The alleged brainwashing of a young man, said to have shunned his family and turned to monastic life, has regained traction after the recent publication of his mother’s shocking testimony in an ongoing lawsuit.
In the first-of-its kind lawsuit, now being heard before Nicosia district court, the young man’s family are seeking general damages of up to €2 million from Machairas monastery in Limassol, current Limassol bishop Athanasios, the Archbishop in his capacity as the head of the Church, as well as from the Republic.
The family of Giorgos Theodolou, from Nicosia, claim that Athanasios proselytized their son beginning in 2001. As a result of the indoctrination, Giorgos, now aged 43, was completely changed as a person.
There is no legal precedent for this type of claim, and the Cyprus Mail understands that there are dozens of families with similar grievances against the church who are awaiting the outcome of this case.
The case was filed in 2010, with the hearings starting around May 2015.
In September of this year, Giorgos’ mother Maria testified in court. She told of how her son gradually came under the spell, as it were, of Athanasios.
Sources apprised of the matter told the Mail that Giorgos’ first contact with Athanasios happened when the young man was studying at the University of Cyprus. There, Athanasios was giving a series of lectures on monasticism.
The mother provided an account of how her son’s brain was re-wired. Prior to this, she said, Giorgos was an active and extroverted young man, and was involved in a romantic relationship.
That all changed, however, as he gradually turned into an introvert, morose, grew a beard and wore only black clothes, spending hours on end praying.
Matters came to a head one day when Giorgos, in a state of panic, told his mother that he had seen a “demon.”
His mother tried to make him see reason, asking him how a spiritual person could have such experiences.
His response was that “the devil” was seeking to stop him from becoming a monk and eventually a “saint.”
In desperation, the mother contacted Athanasios – who from 1993 to 1999 was abbot at Machairas monastery before being ordained bishop of Limassol.
Athanasios’ response was that Giorgos was an adult and could therefore make his own choices.
Once Giorgos discovered that his mother had spoken with Athanasios, he allegedly flew into a rage and physically assaulted her. It was the first time he had ever done so.
The family dismisses the church’s ‘free will’ argument, insisting that their son became a pawn in the hands of the monastery.
Giorgos’ mother is set to be cross-examined by the defendants’ lawyers on November 10.
The plaintiffs are also suing the attorney-general (the Republic) for failing to institute laws protecting family life. The Republic is also being held accountable for not instituting a framework that designates under what circumstances a person can become a monk, given the austere nature of the calling that involves isolation.
It is not yet clear whether Giorgos or bishop Athanasios will be taking the stand.
An ordained monk must transfer all his possessions to his monastery. It’s understood that, to prevent this, Giorgos’ father has since transferred title to his property to his daughter, to prevent the property going to Giorgos – and ultimately Machairas monastery – after he passes.