NOTE: As a rule of life, most monks get some kind of illness or pain as a cross to carry for the rest of their monastic life. Sometimes, a monk can be gifted with multiple illnesses. Back and knee aches, as well as acid reflux are quite common. Though, it can be anything from chronic athlete’s foot, jock itch, irritable bowel syndrome, menorrhagia, chronic migraines, severe cases of dermatitis or psoriasis, hernias, herniated discs, etc. All the above are quite common in the monasteries.
In three of the mens’ monasteries, there have been severe accidents:
1) At Panagia Vlachernon (FL), Fr. Joseph had his rassa caught in a table saw which dragged his arm in,
2) At Holy Trinity Monastery (MI), a novice from Montreal, also named Joseph, cut off some fingers in a power saw accident (he went back home and is no longer a monk), and
3) At St. Anthony’s Monastery (AZ) Fr. Menas cut off part of a finger in a power saw accident. As well, Fr. Makarios had a heavy item fall on his head from a roof during construction which has left him with permanent brain damage, memory loss, etc.
The following account is by a monk residing at St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery named Fr. Panteleimon (Vasili) Datch. It describes his own personal experience and struggle in bearing the cross of acoustic neuroma while living the monastic life:
In August 2003 at the age of 31, I left the practice of law and became an Orthodox Christian monk. Although my earlier vocation was often exhausting and sometimes required working into the morning hours, as a monk I kept vigil daily from midnight to dawn. We also maintain a complete work and liturgical schedule, all the while attempting to keep a prayer on our lips. Furthermore, we do not eat meat and often fast. Thus, when my initial acoustic neuroma symptoms appeared about six months after I had arrived, I understandably accounted for them as the results of fatigue and diet.
I often heard ringing in my left ear, I had a sharp pain in my neck whenever I tilted my head back and intense chronic headaches, which magnified when I would awake from sleep. After 21⁄2 years of monastic life, I noticed that as I made my prostrations, I would temporarily go blind. The fathers would complain about my forgetfulness, my vertigo began interfering with my work and my blackouts became so frequent that I feared driving. My headaches also had become painful to the point that even the sound of a voice was unbearable.
“…my condition has worsened and I thought the problem was with my brain.”
In March 2006 I went to see a physician in Syracuse. I remember standing as he entered and briefly losing my sight. He noted that, and tested my reflexes, but he never examined my eyes. He concluded that I had calcium in my inner ear, prescribing exercises and Meclizine, and sent me home.
I tried the exercises, but I soon began awaking completely blind. This lasted for about 30 seconds and then I slowly regained my sight. I also remember getting up to answer the door and not being able to see the person who was standing in front of me. Thus, three weeks after my initial appointment, I contacted the doctor again to inform him that my condition had worsened and that I thought the problem was with my brain. He arranged an MRI for me three weeks later in April of 2006 in Syracuse.
Dazed, in pain and frequently losing my vision, I was driven to my appointment. Immediately following the MRI, the doctor contacted me. He informed me that I had a 4 cm acoustic neuroma, a vestibular schwannoma, that was blocking my left ventricle, causing hydrocephalus, and that I would go deaf in one ear. I was rushed to the hospital to be admitted on an emergency basis. After examining my eyes with a penlight, the E.R. doctors immediately discovered that they were bleeding internally from the tremendous pressure of the excess brain fluid. I was in danger of permanently losing my sight and even death; thus within two hours I was being operated on to place a shunt from my head to my abdomen.
After surgery, they kept me in the intensive care unit under 24-hour observation for a week. Considering my symptoms, the doctors were amazed that I had lasted as long as I did without suffering something far worse. It was truly by the grace of God that I was alive and, in relative terms, well. The only explanation I can give for not being blind now, after experiencing blackouts for months, is that I was immersed in continual prayer for the previous three years, and that many continued praying for me. In His mercy and love, God helped me despite the fact that I should have been more diligent in seeking medical attention. I also had fallen into the hands of an extremely experienced neurosurgeon who was willing to sacrifice his personal time to help me.
One week after the shunt was placed, I returned home. My neurosurgeon put me on heavy doses of Decadron to reduce brain swelling before my scheduled AN surgery three weeks later. As the tumor pressed against my cerebellum, I lost sensation on the left side of my face, lost my sense of taste and became increasingly clumsy, being unable even to peel an orange.
My surgeons used the sub-occipital approach, and after 12 hours removed 95% of the tumor, without compromising my facial nerve. Nonetheless, I had very significant facial weakness—my voice was unrecognizable, I could not close my left eye, and I was dizzy and uncomfortable, in addition to the expected tinnitus and deafness.
I underwent physical and occupational therapy for my balance, my face and my voice. In retrospect, therapy for my face and voice was premature, as I had no mobility in my face and my voice had not started to recover yet. I did learn some exercises that I used later, however. I am not sure whether the balance retraining helped at that time.
That summer I took daily walks and continued my exercises. Despite the gold weight, my eye was almost always dry and never closed, for which an ophthalmologist placed a plastic plug in the corner to prevent drainage.
“As of my last MRI, my tumor has shrunk…”
I always had a headache, and my neurosurgeon prescribed Darvocet to relieve the more unpleasant ones. He performed Gamma Knife surgery on the remaining portion of the tumor in October 2007. As of my last MRI, my tumor has shrunk, still requiring observation for at least the next six years.
In the meantime, I read about the Trans-Ear hearing aid in the ANA Notes Mailbag. This particularly interested me, since between the shunt and the craniotomy I had enough holes already in my skull; thus eliminating the Baha. I would describe Trans-Ear as follows: “It helps, but don’t expect miracles.”With Trans-Ear, I catch things that I would not hear otherwise, although it is ineffective in noisy environments.
I experienced magnified vertigo and nausea and in November 2008, I was directed to the emergency room in case I had a relapse of hydrocephalus. The E.R. physicians found nothing. A week later,my vertigo and nausea peaked. I started to shiver, tremble, hyperventilate and vomit, while losing sensation in my extremities; this continued late into the night. Eventually, thank God, the vomiting ended and I got some rest. It was a disconcerting feeling losing control of my body, but it helped me to pray with a lot of zeal.
Hoping for some extra guidance, I contacted a schoolmate whom now was a neurologist living in Atlanta. My friend referred me to another neurologist who is two hours away in Kingston. He prescribed for me Topomax, thereby reducing my headaches by at least two thirds.
The remaining headaches he continued to treat with Tylenol or Darvocet. I also read in the ANA Notes Mailbag that Effexor may be helpful in treating vertigo. My friend confirmed that he uses this drug in his treatment of vestibular migraines, and that its efficacy is well known and published. I also have started taking Meclizine, upon the recommendation of my doctors, for the nausea and vertigo.
“I am convinced that God wants the best for us, although he may occasionally allow difficulties…”
My facial weakness and my voice have greatly improved. Until recently, my voice still tired quickly, though. I underwent a simple procedure called an injection laryngoplasty to remedy this deficiency, wherein an ENT injects calcium crystals into the weak vocal cord to prevent excess vibration and therefore improve the hoarse sounding voice. This is not a permanent solution, and success is not guaranteed. My voice is now almost as clear as it was before my craniotomy, with some limitations.
I have also started an exercise program using a small, portable stair-stepper called the Xiser.™ It helps me both to stay fit and improve my balance.
I am convinced that God wants the best for us, although he may occasionally allow difficulties to improve our character, to avoid a greater evil, to bring us closer to Him or for other reasons that we cannot understand. I am grateful not only to Him but to my doctors, nurses and caregivers, despite occasional human mistakes, and I pray for as many of them as I can remember almost every night.
I try to look at others whose conditions are more serious than mine, to focus on their suffering, and not my temporary problems. I am more aware than ever before of my human weakness and mortality, as the nerves that affected my auditory, facial and vocal nerves, are only the size of mere strings, yet they have permanently altered my life. Regardless, with God’s help, human weakness can be overcome.
Finally, I struggle never to listen to the negative thoughts that sometimes invade my consciousness. I categorize them as enemy and foreign, praying to God to always give me a positive attitude about my recovery and my future.
Acoustic Neuroma Association Notes, Issue 113,March 2010, pp. 5-6
NOTE: The following is an excerpt on monasticism from the final Christmas Encyclical (The Mantle of Elijah) of Metropolitan Anthony of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco, dated 3 days prior to His Eminence’s repose and written with the knowledge that he would soon meet with his Lord. The full text is at:
Metropolitan Anthony loved and revered Geronda Ephraim and helped him in many ways. He also made his last confession to Geronda Ephraim before he died.
Interestingly, when this Encyclical was first published in the Orthodox Observer, it was passed around with jokes and mockery among the older monastics who had a blessing to read such things.
THE FLOWERING OF MONASTICISM
Abba Anthony said, “Let us eat at the ninth hour, and then let us go out for a walk and explore the country.” So they went out into the desert and they walked until sunset. Then Abba Anthony said, “Let us pray and plant the cross here, so that those who wish to build a new monastery may do so here.”
– From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers
I gravitate to the above story of St. Anthony, my namesake, because it offers us a glimpse of a side of his personality that is not often recognized or appreciated. We are accustomed to associate St. Anthony, the “Father of Monasticism,” with solitude and silence. But here we see a man with his eyes on the horizon, slightly restless, St. Anthony the explorer, the founder of monasteries. And this makes me identify all the more with my patron saint, knowing him to have been not only a man of prayer, but a man of action.
