Reply of Fr. Neilou of Vatopedi on the statement of Vatopedi Monastery

Disciple Fr. Joseph the Hesychast appealed to the leadership of the Vatopedi Monastery of Athos. Photo: UOJ

Neilou of Vatopedi addressed the leadership and brethren of Vatopedi Monastery with an open letter, in which he voiced his stance on the pressing problems of Orthodoxy.

On August 18, 2021, the UOJ posted materials on an interview of the Odessa Eparchy of the UOC with Fr. Neilou (Barone-Adesi), scientist, professor of canon law, and former inhabitant of the Vatopedi Monastery. In this interview he spoke about the rejection of the structure of the OCU and about his attitude towards His Beatitude Onuphry. The next day, the Vatopedi Monastery of Athos made an official statement, according to which Fr. Nilos was excluded from the monastery's brethren and cannot be called "Vatopedi".

Now Fr. Neilou forwarded the UOJ an open letter, addressed to the Abbot and the brethren of Vatopedi Monastery, where he expressed "his scientific views with due modesty and humility." We publish the full text of the letter.

Your Eminence, Father Superior, Elders and Fathers of the Monastery!

50 years ago, I first came to our holy abode. Despite my unworthiness, 25 years ago our holy fathers, Elder Joseph and Abbot Ephraim, admitted me to our brotherhood. 20 years ago, I prepared and organized a visit of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to the Greek Orthodox monasteries of Calabria and Sicily. This was the first and so far, the only official visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch to these provinces, which were once part of the historical Great Hellas.

I cannot forget the lasting impression over 5 days from our indefatigable Patriarch, who came as a humble pilgrim to these holy lands. I still remember the question addressed to me by the President of Calabria shortly before the arrival of our Patriarch during the first Holy Great Lent of the third millennium, in the spring of 2001:

- How should I greet the Patriarch in order to show respect to both Him and our history?

- As an ethnarch, since he is the Patriarch and spiritual leader of the entire Greek people. After all, the Ecumenical Patriarch is the ethnarch of Roman Hellenism, the Primate, to whom the Calabrian bishops turned in the heyday of monasticism and Christian Hellenism in Great Hellas,” I replied.

Some Church leaders suggested that we confer upon him, in addition to the honors given by the Head of State, also an honorary academic title. We decided not to do this, firstly because no other religious leader received so many academic awards, and secondly because we wanted our humble Calabrian believers to see their Patriarch not as a political leader, but the spiritual father of the Roman nation, a pilgrim following in the footsteps of devotees of piety, holy monks of our land.

The Ecumenical Patriarch did not hold press conferences or make statements to the media, but instead he blessed those who wanted to receive his blessing, and met in brotherly terms with the Roman Catholic bishops of the regions he visited.

His All-Holiness blessed the opening of the Monastery of St. Elijah Spileot in the Melicucca Cave, the Monastery of St. Elijah the New and Philaret the Merciful in Seminar (Calabria), as well as the Monastery of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos in Mandanicci (Sicily). Unfortunately, they were abandoned due to the fault of Metropolitan Gennadiy , which caused grief to believers and became a real temptation for them. Unsuccessful attempts to legalize the monastery of St. John the Reaper in Bivongi (Calabria) led to its finally being reserved for the diocese of the Romanian Orthodox Church in Italy. At the same time, the diocese has been reporting for many years in a row "the brotherhood of the monastery lives elsewhere." This is not true! Today, 13 years later, the monastery is flourishing again thanks to 5 brethren living there.

It is important to emphasize the following here. After the Greek Orthodox diocese of Italy actually abandoned the monastery, and two Athonite fathers were expelled from there: the ever-memorable Cosmas Lavriot, who lived on the territory of Great Hellas, and Father Gennady of Dionysia, the Italian state decided to cancel the transfer of this monastery to our Church and transfer it to schismatics. In the face of this danger – that the Orthodox Church would irrevocably lose this monastery – I acted as an intermediary and petitioned for its further activity as an Orthodox monastery, even if it could be under the jurisdiction of another Local Orthodox Church represented in Italy by its bishop. For this mediation, I was honored to be “defrocked”.

My honorable fathers and brothers in Christ Jesus!

I do not hide the grief caused by your public statement of August 18, 2021.

I was taught by our Holy Elder Joseph and all of you that we must always love and revere His All Holiness, the Holy Synod, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople - New Rome. I did it in the past, I do it now and I intend to do it in the future for as many years as I live on earth. Nevertheless, that will not prevent me from expressing my scientific views openly and directly, with due modesty and humility.

Being next to you in the trials that our monkhood has undergone in recent years, I witnessed your painful obedience when our abbot was forced to participate in the enthronement of Epifanios Dumenko in Kyiv.

I am also a witness to the love and widespread veneration that the Athonite fathers show to the holy elder, Metropolitan Onuphry of Kyiv, the faithful pastor of the Ukrainian Orthodox.

In addition, I am very much worried about the so-called Ukrainian "autocephaly", being detrimental to the entire Holy Church.

As you know, despite the monastic tonsure, I continue to study the canon law of the Roman Empire. That is why, being in a monastery located on the historical territory of Great Hellas, I raise my voice and take the courage to say, “Plato is dear to me, but the Truth is dearer still!”

Unlike you, who live in a cenobitic Athos monastery, I have chosen less strict “eremitical” rules of life, and I continue to conduct scientific research and teach at the university. However, I cannot remain silent and hide the fact that the newly established institution of pseudo-autocephaly tramples on the canonicity possessed exclusively by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), which per se is an autonomous Church under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church. Moreover, this false autocephaly is completely contrary to the canonical tradition of our Holy Orthodox Church.

