Warning to Russian Tourists: Skip Athos This Year!

Dear Readers:

Hopefully this will be my last piece on religion, at least for a while.  I am hoping to return to more secular subjects, like astronauts, opera, and perhaps even the escape from Sobibor.  (Although, if the Mummy Apocalypse starts in Kiev, then all bets are off, just warning y’all…)

Saint Sophia Cathedral in Constantinople: Can’t go there any more…

However, I did want to give at least a quantum of closure to the Autocephaly story.  The Russian Church Synod reacted surprisingly firmly yesterday (a lot of people thought they would be too chicken to go that far, but they did, so bravo to them!), so there was a complete split with Constantinople, and a declaring of the latter to be “Raskolniki“, aka Splitters.  From the Russian POV, Constantinople is now Churcha Non Grata.  Believers of the True (=Canonical) Orthodox Faith are informed they are not to pray or take communion in any Churches under the jurisdiction of the Constantinople Patriarch, Bartholomew.  Good to know.  Being an atheist, raised in a sovok-type family, I never set foot in a church anyhow, nor took communion.  But were I ever to do that (highly dubious), it certainly wouldn’t be in Constantinople!  Not so long as that Banderite-loving SOB is in charge, so there!

In 2017 Greece was the second most popular destination for Russian tourists.

So, I have this piece by Alina Nazarova, which lays out the rules of conduct of this new religious war.  The rules were laid out by Archbishop (Протоиерей) Igor Yakimchuk, who is the liaison to the public of the Moscow Patriarch.  According to Igor:  The Synod says its decision must be obeyed by all members of the canonical Russian Orthodox Church.  The following churches and cathedrals are forbidden to worshipers:  All the functioning churches in Stamboul, that one single Christian church in Antalya (Turkey); the ones on Crete, and on the islands of Dodecanese in Greece.  Some of these areas coincide with vacation spots beloved of Russian tourists.  Of course, they can still go to the beach, that’s not the issue.  They could even go inside a church probably, as a tourist, you know, like gazing at the ikons.  The issue is that they cannot light candles, participate in the mass, or take communion.  If they disobey these rules, then the punishment will be as follows:

If any member of the priesthood violates above rules, then he would be subject to прещение, which is defined as a traditional form of disciplinary punishment employed in Russian churches.  The punishment ranges from a slap on the wrist, to a demotion, to full-blown Anathema.

But what about the lay persons?  What would be their punishment if they disobeyed Archbishop Igor?  “Repentance in the confessional” [do Orthodox have a confessional like Catholics?  I didn’t even know that…] for disobeying the Church,” Igor elucidates.

But What About The Grace-Giving Fire?

People who have been through a divorce know what it’s like that “day after” the fateful words are spoken.  That’s when people ponder and start tallying up their losses.  Like, who gets the dog.  How am I going to feed myself? etc etc.

Similarly, in this “divorce” between Russia and Constantinople, which only happened yesterday, the Russian side in particular is coming to grips with what it lost in this process.  Not that there are regrets:  It had to be done.  But one cannot paste on a happy face and just pretend there are no negative consequences.

Miracle Flame of Jerusalem

So, I have this other piece, also by Alina Nazarova, which concerns the Grace-Giving Fire.  Apparently there is this Fire, sort of the mystical version of the Olympic Flame.  It’s a Miracle-Flame that never goes out, no matter how many fire extinguishers you spray it with!  This flame normally resides in Jerusalem, but every Easter it is brought to Russia.  People were worried that the split with Constantinople will affect this.  But Moscow Patriarch Kirill’s Press Secretary Alexander Volkov reassures believers that the fire will arrive on schedule.  Since it travels directly from Jerusalem, it will not be affected by the Schism.

What will be affected, however, are other miraculous artifacts and relics which arrive in Moscow every Easter, by special delivery from Tsargrad, aka Constantinople!  “The bringing of these holy relics is something that the two churches arrange between themselves,” Volkov explains.  Adding that this is not going to be possible any more, for obvious reasons.  But the good news is that the Sacred Flame will still be arriving on schedule next Easter, like always.  Whew, I was worried about that!  [Actually, I never heard of it before…]

The Elephant In The Room

But now we get to the Elephant in the room:  Mount Athos.  Of all the things that the Russian Church is sacrificing, and the price that it has to pay for its principled decision:  Barring believers from making the pilgrimage to Mount Athos is perhaps the most painful of all.  See, Athos was the one glorious ace in Bartholomew’s deck of cards.  He boldly played it … and the Russian Church boldly called his bluff.  And yet with open eyes, knowing that this loss will be painful for them.  When asked about this specifically, Igor confirmed that, yes, the Russian Church Synod has forbidden believers of the canonical church to go to Mount Athos.  At all.  Not even as tourists.

Not that the place even welcomes tourists.  I have this wiki entry which explains how this thing works.  Athos is the Eastern Orthodox equivalent of the Vatican.  It is an independent polity within the Greek Republic, subject to its own laws, and home to 20 monasteries.  All of which are under the direct jurisdiction of Schismatic Patriarch Bartholomew.