The great revival of Greek Orthodox monasticism in America may be said to have begun in the Metropolis of San Francisco with the coming of Geronta Ephraim to this Metropolis by my invitation in 1989. At that time, I shared with Fr. Ephraim my vision of a monastic center at St. Nicholas Ranch. For years, ever since the youth of our Metropolis planted the cross on a hilltop overlooking the Ranch (in an action reminiscent of St. Anthony’s), we had prayed for the emergence of a monastic community on the premises, in order to enhance and deepen the spiritual foundations of the Ranch environment and experience. Fr. Ephraim subsequently arranged for the coming of two wonderful nuns from Greece, Sister Markella and Sister Fevronia, in 1993, and thus originated the Monastery of the Theotokos the Life-Giving Spring. From this small beginning, the monastic community has grown to fifteen nuns. In 1995, we broke ground for the Katholikon, the monastic church edifice, our “jewel of the mountains.” With its exquisite marble floor, intricate woodcarving, and stunningly beautiful iconography, the Katholikon is without a doubt the most breathtaking Greek Orthodox church to be found anywhere in America. In 2000, we began work on the Kellia or monastic residences, and in 2003 we held the Thyranoixia service, dedicating both these magnificent structures to the glory of God, and officially installing Sister Markella as the first Abbess of the Monastery.
The establishment of the Monastery of the Life-Giving Spring was followed within a few years by the founding of St. Anthony Monastery in Florence, Arizona, in 1995, by Abbot Paisios and five other brothers from Mount Athos in Greece [NOTE: After 20+ years of the monastic life, Fr. Silouanos left the monastery, returned to the world, and is now happily married.]
With the explosive growth of its monastic community, which has now grown to over forty monks, and the extraordinarily rapid expansion of its facilities, St. Anthony became the great “miracle in the desert,” the flagship, so to speak, of all the other Greek Orthodox monasteries in America. The Monastery of St. John the Forerunner in Goldendale, Washington, also began in 1995 with a generous donation of property by Dr. Gerald Timmer, and the subsequent coming of Abbess Efpraxia, Sister Parthenia, and Sister Agne from Greece. In just a few short years, this monastery has grown to sixteen sisters, becoming one of the largest women’s monastic foundations in the Archdiocese. The monasteries hold fast to traditional practice, thus fulfilling their mandate to be the “conscience of the Church.” And the amazing growth of these monastic communities offers a compelling witness to the tremendous vitality of monasticism in this country.
From a Presentation by the Very Reverend Abbot of St. Anthony’s Monastery, Archimandrite Paisios, to the San Francisco Diocese clergy conference at St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery in Florence, Arizona. Spring, 1998. A photocopy of this speech was given to each of the monks at St. Anthony’s Monastery shortly afterwards.
Many Christians during the first centuries of the Church were moved by a holy zeal to forsake the world and distribute almost all their belongings to the poor or to a common treasury, and then lived a secular life, praying and reading the Holy Scriptures. They usually lived not far from their own families. By doing handicrafts, they earned what they needed for their basic living necessities. They distributed the little money that was left over to the poor. These people were called “ascetics.” This way of life developed even more during the following years, and from this mode of living the monastic life was born. Women who wanted and desired to dedicate themselves completely to God confessed before witnesses that they desired a life of virginity and thenceforth lived—in the beginning—with their parents, who provided for their livelihood. Later it was customary for the virgins to live together in “Parthenons,” Pachomios the Great organized monasticism for women more perfectly and founded many monasteries for men and many for women.
The monastic life was called the “apostolic life” in the ancient church. It imitated – and still imitates – the life of the first Christians, who lived under the direct or indirect spiritual direction of the Apostles. In essence, it is a life of repentance and purification of the heart from our passions, while fulfilling the commandments of the Lord. The beatitudes of the Lord find their fulfillment in monasticism, and more generally in ascesis, just as in the time of the ancient church.
The ascetical life of the monasteries is just like the ascetical life of the first Christians. We find in the Acts of the Apostles that the faithful “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers… All who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. Continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food. . .” (Acts 2:42-46) And later we find another similar testimony: “The multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.” (Acts 4:32)
Sozomenos writes in the Ecclesiastical History that the Jews who became Christians led a philosophical life, as he called it – their way of life was just as we see it organized today, says Sozomenos, by the Egyptian monks. They imitated as much as they could the Prophet Elias and St. John the Baptist. “They forsake belongings, relatives, friends; they live outside of the city in sacred houses called monasteries, in which they conduct august sacraments and worship God day and night. They do not eat before sunset, or they eat once every three or more days. They abstain from meat and wine. There are old virgins living with them…” We see that ascesis was never limited only to men.
In an account of St. Justin the Philosopher, in the second half of the second century, the saint describes the life of the Christians which is similar to that of the first Christians; “We bring whatever we have to the common treasury and we distribute it to whomever is in need.” Their spiritual life was such that, according to St. Justin, they would not even contract marriages, except for the sake of raising children, or they would set aside marriage to keep complete continence. In other words, the monastic way of life, according to the saint, was a normal phenomenon.
The Lord’s words, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given,” were actually meant to help his disciples strive for a life of celibacy. Thus, according to St. John Chrysostom, the Lord presents the issue of not marrying as a great and significant achievement in order to attract them and exhort them, since the Lord wanted to inspire the desire for celibacy in them.
Then, to show the possibility of virginity, He said, “There are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake,” that is, they destroyed the evil thoughts and purified their heart. In this way He led them with these words to prefer celibacy, as St. John says.
Celibacy existed in the beginning of the creation of Adam and Eve. St. John Chrysostom describes the life of Adam and Eve in his eighteenth homily on the Book of Genesis: “At the outset and from the beginning the practice of virginity was in force. However when due to their indifference they disobeyed and sin began, that lifestyle was taken away.
Also in his work On Virginity, he describes the life of Adam and Eve saying: “It was deemed necessary for him to have a helpmate, and it came to be, yet not even in this manner was marriage considered necessary. It did not even appear, for they lived without marriage, abiding in paradise as if in heaven, and enjoyed the pleasure of associating with God…. Thus did they live in that place, adorned with virginity.” So it was natural for Adam and Eve to live in virginity and in continuous communion with God, since, as St. Nicholas Cabasilas says, “Adam and Eve were created in the image of the Incarnate God the Logos. Christ was the archetype. The Old Adam was not the prototype for the New, but the New Adam was the prototype for the old. St. Gregory Palamas and St. Maximos the Confessor say exactly the same thing. In this monastic life, the life of celibacy, mankind has its beginning.
Therefore, monasticism is not something foreign to the Church; it is not something that began much later. Celibacy is the life that Christ the Prototype of the old Adam, wanted mankind to live.
When the Church was besieged by blasphemous heresies, the monks and nuns greatly contributed to fight against them. They fought against and hated the dogmas of the heretics, but sincerely loved the heretics. With sincere love in imitation of Christ they brought the heretics back to the bosom of the Church. The sacrament of communion was the final, the crowning stage of the heretics’ return to the Church. However, without the complete rejection of the heresy, this was impossible. Their confession of faith in the decision of the Ecumenical Councils was considered a basic prerequisite of the expression of the orthodoxy of the monks. The catholicity of the Church during the era of the Ecumenical Councils is lived in the eucharistic assembly with obedience to a bishop, as well as through the unconditional acceptance of the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. The voice of the infallible Church is expressed both through the Ecumenical Councils and through the other regional councils, whose authority is acknowledged by the universal Church’s conscience.
The champions of these decisions were the monks, distinguished for their orthodox faith. Since heresy appeared as a threat to the unity of the Church, the bishops, being responsible for their flock, sought the help of spiritual men to confront the heresies. St. Anthony the Great was summoned from his mountain by the bishops many times to help confront the Arians. St. Makarios was called upon by a bishop to help him against Ierakitos. The nun Melani was active in Palestine. Besides all the other public welfare institutions and women’s and men’s monasteries she founded, she brought about 400 schismatics back to Orthodoxy, who belonged to the sect of the Meletians. Likewise, she worked with other spiritual men to bring all the Spirit-fighting heretics of her area back to the Church. In the book of Barsanuphios and John, the faith in the Ecumenical Councils is praised and extolled. In Palestine, St. Efthymios and St. Symeon the Stylite brought Evdokia back from the anti-Chalcedonian heresy of Dioscoros to the Universal Church. And along with her, a multitude of people deceived by Theodosios returned to the Orthodox Church.
The confessors of the Orthodox Church Sts. Savvas and Theodosios the Abbot also engaged in similar struggles. St. Savvas not only anathematized the leaders of heresies – Eutuches, Nestor, and Severos – but also “supported” the council of Chalcedon. Countless other monks struggled for the authority of the Ecumenical Councils and against the heresies. Not only did monks and hieromonks struggle for them, but they also took part in the Ecumenical Councils. In particular in the Seventh Ecumenical Council, out of the 350 Orthodox Fathers, 136 were abbots and monks.
Even the emperors themselves believed in the positive role of the monks to bring back those who had gone astray from the Church, “which is one.” The letters of the emperor Marcian to the Fathers of Sinai which exhort them against Theodosios the heretic, show the conviction of the emperor that the peace of the Church and the return to her of those who have gone stray was possible through the sound advice and support of the monastics.
The ascetic monastic fathers of the desert, having traversed the path of their spiritual journey free of deception, that is, by passing from the purification of their soul, and progressing to illumination and theosis, in other words to the state of beholding God, to the true theology of our Church, were able to present the truth successfully against errors.
Our Church honors marriage in Christ as well as virginity in Christ. So when a monk or nun criticizes or despises marriage, he shows that he does not have an ecclesiastical mind-set (phronema), since he criticizes something that the Church blesses. A true monk never criticizes the blessed state of marriage. And of course a married person should not criticize monasticism because this also shows a lack of an ecclesiastical mind-set (phronema). Divine Grace is acquired by the monk with virginity in Christ, while by the layman with a marriage in Christ. But in either case, a struggle, ascesis, is required, according to Orthodox teaching.
