Greek Court Orders End

To Monastery Siege

Greece's highest court has ordered police to lift a siege of a monastery where more than 100 Orthodox monks face eviction for not recognizing the authority of their bishop.

The monks locked themselves in the Esphigmenou monastery at Mount Athos, a peninsula in northern Greece, after receiving an eviction notice Jan. 28.

Police were brought in to watch the premises, and the monks feared that they would be arrested if they left the compound to obtain food, heating oil and medical supplies.

The monks appealed to the country's highest court, the Council of State, which is expected to rule on the eviction order in October.

Mount Athos, home to 20 Orthodox monasteries, is a self-governing region of Greece under the spiritual jurisdiction of Bartholomew I, the ecumenical patriarch in Istanbul.

The Esphigmenou monks said they rejected the patriarch's efforts to restore ties with the Roman Catholic Church and called him a heretic. The patriarch told Greek authorities to order the monks to leave.

-- Bill Broadway

Saudi Firm on Church Ban

As Islam's birthplace, Saudi Arabia will never allow churches to be built, the country's defense minister said in comments reported by Saudi newspapers.

"This country was the launchpad for the prophecy and the message, and nothing can contradict this, even if we lose our necks," Prince Sultan, the minister, said in Riyadh last weekend after hearing complaints that Christians are not allowed to worship in public.

Those who want to establish churches "are, unfortunately, fanatics," Sultan said. "There are no churches -- not in the past, the present or future. . . . Whoever said that must shut up and be ashamed."

Islam is the only accepted religion in Saudi Arabia, home to the faith's holiest shrines, in Mecca and Medina.

On Monday, a State Department spokesman said Saudi Arabia came close to being added to this year's list of countries censured for religious intolerance. The department decided to try to work with Saudi officials to improve the state of religious freedom in that Middle East country, he said.

-- Associated Press

Gay Jews Reconsidered

The lawmaking body for the Conservative branch of Judaism has agreed to reopen discussion of its ban on same-sex unions and ordaining homosexuals.

Rabbi Reuven Hammer, president of the movement's Rabbinical Assembly, requested the review late last month after the lay president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Judy Yudof, said many Conservative Jews had questions about the status of homosexuals. Her group represents about 800 North American congregations.

A panel of 25 rabbis will decide whether its condemnation of gay sex still holds under current interpretations of religious law. The Torah's prohibition against homosexual behavior is the reason Conservative Judaism bars gays from serving as rabbis and cantors.

The more liberal Reform movement ordains homosexuals and blesses same-sex couples, while the Orthodox does not.

-- Associated Press

Muslim Groups to Merge

Two major U.S. Muslim advocacy organizations have announced that they will unite to form a new group, the National American Muslim Federation.

The federation, which will emerge from the American Muslim Council and the American Muslim Alliance, was agreed upon March 1 and plans to begin work by June. The federation will combine the functions of the alliance, which works in electoral politics from its San Francisco office, and the Washington-based council, which lobbies on policy initiatives and works with the media on issues important to U.S. Muslims.

It will maintain offices on both coasts.

-- Religion News Service