October 9, 2023

Some Recent Orthodox-Related News Stories You Probably Won't Read Anywhere Else

Here are just some interesting news stories you will see in Greek media that I came across from the past few months that you probably won't read about elsewhere in English. Some of these stories are positive, some negative, and some questionable. Unfortunately we don't have a comprehensive news source for Orthodox related matters, though some do it more than others. I personally try to never report on news unless I find it relevant to what I do, but as I was cleaning up some files on my computer I thought I would post some stories you may not be aware of before I delete them. Below are 14 of them.

1. In July 2023, a priest in Thessaloniki was accused of embezzling money from donations and involvement in sexual scandals.

The Metropolis of Thessaloniki received three written complaints from believers referring to his specific actions. The first concerns an amount of 5,000 euros, which was a loan that was never returned. The second from a family for an amount of 20,000 euros, for which the priest had promised that he would return it by the end of 2022, but he did not. And the third, from a company which was subsequently dissolved, without mentioning in the complaint a specific amount. However, the Metropolis also received a series of verbal complaints from believers about amounts borrowed by the priest, the total of which amounts to several hundred thousand euros. The Metropolis asked the verbal complainants to do so in writing as well, but this never happened.

According to the reports that have made the rounds on the internet, it all started in 2018, when this particular priest was reaping the money from businessmen's donations and using it for purposes other than those that had been offered. In particular, several businessmen gave donations to this particular parish, which the priest allegedly used not only to increase his personal wealth but also for purposes related to the sexual exploitation of minors.

The Metropolis of Thessaloniki is in direct cooperation with the police authorities, to whom it has already provided any evidence that has come to its attention, in the context of the preliminary investigation process of the case. Furthermore, it is expected that criminal proceedings will be brought against the priest immediately, so that the prescribed ecclesiastical procedures will then begin, i.e. interrogations by the competent ecclesiastical bodies.

The Metropolis issued the following statement: "We wish to inform you that for this specific matter and, after being informed about the preliminary investigation, there is direct cooperation with the Greek Police and the prosecution authorities, while at the same time the corresponding normal ecclesiastical procedures are now being initiated in accordance with what is provided by the relevant Legislations."

2. In July 2023, a tourist in Rhodes reported sexual harassment against a priest, who allegedly anointed him naked with oil inside the monastery.

The claim against the 49-year-old priest in a monastery in Rhodes for the complaint filed by the 30-year-old tourist from Estonia is that he anointed him naked on his genitals with oil. The priest has been put on holiday and was expected to be brought before the court on September 11.

The priest reportedly told officers that he did anoint the tourist with oil, but did so to help him with eczema he noticed on the 30-year-old's thighs and without making any inappropriate movement on the man's genitals.

The case began on July 13, 2023 when a 30-year-old Estonian, who lives in Finland and temporarily in Faliraki, appeared before police officers of the local police station and filed a lawsuit against the vicar of the monastery that serves a flock in a church of special religious value in South Rhodes, the name of which he did not know, for insulting his sexual dignity.

The policemen of the relevant department searched for the vicar and finally arrested the 49-year-old priest, a resident of a municipal community on the western side of the island. The foreigner testified that he and a friend visited the monastery.

There he bought a cross, which he forgot and returned the next day to pick it up after the vicar informed him by text message on his mobile phone. There the vicar, it is alleged, suggested that he follow him into a guest room in order to give him a gift. When they entered the room as claimed by the tourist, the vicar asked him to pull down his pants, underwear and shirt to anoint him with oil.

Then the tourist asked if this is a normal procedure in Greece and the complainant assured him that it is. Then, as the complainant claims, the priest anointed his genitals with the oil, which embarrassed him, but without asking him to stop because of the trust he engendered.

After the incident, the tourist, as he claims, decided to appeal to the authorities to find out if what the vicar told him was true.

On the other hand, the vicar, being examined before the authorities, maintains that the tourist visited the Monastery with his girlfriend and during the conversation they had, the complainant expressed his desire to become a godfather and the conversation revolved around faith and Orthodoxy.

The 30-year-old, as the vicar claims, took him on a tour of the church where he blessed him with oil from the Virgin Mary's oil lamp on his forehead, hands, back and chest. It was then that the vicar allegedly noticed that he had bright red marks on his body, which he suspected were eczema. Afterwards, they took pictures, exchanged phone numbers and said goodbye.

