Greater Phoenix Tea Party Patriot Starts Petition to Save St. Anthony’s Monastery from being Rezoned


Seraphim Larsen has been a spiritual child of Geronda Paisios, abbot of St. Anthony’s Monastery, almost since the beginning of the monastery’s establishment in Florence; circa 1995. Geronda Paisios baptized him into the orthodox faith during a secret ceremony. Seraphim was the chairman of the Pinal County Republican party.1 Furthermore, he is also a member of the Greater Phoenix Tea Party Patriots.2 It is no secret that Geronda Paisios has openly supported Ron Paul and other right-wing candidates when asked by his spiritual children who they should vote for. Greek edition books concerning the New World Order and Globalism that are sold in St. Anthony’s bookstore contain photocopies from English pamphlets distributed by American neo-Nazi groups.


According to the PRAVSLAVIE:3

A developer is proposing drastic changes to the zoning and land usage for parcels of land IMMEDIATELY ADJACENT to Saint Anthony’s Monastery. These changes would have a dramatic and significant negative impact to Saint Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery. It would also be a dramatic negative impact to all the local residents and out-of-state visitors who attend services there, to all the families who have relatives buried in the cemetery, and to everyone who currently enjoys the tranquil and graceful nature of the Monastery.

The proposed development is truly a drastic change:
• Over 200 new houses are to be developed on land north of the Monastery, including the area immediately adjacent to the Monastery Cemetery
• A new road is to be built extending from Paisano Road, then running in between the two Monastery hills, immediately at the base of the Prophet Elias Chapel, then very close to the cemetery. As this would be the only access road to the 200+ houses, traffic and noise would be greatly increased.
• The noise, traffic, housing, music, animals, etc. would bring a dramatic change to the whole community, disturbing not only the Monastery but the neighbors as well.
• The natural habitat and wildlife would be impacted by a big new development as well, disturbing several rare plant and animal species in the area.

YOUR URGENT ACTION IS REQUESTED! Public meetings are already scheduled for the coming week!! Please sign the petition immediately!

The petition simply asks the local authorities to leave the zoning of these properties unchanged. The purpose of zoning laws is to provide long-term expectations for property owners on how the land in their neighborhood is intended to be used. This allows people to plan and build in a manner appropriate to the existing neighborhood. The proposed new development represents a drastic change to current zoning usage and would have a strongly negative impact on the local community.
The petition also asks the Bureau of Land Management and the Arizona State Land Department simply to leave the usage of these properties unchanged. These agencies must approve any changes to the land usage where the developer wants to build the new road, since it passes through lands controlled by those agencies.

There is a private hearing early next week with Planning & Zoning and the local property owners (including the monastery). The monastery is hoping to bring as many signatures as possible (both paper petitions and printouts of the online petition) to that meeting.

If they don’t make a decision following that initial meeting, it’s likely they will have a public hearing sometime over the next few weeks.

Readers wishing to sign the petition can do so here:

Map showing the support from people all over the world.

Seraphim Larsen has also made a sample email for people to send:4

Send to: Pinal County Supervisors: Pete Rios <>, Cheryl Chase <>, Steve Miller <>, Anthony Smith <>, Todd House <>

Subject Line: Leave Zoning Unchanged near Saint Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery

Email Body:

Dear Pinal County Supervisors,

Thank you for all the great things you are doing for Pinal County!

I am writing to ask you to leave the zoning unchanged near Saint Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery at the end of Paisano Road in the Cactus Forest area immediately south of Florence.

Elmore/Brimhall LLC has submitted a rezoning application to the Pinal County Planning and Zoning Commission, asking that a large parcel immediately adjacent to the north border of the Monastery be rezoned from General Rural to a Residential classification for one-acre residential homes.

I am writing to you to express my strong opposition to this rezoning proposal. The Monastery is the spiritual home to thousands of Greek Orthodox faithful who regularly attend services and pray on the peaceful grounds of the Monastery. The Monastery is the actual residence to over fifty Greek Orthodox Monks who have devoted their lives to worship, prayer, and serving the community. The Monastery is world-renowned for its tranquil, beautiful, and holy grounds, a major tourist attraction where tens of thousands of people visit every year from Arizona and around the world. Many visitors have also expressed interest and concern about the natural habitat and wildlife, and the negative impact of significant development. Finally, the Cemetery at the Monastery is the resting place for many faithful people whose family and relatives would be greatly disturbed to have a busy new road and housing development immediately adjacent to the cemetery, with road noise, houses, animals, and music disturbing the peace of the holy grounds.

I strongly urge you to advise the Planning and Zoning Commission to deny this application for a zoning change.

Thank you for your time and consideration.




More than 5,000 signatures!

Seraphim Larsen

Florence, AZ

JUN 3, 2016 — We passed two significant milestones yesterday:

• We exceeded 5,000 signatures! The petition continues to build momentum!

• We had the meeting with the developer, with the Monastery and the other adjacent property owners.

The developer presented their plans and explained why they are asking for a change in zoning. They listened to the Monastery’s objections but gave no hint of conceding anything to the Monastery—they fully intend to go forward with their rezoning application. The one other neighbor who attended the meeting seemed sympathetic to the Monastery’s concerns, but their own concerns were more about how the development could impact access to their own property, which is at the far end of the development.

In other words, there weren’t any real surprises—this is the outcome we were expecting. The developer is not going to give up this project easily.

This meeting was required for the developer to complete the submission of their zoning application, which will all be turned over to the Planning and Zoning Commission in 1-2 weeks. A public hearing before the Planning & Zoning Commission will then be scheduled—we will be sure to let everyone know when that will happen and how you can speak at the hearing if you want.

It’s likely there will be more than one public hearing with Planning & Zoning, who will eventually make their recommendation to the County Board of Supervisors. The Supervisors will then address the question at another public meeting, at which they will approve or deny the rezoning application.

We will keep everyone informed every step of the way, and let you know what you can do to help. For now, please continue to email the Board of Supervisors—especially if you are local or in-state. See the link below for a sample message and all the contact information for the Board members.

Please also keep the Monastery in your prayers, and also the many people who are working to support the effort to block the rezoning.




Update on the Quebec Nuns’ Christmas Shopping Spree in Ohio

Gerondissa Thekla, Metropolitan Sotirios and other priests celebrating the inauguration of the monastery's new cheese-making facilities.

NOTE: A couple new articles on the Friends of St Nektarios Monastery Tumblr page sheds some light on the methodology used by Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries  to “invalidate” a story; i.e. to render a historical event and reality non-existent, as if it never happened.


A few months ago, a story from the Lehman’s Country Store Blog about Geronda Ephraim’s nuns travelling 10 hours from Quebec to a small Ohio town to fill two vans with thousands of dollars worth of merchandise was circulating around the web. At the time of the nuns’ shopping spree, the Canadian dollar was very low (1 CAD = 0.72453 USD, thus 1,000.00 USD = 1,380.21 CAD; 1,000.00 CAD = 724.53 USD) The Loonie lost 17% of its value in 2015, the second-worst year it’s ever had. Also, most of the products purchased were readily available in stores close to the monastery and/or generally within the Quebec borders. Furthermore, the nuns bought a large amount of canned meat (designed for survivalist situations). However, monastics are forbidden to eat meat by the ecclesiastical canons, at these products are not fit to feed farm animals.

This blog posted the story a day after it was published on Lehman’s blog:

Less than 3 months after this shopping extravaganza, the monastery in Quebec held an annual fundraiser dinner to raise more money for the monastery. In the past, the monasteries have not participated in policies of financial transparency. The amount of money they raised that night is not available to the public.


Montreal nuns 2a
Gerondissa Thekla, Metropolitan Sotirios and other priests celebrating the inauguration of the monastery’s new cheese-making facilities.

Someone identifying himself as a “concerned pilgrim” contacted the Metropolis in Canada and asked the Metropolitan about the nuns’ excessive spending, especially when the exchange rate was so low. The following is a brief synopsis of these events, followed by the entire email exchange at the end of the article.

Sisters Quebec
Screenshot of Lehman’s Facebook Page containing the detailed story of the nuns’ all day shopping spree. Lehman’s later deleted this story from their Facebook Page.

December 16, 2015, The day Lehman’s published the story a concerned pilgrim wrote their bishop, Metropolitan Sotirios and asked about this peculiar incident. The entire email exchange, spanning over 2 months and producing no answers or explanation, can be read at the end of this article.

December/January, Lehman’s social media sites start deleting the post about the nuns’ shopping spree.

January 10, 2015, a priest from Montreal responded to the pilgrim and essentially said, “You’re wrong, it is not true.” By this time, all the social media platforms belonging to Lehman’s had deleted the story, though their digital footprints still remain on the web.

January 17, 2016, the pilgrim responds to this priest and writes the bishop again concerning the unsatisfactory and offensive answer he received.

January 20, 2016, the Metropolitan responds, claiming “regarding the purchases of the nuns of Panagia the Comforter Monastery from the Lehman’s Hardware and Appliances Inc. I do not know anything about this. I have asked Abbess Thekla for an explanation and then I will write to you.”

February 19, 2016, the concerned pilgrim writes another inquiry due to having heard nothing in a month

February 23, 2016, Basil Roccas answers on behalf of the bishop, stating “Gerondissa Thekla fell sick with pneumonia while on a pilgrimage to Arizona recently, and as of last week was still in Arizona.  She presumably has not had the opportunity to reply to His Eminence’s letter, and this is why His Eminence has not replied to you.”

March 6, 2016, The Quebec Monastery has their annual fundraiser.

May 15, 2016, As of this date there has been no further response from the Metropolis. Ignoring people does not make them go away… lack of transparency does not inspire people to donate money, either.

