13 January 2012, 11:24
Vatopedi Monastery abbot to remain in custody despite partial acquittal
Moscow, January 13, Interfax - The partial acquittal by the Greek supreme court of Archimandrite Ephrem, the abbot of the Vatopedi Monastery in the 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 Father Ephrem] applies to the ruling of the Rhodope court of appeal but not to the ruling of the Athens court of appeal under which Father Ephrem was taken into custody. The acquittal by the [supreme court] is one more positive phase in the Vatopedi case but it doesn't cancel the order on the pretrial detention of Archimandrite Ephrem," spokesman for the Russian Society of Friends of the Vatopedi Monastery told Interfax-Religion.
So Archimandrite Ephrem "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 Ephrem, which were first opened in Rhodope and then in Athens, will be reviewed by the appeal court of Thrace.
Archimandrite Ephrem 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 Ephrem 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 Ephrem'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 Vatopedi 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 Ephrem 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 that the fact that the community comprising its see includes monks of various nationalities did not authorize it to govern the entire world Orthodox community or give it the right to interfere in the affairs of other Churches.
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