By Karolos Grohmann
ATHENS (Reuters) - At least seven Greek monks were injured on Wednesday when opposing groups of monks in the Mount Athos monastic community clashed inside a disputed chapel.
The monks of the Esfigmenou monastery, which has broken away from the 19 other monasteries on the male-only community and refuses to recognise the Ecumenical Patriarch as the head of the Orthodox faith, said they had come under attack.
"We were inside the chapel when a group of monks broke in with sledgehammers and crowbars and attacked us," Father Methodios, the abbot of Esfigmenou, told state television.
"How could they do this during this time of peace, days before Christmas?"
He said the opposing monks had been appointed to replaced them by the community's top administrative body. Three of those injured belonged to the alleged attackers.
The chapel belonging to the monastery was in Karies, the capital of the community in the mountains of northern Greece.
The community has been trying to evict the rebel monks for years, saying they had no place there since they refuse to fall under the patriarchate's jurisdiction.
Under Greece's constitution, the Patriarchate has supreme spiritual authority over the semi-autonomous region.
"We did not provoke them. They came to throw us out of the chapel that is ours and we defended ourselves," Father Methodios said. "They hit us and we defended ourselves."
Holy community representatives could not be reached for a comment.
Police confirmed seven monks had been taken to a hospital and several of them were being treated for head wounds.
Esfigmenou monks say the 1,000-year-old monastery is theirs. They have also clashed before with police sent to evict them.
The monks have sharply criticised attempts to improve ties with the Catholic Church and the Pope.
The Mount Athos peninsula is considered as Orthodox Christianity's spiritual home from which all females are banned.
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