Thessalonika, Greece, Jan 16--(AP) More than 100 reclusive monks living on Mount Athos on Thursday said they would wage a "spiritual war" to prevent their unprecedented eviction from the all-male Orthodox Christian monastic community.

The monks are accused of failing to recognize the authority of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians. Their refusal stems from their condemnation of Bartholomew's efforts to heal a more than 1,000-year-old rift with the Roman Catholic Church and his meetings with Pope John Paul II.

Bartholomew on Dec. 14 declared the 117 ultraconservative zealots living in Esphigmenou monastery as "schismatic." That decision allowed Mount Athos' Greek government administrator to order their forcible eviction on Jan. 28.

It is the largest-ever known eviction of monks from Mount Athos since the community was founded on a northern Greek peninsula more than 1,000 years ago. The last eviction, for the same reasons, took place a decade ago and involved five monks living in an isolated hermitage.

Abbot Methodius said his monks would wage a spiritual and legal battle to block the eviction order. "We will fight with our prayer beads," Methodius told a news conference in this northern port city, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) west of Mount Athos.

Located by the sea, the monks have for 20 years shown their opposition to any reconciliation with Catholics by adorning their 993-year-old monastery with black flags and a giant banner reading "Orthodoxy or death."

Holding up a knotted rope rosary, Methodius said it would be his weapon should police attempt to forcibly remove monks. "It has 300 knots, these are our 300 bullets. We wage a spiritual war," said Methodius, who like most monks goes by just one name.

Although Bartholomew is based in Istanbul, Turkey, he has spiritual jurisdiction over the autonomous peninsula that is run by a council of monks representing its 20 monasteries. Mount Athos is administered by a civilian governor appointed by Greece's ministry of foreign affairs.

Methodius said the monks would try to repeal the eviction order in Greece's highest administrative court. Since the eviction order was issued on Dec. 14, Methodius complained that authorities have cut electricity to the monastery and prevented the supply of food, heating oil and medical supplies.

The order is based on a clause in the Greek constitution that recognizes Mount Athos' governing charter. That charter does not allow schismatics or heretics to live in the community.

In the eviction order, acting Mount Athos Governor Aristos Kasmiroglou referred to the monks as a "forbidden brotherhood." "Constitutional procedures were not upheld, they (the monks) were not called to testify at the ecumenical patriarchate," said Ifigenia Kamtsidou, the monks legal advisor.

Bartholomew's leadership of Mount Athos dates back to the 1,100-year-old Greek Orthodox Byzantine Empire, which collapsed when Muslim Ottoman Turks conquered the city - then called Constantinople - in 1453.

Christianity split into Orthodox and Roman Catholic branches in 1054. In an event known as the Great Schism, the separation was mainly caused because of a dispute over papal authority.

Mount Athos is considered a spiritual cradle of the Orthodox faith and its conservative monks are widely perceived as being guardians of the faith. The inhabitants of Esphigmenou are considered the most doctrinal of all the 2,000 or so monks living there.

The monastery's first serious falling out with the ecumenical patriarchate came in the mid-1960's, after Catholic and Orthodox leaders withdrew a series of anathemas - or damnations - issued in 1054.

Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholics began in earnest when Bartholomew was elected patriarch in 1991. He has met Pope John Paul II several times.

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