Arrest of Greek Cypriot abbot disturbs Russia

Arrest of Greek Cypriot abbot disturbs Russia

Arrest of Greek Cypriot abbot disturbs Russia

Abbot Ephraim (R), the abbot of the Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos in northern Greece, talks with Greek Patriarch Bartholomew in this file photo. AFP photo

Greek authorities yesterday jailed the abbot of a 1,000-year-old Greek Orthodox monastery, Abbot Ephraim, accused of playing a key role in an alleged land swap scandal with the state.

In response to his jailing, the Russian Foreign Ministry in its Twitter account said the country was concerned by Greece’s decision to arrest Abbot Ephraim of Vatopedi Monastery and the Greek government ignored the European Court of Human Rights’ recommendations. 

“Russians are deeply grateful to the brothers at Vatopedi Monastery for the opportunity to venerate the Belt of the Holy Mother of God,” an online statement said. The Russian Orthodox Church also immediately criticized the decision. Archpriest Igor Yakimchuk, secretary of Inter-Orthodox Affairs, told the Russian news agency Interfax the decision for the arrest of Ephraim was “unreasonably cruel” and “exclusively one of political nature.”

A court decided last week to remand Ephraim for his involvement in a property scandal which helped bring down the former conservative government in 2009 and cost taxpayers about 100 million euros. Two ministers lost their jobs over the swaps, acknowledging they harmed the public interest. 

Cypriot-born Ephraim, 55, was led to the Korydallos Prison outside Athens yesterday morning after spending the night in the capital’s police headquarters following a 600 km journey from Vatopedi, located in the Orthodox monastic sanctuary of Mount Athos in northern Greece. On Dec. 27 several hundred monks, nuns and other demonstrators gathered outside a central court building to protest Ephraim’s arrest. Hundreds of people were expected to gather yesterday in front of the Greek Embassy in Nicosia to demand the release of Abbot Ephraim from a Greek prison, Cyprus Mail website reported.

“They rushed Ephraim to jail on Christmas Eve while others who have embezzled Greek people’s money remain at large,” said George Karatzaferis, leader of the far-right LAOS party, which is part of Greece’s coalition government. No trial date has been set, and the abbot’s lawyers are expected to apply for his release. Under Greek law, suspects can be jailed for up to 18 months pending trial. Vatopedi is one of 20 monasteries of the self-governing community of Mount Athos, considered one of Orthodox Christianity’s holiest sites.

Compiled from AP, AFP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.