Orthodox monks on Greece's Mount Athos have vowed to defend their centuries-old ban on all female visitors, after a new government-sponsored equality law enabled citizens to change their gender at will.
"In light of this legislation, we wonder what future is left to us", heads of the peninsula's 20 monasteries wrote in a letter to the Greek government. "It is another violation of God's law, just like existing legislation which permits cohabitation agreements between same-sex couples and governs religious education in our schools".
The monks were reacting to the law, enacted overwhelmingly on 10 October, which allows Greeks aged 15 and over to redefine their gender irrespective of how it was recorded at birth. Meanwhile, the measure was also condemned by the Greek Orthodox church's governing Holy Synod, which said it would "affront society, torpedo the sanctity of the family, undermine Christian values and common sense, and above all destroy human beings".
Mount Athos, or Agion Oros, a monastic centre since the Fourth Century, is constitutionally recognised as an autonomous part of northern Greece, with a population of around 2260 monks of various nationalities under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Greece's Kathimerini daily said the law's separation of gender from "physiological conditions" would make it harder to apply the ban on females, which dates from an apparition of the Virgin Mary in the Middles Ages, by giving women the right to declare themselves men while visiting the peninsula.
It said Greece's Justice and Education Ministers, Stavros Kontonis and Kostas Gavroglou, had visited the church's leader, Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens, this week in an effort to "appease church reactions", but said the law had been backed in a "heated speech" by premier Alexis Tsipras, who insisted to parliament "no tradition, no idea of the family, calls for people to be tossed aside into a social and institutional abyss".
Among other Orthodox reactions, Metropolitan Kosmas of Aetolia told MPs in a letter the "unnatural law" would "foster depravity", while Metropolitan Nikolaos of Phthiotis branded it a "satantic deed", which would would "inflict blasphemy on the human body", adding that supporters were attempting to turn Greece into "a state of sin".
PICTURE: Simonopetra monastery, a 13th century monastery, Mount Athos, the holy peninsula that hosts 20 monasteries