After the 30-year-old left with his girlfriend, the vicar noticed that he had forgotten the cross he had bought and informed him to get it, and he replied that he would come the next day so that they could continue their conversation, which he liked very much.

The next day, as the vicar claims, wanting to create a climate of trust so that he could open up to him and give him a proper catechism, he suggested that if he trusted him, he should put oil on his body in the places where he had seen the eczema.

Then, after he had accepted, he followed him into the living room where the door was unlocked and the window open and began to anoint him with the oil where he had eczema.

Then he noticed what he claims was extensive eczema on his thighs and asked him if he wanted to put it on that spot as well.

The priest's next move, according to what he reportedly told the police, was to ask the 30-year-old tourist if he wanted to put oil on him, at which point the Estonian, according to the priest, pulled down his underwear. The priest claims, in fact, that he continued to anoint him from head to toe without performing any inappropriate act in the genital area.

Finally, the vicar of the monastery told the police that he renewed his appointment with the 30-year-old for the following day in order to continue their conversation about the issues that concerned him, while he claims that he did not know the development of the case and that is why, in fact, he had bought him ointment for eczema but never managed to find it to give it to him.

3. On July 12th 2023, a disturbance was caused on a street in Rethymnon, Crete when a priest physically and verbally attacked his wife.

The incident happened near a seaside village in Rethymnon, while they were returning from a festival. Residents and tourists were surprised to see the 48-year-old cleric shouting, cursing, pushing and slapping the 41-year-old presvytera in the face. From the context, the witnesses understood that this was a scene of jealousy for what happened at the event.

When those standing by tried to restrain the priest, he, in a drunken state, attacked them as well. However, no complaint has yet been filed against the priest.

4. In July 2023, a big argument took place in a church in Patras between a 46-year-old priest, a 44-year-old presvytera and a 29-year-old parishioner.

According to testimonies, after the Divine Liturgy the presvytera "invaded" the Priest's office in the church at the time when a 29-year-old parishioner had come to confess.

The presvytera in a rage grabbed the woman by the hair and dragged her out of the church office shouting, then turned and argued very strongly with the priest as well. The incredible scene took place in front of the astonished eyes of deacons, the commissioner and the faithful, to whom the clergyman later apologized.

5. In the Church of the All-Majestic Taxiarchis Michael in Mandamados of Lesvos, there is a priest who carries in his arms a dog that has a problem with her back.

He is a man with a lot of love for those who need it, both for people and for animals. Unfortunately a large part of the people of the church are hostile to animals and especially to strays. They drive them out of the courtyard of their church, they even drive them out of the streets around the church.

However, this priest, Father Christos Tsitmidellis, is not like them. He is an example to follow. He is a compassionate, empathetic person. He protects the strays, loves them, takes care of them.

In the photos we see him holding his dog, Stefanoula, in his arms. Stefanoula had lumbago and Father Christos brought her back and forth for a month in this way to the doctor and wherever else she needed.

6. Father Pavlos, an Old Calendarist priest, has gone viral on TikTok with his videos, saying that he will do everything to get the youth back to the church.

"The reason I came out on TikTok was an idea of the children from the catechetical school. At first I was cautious and somewhat negative because my relationship with technology is nonexistent. Later, I thought that we priests, in our way, drove the youth out of the church, and now through these videos, young people say to me: 'Father if there were more priests like you, the church would be different."

Father Pavlos, who entered the world of TikTok around June 2023, now has his own fanatical audience.

It's not often that we see on social media, a priest who combines technology, humor, and church advice in one video. Father Paul's original way to get closer to the youth, may succeed in opening the way for other people in the church to get in touch with technology, which so far, for him, has only turned out to be good.

The tactics of the Old Calendarist priest of Saint Kyriaki in Mandra seem to be liked by young people as his videos gather hundreds of thousands of views, while very quickly he has managed to reach almost 45,000 followers, an impressive number for the time he has been on the platform.

"I have received so much love from the people, and all this will be transmitted to the church. I'm trying to learn the terminology of young people, they tell me to sit down and scroll and I don't understand anything," he says with a smile. "I love the youth very much and I will do anything for them. Our youth are very intelligent and honorable, and they deserve a lot. For their sake, let me see myself everywhere, all over the internet."