St. John Chrysostom teaches: “Those who live in the world, even though they are married, ought to resemble the monks in all ways.” “You are greatly deceived if you think that there are things that are required of laymen and other things of monks…. All are equally accountable.” St. Basil the Great says in his Ascetical Works: “Submission to the Gospel is required for all men, both for monks and for laymen.
How much, and to what degree must each and every person apply himself in order to attain salvation? According to Father Justin Popovitch, “all of God and all of man, nothing less. It is not measured by just how much is needed and who gives more but God gives all of Himself and man must give all of himself, and in this consists salvation.” And this again applies to monks as well as laymen.
Monasticism expresses the apostolic life of the ancient Church as the continuation of that Church. It is the heart of the Church. But because the world does not provide the capability for people to live in it evangelically to the degree that many would want to, they withdraw from the world, aflame with a divine inspiration, which for several people is uncontainable, for even in their sleep they keep the commandments of the Lord. They withdraw from the world not out of self-love or cowardice or to avoid assuming worldly responsibilities, but out of a purely holy desire to be freed of their passions and that their heart be cleansed, so that they be united with Him Whom they yearn for.
“A Monk,” according to St. Nilus of Sinai, “is he who, withdrawing from all men, is united with all men. A monk is he who regards himself as existing with all men and sees himself in each man. The more a monk overcomes the world, the brighter shines his grace-filled rays and the greater the number of people who can be warmed and illumined by them. From his isolate cell, he sees deeper and becomes familiar with his fellow human beings and grows far closer to them in heart than is possible for those living in the world, for he sees them all and is united with them in God.”
Monasticism is similar to the first apostolic parishes, not only in their common belongings and common daily prayers, but primarily in their common therapeutic treatment. In the ancient Church, the catechumen would pass through the stage of purification, would be enlightened in Holy Baptism, and would even reach theosis. In a similar fashion, a novice monk struggles in the stage of purification and repentance, as the catechumen would, and when his repentance is completed, he enters the stage of enlightenment with the “Second Baptism” which he receives, that is, in his tonsure, and then by the grace of God, he proceeds, if God wills it, towards theosis. If we study Orthodox Monasticism, we would understand how the first apostolic parishes functioned.
The parish life can be inspired by the monastic life. “Angels are a light for monastics, and the monastics are a light for laymen,” according to St. John of Sinai. The monastery reminds the faithful that the commandments of the Lord are common, they apply to all. It drives them on towards new spiritual struggles. Some even experience a spiritual rebirth, according to just how receptive they are to the Grace of the Holy Spirit.
The monastery is a clinic, in precisely the same way that the first apostolic parishes were. The uncreated grace of God perfects man. Once man achieves the healing of this soul, he lives the tradition of our Church; he becomes a bearer of Tradition. When the great Fathers of the Church, who were for the most part monks spoke about purification, illumination, and theosis, they spoke as ones with the experience of the uncreated light; they lived this reality, they lived this tradition of the Church, they lived Orthodoxy. And Orthodoxy, according to Father Justin Popovitch, is: “life and experience of grace, and through this grace, knowledge of God and men.”
The monks, and all Christians, who are cleansed of their passions, find the cure of their soul become the most social of people. And since they themselves have found interior peace and perceptibly know what it means to be a temple of the Holy Spirit, they are able to guide others as well towards the purification of their soul. Spiritual guides are not limited merely to the clergy or to the monks and nuns, but all clergy and laity, married and celibate, men and women are able to guide souls towards perfection if they themselves have been purified of their passions and have attained the state of enlightenment. Or even if they are still in the stage of the purification of their soul, they are able to help.
The love that one has towards monasticism, towards the apostolic life is proof that one lives Orthodox tradition. It is love towards the essence itself of Orthodoxy and this is why all the saints loved ascesis.
The ascetical life is our effort assisted by the Grace of God to apply the commandments of Christ. As St. Gregory Palamas has said ‘ascesis is primarily the evangelical life which is based on repentance. It is man’s preparation for his union with Christ. The commandments of the Lord are directed to all married and celibate, without exception. The only difference is that monks pursue the more perfect application, according the words of the Lord, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and come and follow me.”
Ascesis along with repentance requires bodily effort. As Abba Isaac the Syrian says, “The nous is not glorified with Jesus Christ if the body does not suffer for Christ.” When by means of an ascetical life man is united with Christ, or at least is progressing towards this communion and union, then he is able to see within himself how the achievement of the image and likeness of God is brought about. When man struggles, he simply shows his good intentions to God, and it is the uncreated grace that performs the ineffable union.
When a monk, or a Christian, lives properly, that is, when he progresses spiritually and passes through purification and attains enlightenment, and progresses in accordance with the will of God towards theosis, then he lives Pentecost. He comes into direct contact with Christ through His uncreated energies, which has an impact on the whole world for a person’s spiritual rebirth, as the Fathers of the Church understand it and as it is lived primarily in monasticism, is noticed by all of creation. He effectively benefits all of creation. His teaching, his life, his behavior, his entire spiritual world are all different. He reflects the eternal life, the new life that Christ brought to the world. This new man is what we, too, are called to live in order to see in practice the difference between the genuine Orthodox Christian and the life of a worldly man.
The transfiguration of each soul takes place also with constant repentance. In beginning His work to save the world, the Lord preached repentance.
A monk through constant repentance renews his baptism. According to St. John of the Ladder, the tears of repentance are a second baptism, a reconciliation with the Lord, and a purification of the conscience. According to St. Isaac, the fruit of the inner man begins with tears. This is why tears are a sign of true repentance, and they are required of all Christians. But there are also other kinds of tears. According to St. Isaac, there is “an order of tears which belongs to him who sheds tears unceasingly both night and day …. The eyes of such a man become like fountains of water for two years’ time or even more. But afterwards he enters into peace of thought and purity of heart. And once he enters into it, it shall abide with him till death. And God raises up the fruit of the Spirit in him. And in this present life he perceives, dimly somehow, and in a figure as it were, the change nature is going to receive at the renewal of all things.” This marks the completion of the heart’s purification process.
The saints of our Church know that divine Grace abides in and transfigures our soul with a desire for struggling, with humility – which is the basis and foundation of the virtues – with watchfulness, and with prayer.
The prayer which the monk uses above all, more than all the other prayers of the Church is the so-called Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” It has tremendous power when it is used constantly and with zeal, and primarily when it is used under the super-vision of an elder who possesses this prayer, that is who has experience of how it acts in the soul of a person. The Jesus prayer contains a confession of the God-man and a confession of our sinfulness. In this combination of these two truths lies the whole spirit of our Orthodoxy. With time, the Jesus prayer guides us towards Christ-like humility, which, according to St. Maximos, guides us to the two-fold knowledge: the knowledge of the omnipotence of Christ and the knowledge of our own weakness. The ignorance of the omnipotence of Christ and the ignorance of our own weakness constitute pride.
The Jesus prayer purifies the nous of thoughts and fantasy, an indispensable prerequisite without which man does not achieve the knowledge of the truth, the knowledge of God, in other words, does not fulfill his purpose as a Christian. As St. John Chrysostom says, this prayer illuminates man with uncreated light. “Prayer done with zeal is light for the nous and soul… It is an unquenchable and continuous light.” However, it is not achieved without labor and temptations. In fact, according to St. Isaac the Syrian, “Reckon every prayer, wherein the body does not toil and the heart is not afflicted to be a miscarriage.”
When prayer, and in particular the Jesus prayer, is done with zeal and persistence and under obedience, it brings man to “true knowledge of God, it is an intercessor between God and men, a physician of the passions, and antidote for illnesses, peace of soul, a guide that leads to heaven, it is communion and union with God. And man’s soul is directed towards God, enlightened, and is thoroughly brightened by His indescribable light.” The monk constantly strives to occupy himself with prayer and mainly with the Jesus prayer, lest he be found unworthy of this divine conversation and end up spiritually lifeless and dead. For the Jesus prayer to purify the soul of man, it must be said without ceasing. This work is not only for monks. Praying without ceasing is for all Christians, according to the Apostle Paul. St. Gregory Palamas as Archbishop of Thessaloniki taught the same thing, that ceaseless prayer, the Jesus prayer, it not only for monks, but for all Christians, as well. But for man to make progress in the Jesus prayer, stillness and seclusion are indispensable aids.
In the Gospel, the Lord often went out into the wilderness to pray. “Why did he ascend the mountain?” asks St. John Chrysostom. And he answers, “In order to teach us that solitude and isolation are good things when we want to come into contact with God. The wilderness is the mother of hesychia and it keeps us far from all noise.
All the hours of the day are appropriate for prayer, but the nighttime hours are most suitable. The night has darkness and quiet, essential aids for the execution of prayer. This is why monks prefer the nighttime hours for noetic prayer and their communication with God. The wilderness has shown forth tens of thousands of saints of our church.
The monk gives priority to the person. Ascesis delivers him from thoughts, the imagination and the passions and by the grace of God he acquires peace and becomes a fountain of peace for all the world. “Find peace within yourself,” says St. Seraphim of Sarov “and thousands all around you will be saved.” He means here not just those who come into contact face to face with such a person but also those far away are changed and become partakers of the grace of such a saint, and turn towards God. This is why today the world needs such people more than ever before.
“Perhaps,” St. Silouan writes, “You will say that nowadays there are no monks who would pray for the whole world; but I tell you that when there are no men of prayer on the earth, the world will come to an end and great calamities will befall: they have started already.”
