December 31, 2019 / 11:15 AM / 3 months ago

Dutch city tells floating Georgian monastery to cast off

(This Dec. 31 story corrects Verhage’s title in seventh paragraph)

FILE PHOTO: Father Abbot Abibon poses on the front deck. A boat intended as a mobile Georgian Orthodox monastery, featuring a chapel decorated with wall frescos, has been at anchor in the Dutch harbour town of Vlissingen for two years while being refurbished. The monastery expects to set sail from Vlissingen in spring, to visit Georgian communities around Europe, Vlissingen, Netherlands December 30, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

VLISSINGEN, Netherlands (Reuters) - A tiny Georgian Orthodox monastery being built atop a ship in the Dutch port of Vlissingen is facing an uncertain future, after the city ordered it to set sail by March 1.

The unfinished monastery is the dream of Abbot Abibos, who has overseen two years of renovations on the ship — re-christened the Elia II, after the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church — including having frescoes painted on the ceiling of its small chapel.

Abibos said a floating monastery, with living space for himself and two nuns, Sister Elisabeth and Sister Nino, makes sense.

On the one hand, “it is not in the city and is a quiet place for a monastic life”, he said. On the other, it would allow the monk and nuns to occasionally welcome fellow worshippers. The church has several hundred members in the Netherlands and Belgium.

“We cannot be far from our parishioners”, Abibos said.

He had hoped the Elia II would be able to have a regular berth in Vlissingen.

But Alderwoman Els Verhage said the city had been granting permits month by month for the ship’s renovation on the understanding Abibos would soon “sail away to serve fellow members of his faith”.

“Establishing a church in the harbor is not allowed and would be a hindrance to development”, Verhage said in a statement. “Abbot Abibos has been informed in writing that his ship is no longer welcome.”

Now Abibos says he is racing to have the ship finished by the March 1 deadline and looking for other options, while he and the sisters lodge in Vlissingen, a city of 40,000 in southwestern Netherlands.

“Through everything we do every day we try to honor God,” he said. “Whether that is praying, working, eating. Even while resting, we try to do that in God’s name.”

Reporting by Toby Sterling, editing by Larry King

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