“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
Arthur Schopenhauer, German Philosopher 1788-1860
This is the first in a series of articles that will explain, analyze, disclose, and enlighten faith abiding Greek Orthodox Christians about the financial operations of the Ephraimite Monasteries of North America. We have spent the last two years analyzing this complex network. An open mind is crucial to develop your opinions after reading each of our articles and doing your own due diligence. The information is available for all who desire to find it. We respectfully request that you read the Greek Newspapers that are all on-line or at the very least their English language versions which are often abbreviated.
Some Background Information
The background information will provide a basic understanding of the Vatopedi, (also spelled “Vatopaedi”) land scandal. Future articles will describe the recent construction boom at Elder Ephraim’s Monasteries in the United States and Canada. The question asked by many is whether there is any correlation between these two issues. At the end of this article we include a list of sources so that our readers can confirm the facts and can be provided with additional information. The editors at Gotruthreform.org included citations throughout the article for our reader’s convenience. The basic background information is as follows:
1. The Monastery of Vatopedi is by far the richest located on Mount Athos. It has real estate and business holdings in Greece, Cyprus, Turkey and several other Balkan countries. Carassava, A. (2008, Oct. 25) Land Scandal Threatens Greek Leader. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/25/world/europe/25greece.html?_r=3 See also Michaletos, I. and Deliso, C. (2008, Nov. 4) Scandel over Vatopedi: International Capital and Aristocracy, Mixed with Greek Politics. Retrieved from http://www.balkanalysis.com/2008/11/04/scandal-over-vatopedi-international-capital-and-aristocracy-mixed-with-greek-politics/ .
2. Vatopedi is the most popular of all monasteries on Mount Athos, hosting a “Who’s Who” of the rich and famous including Vladimir Putin, Prince Charles and in the last decade has become the favorite religious sanctuary of Greek politicians from all major parties. Gilson, G (2008, Sept. 29) Unholy Scandal Burns Government. Athens News. Retrieved from http://www.athensnews.gr/articles/13305/19/09/2008/22214 , Gilson G. (2008, Dec. 5) Press Watch, Athens News. Retrieved from http://www.athensnews.gr/articles/13316/05/12/2008/22578
3. Before land scandal criminal charges were filed, its Abbot was Ephraim (also spelled Efraim in some newspaper reports) of Vatopedi. Many also allege that he is the “spiritual son” of Elder Ephraim of Florence, Arizona, formerly of Philotheou.
4. The monastery of Vatopedi has on numerous occasions disclosed that it has sent money to North America for the benefit of monasteries and church organizations. Several of these admissions are made on the official website of the Vatopedi Monastery. These can be found at the following links:
c. Still other facts have come out of news conferences and statements made by Monastery officials to journalists and others.
5. Elder Ephraim of Vatopedi has already been convicted along with Judge Maria Psalti and one other monk of a breach of duty stemming from the delay in publishing a 2004 ruling against the Monastery of Vatopedi in a property dispute. At the base of the criminal conviction was a finding that Elder Ephraim and his fellow monk were responsible for influencing a delay by Judge Psalti which permitted them to facilitate a conveyance of land. That land was exchanged for land owned by the Greek government and it is this exchange, among others, that are currently under further investigation. In the United States this type of crime is known as “Obstruction of Justice”. AP (2009, Oct. 18) Abbot Convicted in Land Case. Athens News. Retrieved from http://www.athensnews.gr/articles/13360/18/10/2009/3335.
6. When Elder Ephraim of Vatopedi was called in for questioning about the land scandal by the Greek Authorities, he refused to answer any questions. Elder Arsenios is Elder Ephraim’s right hand and is the monk responsible for the financial operations of the Vatopedi Monastery. He also refused to answer questions. Tzamaros, P. (2008, Nov. 11). Monks Snub Parliament’s Investigation. Ekathimerini. Retrieved at http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_politics_2_25/11/2008_102452
Why Should We Care?