Asked if he was faced with negative reactions, Father Pavlos pointed out that his sole purpose was to find the young children in their environment, and that he is not interested in negative messages. "So far I have only received three negative messages, in which someone told me they want to break my arms and legs with what I am doing, while in the others they called me a debaucherer and a coward. Of course, I didn't answer with swear words, everyone can have their own opinion. I'm not doing anything wrong, and so far I haven't been told anything about other priests' reactions."

Referring to future videos, Father Pavlos said that there are no concrete plans, nor is he planning anything. "Everything is free and spontaneous, I do what 'sits in my head' and the children also advise me."

7. In the Monastery of Panagia Koutsouriotissa in Phocis, there is the abbess Mariam Skorda. The abbess teaches the art of chanting through YouTube and is an influencer, making a splash with over 2 million followers.

In particular, the influencer has created her own channel on YouTube and presents the hymns, having more than two million followers. Many asked to hear them and thus she created a channel on YouTube in order to present concerts in Greece and abroad.

As she points out, many are interested in ancient Greek and Byzantine music.

"The human mind suffers from the constant interference of modern music, an aggression and sadness, everyone is looking for a way out. The way out is Byzantine music, the ideal medicine for the restoration of their mental world," she pointed out in an interview on the show "Alpha TORA" and added "technology can help the world to get closer to Byzantine music."

In fact, during the coronavirus period, she also taught courses for learning and diplomas.

8. Since Hagia Sophia Became a Mosque Again, Vandalism Has Been Rampant

The vandalism case was heard at the 12th Criminal Court and according to what was claimed by the director of Hagia Sophia, Tunjai Ramazan, the person responsible for the damage was identified by the security cameras. There is no end to vandalism in Hagia Sophia since the UNESCO World Heritage Site started functioning as a mosque on July 24, 2020, with a new deterioration entering the agenda of the debate and raising again the questions about its management by the Turkish Authorities.

Since Hagia Sophia began to function as a mosque, which meant a rapid increase in visitors, many areas have been damaged by vandalism, among them the imperial gate, while recently another gate of the monument was also damaged.

As reported by the newspaper Duvar, the case was tried at the 12th Court of First Instance of Crimes and according to what was claimed by the director of Hagia Sophia, Tunjai Ramazan, the person responsible for the damage was spotted by the security cameras breaking the gate and it was established that it was Akif Kasar, resulting in a lawsuit being filed against him. He then wandered upstairs, lay down for a while in a corner and left at about 08:00 am.

The accused insists on his innocence and maintains that he did not break the gate.

"I didn't break it. I just pushed it. There were chains. This gate, it is not a gate that can be broken by human strength,” he asserted.

The judge ordered an expert report to determine whether the broken gate is a heritage asset and the cost of the damage.

9. A prominent Turkish historian and academic warns that unless Hagia Sophia is closed, it will collapse. He points out that large numbers of visitors should not be allowed to enter.

Turkish press reports refer to the statements of the historian Iber Ortaili regarding Hagia Sophia. In a TV show, he referred to an article he wrote about the damage and the increasing number of visitors to the temple. “Can so many people be allowed into a 1,500-year-old building?"

"What if it doesn't close?" the professor was asked, replying: "Of course admission should not be granted. That is why it must be closed and restored. Perpetual restoration. If they're smart, they'll close it. If it is not closed it will collapse," said Ilber Ortaili.

In his article in the newspaper Hurriyet, on September 17, the Turkish academic had expressed his concern about the damages that have been caused to the monument, since its conversion into a mosque, pointing out that Hagia Sophia must be closed for a certain period of time so that work can be done for restoration.

He also emphasized that he considers the fact that 3 million pilgrims and a huge number of tourists entering the monument every year as disastrous.

10. After the warnings of the Turkish historian about the possibility of the collapse of Hagia Sophia and the possibility of it being closed for restoration works, Turkish officials state that "so far there is no provision for the closure of the Hagia Sophia mosque."

CNN Turk journalist Serdar Er reported: "We are broadcasting from inside the Hagia Sophia mosque. Visits within the site continue as normal here. Our camera shows you the visitors whose numbers increase the most during prayer times. As you know, it was opened as a mosque by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself. In the interior there were some restoration works, but they were completed. Now they will start outside and that is why there have been discussions about whether the Hagia Sophia mosque will be closed or whether it will remain open."

The vice-president of the directorate of endowments, Levent Cetin, said: "So far there is no provision for closing the mosque during the restoration work."

