Elder Ephraim’s Newest Nunnery: Orthodox Christian Sisterhood of the Holy Unmercenaries in Coolidge, AZ

Orthodox Christian Sisterhood Of The Holy Unmercenaries is an Arizona Non-Profit filed on January 25, 2017. The company’s filing status is listed as Good Standing and its File Number is 21554714; State Code is 21927003B.

The Registered Agent on file for this company is Alison Morgan (Gerondissa Pelagia) and is located at 2800 W Moore Road, Tucson, AZ 85755. The company’s principal address is 2800 W Moore Road, Tucson, AZ 85755. The Sisterhood itself existed for many years before it was officially incorporated with the State of Arizona and the house has been inhabited by Greek Orthodox nuns for almost 15 years.

2800 W Moore Rd, Tucson, AZ is a single family home that contains 9,400 sq ft and was built in 1975. It contains 15 rooms, 6 bathrooms and an outdoor pool. The property itself is 17.8 acres and was purchased by the monastery in 2003.

Orthodox Sisterhood of Unmercenaries Google Maps

In Pima County Records, the owner of the property is listed as Dormition of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. and past residents have included “Chris Arvanitakis” (aka Hieromonk Nektarios originally from St. Anthony’s Monastery).

The company has 3 principals on record:

  • Alison Morgan (Abbess Pelagia) from Tucson AZ,
  • Aristi Despina Moschonas (husband of Dr. Constantine Moschonas who runs the St. Stephens Foundation for Elder Ephraim) from Scottsdale AZ,
  • Linda W. Smith from Florence AZ.

One of the nuns, Adelfi Epistimi, is currently running a gofundme campaign for her twin sister, Presvytera Mihaela Zaharescu, who was recently widowed in July, 2018. So far, they’ve acquired $31,279 of their $150,000 goal: https://www.gofundme.com/help-the-zaharescu-family

Schema-Nun Thekla

One of the Monastery’s original nuns, Sister Thekla (Irini) Garrett passed away on December 19, 2012. She had been a nun there since 2008. Geronda tonusred her into the great schema in September of 2012, a common practice before one of his monks or nuns is about to die as it is considered a “second baptism”. Similar to the first baptism, it is suppose to wash all the monastic’s sins away. Both of the Elder’s monasteries in Tucson, AZ don’t have an “official” blessing or sanction to exist in the Greek Archdiocese (Metropolitan Gerasimos blessed them but instructed Elder Ephraim to keep them low key due to the anti-monastic politics and sentiment in the GOA). Due to this, Schema-Nun Thekla’s body was buried at St. Paraskevi Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. in Texas.

The nuns periodically sell their goods at SaddleBrooke Two Farmers & Artisan Market.


Orthodox Sisterhood of Unmercenaries tax inquiry

Orthodox Sisterhood of Unmercenaries Company Information

Orthodox Sisterhood of Unmercenaries Company Contacts

Orthodox Sisterhood of Unmercenaries

Another Shell Corporation? St. Silouan’s Monastery in Tempe, AZ.

St Silouan
St. Silouan the Athonite

As much as contemporary Greek-American monasticism attempts to live “not of this world” the monasteries continually find themselves tied to this world, especially the world of finance. Elder Ephraim was very happy when George Skyriotis, an accountant from Bethlehem, PA, entered St. Anthony’s Monastery in 1996. He was tonsured in 1998 and given the name Ilarion. From that point, he slowly moved up in the ranks from Trapezari to Office Worker. In time, he was also trusted with doing the accounting and teaching the older monks a thing or two about how the system works. Fr. Silouanos (George) Koutavas was one of the original 5 monks who came from Philotheou to Arizona to help Elder Ephraim establish St. Anthony’s Monastery. After he left, Fr. Ilarion replaced him as the monastery’s Treasurer. As a layman, George (Silouanos) continued in the finance sector and immediately got a bank manager position in New York and then went on to work  for the I.R.S.

Also see St. Stephen’s Foundation and Mount Athos Cafe and May 1st Foundation.

St. Silouan Monastery
“St. Silouan Monastery” on the left (marker on roof)

7817 S Terrace Rd., Tempe, AZ 85284

A couple of years ago, Papa Ephraim (Andrei) Poonen [aka Andrei Alexander Pooner] established “St. Silouans Monastery” in Tempe, AZ. Interestingly, this “monastery” is a 2,394 sq. ft. single family home located in a highly populated residential area. 

This property was last sold for $520,000 in 2007 and currently has an estimated value of $487,200. The $487,200 estimated value is 8.51% greater than the median listing price of $449,000 for the Carver Terrace area.

According to 2018 Tempe Court Records, a Greek Orthodox couple Akash and Antigoni Bhatia reside at this “monastery”. [City of Chandler Claims Report, Management Services No. 18-055, see p. 33]. Akash is the Co-Founder & CEO of Infinite Analytics; Antigoni is a Government Underwriter at Bank of America.

St. Silouan 9

“St. Silouans Monastery”

St. Silouan’s Monastery (UBI# 603605983) was incorporated on April 06, 2016 as a Nonprofit Regular Corporation Type registered at 975 Good Rd., Camano Island, WA. The agent name of this company is Father Ephraim Poonen and the physical address is listed as 7817 S Terrace Rd, Tempe, AZ. The entity status is Active and the expiration date is 2019-04-30.

Papa Ephraim

The governing persons listed are an interesting assortment of businessmen and Papa Ephraim’s relatives:

Father Ephraim Poonen (Registered Agent. Papa Ephraim is a hieromonk from St. Anthony’s Monastery who also resides at Dormition of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Monastery.)

Bjorn Mikhail Poonen (Papa Ephraim’s brother, he is currently the Claude Shannon Professor of Mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Source

Zareen [Poonen] Levien (Papa Ephraim’s sister, she is a teacher and plays in various bands around the Bay Area. Her husband, Richard, helped edit the infamous “Store Wars”. The couple also write and produce films, such as  “Collisions”, “Immersion”.)

Doug Repman (President and Resident Broker at Quantum Management Services Inc; Board of Director at Affordable Housing Management Association [AHMA] of Washington)

Shell Corporations

Papa Ephraim, Papa Nektarios, Fr. Ilarion and other monks and nuns under obedience to Elder Ephraim have signed their names as Registered Agents of various shell corporations throughout the US. These aren’t idorrhytmic actions or decisions. Big steps like this are generally organized and overseen by these monastics’ immediate superior. Generally, the abbots and abbesses would ask a blessing and prayers from Geronda Ephraim before establishing such an entity. 

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission defines a “shell” company as follows:

‘Shell company: The term shell company means a registrant, other than an asset-backed issuer as defined in Item 1101(b) of Regulation AB ( § 229.1101(b) of this chapter), that has:

  1. No or nominal operations; and
  2. Either:
    (i)No or nominal assets;

(ii)Assets consisting solely of cash and cash equivalents; or

(iii) Assets consisting of any amount of cash and cash equivalents and nominal other assets.’

Shell corporations are legitimate, legal entities that do not possess actual assets or run business operations. They function as transactional vehicles for a variety of firms and for a myriad of purposes. Generally, they are used to obtain financing, maintain control over a conglomerate company, allow firms more favorable tax treatment, and occasionally facilitate money laundering as well as other illegal activities.

“Although for-profit shell corporations can be legitimate, they can also be used for fraud, money laundeing, and financial crimes. Not-for-profit corporations likewise can be legitimate, but they can also be used for fraud, money laundering and financial crimes. The risk, however, is much higher in not-for-profit corporations dues to less oversight over not-for-profit corporations. To allow a not-for-profit membership shell corporation is to open a Pandora’s box of not-for-profit membership shell corporations to engage in multiple types of fraud, money laundering, and other financial crimes. It would therefore behoove state legislatures to revise their not-for-profit corporation laws to prevent such an outcome.

As a matter of public interest, legislatures must enact statues with unambiguous language that clearly and explicitly prohibits not-for-profit membership corporations to be shell corporations. Courts must also be cognizant of the public policy implications of interpreting not-for-profit corporation laws to allow not-for-profit membership corporations to be shell corporations.” (Can a Not-For-Profit Membership Corporation Be Created as a “Shell” Corporation?  p. 33)


St Silouan

How Long Were the “Days” in Creation Week? (Papa Ephraim [Andrei] Poonen)

NOTE: Papa Ephraim wrote this treatise defending Creationism and Creation Science for the edification of his family who were, at that time, debating him about evolution (his brother and father are evolutionists). The treatise reflects the fronima of Elder Ephraim’s monasteries concerning a literal interpretation of the 6 Days of Creation [a few of his monastics still struggle with accepting this concept]. A literal interpretation is the “consensus of the Fathers” and thus orthodox Christians are expected to adopt this belief, too, or they might emit a foul stench

Papa Ephraim

There are seven reasons why the “days” mentioned in the first two chapters of Genesis must be literal, 24-hour periods:

  1. The use of the Hebrew word “yōm”
  2. The ratio of preterites to finite verbs
  3. The fourth commandment
  4. Christ’s witness
  5. Scientific considerations
  6. Theological considerations
  7. The consensus of patristic interpretations

1) The word “yōm” in Hebrew (“day”) has various meanings. But whenever it is used along with an ordinal number (as it is in Genesis 1-2) it always refers to a 24-hour period. If the author of Genesis wanted to describe an action in the distant past, he could have used three other words in Hebrew that would have been appropriate: “yamim,” “qedem,” and “olam.” If the author of Genesis wanted to tell us that creation started in the past but continued into the future (meaning that creation occurred by some sort of theistic evolution) he would have used one of the following Hebrew words: “dor,” “olam le,” “tamid,” “ad” (or “ad olam”), “shanah,” or “yōm rab.” If his intent was to convey ambiguous time, he would have used “yōm” combined with “light” and “darkness,” or the word “eth.” For these reasons, scholars of Hebrew have no doubt that the days in Genesis 1-2 were 24-hour periods. More details about the usage of those Hebrew words are available here and here.

2) Steven Boyd did a statistical analysis of Hebrew verb tenses for 97 passages in the Old Testament and found that the ratio of preterites to finite verbs has a median of .52 for passages that are obviously narrative, whereas for passages that are obviously poetic the median ratio was only .04, as shown in the chart on the following passages:

Steve Boyd Figure 10-2
Figure 10-2. Side-by-side scatter plots of preterite verb usage for narrative (diamonds on the left) and poetic (squares on the right) passages. The vertical axis measures the ratio of preterite verbs to all four finite verb types. Notice the predominance of preterite verb usage for narrative texts, and less preterite usage for poetic texts.


The triangle at a height of .65 is the verb ratio for the Genesis account of creation. He then used the logistic regression in the chart below to calculate the probability that the Genesis account of creation is a narrative or not, and found that the probability is 99.99%!

Steve Boyd Figure 10-3
Figure 10-3. The solid curved line is called a logistic regression curve. The vertical axis measures the probability that an Old Testament passage is a narrative, based on the use of preterite verbs. The probability is zero for poetry and unity or one for narrative. The triangle on the upper right represents Genesis 1:1-2:3, which is clearly literal, narrative history.

He therefore concludes that:

  1. It is not statistically defensible to interpret Genesis 1:1 – 2:3 as poetry or metaphor,
  2. The creation account describes actual events, and
  3. The only tenable interpretation of Genesis is that God created everything in six literal days.

3) The fourth commandment (which is the third commandment according to the Roman Catholic numbering system) says:

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work… for in six days the Lord made the heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day… (Exodus 20:8-11).

If those days were just metaphorical, then the analogy here would be quite contorted and thus meaningless.

Creation of woman

4) Christ said in Mark 10:6, “But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female.” If there were billions of years before the creation of man, He wouldn’t have said “from the beginning of creation” but “from the near end of the creation.”

5) Interpreting the “days” of Creation Week as long periods of time causes problems from a scientific point of view. For example, the trees that were created one “day” before the sun would have died if that “day” lasted for years. Furthermore, the plants that require insect pollination that were created on the third day would not have survived until the insects were created on the sixth day, if those “days” were really eons.

