THESSALONIKI – People skeptical of COVID-19 vaccines and outright resisters are turning their eyes toward the Holy Mountain of Mt. Athos for advice from monks – a number of whom are among the most defiant against being inoculated.
That comes as the number of cases, hospitalizations, people on ventilators in public hospital Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and deaths are rising – primarily because of the unvaccinated spreading the Coronavirus even to the fully vaccinated as shots wear off.
The resurging pandemic and a New Democracy government mandate that those over 60 must make appointments by Jan. 16, 2022 to get their first of two required shots of most versions – or face 100-euro ($113) monthly fines – is changing minds.
In a report, Kathimerini noted how many are looking toward one of the world’s most revered religious sites for help about which way to go even if they will find contradictory answers from anti-vaxxers there and clerical leaders ordering shots.
Only men are allowed to visit there and many are going to seek the advice of monks while women are doing so in writing or other means although it seems most just want backing for their refusal to be vaccinated.
One monk, Efthymios, wrote to a woman correspondent, presumably an abbess, that he finds it difficult to answer the “flood” of letters seeking his advice while men line up daily, even before dawn, to ask him what to do, the paper said.
Efthymios, respectfully called, like all senior monks, Geron Efthymios by the faithful – said that vaccines are only for those who are afraid and that the faithful can rely on the Holy Sacraments, not science to protect them.
That hasn’t worked out so well for some clerics who were infected or died despite their faith in God and a higher power and support for anti-vaxxers from Mt. Athos is the last thing the government wants as it tries to persuade more people to take the shots.
Efthymios is considered an especially important figure in the anti-vaccination movement, because he is regarded as the successor of a revered figure, Geron Paisios, who died in 1994.
Besides providing advice in person, by phone or by correspondence, he takes to modern technology, the Internet and a web page maintained by an acolyte that is especially virulent against the idea of being vaccinated.
That breaks a new law aimed at preventing the spread of fake news about vaccines but there were no reports that he is being investigated or will be prosecuted despite having such huge influence and sway over the unvaccinated and disbelievers.
There are many other monks preaching against vaccination and much more explicit in peddling conspiracy theories and railing against globalization and the Pope, the report added about the ferocity of the anti-vaxxer monks.
The paper also said there was speculation that a Bishop who refused to be hospitalized after being infected with the Coronavirus – then gave in when he became critically ill – is still influenced not by doctors but by his “spiritual guide,” an Athonite monk.
In November, a prosecutor in Thessaloniki ordered a preliminary investigation into statements by an Abbot on Mt. Athos about clerics encouraging monks not to get the vaccination as the government was pressing the populace to do so.
The Abbot of the Esphigmenou Monastery, Vartholomaios, told the state broadcaster ERT he asked for authorities to intervene because no one can be idle “when death smells around us, not only on Mount Athos but all over the world.”
He said he was upset that a purely medical issue has been turned into a spiritual one, claiming some monks are “consciously” lying in the name of Mount Athos and even the Monastery of Esphigmenou.
He was then to be summoned to testify and name those he has referred to in order to determine whether they are disseminating fake news but there was no followup report if he was.
Several dozen monks on Mt. Athos have fallen ill with COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic in March, 2020, some dying due to complications of the disease, not saved by any higher power.