Family wins inheritance from church

Author: Elias Hazou
Date Published: 04/11/2007

IN WHAT could be a landmark case, the relatives of a dead monk have won the right to his inheritance, fending off a claim by the monastery he had served for more than 50 years.

The deceased had joined Macheras Monastery in 1949, apparently pledging all his possessions – present and future – to it.

On joining the commune, a monk gives up all his earthly possessions, and the monastery undertakes to shelter and feed him for the rest of his life. In return, he is expected to transfer any property that comes his way to the monastery.

According to the Church charter, a monk “is entitled to no personal immovable property whatsoever”.

Any property that may come into the possession of the monk shall immediately pass to the monastery. Furthermore, he should pass on any family inheritance to others within a year at the latest, otherwise this too shall come into the ownership of the monastery.

“Any immovable or movable that comes into the possession, or is registered in the name, of a monk, shall, subsequent to his death, pass to the monastery, who is the exclusive beneficiary of the monks.”

In addition to land, the late clergyman also had movable property, including shares on the stock market and cash savings.

In 1980 Savvas Makheriotis had transferred his property to relatives as a gift.

But when he died in 2000, the monastery laid a claim to the property, citing the aforementioned Church charter and internal regulations.

The relatives took the case to court and won. The monastery then appealed to the Supreme Court, which upheld the initial decision.

The top court in the land deemed that the Church charter was unconstitutional because, while members of the cloth are bound by ecclesiastical rules, they remain citizens of the Republic and as such retain the right to do as they please with their personal property.

In its verdict, the court said that the right to ownership is enshrined in the Constitution and cannot be undercut by the internal regulations of any organisation.

The court did acknowledge, however, that at the same time a clergyman was liable to sanctions by the abbey he belonged to, but noted this was a separate matter.

“The autonomy of the Church is restricted to the management of its own property, and does not extend to the property of its officials and monks, who remain citizens of the Republic and whose rights are safeguarded by the Constitution and the laws of the state,” the court said.
Macheras Monastery is located 40km west of Nicosia, its members adhering to traditionalist values of Greek Orthodoxy.

Because of historic reasons, the abbey has considerable privileges and is considered almost an independent entity within the Church. The abbot of Makheras is entitled to a vote inside the Holy Synod.

According to recent but unconfirmed reports, monks there were so affronted by the sight of “semi-nude” tourists visit their habitat, they hired Group 4, a British security firm, to stop those wearing shorts, miniskirts and T-shirts from entering.