External stillness must be accompanied with interior stillness. The beginning of the development of the passions and of one’s fall is thoughts, which proceed from a soul lacking peace. The imagination is also a diseased condition of the soul. Of course, in our Lord the New Adam, and in Adam and Eve before the Fall, these did not exist. When we initially undertake by the Grace of God to cure of soul of its illness, a real struggle is required so that we do not, according to St. Dorotheos, “remain all the time rotting in our thoughts.” When a monk joins ceaseless prayer with endless vigilance and complete spiritual obedience to an experienced elder, then he gradually achieves the purification of his soul, and “the purity of soul,” according to St. Isaac the Syrian, “is the first gift of our nature; and without purity of the passions the soul is not healed of the illness of sin, nor does it acquire the glory which it has lost through the Fall.”
Since we have briefly mentioned the virtues which we as Christians must work at, it would be good to mention also the virtue which is the mother of all virtues, obedience, which without great toil brings all the virtues chained together.
Obedience is a great mystery of our Church, as St. Silouan has said. “The Holy Fathers,” according to St. Silouan, “ranked obedience, which is in essence humility, above fasting and prayer.” In a broader sense, we must have more obedience to Church Tradition and to the visible point of organizational unity, that is, to the bishop and to the canonical structure of the Church. However, more specifically, spiritual obedience to a spiritual father who has reached the state of illumination and theosis renders the disciple, in proportion to the faith and obedience he has towards his elder, a recipient of the uncreated energies of God, through his spiritual father.
“He who has cut off his self-will and put himself under obedience in all things to his elder and his confessor has an unfettered mind… and obedience brings him all the virtues and gifts one by one. He who has true obedience fulfills all the commandments and becomes like Christ who was ‘obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.’ The Holy Spirit loves the obedient soul,” according to St Silouan, “and quickly comes to know the Lord, and obtains prayer of the heart…. And thus
God gives His wisdom and anything else the obedient soul asks of Him.”
The Church today, the world, is passing through a very serious crises, a crisis both moral and spiritual. The problem in the world today is man – the individual. If man by means of ascesis purifies his nous from thoughts and fantasies and then his heart from the passions, then the Grace of the Holy Spirit comes permanently to his soul, and in this manner he becomes at peace with himself and with God. He comes into contact with God and is at peace with his fellow man and with all of creation. The achievement of one soul being cured of his passions means a positive change to all of society, it is a beginning of the cure of all society. This is primarily what monasticism – the apostolic life – has offered and continues to offer to the Church throughout its history, either by word or through silence, to those who draw near.
Since the early years of the Christian era, Christians have been called by Christ Himself to life in the world without being of the world (John 17:13-16). They are distinct from the world, because of their special conduct and their exemplary ethical life. When, toward the middle of the second century of the Christian era, Christian life reached a low ebb, some Christians, both men and women, reacted to this by raising their own personal standards of austere Christian life. They practiced chastity, celibacy, poverty, prayer and fasting (Justin, I Apology 15.6; Athenagoras, Apology 33; and Galenus, De Sententiis Politiae Platonicae).
These people considered themselves Christians selected to live the life of angels (Matt. 33:30). They lived by themselves or in special houses as a community. At about the middle of the third century, they began fleeing the world and going to the desert, where they established permanent habitations, whether by themselves or in small groups. They are known as the “anchorites” (from anachoresis: departure, flight); the hermits (from eremos: desert); and the monastics (from monos: alone, for a monastic “lives in the presence of God alone”).
A good example of an anchorite monk is Saint Anthony the Great, who fled the world [c. 285] and established himself in the desert of Middle Egypt. Many people imitated his example; they went and lived close to him, thus “populating the desert” (Troparion of St. Anthony). These monks lived by themselves in huts and small houses to form a village called “lavra” (later the concept of “lavra” develops, as we will see). St. Anthony is considered the Father of Orthodox monasticism, for his kind of monasticism, that of “living alone with God as his only companion” remained the most cherished monastic ideal for the monks of the Eastern Orthodox Church throughout the ages.
The establishment of Christianity as a legal religion of the roman Empire by Constantine the Great, with the edict of Milan (313), led to a new decline in the ethical life of Christians. In reaction to this decline, many refused to accept any compromises and fled the world to become monastics. Monasticism thrived, especially in Egypt, with two important monastic centers, one in the desert of Nitria, by the Western Bank of the Nile, with Abba Ammoun (d. 356) as its founder, and one in the desert of Skete, south of Nitria, with Saint Makarios of Egypt (d. ca. Egypt 330) as its founder. These monks were anchorites, following the monastic ideal of St. Anthony. They lived by themselves, gathering together for common worship on Saturdays and Sundays only.
Whereas Saint Anthony the Great is the founder of anchorite monasticism, Saint Pachomios of Egypt (d. 346) is the founder of the so-called “cenobitic” (from Koinos bios: communal life) monasticism. Pachomios started as an anchorite himself in the Thebaid, Upper Egypt. Later in that same place, he founded the first “monastery” in the modern sense of the term. St. Anthony’s lavra was a village of anchorites who lived by themselves in their own huts and had a life in common, practiced common daily prayer evening and morning, worked in common, had common revenues and expenditures, and common meals, and wore the same identical monastic garb. This garb consisted of a linen tunic or robe and belt, a white goat skin or sheep skin coat and belt, a cone-shaped head-cover or hood (koukoulion) and a linen scarf (maforion or pallium). At this stage, monks were identified with lay people seeking Christian perfection. No religious ceremony was required, and no monastic vows. Monks were prohibited from becoming clergy.
Anchorite monasticism existed in other places besides Egypt. However, “organized monasticism,” that is, of the “cenobitic” type, spread to Sinai, Palestine and Syria from Egypt. Two monks from Egypt, St. Ilarion (d. 371) and St. Epiphanios, later bishop of Salamis in Cyprus (d. 403), brought organized monasticism to Palestine.
Monasticism at this time was identified with the “charismatics” of the ancient church. This identification of monasticism with the “enthusiastic element” in the church led to some abuses, of which those around Eustathios of Sebastia (d. 380) are good example. Eustathios introduced monasticism into Asia Minor from Egypt. His followers became overzealous; they taught that marriage and meat-eating made salvation impossible; they were, in fact, advocating monasticism for all Christians. The Council of Gangra (343) condemned these over-enthusiastic practices. Another heresy that affected monasticism during this same time was “Messalianism,” which appeared in Mesopotamia (c. 350 AD.). Messalians were ascetics who practiced poverty, celibacy and fasting. They rejected the sacramental life of the church and pretended to see God with their physical eyes. They spread in Syria and Asia Minor; they finally were anathematized by the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus . Under the influence of the Messalians, the non-sleepers or Vigilant (Akoimetoi) type of monasticism was developed in the area of Constantinople (mid-fifth century). The most famous instance was the Studion monastery, renowned for its polemic against the Iconoclasts. St. Symeon of Antioch [ca. 460] also developed the Stylite type of monasticism, living himself on a pole (stylos) for over 36 years.
Monasticism became a strong movement in the life of the church. The church not only condemned anti-church groups and tendencies within monasticism, but also guided and directed the monastic movement to meet its own needs. One of the ways through which this occurred was through a convergence of monasticism and clergy: monks were now ordained in a special religious service at which they subscribed to special monastic vows, thus becoming a special class of Christians standing between the clergy and the laity. This development was mostly due to the efforts of Saint Basil, Archbishop of Caesaria in Cappadocia.
Basil the Great and the Constitution of Orthodox Monasticism.
Eustathios of Sebastia introduced monasticism to Asia Minor; he influenced St. Basil, who borrowed whatever was good in his innovations, including the monastic garments, monastic vows, and the special religious service (tonsure) that indicated the special status of a monk, superior to that of lay people, and subordinate to the clergy.
Among the many ascetical works of St. Basil, two are the most significant in terms of regulating the life of monasticism: the “Great Rules” (Oroi Kata Platos), and the “Brief Rules” (Oroi Kat’ Epitomen). These rules regulate the life in the cenobitic monasteries: they extol the monastic life in common as the ideal Christian life, the “life of perfection,” while at the same time indicating the dangers of the solitary anchoretic life. St. Basil’s Rules became the Magna Carta of Monasticism, both in the East and in the West, throughout the monastic tradition. The difference is that while in the Christian East the anchorite spirit of St. Anthony continues to persist as the original monastic ideal, thus at times reacting against the organized monasticism of a Pachomian, cenobitic type promulgated by Saint Basil in the Rules, the Christian West, after the modifications to the Basilian Rules by St. Benedict, remains faithful to the cenobitic spirit of organized monasticism.
St. Basil set Christian perfectionism as the goal of monastic life. The monks were to practice Christian virtues together, especially love; to practice obedience to a spiritual father; to practice chastity and poverty, and share the common goods of the monastery. After they achieved Christian perfection, they were allowed to come back to the world and help others to achieve Christian perfection. Thus, the monks had the mission of “social workers” as well. St. Basil’s institutions, especially his Basileias, which was at the same time an orphanage, a “kitchen for the poor,” and a school for the illiterate was in practice run by monks. This was St. Basil’s way of utilizing the monastic movement to benefit the mission of the Church in the world.
Following St. Basil’s example, the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451), in its canonical legislation, placed the monastics in a given Diocese under the direct jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop. Only this bishop can allow the foundation of new monasteries in his diocese (Canons 4 and 8). Thus in the Orthodox Church the possibility of the creation of monastic “Orders,” as we see them developing in the West during the Middle Ages, was once and for all eliminated.
Monasticism also spread in the West. Its origins go back to St. Athanasios of Alexandria, who was exiled to the West (399). His Life of St. Anthony was translated into Latin by Evagrios of Antioch (380). Two Latin monks, Rufinus and St. Jerome, who lived in Palestine, brought monasticism to the West when they returned, during the second half of the 4th century. St. Ambrose of Milan (d. 395) introduced monasticism in Northern Italy, and St. Augustine (d. 430) in Northern Africa, whence monasticism was transplanted to Spain. St. . Martin of Tours (370) introduced monasticism into Northern France (Gaul), and St. Honoratus of Arles into the South. St. John Cassian founded two monasteries near Marseilles (415); he had become acquainted with monasticism in Egypt and Palestine, and was ordained a deacon by St. John Chrysostom in Constantinople. At. St. John’s deposition, John Cassian returned to Gaul to establish monasticism there.