11. The Coast Guard of Mount Athos proceeded to retrieve the body of a Greek pilgrim on the Saturday afternoon of September 23rd.

According to the Coast Guard, officers spotted shortly before 6:00 p.m. a dead a pilgrim on the beach of the Gregoriou Monastery.

Immediately, the body of the 38-year-old pilgrim was retrieved by Coast Guards and then transported by boat to the port of Ouranoupolis, so that from there it could be transported again for an autopsy in Thessaloniki.

Finally, it should be noted that the circumstances under which the 38-year-old pilgrim was found dead are unknown.

12. The 35-year-old Romanian monk, who was arrested on Mount Athos on the charge of beating a 53-year-old Belarusian monk, remains in custody.

Criminal proceedings were brought against him for serious bodily harm and he was referred to be tried at the Autonomous Three-member Misdemeanor Court of Thessaloniki, from which he requested an adjournment. The request was accepted and a hearing was set for September 20th, but the court decided to keep him in custody until then, despite the prosecutor's proposal to the contrary.

The incident happened on Sunday afternoon, September 17th, in the courtyard of the Monastery of Hilandari. The two monks seem to have consumed alcohol, while the cause of the fight was allegedly a disagreement regarding a doctrinal issue, as stated in the case file.

"What are these, Mr. Defendant," the court president asked him when he stepped up to the defendant's stand to ask for an adjournment. In response, he apologized, claiming that he too was hit by the 53-year-old, even pointing with his hand to the places on his face where he was allegedly hit. The president advised him to go to a hospital if he doesn't feel well.

The 35-year-old Romanian said that he is not leaving Mount Athos permanently (he reportedly lives in the Monastery of Karditsa), stressing that he was temporarily "for a few days" in Athos. He also mentioned that they have known the victim for years.

In the meantime, the 53-year-old was initially hospitalized with head injuries at the General Hospital of Polygyros, Halkidiki, and was subsequently treated - as a precaution - at the Hippocrates Hospital of Thessaloniki, according to a document presented to the court.

13. The 35-year-old Romanian monk who was arrested on Mount Athos on the charge of beating a 53-year-old Belarusian monk, after a verbal argument between them and while they had consumed alcohol, was released on September 19th.

The Autonomous Three-member Misdemeanor Court of Thessaloniki postponed the hearing of the case until the end of the month, September 28th, because the victim was absent, while at the same time lifting his detention.

According to the victim's lawyer, the 53-year-old is being treated at the Hippocrates Hospital in Thessaloniki and - as she said - "I was afraid to recognize him. His head is bound up and he is wearing an oxygen mask," she told the court.

According to the case file, the incredible incident took place on Sunday afternoon and the 35-year-old allegedly hit the 52-year-old with his feet and hands, as well as with a plastic object (a bottle), even when he was on the ground, as a result of which the victim was initially transferred to the Karion Health Center and then to the Polygyros hospital.

As the lawyer of the 52-year-old monk, Lina Sonidou, said, "My client was not even able to sign. He is being treated at Hippokrateio in a very serious condition and we will have to see how it will develop. He has received many blows, his whole head is swollen and his eyes and I do not know the opinion of the doctors. My client is a very quiet person and I was scared to meet him. He is a man who doesn't hurt a fly."

14. 61 pilgrims who visited Jerusalem to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land returned safely to Crete, despite the fierce attack perpetrated by Hamas in Israel.

The pilgrims, who had organized their journey through the Monastery of Saint Panteleimon in Fodele, managed to return safely. Father Panteleimon Mougouros, a spokesman for the monastery, published a post stating that when the war sirens began to be heard, the pilgrims were already on their way to the airport. Their return to their homeland was a relief, with faith in God and their Saints accompanying them in this difficult adventure.

He wrote:

"We are back safe!!!! An invisible power protected us throughout our excursion as 61 people followed our Sacred Monastery in the Holy Land but each time we counted 62 people!

Coincidence for others, not for us! When the sirens, the anti-aircraft and the war started we were on the way to the airport! The situation was difficult, but with the help of God and our Saint, we experienced a miracle, they allowed us to fly, seeing the smoke and the bombings from the plane, and we managed to return. Unfortunately other groups from Greece and the Balkans were trapped there and we are praying for them since we are in communication!

A journey of emotions that we experienced there in all its glory! Praise be to God that we will be able to experience this trip to the Holy Land again soon!”

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