Monastery lays claim to late monk’s family estate

Author: Anna Hassapi
Date Published: 01/16/2009

CHALLENGING a Supreme Court decision that upheld the right of monks to have property and pass it on to relatives, the Machairas Monastery is taking its objections to the European Court of Human Rights.

The decision is expected to determine whether the Church Charter, recognised by the Constitution, can override the Republic’s laws.

The case involves the property of a monk who entered Machairas Monastery in 1949 and remained there until his death in 2000.

The monk had passed on his personal property to his three siblings in 1980. Following his death, however, the monastery sought to claim his property, a move that was challenged by the monk’s family.

They argued the monastery had no right over their brother’s property.

Nicosia District Court upheld the siblings’ argument, identifying them as the legal administrators of the property and his legal heirs.

The Court also declined to give the monastery administration of the property. Challenging this decision, Machairas took the case to the Supreme Court, which also found in favour of the monk’s family.

Although the Supreme Court acknowledged that the Church has exclusive rights over its own property, it clarified that the Church Charter — which is recognised by the Constitution although not adopted as legislation — does not override state law.

The Court also held that the Church does not have the right to interfere in other people’s personal property.

In addition, the Supreme Court held that a provision in the Church Charter, which warns of sanctions and punishment against monks who refuse to give their property to the Church was unconstitutional.

“Article 107 of the Charter and other ordinances on sanctions in case monks do not transfer their property are unconstitutional and in breach of article 23 of the Constitution,” the Court decision read.

The Archbishopric has so far declined to comment on the case. “The monastery’s abbot, Ledras Epifanios, is a dear spiritual man and Machairas Monastery is a royal, autonomous monastery,” said Costas Protopapas, the Director of the Archbishop’s Press Office.

“Although part of the Church of Cyprus, the monastery is self-administered and the Archbishopric cannot have a view on the issue,” he added.

Yet despite its autonomy Machairas Monastery still reports to the Holy Synod, which was reportedly not informed of the legal battle.

According to reports in Phileleftheros a member of the Holy Synod criticised the monastery’s stance, arguing that it should not make a fuss over a monk leaving property to his siblings.

“If it was me, I would just say that’s what he thought was best and that’s what he did. The monastery will neither become poor nor rich from the property of one monk,” the Holy Synod member was quoted as saying.