The Role of Monasticism in the Byzantine and the Ottoman States.
With the development of Monasticism during the fourth century and thereafter, many monastics became involved with the various heresies, especially those concerning the Christological dogma. Most of the monastics were the defenders of the Orthodox faith. Still, Eutyches, an archimandrite from Constantinople, headed the heresy of monophysitism. On the Orthodox side, St. Maximos the Confessor (c. 580-662) played an important role in defeating the heresies of monothelitism and monoenergism. The Sixth Ecumenical Council (680) condemned monothelitism and reestablished the doctrine of Chalcedon. During the time of the iconoclastic controversy, the Studite monks, led by St. Theodore the Studite (759-826), played a very important role. In addition to organizing his monastery, the Studion, on the basis of the cenobitic principles of St. Pachomios and St. Basil, St. Theodore also wrote his three Antirrhetics against iconoclasm.
After the condemnation of the iconoclasts, monasticism thrived even more. Many representatives of the Byzantine aristocracy became monks. Monks were men of letters; clergy received their education in the monasteries. Bishops, metropolitans, and patriarchs were taken from their ranks; monks were involved with the church affairs, at times for the good of the church, at times creating trouble. Monasteries existed in almost every diocese, with the Bishop as their head, planting a cross in their foundations. Since 879, the right was given to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople of planting a cross in monasteries that were under the jurisdiction of other dioceses throughout the empire. They were called “Patriarchal Stavropighiac Monasteries.” This right exists to our days.
With the Arab conquest of Syria, Palestine and Egypt (during the 7th century), new centers for monasteries were sought and founded, among which were Mount Olympus in Bithynia and the Holy Mount Athos.
During the entire Byzantine period, the monks took an active part in the life of the Church in general. Still, spirituality was their strength. Concerning this tension in Christian anthropology, two schools of thought were represented; that of Evagrios ponticus (d. 399), who followed a Platonic and Origenistic doctrine pertaining to the “mind,” thus de-emphasizing the importance of the human body and becoming dualistic, and St. Makarios of Egypt (or, better, the writings attributed to him), present a more Christian, holistic anthropology; for in this theology man is a psycho-physical entity, and, as such, being a destined to deification. “Prayer of the mind,” in the Evagrian spirituality, becomes “prayer of the heart” in the Macarian spirituality. The two schools of thought with the two different anthropologies continue to find representatives throughout the history of the Church.
Saint Symeon, the New Theologian (949-1022), marks an important development in monastic spirituality. A disciple of a Studite monk, he left the Studion to join the small monastery of St. Mamas in Constantinople, were he was ordained a priest and became the abbot. He wrote several works, among which are the fifty-eight hymns of “Divine Love,” in which he stresses that the Christian faith is a conscious experience of God. St. Symeon is the exponent of an intensive sacramental life, which leads to this personal conscious experience, as we can see in his Hymns. In this he is a predecessor of Hesychasm, which also shares this personal experience of God in conjunction with intensive sacramental life.
Finally, the spirituality of Hesychasm, as enunciated in the theology of St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), is of paramount importance not only in the life of monasticism, but also in the life of the entire Church. An Anthonite monk, St. Gregory took it upon himself to defend the holy Hesychasts of the Holy Mountain in their ways of praying and experiencing the presence of God the “uncreated light” that they contemplated. Barlaam the Calabrian had led the attack against the pious monks and their psycho physical method of prayer, and accused them of “gross materialism,” Messalianism, calling them “navel-souls” (omphalopsychoi) and “navel-watchers” (omphaloskopoi).
The hesychastic method of prayer consists of regulating one’s breathing with the recitation of the “Jesus prayer”: “O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The prayer is repeated constantly until it descends from the lips and minds into one’s heart. At the end of the process, the peace of Christ is poured into the heart of the worshipper, and the light itself of Christ shines upon him and around him. This light, as that of the Holy Transfiguration of Christ, may also be seen by our physical eyes.
Saint Gregory established that the experience of the Holy Hesychastsa was an authentic one, for it is similar to that of the disciples on Mount Tabor. Theologically it is justified by the distinction between essence and energies in God, this light being the “uncreated light,” or the “uncreated energy” of God, that “can descend toward us,” whereas the essence of God “remains unapproachable” (St. Basil).
After the fall of Constantinople, the number of idiorrythmic monasteries continued to grow, a fact which brought a further decline to monastic life. The 16th century was the lowest ebb. In reaction to this problem, many of the monks themselves, especially on the Holy Mountain, left the main monasteries and turned to idiorrhythmic ones, establishing Sketai (dependencies) of the main monasteries, with a more rigorous typikon (order). Also, Patriarchs Jeremy II of Constantinople, Silvester of Alexandria, and Sophronios of Jerusalem led the attack against idiorrhythmic monasticism, thus managing to counteract its spread. Cenobitic monasticism prevailed for a while, but the tide soon went in its original direction. Many monasteries of the Holy Mountain, including the mother monastery, the Great Lavra, became idiorrhythmic. Today an idiorrhythmic monastery may become cenobitic but not the other way round. Hopefully, this will guarantee that organized monastic life will finally prevail, according to the Basilian ideal of monasticism.
Monasticism played an important role under the Ottoman Empire, as well. The monks not only kept the faith alive, but they also kept the Greek culture and literature alive. Not only did the education of clergy continue at the monasteries, but the monasteries became the “clandestine school” (Krypho Scholeio) for all the Greeks under Turkish occupation. The monks thus prevented the Christian nations under Turkish occupation from being assimilated to them, and thereby became the natural leaders of national (“ethnic”) resistance against the oppressors. It is no accident that the Greek Revolution started in 1821 at a monastery in the Peloponnesos, Aghia Lavra, with Metropolitan Germanos of Old Patras raising the banner of revolution and blessing the arms of the Greek freedom fighters.
The Monastic Community of the Holy Mount Athos.
Monasticism existed on the Mountain even before the tenth century. Many anchorites were living on Mt. Athos, especially in the area of Ierissos. The anchorites lived in the cells (kellia), and were organized according to the general pattern, selecting a “leader” (protos) from among themselves to keep a semblance of order. Some of those cells were built for many anchorites to live in, and some of these joint habitations were called “monasteries.” Two of these were in existence on the Mount before the tenth century: Zogrophou and Xeropotamou.
However, cenobitic monasticism, which is considered to be the beginning of the Great Republic of Monks on the Holy Mountain, only started in 963 when monk Athanasios the Athonite built the cenobitic monastery of Meghisti Lavra, with the help of the Emperor Nicephoros Phokas and the continued support of Emperor John Tsimiskis. The community soon became a “pan-Orthodox” community: Iberians (Georgians), Russians, Serbians, Bulgarians and Romanians joined the Greeks to form the pan-Orthodox community, a “Republic of Monks.”
Each of the monasteries had its own abbot; one, chosen leader as Protos, was installed by the emperor himself. Following the example of Lavra, which was given an autonomous status, all the monasteries were considered royal monasteries, without any ecclesiastical dependence. This was changed by Emperor Alexios Comnenos (1081-1118), who gave the Patriarch the right to supervise the monasteries (Novella 37); all the monasteries thus became “Stavropighiac” and Patriarchal. The Patriarch appointed the Bishop of Ierissos to be his representative at the Holy Mountain.
The multiplication of idiorrythmic monasteries under the Turkish occupation affected the Holy Mountain; they dismissed their abbots and even the Protos in the course of the seventeenth century. The abbot was replaced by two or three “trustees” chosen yearly by the monks; the Protos was replaced by four supervisors (Epistatai) who changed every year. One of them chosen as chief supervisor (Protepistatis), as a “first among equals.” The Republic, consisting of twenty monasteries, is still represented in the Synaxis by as many representatives that meet twice a year, or as necessary. The representative of Lavra presides over the Synaxis. This typikon, established in 1783 by Patriarch Gabriel IV of Constantinople, still regulates the life of the Anthonite republic of monks.
Orthodox Monasticism Today.
With the conversion of the Slavs in the ninth and tenth century, monasticism spread to the Slavic countries as well, where it continues to thrive up to our day, in spite of communist oppression. Important monasteries in Russia – Zagorsk, Optimo, and Valamo – continue the hesychastic tradition. Great monks and spiritual fathers were exponents of this tradition, including St. Nilus (1433 1508), St. Seraphim of Sarov (1759-1833), and Father John of Kronstadt (1829-1908), a married priest. Monasticism thrives today in Romania, Serbia, and even Bulgaria.
On the Holy Mountain itself, there is an impressive monastic renewal: several monasteries, inactive in the recent past, were recently populated by young, educated, enthusiastic monks, who give new life and a new spirituality, more in conformity with that of St. Basil, to the Holy Mountain. The monastery of Stavronikita is an example. Under the guidance of important spiritual fathers on the Holy Mountain today – among them ore Father Ephraim, abbot of Philotheou; Father Aimilianos, abbot of Simonos Petra; and abbot Vassilios of Stavronikita – monasticism is thriving on the Holy Mountain, both spiritually and intellectually. The pattern of cenobitic life prevails at present, and continues to gain ground.
