January 14, 2012

Ephraim of Vatopaidi To Remain In Custody Despite Acquittal

January 13, 2012

The partial acquittal by the Greek supreme court of Archimandrite Ephraim, the abbot of the Vatopaidi Monastery on Mt. Athos, prosecuted in connection with real estate deals between his monastery and the Greek state, does not mean his release from custody.

"This decision [acquitting of Father Ephraim] applies to the ruling of the Rhodope court of appeal but not to the ruling of the Athens court of appeal under which Father Ephraim was taken into custody. The acquittal by the [supreme court] is one more positive phase in the Vatopaidi case but it doesn't cancel the order on the pretrial detention of Archimandrite Ephraim," spokesman for the Russian Society of Friends of the Vatopedi Monastery told Interfax-Religion.

So Archimandrite Ephraim "remains behind bars and still needs support," the spokesman said.

The supreme court annulled a ruling by the Rhodope court of appeal to put the archimandrite and two others in detention for 10 months with three years' deferment.

The proceedings against Ephraim, which were first opened in Rhodope and then in Athens, will be reviewed by the appeal court of Thrace.

Archimandrite Ephraim was arrested by court order last month.

Late in December, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia wrote a letter to Greek President Karolos Papoulias in which he asked for Ephraim to be released, expressing surprise at the detention of "a monk who poses no public danger and has repeatedly offered to cooperate with the investigators."

The head of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, branded Ephraim's arrest as an attack against the Mt. Athos community and against Orthodoxy as a whole.

Influential Russian politicians and the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed support for the archimandrite.

Among those who rose up in his defense was Russia's Foundation of St. Andrew the First-Called, which brought the Belt of the Most Holy Mother of God to Russia this autumn in what was the first time the highly venerated Orthodox relic, which is kept at the Vatopaidi Monastery, was taken outside Greece.

The cincture was shown in various Russian cities from October 20 to November 28 and was seen by nearly 3 million people, including top Russian state leaders.

The Patriarchate of Constantinople issued a statement in which it deplored the Ephraim affair but said it respected the independence of Greek justice and generally avoided interfering with unfinished court cases, one reason being it does not know all the details of any such case.

The Constantinople Patriarchate also pointed out the fact that the Athonite community comprising its see includes monks of various nationalities and did not authorize the entire world Orthodox community nor give it the right to interfere in the affairs of other Churches.