[NOTE: This point makes no sense from an orthodox theological standpoint. Death entered into the world through man’s disobedience, which Papa Ephraim mentions in his next argument. So, death was non-existent in creation before man’s existence. Man was created on the 6th day so death was non-existent on days 1-5 of creation. How would the trees or anything in nature die before man’s Fall? The Fathers say all of creation was much different before the Fall and wasn’t governed by the laws of nature that we see after the Fall (i.e. there was no food chain, predator/prey, things didn’t die, things generally didn’t age to death, etc.). In a homily, Geronda Ephraim stated that the Church Fathers said if man didn’t fall, God would have found another way of reproduction for humans that wouldn’t have involved a fleshly, carnal union. So, it would seem that orthodox theologians have to look at “pre-fall” existence in this universe quite differently. Of course, there is probably some subjective circular reasoning theory on how trees could potentially die before death entered into the world in contemporary Christian literature].


6) The New Testament teaches that death entered the paradisiacal world as a result of sin (Romans 5:12; 8:20-22, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22). But if each “day” of Genesis was really billions of years, this means that none of the plants and animals could have died for billions of years until Adam was created and sinned. If there had been billions years’ worth of death, extinction, and bloody “survival of the fittest” before Adam’s fall, one must adopt a strained interpretation of God’s claim that the world He created was “very good” (Gen. 1:31).

[NOTE: Papa Ephraim completely contradicts point 5 here. Here, he admits there would be no death until Adam’s creation and disobedience so how is it possible to argue that the trees created before the sun would’ve died if the “days” were many years. Patristic texts teach that pre-Fall existence was unlike anything post-Fall man had experienced. That era was not governed by the same  “natural laws” that govern the world today. St. Basil even states that animals and humans were created vegetarian and that animals were not eaten in the original creation. “The first legislation allowed the use of fruits”. ].

7) The Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church frequently interpret passages of the Bible figuratively. However, there are a number of passages that none of them interpret figuratively. One such passage is the Genesis account of creation.

St. Basil wrote in his commentary on Genesis, the Hexameron:

“There are those truly, who do not admit the common sense of the Scriptures, for whom water is not water, but some other nature, who see in a plant, in a fish, what their fancy wishes, who change the nature of reptiles and of wild beasts to suit their allegories, like the interpreters of dreams who explain visions in sleep to make them serve their own ends. For me grass is grass; plant, fish, wild beast, domestic animal, I take all in the literal sense. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel.”… It will not lead me to give less importance to the creation of the universe, that the servant of God, Moses, is silent as to shapes; he has not said that the earth is a hundred and eighty thousand furlongs in circumference; he has not measured into what extent of air its shadow projects itself whilst the sun revolves around it, nor stated how this shadow, casting itself upon the moon, produces eclipses. He has passed over in silence, as useless, all that is unimportant for us. Shall I then prefer foolish wisdom to the oracles of the Holy Spirit? Shall I not rather exalt Him who, not wishing to fill our minds with these vanities, has regulated all the economy of Scripture in view of the edification and the making perfect of our souls? It is this which those seem to me not to have understood, who, giving themselves up to the distorted meaning of allegory, have undertaken to give a majesty of their own invention to Scripture. It is to believe themselves wiser than the Holy Spirit, and to bring forth their own ideas under a pretext of exegesis. Let us hear Scripture as it has been written.” (Hexaemeron 5:6, p. 74)

St. Ephraim the Syrian likewise says

“No one should think that the Creation of Six Days is an allegory; it is likewise impermissible to say that what seems, according to the account, to have been created in the course of six days, was created in a single instant, and likewise that certain names presented in this account either signify nothing, or signify something else. On the contrary, one must know that just as the heaven and the earth which were created in the beginning are actually the heaven and the earth and not something else understood under the names of heaven and earth, so also everything else that is spoken of as being created and brought into order after the creation of heaven and earth is not empty names, but the very essence of the created natures corresponds to the force of these names.” (Commentary on Genesis 1, p. 282)

It is significant that St. Ephraim says this, not only because he knew Hebrew well, but also because modern scholars tell us that the “Eastern Fathers” are given to allegorical interpretations. Nevertheless, it is clear from this passage of St. Ephraim (who was an “Easterner”) that even the “Eastern Fathers” are unwilling to allegorize certain passages of the Bible.

As for the duration of the “days” in Genesis, St. Ephraim says:

“Although both the light and the clouds were created in the twinkling of an eye, still both the day and the night of the First Day continued for twelve hours each.”  (Commentary on Genesis 1, p. 287)

Similarly, St. Basil the Great wrote:

“There was evening and morning.” This means the space of a day and a night…”And there was evening and morning, one day.” Why did he say “one” and not “first”?…He said “one” because he was defining the measure of day and night and combining the time of a night and a day, since the twenty-four hours fill up the interval of one day.” (Hexaemeron 2:8, pp. 33-34

And St. Ambrose (who read St. Basil’s Hexaemeron) taught the same thing:

“In notable fashion has Scripture spoken of a “day,” not the “first day.” Because a second, then a third day, and finally the remaining days were to follow, a “first day” could have been mentioned, following in this way the natural order. But Scripture established a law that twenty-four hours, including both day and night, should be given the name of day only, as if one were to say the length of one day is twenty-four hours in extent.” (St. Ambrose, Hexaemeron 1:37).

It can be inferred from the following quote of St. Gregory the Theologian (who is considered to be the most “contemplative” of the Fathers) that he also believed that creation lasted only six days:

“Just as the first creation begins with Sunday (and this is evident from the fact that the seventh day after it is Saturday, because it is the day of repose from works), so also the second creation begins again with the same day [i.e. the day of Resurrection].” (St. gregory the Theologian, Homily 44, “On the New Week, Spring, and the Commemoration of the Martyr Mammas,” p. 657.)

And again, St. Gregory gives the Patristic view of the kind of world into which Adam was placed as follows:

“The Word, having taken a part of the newly created earth, with His immortal hands formed my image.” (St. Gregory the Theologian, Homily 7, “On the Soul,” p. 33)

He would not have called the earth “newly created” if each of the days in Creation Week were billions of years long.

* * * * *

It is clear beyond a doubt from a careful analysis of the words in Genesis as well as from simple logic that the “days” were literal 24-hour periods. The scientific and theological evidence also preclude interpreting the days as long periods of time. Furthermore, the Holy Fathers unanimously interpreted Genesis literally and even warned against interpreting it metaphorically. Therefore, if we interpret the days in Genesis as long periods of time, our interpretation is neither logical, nor scientifically justifiable, nor theologically sound, nor Orthodox.

In The Beginning

[NOTE: Earlier Church Fathers also wrote about the 6 Days of Creation:

The first Church Father who mentions the days of Creation is Barnabas (not Paul’s companion) who wrote a letter in AD 130. He says:

“Now what is said at the very beginning of Creation about the Sabbath, is this: In six days God created the works of his hands, and finished them on the seventh day; and he rested on that day, and sanctified it. Notice particularly, my children, the significance of ‘he finished them in six days.’ What that means is, that He is going to bring the world to an end in six thousand years, since with Him one day means a thousand years; witness His own saying, ‘Behold, a day of the Lord shall be as a thousand years. Therefore, my children, in six days – six thousand years, that is – there is going to be an end of everything.” (The Epistle of Barnabas 15)

Barnabas is referring here to the traditional view of both the Jewish Rabbis and the early church leaders, that the days of Creation were literal six days, but that Psalm 90:4 (and for the Christians, 2 Peter 3:8) prophetically pointed to the coming of the Messiah after 6,000 years (and for the Christians, the return of Christ).

* * * * *

Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (AD 120 – 202), was discipled by Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, who had himself been taught by the Apostle John. He tells us clearly that a literal Adam and Eve were created and fell into sin on the literal first day of Creation (an idea influenced by the Rabbis). He writes:

“For it is said, ‘There was made in the evening, and there was made in the morning, one day.’ Now in this same day that they did eat, in that also did they die.” (Against Heresies, 5:23:2, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol.1, p.557)

When he refers to Adam sinning and bringing death to the human race on the sixth day, he also points out that Christ also died on the sixth day in order to redeem us from the curse of sin.

Agreeing with Barnabas, he explains that the literal six-day Creation points to six thousand years of history before Christ’s return:

“And God brought to a conclusion upon the sixth day the works that He had made; and God rested upon the seventh day from all His works. This is an account of the things formerly created, as also it is a prophecy of what is to come. For the day of the Lord is as a thousand years; and in six days created things were completed: it is evident, therefore, that they will come to an end at the sixth thousand year.” (Ibid. 28:3).

* * * * *

Hippolytus, Bishop of Portus, near Rome (AD 170 – 236), was trained in the faith by Irenaeus, and like his mentor, he held to literal Creation days. He writes:

“And six thousand years must needs be accomplished… for ‘a day with the Lord is as a thousand years.’ Since, then, in six days God made all things, it follows that 6,000 years must be fulfilled.” (The Extant Words and Fragments, On Daniel 2:4, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5, p.179)

Lactantius, a Bible scholar (AD 260 – 330) who tutored Emperor Constantine’s son, Crispus, taught the official Christian doctrine of the traditional church. He wrote:

“To me, as I meditate and consider in my mind concerning the creation of this world in which we are kept enclosed, even such is the rapidity of that creation; as is contained in the book of Moses, which he wrote about its creation, and which is called Genesis. God produced that entire mass for the adornment of His majesty in six days…. In the beginning God made the light, and divided it in the exact measure of twelve hours by day and by night….” (Lactantius, On the Creation of the World, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 7, p.341

As with the other church leaders at the time, he accepted the prophetic days of 2 Peter 3:8, and tells us:

“Therefore, since all the works of God were completed in six days, the world must continue in its present state through six ages, that is, six thousand years.” (The Divine Institutes 7:4).

It should be noted that Lactantius famously argued against the idea of a spherical earth, ridiculing it as a pagan notion, requiring belief in the  “antipodes” where men walk with their “feet higher than their heads.”

Creation Series


On Faith and Science (Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis, 2018)

NOTE: The following article is taken from Orthodox Witness. The evolutionist priest is confused why the monks at St. Anthony’s Monastery don’t believe in Evolution and have refused to sell his book for containing content that supports the theory. 

There are numerous reasons why the majority of monastics under Elder Ephraim reject the theory of evolution (some monastics have a degree in one of the sciences and don’t easily assimilate into the creationist, infallible scripture mindset of Elder Ephraim but they slowly adapt or just ignore their feelings on the subject). 

Elder Ephraim and his monastics believe that a theory or viewpoint is confirmed when it is validated by either the Holy Scriptures or the holy and God-bearing Fathers. St. Nektarios wrote a treatise entitled, The Theory of Evolution is WrongElder Joseph had a an experience where he met a pilgrim with a theology degree who emitted a foul stench and he knew something was seriously wrong with this individual. Afterwards, it came to light that this theologian wrote an entire book supporting Darwin’s theory of evolution. Some contemporary saints and theologians who are more traditional have also written apologetics against evolution; others have attempted to reconcile the scriptures with modern scientific discoveries. The monasteries don’t recognize evolution as true science.

The monasteries tend to side more with Ken Ham and other creationists minus their protestant beliefs. The result is a synthesis of creationism and orthodox patristics (mainly the portions that validate a literal interpretation of the scripture, i.e young earth, literal six days of creation, LXX timeline of 7,500+ years for earth/mankind’s existence, Noah’s Flood, etc.). Any of the sciences that contradict a literal interpretation of the bible are routinely dismissed as “just a theory, not fact”, “western atheist propaganda”, etc. The monasteries don’t place much emphasis on the sciences unless they corroborate something in orthodoxy (i.e. dating methods are dismissed as inaccurate if it contradicts the LXX timeline but the same dating methods are accepted if it validates a historical event in the Old Testament).

In the future, this blog will publish a few letters Papa Ephraim Poonen (AZ) sent to his family defending creationism: Modern Scientific Evidence Supporting Biblical Creation; How Long Were the “Days” in Creation Week?and a rebuttal of David Quammen’s 2004 article in National Geographic, Was Darwin Wrong?