In our day, there is a monastic renewal, as a reaction to the materialist spirit in our society, in almost every Orthodox land. Longovarda Monastery, Nea Makri, and St. John’s Monastery on Patmos are some of the active monasteries in Greece outside Mount Athos. As for the States, the major Holy Places, monasteries and shrines connected with them, are under the jurisdiction of the Synodal Church outside Russia. Among these monasteries are: Saint Tikhon’s, near South Canaan, Pennsylvania (OCA); Novo-Diveyevo convent, near Spring Valley, New York; Holy Transfiguration Monastery and Convent in Boston, Convent of the Vladimir Mother of God, San Francisco, California, Holy Dormition Monastery, Northville, Alberta, New Skete Monastery, near Cambridge, New York and Holy Annunciation Monastery (Carpatho Russian Diocese), Tuxedo Park, New York.
Suggestions for Further Reading:
H. Waddell, The Desert Fathers, London 1936.
N.F. Robinson, Monasticism in the Orthodox Churches, London, 1916.
*Questions for the Church *How the Monastary shows Characteristics of a Cult *What is healthy monasticism in the USA? *Update (October 1999)
When Niko was five years old, we decided he needed swimming lessons. At that time, we thought the best gifts parents could give was to teach their children to love reading, to learn a musical instrument to lift their spirits and enrich their lives, and to learn how to swim. The first two gifts would fill their inner souls; staying afloat would save their lives. When the YMCA offered tadpole classes, we enrolled our sweet-natured blonde son. During the lesson, parents could watch from a large glass window in a room looking down on the Olympic-sized swimming pool. Sometimes I took a book to read, but didn’t get far because I was always looking to see if Niko had made it across the pool holding onto the styrofoam float.
After being able to kick across holding onto the float, the instructor made the children swim to the float-always holding the float just inches from their finger tips. The instructor had her hands full one day as she led two swimmers across the pool teasing them by placing the float just inches from their strokes. As I glanced up from my book, I suddenly saw Niko sink under the water as the instructor was lifting up her second charge. In panic, I leapt to my feet and banged on the window to alert someone to save my son from drowning. I couldn’t speak or scream; they couldn’t hear me down there. Would I have had time to run downstairs, find the door to the showers and the pool? Could I break the glass so my screams could be heard? With my voice frozen, I could only beat on the glass and watch him struggling under water until the instructor glanced up at my thumping and then over to Niko. She lifted his arm, his head rose above the water, and on he swam.
Niko is now 21 years old and a Greek Orthodox monk who goes by the name of Father Theologos. His father and I continue beating on the glass to save him, but no one has heard us. We feel our son, at a time in his life in which he was dealing with a transition from teen years to adulthood and with the sorrow of having an older sister diagnosed with a serious illness when he was 16, was unduly influenced to enter the monastic life since the age of 16. Our son is not alone. In the same year our son left, two other young people (ages 18 and 21) from our parish church in Knoxville, Tennessee entered a convent in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania and St. Anthony’s monastery in Florence, Arizona. Never were we included in assisting our son in making such a monumental decision. Niko told us in April and left in May 1996. We are concerned for many reasons that these monastic communities founded by Fr. Ephraim are part of a growing cult, a dark and confusing corner of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, a misdirected type of monasticism.
* Niko is the only son of four children, a brother to three sisters. He made us laugh with his impressions, his wry sense of humor, his sensitivity to others, and his kindness. When he first told us he was becoming a monk, I cried telling him that he would lose his wonderful sense of humor. “No, I won’t, Mama. I’ll be the funny monk!” But there is no place in Fr. Ephraim’s monasteries for humor or of seeing the funny quirks in life. Laughter is the result of the devil, Niko now tells us.
* Our son left home in May 1996 to stay a few weeks at a convent led by Fr. Carellas in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania before his trip to Arizona. We spoke on the phone several times and each time, Niko told us that the departure date had changed because he needed to be at the monastery at the same time as Ephraim. Each time he changed his departure date, he had to pay a $50 fine to the airlines. When I told him that the cost was adding up and asked him would he jump off a cliff if Fr. Ephraim asked him, he replied seriously, “Yes, of course I would!”
* After only one year and nine months as a novice, Niko was suddenly tonsured as a monk on April 30, 1998. Normally, three years from the time such young people enter the monastery first as novices, they take their vows and become monks. When we asked our son when he would know he was ready to take his vows to become a monk, he told us that Fr. Ephraim would tell him. When we responded with, “Won’t God tell you?” he told us that he is unworthy to speak to God; only Fr. Ephraim and the elders are worthy enough to have a dialogue with God.
* When we tried to contrast Niko’s isolation from the world to the life of Jesus who embraced the world by working with people in preaching, healing, and showing compassion, just as Mother Teresa has done, Niko responded with “that (Mother Teresa’s work) was just social work. Jesus had his calling; I have mine.”
* We encouraged Niko to consider becoming a priest instead of a monk and to use his talents working with people. We told him we would pay for his education at the Holy Cross Seminary in Brookline, Massachusetts, the only Greek Orthodox seminary in North America. He refused saying that Frs. Carellas and Ephraim said that the seminary was full of satan.
* After our interview with a reporter was published in The National Herald (Ethnikos Kyrix), a Greek language newspaper published in New York, we received many phone calls from distraught parents and friends of novices in Fr. Ephraim’s communities. We urged them to write letters and speak out, but they are fearful of going public with their family sorrows.
* Secrecy is paramount when a young man or woman leaves to enter a monastery or convent. Our son was told by Fr. Carellas to tell no one except his immediate family, and that only one month before he left our home. Niko left without telling his best friend, his aunts, uncles, grandmothers, even our current parish priest. The excuse was that if he told people, they might try to talk him out of becoming a monk, and then the devil would win.
* Fr. Ephraim has been known to have fought the devil who knocked on his door disguised as a goat. This goat attacked him, but the monk physically fought him off!
* Novice nuns have been known to wash this monk’s feet and drink the wash water because they and his followers think the man is a saint. He does nothing to discourage this sentiment.
* Fr. Ephraim has predicted that the world will end in 60 years.
* Fr. Ephraim was forced out of Canada because of the same recruiting tactics he is getting away with in the U.S.
* Divided families, divorces, and marital disharmony are the results of this monk’s teachings. We know that he has encouraged married couples to refrain from sexual intercourse and to live as brother and sister.
* Since entry into the monastery, our son has suffered from GERD, gastro-esophageal reflux disease. Before entry, Niko was never sick and had never suffered any stomach ailments. The novices are told that suffering is good and makes an individual a stronger Orthodox Christian. When he was in high school, he was the star dancer in our parish’s Greek Festival. The other dancers called him “Air Niko,” and he told us that he lived for Greek dancing. Now he keeps his eyes down rarely looking at us directly. He is a very thin, bowed 21 year-old young man.
* Following numerous letters (with responses few and far between) to bishops, the Archbishop, and the Patriarch, we finally were able to meet with Patriarch Bartholomew twice during his recent U.S. tour, once in October (1997) in Atlanta and once at the monastery in November (1997) in the presence of our son and several bishops. We asked that Niko be allowed to go home so we could have him checked by our family doctor. They all agreed it was acceptable; however, Niko later told us it was only a suggestion, not a command. Niko said that unless Ephraim told him to go, he would not leave the monastery. He would ignore the Patriarch’s suggestion.
* Niko does not ask about his family, his sisters, his cousins, his grandmothers. To do so, he says, is to ask about the world which he shuns. He refused to return home for his oldest sister’s wedding. He refused to listen to his 13 year-old sister’s song she wrote and sang for him on an audio tape, because music was from the devil. Christmases, Easters, and other holidays come and go each year without a phone call or a thank you note for the packages we send him. His letters to us have virtually stopped.
* A “spiritual elitism” surrounds the followers of Ephraim. Even in our parish church, a group of his followers defend him, saying “he has the power of discernment.” When I, Niko’s mother, stood up at our parish’s general assembly asking for some support in investigating this anomaly of losing three young people from our church to Fr. Ephraim’s monasticism, I was ridiculed and attacked by several of his ardent followers, told to mind my own business, and be glad my son was becoming a monk.
* St. Anthony’s monastery in Florence, Arizona is a brand new community in the desert, built of only the best materials. During our November 1997 visit that coincided with the Patriarch’s visit, we overheard one man say that it was indeed “more like a Hilton resort, than a monastery.” Our son told us that as soon as it is complete, it will become a convent, and the monks will move on to build yet another monastery, perhaps in New York. During our November visit to the monastery, we spoke with a member of the Patriarch’s entourage. When we told him why we were there, he said that he understood our concerns: “this spiritual dependence is totally unnecessary and is getting out of hand. Someone needs to get a hold of this situation and provide a solution to it.” The same member, who is also a priest, said that he and his wife were uncomfortable that their own son, who was with them that day, could come this close to such an unhealthy environment.
We ask these questions we hope someone will be able to answer:
* Who is funding Fr. Ephraim’s movements?
* What is the charity Fr. Ephraim’s monks perform?
* Under whose supervision do his activities fall?
* What are the names of the novices and monks in Fr. Ephraim’s monasteries and how do their families feel about their sons or daughters being in them?
* How many other families are suffering as we are?
* Does the Greek Orthodox Church have any procedures in place to assist individuals in looking at monasticism in a balanced way?
* What regulations, if any, govern these activities?
* Are any statistics available on the spread of Greek Orthodox monasticism in
* What is “healthy” monasticism in the USA in contrast with Fr. Ephraim’s communities?
* Is the goal of the present Greek Orthodox Church leadership to divide families or to unite them by any possible means? Note: We have asked the church these questions, but we have received no answers. We have been patient long enough in dealing with the Church’s hierarchy and speaking out publicly to get our son out of a psychologically abusive and spiritually dependent environment. We feel as if we have had a death in our family without a funeral. We miss our son! Although the church has gained one monk (our son), the remaining five members of our family have become estranged from the church.
Here are just a few of the characteristics of a cult, and they all match what we’ve seen and what we’ve read from our son’s letters: ** Control of the environment of their recruits.
