Cyprus Mail

Church clash has kept public enthralled

feature kyriacos the monastery at the centre of the storm
The monastery at the centre of the storm

Sex, money laundering and bogus miracles, the scandal at a small monastery has it all

The weird goings-on at the relatively obscure monastery Osiou Avakoum that were first reported 10 days ago have developed into an all-out public war between the two monks at the centre of the allegations and Bishop Isaias of Tamassos and Orini, under whose authority they were.

The two sides have been publicly exchanging accusations, while film footage from the CCTV at the monastery, which portrays the two monks in a very bad light have been leaked to the media and posted on a host of websites.

CCTV recordings were in the hands of the bishop. Police spokesman, Christos Andreou, said on Friday the police were handed some of the recordings by the bishop, in order to assist their investigations.

Meanwhile, on Friday, Phileleftheros reported what could be described as a threat by the monks, who were apparently considering whether “to take next step and report the case that falls under the most serious of the criminal code”.

The paper warned that “if, in the end, one of the cases that has not seen the light of publicity is reported, society will suffer a huge shock.” What would be more shocking than cases of forgery and conspiracy, currently being investigated, remains to be seen.

Nobody could have guessed that the story would have taken such dimensions when it broke late on Wednesday March 6, with reports that the head of the monastery Nektarios and fellow monk, archimandrite Porfyrios, were caught on camera having sex with each other, while a raid of the monastery, during which Bishop Isaias was present, found €800,000 in cash in the safe – revenue from staged miracles it was claimed. It was also reported that sex toys and sexual stimulants were found in their chambers.

The raid on March 5, according to the monks’ version, relayed by their lawyers was an exercise in intimidation, consisting of 30 men, 10 of whom were hooded. The bishop was present as was the former chief of police Kypros Michaelides, in his capacity as a member of bishopric’s committee of laymen. The bishopric’s version was that it had taken people to witness that the money was hidden in the monastery and to see the counting.

In the letter by the monks’ lawyers, Adrianna Klaedes and Nikolas Koulouris, it was claimed that the two monks had been “kidnapped” by the hooded men and forced to sign confessions which included a request for their defrocking as punishment for their sins. “They took their mobile phones, personal documents… and violently forced them into a vehicle,” said the lawyers’ letter.

The operation, said the lawyers, was overseen by Bishop Isaias, who had allegedly kept them in different rooms in the bishopric and questioned them for hours while they were under guard.

The confession and defrocking request was not the end of the matter, because a an urgently-called meeting of the Holy Synod, under Archbishop Georgios decided that the two monks would appear before a six-member ecclesiastical court for trial. Bishop Isaias had argued at the Synod that the monks should be defrocked and the case concluded. The trial which is being held behind closed doors began last week.

Despite the ongoing trial, the accusations have been flying, mainly through the leaking of CCTV footage obtained from the monastery illegally, according to the lawyers of Nektarios and Porfyrios.

Apart from footage of their sex sessions (they claimed were fake and involved another monk) which were reportedly shown to the Holy Synod, there was footage of Nektarios ordering monks to put holy water in the holy cross, which would gradually secrete and give the cross a pleasant smell that would be perceived as a miracle by the faithful.

Nektarios’ lawyers claimed he had ordered for the cross to be cleaned and the monks had used methylated spirit; they also provided a worshipper from Greece, who was present, as a witness to support this.

A second video, posted on websites on Thursday, showed a monk shouting at a woman, who worked at the monastery and hitting her with a belt. The woman being beaten, posted on her Facebook page that “the video had been doctored” although she admitted having “a scuffle with a monk as a result of a misunderstanding for which I was to blame”.

When the story broke everyone wondered how the monks could have been so foolish having sex, talking about what to do about the money they had and about the staging of miracles when there was CCTV filming all their words and actions. It became obvious that these had been installed, when they had been absent from the monastery, and were hidden in places where they could not be spotted.

Given that Bishop Isaias was in possession of the recordings, which he eventually handed over to the police, it could be deduced that they were installed on his orders, without informing the monks. Isaias’ brother is a surveillance expert who works for the secret service Kyp, although there is no suggestion he had anything to do with their installation at the monastery.

The root cause of the dispute, however, is about money, with the monks claiming they were sending money they were collecting to Tamassos Bishopric and had also contributed some €400,000 to Isaias’ campaign in the archiepiscopal elections. All this was denied by Isaias, while a news report on Thursday alleged that Abbot Nektarios had given an assurance to Isaias that claims the bishop had demanded the transfer of money at regular intervals from the monastery were false.

Nektarios’ lawyers issued a statement denying the veracity of this report. “There had never been such an assurance on behalf of the abbot, nor had he taken an oath about this on the Holy Bible.” The accusations of the abbot “about being obliged by the bishop to give money from the monastery are completely valid,” said the statement.

It added that the accusations were “supported and proved from deposits/entries, testimonies of monks of the monastery, but also from the content of SMS messages the bishop sent the abbot. There are also deposits in the bank account of the bishopric for some of these transactions.”

feature kyriacos bishop of tamasos
The Bishop of Tamasos

Osiou Avakoum was collecting large amounts of money from the faithful, since its establishment in 2020 by engaging in an industry of alleged miracles. Some of these were reported by the media, encouraging swarms of people to visit the monastery, which claimed it had cured people with cancer and helped infertile women have children.

The money kept pouring in thanks to the marketing of ‘miracles’ through the use of social media and religious ‘influencers’ in Greece with tens of thousands of followers. ‘Influencers’ would post videos of miracles regularly, causing the faithful to swarm to Osiou Avakoum. In addition to that many holy relics were brought to the monastery which also generated large donations from the faithful. This did not stop Nektarios urging his congregation at the end of the church service (video has been posted) to make donations because the monastery was in great need of money.

What had Bishop Isaias been doing when all this miracle business was taking place?

Veteran journalist, who follows religious affairs, Aristides Viketos told the Sunday Mail: “I find it very difficult to accept that Isaias only found out now what was going on at the monastery. If he only found out now then he has no management skills and is incapable of running a bishopric.”

He added: “the monks may have been fools, but wasn’t Isaias bothered with what he saw happening?”

This unholy row has dragged others into it. Political parties have joined the debate after it emerged that Elam leader Christos Chrisou was present at the counting of the money taken from the monastery at the Tamassos bishopric. What was the leader of the extreme right-wing party doing there, they asked. Like the former chief of police, Christou was a member of the bishopric’s committee of laymen, as was the president of the bar association, Michalis Vorkas, who was also present at the money counting.

Questions were also asked about the role of the police. It was originally reported that there were two police officers during the raid, but it emerged on Friday there had been four, apart from the former chief, raising issues about Isaias’ links with the force.

Deputy government spokesman Yiannis Antoniou said this was the reason that two criminal investigators from the state legal service had been appointed to take part in the police investigation. “The purpose of the appointment is to secure the impartiality and integrity of the investigations,” said Antoniou on Friday morning.

There is a police investigation also in progress, parallel to the ecclesiastical court and there is a strong possibility the case would eventually go to civil court. If this happens “it will create havoc,” said Viketos as the money trail and the connection of different people will be revealed.


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