The Heavenly Banquet

On Faith and Science

This post requires a small introduction. To our surprise, the St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona refused to carry our book The Heavenly Banquet: Understanding the Divine Liturgy in their bookstore, because of certain reservations. Eventually they requested another copy and returned it to us with three handwritten “post-it” notes, on which they wrote their objections to the book. Today’s post is the letter we sent back to them (2009), to which we have not received a reply.

Ἤδη δὲ οὔτε ἡ γνῶσις ἄνευ πίστεως, οὔθ᾽ ἡ πίστις ἄνευ γνώσεως. Clemens Alexandrinus (Strom. 5.1.3)

Dear Brother in Christ,

Although you chose to remain anonymous you are known to God, to Whom we pray for illumination from above and strength to do His will. 

Thank you kindly for sharing your thoughts on why, in your opinion, my book does not deserve to be on the shelves of the monastery’s bookstore, because of alleged errors contained in it.

I cannot hide the pain and the sadness that I experienced, that an Orthodox monk has found errors with my book, errors serious enough not to recommend its reading by Orthodox Christians.


[NOTE: St. Anthony’s Monastery has a rigid system of censoring and banning publications from their bookstore. Generally, most contemporary books published in North America, especially from Holy Cross Seminary and authors who support the WCC or ecumenism aren’t even read unless it’s an actual translation of a Church Father. Unfortunately, the unorthodox content of the introductions or Catholic terminology used in place of orthodox also render those books useless for the bookstore.

Most of the orthodox books about bioethics, modern science, evolution, etc. have been deemed incompatible because they contain opinions and teachings that contradict the “mind of the Church” and “orthodox traditions” (i.e. many concepts promoted in these books such as donating organs upon death, stem cell research, cloning, etc. are all forbidden by the orthodox church for numerous theological and ethical reasons). In some cases, St. Anthony’s Bookstore does carry writings by clergymen from Old Calendarist schismatic groups because they are more traditional and in line with authentic orthodox teaching despite the fact that these individuals are considered outside the Church and without grace.]

Truthfully, I was in a daze, having nightmares, that I was living in the Dark Ages, and I was standing before the Grand Inquisitor, pressured to recant the evils advocated in my book. Padre, per caritá! This is Orthodoxy and 21st century!

I was preparing to respond to you at length, defending the positions you criticize, when I came across an article written by Protopresbyter Dr. Georgios Metallinos, which addresses the issues raised in your notes.

I enclose it, thinking that you will accept the authority of this theologian, who certainly ranks among the top living Greek Orthodox theologians of our times. But if you take exception to his writings, I would be glad to adduce further witnesses in my defense.

Below I include your three comments, followed by comments by Fr. Metallinos’ in italics and my own comments and other quotations.

AZ Evolution 3

In your first comment you seem to object to the following paragraph in my book:

According to our understanding the Bible is not a scientific textbook, therefore we are not to take every geographic, historical, and scientific detail as error free, and we should not read it that way.

You seem to believe that the Holy Scripture is free from any kind of error (which I call “the erroneous principle of biblical inerrancy”), yet you do not provide your explanation of a few examples cited immediately after the above paragraph. Here they are:

The Holy Scriptures seem to follow the view that God created a stationary, flat earth, with the heaven being a dome over it, and the sun and the moon circling around it (Ps. 104); that He created the universe in six 24-hour days, some 10,000 years ago; and that He took mud to form man out of it, and woman out of his rib.

St. George Slaying the Dragon
Many Church Fathers wrote about and believed in the existence of dragons. This fits into the creationist belief that dinosaurs and man co-existed.

Please support the objective truthfulness of these biblical statements or assumptions, and many other similar, apparently unscientific statements, like references to, ‘the fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens being closed” (Gen. 8:2) or the “shutting in the sea with bars and doors” (Job 38:8.10). Are we to take literally the monsters Behemoth (Job 40:15), whose “bones are tubes of bronze, and his like bars of iron” (v. 18), and Leviathan (Job 41:1, see also Ps. 104:26)? Is he real? “His sneezings flash forth light, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the dawn. Out of his mouth go flaming torches; sparks of fire leap forth. Out of his nostrils comes forth smoke, as from a boiling pot and burning rushes. His breath kindles coals, and a flame comes forth from his mouth” (Job 42:18-21)? Read carefully the Prooimiakos Psalm 104 (103 LXX) and tell me how scientific are the lines, “who hast stretched out the heavens like a tent, who hast laid the beams of thy chambers on the waters” (vv. 2b-3a) and “Thou didst set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be shaken” (v. 5). Read also Proverbs 8:27-29 and tell me how factual are these verses: “When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command.” Also Isaiah 45:12: “I made the earth, and created man upon it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host.”

[NOTE: The monasteries generally side with Archimandrite Athanasios Mitilinaios who teaches in his homilies on Genesis and Revelations that the Holy Spirit uses the language of the times because that’s how people talked, believed or understood their environment during the different periods in which these scriptures were written; i.e. “I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth” (Rev. 7:1) doesn’t imply that Christians thought the earth was a square or that there were literally four corners of the earth but it’s figurative language]

This is what Fr. Metallinos says on the subject of understanding and using the Holy Scripture as an authority on any human endeavor (from the three quotes I underlined in the article I sent you):

[1] Thus the Holy Scripture and the works of the Holy Fathers (the scientists of the faith) may contain scientific errors, as they relate to the findings of the natural sciences which are continuously reappraised.

[2] God teaches in the Scripture the truth about Himself and not (the scientific knowledge) about creation.

[3] Thus as concerns scientific subjects there is a possibility of a change of opinion based on the new findings.

[4] The problem with religion starts from the acceptance of the sacred books (e.g. Holy Scripture or Koran) as scientific text[s].

[5] In Orthodoxy, when it is Orthodoxy, there cannot be a case of Galileo.

“The Gospels,” says St. Augustine, “do not tell us that our Lord said, ‘I will send you the Holy Ghost to teach you the course of the sun and moon;’ we should endeavor to become Christians, and not astronomers.” So it is with the Mosaic account of creation. Its purport is not to teach geology, physics, zoology, or astronomy, but to affirm in the most simple and direct manner the creative act of God and His sovereignty over all creatures. Its object is not to anticipate any of the truths of science or philosophy, but to guard the chosen people of God against the pernicious errors and idolatrous practices which were then everywhere prevalent.

This is your second note:

AZ Evolution 2

You did not explain, Father, why the statement, “Evolution and creation are not seen by us as two opposite theories of how the world came about, but one and the same described from two different perspectives” “is not at all correct.” I provide two examples, but you did not refute them. I don’t think you can!

George Matallinos

Apparently, you believe that evolution is a godless theory devised by atheists to tear down belief in God. It has been used that way, but it does not have to, and it does not oppose religion and enlightened understanding of the Holy Scripture. It may be a surprise to you, but as much as creation of the world by God is Orthodox, creationism (the literal interpretation of Genesis and of the Scripture in general) is unorthodox! (God does not have “two hands,” but He has a Son and a Holy Spirit.)

Fr. Metallinos provides concrete answers on the subject of evolution, quoting from St. Basil the Great (PG 29, 36B and 29, 1164) and St. Gregory the Theologian (PG 44, 72B and 44, 148C), to the effect that both accept an evolutionary course in creation.

Specifically, Fr. Metallinos states:

[6] Basil the Great does not expect [to receive] from Scripture all the answers, deeming the scientific research indispensable.

[7] Theology waits patiently the progress of science for the comprehension of its theological tenets.

[8] Theology does not oppose the scientific position, about the age of man on earth, for example.

[9] The theologians accept the freedom of scientific research…

[10] “Science offers a more certain way toward God than religion”

God, according to St. Augustine as well as according to St. Gregory of Nyssa, first created matter in an elementary or nebulous state. From this primordial matter—created ex nihilo [from nothing]—was evolved, by the action of physical laws imposed on it by the Creator, all the various forms of terrestrial life that subsequently appeared. In this process of evolution there was succession, but no division of time. The Almighty completed the work He had begun, not intermittently and by a series of special creations, but through the agency of secondary causes—by the operation of natural laws and forces—causales rationes [causal reasons]—of which He was the Author.

And this is your third and final note:

AZ Evolution 1

Indeed science in many instances supports the biblical witness. But the faith of the Church does not stand or fall on whether God created the world in six solar days, or on whether “the earth was established above the waters,” as the psalm says, or on any area other than that of faith and morals. In those other areas the Holy Scripture may be wrong, as the Fathers who took it to the letter may also be wrong. Even the sacred and inspired writers used whatever human knowledge was available to them. We too use whatever knowledge we have today. Our faith remains the same, resting on a Creator and Sustainer of the universe.

Our faith cannot be challenged by science, because if any of its findings is true it will find acceptance by the Church.

The truths of faith and the truths of science belong to different categories indeed, but notwithstanding this fact they can never come into conflict. The truths of science are of the natural order, while the truths of faith belong to an order which is supernatural. Both have God for their author, and as He cannot contradict Himself, and as truth cannot be opposed to truth, so the truths of faith never can be at variance with the certain conclusions of science.

Draw, my dear brother in Christ, your conclusions, based not on fundamentalism, dogmatism, fanaticism, and “biblicalism,” but on the truth, no matter where it comes from. The truth is never our enemy. But if it challenges our beliefs, instead of finding fault with science we should perhaps re-check the foundation of our religious beliefs and revise them!

Someone said, The purpose of the Holy Scripture and of the Church is to teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go. Let’s leave that to science.

The last quote from St. Augustine reminds us of something profound that he has written, on which I very humbly invite you to prayerfully ponder upon and meditate, my dear brother in Christ:

If we come to read anything in Holy Scripture that is in keeping with the faith in which we are steeped, capable of several meanings, we must not by obstinately rushing in, so commit ourselves to any one of them that, when perhaps the truth is more thoroughly investigated, it rightly falls to the ground and we with it.

The following illuminating, pertinent quote comes also from the pen of the same saint:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertions. [1 Timothy 1.7].

My hunch is that you are a convert from a fundamentalist Protestant denomination, and your conversion is not complete, because you don’t have the Orthodox phronema, and you don’t reflect the freedom the children of God enjoy.

It takes a great man to admit his error. I do not ask for apologies: just for your order to place a much-needed book on the shelves of your monastery bookstore, with the blessings of the Very Reverend Archimandrite Elder Ephraim.

Forgive me, brother.

Emmanuel Hatzidakis, Priest


Other writings by Fr. George Metallinos:

The Orthodox Scientist Today

Faith and Science as a Theological Problem

Orthodox Faith and Natural Science

Faith and Science in Orthodox Gnosiology and Methodology





Fr. Seraphim Rose: The Homosexual Atheist Who Found Orthodoxy and Became Sanctified (Michael Balchunas, 2001)

Background: The following article is taken from PCM Online, Spring 2001, Volume 37, No. 2. The original title was Lives of a Saint. The new title in use was inspired by one of the many Greek blogs that have translated this article. Other curious titles on Greek blogs are Fr. Seraphim Rose: The White Man’s Hour (or Time).


As a layman, Eugene Rose had homosexual relationships before his conversion to Orthodoxy. This has sometimes been a problematic issue for his biographers because homosexuality is condemned by the Orthodox Church (essentially, the only sex act blessed by God in Orthodoxy is vaginal penetration by a penis between a heterosexual couple married in a canonical orthodox church; i.e., no masturbation, oral, anal, fingering, premarital sex, etc.). Thus, Fr. Seraphim Rose’s pre-orthodox homosexual lifestyle is often not mentioned in his “official” biographies.

Over the years, editors would include Eugene’s homosexual inclinations on Fr. Seraphim’s Wikipedia page, as well as his Orthodox Wiki page. On these pages are claims that other biographers and scholars have questioned the authenticity of these sources, however, the editors haven’t cited any of these authors.