Lehmans Tweetbear Page
Lehman’s original Tweet archived on Tweetbear

Interview of Patriarch of Jerusalem Irenaeus to the National Herald, (Theodore Kalmoukos, March 15, 2015)


The following article is taken from The National Herald, March 15, 2015 concerning some of the corruption in the Greek Orthodox Church (links to for the original Greek and English transcription are included):



The Holy Light: Legend or Reality? (Fr. George Tetsis, Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, 2006)


NOTE: The following article is taken from the newspaper Vema, April 21, 2006. The article is followed by quotes from contemporary Greek Orthodox clergymen and theologians who openly admit that the Sleepless Lantern (i.e. the sanctuary oil lamp, which is supposed to be extinguished on Good Saturday) is in fact left lit! These quotes are followed by an English translation of the Patriarch’s Prayer.

  • “The Patriarch doesn’t pray to conduct the miracle.”
  • “The Holy Light from heaven is nothing but a legend.”
  • “The Patriarch lights his candle from the unsleeping oil lamp.”

The forthcoming feast of Pascha brought the issue of the Holy Light’s touch back to the limelight…

The happenings in Jerusalem and the risk of politicizing a basic liturgical act of our faith now gives the Church a unique opportunity to lift the veil of mystery that covers the Holy Light’s touch to this day; to enlighten the faithful regarding the theological background and symbolism of this beautiful an d delightful ceremony.

I will explain myself. For centuries now, there has been a widespread conviction among the pious, yet theologically and liturgically uneducated, orthodox faithful who search for “miracles” to fill a spiritual void: during the ceremony, the Holy Light descends miraculously “from heaven” to light the Patriarch’s candle.

However, as the eminent professor Constantine Kalokyres relates in his erudite book, The Architectural Complex of the Temple of the Resurrection in Jerusalem and the Subject of the Holy Light, concerns a legend that has been cultivated in the Holy Land after the Crusaders’ invasion and within the framework of the Orthodox-Latin-Armenian conflict in which each one claimed the privilege of “receiving the eternal light from heaven” for themselves.

The prayer that the Patriarch offers inside the Holy Sepulcher is clear and not open to any misinterpretation. The Patriarch does not pray to conduct the miracle. He simply “recalls” Christ’s sacrifice and Resurrection on the 3rd day and addresses Him, saying: “We piously take from the light that diligently and eternally burns on Your light-bearing Sepulcher, we spread it among those who believe in You, who are the true light, and we pray and plead with You, oh Holiest Despota, so that You will elevate [the light] into a gift of sanctification and fill it with Your divine grace…” This means that the Patriarch lights the candle from the unsleeping oil lamp located in the Holy Sepulcher. Every Patriarch and cleric does precisely that on the day of Pascha when he takes Christ’s Light from the unsleeping oil lamp located upon the Holy Table symbolizing the Lord’s Tomb.

However, the mystery that has been cultivated around the Holy Light ritual and the vulgar perceptions about it nowadays contributed to the appropriation and exploitation of this highly symbolic and compunctionate liturgical practice of our Church from external religious circles. The reason for the mockery of the Holy Light’s organized air transportation to Greece—escorted by governmental actors, honorary detachments, lightly-armed infantrymen, and boy scouts (and, of course, TV crews!)—is the Modern Greek celebrates “the authentic Greek Pascha.” As if our ancestors did not celebrate Christ’s Resurrection before the airplane was invented! Or, as if the Orthodox from the ends of the earth didn’t celebrate the Lord’s Pascha since the Olympic didn’t “fly” in their countries!


Protpresbyter George Metallinos

Fr. George publicly admitted his reservations about the Holy Light phenomenon on [Greek] national television: “When a specific Patriarch has faith and the grace of God, then the miracle takes place. When faith is lacking, the lamp may be used…” Of course, if the Patriarch can use the sanctuary lamp in case he’s not worthy, that means it has not been extinguished! Fr. George was severely criticized after this revelation.

In his book, Φωτομαχικά-Αντιφωτομαχικά, Fr. George writes that the key to understanding the ceremony and the nature of the light (“natural or supernatural”) we must see what the prayer says and the unforced conclusion is that the light is lit in a perfectly natural manner, its purpose is purely symbolic and its sanctity is derived from the fact that it comes from the Holy Sepulchre!

In the prayer recited by the Patriarch, “[…] there is not even a mention (not even a hint) about an immaterial light descending from above at that moment, but it is implied that the light is only natural and is lit in memory of the Risen Christ” (p. 33).

Fr. George distanced himself from the logic of the purposeful cover-up by the Church, characteristically stating that he prefers ‘the atheists’ who downright reject any possibility of a miracle, concerning the Holy Light to the concealment of the truth, […] for any reason. A truth indirectly confessed by the church through the prayer read during the Good Saturday ceremony.


Constantine Kalokyris

In his book, The Architectural Complex of the Temple of the Resurrection in Jerusalem and the Subject of the Holy Light, Constantine quotes and analyzes the Patriarch’s prayer in depth. He reaches the same conclusion that Fr. George Metallinos himself accepted in his 2001 study; i.e., that the light is lit in a perfectly natural manner, its purpose is purely symbolic and its sanctity is derived from the fact that it comes from the Holy Sepulcher!

Το αρχιτεκτονικό συγκρότημα τού Ναού της Αναστάσεως Ιεροσολύμων και το θέμα του Αγίου Φωτός

As Mr. Kalokyres notes “the prayer is very illuminating.” Indeed, there is no mention of a miraculously appearing light, but “it is implied that the light is natural and lit in remembrance of the Risen Christ, the only true light of the World.” So the Patriarch himself produces the light, in remembrance of that miracle, symbolically reproducing Christ’s Theophany. “And the Prayer […] goes on to explain where the light used to light the candles and then passed on to the faithful comes from. And the place is the Holy Sepulcher and the source of the light, which the Patriarch piously receives, is the holy lantern that CONTINUOUSLY burns and is always kept lit there.”

Completing his analysis, Mr. Kalokyres particularly stresses the word “elevate” (ἀναδείξῃς) which “clearly states that the light (not only isn’t being sent down from heaven, but) hasn’t yet been turned into a special ‘gift of sanctification’ […] However, if the light had been sent from heaven, then the Patriarch wouldn’t be asking for it to be elevated. And how will this elevation become possible? The prayer explains it: Through the grace of the Holy Sepulcher.”

In support of his interpretation Mr. Kalokyres points to the blessings of the Great Sanctification of the Waters during Theophany (which prays for the water to become ‘an apotropaic gift of sanctification’ (‘‘ὕδωρ ἁγιασμοῦ δῶρον καί … ἀναδειχθῆναι αὐτό ἀποτρόπαιον…”), and the transubstantiation prayer offered during the St. Basil’s Eucharist [the priest requests that God ‘bless, sanctify and elevate’ (‘‘εὐλογῆσαι, ἁγιάσαι και ἀναδεῖξαι”) the Holy Gifts. In both these prayers we have ‘sanctification’ and ‘elevation,’ just like in the Holy Light prayer.

On the matter of the body search that the Patriarch is (supposedly) subjected to, Mr. Kalokyres says that it is “a legend, the product of the lower, pious naivety of the people […] which degrades [the Patriarch’s] honest and flawless behavior and renders him as an accomplice to the production of a false miracle […].” For, “the removal of the vestments and his appearance with the sticharion alone is part of this ceremony of the Church. The process is meant to signify that the Patriarch, expressing humility and deep piety, before even approaching and crossing into the Most Holy Inner Sanctum is disrobed of all vestments that reveal his rank as a bishop” remaining with “the sticharium alone (the simplest and common vestment of all ranks of the clergy)!” There is a large gap between the process of voluntarily disrobing of all external vestments and an ‘exhaustive body search!’

Constantine Kalokyres

Mr. Kalokyres  gently ‘chastises’ the Church for its choice to “silently bypass the underlying religious enthusiasm and holy fervor” of the faithful (“perhaps not willing to shake the beliefs of the simple folk”). In the end he declares the Church free of any responsibility, since “the Church of Jerusalem has officially, with a special ceremony (i.e. the special prayer) expressed the whole truth about the Holy Light and its nature.” (Κ. Δ. Καλοκύρης, Το αρχιτεκτονικό συγκρότημα τού Ναού της Αναστάσεως Ιεροσολύμων και το θέμα του Αγίου Φωτός, University Studio Press, 1999, pp.164-165; 218-220)

Demetrios Kokoris

Even though this theologian clearly wrote in his book, The Holy Light (Άγιο Φως), that all flames are extinguished, during a talk show on Good Thursday he repeatedly claimed that there is a flame in the Chamber, but it just is not used!

Cornelius, Metropolitan of Petra, twice the locum tenens of the Jerusalem Patriarchal Throne

“The prayers have the power to sanctify the natural light and here we’re speaking about a natural light. But the prayers that are read by the Patriarch also consecrate the natural light and therefore it has the grace of the holy light. The invocation or prayer of the priest is the miracle and the light is sanctified. It is the natural light that is lit from the sleepless oil lamp which is kept in the sacristy of the Church of the Resurrection” Watch the 6:50 mark of the following video:

One of the biggest religious lies is—as it seems—the ‘miracle’ of the Holy Light, which every Pascha ‘miraculously’ illuminates the Holy Sepulcher Church in Jerusalem. I. Kardasis, a correspondent of the newspaper “Orthodox Press” (01/05/25), wrote on the subject of ‘Holy Fire’ and raised major questions that should be asked and answered by every sincere Christian. Let us pay attention to what he writes about the non-miraculous elements of the ‘Holy Fire’:

  1. On Great Wednesday (04.11.2001), Metropolitan Cornelius was interviewed about the Holy Fire on the “Mega” channel show “Grey Zones.” If the four of us heard and understood well, the above Prelate, who will be given the Holy Light in three days, said among other things, the following:
  2. a) The Patriarch divests himself of every stole and remains in his white esoraso not to check for any flammable materials, but to remain in the white robe symbolizing the angels’ robe.
  3. b) The Patriarch enters the Tomb with candle and prays saying a special prayer and lights up the Light from the light Sleepless Oil Lamp. The natural light of the oil lamp is transformed into Holy Light with this special prayer. So natural light is sanctified and transformed into the Holy Light. Then he exits the tomb and delivers the Holy Light to the crowd in the Holy Church and thereby to the whole world. (…)

MEGA Channel on 11/4/2001


Makarios III (Mouskos), Archbishop of Cyprus (1950-1977)

“These days we host the sacred archbishopric echelon by the metropolitans from the Jerusalem Patriarchate. One night after supper, Archbishop Makarios proposed we take our coffee in the great Synodicon. So we were discussing various issues there. Makarios asked the visiting Metropolitans: ‘Holy brothers, now that you’re here, it is an opportunity for you to solve a question I have.’ They told him, ‘we are at your disposal Makarios if we can, why not’. And Makarios said to them: ‘Holy brothers, please tell me what happens with the miracle of the Holy Fire. Is it indeed a miracle?’

