Voices from Russia

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Abba Ephrem of Vatopedi Freed from Prison and Returned to His Monastery

The god-pleasing Abba Ephrem of Vatopedi (1955- ) no longer sits in a prison cell… there IS a God in Heaven...


Late Friday night, Archimandrite Ephrem, the Abbot of Vatopedi Monastery, returned to Mount Athos after a three-month detention in Korydallos Prison. On Saturday, Aleksandr Gatilin, a spokesman for the Foundation of St Andrew the First-Called told our Interfax-Religion correspondent that yesterday the Appeals Board of the Athens City Court decided to change the measure of restraint of Fr Ephrem. He went on to say that after Fr Ephrem posted bail and filed the necessary documentation, Fr Ephrem went by car to the port of Ierissos, more than 600 kilometres (@372 miles) from Athens, where he boarded a boat. His monks and his spiritual children accompanied Abba Ephrem, and a crowd of about 700 people greeted him at the pier of Vatopedi Monastery. The boats in the harbour tooted their horns and the crowd gathered about Igumen Ephrem sang spiritual songs. The clergy of the monastery were in full festive vestments. The brotherhood, its employees, and pilgrims held lit candles and formed a living “corridor” through which Fr Ephrem passed as he headed a procession to the monastery.

Gatilin told us, “The many believers gathered there celebrated; an Easter atmosphere prevailed that evening in Vatopedi. Before entering the monastery grounds proper, the brotherhood vested Fr Ephrem in his Igumen’s mantle. The bells tolled as the Abbot entered the monastery grounds and went to the Cathedral of the Annunciation, where he served a short molieben”. Addressing the gathering, Fr Ephrem said, “I left on 26 December, the day of the Most Holy Mother of God, and I’m back again on her day (the Orthodox feastday of the Praises of the Most Holy Mother of God). Whilst I was in custody, when I called upon the name of the Most Holy Mother of God, I immediately received the strength that I needed”. Igumen Ephrem spoke of how the inmates gave him “great love and respect”, and how he heard the confessions of almost all the prisoners in the wing of the prison where he lived, along with the confessions of many of the prison staff, too. Abba Ephrem noted, “A devout Christian told me yesterday that I’d be released. I asked him why he thought so. He replied that he had a dream, how he came to the prison, and found no one there, but he met a woman in dark robes, who said, ‘Do not seek Elder Ephrem, he’s here at my house, in Vatopedi’”. He acknowledged that he was grateful for every thing that happened to him, that he forgave everyone, and that he did his best to keep his soul pure, “not provoking a single thought directed against anyone”.

As reported in December 2011, a Greek court ordered Fr Ephrem’s arrest in connection with an investigation of real estate transactions between Vatopedi and the Greek state in 2008. In late December, Patriarch Kirill Gundyaev of Moscow and all the Russias wrote a letter to Greek President Karolos Papoulias asking for Archimandrite Ephrem’s release from custody, expressing surprise at his pre-trial incarceration as “[Fr Ephrem] doesn’t pose a threat to society and repeatedly expressed his willingness to cooperate with the investigation”. Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk, the head of the MP DECR, described the arrest of Fr Ephrem as an attack on Athonite monasticism in particular and on Orthodoxy in general. Previously, influential Russian politicians, the MP, the RF MID, as well as the Foundation of St Andrew the First-Called voiced support for Igumen Ephrem. This was in recognition of the fact that Abba Ephrem was part of the delegation from Vatopedi Monastery that brought the Belt of the Most Holy Mother of God to Russia for a stay lasting from 20 October to 28 November, going to various cities throughout the country, where nearly 3 million people venerated the relic, including top political leaders. Commenting on the current changes and Fr Ephrem’s current freedom, the Found of St Andrew the First-Called expressed its support for Abba Ephrem and voiced the hope that “justice and fairness will prevail in the end, with Archimandrite Ephrem cleared of all charges”.

31 March 2012




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