Parents seeking €2 million in damages from Church

Author: Alexia Saoulli
Date Published: 09/03/2008

THE PARENTS of a 35-year-old man have filed a €2 million lawsuit against the Church and government for failing to protect their son from becoming a monk.

Frixos and Maria Theodoulou are claiming both state and Church are in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms which stipulates everyone has the right to the protection of private and family life.

Based on this argument, the case could very well end up before the European Court of Human Rights.

“If of his own accord he wants to do this thing and I see that his decision is conscious, if I see the entire situation is not some sick situation, if it is pure, then he can go with my blessing,” Maria Theodoulou said.

The 35-year-old first came into contact with Limassol Bishop Athanasios five years ago. After several months, his parents said they noted a change in his behaviour.

He terminated a relationship with his girlfriend and started making frequent visits to Machairas monastery.

The Theodoulous believe their son was the victim of an organised ring involving a monastery in Greece, which collaborates with local monks in recruiting impressionable and emotionally vulnerable men.

“I firmly believe that my son was the target of this organised ring. Everyone knows it. Those in government and the Church. They know it and admit it but hide behind the lack of legislation,” said Frixos Theodoulou.

But Archbishop Chrysostomos said the monk was an adult and well able to make his own decisions.

“Had he been 16, 17 or 18 years old, I would totally agree that he had been influenced and that he had been psychologically captivated,” he said.

The Archbishop said he had plans to meet with the monk concerned and that the Church would best see how to utilise his capabilities. The implication he made was that the monk would not be kept at the monastery because he could do more with his mind if placed elsewhere.

Nevertheless, Maria Theodoulou is convinced her son, who was educated in the UK and holds four Masters Degrees and a PhD, was brainwashed.

“When I asked him on the day he was going to the monastery ‘what is your future my son’, he said ‘saintliness’. Well that is when I really started to worry,” she said.

But a source close to the monastery said what the monk had meant was that he wanted to purify his body and soul as much as possible.

“He wanted to purify his thoughts, actions and words. He wanted to live close to God and in God’s grace,” he said.

The monk’s mother does not see it that way.

“My child started to say ‘Get behind me Satan!’ That sort of behaviour. He was afraid of me, his mother. He was afraid I have the devil inside me,” she said.

The source said: “This is an expression and she is taking it literally. He felt she was trying to tempt him away from his vocation and he needed to be resolute in his beliefs. That is what he meant.”

The Theodoulous are also upset their son is no longer speaking to them after they filed the lawsuit last week. They believe this is a further indication of his brainwashing.

“I told him we were suing his handlers and not him, something he cannot understand because they have brainwashed him,” Frixos said.

The source said: “He wants nothing to do with him because they are fighting him so hard. They are going against what he wants and what he is doing. He loves them but he wants to stay in the monastery. It is what he wants to do.”

Shortly after the man joined the monastery, Frixos Theodoulou said he spoke to a doctor who told him that unless his son left the monastery immediately he would become a “vegetable without hope of return”. Not long afterwards Theodoulou took his son to see a psychiatrist, who told him that although he was well, he appeared affected by the monastery environment. The 35-year-old agreed to see the psychiatrist again, but cancelled the appointment after meeting with the Bishop of Limassol, his father said.

Haritos Karatzia, who is a staunch supporter of the Bishop of Limassol and the Abbot of Machairas, said he had a lot of contact with the monastery and knew exactly what was going on.

According to the 40-year-old father of four, the latest accusations were baseless and unfair.

“There is no evidence to support this. They don’t know what goes on there and only give one side of the story. Machairas monastery is an expression of real Orthodoxy and is a continuous and uninterrupted experience and knowing of God,” he said.

Karatzia said he knew several cases of monks who had left the monastery because they found they could not commit to that kind of life.

“It is not easy. They pray for eight hours together, then they work without pay for eight hours and then they have eight hours to rest. Even during those hours of rest they pray. The pray for all the world’s problems, for the sick, for peace. They ask God to help people find salvation.”

The 40-year-old said he had had his own misgivings about the Machairas monks until he’d met them.

“They are so pure and full of love. Anyone can come and go to the monastery. The Abbot won’t tell anyone to leave. But if someone finds it does not touch the depths of his soul and it is not his vocation, he can leave. The door is open and whoever wants can come and go,” he said.

Regarding the latest attack the monastery was facing, Karatzia said the monks trusted in God and would prevail.

“But I can’t accept that they are fighting them this way. Woe betides anyone who takes the Abbot to court. These things just aren’t right. What they are saying is ridiculous,” he said.

THE parents’ legal representation is being handled by Nicosia lawyer Christos Clerides.

The lawyer said the crux of the case was the methods used to influence various people into becoming monks. Speaking to Phileleftheros newspaper, he said the right to family life did not only concern minors but adults also. According to Clerides, the institution of family extended from the birth of its members to their death and the state had a duty to take steps, including legal regulations, to safeguard the right to keep a family united.

Clerides told Phileleftheros the state had to provide legislation that protected individuals from exploitation with the result that they turned to the Church during moments of weakness. He said the Church’s constitution contained unacceptable provisions that stipulated a monk’s entire personal fortune was turned over to the Church. In other words, the Church had a motive to entice children with fortune, he said.