“The Metropolitans from Jerusalem smirked and told him: ‘Makarios, we’re fooling the people, it is our shame to fool you also.’ Makarios said: ‘Are you saying that it’s not a miracle?’ They replied, ‘No, it is not a miracle!’ Makarios asked, ‘Well, what is it, then?’ They responded, ‘Beatitude, it is a ceremony that takes place every Great Saturday in the Church of the Resurrection.’ Makarios aksed them: ‘Why don’t you tell people the truth?’ And they replied: ‘Beatitude who would dare to tell the truth to the people? They would lynch us!’ This was the Archpriest’s story” (Told by a Cypriot Hieromonk; see video below)

Benedict, Patriarch of Jersualem (1957-1980)

“Once the pilgrim sets foot in Jerusalem, there is a clique, a gang, which is authorized by the Patriarchate to receive pilgrims upon their arrival. Indeed, they have a way to pester, daze, and blind them, to se and not to see…The Patriarchate’s clappers tell them, ‘Now we will give you the so-called indulgence…and they pay a pound!’ All these things occurred under Patriarch Benedict.” (Told by Haralmabos Katenidis, Archdeacon of the Jerusalem Patriarchate)

“Absolution Certificate” of Patriarch Benedict of Jerusalem, issued in 1957.

Haralmabos Katenidis, Archdeacon of the Jerusalem Patriarchate

In a video documentary interview with ecclesiastical writer, Stylianos Charlampakis, the Archdeacon reveals the Holy Light fraud! (September 7, 1965)
“Details about the so-called miracle of the holy light cannot be communicated because of scandal. But happily, since you asked me, I will tell you in summary how the ceremony happens and how you receive the ‘holy’ light. On Great Friday, after the procession of the Epitaph around the Holy Sepulchre, the Patriarch puts the Epitaph on the Tomb. After this, they extinguish all the oil lamps inside and outside the Tomb. The following day, Great Saturday, the Sacristan carries a special lit oil lamp—veiled with silver cover—which is placed in the Holy Sepulchre. Then the governor of Jerusalem seals the Sepulchre. While all the lights and oil lamps are always extinguished, the special oil lamp within the tomb remains lit. At the 10th hour, after the relative litanies around the Holy Sepulchre during which they chant the “O Joyous Light” (φως ιλαρόν), the gates of the Temple of the Holy Sepulchre are opened and the people enter. Simultaneously, the gate of the Kouvouklion where the tomb is located opens and the Patriarch enters, after typically he removes his sacerdotal vestments and remains only with sticharion. After a relative typical prayer, he takes the ‘holy’ light, certainly not miraculously, to be honest, but he lights his torch from the lit special oil lamp that the sacristan had previously transferred. This, in short, is the procedure for the ‘holy’ light.”

NOTE: There is also a second way to get this fake light. Spread the Tomb plate with phosphorus the day before and then the Patriarch rubs the plate with cotton and the light emerges.

Archbishop Nikeforos Theotokes

In 1880, the Archbishop stated that the light doesn’t miraculously descend from heaven, but is rather lit by the Patriarch and then distributed sanctified to the faithful, with the church being unable to cure ‘the people’s vulgar perception’ (Φωτομαχικά-Αντιφωτομαχικά, pp. 29-30)

“The Patriarch produces fire over the Life-giving Sepulchre by striking a flint”

Spyros Karatheodoris

In his unpublished work, Objection (Αντίρρησις 1832-1836),  Spyros criticizes Koraes for his polemic against the Jerusalem Patriarchs but leaves no margin for misinterpretation on the matter of the ‘Holy Light:’

  • “[…]it became customary to ignite light over the Holy Sepulchre and from that other festive lights[…]””
  • Concerning the Holy Light of Jerusalem, none of the patriarchs, bishops, priests and those with [decent] ecclesiastical background believe it to be miraculous […]”
  • “But why do they call it ‘Holy Light’? Yes! Holy Light! Because it is lit on the Holy Sepulchre and the faithful piously receive it, but this piety has degenerated into superstition, because of the ignorance of the many, and made stronger amongst the naivest of our brothers the belief, which the papal priests always spread, that the light is lit miraculously.”
  • “Therefore, the light is blessed for no other reason than for the fact that it is lit on the Lord’s Sepulchre, on the day the great mystery of the resurrection transpired […]”

(Φωτομαχικά-Αντιφωτομαχικά, pp.350-351)

Archimandrite Prokopios Dendrinos of Mount Athos

In his unpublished treatise On the Holy Light (Τα περί του Αγίου φωτός) [ca. 1833], Fr. Prokopios  heavily criticizes all the secrecy surrounding the ‘miracle,’ calling it directly suspicious and misleading. He even directs an incredible challenge to the Fraternity of the Holy Sepulcher:

“Let them leave the lanterns of the Temple unprepared, without oil and wicks, the Chamber doors open, so anyone can see the plaque over the tomb, so everything is visible, as was the case with prophet Elijah. Let the doormen step away, or even better, conduct a diligent search of the Tomb and clean the entire plaque with clear water and then pour an entire amphorae over it. Have them even restrict entry even to the representative of the Patriarch from Good Thursday morning till Sunday morning. And then let the “light-producer” enter and receive the Light! All this secrecy is suspicious and is not meant to prevent the introduction of man-made light -since this is impossible- but so that the preparations, i.e. the fraud, won’t become obvious. For, the candles are prepared by the Patriarchal Warden and not the laymen who do the temple chores as usual. The candles are covered with a flammable material and no one else is allowed to receive the light; not even the most prestigious clerics and pilgrims. Everything suggests that this is a downright human fabrication and this is even whispered among the Sepulcher Fraternity.” (Φωτομαχικά-Αντιφωτομαχικά, pp. 128, 361)

Bishop Porphyrius Uspensky (1804-1885)

In his diaries, the Bishop wrote that the clergy in Jerusalem knew that the Holy Fire was fraudulent.

First, Bishop Porphyrius quotes a certain Hierodeacon Gregory, who “upon entering the chapel of the Sepulcher at the time when, according to common belief, the Holy Fire descends, saw with horror that the fire was being lit simply from a lampada which is always [kept] burning; and so the Holy Fire is not a miracle. He himself [Hierodeacon Gregory] told me about it today.”

Second is the following story, which he says he heard directly from Metropol­itan Dionysius:

In the same year that the famous Ibrahim, Pasha of Egypt and lord of Syria and Palestine, was in Jerusalem, it was found to be that the fire received at the Lord’s Sepulcher on Holy Saturday is a ‘not-holy fire’ [lit.: not grace-filled] but is kindled in the way that all flames are kindled. How? The Pasha wanted to see for himself if the fire really does suddenly and miraculously appear on the roof of the Sepulcher of Christ or if it is lit by an ordinary sulfur match. What did he do? He announced to the Patriarch’s representative hierarchs that it would be his pleasure to sit in the chapel itself during the receiving of the fire and watch vigilantly to see how it appears; and he added that if the miracle proved to be true, he would give [to the Church] 5000 poungs (2.5 million piasters); and if it turned out to be a lie, then they would [be forced to] give him all the money collected from the deceived worshippers, and he would print about the dirty fraud in all the newspapers of Europe. The Patriarchal representatives—Archbishop Misail of Petroaravisk, Metropolitan Daniel of Nazareth and Bishop Dion­ysius then of Philadelphia [in Asia Minor], now of Bethlehem—gathered to decide what to do. During the meet­ing, Misail admitted that in the inner-chapel he lights the fire from a lampa­da concealed behind the marble icon of the Resurrection of Christ located near the very Sepulcher. After this admission, it was deci­ded to humble request Ibrahim not to meddle with religious affairs; and to the Pasha was sent the dragoman [interpreter] of the Holy Sepul­cher Monastery, who informed the Pasha that there would be no benefit for His Radiance to get to know the sacraments and mysteries of Christian church-services and that the Russian Emperor Nicholas [I] would be greatly displeased if he started learning about these sacraments. Pasha Ibra­him heard the dragoman out, made a giving-up-the-idea gesture with his hand, and fell silent. But from that time on, the Holy-Sepulcher clerics no longer believe in the miraculous app­ear­ance of the fire. Having said all this, the metropolitan added that only from God can be expected the discontinuance of (our) pious lie. As He knows and is able, he soothes the people, who believe now in the miraculous fire of Holy Saturday. And for us is forbidden even to consider such a revolutionary act [of revealing the lie]; they would tear us pieces at the very chapel of the Holy Sepulcher.”

The Book of My Life: Diaries and Notes of Bishop Porphyrius Uspensky, St Petersburg, 1894 Part 1, p.671 and The Book of My Life, St Petersburg, 1896 Part 3, pp.299-301.

Ephraim II, Patriarch of Jerusalem (1766-1771)

This absurdity and supernatural perception of churchmen and theologians who claim the ‘holy light’ is not only a miracle but God-given (θεόδοτο) is unacceptable. The Patriarch of Jerusalem, Efraim, who died in 1771, recounts his personal experience and describes the whole ceremony, characterizing it as “handmade engineering” and those involved as “light-makers.”

Γ. Καμπούρογλου, Μνημεία της ιστορίας των Αθηναίων

Hierodeacon Neophytos of Kavsokalyvia (1713-1784)

The author of The 1777 Anonymous Manual on Continuous Reception of the Holy Communion, made statements about a “sleight of hand” regarding the Holy Fire.