When Elder Ephraim first started building monasteries in America, some of the monastics spoke very freely about their low opinions concerning Fr. Seraphim Rose and the Platina Monastery. There were numerous reasons given. Some of the Philotheou monks did not like Fr. Seraphim’s style of writing. One of the theologians at Philotheou found numerous issues with the theology in a series of articles on Genesis and Creation that appeared in the periodical The Orthodox Word. These later were compiled and published as a book, Genesis, Creation and Early Man: The Orthodox Christian Vision, and was sold in many of Geronda Ephraim’s monastery bookstores.

Some of Geronda Ephraim’s spiritual children visited the various monasteries in America before they left the world to become monks on Mount Athos. One or two of these individuals who ended up at Philotheou and then in America, have said on more than one occasion that there was an underlying homosexual vibe and weirdness there (i.e. compared to how a “normal” monastery should function). Over the years, there have been accusations of homosexuality and molestation against Fr. Herman Podmoshensky who co-founded the St. Herman of Alaska Monastery in Platina. As well, there have been some in defense of Fr. Seraphim Rose articles attempting to dismiss the claims that he was a practising homosexual before he was chrismated.

But the biggest issue that Geronda Ephraim’s monastics had (have) with Fr. Seraphim Rose is the fact that he wasn’t received into the Orthodox Church via baptism but rather chrismation. According to Elder Ephraim, and the Patristic books sold at monasteries, only Orthodox baptism washes one’s sins away because Latins and heretics are unbaptized; i.e., there are no mysteries and Grace in non-orthodox churches so all their sacraments are invalid. Without baptism, the spiritual eyes remain closed. If an Orthodox Christian who was only received with chrismation enters Paradise, they will be blind because their spiritual eyes were never opened through Baptism (Geronda has said this more than once in relation to converts who were only received with chrismation and died without being baptized. So, there was always a dismissive and disdainful tone from the abbots of Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries whenever Fr. Seraphim’s name came up. Of course, with laypeople they’d speak more tactfully because, after all, the bookstores still sold Fr. Seraphim’s books.

In 2000, Fr. Seraphim Rose’s monastery joined the Western American Diocese of the Church of Serbia. This meant that they were now in communion with the GOA which is the diocese Elder Ephraim’s monasteries are under. From this point on, the hard line opinions against Fr. Seraphim Rose weren’t expressed as freely in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries and have become more “PC” over the years so as not to offend others. There is no longer open talk about the impossibility of him being canonically recognized as a saint due to his lack of baptism. Some have even theorized that St. John Maximovitch must have secretly baptized him like they do with adult converts in Elder Ephraim’s monasteries but there is no hint of this in any of his biographies.


Just south of Red Bluff on Interstate 5, there is a grisly sight: a detached, bleeding arm by the side of the highway, the white fingers reaching out toward the lanes of passing traffic.

It is riveting, even though it is just a painting. The arm, perhaps 30 feet long, is outlined in red on a semi-trailer set in a field. Painted above it, in big red letters, are the words, “This Blood Poured Out for Your Sins.” Then, as suddenly as it appears, the bleeding arm is past.

From Red Bluff, California 36 snakes westerly for 49 miles through sparsely populated foothills to the mountain hamlet of Platina, population 60, at the edge of the Trinity National Forest. Nearly trackless timberland stretches more than 100 miles to the north and to the south. To the west, tiny settlements with names such as Peanut and Mad River dot the state road as it wends toward the distant Pacific.

Here, on the broad shoulder of a mountain ridge high above Platina, is where Eugene Rose, a 1956 Pomona graduate, chose to leave the world.



For the first two days after death, the soul enjoys relative freedom and can visit places on Earth that were dear to it. On or about the third day, the soul passes through legions of evil spirits that obstruct its path and accuse it of various sins. The soul must pass these tests to avoid being immediately cast into Gehenna. If it successfully passes through, the soul for the next 37 days visits the abysses of heaven and hell, not knowing where it will remain. On the 40th day, its place is appointed. It will remain there until the resurrection of the dead and the Last Judgment.

This interpretation of ancient teachings of the Orthodox Church is summarized in a book, “The Soul After Death,” which is described by its publishers as Russia’s most popular work on the afterlife, although some Orthodox Christians strongly disagree with aspects of it. In Russia, despite the decades of Soviet suppression, Orthodoxy is, in effect, the national religion. Recent polls show that half to two-thirds of Russian citizens consider themselves Orthodox. Typewritten installments of “The Soul After Death” were distributed through the samizdat, the underground press, before the fall of communism.

Other works by the same reclusive Orthodox cleric, known as Fr. Seraphim, have also gained a following among the Russian faithful, and his ascetic life in the wilderness has assumed almost mythic proportions. Among some pious Russians, Fr. Seraphim is the object of veneration. In the dark hours when desperate people pray for miracles, some direct their prayers to him.

Before he became Fr. Seraphim, his name was Eugene Rose.

“You know, Father Seraphim is really for us Russians; he speaks to us in a special way,” a young Orthodox Russian told a recent visitor from America. Rose, however, visited Russia only in his heart; except for brief out-of-state travels, he spent his life in California. Born in 1934, he grew up in San Diego, where his father was a caretaker at Balboa Stadium. His mother was an ardent Protestant who sang in church choirs and frequently consulted the Bible.

“I think a large part of who Eugene was, was because of my grandmother,” says Rose’s niece Cathy Scott, author of a biography called Seraphim Rose: The True Story and Private Letters. Rose’s mother could be stern to an extreme, Scott says. After Eugene’s older brother, Franklin, accidentally set the garage on fire while playing with matches at age 4, his mother took Franklin inside and held his hand to a lighted stove to show him that fire hurt.

Rose’s mother had high expectations for her children, relatives say. Eugene excelled at school and received a scholarship to attend Pomona. During college, he immersed himself in philosophy, classical music and literature, theatre and languages. He moved within a circle of friends inclined toward intellectual and artistic pursuits.

“We were outsiders, and not unhappy about it,” says Laurence McGilvery ’54, an antiquarian. “We didn’t conform. We didn’t join fraternities, we didn’t drink beer; we were a more open and tolerant group in a time of heightened intolerance.” Rose, somewhat shy, was tall, slender and darkly handsome, with eyes that burned steadily, like blue flames. “He had an acute understanding of music, literature and philosophy,” McGilvery says.

“He was the most talented person I’ve known,” says Dirk van Nouhuys ’56, a writer. “He was always caring and thoughtful, and extremely intelligent and able. He was brilliant with languages and very talented at sports. I thought of him as a person with a broadly inquiring character and mind. He was someone who chose to make his own way in life to an unusual degree.”

It is a life both famous and obscure.

“We were the closest of friends, but there was this huge area of himself that he didn’t disclose to anybody,” says McGilvery. “And it’s clear now that it was the most important part.”

In the parlance of traditional Orthodox monasticism, a newly tonsured monk dies to the world and to his former life in order to find a new life in God. He forgets himself and leaves the world to seek true spiritual wisdom. Physical isolation helps the soul reject the worldly way of life.

The first time Eugene Rose died was when he was made a monk on the mountainside above Platina in 1970, at age 36. He and another man committed to Orthodoxy, a Russian American named Gleb Podmoshensky, had by then been living ascetic on the mountain for two years. They had established a skete, or small brotherhood, not as large or formal as a monastery. They cooked their meals outside on a camp stove, sometimes in knee-deep snow, and hauled water up from the base of the mountain in an old pickup truck. They published a journal they called The Orthodox Word, using a hand press Rose had bought for $200. They later bought a used Linotype machine and a generator to run it, and their flow of publications grew to include calendars and books.

Rose grew vegetables, with mixed results, in the reddish soil. The monks ate no meat, but did eat fish. The monastic rules they followed permitted no unnecessary talking, or casual reclining, or crossing one’s legs when seated. The skete was established not as a place of retreat but of seclusion and struggle. “We must have a minimum of ‘conveniences,'” Rose had written while planning his departure from the world, “…and trust in God instead of devices.”

Rose was a philosophy major when he started at Pomona in 1952.


“He was an unusual student,” says Professor of Philosophy Frederick Sontag. “He was unusual in his demeanor and the way he talked and the kinds of questions he asked.” Just before graduation, Rose asked Sontag for a letter of recommendation.

“Without question, Mr. Rose is an individualist,” Sontag wrote, “but, just because of this single-minded tendency, he is quite likely to make a name for himself in his chosen field. He is completely serious about his work, and his native intellectual ability is undoubtedly of the first order. Since his background was limited economically and intellectually prior to his college years, he is still exploring and trying to find his place in the academic world, but I feel that he is now very close to the specific area in which he may be able to make a significant contribution. He still has trouble with communication, but this should straighten itself out as he settles into his own area of specialty.”

While at Pomona, Rose and some friends, including McGilvery, heard a lecture by a former Anglican priest, Alan Watts, who had become a celebrity convert to Zen Buddhism. Rose was captivated. He would go on to study under Watts, who was known as a “beatnik guru,” at the American Academy of Asian Studies in San Francisco. Rose eventually drifted from the influence of Watts, deriding him as an “armchair Buddhist.” But it was at the Academy that Rose met a Chinese Taoist scholar named Gi-ming Shien, who had an indelible effect on him. Shien’s work focused on the ancient Chinese approach to learning. He valued traditional Chinese viewpoints and original classical texts over modern interpretations. Rose learned to read ancient Chinese so he could plumb the early Taoist texts.

Shien’s viewpoint was similar to that of the French metaphysicist René Guénon, who had perhaps the greatest influence on Rose’s philosophical development. Rose devoured Guénon’s books, reading them in the original French when he could not find translations. Guénon decried the flagging of the spirit of ancient cultures in contemporary Western society. Equating newness with progress was wrong, he believed. The ultimate truth, he suggested, could be found in the wisdom of the ages.

“It was Rene Guénon who taught me to seek and love the Truth above all else and to be unsatisfied with anything else,” Rose once wrote.

“When we wish to call the passions by a common name,” said St. Isaac the Syrian, a seventh-century cleric and one of the Holy Fathers of Orthodoxy, “we call them the world. But when we wish to distinguish them by their special names, we call them passions. The passions are the following: love of riches, desire for possessions, bodily pleasure which comes from sexual passion, love of honor which gives rise to envy, lust for power, arrogance and pride of position, the craving to adorn oneself with luxurious clothes and vain ornaments, the itch for human glory which is a source of rancor and resentment, and physical fear. Where these passions cease to be active, there the world is dead … Someone has said of the Saints that while alive they were dead; for though living in the flesh, they did not live for the flesh.

“See for which of these passions you are alive. Then you will know how far you are alive to the world, and how far you are dead to it.”

At Platina, Rose lived for years in an uninsulated shack without running water or electricity, with a tiny wood-burning stove for warmth. He built the cabin himself of salvaged lumber on land his parents helped him and Podmoshensky buy. In winter, the silent pine forest that pressed in on their outpost was often deep in snow. In summer, the heat could be stifling.

The cabin, called a cell in the monastic tradition, was about 8 feet by 10 feet. A tiny room attached to the main structure contained a small shelf of books that served as Rose’s library. Rose slept in a corner on a bed made of two boards.

From this shadowy cell, lit with candles and oil lamps, came a torrent of writings that exalt an ancient, literal, traditionalist view of the Orthodox faith, one that is considered extreme, even fanatical, by some clerics. Rose’s monastic brethren call it “suffering Orthodoxy.”

From here also came Rose’s most famous line, an oft-repeated apocalyptic warning: “It’s later than you think! Hasten, therefore, to do the work of God.”

Russian Orthodoxy is rent by a long-running feud between the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, to which Rose belonged, and the Church within Russia. Those loyal to the Church Abroad contend that it is the true, free Church, preserver of the piety that existed before the Bolsheviks. They say that the Church hierarchy within Russia has been corrupted by decades of subservience to the Soviet regime. The Church Abroad, on the other hand, is regarded by its critics in Orthodoxy as a separatist group mired in very old, obsolete doctrines.

Much of Rose’s work seemed to bypass Church hierarchy altogether, speaking directly to the Russian laity, as well as to American converts. His admiration for Russia’s people and their struggles was undisguised. Rose, fervently anti-communist, suggested that communism’s fall, and the resurrection of Holy Russia, would presage the end of the world.

