Image: Injured monk
An unidentified monk is moved in an ambulance on Wednesday after clashes at the Orthodox monastic sanctuary of Mount Athos, in northern Greece.
updated 12/21/2006 9:10:25 PM ET 2006-12-22T02:10:25

Police posted a guard Thursday outside a chapel at an Orthodox monastic sanctuary where rebel monks remained barricaded after clashes that left seven people injured.

Wednesday’s violence involved rival groups of monks carrying crowbars and sledgehammers — and is part of a long-standing dispute between legally recognized monks and a rebel monastery that opposes efforts by the Orthodox Church to improve relations with the Vatican.

“We condemn these clashes and hope that calm will prevail,” Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said.

Monks at the rebel Esphigmenou monastery in northern Greece have turned against other monasteries on the all-male, self-governing peninsula of Mount Athos.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of the world’s 250 million Orthodox Christians, has ordered the monks to leave Athos for refusing to recognize his authority.

Greece’s highest administrative court has also ordered their eviction, but the monks have refused to budge.

The Athos dispute was inflamed three weeks ago, when Pope Benedict XVI met Bartholomew on a visit to Turkey, where the patriarch is based. The ecumenical patriarch visited Athos in October, and urged the rebel monks to reconsider their position.

On Wednesday the church-appointed replacement monks tried to end the rebels’ siege of a chapel and offices at Karyes, the monastic community’s administrative center.

Video footage recorded by cell phone, and broadcast on Greek television, showed monks using sledgehammers to try to break into the compound. The rebel monks repelled the intruders with crowbars and fire extinguishers.

Three rebel monks who were arrested by police after receiving hospital treatment Wednesday were freed on the orders of a public prosecutor. Five others remained inside the compound Thursday.

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