Mount Athos monks doing their shtick…

wiki:  “Mount Athos is commonly referred to in Greek as the “Holy Mountain” (Ἅγιον Ὄρος Hágion Óros) and the entity as the “Athonite State” (Αθωνική Πολιτεία, Athoniki Politia). Other languages of Orthodox tradition also use names translating to “Holy Mountain” (e.g. Bulgarian and Serbian Света гора Sveta gora, Russian Святая гора Svyatya gora, Georgian მთაწმინდა). In the classical era, while the mountain was called Athos, the peninsula was known as Acté or Akté (Ἀκτή).
Mount Athos has been inhabited since ancient times and is known for its nearly 1,800-year continuous Christian presence and its long historical monastic traditions, which date back to at least 800 A.D. and the Byzantine era. Today, over 2,000 monks from Greece and many other countries, including Eastern Orthodox countries such as Romania, Moldova, Georgia, Bulgaria, Serbia and Russia, live an ascetic life in Athos, isolated from the rest of the world. The Athonite monasteries feature a rich collection of well-preserved artifacts, rare books, ancient documents, and artworks of immense historical value, and Mount Athos has been listed as a World Heritage site since 1988.”

wiki goes on to say that, when Greece joined the European Union, the special status of Athos was codified as an exception to the usual EU rules of “free movement of peoples”, namely:  “The free movement of people and goods in its territory is prohibited, unless formal permission is granted by the Monastic State’s authorities, and only males are allowed to enter.”

“Ladies, you are not allowed on Mount Athos!”

That last point being important, as the EU normally frowns on gender-based discrimination.  But this is a church matter, so they make an exception, just like they do with the Catholics.  So, the only issue here is those Russian males who want to go to one of the monasteries on Athos and do whatever it is they do in there.  They can’t do that any more!  As Archbishop Igor noted, “Tourists don’t go to Athos anyhow.”  Which is why my blogpost title is tongue-in-cheek, in case anyone was wondering…

In conclusion:  Mount Athos:  This was NATO’s ace card, and they played it well!  Gotta give credit to the enemy, when he makes a clever play.  NATO and the Banderites thought to force Russia into Zugzwang.  However, the Russian Church responded also with a clever (and highly principled) if forced move.  Now we wait to see what happens next!

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15 Responses to Warning to Russian Tourists: Skip Athos This Year!

  1. Pavlo Svolochenko says:

    If we didn’t have confession we might as well be Anglicans.


    • yalensis says:

      So…. you get in a booth and tell the priest all your dirty little secrets…?


      • Pavlo Svolochenko says:

        There’s no booth (these days the RCC probably only uses theirs for anonymous hookups) – just a little space next to the altar doors.

        Sometimes I write down whatever I have to confess on a piece of paper (such as associating with heathens like yourself). The priest rips it up after he has finished imparting his wisdom, puts a cloth over my head, and says a prayer on my behalf.


  2. Nat says:

    The worry about the Holy Fire wasn’t a travel issue, it was about who first gets it from inside the tomb. Many people thought it was the Patriarch of Constantinople (since he is the “main” patriarch”) but in fact it is the Patriarch of Jerusalem (since the Holy Fire is in Jerusalem). So no problem in lighting torches/candles from the initial torch.

    Interestingly, where searching for the position of the Jerusalem Patriarchate about the Ukrainian Church Autocephaly, I found that ALL Orthodox Patriarchates oppose it (except Constantinople of course). Recently the Serbian Patriarchate again confirmed their position. As for Jerusalem Patriarchate’s position, this is what was said in August 2018: ““The Orthodox Churches of the world, including Jerusalem, only recognize the authority of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, that it is headed by Metropolitan Onuphry; he is a member of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church. We support all efforts to end the schism in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church—the Church is a place of love, unity, and peace, and not hatred and schism,”


  3. nicolaavery says:

    http://tass.com/world/1026232 I can’t find this in English version of Turkish newspapers but will look around


    • Nat says:

      The Turkish Orthodox Church is not a recognized church. Ironically, it is like the “alternate” Ukrainian Church before it was granted autocephaly.


      • nicolaavery says:

        So if they were successful in their lawsuit, it wouldn’t be accepted by the Orthodox world? (excuse my ignorance)


        • yalensis says:

          Thanks for link, anyhow, Nicola, and still sounds like a great lawsuit. Plus, we get to know Bart’s real name, Dmitrios Arhondonis!
          One reason why this story is so hard to follow, all the players have multiple aliases, just like Al Capone’s gang members.
          Any time now I am expecting to read that one of these patriarchs or exarchs has an aka of “Lefty” or “Queer Eye”, or something like that.


          • Pavlo Svolochenko says:

            ‘Queer eye’ would be metropolitan Drabinko


          • Ryan Ward says:

            The reason for the names is that all Orthodox bishops are also monks. Most of the time, people chosen to be bishops were monks already, but if not, they are tonsured as monks as part of the process of becoming a bishop. The thing is, part of the process of becoming a monk is taking a new name. The new name is meant to reinforce the idea that a monk “dies to the world”. So Joe Blow is now dead, while Dmitrios Blow begins a new life in the monastery (or as the bishop, as the case may be). I believe occasionally monks who become bishops sometimes take a new name again, which makes things more complicated.

            As an aside about aliases, the first thing that comes to my mind when everyone has more than one name isn’t Al Capone, but the Russian communists. The commonalities between the two (which include a number of other features as well) might be part of the reason why the Church and the Party never got along with each other. They had too much in common not to be competitors 😉


            • yalensis says:

              Father Dmitrios Blow — I like that!

              Oi – don’t agree with your comparison of the priests with commies, though.
              Aside from the superficial resemblance in having aliases, totally different thing, Ryan!
              The reason the commies needed aliases is because they were wanted by the Tsarist police. Either that, or they needed to tone down their Jewishness.
              Still, I get your point, and my comparison with Al Capone’s gang was somewhat tongue in cheek.


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