Νικηφόρου Θεοτόκη, στὸ Κ.᾿Ι. Δυοβουνιώτου, «Περὶ τοῦ ἐν ῾Ιεροσολύμοις ῾Αγίου Φωτός», «᾿Επετηρὶς ῾Εταιρείας Βυζαντινῶν Σπουδῶν», ἔτος ΙΒʹ, ᾿Αθῆναι 1936, σελ. 5.

From the official Website of the Jerusalem Patriarchate:

At 12pm, midday…It is necessary for us to stress that the heterodox have in advance searched the entire interior of the Holy Sepulcher, in order to certify that there is no lit vigil lamp or some other source of light” [They don’t mention that the monk Metrophanes hid twice in the Sepulcher without anyone seeing him! ]

At 12am…the lamp/candlestick [They don’t mention if it is extinguished or lit], if it becomes useful [they don’t mention what its use is] in the holy ceremony, is transferred…to the Holy Sepulcher for a prompter path.

The important thing is that the holy light for a few minutes [it doesn’t mention how much] does not have fire. Namely, if you rest the holy light on your hands, it will not burn [They don’t mention any time span whatsoever for non-burning, nor let it be for 30 seconds in a motionless hand!]

The ‘Secret Prayer’ of the Patriarch

Wondrous myths and legends have been woven around the special prayer chanted by the Greek-Orthodox Patriarch; the common denominator being that it is a special prayer that only he knows! This is in no way true. The prayer was first published in 1933 by Archimandrite Kallistos Meliaras (professor of the University of Athens) and published again in 1967 in the “New Zion” (Νέα Σιών) magazine, official publication of the Jerusalem Patriarchate. It is obvious that we’re not talking about a big secret, to which no one has access other than the Greek-Orthodox Patriarch, but a text that has been in circulation for more than 80 years! (π. Γ. Δ. Μεταλληνός, Φωτομαχικά-Αντιφωτομαχικά, εκδ. Κάτοπτρο-Ιστορητής, 2001, p.33) 

Despota Lord Jesus Christ, the originally shining wisdom of the without beginning Father. You who dwells in the unapproachable Light;* You who commanded that Light shine forth from the darkness, who said let it be Light and there was Light. Oh Lord provider of Light who took us out of the delusion of darkness and led us to the miraculous Light of Your awareness. You filled with light and joy the earth through Your incarnate presence and the underworld through Your descent to Hades and after these through Your Apostles You announced the light to all nations.

We thank You because through pious faith, you brought us from darkness to light and we became sons through holy baptism, seeing your glory full of grace and truth. However, oh light-giver Lord, oh great light, who said the people living in darkness.* Despota, Lord, the true light that illumines every man who comes in the world. The only light of the world and light of the lives of people, through whose glory the universe was filled, you brought the light to the world through Your economy of incarnation even though people loved the darkness rather than the light.

You Lord, giver of light, listen to us sinners and unworthy servants who, at this moment stand by this Your Most Holy and light bearing Tomb, and accept us who honour Your Holy Passion, Your most holy Crucifixion, Your voluntary death, the laying of Your divine body in this holy tomb, Your burial and Your resurrection after three days, which we joyfully have already started celebrating, remembering Your descent to Hades, through which the souls of the righteous You freed in a kingly manner with the lightning of Your divine light filling the underworld.

So with happy heart and spiritual joy, on this most blessed Saturday, Your most salvific mysteries which You divinely executed on earth and under the earth we celebrate, and remembering You, the exhilarating and appealing light which You divinely shone in the underworld, we produce this light, as an icon of Your congenial divine appearance to us.Because during the salvific and bright night everything was filled with light, the heaven, the earth and the underworld through the supernatural mystery of Your descent to Hades and Your resurrection from the tomb after three days.

For this reason, we piously take from the light that diligently and eternally burns on Your light-bearing Sepulchre, we spread it among those who believe in You, who are the true light, and we pray and plead with You, oh Holiest Despota, so that You will elevate [the light] into a gift of sanctification and fill it with Your divine grace, through the grace of Your Most holy and light-bearing Sepulchre. And those who touch it with piety, bless and sanctify them, free them from the darkness of passions and make them worthy of Your brightest dwellings, where the unsetting light of Your divinity shines. Lord, grant them health and good life and fill their homes with everything good.

Yes, Lord, the Light-giver, listen to me the sinner at this moment, and grant to me and to them to walk in Your light and remain in it as long as we have the light of this temporary life. Lord grant us that the light of our good works shine in front of the people together with Your without beginning Father and the Holy Spirit. You appointed us to be the light to the nations that we shine to those walking in the darkness. But we have loved the darkness rather than the light, committing evil works.

Anyone who does evil works hates the light according to Your faultless word. For this we stumble every day due to our sinning because we walk in the darkness. But make us worthy to live the rest of our life with the eyes of our minds enlightened. Grant us to live as sons of light and walk in the light of Your commandments. The bright garment of our baptism which we have blackened by our evil works, whiten it like the light, you who wears the light like a garment. Grant us to dress ourselves with the weapons of light, that we may overcome the lord of darkness, who transforms himself into an angel of light.

Yes, Lord, as You shone the light to those who are in darkness and under the shadow of death, likewise, today, shine in our hearts with Your pure light, so that becoming illumined and warmed up in faith, glorify You the one and only originally shining light, exhilarating light to everlasting ages. Amen.

From the Greek Wikipedia Page

There is a viewpoint that the Holy Light is an occult implementation organized by the Jerusalem Patriarchate clergy for centuries. One version proposes that the candles are previously immersed in phosphorus, which has the property of self-ignition after some time. Phosphorus as a chemical element was discovered in the 17th century and is not found free in nature. For the proponents of this view, some “miracle substances” or “fountains” (sources) exhibiting such phenomena were nevertheless known long before in the Middle East. This in turn can mean that either the entire Holy Sepulchre is located in such an area that either used such an ancient “miracle substance” (compound) whose name and composition are preserved today as a “closely guarded” sacerdotal secret. However, the view supported by the faithful is the flame from the Holy Light is brought to illuminate but not to cause combustion within the first 33 minutes, in contrast to the natural action of the fire. Of course, in this case it is obvious that the comparison is made ​​with reference not to the light, but the fire.

The author Michael Kalopoulos has published research indicating that the self-igniting materials and religious pyrotechnics that were known in ancient times are sufficient to produce the effect described as the “holy light.” Of course this estimate ignores the fact that the candles not self-ignite unexpectedly, although the supply is made ​​by open spaces or stores, which have the goods exposed to air, and even the supply of candles, often several days before the Resurrection, while in other cases, the faithful remain in the Church of the Resurrection of the evening of Great Friday.
Note: There are many narratives from Jerusalem about candles self-igniting completely unexpectedly. But there is a way to ignite after a long time.

From the English Wikipedia Page

In 2005, in a live demonstration on Greek television, Michael Kalopoulos, author and historian of religion, dipped three candles in white phosphorus. The candles spontaneously ignited after approximately 20 minutes due to the self-ignition properties of white phosphorus when in contact with air. According to Kalopoulos’ website:

If phosphorus is dissolved in an appropriate organic solvent, self-ignition is delayed until the solvent has almost completely evaporated. Repeated experiments showed that the ignition can be delayed for half an hour or more, depending on the density of the solution and the solvent employed.

Kalopoulos also points out that chemical reactions of this nature were well known in ancient times, quoting Strabo, who states: “In Babylon there are two kinds of naphtha springs, a white and a black. The white naphtha is the one that ignites with fire.” (Strabon Geographica He further states that phosphorus was used by Chaldean magicians in the early fifth century BC, and by the ancient Greeks, in a way similar to its supposed use today by the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem.

Adamantis Korais

The famous Greek intellectual of the Age of Enlightenment, Adamantios Korais (1748-1833), denounced the ‘Holy Light’ as a fraud and urged the Eastern Orthodox Church to discontinue the practice, arguing that “no true religion is in need of such false miracles.” In his treatise On the Holy Light of Jerusalem, Korais was adamant against religious fraud and theurgy. He referred to the recurring ‘miracle’ as “machinations of fraudulent priests” and to the unholy light of Jerusalem as “a profiteers’ miracle.” With deep sorrow, the Greek sage contemplated in his writings that “while Greeks are content to have the ‘Holy Light,’ people in Europe of his time are living among people of objective knowledge, surrounded by Academies, and Lyceums, and schools of every kind of art and science. Europeans have open, splendid public libraries, and their print presses buzz with activity daily and without pause.”

One can read his entire treatise in the Greek language here:






The Hitler Icon: How Mount Athos Honored the Führer

Two Germans soldiers in front of Stavronikita – date unknown


An image of Adolf Hitler greeted visitors to Mount Athos in 1941 (Source: Mönchsland Athos)

NOTE: Political instability in Greece during the mid-20th century that affected Mount Athos included Nazi occupation from the Easter season of 1941 through late 1944, followed immediately by the Greek Civil War in a struggle where Communist efforts failed. The Battle of Greece was reported in Time Magazine [see the end of this article]. After the Nazi takeover of Greece, the Epistassia, Athos’s four-member executive committee, formally asked Hitler to place the Autonomous Monastic State under his personal protection, and Hitler agreed. Mount Athos survived World War II nearly untouched, and for the remainder of the war, the monks of Mount Athos referred to Adolf Hitler as “High Protector of the Holy Mountain” (German: Hoher Protektor des heiligen Berges).

In an attempt to defend and justify Mount Athos’ allegiance with Hitler during WWII, Greek Orthodox apologists state that it was simply a strategic measure to protect the mountain from Bulgarian occupation and de-hellenization.1 They criticize the jouranlists who write “negatively” about this incident in Athonite history as “slanderers” and “accusers” of the Church; purposely hiding this important information in an attempt to tarnish Mount Athos’ image. However, these Orthodox apologists fall into the same “sin of concealing facts.” The defenders of Athos fail to mention that in the time leading up to the war—especially during the 30s—the Hagiorites were consumed with fervor and anticipation for Constantinople’s liberation as foretold in spurious prophecies that are not officially accepted by the Orthodox Church or the Church Fathers. Yet, the majority of Athonite monks during the 30s not only believed in them, but felt that they were living through their fulfillment.