At a time when many of our Parishes are suffering great economic hardship, should we care about the Vatopedi Land Scandal in Greece and the Ephraimite Monasteries in the United States and Canada and their seemingly endless stream of money? What does it say about us as Christians when those looking for transparency and answers are being attacked and accused of being Anti-Hierarchical or even Anti-Monastic for doing so? Let us continue by looking at some issues. The first is the cost of Elder Ephraim’s monasteries.
Knowledgeable individuals in the construction industry have estimated the building of some Ephraimite monasteries to cost in excess of 15 to 20 million dollars. Does anyone really know where all the money came from? How is it possible in this Archdiocese, whose many churches are struggling with financial problems, to build and fund 18 monasteries in twenty years, with some costing an estimated 20 million dollars? Many of us have asked members of the Archdiocesan Council and others “where does all the money come from”? It is a mystery to all who have been asked. They tell us “we have not received any clear answers directly from the Monasteries”. Gotruthreform.org provides an informed perspective as to one of the sources (in future articles we will disclose others).
Vatopedi Monastery is the monastery on Mount Athos at the center of the largest alleged land scandal in the history of Greece. The starting point of this land scandal is still unclear. There are at least four different theories regarding the way in which Vatopedi secured title to the properties it used in the exchanges with the Nation of Greece. Until the conclusion of the investigation and the subsequent trials, all of these theories are mere speculation and for now, they are all unsubstantiated. It could be that the real truth is composed of bits and pieces of all or some of each theory. It could also be that only one theory is accurate as to the way titles to these properties were acquired. The focus of the investigation is not on how they acquired these properties, but on how values were determined in the exchanges.
First, there is the official explanation given by Vatopedi. This is contained in the previously cited Vatopedi’s statement for the Church’s people. See: http://vatopaidi.wordpress.com/2008/10/27/vatopaidis-statement-for-the-churchs-people/ . Here they tell you that this land was acquired through the Byzantine Emperors beginning in 1080. They assert there was a succession of Emperors that gave additional grants of land to Vatopedi. They represent that all of these grants were proper and legal.
The second theory is very close to the official explanation given by the Vatopedi Monastery. That theory proposes that Vatopedi also acquired the land through a presentation of a Byzantine era mark on documents presented for registration of these properties. The mark issued by Byzantine Emperors during Byzantium was known as a “Chrysovoulos” or Golden Bull. The key difference with the official explanation is that some have alleged that documents presented may not have been legal, could have been forged, or were not authentic. Retrieved from http://www.balkanalysis.com/2008/11/04/scandal-over-vatopedi-international-capital-and-aristocracy-mixed-with-greek-politics/
The third theory is simple; that they acquired the properties during the Ottoman Turkish occupation. Some have speculated that this claim made by Vatopedi could not have really happened. They suggest that this official explanation is incredible because it would place the Monastery in a business relationship with the Ottomans. They have also cast doubt on the genuineness of the documents as well. See article: Kostoupoulos, T. et. al (2008, Sept. 7) Marked with the Conqueror, Retrieved at
The final theory centers on the death of a monk during the 1950’s.The theory suggests that upon the death of one of their monks, the Monastery of Vatopedi legally came into title of approximately 400 stremata of land near Lake Vistonida (it takes approximately 4.4 stremata to make one U.S. acre). After this initial legal registration of land, it has been alleged that the monks of Vatopedi, then began registering parcels of land which they did not legally own; they acquired title through allegedly false documents in order to convert the land to their ownership. These “allegedly fraudulent transfers” occurred over a very lengthy period of time.
Newspapers and investigative television reports led by Greek news channels like “Alpha” (in Athens) asserted that false documents were prepared and registered to convert title to properties in northern Greece from public (state) ownership to ownership by the Vatopedi Monastery. It now appears that many of these properties were near, next to, and even more remarkably, under water at Lake Vistonida. It also has been disclosed that the majority of these “transactions” occurred in the last ten years.