“Russia, the first country to experience the Communist yoke, is also the first country to begin to wake up from it and survive it,” he said in a 1981 lecture. “Despite the continued reign of Communist tyranny, atheism has not captured the soul of Russia, and the religious awakening that can been seen now in Russia is undoubtedly only the beginning of something immense and elemental: the recovery of the soul of a whole nation.”

After Rose died to the world and became a monk, and later a hieromonk, or priest-monk, he would still come out of the mountains about once a year to visit his mother. They maintained a loving correspondence until shortly before his second, bodily death in 1982.

Once, while Rose was visiting his mother in the San Diego suburb of La Mesa, he walked to a shopping center a few miles from her home. It was August, according to Rose’s niece Cathy Scott, and the temperature was over 100 degrees. Rose strode through the suburban neighborhoods in his heavy wool cassock, a towering, mysterious figure, his graying beard curling in long tendrils over his chest. People stared.

His sister, worried about him in the heat, went to pick him up in her car. “You’d think they’d never seen a priest before,” Rose said jokingly to her. She asked him why he hadn’t just driven their mother’s car on the errand.

“She won’t let me use it,” he said. “I backed over her mailbox five years ago, and she’s never forgotten.”

On a cool late afternoon in June 1956, while waiting for a train in Los Angeles, Eugene Rose, who was just shy of 22, wrote a letter to Laurence McGilvery.

“My dear Larry,” it began, “I am slightly drunk, having drunk a bottle of chablis at Fred Harvey’s Railroad Restaurant (Taix’s had a long line; at Fred’s the waitress didn’t know what chablis was.) I am rather stupid for not having told you, to your face, certain things before. My slight drunkenness gives me an opportunity, though it’s about time I told you when sober. If we are friends at all, such things cannot be ‘hid.’

“Fact number one: my mother has discovered, rather illegitimately (I shall tell you of it later) that I am homosexual; if you have not surmised the fact already, it is time you know of it. I have not quite been kicked out of the house, but I probably shall not return after September. My mother was quite hysterical, but my father persuaded her that I am only ‘sick.’ I have agreed to go to my friend’s psychiatrist in S.F., which I was rather interested in doing for other reasons, at parental expense.

“I suppose you have also surmised by now that I shall live this summer, and sleep, with a young man I love, and who loves me.

“I have been very stupid in Claremont. I have hardly been a friend to you. Forgive me. It is perhaps not Claremont of which I was sick, but myself. I suppose I have not told you earlier of myself because I feared you would regard me a bug, a monster, or merely ‘sick,’ as my parents regard me. I am certainly ‘sick,’ as all men are sick who are ever absent from the love of God, but I regard my sexual inclinations as perfectly ‘normal,’ in a sense I do not as yet understand.

“I shall be happy to hear from you, and to see you sometime soon.”

McGilvery reassured Rose of their friendship. They remained close for years, even though McGilvery did not share Rose’s accelerating religious fervor. “He would have known that I would have scoffed at the idea of devils roaming around the Earth and holy oils that could cure something,” McGilvery says. “I could have argued about his beliefs to the end of my life.”

He never got the chance. After Rose became a monk, McGilvery never heard from him again. He sent Rose a Christmas card year after year, but there was never a response. Once, a mutual friend visited Rose at Platina and asked him whether he had gotten the cards. Rose said that he had, and the friend asked why he had not written McGilvery back. “What would I say to him?” Rose replied.

In a lecture titled “The Orthodox World-View,” delivered shortly before his death, Fr. Seraphim Rose said:

“Anyone who looks at our contemporary life from the perspective of the normal life lived by people in earlier times–say Russia, or America, or any country of Western Europe in the 19th century–cannot help but be struck by the fact of how abnormal life has become today. The whole concept of authority and obedience, of decency and politeness, of public and private behavior–all have changed drastically, have been turned upside down except in a few isolated pockets of people–usually Christians of some kind–who try to preserve the so-called ‘old-fashioned’ way of life…

“It is obvious to any Orthodox Christian who is aware of what is going on around him today, that the world is coming to its end. The signs of the times are so obvious that one might say that the world is crashing to its end.” Rose went on to list some of these signs, which included: “The abnormality of the world. Never have such weird and unnatural manifestations and behavior been accepted as a matter of course as in our days. Just look at the world around you: what is in the newspapers, what kind of movies are being shown, what is on television, what it is that people think is interesting and amusing, what they laugh at: it is absolutely weird…

“The wars and rumors of wars, each more cold and merciless than the preceding, and all overshadowed by the threat of the unthinkable universal nuclear war, which could be set off by the touch of a button.

“The increasing centralization of information on and power over the individual, represented in particular by [an] enormous new computer in Luxembourg, which has the capacity to keep a file of information on every man living; its code number is 666 and it is nicknamed ‘the beast’ by those who work on it…”

“I could go on with details like this, but my purpose is not to frighten you, but to make you aware of what is happening around us. It is truly later than we think; the Apocalypse is now.”

John Christensen was a student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, when Fr. Seraphim Rose gave two lectures there in 1981.

“He was the real catalyst in my conversion to Orthodoxy,” says Christensen, now a hieromonk known as Fr. Damascene. “He changed my life. I felt that he was a very important, major figure for our times, someone who had found the answers to modern Western man’s search for God and the meaning in life. So, very soon after he reposed, I started gathering material about him and writing about him.”

About 10 years later, in 1993, Christensen published Not of This World: The Life and Teaching of Fr. Seraphim Rose, Pathfinder to the Heart of Ancient Christianity. The 1,000-page biography is richly detailed, drawing on interviews with Rose’s friends, letters, information from relatives, Rose’s own writings, school and college records and other sources.

“I think it’s a nice work of fiction,” says Cathy Scott, Rose’s niece, who faults in particular its depictions of Rose’s early years and of his relationships with his family and friends. Her biography, published last fall, presents a distinctly different but no less striking portrait of Rose, especially of the life he led before he joined the Orthodox Church. Her book is filled with examples of Rose’s letters to his friends–scattershot musings on life, God, philosophy and culture–and the simple, homey notes he sent his mother about snowfalls or gardening at Platina. It was Scott’s book that, to the consternation of many Orthodox Christians, publicly revealed Rose’s homosexual activity before his conversion; Christensen, though aware of it, had chosen not to mention it.

The foreword to Scott’s book was written by a convert to Orthodoxy named Craig Young, now known as Fr. Alexey. Rose had been appointed Young’s spiritual father, and the two spent considerable time together, keeping in touch by letter when Young left the Platina area. In a review of Christensen’s book published in the journal Orthodox America, Young called it “a treasure and a disappointment, a joy and a sadness, an inspiration and a scandal.” He says that the biography was distorted by the influence of Podmoshensky, who had bitter differences with the church hierarchy after Rose’s death.

As a biographer of Rose and disseminator of his teachings, Christensen, a fluent writer, has been to a large degree the caretaker of Rose’s legacy as well. He says he is not interested in debating whose biography presents a truer picture of Rose. But he defends the accuracy of his work and says there is a reason for the approach he took.

“If you follow the general tenor of our society today,” he says, “there’s a belief you should just tell everything. But from an Orthodox Christian point of view, you don’t necessarily need to tell everything about a person. Orthodox Christians, like all Christians who truly respect the Holy Scriptures, regard homosexual relations as a sin. Father Seraphim died to that when he converted to the Orthodox faith. When I researched the material about his life, I wanted to respect what Father Seraphim would have wished to be presented in the book. And I know that he would not have wished that to be presented.”

It was Rose’s gay partner in San Francisco who introduced him to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. But while Rose was immersing himself in the mystique of ancient Orthodoxy, his partner, who had written a book about the Church, was losing interest in it. Soon the Church took Rose wholly, and he and his partner split up.

A social doctrine adopted by the Council of Bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate last year describes homosexuality as “a sinful injury to human nature” to be “treated by sacraments, prayer, fasting, repentance and the reading of the Holy Scriptures.”

Referring to his young adult years before he became fully involved in the Orthodox Church, Rose once said: “I was in hell. I know what hell is.”

A narrow, arched doorway in a high white stucco wall opens into the courtyard at the mountainside skete Rose co-founded, now a full-fledged monastery with about a dozen priests, monks and brothers in residence. Shadows grow long in mid-afternoon as the sun creeps behind the treed ridge rising above the compound. The quietude is occasionally pierced by unearthly shrieks from the monastery’s peacocks.

At 5 p.m., before the Vespers service, the church bell is rung nine times, in reference to the ninth hour–when Christ died–and silent, bearded men in black cassocks and black cylindrical hats called klobuks emerge from the compound’s library and print shop and from cells in the pine-shrouded woods. Inside the darkened church, icons of saints and other holy ones cover the walls and crowd every shadowed recess. Many are painted–written, in Orthodox terminology–in muted egg tempera tones, using a process perfected in the Middle Ages. Oil lamps cast a pale yellow glow, and the smell of frankincense is strong.

Arriving clerics bow deeply and cross themselves before entering the main body of the church, which is open, with no pews. Some cross themselves and bow twice before certain icons, touching the right hand to the floor, before moving forward to kiss the icons. The lips may not touch the face depicted on the icon, only the feet or hands or clothing.

In the dark, quiet church, a young monk sings in a hushed monotone: “Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy…” Although the prayerful chants are in English, they sound centuries old. In the December chill and the flickering light of the lampadas, the black-robed priests and monks sing of suffering and redemption and everlasting life. After the service, they gather at a long, thick wooden table in the nearby refectory, warmed by a wood-burning stove, for a supper of vegetable stew with bread, accompanied by the reading of a spiritual text. They will rise well before dawn for the Matins service.

Eugene Rose is buried on the slope that rises from the middle of the compound. Over his grave is a rectangular wooden platform with roughly hewn benches and handrails. In the center is an empty wooden sarcophagus adorned with an oil lamp and candle, with an Orthodox cross at the head. The boards of this cenotaph, beneath which Rose’s body lies buried in the ground, have been stained dark with oil and wax.

When some pious Orthodox visit the grave, they leave with a piece of wood from rotting boards or a handful of dirt or a few drops of oil from the lamp. In the Orthodox tradition, holy relics and remains of saints are objects of veneration.

Rose was pronounced dead Sept. 2, 1982, at a hospital in Redding. For days he had endured agonizing stomach pain and had kept to his cell, resisting entreaties that he go to a doctor. When his condition worsened, monks drove him to the emergency room. It was found during surgery that a blood clot had blocked a vein leading from the intestines, parts of which had become gray and gangrenous. He lingered for a week in intensive care.

Fr. Alexey Young was at his bedside near the end. “He was unable to speak at this point,” he says. “We began to softly sing his favorite church hymn, for Good Friday, in Russian chant. As we sang, we saw two tears come down his cheeks. And we wept also, knowing that soon he would hear this hymn sung not by mortal men and women, but by angels.”

Almost immediately, there were reports of visions and miracles. A woman whose son had received spiritual guidance from Rose said that, the day before Rose died, she received a visitation. “I was working in the back room,” she said, “and at the same time thinking how I wished I was at the hospital with all of you. Suddenly, time stopped, and in front of me I saw Father Seraphim all shining, wearing glittering, silvery vestments–these are the closest words I can use to describe the light. I caught my breath and said, ‘Oh, Father Seraphim!’ I was too astonished to say anything except ‘thanks.’ Time was not running–all was now. I will make no interpretation of this event, at this time or later. I felt comforted, and I hope that this event comforts you also. I am very unworthy, and I don’t know what more to say about this.”

Many who knew Rose, and some who have only read his works, say that he was a saint. Whether he will be approved for canonization in the Orthodox Church is another matter. The path to glorification begins with the faithful, when they turn from praying for the soul of the deceased to requesting his intercession before God. The extent of this veneration, including the writing of icons, is a factor, as are verified miracles before or after the righteous one’s death. Uncovering of the remains and transfer of the relics to a holy site have been a tradition of the glorification ritual since ancient times. If the remains are well preserved or the bones emit a sweet fragrance, it is often considered a sign the deceased has found favor with God.

