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By Paul M. Weyrich
When we hear about the Middle East, we frequently hear about the holy places that are important to religious believers. Some date back to the beginning of recorded history. There are holy places that are mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments. This is true about Israel and what may become Palestine and now we hear the same thing about Iraq. There are many shrines that Muslims regard as extremely holy. Iraqi tradition holds that Iraq was the Garden of Eden, the paradise created by God for man. Disobedience resulted in Adam and Eve's expulsion from the Garden.
Well, there is a holy place for some Christians, which is not as well known as those in the Middle East, but which has been understood as sacred ground for more than one thousand years.
I am referring to Mt. Athos. This holy mountain for Orthodox Christians is located on a peninsula in the northern part of Greece. It is occupied only by monks. In the Western church (mainly Roman Catholic) some monks teach or do social work or other kinds of worldly activism. In the Eastern Christian church (Orthodoxy) monks do only one thing. They pray.
Various groups of Orthodox monks pray day and night for the world, for people who are ill, for troubled marriages, for all sorts of intentions. The fact that Mt. Athos is as little known as it is, is a tribute to the fact that these monks have not injected themselves into politics. They have never sought publicity.
It is difficult to get to Mt. Athos. There are no motels or hotels on Mt. Athos. Visitors live the way the monks live. They have tiny rooms with just a bed and a chair. There are no private bathrooms. The reason to be there is simply to pray. The Divine Office is followed so that there are prayer services many times during the day and night. Those monks who are priests serve what is known as the Divine Liturgy. In the Western church that service is known as the Mass.
Who could object to such an arrangement? The European Parliament, that's who. You see Mt. Athos is all male. Only males who are monks can reside there. Only males can visit.
That violates today's extremist ideology. That ideology demands that there never be separation between the sexes. No all-boy schools. Not even boys' choirs. Even in athletics there is a challenge to the male domination of some sports.
The European Union, when it was formed, adopted a position against discrimination of the sexes. But it granted an exemption to Mt. Athos because of its special status as a holy place. Now, however, the European Parliament is in the process of reconsidering that exemption.
French (of course) Euro-deputy Fode Sylla has prepared a report recommending the end to the exemption because Mt. Athos is "an infringement on women's human rights." The only negative votes were cast by the Socialist government of Greece.
Think about this. Just because women can't visit Mt. Athos, it is an infringement of women's human rights. See where this ideology has taken us? Women have a fundamental right to go to a place where they have not been able to go for 1,000 years. It is the business of the Orthodox Church if they want women or not. Just as in some Orthodox Jewish institutions women are not permitted. Remember the movie Yentil?
But no, not in this enlightened age. The European Union believes it has the right to interfere with tradition, values, symbols and even religious faith. Mind you next, religions which do not have women ministers, including Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and in the USA, for example, Southern Baptists, will be judged guilty of discrimination. And in due course the UN will demand that these religions permit women to be ministers.
These religions will say that they cannot do so because they follow the Scriptures and it is clear that women did not minister in the Old Testament church and women were not selected by Christ to be his apostles in the New Testament church.
Well then, the Bible will have to be eliminated as the basis of these religions. The ideology against discrimination of women trumps all else. It is more important than God's word. And why not? To the people who push this ideology, God is an outmoded concept meant only for the weak and uneducated.
I hope the Orthodox Church doesn't make any compromise on the Mt. Athos issue. What is the European Union going to do? Invade the monastery? The topography of Mt. Athos is such that any invading army would find conquering the area extremely difficult. Perhaps the EU will do what NATO did under the leadership of Gen. Wesley Clark. Maybe the EU will bomb the holy shrines just as it did the holy sites of Orthodoxy in Serbia.
What does it matter if ancient churches are destroyed? Who cares if there are a few hundred dead monks? After all it is the ideology that is important. You see sovereignty does matter. The more EU nations cede authority to the EU, the more they will be confronted with ideology "über alles."
But it may end up costing them. The Swedes said no to the Euro last week. Even Tony Blair's government is skeptical about the European Union.
No, I believe if the Greek Orthodox Church and the Greek government hold firm it will be the EU that will fold. The majority of Euro-deputies may not believe in God, but in the end I believe they will be fearful of a confrontation with God's church. Most of these deputies are not atheists. They are agnostics. Which means they just aren't sure.
Better not risk it.
Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free
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