After the monks at Vatopedi took title to these properties, they hired the wife of a Greek Parliament member George Voulgarakis, who was also a cabinet member serving as the Merchant Marine Minister, to act as a notary public. The monastery paid her a fee of between 300,000 Euros (approx. $420,000 at the then exchange rate) or as much as 470,000 Euros (approx. $658,000 at the then exchange rate) for her services. The various news services have given a range of fees paid to the key players in this almost unbelievable calamity. Her brother and father (Dimitris Pelekis) were also hired by the Vatopedi Monastery and by Mount Athos respectively, as attorneys. Her father is alleged to have “charged” 1 million Euros (approx. $1,400,000.00) for his legal services regarding some of the exchanges with the Greek state. These transfers passed through the hands of various government agencies. One such agency was the Ministry of Agriculture. Once the investigation was made public, the Minister of Agriculture Evangelos Bassiakos found reason to leave his office.
The Monks of Vatopedi traded their parcels of land for other land owned by the Greek government. When these transactions were reported in the Greek press, two cabinet ministers resigned including the Notary Public’s husband, George Voulgarakis and State Minister Theodoros Roussopoulos, a top advisor to then Prime Minister Costas Karamalis. Much has been written about the role of Roussopoulos in this tragedy. It was widely reported that Roussopoulos is the “spiritual son” or has “spiritual” ties to Elder Ephraim of Vatopedi. Gilson, G (2008. Oct. 24) Roussopoulos Resigns Under Fire. Retrieved at http://www.athensnews.gr/articles/13310/24/10/2008/22373. As a result of the press’ disclosures of these questionable transactions, the government of Greece has arrested Elder Ephraim of Vatopedi and Elder Arsenios.
Here is an example of one such property exchange. During the investigation, it was disclosed that the Vatopedi Monastery traded some of its land to the Greek government for a former Olympic Games site consisting of 19,000 square meters of land with eight buildings and an additional parcel of 20,000 square meters with five buildings in Acharnes. The Olympic site alone cost the government of Greece approximately 58,000,000 Euros to acquire and build. In March of 2008, the Monastery then sold the sites to a Cyprus land developer. The purchase price paid by the developer to the Monastery was declared at 41,000,000 Euros. These transactions and others are believed to have been executed in a manner that significantly undervalued the actual value, to the detriment of the Greek State. The Cypriot developer was interrogated by the prosecutors about these transactions. The developer admitted giving Elder Ephraim of Vatopedi 9 million Euros cash (in a bag) that had not been declared as part of the 41,000,000 Euro purchase price. Therefore, the known total amount paid by the developer for the parcels in question was in excess of 50,000,000 Euros. After the developer’s disclosure, Elder Ephraim of Vatopedi admitted receipt of this money and said he was going to use it to build “orphanages”. Vatopedi Sold land for millions, Ekathimerini. (2008, Sept. 24) Retrieved at http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_politics_2_24/09/2008_100729, Gilson, G. (2008, Dec. 5) “Ministers Trade Scandal Blame. Athens News. Retrieved at http://www.athensnews.gr/articles/13316/05/12/2008/22568.
In yet another example of an exchange, The Athens News in its article entitled Unholy Scandal Burns Government states:
“Inexplicably, the state assessors are believed to have vastly underestimated the value of exchanged property. According to contracts published in the Greek Press, a land parcel of 3,300 hectares in Attica’s Kato Souli area, which was given by the state [Greece] to Vatopedi was evaluated at 1.4 million Euros for the exchange, but the standard Tax Bureau Valuation in the area (which is well below market) was 9.9 million Euros.” Gilson, G., Unholy Scandal Burns Government, Athens News.
