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'Holy' Byzantine-style business shakes up Greek politics

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Until a few days ago the Vatopedi Monastery of Mount Athos, in northern Greece, was mostly famous for its Holy Orthodox' heirlooms like the jewel-encrusted reliquary which contains the skull of Saint John Chrysostom. However, a recent flagrant involvement of the Monastery in dubious economic exchanges with the Greek government tends to change its reputation from a deeply religious place to a Real Estate agent.

But, how can a Greek Orthodox Monastery be implicated in dealings regarding state land property? The question is rhetorical. It seems that, sometimes, even monks envy the intercourses between Business and Politics. An assumption which could be certified as long as the Greek state and Vatopedi appear to have exchanged land property under quite controversial terms of agreement. A questionable deal which may contain underevaluation of property belonging to the state - due to special relations between Monastery's Archimandrite and government officials - should definitely be reviewed by Justice. But furthermore, as daily broadsheet Kathimerini writes, the Vatopedi Monastery scandal "has sent shock waves through society as whole," creating a malodorous environment in which a major effect is the depreciation of Politics - but, it's not only that. It led to the resignation of a Minister, a personal friend of Greece's Prime Minister, whose name was involved in the scandal.

However, the interesting fact of the story isn't the involvement of governmental Ministers in the case of land property exchange between the state and Vatopedi. It is the notorious business activity of the Monastery which aggregate much of the interest. According to Athens daily newspaper Eleftherotypia which set off the issue, the Holy Monastery of Vatopedi owns property in Greece, Cyprus, the Balkans and Turkey, while it appears as the legal proprietor of cultivable lands and a large number of houses, hotels, mines and other monasteries.

Demonstrating a Byzantine-style grandiosity Vatopedi could be compared more with a five star hotel rather than with a humble Orthodox Monastery, something that becomes apparent not only because of its luxurious guest houses, but also because of its selective VIP visitors, including Greek politicians as well as international celebrities like Prince Charles of Wales.

It could be a Byzantine-inpired intrigue story from the very heart of Constantinople or even another unexceptional scandal in modern Greece's political scene. Nonetheless, it actually consists a good example of how close political corruption comes to Religion's decline, especially when the servants of God tend to act like politicians and businessmen. Then, unfortunately, it is neither Politics nor Religion, but a 'crafty' show.

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Aris Claras is a writer based in Greece.

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