Those who knew him saw very different sides of Eugene Rose.

“I wasn’t close to him,” says Cathy Scott, “but I don’t think anyone was. He wouldn’t let any of us in the family hug him, he was so disciplined. I think he was lonely. I think he was close to God.”

Dirk van Nouhuys says, “I thought of Eugene as a person who looks for answers to life’s problems. Most people keep on looking, but Eugene stopped. I think what we missed is the degree of suffering that was within him. His outward personality kind of obscured the inner desperation he must have felt to have embraced such a rigid system.”

Fr. Alexey Young said shortly after Rose’s death that some people, “who could not understand either his writings or his sermons, and judged him primarily by his appearance, saw his dusty and tattered robes and long, matted beard, and disdained him. Behind his back, he was more than once called a ‘dirty monk.’ The fact is, he was a true monk, an angel in the flesh, dead to this world but alive to the next, and more concerned about purifying his soul than adorning his body. His example was a reproach to us all.”

Gleb Podmoshensky, Rose’s monastic partner, once said of him: “Above all, Father Seraphim knew how to suffer.”

Fr. Damascene Christensen, who is working on the third edition of his biography of Rose, says, “The real Father Seraphim is the man that he became. He had been a lost but searching sinner, and in converting to Orthodox Christianity, he truly repented. He once wrote, ‘When I became a Christian I voluntarily crucified my mind, and all the suffering that I bear has only been a source of joy for me. I have lost nothing, but gained everything.’ He was able to cut through the deceptions of our times, the false philosophies, and go to the heart of the truth.”

Laurence McGilvery cherishes a different sort of memory. Well before Rose left the world to become an ascetic monk, he and McGilvery were lunching in San Francisco. “His sandwich came with a pickle and mine did not,” McGilvery says. “We both silently observed this, and finally he said, quietly, ‘Have a pickle,’ and I ate it. Years later, while he was walking with my wife, he told her: ‘Once Larry did the strangest thing when we were having lunch together. My plate had a pickle, and his did not. I said, ‘I have a pickle,’ and he inexplicably just picked it up and ate it.”

When his wife later told him what Rose had said, McGilvery, amused, wrote a note under the words “The Misunderstanding,” intending to hand it to Rose so he could watch his expression when he read it. The mystery’s resolution “was the kind of Zen moment he was so attracted to,” McGilvery says. More than 30 years later, McGilvery still has the note. “This was before he disappeared,” he says.

Although the daily rhythms of monastic life remained the same, there were changes at Platina in the years after Rose was buried there. Fr. Alexey described them in his Orthodox America article as “sad and, frankly, terrible events.” According to him, there was a falling out between Rose and Podmoshensky, known as Fr. Herman, shortly before Rose’s death.

Fr. Herman, the monastery’s abbot, was suspended from priestly duties in 1985 and formally defrocked four years later after conflicts with the church hierarchy. The brotherhood that he and Rose had co-founded in the 1960s was disassociated from the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, but Fr. Herman continued to serve as a cleric under a non-canonical bishop. Last fall, he retired from active involvement in the brotherhood. He lives in seclusion not far from Platina.

In November, after existing for more than a decade outside ecclesiastically sanctioned Orthodoxy, the brotherhood was accepted into a diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Fr. Gerasim Eliel, a priest-monk who has lived at the monastery since 1981, was appointed by the Serbian Orthodox Church as the new abbot. The tiny cell that Rose constructed in the woods and named Optina, after a famous Russian hermitage bloodily suppressed under communism, is still in use. Fr. Damascene stays there now. –Michael Balchunas

Related Links

Site about Seraphim Rose, including articles, icons, and even miracles:

Books about Rose:

Texts concerning Rose’s “anti-Catholic” beliefs:

Veneration of Rose:


Trauma, Grief & Bereavement Hallucinations (Armando D’Agostino, 2014)

Also known as post-bereavement hallucination and grief hallucination. All three terms are used to denote a heterogeneous group of sensory deceptions occurring in the context of grief over the loss of a spouse or other loved one. The following article is taken from the 4th chapter of The Neuroscience of Visual Hallucinations, p 74-85

Trauma and predisposition to visual hallucinations


Some data  suggest an association between trauma and predisposition to both auditory and visual hallucinations in otherwise healthy people, as well as in psychotic patients, in patients with dissociative disorders and in full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Furthermore, predisposition to hallucinatory experiences seems higher in individuals who have experienced multiple traumas. Beyond a purely epidemiological association, it sees relevant to develop this observation by analyzing predisposing factors that determine the emergence of hallucinatory phenomena in some subjects, but not in others who are exposed to similar traumatic experiences. Meta-cognitive beliefs and dissociative processes have been found to predispose subjects to both auditory and visual hallucination (Morrison and Peterson, 2003). Although dissociation is a complex phenomenon that is not always related to trauma, a classical explanation suggests that trauma leads to dissociative phenomena as a defence mechanism. In line with this view, dissociative mechanisms subsequently predispose to psychotic experiences by dampening reality testing and disrupting both the inner self and the individual’s grounding in the external environment. It seems likely that several mechanisms are involved and that hallucinations in dissociative disorders and PTSD have different features and reflect different processes than psychotic hallucinations. These observations appear in line with the finding that grief hallucinations are more common in hysteroid personality subtypes, that is, personalities intrinsically predisposed to dissociation and with the generally recognized theory that psychotic experiences may emerge as a coping strategy for trauma. Among all traumatic life events, bereavement, emotional abuse, bullying, physical assault and sexual assault have shown the strongest association with predisposition to both auditory and visual hallucinations (Morrison and Peterson, 2003).

Visual hallucinations in the course of bereavement

The term bereavement generally refers to the state of being deprived of something, but is commonly used to describe a period of mourning and grief related to the loss of a close relative. Until a century ago, grief was regarded as a cause of death and to this day it is connected to a variety of physical and mental illnesses. Hallucinatory experiences are often reported during bereavement but they have been poorly investigated to date, and little is known about their epidemiological, psychopathological or neurobiological features. Several cases are described of patients whose visual sensory deprivation predisposed them to visual hallucinations as a symptom of grief reaction (Alroe and McIntyre, 1983; Adair and Keshavan, 1988). Most of the literature on visual hallucinations as grief reactions in the absence of visual or cognitive impairment consists of case reports and a few epidemiological studies. Two interesting descriptions are examined in Box 4.1.

Box 4.1
The prevalence of visual hallucinations after bereavement is higher in pathological conditions as when abnormal grief reactions, PTSDs, Charles Bonnet syndrome or reactive psychoses are also present. However, the phenomenon is also described in physiological grief reactions and is generally thought to be largely underestimated. Indeed, the bereaved rarely refer to this experience openly, perhaps for fear of being looked upon as mentally insane and because of the negative connotation of the word ‘hallucination’ in Western culture. A large proportion of widows and widowers never disclose their hallucinatory experiences. Grief hallucinations occur irrespective of ethnicity, creed or domicile, even if some cultural differences may exist. In Japan, where hallucinations are considered normal concomitants of bereavement, none of the bereaved express worry over their sanity (Yamamoto et al., 1969). Education, interpersonal support system or the anticipation of grief related to the circumstances of death also do not seem to influence this phenomenon (Grimby, 1993).

Elder Ephraim with Mother's Skull (Nun Theophano)
Elder Ephraim with his mother’s skull. He has stated on many occasions that he both sees and communicates with his dead mother.

The visual sub-type of hallucination is the most commonly reported in the literature (the bereaved individual often ‘sees’ the deceased), followed by the acoustic and olfactory modalities, while tactile experiences are rare. Within a continuum of abnormal experiences, the ‘feeling’ of the deceased’s presence is the most common hallucinatory experience reported. Felt presence is usually referred to as an illusion, although it is clear phenomenological and neurobiological nature remains elusive and largely left to speculation. Felt presence in the course of bereavement is generally helpful and comforting unlike the other, more fear-evoking and distressing experiences that have been associated with sleep paralysis in otherwise healthy subjects. Hallucinatory experiences usually occur when the bereaved is alone and their duration is variable: they can disappear shortly after mourning or persist for years, sometimes even decades, usually occurring intermittently. They seem most common in the early phases of bereavement, with a prevalence of over 80% of elderly people within the first month of the loss. A 30-60% prevalence of hallucinatory experiences can be estimated among elderly bereaved people. Prevalence rates found across different studies in the general population and in bereaved subjects are examined in Tables 4.3 and 4.4. Little is known about grief hallucinations in younger bereaved individuals or in cases where the deceased is not a spouse but a son, relative or close friend. Most studies suggest that incidence increases with age and the degree of affective bond with the deceased (Rees, 1971). However, some authors found a curvilinear model rather than a linear relationship between age at widowhood and the proportion of the age group reporting hallucinations. Specifically, the age groups 30-39 years and 70-89 years seem to be at particular risk of hallucinatory experiences compared with widows in the 40-69 group (Olson et al., 1985). One strong limitation is that none of the studies systematically excluded the presence of cognitive impairment in the older population. It seems plausible to hypothesize that the higher incidence in the elderly subgroup depends on a lower ability to cope with the loss and to a subtle reduction of cognitive functions. The higher incidence in the younger group could depend on the increased severity of stress experienced.

Table 4.3

Table 4.3 cont.

Table 4.3 last
Table 4.4

Table 4.4 cont


Awareness in the bereaved: grief (pseudo-)hallucinations?

Although usually referred to as ‘grief hallucinations’, the phenomenological nature of these experiences remains elusive. Little is known about the extent to which reality testing is intact in the bereaved, how vivid and real experiences appear to be, if they are perceived as coming from the outside or from the inner space, and so on. Despite the paucity of data to date and the complexity of the problem, when a psychopathological classification is attempted, it is commonly accepted that grief hallucinations are pseudo-hallucinations. No matter how vivid such visions may be, to the extent that some people report that they act in response to them, reality testing seems preserved in the absence of a pathologic grief reaction associated with a depressive episode (low mood, loss of appetite and weight, sleep disturbances, feelings of guilt and/or anxiety).

Psychological interpretation

These phenomena are usually interpreted as a coping mechanism during bereavement that implies an imaginative fulfilment of the desire for reunion. Grief hallucinations occurring immediately after a loss may be an expression of intensive yearnings for the loved one. Especially in cases of sudden traumatic death, grief hallucinations may contribute towards maintaining an intense bond with the lost object for some time. This usually benign form of coping with bereavement could, however, become dysfunctional, for example, in the context of a psychological background of unsolved neurotic conflicts. According to Sigmund Freud, mourning can be understood in terms of an involuntary withdrawal of object cathexis, that is, libidinal investment, denied by the Ego which strives to substitute the object by immersing itself in fantasy or hallucination (Carhart-Harris et al., 2008).

When do grief hallucinations require treatment?

The vast majority of individuals describe grief hallucinatory experiences as being comforting rather than disturbing. Indeed, many authors consider grief hallucinations as a normal and helpful accompaniment of loss. Grief hallucinations hardly ever require psychiatric treatment. However, the potential medical consequences of disclosing these experiences are problematic, given the implications of hallucinations in contemporary diagnostic systems. Many physicians are unaware of the frequency or existence of this phenomenon among the bereaved. The Mood Disorders Work Group for the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) eliminated the ‘Bereavement Exclusion’ criterion of Major Depression, which suggests that depressive symptoms can be considered a physiological reaction during bereavement. According to the previous edition of the Manual (DSM-IV-TR), a major depressive episode could only be diagnosed during bereavement in the presence of specific symptoms (morbid preoccupation with worthlessness, suicidal ideation, psychotic symptoms or psychomotor retardation), a longer duration and a more substantial functional impairment. This modification led to worry over the likelihood that clinicians will diagnose depression in people who mourn the death of a loved one after 2 weeks of mild depressive symptoms. The obvious risks of this approach are the medicalization of physiological grief reactions and the consequent encouragement of unnecessary treatment with antidepressant and possibly antipsychotic drugs. As visual hallucinations and illusions should be considered common in the bereaved, early information about the incidence and character of these phenomena is likely to prevent fear of insanity or other negative reactions. Diagnostic uncertainty is confirmed by the presence of a Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder categorized as a condition for further study that can present with associated auditory or visual hallucinations of the deceased. However, the newly published Manual stresses the need to distinguish between grief and depression, the latter being more clearly accompanied by persistence of low mood, independent of external events and self-critical ruminations (APA, 2013).

