Russian Orthodox priests are complaining they are unable to obtain Schengen visas for EU travel through Greek missions as relations between Athens and Moscow worsen and churches divide over the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
In a report carried by the BBC’s Russian-language service on Thursday, a source from the church in Constantinople claimed this Greek “policy” is because “[Russian] priests … are perceived as potential spies and agents of influence”.
Several priests told the BBC they had either been refused a visa or only received short-term single-entry documents. Many want to come to Greece to see Mount Athos, an importance place of pilgrimage in the Orthodox Christian world.
Mount Athos falls under the jurisdiction of Constantinople.
Thursday’s report claims the heart of conflict is over moves by Orthodox clergy in Ukraine to win independence — autocephaly — and break away from Moscow.
Ukraine has seen intense fighting for several years after the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia and attempts by pro-Russian militias in eastern provinces to separate from the government in Kiev.
A Russian Synod source told the BBC: “The Patriarchate of Constantinople is struggling with the Russian Church for influence in the Orthodox world. The Moscow and Constantinople Patriarchates are in tense relations today because of Ukraine.”
Greece also recently expelled two Russian diplomatic staff over allegations they were meddling in the country’s internal affairs by stoking opposition to the name deal with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.