Bartholomew will not do this. So, according to the Athonites, the tension that the patriarch can create through the presence of Epiphany Dumenko on Mount Athos will not help. So, many abbesses who we could talk to on the Holy Mountain clearly and unequivocally stated that they would only serve the Liturgy with Patriarch Bartholomew at Xenophon if Ukrainian schismatics did not participate in it. At the same time, the Athonites consider Patriarch Bartholomew himself to be the canonical bishop and cannot but concelebrate with him (even knowing that he, for example, communed with Dumenko at Phanar).

Therefore, according to the Athonites, Patriarch Bartholomew during his October visit will follow established Phanariotic tactics. That is, he will try to calm down and win over those who oppose him. How? With a carrot and stick. In other words, by bullying or “rewarding”. At the same time, it is interesting that the Athonites directly connect the OCU-related situation with the Phanar’s increasingly close contacts with the Vatican.

How real are the threats?

It is characteristic that Patriarch Bartholomew for his first stop on the Holy Mountain chose the Xenophon Monastery and not the capital of Athos Karyes (as has always happened before). It is difficult to call such a position accidental.

The fact is that in the Maxim Palace (the residence of the Prime Minister of the Greek Republic), a real debate was sparked about who will become the new civilian governor of Mount Athos and replace Kostis Dimzas at this post.

The latter paid a visit to St. Petersburg in early March 2019, where he met with city governor Alexander Beglov and several government officials. It is worth noting that the visit of Dimzas to the northern capital of the Russian Federation is the first official visit of the civil governor of Athos to Russia and it took place in the midst of the February scandal due to the fact that the OCU representatives were not allowed even to the territory of the Monastery of the Holy Great Martyr Panteleimon.

Interestingly, during a meeting with Beglov, Mr. Dimzas said: “We are really proud that in Greece there is this unique peninsula with hermits and ascetics, guardians of traditions that keep the Orthodox faith and traditions intact, and also protect Orthodox truth and Orthodox Christians.” 

Among the names under discussion that may soon become the civilian governor of Athos are Ambassador Alexis Alexandris, former prosecutor Panagiotis Angelopoulos, surgeon Dimitris Linos, former deputy of the Chalkidiki district from the "New Democracy" party Vasilis Pappas, lawyer Takis Baltakos, former chief secretary of the Cabinet of Ministers of Antonis Samaras, a former deputy of Kavala from the "New Democracy" party and Vice speaker of the Parliament Yorgos Kaladzis. All these people, to one degree or another, have already testified to their loyalty to the policies pursued by the Phanar. However, it is difficult to say which of them will ultimately lead the civilian government of Athos.

At the same time, it should be noted that it is the civil authorities that can finally take an active part in pacifying dissenting monks. For example, by expelling them from the Holy Mountain. Naturally, such a measure can cause a storm of discontent both on the part of the monks themselves, and on the part of pilgrims and ordinary believers, but it cannot be completely ruled out.

What is happening on Athos now?

1. The Skete of the Apostle Andrew the First-Called.

We mentioned above that Xenophon, Esphigmenou, Pantokrator, Iviron Monasteries side with Patriarch Bartholomew on the “Ukrainian issue”. Therefore, the visit of schismatics to the walls of the abovementioned monasteries is not surprising. And even if the head of the Patriarchate of Constantinople arrives at Mount Athos with Epiphany Dumenko, they will be accepted in these monasteries without any problems. Another thing is interesting – a visit to St. Andrew’s Skete declared in the plans for the trip. There may be surprises.

The fact is that the hegumen of this monastery, Fr. Ephraim, is extremely negative about the OCU. According to him, the Ukrainian schismatics are the same Catholics, and it is impossible to pray or, especially, serve the Liturgy with them. For him, the only canonical Primate in Ukraine is only His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry. Therefore, our source on Athos, who managed to communicate with the monks of the Skete of the Apostle Andrew the First-Called, claims that the position of the brethren is as follows: if Patriarch Bartholomew arrives at the monastery together with OCU representatives, then the patriarch will be allowed in (they cannot but let him in) but the schismatics will be refused entry.

Why then should Patriarch Bartholomew pay a visit to St. Andrew's Skete?

Because this skete, just like the skete of the holy prophet Elijah (which Patriarch Bartholomew is also going to visit) previously belonged to immigrants from Ukraine and their support for the OCU is important (hegumen Ephraim enjoys authority with many Athonites) and very symbolic. Moreover, in the territory of St. Andrew’s Skete, there is the famous “Athoniada” – the Athonite school for boys, where schismatics from Ukraine are not admitted.

2. Vatopedi.

At the same time, it is known that Patriarch Bartholomew urgently needs the support of such powerful monasteries as Vatopedi. We all remember that this monastery has already received the schismatics from Ukraine. However, things aren’t as clear-cut as it seems.

Firstly, according to our source, when Zinkevich arrived at the monastery for the Сathedral worship, the monks refused to concelebrate with him and suggested performing a "liturgy" in another monastery church. Zinkevich refused then.

Secondly, hegumen Ephraim himself, although he arrived in Kiev for the “intronization" of Epiphany, suddenly became ill and did not take part in this lawlessness. It is clear that Elder Ephraim came to Kiev not of his own free will and his illness, if it did happen, can be explained by extreme nervous tension and pressure from “Phanar friends”. Another thing is interesting: at the moment, most of Vatopedi brethren oppose the OCU. So, our source on the Holy Mountain said that during the last visit of Ukrainian schismatics to the monastery, a very serious conflict occurred inside the brethren of the monastery, which could develop into the final separation of the greater part of the monastic brotherhood of Vatopedi from those that accept the OCU.

This situation forced the monastic leadership to change their position. So, today, Elder Ephraim says that he does not recognize Ukrainian schismatics. And again, like six months ago, the State Department is putting serious pressure on him. In particular, the Athonites report that a few days ago the US Ambassador to Greece once again visited a monastery and tried to "convince" the Vatopedi hegumen that the OCU is a canonical Church. It seems that so far it hasn’t been possible.


In general, on the Holy Mountain, the situation is very difficult. On the one hand, the monks recognize Patriarch Bartholomew as a canonical bishop. On the other hand, they do not like his close contacts with Catholics and the legalization of the Ukrainian schism.

Most Athonite monastics do not want to serve with schismatics. However, at the same time, many of them are afraid of losing what they have today – the opportunity to live and pray on the Holy Mountain. Will they be able to stand against threats, “reward”, people-pleasing — that is the question that monks increasingly ask themselves.

For the overwhelming majority of the Athonites, the OCU-related situation is the temptation that God has allowed for sins. Some openly resent the actions of Patriarch Bartholomew, others simply do not agree or ignore this topic in silence, but they all keep saying one thing: in order to overcome this temptation, one must pray. And if Holy Mount Athos has always prayed for the world, now the time has come for the world to pray for the Holy Mountain.

Let us pray to the Lord! Lord have mercy!

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