The neurobiology of grief

Recent attention in psychiatry to physiological reactions to loss has led to a new line of neurobiological enquiry that points to the activation of a specific neurofunctional network during bereavement. According to the incentive salience model of grief (Freed & Mann, 2007), the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) modulate attentional and emotional aspects of amygdala reactivity to separation distress. This functional circuitry is largely distinct from the structures involved in the processing of psychological pain associated with social rejection, exclusion or loss. In this case, activation of the anterior insula and dorsal ACC closely mimic the cortical substrates of the affective and sensory components of physical pain. One possible explanation is that sensory-related regions are involved when psychological pain stems from rejection of the Self by others, but not when it depends on the death of a loved one, in that the Self is not devalued (Eisenberger, 2012). To date, no study specifically explores the neurofunctional correlates of visual hallucinatory phenomena in the bereaved population.


Adair, DK, The Charles Bonnet syndrome and grief reaction, 1988 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3381939

Alroe, CJ, Visual hallucinations. The Charles Bonnet syndrome and bereavement, 1983 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6669135

Carhart-Harris, R.L., Mourning and melancholia revisited: correspondences between principles of Freudian metapsychology and empirical findings in neuropsychiatry, 2008 https://annals-general-psychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1744-859X-7-9

Eisenberger, N.I., The pain of social disconnection: examining the shared neural underpinnings of physical and social pain, 2012 https://sanlab.psych.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/31/2015/05/Eisenberger2012NRN.pdf

Freed, PJ & Mann, JJ, Sadness and loss: toward a neurobiopsychosocial model, 2007 http://www.personalitystudiesinstitute.org/images/member_photos/Freed2007The%20American%20journal%20of%20psychiatry.pdf

Grimby, A., Bereavement among elderly people: grief reactions, post-bereavement hallucinations and quality of life, 1993 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8424323

Morrison & Peterson, Trauma, Metacognition And Predisposition To Hallucinations In Non-Patients, 2003. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/behavioural-and-cognitive-psychotherapy/article/trauma-metacognition-and-predisposition-to-hallucinations-in-non-patients/A4C154E0EB3BF226AB4E0A2E2911453D

Olson, P.R., Hallucinations of widowhood, 1985. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4020000

Rees, W.D., Hallucinations of widowhood, 1971 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1799198/

Yamamoto, Joe, Mourning in Japan, 2006. https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/ajp.125.12.1660?code=ajp-site&journalCode=ajp

Charles Bonnet Syndrome

Evidence of Brainwashing in Cults (Benjamin Zablocki, 2001)

NOTE: The following article is taken from the 5th chapter of Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field, entitled, Towards a Demystified and Disinterested Scientific Theory of Brainwashing.


I have attempted to test the model as much as possible with the limited data that currently exist. I have relied on three sources of evidence. The first and most important of these consists of ethnographic studies of a wide variety of contemporary American charismatic cults conducted by myself and others. The first-hand opportunities I have had to watch (at least the public face of) charismatic resocialization in numerous cult situations has convinced me of the need to theorize about this phenomenon. The second source of data consists of interviews with former leaders of charismatic groups. Although I have only a handful of such interviews, they are particularly valuable for elucidating the process from the perspective of ‘management,’ rather than from the perspective of the subjects. The third source of data consists of reports of ex-members of cults, drawing heavily on scientifically sampled interviews that my students and I have conducted. Most of these respondents were interviewed at least twice over a roughly twenty-five-year period.

Because evidence in this field of study tends to be so bitterly contested, it is perhaps necessary to point out that my own studies in this area were all subject to rigorous and competitive peer review. Five of my studies were reviewed and funded by three organizations — the National Institute of Mental Health (2), and the National Institute of Health (1) — over a period extending from 1964 to 2001. On all of these I was the principal investigator, and the research designs are in the public record. During this same period, other research of mine in this same field of study was funded by peer-reviewed faculty research grants from all of the universities with which I have been affiliated: the University of California at Berkeley, the California Institute of Technology, Columbia University, and Rutgers University. It is a strange anomaly that this body of work seems to be generally respected throughout the social and behavioural sciences, with the exception of a small field, the sociology of new religious movements, where some try their best to hold it up to ridicule and disesteem.

Ethnographic Accounts

Bainbridge (1997) has argued that most ethnographic studies of cults have failed to find evidence of brainwashing. But it is more accurate to say that ethnographers have been divided on this subject. Lalich, Ofshe, Kent, and myself have found such evidence abundantly (Kent and Krebs 1998; Lalich 1993; Ofshe, Eisenberg et. al. 1974; Zablocki 1980).  Even Barker, Beckford, and Richardson, who are among the most hostile to the brainwashing conjecture, have found evidence of attempted brainwashing, although they have claimed that these attempts are largely or entirely unsuccessful (Barker 1984; Beckford 1985; Richardson, Harder et. al. 1972). Still other ethnographers (Balch 1985; Rochford, Purvis et. al. 1989) seem ambivalent on the subject and not sure what to make of the evidence. Others such as Palmer (1994) and Hall (1987, 2000) have been fairly clear about the absence of brainwashing in their observations.

Such disparity is to be expected. There is no reason to believe that all cults practise brainwashing any more than that all cults are violent or that all cults make their members wear saffron robes. Most ethnographers who did discover evidence of brainwashing in the cults they investigated were surprised by the finding. The fact that evidence of this sort has been repeatedly discovered by researchers who were not particularly looking for it suggests that the process really exists in some cults. I have observed fully developed brainwashing processes in some cults, partially developed ones in others, and none whatsoever in others. As ethnographic work in cults continues to accumulate, we should expect to find a similar degree of heterogeneity in published reports. certainly , there is abundant evidence of uncritically obedient behaviour in charismatic cults (Ayella 1990; Davis 2000; Katchen 1997; Lalich 1999; Lifton 1999; Wallis 1977), and this behaviour needs to be explained. The presence or absence of brainwashing may ultimately turn out to contribute to such an explanation.

When I first studied the Bruderhof thirty-five years ago, using ethnographic methods, I noticed a strong isomorphism between the phases of Bruderhof resocialization and the phases of brainwashing in Chinese re-education centres described by Lifton. Since I could think of no other reason why the Bruderhof would support such a costly and labour-intensive resocialization program if it were not to create deployable agents with long-term loyalty to the community, I hypothesized that something akin to brainwashing must be going on. My observations over the next thirty-five years have only strengthened my confidence in the correctness of this hypothesis. Bruderhof members were never kept from leaving by force or force threat. But the community put a lot of time and energy into assuring that defections would made rare and difficult by imbuing in its members an uncritical acceptance of the teachings of the community and a terror of life outside the community.1

Some (but not all) of the other cultic groups I have lived with as a participant-observer have shown signs of a brainwashing process at work. Individuals being plucked suddenly out of the workday routine of the group, appearing to become haggard with lack of sleep for prolonged periods, secretiveness and agitation, alternating periods of shunning and warm communal embrace, all suggest the presence of such a process. Some of these people, years later, having left the cult, have confirmed to me that such a process is what they went through when I observed them under this stress. According to my ethnographic observations, some sort of fully or partially developed brainwashing process figures in the resocialization of at least half of the cults I have studied during at least some phases of their history.

Geronda Dositheos with personalized 'Geronda' sweater

Leader Accounts

A second source of evidence may be found in reports given by people who were actually responsible for practising brainwashing with their fellow cult members. Several cult leaders  who left their groups have since apologized to other ex-members for having subjected them to brainwashing methods. One such former cult leader put it this way:

“What you have to understand is that, for us, breaking the spirit … emptying out our ego, is very very important. And any means to that end … well, we would have said it was justified. And over the years we developed [by trial and error] ways of accomplishing this [task]. It was only after I was finished with [the cult] and living in the world again that I did some reading and realized how similar [our techniques] were to what the Communists did – to brainwashing. I think you would have to say that what we did was a kind of brainwashing even if we didn’t mean it to be so.’

In another case I interviewed the widow of a cult leader who had died and whose cult had disbanded soon thereafter. She said the following:

‘Those kinds of things definitely happened [on quite a few occasions]. It’s not like we sat down and said, hey we’re going to brainwash everybody. That would have been crazy. It’s more like we knew how important our mission was and how [vulnerable it was] to treachery. I think we got a little paranoid about being overcome by treachery within, especially after Gabe and Helen left and started saying those things about us. So everybody had to be tested. I had to be tested. Even he [the leader] had to be tested. We all knew it and we all [accepted it]. So we would pull a person out of the routine and put him in solitary for awhile. Nobody could talk to him except [my husband] and maybe a few others. I couldn’t even talk to him when I brought him meals. That was usually my job … At first it was just isolation and observation and having deep long talks far into the night about the mission. We didn’t know anything about brainwashing or any of that stuff. But gradually the things you describe got in there too somehow. Especially the written confessions. I had to write a bunch of them towards the end when [X] was sick. Whatever you wrote was not enough. They always wanted more, and you always felt you were holding out on them. Finally your confessions would get crazy, they’d come from your wildest fantasies of what they might want. At the end I confessed that I was killing [my husband] by tampering with his food because I wanted to – I don’t know – be the leader in his place I guess. All of us knew it was bullshit but somehow it satisfied them when I wrote that … And, even though we knew it was bullshit, going through that changed us. I mean I know it changed me. It burned a bridge … [T]here was no going back. You really did feel you changed into being a different person in a weird sort of way.’

Perhaps the closest thing I have found to a smoking gun in this regard has to do with a sociology professor who became a charismatic cult leader. Two of this cult leader’s top lieutenants independently spoke to me on this subject. Both of these respondents described in great detail how they assisted in concerted campaigns to brainwash fellow cult members. Both felt guilty about this and found the memory painful to recount. One of them indicated that the brainwashing attempt was conscious and deliberate:

‘During her years in academia, Baxter became very interested in mass social psychology and group behaviour modification. She studied Robert Jay Lifton’s work on thought reform; she studied and admired ‘total’ communities such as Synanon, and directed methods of change, such as Alcoholic Anonymous. She spoke of these techniques as positive ways to change people.’ (Lalich 1993: 55)

In this cult, which has since disbanded, there seems to be general consensus among both leaders and followers that systematic brainwashing techniques were used on a regular basis and were successful in their aim of producing deployable agents.

Geronda Ephraim, Monks, Devotees

Ex-member Accounts

Our third source of evidence is the most controversial. There has been a misguided attempt to deny the validity of negative ex-member accounts as a source of data about cults. They’ve been condemned as ‘atrocity tales’ (Richardson 1998: 172), and Johnson (1998: 118) has dismissed them categorically by alleging that ‘the autobiographical elements of apostate narratives are further shaped by a concern that the targeted religious groups be painted in the worst possible light.’


The apostate role has been defined by Bromley (1997) largely in terms of the content of attitudes towards the former cult. If these attitudes are negative and expressed collectively in solidarity with other negatively disposed ex-members, they constitute evidence that the person must not be an ordinary ex-member but an ‘apostate.’ This is a direct violation of Robert Meron’s (1968) admonition that role sets be defined in terms of shared structural characteristics, not individual attitudes. What if this same logic were used to denigrate abused spouses who choose to be collectively vocal in their complaints? Nevertheless, this perspective on so-called ‘apostate accounts’ has been widely influential among cult scholars.

David Bromley is a sociologist theorist of great personal integrity but limited field experience. I think that if Bromley and his followers could just once sit down with a few hundred of these emotionally haunted ex-members whom they blithely label ‘apostates’,’ and listen to their stories, and see for themselves how badly most of them would like nothing more than to be able to put the cult experience behind them and get on with their lives, they would be deeply ashamed of the way they have subverted role theory to deny a voice to a whole class of people.