About 240 to 270 land transactions have come to light and are being scrutinized by Greek prosecutors. There are in excess of 10,000 (depending on whose report you read) stremata at issue on the mainland. There is also alleged to be another 3700 stremata parcel on the island of Skyros that is under investigation. Another Unholy land swap under scrutiny, (2009, June 29) Retrieved at http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_politics_2_29/06/2009_108474.
As of the writing of this article (January 2010) on GOTRUTHREFORM.ORG, Elder Ephraim and Elder Arsenios of Vatopedi still await trial. Their trial has been continued on numerous occasions. There have also been different sets of prosecuting attorneys appointed to sift through the complicated transactions. It has been reported that there is an unpublished list of 22 others that are suspected of being involved in this scandal. According to newspaper accounts, the suspects will be charged with 6 felonies and 3 misdemeanors in connection with these transactions. Vatopedi Charges being Lined Up, Ekathemerini (2009, May 19.) Retrieved at http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_politics_2_19/05/2009_107285.
Published reports place the financial damage to the nation of Greece at between 100,000,000 to 1 Billion Euros. Gilson, Ministers Trade Scandal Blame. Athens News. More reliable sources believe that the damages will exceed 400,000,000 Euros. At a time when the Greek government is accused of other financial improprieties and the Nation of Greece is in a deep economic crisis, these disclosures are not helpful. Sadly, as if this could get worse, the two major political parties are reported to be negotiating to determine whether the prosecutors will be given a free reign to go after the suspected politicians that are believed to have benefited economically from this scandal. To be further informed on these topics, we welcome you to fire up your internet search engines to read all of the newspaper accounts. There are many new developments that occur almost daily on this story,
Where are our Hierarchs?
As stated earlier, the question has been posed: Where did all the money come from to build 18 Ephraimite monasteries in 20 years some costing at least 15 to 20 million dollars? Has any Metropolitan ever audited the records of any of the Monasteries of Elder Ephraim of Florence Arizona? According to the Uniform Monastery Regulations, these Monasteries are under the jurisdiction of the regional Metropolis and thus, under the Metropolitan’s purview of power and responsibility. In our research, we have not found one of Elder Ephraim’s monasteries to have ever been audited. Given the allegations in Greece, audited financial records are a necessity. The auditing must be done by an independent auditor. Unfortunately, the economic and political climate in Greece has taught us that we cannot trust non-independent financial records. The financial responsibility standards applied to the monasteries should be no less than those applied to our parishes. Our faithful who work so hard to pay their priests, their fair share assessments and other expenses to keep their church doors open deserve better. (In later parts of this series of articles we will provide our readers with financial records from the lead Ephraimite Monastery).
Numerous questions arise as to the relations between the Monasteries and the Metropolises. Do the most affected Metropolises (Metropolitans of Chicago, Denver and San Francisco) have plans to lead their Metropolises in accordance with their responsibilities outlined in the Uniform Monastery Regulations? Why don’t the Uniform Monastery Regulations require these Ephraimite monasteries to pay fair share assessments? Have any members of the Metropolitan Council asked their Metropolitans whether they have sufficiently supervised these monasteries? If the answers to these questions are no, are these members prepared to ask the difficult questions and risk “rocking the boat” and possibly losing their appointments? If Elder Ephraim of Vatopedi is convicted of these alleged crimes and it is determined that funds from allegedly fraudulent transactions were used to build the Ephraimite Monasteries in North America, will our Hierarchs then also become accountable? Will their respective members of their Metropolitan Councils also become answerable? Have any members of the Metropolitan Councils or the Archdiocesan Council or any Hierarchs communicated these issues to the Patriarch?
Investigation reveals that some concerned council members have asked for an audit of the Ephraimite Monasteries. It has been reported that one of the Metropolitans refused to grant members of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America Finance Committee access to the books and records of one of the Ephraimite Monasteries. What is there to hide in our Church? Why is there no transparency? Have our Hierarchs exercised enough oversight regarding these Monasteries, and should their activities be reviewed by knowledgeable Church officers?
