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Desanctifying Mount Athos?

02 August 2014 / 18:08:23  GRReporter
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The World Council of Churches decided to lift the ban on access to Mount Athos, within the framework of 16 agreements signed at a meeting in Busan, South Korea, as stated in a publication of the Orthodoxos Typos (Orthodox press) newspaper.

According to the report 16 agreements have been signed between the Christian churches and another 16 agreements with other religions. Three of these agreements concern Athos.They are as follows:

7th agreement: change of regime in the holy monasteries and organization of conferences at them, as has happened for the celebration of the equinox, and the cancellation of many services is envisaged.

8th agreement: bans on access to different places belonging to the Christian churches.

16th agreement: conducting joint services between Christian churches with a message for the New Age.

The World Council of Churches is an ecumenical Christian organization whose purpose is to promote Christian unity. It is a community of 340 churches, 157 of which are full members of the organization and represents more than 550 million Christians in over 100 countries.

Founded on 23 August 1948, among the founding members are the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Church of Greece and the Church of Cyprus. Nowadays, it includes most Orthodox churches as well as many Protestant churches, such as the Anglican Church, also many Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed churches, some Baptist and Pentecostal churches. Old catholic churches also take part, and a wide range of united and independent churches. The Roman Catholic Church, though not a member of the board, works closely with the World Council of Churches and sends observers and representatives to its meetings. From the Greek denominations, apart from the Greek Orthodox church, the Greek Evangelical Church also takes part in the Council.

Discussions about the ban on access to Mount Athos occur periodically, the U.S. and the European Union having put considerable pressure in this direction.

The sanctity of Mount Athos has existed since the 10th century. It was maintained during the period of Turkish rule. It has been infringed from time to time on humanitarian grounds; for example, during the Greek Revolution hundreds of children, including girls, found refuge on Mount Athos.

In the 20th century, the question is governed by several agreements, such as:

The Treaty of London (17.05.1913) when Turkey left the Athos peninsula and the Great Powers signed the Protocol of London, in which Athos was declared an independent and autonomous community (Article 5).

The Treaty of Lausanne (24.07.1923) whereby the Greek sovereignty over Mount Athos is definitely established.

In 1926, a charter was accepted and ratified by the Greek Parliament, voted by the 20 monasteries guaranteeing the sanctity of Mount Athos.

In 1953, a law was adopted which provides for imprisonment from two months to one year for violating the sanctity of Mount Athos.

Last year, the European Parliament adopted a resolution (supported by three Greek MPs), whereby  a lifting on the ban on women's access to Mount Athos was demanded because it violates the principle of gender equality, the EU legislation on non-discrimination and equality, and the provisions on the free movement of EU citizens. The opponents of the repeal, on the other hand, pointed out several arguments in favour of the ban on women's access to Mount Athos. Firstly, women's access to Mount Athos offends the conscience of monks who, according to their commitment, are not allowed to communicate with women. Secondly, Mount Athos is not a tourist site to which every European has the right to come, travel through or reside. According to the Greek Constitution Athos is owned by the monasteries, that is, it is a life-long home of the monks. And according to the same constitution, a home is inviolable and the breach of its privacy is a crime. Thirdly, regardless of the previous two reasons, there is another reason which prohibits the removal of the sanctity of Mount Athos: the Final Act of Accession of Greece to the European Community contains a joint statement by all members of the then community regarding the special status of the Athos mountain, and the statement has been confirmed by provision No. 8 of the Final Act of the Treaty of Amsterdam. By this joint statement, the member states recognize the special status of Mount Athos, as guaranteed by Article 105 of the Greek Constitution and grounded exclusively on spiritual and religious reasons.

The decision taken by the World Council of Churches opens up a new round of discussions on the issue and is expected to cause strong reactions worldwide.

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