The Anonymous Prophesy of 1053,2 was a popular prophecy on everyone’s lips before and during the war. This prophecy was virtually unheard of in the Orthodox world until 1914.3 There was a belief that Germany would be the first country to become Orthodox after the “New European War.”4

A common belief of Athonite monks during the 30s, as conveyed in various publications by pilgrims of that era was:

“You know Germany is going to become Orthodox very soon. The Holy Fathers have prophesied it. It is said that there is now a great king ruling in Germany, who slaughters all the Jews and Bolsheviks. We love him for that. It is the beginning of the prophecy.”5

The Triple Occupation of Greece by the Axis Powers (1941-1944)
Germany (red), Italy (blue), Bulgaria (green).

THERE IS A PIOUS notion out there that organized religion, if practiced devoutly enough, can preserve human beings from immoral thoughts and actions, particularly those stemming from the seductions of supposedly secular political ideologies. The Protestants have their “mighty fortress” of Lutheran song and liturgy, the Catholics have their eternal Vatican, and the Greek Orthodox Church preserves its theological purity in the twenty monasteries of Mount Athos, “the Garden of the Virgins,” on a peninsula in northern Greece, where all females – including dogs and cats – are banished from the premises so as to protect the monks from any impure sensations.* However, even the most cursory glance at the historical record reveals that the devout are not only as likely as anyone else to fall for a totalitarian bill of goods, they may even be more susceptible than the average citizen.

Mount Athos can serve as a case in point. In the summer of 1941, just months after the German invasion and occupation of Greece, Professor Franz Dölger led an official Nazi expedition to the holy mountain.6 The journey, which focused on historical and theological issues, was officially sponsored by Alfred Rosenberg, Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories, and was generously supported by the Wehrmacht. Dölger himself was a distinguished professor of Byzantine studies at the University of Munich from 1931 until his retirement in 1958.

The expedition report Mönchsland Athos (Athos, Land of Monks), published in 1942

Dölger and his companions, both academic and military, encountered a religious community that was more than willing to embrace Nazism. In fairness to the residents of Mount Athos, we should note that they had good reason to despise Hitler’s nemesis, communism: Stalin was busy confiscating the Russian Orthodox Church’s property and deporting its priests to the gulag, and he had also halted the previously reliable flow of Russian contributions to the monasteries’ upkeep. According to Time Magazine report from 1941, the remarkably naïve monks only knew of Hitler as “a great German king who slays the Bolsheviks and the Jews – a fulfillment of prophecy.” In this, they differed little from the bulk of Catholics and Protestants in Germany and many of the occupied countries. After the Nazi takeover of Greece, the Epistassia, Athos’s four-member executive committee, formally asked Hitler to place the Autonomous Monastic State under his personal protection, a request with which the Führer gladly complied. Mount Athos survived the war nearly untouched, which is more than can be said for the rest of Greece, which lost 11 percent of its population, including virtually all of its Jews.

Wehrmacht soldiers posing with Greek Orthodox monks in Karyes, Athos Peninsula, Easter 1941

In gratitude for his protection, the monks displayed and revered Hitler images, including not only the one described further down but also a portrait hung directly in the center of a wall of paintings in the great reception room of St Panteleimon monastery, directly beneath a portrait of Tsar Nicholas II (see video clip below).

Hitler in a place of honor at St. Panteleimon Monastery (1942)
This picture is taken partner after the Second World War. The portrait of Hitler is Replaced by portraits of Queen Frederica (1917 – 1981) and beside her king Paul (1901 – 1964).

The following is my translation of an excerpt from Prof. Dölger’s account of his visit to Mount Athos as printed in the book Mönchsland Athos (Munich: 1942), the official report of his 1941 visit to the holy mountain:

At the monastery of Konstamonitou, at the place of honor in the reception room, we encountered the image of our Führer.  A monk had discovered a picture in an illustrated magazine and created a pencil drawing based on this model. Elsewhere too we could observe how strongly the personality of the Führer and the Greater German Reich impressed itself upon the imagination of the residents of Mount Athos, at least among those who had not entirely turned away from the world. Upon our arrival at several monasteries and, upon our departure from one (Dionisíu), when we sailed out onto the sea in our little ship, we were greeted by the swastika flag. The Führer is regarded by a great many monks as the “High Protector of the Holy Mountain” who will also hold his protecting hand over the Holy Mountain in the reordering of the world.

We had a delightful experience as we photographed a miraculous image of the Virgin Mary. From the point of view of Athos, it represented an immense concession for us to receive permission to photograph the sacred icon, and monks even helped us in our preparations. One old monk who joined us observed these preparations, shaking his head. Turning to us, he said: “If you want to photograph the Panajía [Virgin Mary], then you will have little luck; for the Panajía has never yet allowed herself to be photographed.” – “But it could be,” he added in a trusting and good-natured manner, “that the Panajía may make an exception for you Germans and allow herself to be photographed, because you Germans, after all, are waging a holy war against Bolshevism, the enemy of God.”

*Banishing the opposite sex from the peninsula might sound like a recipe for boredom, but it appears that the monks knew how to keep busy. According to a Time Magazine article in April 1941, “[a]n alarming number of monks have taken to smoking, alcohol, even narcotics. And the immemorial escape from celibacy has threatened to become a fever sickening the whole ‘Great Academy of the Greek Clergy.’ The Greek press has stormed about the kidnapping of male children for the monks of Athos, and motorboats carrying male prostitutes are constantly reported chugging into the monastery harbors.”

Franz Dölger's Diamonitirion
On the recommendation of Georgios Tsolakoglou, 1st Greek Prime Minister of the occupation, Dölger received a special residence permit.


MOUNT ATHOS: Failing Light

Monday, April 28, 1941
TIME Magazine

The Stukas swooped across the Aegean skies like dark, dreadful birds, but they dropped no bombs on the monks of Mount Athos. The motorized Nazi hordes rumbled across the Salonikan peninsula, but they did not invade its 40-mile-long eastern cape where the holy and historic Mount towers in misty beauty above monasteries perching like fabulous castles on crags above the sea. Surrounded by flower-scented glens and gorges, veiled with pine and cypress and chestnut, are great Lavra Monastery, Vatopédi, Simöpetra, bastioned Dionysiou (which proudly possesses the brain and right hand of Saint John the Baptist) and many others, each with its fusty library and gilded Byzantine church.

Last week Adolf Hitler gave no hint of what he proposed to do about this great religious prize which was his for the taking—the autonomous ecclesiastical republic of Mount Athos, 1,000-year-old capital of Greek Orthodoxy, governed by a council consisting of one monk from each of its 20 stony retreats.

The 5,000 bearded, black-robed Greek, Russian, Serbian, Bulgarian and Rumanian monks who live on Mount Athos arrived there for many reasons—religion, disappointment in love, political conspiracy, seeking sanctuary against political or criminal punishment. They include several former Greek lunchroom proprietors who fled the clatter of U.S. civilization. They live in two kinds of monasteries: cenobite (communistic) and idiorrhythmic (allowing private property, which reverts to the monastery). Many of them lead a truly monkish life of prayer and Church scholarship, a shabby life without bathing or toothbrushing, with a meatless diet and only brief snatches of sleep, because “sleep inflames the body.” They live on contributions and on the making and selling of wine, farm products, religious paintings and trinkets. Some are so ignorant or unworldly that they have heard only vaguely of Adolf Hitler—”a great German king who slays the Bolsheviks and the Jews—a fulfillment of prophecy.”

But in recent years the world has been altogether too much with Mount Athos to please its pure in heart. For one thing, the world’s sad economy has impoverished the religious life even more than need be. Joseph Stalin has stopped the steady flow of Russian funds into Mount Athos, and war and world depression have sharply cut all other income. The ancient sins of luxury have been increasingly apparent both outside and inside the holy ground. Vigorous young monks are rare. “We need young men today more than ever,” one Athonite has said, “but they prefer to fatten their ephemeral bodies and clothe them in silk shirts and ties.”

On the Mount itself, one of the wealthier monasteries has permitted itself all manner of worldly indulgences—central plumbing, mirrors, electric lights, newspapers, motorboats, wine-pressing machinery (instead of the industrious barefoot method). An alarming number of monks have taken to smoking, alcohol, even narcotics. And the immemorial escape from celibacy has threatened to become a fever sickening the whole “Great Academy of the Greek Clergy.” The Greek press has stormed about the kidnapping of male children for the monks of Athos, and motorboats carrying male prostitutes are constantly reported chugging into the monastery harbors.

Today many Greek laymen regard Mount Athos as a senile, decadent, insufferable vestige of its past. If Adolf Hitler decides to dim this “Lighthouse of the Aegean,” this greatest of world monastic experiments, he may well be doing only what the Greek Government would presently have done itself.

The Tragos ('Magna Carta') of Athos opened for Dölger.
The Tragos (‘Magna Carta’) of Athos opened for Dölger.

GREECE: Flight from Mt. Athos

Monday, July 13, 1942
TIME Magazine

Peter the Athonite came first to Mount Athos in the 9th Century and lived there for 50 years, battling devils and beasts in a cave high above Homer’s wine-dark sea. Then came Euthemius and Joseph, who sought eternal bliss by moving about on their hands and knees eating grass. All this was centuries after Xerxes’ legions invaded Greece, and, of course, centuries before Nazi Panzer divisions.

From the time of Peter the Athonite to Adolf the paper hanger, the great rocky promontory of Athos, jutting into the Aegean like a prong of Poseidon’s three-forked scepter, has been a place of refuge -for men only. No woman has knowingly been allowed to desecrate by her presence the huge cluster of monasteries atop the Holy Mountain, where bearded, black-cowled priests withdraw from worldly pleasures in the spiritual home of the Greek Orthodox Church. Even female cats and dogs and beasts of the field are barred, “so that their mating may not furnish an outlandish spectacle to souls which detest all forms of indecency. . . .”