In this monastery, recruits are physically separated from the society. Any books, movies or testimonies of ex-members of the group are to be avoided. We have asked our son to talk to a former nun; he has refused. Like cults, the novices and monks follow a rigid routine of sleep deprivation, limited diet, work, and controlled reading. Niko’s young sister wrote a song and recorded it on a tape. When we tried to play it for him during our visit with him, Niko said he was not allowed to hear music, even a simple song his sister wrote from her heart and recorded on an audio cassette. ** Demand for purity
In this monastery, the world is depicted as black and white with little room for making personal decisions based on a trained conscience. People and organizations are pictured as either good or evil, depending on their relationship to the ideology of the group. We asked our son if he knew that Mother Teresa had died. He told us she was a Catholic, a heretic, and her good works were just “social work.” When we reminded him that Jesus also did this type of “social work” with the people, Niko told us again that we were “talking idly.” He also said that “Jesus had his calling. I have mine.” ** Confession
In this monastery, serious sins are to be confessed immediately. Becoming a monk would be the result of regular confessions. From these confessions, Fr. Ephraim determines when Niko or any novice will be ready to become a monk. Information derived from the confession is used to make the novice feel powerless, more guilty, fearful and ultimately in need of the monastery and the leader’s goodness. This confession can be used to get the novice to re-write his or her personal history so as to reject the past life, making it seem illogical for the novice to want to return to his or her former life of family and friends. ** Sacred Science
In this monastery, the ideology is too “sacred” to call into question, and a reverence is demanded for the leadership. In the eyes of the monks and novices, Fr. Ephraim appears as the absolute truth with no contradictions. When we asked our son how he would know he was ready to become a monk, he told us that Fr. Ephraim would tell him. We asked, “Why doesn’t God tell you this?” He replied that he was not worthy to speak with God; only Fr. Ephraim and the elders are worthy to have a dialogue with God. Upon a visit to the convent in Saxonburg, PA, Fr. Ephraim told our 13-year old daughter and other children present that the world would end in 60 years. How convenient that Fr. Ephraim won’t be around in 60 years, and will not be confronted for his false prophecy! * Mystical Manipulation
In this monastery, novices have come to believe that they are actually “choosing” this life. If outsiders, even his parents, say Niko has been brainwashed or tricked, he repeats “I have chosen this voluntarily.” This statement was made even in the presence of the Patriarch and other Bishops in November 1997 at the Monastery of St. Anthony. Novices and monks thrive on this myth of voluntarism, insisting time and again that no member is being held against his or her will. Recruits are told that God is ever-present in the workings of the organization. If a person leaves for any reason, he/she is told that accidents or ill-will may befall them and that is attributed always to God’s punishment on them. We have a former nun’s testimony on this. * Loading the Language
In this monastery, there is frequent use of “thought-terminating cliches,” expressions or words that are designed to end the conversation or controversy. Our son, when asked a difficult question for him to answer, will end the conversation with the statement “This is idle talk.” When we asked our son why he came to the monastery, he said it was God’s will. * Doctrine over Person
In this monastery, the person is only valuable insomuch as he/she conforms to the role models of the cult (or monastery). Personal history and experiences are ignored. During our visit or phone calls, Niko never asks about friends, relatives, his sisters, or our lives. Only the lives and experiences of monks are true for him. Accomplishments of former monks are repeated to these novices, although none of their fantastic (monastic) experiences can be verified. For example, Niko and his sister were awestruck from the story told them at the convent in Saxonburg about Fr. Ephraim’s fight with Satan who appeared at his cell door in the form of a goat! * Dispensing of Existence
In this monastery, they decide who has the right to exist and who does not. The leaders decide which books are accurate and which are biased. Families are cut off. Niko has not written to us since December 1998. In December 1997, he wrote us a note that he would not come home as advised by the Patriarch during our meeting with the Patriarch in November 1997. We wanted Niko to be cared for by our physician for his GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease). Our son said that only if Fr. Ephraim blesses his visit home would he have followed the Patriarch’s suggestion. We have written letters, called him on the phone, and visited him several times but always when we initiated the communication. All of these characteristics describe and document the similarities between monasteries administered by Fr. Ephraim and cults as they are known and defined by experts.In closing, we have come to the conclusion that people in the Church’s hierarchy will not do anything to save our son from the hands of such monastics. They appear to fall under no one’s jurisdiction or regulation. However, as soon as Fr. Ephraim’s type of monasticism is classified as a CULT in this country, we may then be able to save our son. Remember most cults are defined as a splinter of “first generation religions.” We hope this classification will be recognized by the Greek Orthodox clergy and laity as well as the media soon. Young people in transition and facing big decisions about life, such as college, career, and choice of spouse, etc., are easy targets for cult recruiters. Our main issues here are that our son was too young (only 18 years old when he entered the monastery), he was indoctrinated beginning at age 16 by our former parish priest who never involved us in the process, our son had no theological education and is presently not in good health. He never suffered from any illness before. The Greek Orthodox Church has no specific guidelines for proselytizing potential novices.We love our son very, very much, and we will continue to beat on the glass wall to save our son from drowning in a cult led by this monk. **What is healthy monasticism in the USA?
In our opinion, monastics should have a good theological education, be of a mature age, and should make their choice after careful counseling with their priest and their family. Individuals that best fit the mold of monks should be the clergy. Such individuals have already made this choice to follow Christ’s footsteps and have the theological background needed. Monasteries should be the place for one to retreat from the world for a short period of time to meditate, pray, and discuss religion with others (i.e. in the form of a sabbatical from their everyday life) and then return to the world refreshed. Was this not Christ’s way? The expenditures for building such monasteries should be the responsibility of the Church (Patriarchate) and be run by the Church. Under no condition should a monastery be run by individuals such as the elder Ephraim. Such spiritual dependence at any level can only be cultic with disastrous results.
Our son became a monk in April 1998, one year and nine months after entering the St. Anthony’s Monastery as a novice when he was 18 years old. At the age of 20, he became Pater Theologos. In his short note to us, he said even he was surprised when he discovered that he was to take his vows on that day. Since that note, we have received only one other short note to us. Then, in the summer of 1999, we accidentally read on the internet a Chicago Tribune article dated June 2, 1999, “Monks Turn Farm Into Monastery.” The reporter mentioned two monks: Frs. Akakios and Theologos. Wondering if our son could actually be in another monastery, we called the monastery and heard the voice on the answering machine. We knew it was our son Niko. We later sent him a birthday card and called again, leaving a message on the monastery answering machine. Still no letter, no phone call. Since then, we have discovered that Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Harvard, Illinois (northwest of Chicago) recently held a fund-raising banquet with about 600 attending paying $50 for a chicken dinner. A visitor told us that a tall thin young monk wearing glasses was there. He was not introduced and did not speak with any of the attendees. Our son, the one who told us so many times he lived to dance the Greek hasapiko and Kalamatiano is now the quiet monk isolating himself in obedience to the monk Ephraim.
This dialogue occurred in 1999, and begins with Derek asking John:
We have attempted to find out what if any guidelines the Church has on monasticism. Neither the Archdiocese nor any of the Bishops we corresponded with for the last three years could offer any policies in place. We cannot begin to offer any specifics. We have always felt that the Church (the Ecumenical Patriarch or the Synods) would be the proper authority to establish such guidelines.
We only know that our son was too young (16 when indoctrination began and turned 19 in the monastery) to make such a monumental decision on his future. He had NO theological education whatsoever. So, we strongly feel that one has to be mature enough, and theologically educated before making such a decision. What age defines maturity or what exactly theological education is required differs from one individual to another. However age 25 can be a beginning. Concerning the theological education, we have always felt that a graduate priest would be a good candidate for a monastic.
The question we have presently is: Why are there so many young people joining the Ephraim-led monasteries whereas the Holy Cross Seminary has so few applicants? This is something the Archdiocese would have to face.
What is your opinion, Derek?
John Pantanizopoulos Derek’s reply:
You keep mentioning “indoctrination” at 16. What do you mean by this? Exactly how did this work between the ages of 16 – 18 (or 19 as you put up before.) That’s some 2-3 years. It seems an awful long time for a child to be “indoctrinated” without his parents knowledge.
In general, I’m in agreement with your sentiment, but I’d like to know more of the specifics.
Derek Copold John’s reply:
Over the past week, you have asked several questions. I will itemize
them as follows:
1. What do I mean by “indoctrination”? You also asked for more specifics. 2. Why is the seminary so vulnerable to the Fr. Ephraim-led monasteries? 3. What are the Greek Orthodox Church guidelines?
Answers: 1. By “indoctrination” I mean “brainwashing” and here is part of the story. When our son was 16, our oldest daughter was diagnosed with a serious illness. At that time, our whole family drew closer to the church. Our former parish priest offered support. Our son made friends
with the priest’s son and drove him to and from school. They were the same age and grade at the same school. Our parish priest kept mentioning to us and the entire congregation of his spiritual father, a monk Ephraim.
Our son increased his participation with the church activities (GOYA, liturgies, confession, etc.). The rest of our family went to church on Sundays. We thought nothing of his gradual change in behavior because it was connected to the church. We thought he might be considering the priesthood as a vocation.
Conversations at the dinner table began to center around religion and our son started reading books and booklets, given to him by our former priest, on monastics and especially Seraphim Rose, a Russian monk.