Fr. Silouanos Coutavas

Dawson (1995) has correctly pointed out that there are methodological problems involved in using accounts of any kind as data. We need to be careful not to rely only on ex-member accounts. Triangulation of data sources is essential. But even the reports of professional ethnographers are nothing more than accounts, and thus subject to the same sort of limitations. Ex-member accounts have been shown to have reliability and validity roughly equivalent to the accounts given by current cult members (Zablocki 1996).

Solomon (1981) has provided some empirical support for the argument that those with stormy exits from cults and those with anti-cult movement affiliations are more likely to allege that they have been brainwashed than those with relatively uneventful exits and no such affiliation. ‘Cult apologists’ have made much of the finding that ex-members affiliated with anti-cult organizations are more likely to allege brainwashing than those who are not. Their hatred of the anti-cult movement has blinded them to two important considerations: (1) The causal direction is by no means obvious — it is at least as likely that those who were brainwashed are more likely to seek out anti-cult organizations as support groups as that false memories of brainwashing are implanted by anti-cult groups into those ex-members who fall into their clutches; and (2) Although the percentages may be lower, some ex-members who don’t affiliate with anti-cult groups still allege brainwashing.


Many ex-members of cults find brainwashing the most plausible explanation of their own cult experiences. While some might be deluding themselves to avoid having to take responsibility for their own mistakes, it strains credulity to imagine that all are doing so. Here, just by way of example, are excerpts from interviews done with five ex-members of five different cults. None of these respondents was ever affiliated, even marginally, with an anti-cult organization:

‘They ask you to betray yourself so gradually that you never notice you’re giving up everything that makes you who you are and letting them fill you up with something they think is better and that they’ve taught you to believe is something better.’

‘What hurts most is that I thought these people were my new friends, my new family.  It wasn’t until after that I realized how I was manipulated little step by little step. Just like in Lifton; it’s really amazing when you think of it … couldn’t just be a coincidence …  I don’t know if you can understand it, but what hurts most is not that they did it but realizing that they planned it out so carefully from the beginning. That was so cold.’

‘I’ve never been able to explain it to people who weren’t there. I don’t really understand it myself. But black was white, night was day, whatever they told us to believe, it was like a test. The more outrageous the idea the greater the victory, when I could wrap my mind around it and really believe it down to my toes. And, most important, be prepared to act on it just like if it was proven fact. That’s the really scary part when I look back on it.’

‘In the frame of mind I was in [at the time], I welcomed the brainwashing. I thought of it like a purge. I needed to purge my old ways, my old self. I hated it and I felt really violent toward it … I wanted to wash it all away and make myself an empty vehicle for [the guru’s] divine plan … [Our] ideal was to be unthinking obedient foot soldiers in God’s holy army.’

Many wax particularly eloquent on this subject when interviewed in the aftermath of media events involving cultic mass suicides or murders. The fifth respondent said the following:

‘It makes me shudder and … thank God that I got out when I did. ‘Cause that could have been me doing that, could have been any of us. [I have] no doubt any one of us would have done that in the condition we all were in — killed ourselves, our kids, any that [the leaders] named enemies.’

I have quoted just five ex-members because of limitations of space. Many more could be found. Thousands of ex-members of various groups (only a small minority of whom have ever been interviewed by me) have complained of being brainwashed. Contrary to the allegations of some ‘cult apologists,’ very few of these are people who had been deprogrammed (and presumably brainwashed into believing that they had been brainwashed). The accounts of these people tend often to agree on the particulars of what happened to them, even though these people may never have talked with one another.

Another striking aspect of these brainwashing accounts by ex-members is that they are held to consistently for many years. I have interviewed many ex-cult members twenty to thirty years after leaving the cult, and have yet to have a single case of a person who alleged brainwashing immediately after leaving the cult, later recant and say it wasn’t true after all. More than anything else, this consistency over extended periods of time convinces me that ex-member accounts often may be relied on. Even if some of the details have been forgotten or exaggerated with the passage of time, the basic outline of what happened to them is probably pretty accurate. All in all, therefore, I think it is fair to conclude, both from accumulated ethnographic and ex-member data, that brainwashing happens to at least some people in some cults.

Greek Coffee (TX)

Incidence and Consequences

Finally, we come to the aspect of brainwashing theory for which our data are sketchiest, the one most in need of further research. How often does brainwashing actually occur (incidence) 2 and how significant are its consequences?

Defining what we mean by incidence is far from a simple matter. In the reporting of brainwashing there are numerous false positives and false negatives, and no consensus as to whether these errors lead to net underestimation or net overestimation. Several factors can produce false positives. Unless the term is precisely defined to respondents, some answers will reflect folk definitions of the term. It might mean little more to them than that they believe they were not treated nicely by their former cults. Other respondents may share our definition of the term, but answer falsely out of a desire to lay claim to the victim role or out of anger towards the cult. False negatives also can occur for several reasons. Most significantly, current members (as well as ex-members who still sympathize with the cult) may deny brainwashing to protect the cult. Others may understand the term differently than do the interviewers, and still others may be embarrassed to admit that they had been brainwashed. These errors can be minimized but hardly eliminated by in-depth interviewing in which respondents are asked not merely to label but to describe the process they went through.

There is insufficient space in this chapter to discuss these important methodological issues. I will therefore merely state the criteria upon which I base my own measurement. I treat incidence as a ratio of X to Y. in Y are included all those who were fully committed members of a cult for a year or more, but who are currently no longer affiliated with any cult. 3 In X are included those members of the Y set who both claim to have been brainwashed and who are able to give evidence of the particulars of their own brainwashing experience (at least through phase 2) consistent with those discussed in the previous section of this chapter.

In the handful of systematic studies that have been done, estimates of brainwashing incidence seem to cluster around 10% (plus or minus 5%) of former cult members (Katchen 1997; Wright 1987; Zablocki, Hostetler et. al. in press). However, there is tremendous variation in estimates for this number given by people working in this field. Ignoring those scholars who deny that brainwashing is ever attempted or ever successful, I have heard anecdotal estimates as low as <0.1% and as high as 80%, given by ethnographers.

Stuart Wright’s (1987) data on voluntarily exiting ex-members indicate that 9% say they had been brainwashed. This study is noteworthy because it examined ex-members of a variety of different cults rather than just one. It relied, however, on each respondent’s own definition of what it meant to be brainwashed.

My national longitudinal study (Zablocki 1980) relied primarily on a two-stage sampling procedure in which geographical regions were first selected and groups then sampled within these regions. I have followed 404 cases, most of them surveyed at least twice over intervals extending up to twenty-five years. Of those who were interviewed, 11% meet the criteria for having been brainwashed discussed above. Interestingly, all those in my sample who claim to have been brainwashed stick to their claims even after many years have passed. My own study is the only one that I know of that has repeatedly interviewed members and former members over several decades.

Another issue is whether overall incidence among the ex-member population is the most meaningful statistic to strive for given the heterogeneity among cults and types of cult member. Cults vary in the proportion of their members they attempt to brainwash from 0% to 100%. Since brainwashing significantly increases exit costs (according to hypothesis 8), it follows that examples of brainwashed individuals will be somewhat over-represented among current cult members and somewhat under-represented among ex-members.

The incidence, among ex-members, is higher (24% in my sample) when the relevant population is confined to a cult’s ‘inner circle,’ the core membership surrounding the leader. In an important  and neglected article, Wexler (1995) makes the point that it is simplistic to think of a cult as comprising only a leader and a homogeneous mass of followers. Most cults have a third category of membership, a corps of lieutenants, surrounding the leader, which Wexler refers to as a ‘decision elite.’ It follows from the hypotheses discussed earlier that we should expect attempts to brainwash to be concentrated among members in this category.

One study suggests that incidence is also higher among adults who grew up in cults (Katchen 1997). My own ethnographic observation supports the last point, and further suggests that cults under extreme stress become more likely to engage in brainwashing or to extend already existing brainwashing programs to a much wider circle of members.

With regard to consequences, we must distinguish between obedience consequences and traumatic consequences. Uncritical obedience is extinguished rapidly, certainly within a year of exiting if not sooner. The popular idea that former cult members can be programmed to carry obedience compulsions for specific acts to be performed long after membership in the cult has ceased is, in my opinion, wholly a myth based largely on a movie, The Manchurian Candidate. I know of nobody who has ever seen even a single successful instance of such programming. However, many brainwashed ex-members report that they would not feel safe visiting the cult, fearing that old habits of obedience might quickly be reinstilled.

There is evidence, in my data set, of persistent post-traumatic effects. The majority of those who claim to have been brainwashed say that they never fully get over the psychological insult, although its impact on their lives diminishes over time. The ability to form  significant bonds with others takes a long time to heal, and about a third wind up (as much as a quarter of a century later) living alone with few significant social ties. This is more than double the proportion of controls (cult participants who appeared not to have been brainwashed) that are socially isolated twenty-five years later. Visible effects also linger in the ability to form new belief commitments. In about half there is no new commitment to a belief community after two years. By twenty-five years, this has improved, although close to 25% still have formed no such commitment. Occupationally, they tend to do somewhat better, but often not until having separated from the cult for five to ten years.

Baptism at Holy Archangels (TX)


We can conclude from all of the above that those who claim that cultic brainwashing does not exist and those who claim it is pandemic to cults are both wrong. Brainwashing is an administratively costly and not always effective procedure that some cults use on some of their members. A few cults rely heavily on brainwashing and put all their members through it. Other cults do not use the procedure at all. During periods of stressful confrontation, either with external enemies or among internal factions, or in attempts to cope with failed apocalyptic prophecies, it is not uncommon for brainwashing suddenly to come to play a central role in the cult’s attempts to achieve order and social control. At such times, risk of uncritically obedient violent aggression or mass suicide may be heightened.

Hopefully, it will be clear from this chapter that brainwashing has absolutely nothing to do with the overthrow of ‘free will’ or any other such mystical or non-scientific concept. People who have been brainwashed are ‘not free’ only in the sense that all of us, hemmed in on all sides as we are by social and cultural constraints, are not free. The kinds of social constraints involved in brainwashing are much more intense than those involved in socializing many of us to eat with knives and forks rather than our hands. But the constraints involved differ only in magnitude and focus, not in kind. Any brainwashed cult member always retains the ability to leave the cult or defy the cult as long as he or she is willing to pay the mental and emotional price (which may be considerable) that the cult is able to exact for so doing.

As I finish this chapter, a number of European nations are debating the advisability of anti-brainwashing laws, some of which eventually may be used to inhibit freedom of religious expression. In light of this trend a number of colleagues have criticized me, not on the grounds that my facts are incorrect, but that my timing is unfortunate. One socked me with the following, particularly troubling, complaint: “Ben, if you had discovered evidence, in 1942, of a higher prevalence among Jews than non-Jews of the Tay-Sachs genetic defect, would you have published your findings in a German biology journal?” Ultimately, although I respect the sentiments behind my colleagues’ concerns, I must respectfully disagree with their fastidious caution. It never works to refuse to look at frightening facts. They only become larger, more   frightening, and more mystically permeated when banished to one’s peripheral vision. A direct, honest acknowledgement of the limited but significant role that brainwashing plays in producing uncritical obedience in some cults will serve, in the long run, to lessen paranoid reactions to ‘the threat of the cults,’ rather than increase them.


  1. Bruderhof members, particularly those in responsible positions, are never fully trusted until they have gone through the ordeal of having been put into the great exclusion (being sent away) and then spiritually fought their way back to the community. Such exclusion serves as the ultimate test of deployability. Is the conversion deep enough to hold even when away from daily reinforcement by participation in community life? The degree to which the Bruderhof stresses the importance of this ideal serves as additional evidence that the creation of deployable agents is a major aim of the socialization process.
  2. A related question is what portion of those a cult attempts to brainwash actually get brainwashed. No data have been collected on this issue to the best of my knowledge.
  3. I do not distinguish between voluntary and involuntary mode of exit in my measure because my sample includes only an insignificant number (less than one-half of one percent) who were deprogrammed out of their cults.