Last week, from three priests who fled to an even more ancient home of Christian religion, there came the first account of what Europe’s new barbarians had done to the cloistered life of Mount Athos. For some 90 days & nights the priests had navigated nearly 1,000 miles of island-cluttered seas, and at last beached their 15-ft. open boat on the sands near Haifa in Palestine. There they told how ruck-sacked Nazi youths in peacetime had accepted the monasteries’ humble hospitality and returned as soldiers to pillage and defile. Great iron bells that for centuries sounded matins and vespers had been carried away, to be melted down for the Nazi war machine. Priceless icons, illuminated manuscripts handed down from Byzantine emperors, and religious treasures* had been gathered as loot and shipped to Berlin. These things had driven them, sick at heart, from beloved mountain valleys thick with arbutus and carefully laid out for the husbanding of vineyards and olive groves within sight of the slopes of Mt. Olympus and the plains of Troy. At the islands where their boat touched, peasants fed them and gave them shelter.

Greek Orthodox Church officials, believing the perilous voyage of the priests was divinely guided, ordered that their fragile boat be taken overland and placed as a shrine in the waters of the river Jordan, a trumpet’s blow from Jericho.

But German bombs last week struck in Haifa and there was a clash of great armies in the land of Egypt.

Possibly these were omens that the new shrine might soon, in 1942, have no more power to stop warring men than had the words of Him who, some 1,900 years ago, had gone up from the multitude and proclaimed: “Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.”

Forced landing of the German plane 57 Juncker at the beach in front of the monastery of Aghios Pavlos
Forced landing of the German plane 57 Juncker at the beach in front of the monastery of Aghios Pavlos

During the occupation, a German plane Juncker damaged 57 landed on the beach in front of the St. Paul’s Monastery. Among the crew of the plane there was also a female soldier. To respect the rule of Avaton, the female German had to stay in an old fisherman’s hut on stilts near the beach of the plane, during the repair time. This cabin was then declared as not belonging to the monastic community. The German therefore have not touched the ground of Mount Athos, the rule of Avaton was respected even by the Germans during the war.

*Most famed of Mount Athos’ religious relics: the camel-hair girdle which legend says the Virgin gave to doubting Thomas; pieces of the True Cross; the skull of St. Basil the Great; the brains of St. John the Baptist; the three gifts of the Magi (gold, frankincense and myrrh).

German officers and soldiers on Mount Athos (1943)
German officers and soldiers on Mount Athos (1943)


  1. See: Η επιστολή του Αγίου Όρους προς τον Χίτλερ
  2. The Anonymous Prophecy of 1054 is a manuscript found in the Library of Koutloumousiou Monastery, Mt. Athos.
  3. Archimandrite Neilos Sotiropoulos writes in his book, The Coming Two Edge Sword: “The prophecy texts preserved are found in Northern Epirus, Epirus, and western Macedonia. They were found and are located in the Holy Monastery of Naum, Ochrid. It was found in Northern Epirus by the priest-monk, Archimandrite Neophytos Kalofountis, who served there as a soldier in 1914 after the liberation of Ioannina.
  • The ever-memorable lay-preacher, Demetrios Panagopoulos recorded another copy in his book, Saints and Sages Concerning What Will Happen in the Future. The text is continuous and not divided into verses or enumerated. He mentions that “it is found at the Holy Monastery Kozani.” This copy of the prophecy is obviously by an uneducated writer [i.e. not Panagopoulos, but the prophecy text he used]; it inadvertently has spelling errors and variations in a few words, though without changing the meaning. It was found written on a papyrus. At the end of the text, it bears the timeline of being written in 1503 AD, while in the caption it states 1053 AD.
  • The Old Calendarist Bishop of Kalamata, Gregorios, records another copy of the prophecy text in his book, “What We and Our Children Will See.” It reports that it is found in the Holy Serbian Monastery, Kozani. The text has minimal differences from the previous in words and spelling errors without changing the meaning.
  • Another text is found in a village of the prefecture of Kozani and is also written on papyrus. In 1937, a Gendarme appeared at a village house to collect tax. An old woman, the only inhabitant of the house, told him she had paid the tax. The Gendarme asked for the receipt. The old lady, not knowing letters advised him to search the chest to find it. He emptied all the documents onto the floor. He found the receipt and congratulated the old woman. He also noticed an ancient document of prophecy amongst the papers. He took it, copied it and circulated it in many copies. In 1962, a Macedonian journalist published the text of this prophecy in a pamphlet with still more annotations. A Thessalonian gave me this booklet in 1972.
  • Also, the Hagiorite Monk, Nektarios Katsaros’ small booklet, “Prophecies Concerning Constantinople’s Liberation” also contains this prophecy. I bought this book in 1957 at Karyes, Mount Athos where I went and was tonsured a monk.”
  • Some books state that there is a copy of this prophecy in the Library at the Holy Monastery of Koutloumousiou, Mount Athos.
  1. The “New European War” is now considered to be a prophecy of World War II as it occurred after the “Great European War” which is considered to be a prophecy of World War I.
  2. Ralph H. Brewster, The 6,000 Beards of Athos, p.
  3. “In the spring of 1941 the Germans invaded and occupied Greece”, Father Maximos said to Bob Simon.
    They marched up the Acropolis, raised the swastika beside the Parthenon and were about to invade. The monks asked for a meeting with Nazi officers who told them to appeal to Hitler himself.
    The monks wrote Hitler a letter. “And in the letter, the monks identified themselves. They said, ‘This is who we are.’ And they asked Hitler to place the Holy Mountain under his personal protection,” Father Maximos said.
    When asked what kind of response they got, Father Maximos said, “It seems that Hitler liked the idea. He accepted the invitation to become the personal protector of the Holy Mountain.”
    Hitler sent a team of German academics to Mount Athos. They took 1,800 pictures of the mountain’s treasures, and it wasn’t because they enjoyed photography – Hitler wanted the monasteries’ riches in Berlin.
    “The professors were sent as an advance team to catalogue the treasures of the Holy Mountain so that a selection of things could be looted”, Father Maximos explained.
    But it didn’t happen that way and not a single item was taken.
    Father Maximos believes they have the Russians to thank for that: by the time the Nazi scholars completed their work, Hitler was bogged down in Russia and wasn’t thinking about icons.
  4. 1 August 1943, a helpful German soldier showing a copy of Signal in Greek to an orthodox resident of the ancient monastic state of Mount Athos.
    1 August 1943, a helpful German soldier showing a copy of Signal in Greek to an orthodox resident of the ancient monastic state of Mount Athos.

What Happens to the “Extra” Soul? Split Embryos & Chimeras


One of the fundamental dogmas of Eastern Orthodoxy is the existence of the human soul.

In Orthodox spiritual circles, one finds the usual paradox of circular reasoning and confirmation bias when it comes to science. They love to boast when an early Church Father, or even Holy Scripture, mentions something that has only been verified by one of the sciences many centuries later. This gives an Orthodox Christian a warm feeling that this somehow proves the “Divine inspiration” of the texts. Of course, every religion has such instances of ancient texts containing truths that science has only recently confirmed—Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, most of the pagan religions—and modern-day adherents of these religions make similar boasts. One would assume that the Orthodox Christians who make such boasts believe in the validity of the science they claim validate the ancient writers’ divine illumination. However, this is only a case of confirmation bias.


However, when one of the sciences contradicts an orthodox teaching or dogma, then the Orthodox Christian resorts to a circular reasoning tactic: “True science validates Orthodoxy and the Scriptures because they are the only truth. If one of the sciences contradicts or seemingly disproves Orthodoxy then it is wrong because Orthodoxy is the only truth.” In some cases, the science will be dismissed abruptly as “an unproven theory” or “Western atheist propaganda.”

Thus, when a branch of science confirms some aspect of Orthodoxy or the Scriptures, the Orthodox Christian will say with a big smile, “Even science confirms this!” When it contradicts any aspect of the Orthodox faith then it is dismissed as secular and vain knowledge; not useful for the salvation of one’s soul.

Let’s return to the “eternal soul” in Eastern Orthodoxy. One of the central teachings of Orthodoxy is that a human embryo is a complete human being from the moment of conception; i.e., it is both body and soul. This dogma is used in bioethical arguments against abortion; i.e., a human being is murdered before the chance of baptism and enters the next life un-baptized. Furthermore, according to Elder Joseph Voutsas, abbot of St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery in Roscoe, NY, the Church Fathers teach that it is better for a woman to have the baby, baptize it, and then murder it over having an abortion. He also states the canonical penances for murdering a baptized baby are less severe for the mother than having an abortion.

Human Development Week 1: Morula to Blastocyst Stage

Split Embryos and Chimeras

A 3 day old embryo is a collection of 150 cells called a blastocyst. Embryos at this stage occasionally split, becoming separate people (identical twins). Is this a case of one soul splitting into two? But Orthodox dogma teaches that it is at the moment of conception that the embryo is body and soul. If the embryo splits, does one of them have no soul? Or is a new soul created after the moment of conception? Of course, the early Church Fathers were unaware of this fact; they were not illumined about this when they were writing their treatises about the human soul, their canons or their dogmas.

The early God-illumined Fathers were also unaware of the fact that sometimes two embryos fuse into a single individual, called a chimera. Neither the Orthodox Church nor her ancient dogmatic and scientific Patristic texts have an explanation of what becomes of the extra human soul in such a case. As a matter of fact, they are totally silent about these two physiological phenomenon.

Of course, now that science has revealed these happenings to the world, modern day theologians have been writing books and articles on Orthodox Christian bioethics. However, there is no general consensus and many of the authors have conflicting viewpoints.

Identical vs. Fraternal Twins

Embryo splitting may refer to:

  1. When spontaneous, the natural way in which identical twins are formed.
  2. When artificially induced, a method of cloning.

Monozygotic (MZ) or identical twins occur when a single egg is fertilized to form one zygote (hence, “monozygotic”) which then divides into two separate embryos.


Regarding spontaneous or natural monozygotic twinning, a recent theory proposes that monozygotic twins are formed after a blastocyst essentially collapses, splitting the progenitor cells (those that contain the body’s fundamental genetic material) in half, leaving the same genetic material divided in two on opposite sides of the embryo. Eventually, two separate fetuses develop. Spontaneous division of the zygote into two embryos is not considered to be a hereditary trait, but rather a spontaneous and random event.

Monozygotic twins may also be created artificially by embryo splitting. It can be used as an expansion of IVF to increase the number of available embryos for embryo transfer.

Here we have one fertilisation event, but two individuals result. Do those twins have to share the ‘human soul’ they had from conception?


Monozygotic twinning occurs in birthing at a rate of about 3 in every 1000 deliveries worldwide.

The likelihood of a single fertilization resulting in monozygotic twins is uniformly distributed in all populations around the world. This is in marked contrast to dizygotic twinning, which ranges from about six per thousand births in Japan (almost similar to the rate of identical twins, which is around 4–5) to 15 and more per thousand in some parts of India and up to over 20 in some Central African countries. The exact cause for the splitting of a zygote or embryo is unknown.

In vitro fertilization (IVF) techniques are more likely to create dizygotic twins. For IVF deliveries, there are nearly 21 pairs of twins for every 1,000.

Artificial embryo splitting or embryo twinning, a technique that creates monozygotic twins from a single embryo, is not considered in the same fashion as other methods of cloning. During that procedure, an donor embryo is split in two distinct embryos, that can then be transferred via embryo transfer. It is optimally performed at the 6- to 8-cell stage, where it can be used as an expansion of IVF to increase the number of available embryos. If both embryos are successful, it gives rise to monozygotic (identical) twins.

Such an individual results when fraternal twins, derived from separate conceptions, merge very early in development to form a single individual with some cells with one genome and some cells with another


A chimera is an ordinary person or animal except that some of their parts actually came from their twin or from the mother. A chimera may arise either from monozygotic twin fetuses (where it would be impossible to detect), or from dizygotic fetuses, which can be identified by chromosomal comparisons from various parts of the body. The number of cells derived from each fetus can vary from one part of the body to another, and often leads to characteristic mosaicism skin coloration in human chimeras. A chimera may be intersex, composed of cells from a male twin and a female twin. In one case DNA tests determined that a woman, mystifyingly, was not the mother of two of her three children; she was found to be a chimera, and the two children were conceived from eggs derived from cells of their mother’s twin.

Mosaicism and chimerism



“The epidemiology of multiple births”. Human Reproduction Update (European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology) 5 (2): 179–187.

“Study: Twins form after embryo collapses”. USA Today.

“How eggs split to form identical twins” WonderQuest.

“Human embryo twinning with applications in reproductive medicine”

“Projections of population-based twinning rates through the year 2100”

“Time-lapse recordings reveal why IVF embryos are more likely to develop into twins. Researchers believe the laboratory culture could be the cause”

New scientist magazine: The stranger within.

Strangers within: Meet the other humans who live in your body

‘Semi-identical’ twins discovered: Hermaphrodite reveals previously unknown type of twinning.


Oliver Sacks on Hallucinations (Indre Viskontas, 2013)

The curious case of encephalitis lethargica

NOTE: The following is an interview taken from Skeptical Inquirer Volume 37.3, May/June 2013.


What causes the startling, unbidden perception of something that seems very real but has no material existence outside of our own minds? The “poet-laureate of medicine,” Oliver Sacks, takes us through the looking glass and into the fascinating world of hallucinations. Oliver Sacks, MD, is a physician, best-selling author, and professor of neurology at the NYU School of Medicine. He is best known for his collections of neurological case histories, including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985),An Anthropologist on Mars (1995), Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain (2007), and The Mind’s Eye (2010). His book Awakenings (1973) inspired the 1990 Academy Award-nominated feature film starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams. Sacks is a frequent contributor to the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His newest book isHallucinations (2012).

Indre Viskontas, a PhD neuroscientist and a Committee for Skeptical Inquiry Fellow, interviewed Sacks for our Center for Inquiry’s Point of Inquiry podcast.


You have a new book out called Hallucinations, and some of our readers may have already come across an excerpt in the New Yorker called “Altered States,” in which you describe some of your own experiences with hallucinogenic drugs. But before we delve into that topic, please tell us what is it that distinguishes a hallucination from other fantastical mental experiences, such as waking dreams or imagination?

Well, hallucinations can occur in full consciousness, unlike dreams, and they are projected externally and appear to have a real and objective reality, unlike imagined objects and people. They are similar to percepts (objects of perception) except they are, as it were, forced percepts in which there’s nothing there to perceive. It’s as if the perceiving parts of the brain have been forcefully activated internally.

I was initially struck by the beginning of your book, where you talk about people who have hallucinations because one of their senses has an absence of stimulation. For example, Charles Bonnet Syndrome, where people who are blind experience visual hallucinations. Tell us a little more about what’s going on there.

Oliver Sacks

First, a lot of my work is done in an old-age home. I see a lot of people who have impaired vision or hearing even though they are intellectually quite intact. And a good proportion—I can’t say exactly but I would think close to a fifth of these people—develop hallucinations in the mode in which they are defective. So the blind and partially blind get purely visual hallucinations. Deaf people get auditory hallucinations, most commonly musical rather than verbal. People who’ve lost their sense of smell can get smell hallucinations.

One might say that people who have lost a limb get limb hallucinations. But I’m not quite sure whether phantom limbs belong in the same category with the others.

I open the book with a description of a patient whom I’ve been following for many years, who became very dear to me, and I was very sad when she died a few weeks ago, just short of her hundredth birthday. She was a remarkable old lady, strong and clear minded.

The nursing home phoned me saying she was apparently hallucinating and they didn’t know what was going on. When I went to see her, she was puzzled. She said, “I’ve been blind for five years. I see nothing. Why am I seeing things now?” I asked, “What sort of things?” She described scenes with animals, with people looking at her, with falling snow and a snow plow. Very vivid visual vignettes, maybe two or three minutes long, and then there would be another one.

I asked if they were like dreams, and she said, “No, they’re like film clips or maybe like going to the theater.” Interestingly, she could never recognize the people or places she hallucinated. And she felt that when they did their thing it was autonomously without any relation to her or to her own thoughts or feelings. This is rather characteristic of hallucinations in Charles Bonnet syndrome. Other hallucinations sometimes are charged with affects (emotions) or the sense of familiarity. But not the Charles Bonnet ones.

You mention that in the case of these visual hallucinations, they were of unfamiliar things. Whereas, I think you also mention that when people have musical hallucinations they are generally of familiar melodies or tunes or music they have heard before. Is that fair to say?

Yes, it’s a very striking difference. I’ve wondered whether it’s because music is an already constructed thing, whether one takes in whole pieces of music as opposed to visual things which may not be completed, unless of course, one is hallucinating a painting or photograph. It’s very much that what one sees has to be constructed like imagining an image. Whereas the musical ones are very much more like memories.

Do you know of any research in which people have looked at what’s going on in the brain during these hallucinations? Say, for example, in the visual hallucinations, there’s some other part of the brain that’s also active that’s doing the imagining or creating the scene.

Yes, well, there have been some very beautiful studies that have become possible with the advent of functional brain imaging, fMRI, and more recent forms of imaging, tensor imaging, that shows the white matter. If people were hallucinating faces, there tended to be abnormal activity in the so-called fusiform face area in the back of the right hemisphere in the inferotemporal cortex. If, on the other hand, they were hallucinating words or pseudo-words or letters, lexical hallucinations, then the visual word form area in the left hemisphere would be activated. And it looked very much that those systems of the brain involved in perceptual recognition generated hallucinations of that sort if they were being autonomously stimulated or released.

I think the studies of musical hallucinations have not sorted things out quite in this way because people hear [complete] pieces of music. What we find is a very widespread activation of all those parts of the brain, including cerebellum, basal ganglia, premotor cortex, and so forth that are activated when one listens to real music.

In these patients who are experiencing hallucinations in the absence of stimulation, and in particular, those healthy people you described who, after three days in a sensory deprivation chamber, began to hallucinate, it almost seems as though the hallucinations are a comfort rather than something they fear. Did you find that patients over time would learn to control either the content or the expression of their hallucinations?

Modern Isolation Tank

Usually no control, or very little control, was obtained. But there tended to be accommodation. Once people with Charles Bonnet are reassured that there is no psychiatric or neurological calamity and they’re not on anything hallucinogenic, they may then become quite accepting of the hallucinations. I quote one man who imagined his eyes saying, “We know blindness is no fun so we have concocted this small syndrome as a sort of coda to your sighted life. It’s not much, but it’s the best we can do.” I’m slightly misquoting him, but that’s essentially what he imagined his eyes saying. Charles Bonnet’s grandfather who, as it were, was the original subject, would often compare his hallucinations to spectacles in a theater, and would sometimes like to go in a dark room in the afternoon for a hallucinatory matinee.

I was struck along the same lines by a description of a patient you wrote about. Her name was Gertie C. I believe she was a Parkinsonian patient. Could you tell our readers her story?

Gertie was a patient who had had the sleeping sickness, encephalitis lethargica, and a post-encephalitic syndrome which immobilized her for decades before she was put on L-dopa. She had all sorts of hallucinations, as do other patients on L-dopa. But it also become clear, when she got to know me and trust me (and I followed her for ten years or more) that she had had hallucinations long before she was put on L-dopa, mostly of a rather pastoral sort. She imagined lying in a meadow or floating in water. When she was put on L-dopa, her hallucinations became more social and more erotic, and apparently she got these quite under control so that she did not hallucinate until the evening. When it was time for her to hallucinate at 8:00 PM, she would say to her visitors, firmly but courteously, that she was expecting a gentleman visitor from out of town, and perhaps they could come another day. Her gentleman visitor, an apparition, would come through the window and brought her much comfort, both social and sexual. But she really seemed to have control of this. It never spread out of control, and it had this sort of humor that was engaging.

But she was an old hand at hallucinating. It may be that some schizophrenic patients—she was not schizophrenic—may also get on comfortable terms in this sort of way with their hallucinations. Incidentally, I mentioned in my book another patient who had Parkinson’s disease (not post-encephalitic), and he was also prone to hallucinating visitors. But they never followed him out of the apartment. They were confined to his apartment, and he could get away from them, if he wished, by going outside.


About a year ago I cohosted a television show on the Oprah Winfrey Network, in which I had the opportunity to investigate claims of miracles across the U.S. Several of the episodes included people who reported having had visions of a religious sense. They would be very offended if I intimated at all that they might have been hallucinating. Is there a difference, at least in the medical field, between what people think of as a religious vision and a hallucination?

Well, there is certainly a difference in character. People are often rather quiet about ordinary hallucinations. But with religious experiences, they may become almost evangelical. There’s a book in front of me at this moment which has been much talked about and is on the cover of Newsweek. It’s called Proof of Heaven and subtitled, “A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife,” by a man called Eben Alexander.

He had a nasty bacterial meningitis. He was in a coma for several days. But when he came to, he described an enormously complex so-called near-death experience. These experiences are often rather stereotyped in quality. People may feel they’re in a dark corridor and moving towards some bright light. Feelings of bliss envelop them as they are drawn towards the light. They sense, in a way, that the light is the boundary between life and death. And they would then come back or “float back.” InMusicophilia, I described such a sequence with a subject, another surgeon as it happened, who had been struck by lightning.

And he had this sort of blissful moment and then he said, “Slam! I was back.” He was back because someone was doing CPR on his heart and his heart started beating again twenty or thirty seconds afterwards. So, his whole cosmic journey only occupied a matter of seconds. Dr. Alexander feels that his cortex was out of action while he was having his visions and therefore it must have been direct supernatural intervention. I think such a claim can’t be sustained and indeed, a few seconds of altered consciousness as one emerges from coma would be enough to give him such a state.

People in these states may insist on their reality and feel their lives are transformed. And, as you say, may get angry if one says it was a hallucination. Of course, hallucinations, being brain events in the absence of any sort of objective world around one, can’t be evidence of anything, much less proof of anything. Certainly the being in heaven hallucination may feel real at the time, but in retrospect, I think many people will almost regretfully say, well, it was a hallucination. It seemed intensely real but it can’t be.

But other people may stick with the feeling that they have been vouchsafed a glimpse of the afterlife or, indeed, they have had quite a long sojourn there. One knows that what one had imagined was not reality. But if it leaks into hallucination, it may [seem to] be. I don’t think hallucinations are evidence of reality any more than imaginings are.


I was struck by how you describe almost a continuum of belief in one’s own hallucinations. You have people who, for example, on one extreme, have Anton’s Syndrome in which they have damage to the occipital lobe and they’re blind cortically. But they deny their impairment—despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. On the other extreme, you have people who immediately know that their hallucinations aren’t real and they’re skeptical of them. What is the difference between these two sets of people?

Anton’s Syndrome, which I only touch on briefly, does involve all sorts of misconnections from reality testing. But with complex temporal lobe hallucinations, which during surgery can be induced by stimulating the temporal lobe cortex in the right place, can produce what Dr. Penfield, a pioneering neurosurgeon, called “experiential hallucinations,” which seem intensely real. Although there may be a sort of doubling of consciousness, so the patient can say, “I know I am in Dr. Penfield’s operating room, but I am also at the corner of 25th and First Avenue in South Bend, Indiana.”

They might feel an intense sense of similarity in their investing somehow the present. I think one has to think in terms of various levels. These Charles Bonnet hallucinations are relatively low down in the ventral visual pathway. But by the time one comes to these temporal lobe hallucinations, one is finding co-activation of the amygdala and the hippocampal systems. This then may invest them, certainly, with a strong sense of emotion and familiarity. Also, to some extent, of [a sense of] reality.

You also describe—in the temporal lobe epilepsy patients—ecstatic hallucinations.

These so-called “ecstatic” hallucinations have been described for many years in the medical literature, and in the general literature. You have only to read Dostoyevsky’s descriptions of his own seizures—descriptions he also splits among many of his characters. He would suddenly be arrested and cry, “God exists! God exists!” He would feel that he was in heaven and that everything was unified and made sense. It could sometimes be followed by convulsions, but he said for five seconds of this state he would give his whole life.

In these ecstatic hallucinations, there is a sudden transport of joy and also a sense of being transported to heaven or into communication with God. These seem intensely real to people and very pleasurable. There was an interesting study a few years ago when there was an attempt to treat some patients with ecstatic seizures. A lot of them refused to take medication, and some of them even found ways of inducing their own seizures.

If a seizure is pleasant, usually there is spiking in the right temporal lobe at the same time as people are having their divine vision. They may be a bit out of touch with the sort of daily reality around them. But lives are being transformed by this.

One of my favorite case histories, which I quote in my book, is of a bus conductor in London who, as he was punching the tickets, suddenly felt that he was in heaven and told this to all of his passengers. He remained in a very elated state for three days. It sounds as if he was in an almost postictal mania. Then he continued on a more moderate level, deeply religious, until he had another bunch of seizures three years later—and he said that cleared his mind. Now he no longer believes in God and angels, in Christ, in an afterlife, or in heaven. Interestingly, the second conversion to atheism carried the same elated and revelatory quality as the first one to religion.

temporal lobe epilepsy patients—ecstatic hallucinations

I want to ask you about a personal experience of mine. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a full-blown hallucination, at least to my knowledge. But you might remember from the conversation we once had at dinner that I am a grapheme-color synesthete. For our readers who are unfamiliar with the term, it means that I see letters and numbers in color. Is this a hallucination?

No, I think that seeing letters and numbers in color or seeing music in color is really a constant physiological happening between two areas of the cortex, a letter-reading one and a color-constructing one. I think this sort of thing, which you can probably verify from your own experience, comes at an early age, and doesn’t change. I suppose one might call it an illusion, in that one sensation is invested with the qualities of another sensation. This can take very complex forms. There’s one professional musician who could taste different pitches—she tuned her violin by taste.

That’s amazing. For me it just feels so natural, yet I know, intellectually, that the appearance of the color doesn’t happen until my brain has somehow understood the symbolic meaning of a letter, for example.

That’s interesting. And if you’re given a sort of a nonsense string of letters, that doesn’t light up at all?

Well, the letters do. But it’s not until—say if I see two intersecting lines, it’s not until my brain decides whether it’s a T or an L that I see the color. If letters are occluded and I don’t know what the letter is, there is no color. It feels instantaneous to me that the color comes on in line with the meaning of the letter. In that way, I wondered if there wasn’t a part of my brain that is overlaying a hallucination. But I can see your point that it’s more of an illusion because it’s unchanging and it’s always present.

Probably if you spoke to another letter-synesthete, you would find that he or she had different colors from you.

Yes, in fact, I’ve been working with an illustrator on a graphic novel. Her name is M.G. Lord. She’s also a synesthete, and we have very heated arguments about what colors the letters should be.

Nabokov discovered when he was a child that he was a synesthete. But he complained to his mother that the letters in the alphabet set were of the wrong color. She agreed with him. But when she said the colors they were to her, the two of them disagreed. In general, synesthetes don’t agree. This is especially striking for musical synesthetes. Liszt and Rimsky-Korsakov both thought [their musical synesthesia] was something absolute. But when they met they found that they saw very different colors and couldn’t agree about anything.

I’d like to wrap up the interview with a more personal note from your own experiences. I was very much struck by one experience you described in which you had taken a hallucinogenic drug and you were waiting for a hallucination to appear. And then nothing happened. Can you describe that experience?


Yes, well, I was living then down on Venice Beach in the early 1960s, and there were a lot of drugs around. And people said to me, if you really want something striking take artane. Artane is a belladonna-like drug which is used in treating Parkinson’s. And they said just take twenty, you’ll still be in partial control. Anyhow, I took these tablets. At first I noticed nothing. I had a rather dry mouth, difficulty accommodating, my pupils were dilated. Nothing else. Then I heard a car door slam and footsteps, and I thought it was my friends Jim and Kathy. They often visited me on Sunday. I shouted “Come in!” and we chatted. I was in the kitchen.

There was a swinging door between the kitchen and the sitting room. I said, “How do you like your eggs done?” And we chatted in the four or five minutes while I prepared their ham and eggs. Then I walked out with the breakfast on a tray and . . . there was no one there. I was so shocked I almost dropped the tray. It hadn’t occurred to me for a moment that all this was hallucinated, at least that their part of the conversation was hallucinated. I thought I’d better watch myself. But this was followed by some even stranger things, including having a conversation with a spider. I think the spider was real enough; there weren’t any visual elements.

But then the spider said, “Hello.” And for some reason it didn’t surprise me any more than Alice was surprised by the White Rabbit. I said, “Hello yourself.” And we had a conversation. Actually, an abstract conversation about some points in analytic philosophy. Many years later, I mentioned this to a friend of mine, an entomologist, the philosophical spider with a voice like Bertrand Russell. He nodded his head and said, “Yes, I know the species.”

What is amazing is that you were expecting it. You were waiting for a hallucination.

Yes. Although I didn’t think it would take that form. I thought it would be all sorts of dramatic visual misperceptions and hallucinations as one may get with LSD or mescaline and those drugs. But this time it was purely auditory, and oddly humdrum although at the same time deeply absurd. I wonder what one would have thought had they seen me talking learnedly to a spider.

The curious case of encephalitis lethargica
The curious case of encephalitis lethargica

Indre Viskontas, a writer, neuroscientist, and opera singer, holds a doctorate in cognitive neuroscience and a master of music in vocal performance. Her scientific research explores the neural basis of memory and creativity; she has published more than thirty original peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. Viskontas is affiliated with the Memory and Aging Center at UC–San Francisco and is the associate editor of the journal Neurocase. She cohosted Miracle Detectives, a six-episode docuseries on the Oprah Winfrey Network, in which she explored the scientific explanations of paranormal experiences. She also blogs regularly at