In 1995 our parish priest was removed from our church (for reasons never explained to the parishioners) and sent to a convent in Saxonburg PA which is also an Ephraim established convent. Our former priest is there and to our knowledge hasn’t been a parish priest since. In the
meantime, he had made quite a group of followers in our church who visited him occasionally in Saxonburg. Our son would sometimes go with them. We thought, naively, that he wanted to see his friend, the priest’s son. Never did we think that a man of God woudl betray us in this way by doing this in secrecy. Some lessons are learned the hard way! For more information on our family story, please go to the Protection of the Theotokos web site where we have placed our story, “Behind the Glass Wall”: http://www.angelfire.com/bc/orthodoxsurvivors/cultabuse.html
Click on Controversial Orthodox Groups, then on Monasteries of Fr. Ephraim. 2. On Oct 14 Vasos Panagiotopoulos gave you one version of the truth. Here is ours. Remember, we all have our agenda.
In Sept 1996 former Arch. of America Spyridon is enthroned. In the spring of 1997, homosexual molestation of an underclassman by a priest at the Hellenic College/Holy Cross (HC/HC) goes unpunished. Note that Arch. Spyridon is pro-monastic and a supporter of Fr. Ephraim. In July
1997, four priessts-professors at HC/HC are removed because they recommended punishment for the sexual molestation, thereby jeopardizing the HC/HC’s accreditation.
Voithia, an internet web site, and GOAL are created and together they monitor and publish all inproprieties of the Archdiocese. The five Metropolitans, several priests and the laity express their disenchantment with Archbishop Spyridon’s leadership or lack thereof.
In Aug 1999 Arch. Spyridon is forced to resign and the new Arch. Demetrios is enthroned in Sept. 1999.
This we feel is what caused the low registrtion of Hc/HC. Ask yourself, would you choose that college (during the church turmoil) for yourself or your son/daughter? You can read more about it in http://www.voithia.org where you can find the whole chronology of events as they occurred since the enthronement of Arch. Spyridon. 3. As you may have noticed by participating in this discussion group, no one, not even the participating priest, knows of any church guidelienss, simply because there aren’t any! People can express their thoughts, but the fact of the matter remains that there are no church guidelines on what healthy monasticism is or who may become a monk. You may read our thoughts also in “Behind the Glass Wall.”
John & Jo Ann Derek’s reply:
Actually, I didn’t ask this originally. You did rhetorically. However, I do appreciate this expansion. I’m sorry to hear this. I’ll remember her and you in my prayers.
I don’t believe you mention this in the article. What would your former priest say? Please, excuse my prying, if I’m pushing to far simply tell and I’ll drop it.
To be fair to Seraphim Rose, I don’t believe he advocated activity of the sort your alleging. I’m not saying that you are accusing, just trying to clarify his position. If I’m mistaken, please correct me.
The article does answer questions. I am sorry that this affair has been so hurtful to you both. Unfortunately, along with my prayer that’s the extent of assistance I can offer you.
In regards to Fr. Ephraim, I have your word on one side about the estrangement of your son and Fr. Gregory on the other. There is a monestary in Kendalia, TX under his direction, so if I’m in the Hill country, I may go and investigate.
To be fair, Vasos is rather open about what he believes, and usually when he says something (actually always from what I’ve read of his posts) it’s accurate.
So if HC is or was under the direction of one of his supporters at the time, why was Fr. Ephraim stating that it was “full of Satan?”
I’ve read the chronologies, editorials and articles from them and their opponents. Por favor! No mas! No mas!
Well, GOAL has been talking about taking the iniative and governing from the bottom up, now that they’ve won their victory, I guess this,would be as good a place to start as any. Somehow I don’t think the peace will be any easier to manage than the war.
Derek Copold John’s reply:
To really find out the truth you would also have to ask him (our former priest that is). There is only one priest at the Saxonburgh convent. Then you can form a more weighted decision for yourself.
We are stating this about Seraphim Rose to simply show you the direction given to him (our son) by our former priest. What we tried to convey was that if you read a lot about cooking recipes you may eventually start cooking!
Our son entered the monasrery of St. Anthony in Arizona in June 1996. Archbishop Spyridon was enthroned in September 1996. The words that HC/HC was “full of satan” our son mentioned to us in April 1996, that is, before Arch. Spyridon’s enthronement.
We stated that question only to have those in the proper authority to pay attention to what is going on!
I agree with you. We just have to wait and see.
The response initiated a short dialogue between the two men on an Orthodox forum:
My the Lord bless you.
With trepidation I would like to add my own thoughts to this thread on Elder
First of all I have visited the women’s community found by the elder in Saxonsburg, PA and Dunlap, CA. I also spend 2 or 3 days a year at St. Anthony in AZ. I haven’t noticed anything that I would identify as cultic (by the way, I have a Ph.D. in psychology and religion and have worked with people with cultic and occultic backgrounds). The monasteries are all quite strict in their observance, but are hardly outside the pale of Orthodoxy (or Orthopraxy for that matter).
Is 16 too young to begin to consider a monastic vocation? I don’t think so. At 16 I knew I wanted to be a psychologist and a priest. At 16 people know that wish to be married or go to a military service academy like West Point and make the Army their career. We have a boy in our parish who is just turned 17 and aspires to monastic life. So in principle, no, I don’t think that 19, 18, 17 or even 16 is too young to consider monastic life. I have friends who joined Roman Catholic monastic communities at 18 and they are fine. What I cannot speak to, as either an Orthodox priest or a psychologist, is the particulars of anyone I haven’t meet.
What I would like to comment on is this. As I said, I’ve visited a number of the communities founded (all with the blessing and active encouragement of the local bishops and the generous assistance of the laity) by Elder Ephraim. I am sometimes struck by the great difference between what I experience and observe at the various monasteries and how people respond to Elder Ephraim and how people describe the monastery or the Elder. In some cases, there is on correspondence between my experience and what I hear from people. I’m not sure why this is, but I can say that at least in my experience, both supporters and detractors seem about equally likely to inaccurate reporters.
As a married parish priest (I serve a small, poor GOA mission parish in far northern CA), I am not threatened by monasticism in general or Elder Ephraim’s communities in particular. Rather, I thank God for the monastic life and the positive influence it has been in my life, in the life of my dear Presbyteria as well as the members of my parish. We don’t any of us go around pretending to be displaced monastics exiled to a fallen world. We are none of us super ascetics or crypto-gnostics. What we are is a group of quite ordinary, late 20 century men and women from a variety of backgrounds struggling to live an Orthodox Christian life. We take help and encouragement from many sources, including, but not only, from the witness of our monastic fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters.
I am sorry for the hurt and confusion that some have experienced because of the growth the various monastic communities here in the US. Please forgive me if I have offended you by my words. +Fr. Gregory Jensen St. George Greek Orthodox Church Redding, CA
You have chosen Christ’s way to preach the Gospels and minister to the people. Why did you not choose to become a monk?
Do you have any children? Have any of them joined a monastery? Will you concur if one of them left without discussing it with you?
At the Ephraim-led monasteries we visited, monastics told us, when asked, that they are there to avoid temptation. Do you concur with such a statement?
What questions did you ask the monastics you visited, if any, to draw your conclusions? Do you have a list of the characteristics of a cult, and did you make an attempt to check it against those in an Ephraim-led monastery? In general based on what did you draw your conclusions that
the Ephraim-led monasteries are not cultic?
We have asked three more priests to answer these questions for us. They never did! We hope that you will take the time to answer them. John
May the Lord bless and keep you.
First, let me say how sorry I am for the pain that your son’s decision to enter monastic life has caused you.
You wrote/asked: >You have chosen Christ’s way to preach the Gospels and minister to the people. Why did you not choose to become a monk?
Simply put, I was not called by God to be a monastic. Parish priest are called by God to serve His People in the local parish. This is my vocation, my calling from God. Monastics are called by God to call down mercy for the whole world. This is their vocation.
As a quick aside, I must say that I am confused with what seems to be the general tendency on this thread to confuse priesthood and monasticism. The vocations are different and so the training and tasks for each our different. > Do you have any children? Have any of them joined a monastery? Will you concur if one of them left without discussing it with you?
My wife and I cannot have children and so I cannot answer your question. > At the Ephraim-led monasteries we visited, monastics told us, when asked, that they are there to avoid temptation. Do you concur with such a statement?
Yes. Is there something wrong with this statement? > What questions did you ask the monastics you visited, if any, to draw your conclusions? Do you have a list of the characteristics of a cult, and did you make an attempt to check it against those in an Ephraim-led monastery? In general based on what did you draw your conclusions that the Ephraim-led monasteries are not cultic?
I didn’t ask any questions about to determine if the monastery was a cult. I saw no evidence of cultic behavior. > We have asked three more priests to answer these questions for us. They never did! We hope that you will take the time to answer them.
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Concerning the choice of becoming a priest or a monk, all we tried encourage our son about was that he needed to have all proper education, theological and psychological, and then decide which way to go. As far as the calling goes, he never told us how it happened, but in most questions we asked him about, he referred us to the monk Ephraim. Before he became a novice, he had his first discussion with Ephraim. When our son asked Ephraim’s opinion on whether he should become a novice/monk, Ephraim replied, “You won’t know until you try it.” Is this a calling? When we asked him when he knew he would be ready to take his vows, he said the monk Ephraim would tell him. We then asked him why God wouldn’t “call” him or tell him when he was ready. Our son responded with, “I’m not worthy to speak to God. Only Ephraim and the elders are worthy enough to have a dialogue with God.” If this isn’t following a cult leader, what is? These are the questions that still puzzle us today.
Concerning temptation: We feel that a human is sent to this life by God to be tested and to control his/her temptations in accordance with the Bible. We also feel that whoever handles temptation in accordance with the Bible is one step closer to being worthy of God. Is this not the proper thinking? Was this not Christ’s way when he visited this earth?
We have studied cults and their characteristics and found many similarities to Ephraim’s type of monasticism. If you’re interested in reading these corollaries, please go to the Protection of the Theotokos web site: http://www.pokrov.org and read our story, “Behind the Glass Wall.”
Again, thank you for your response,