If I had not spoken out about it, I would have simply betrayed the truth, which is clear to me and many other people, who address this problem from a sacred canonical point of view.

I ask forgiveness, as well as holy prayers from our abbot, elders, fathers and brethren of our sacred monastery.

As you know, I was defrocked by the decision of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate following false and slanderous accusations against me by the then Metropolitan Gennady (born Tsambikos) Zervos of Italy, although I was never summoned to any court and was not given any opportunity to defend myself.

Therefore, it is not in some "fundamentalist Islamic caliphate", but in Europe of the XXI century that all key concepts of legality and law were violated, and I was deprived of the fundamental right to defense, first in the courts of the 1st and 2nd instance and then and in the Supreme Court, where I could appear in the presence of my legal representative. In fact, this decision was NEVER officially reported to me (as it should be), but the people and flock of the Italian diocese were informed about it through the personal Facebook account (sic!) of the then Protosingel of the diocese, Evangelos Ifantidis. It is obvious to every well-meaning person that this whole process was unfair, offensive, illegal, anti-canonical, completely DEVOID OF HUMANITY and definitely anti-church.

Yet – you never came to my defense, as you should have done presumably with your unjustly persecuted brother. You did not take any action and did not even try to help in any way, although you could have halted and completely stopped such an unfair process that led to such a monstrous decision against me.

Although I was very upset, I nevertheless fulfilled the wish and request of our abbot to withdraw the application and lawsuit against Metropolitan Gennady in the Italian and Greek civil and criminal court in order to avoid further temptation for believers.

In your statement, published in the press on August 18, 2021, you suddenly announce that you ... "have long since struck me off the list of the brethren of our sacred monastery, and therefore I should not call myself 'Vatopedi’." Did it happen right after my interview in Kyiv, or is it just a coincidence?

I was NEVER notified of this decision of the monastery; nor did I receive any explanation from you. I suddenly learnt from the media that you had made a decision...

Archimandrite Ephraim and Fr. Neilou. Photo: Romfea.gr

I understand, like any person who can think at all, what source and what kind of pressure you must have been subjected to behind the scenes...

Realizing all this, I was nevertheless distressed and upset that while I was in intensive care in the hospital for a long time after a serious car accident in which I miraculously did not die, the monastery of my repentance with 120 monks did not even bother to find out about the state of my health. It did not send a single person who would come to me and lend me a helping hand in this earthly hell, where I lived for so long despite the fact that I had asked you about it.

You "condemned" my views, but you did not set them out in your publication so that readers (since you decided to publish them on the Internet ...) could shape their own opinion about them.

I wonder if you have heard any of my statements on the Ukrainian issue, about the canonical upheavals caused by the aforementioned autocephaly – not only in this tortured country, but to all Orthodox Christians throughout Europe and, of course, Italy. My views are much more "moderate" and not in the least “biased” in comparison with the views of many lawyers, as well as bishops of our Church worldwide.

As you know, I do not believe that my comments on Roman law are infallible.

On the contrary, I feel it is my duty to show that the Roman legal tradition is the foundation of the nomocanonical right of our Mother, the Holy Orthodox Church.

As for the previously unprecedented procedure for granting autocephaly to Ukraine, I dare to note that at the request of my colleagues, lawyers and historians, I wrote two short articles on the issues being hotly discussed at the pan-Orthodox level:

  1. Roman and nomocanonical law as the basis of ethnarchic patriarchal duties (on the origin of the Christian patriarchal institution before the assignment of the title of Ecumenical Patriarch to the Bishop of Constantinople - New Rome) by the (Eastern) Roman emperor;
  2. Unanimity of the Patriarchs of the Ecumene (on the need for the consent of all patriarchs by approving conciliar decisions at the level of the Ecumenical Church, which is the pinnacle of the ecclesiastical order).

Soon, both articles will be uploaded to Academia.edu and available to a wide readership to facilitate scientific discussion on this topic, which is interesting not only for Orthodox Christians, but also for researchers in various historical and legal fields.

Deeply believing that freedom of speech in Europe of the 21st century is an indisputable and wonderful human right, I ask you with sincere repentance to forgive me and offer your holy prayers for me. I kiss your holy right hand and pray not to remember forever your unworthy son and brother. I sincerely wish and pray to the Most Holy Theotokos that She would heal our Elder, Abbot Ephraim, as soon as possible, and return him safely to the Vatopedi Monastery.

Finally, I sincerely wish and pray to our All-Holy God and the saints of Great Hellas that they strengthen, enlighten and grant grace to the new Metropolitan of Italy, Mr. Polycarp, so that he can fulfill his dream, which is the dream and ardent aspiration of all of us: to recreate Greek Orthodox monasticism in the sacred lands of Calabria and Sicily without any obstacles, without any disappointments and temptations for the flock. We hope that his great experience, his many years of service in the Metropolitanate of Italy and his vigor will make even the stones speak Greek, singing "Kyrie Eleison", as he himself sometimes tells us.

Monk Neilou of Vatopedi (until my death and after it)

(Professor Giorgio BARONE-ADESI – Professor of Roman and Byzantine Law)

New Monastery of Saint John

Stilo, province of Calabria, Greater Hellas

16/29 August 2021

In memory of our holy and God-bearing Father Joseph the Hesychast, “grandfather” of our community.

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