The Patriarch’s Response to the Land Scandal
What was the response of our Patriarch? Did he defrock Elder Ephraim of Vatopedi in the face of very strong and solid evidence and assertions of gross impropriety? Did he remove him from residence at the Vatopedi Monastery pending trial? Did he even place him on suspension barring him from acting as a “spiritual father”? The answer to all of these questions, unfortunately for the laity of our faith is….. NO. The Patriarch merely demoted him as Abbot. Why this mere slap on the hand of Elder Ephraim of Vatopedi? Does the relationship between Elder Ephraim of Vatopedi and Elder Ephraim of Florence Arizona play any role?
The facts and assertions discovered raise the following questions:
1. It is obvious from the reports that the Monastery of Vatopedi was acquiring property. Why?
2. Is engaging in for profit business enterprises appropriate for monks practicing Athonite monasticism?
3. Is there perhaps a larger plan or scheme in place?
4. Do the admissions made by the Vatopedi Monastery that money was sent to North America for the benefit of Monasteries and Church organizations include sending money to those Monasteries founded by or under the “spiritual guidance” of Elder Ephraim of Florence Arizona? If not, then which Monasteries were they sending money to?
5. If the courts in Greece find that the money obtained by Vatopedi was as a result of illegal fraudulent activities of those awaiting trial, do the North American based Hierarchs have a legal and moral responsibility to return any money that may have been sent to North America for any activities under their collective supervision?
Additional facts uncovered by our investigation will be disclosed in Money-Money-Money, Part Two.
There were many newspapers and other sources used to reference the facts and assertions in this article. We suggest the following links as a good starting place to begin your own independent search:
1. http://www.ekathimerini.com: An archive search for “Vatopedi Land Scandal” will reveal over 50 articles just on this topic alone.
2. http://archive.enet.gr/online: This is the website for the newspaper Eleftherotypia. Although this site is difficult to use at times, it contains some very informative articles. One article dated Sept. 7, 2008 titled Marked with the Conqueror, Retrieved at http://archive.enet.gr/online/online_fpage_text/dt=07.09.2008,id=41207144 contains information about the alleged land scandal. For example, it contains copies of documents showing that Vatopedi Monastery exchanged land evenly, even though the land the Monastery received was worth at least eight (8) times the value of land it gave up in exchange. Its English paraphrased translation states:
Exchange of Property. The value of property “A” (alleged to be owned by Vatopedi) is 1,107,044 Euros. In the exchange with the Greek government, the value property “B” was set at 1,107,044 Euros. The value of the properties according to the assessments issued before the exchanges by the Greek government were as follows: the “A” property valued at 1,107,044 Euros; the value of the “B” property was
The property referred to as “A” is a part of Lake Vistonida facing the Prefectures of Xanthi and Rodopi, and which appears as a single owner. The property “B” is a “fillet” (term used by Greek newspaper to indicate very high quality property) of coastal land in Ouranoupoli of Halkidiki which is 8608 acres [sic]. The financial scandal exchanged two properties as equal exchanges when in fact one is eight times greater in value than the other according to the estimate of the tax office.
3. http://developeronline.blogspot.com/2008/09/greece-enters-dark-ages.html -This source presents a light hearted, yet very informative look at the issue in a step by step approach. It also discloses the names of all the players.
4. http://www.athensnews.gr/articles/13315/28/11/2008/22532 -This is a general article about the land scandal from the Athens News. This is an English language newspaper that has been published and distributed in Greece since 1952.
5. There is a discussion group on Facebook called “Concerned
Orthodox Laity of America”. The members of this discussion group have contributed a number of articles in its links section. This is an excellent single source that has already compiled numerous relevant articles on the issue of money and its possible connection to the Monasteries founded by Elder Ephraim of Florence, Arizona.
6. Finally, if you are too busy to spend your time researching, may we suggest a diverse group of sources that include the New York Times and other respected media outlets: