The Mauling of a Young Girl at St. Nektarios Monastery, Roscoe, NY (ca. 2000) [Updated]

NOTE: The following information is taken from posts published at http://stnektariosmonastery.tumblr.com/

In 1999, Geronda Joseph Voutsas wanted to have guard dogs for the monastery, similar to St. Anthony’s Monastery. He purchased 4 pure bred dogs from a local breeder; 3 German shepherds and 1 Rottweiler. They were named Chiotes, Duvelis, Roussos and Arapis. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Arapi

Arapi, Duvelis and Rousos.
Arapi, Duvelis and Rousos.

The original plan was to train them and use them as guard dogs because there had been numerous incidents of night time intruders and vandalism on the property.

One Sunday, the novice in charge of walking the dogs, Gregory, took them off their leash so they could run freely. On this particular day, a bus from Astoria was visiting the monastery. The bus organizer, Katerina Koutsoupakis, had brought her 2 young daughters. The girls were playing with other children at the monastery’s playground which was located just past the first pond.

The first pond at St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY. There use to be a small playground and trampoline beside it.
The first pond at St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY. There use to be a small playground and trampoline beside it.

The unleashed dogs ran to the playground and attacked Katerina’s daughter who was about 9 or 10 years old.

This girl was severely mauled—her face, arms, legs, etc. had been bitten, leaving wide, deep gashes. She was airlifted to a hospital in the city and proceeded to go through reconstructive surgeries, skin grafts, etc.

The other children were traumatized by the incident. The news spread through the five boroughs quickly. The monks were instructed they had no blessing to speak about the matter to anyone. If someone asked, they were to respond “I don’t know,” and if they were persistent, then the monk would refer them to Fr. Germanos or Fr. Epifanios.

Shortly thereafter, the young girl’s mother decided to sue the monastery to help pay for the large medical bills which her family could not afford. This action initiated a chain of events that were orchestrated by the monastery to help minimize the potential damage this embarrassing scandal could create.

New York State Police - Division Canine Unit in Cooperstown, NY
New York State Police – Division Canine Unit in Cooperstown, NY

First, a State Trooper from the K9 unit was called in to examine the dogs to see if it could be determined if they were at fault, or if they had any predispositions to this type of behavior. The expert determined that the shepherd with a floppy ear, Duvelis, was a fear biter and most likely the culprit that initiated the attack.

The monastery had to eliminate the evidence so no tests could be done on the dogs’ teeth/bite patterns, etc. Fr. Kassianos and a catechumen from Toronto (who was never baptized and has since fallen away from the Church) were given the obedience to take the 3 shepherds to the local animal hospital and have them put down.

Fr. Kassianos Titonis of St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery in Roscoe, NY.
Fr. Kassianos Titonis of St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery in Roscoe, NY.

The Rottweiler, Chiotes, was given as a blessing to a young man named Stavros in New Jersey. The monks were given an obedience to tell pilgrims that they had given all the dogs away as a blessing. The reason: the monks were unable to properly care for them so the dogs were given better homes.

Next, in order to minimize the monastery’s culpability, two of the older fathers started to coach the novice responsible for the dog incident on what his story would be at the hearing. This would be the ‘official’ story and he had to rehearse it daily with them until he had it memorized.

Fr. Mark Andrews:  spiritual Father of the Drewchin family and  biological father of a rassaphore at St. Nektarios Monastery, Fr. Raphael.
Fr. Mark Andrews: spiritual Father of the Drewchin family and biological father of a rassaphore at St. Nektarios Monastery, Fr. Raphael.

Katerina also started looking for a young girl who witnessed the attack. It was decided an older father would call her spiritual father so he could talk to the girl’s mother, who in turn would talk to the girl. She was essentially given an obedience to say she didn’t know or remember anything from that day if anyone was to ask her about what had happened.

Alexandra Drewchin, one of the witnesses of the brutal mauling, has gone on to become a famous musician. She sings in 2 bands: Eartheater & Guardian Alien. http://alexdrewchin.bandcamp.com/
Alexandra Drewchin, one of the witnesses of the brutal mauling, has gone on to become a famous musician. She sings in 2 bands: Eartheater & Guardian Alien. http://alexdrewchin.bandcamp.com/

During this time period, one of the monks from St. Nektarios, Fr. Philotheos, had to travel to St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence as he had an INS appointment down there (as the Brotherhood had not informed INS about relocating to NY, they were still using the Florence address and the monks without citizenship had to fly back and forth to Arizona for immigration appointments).

Fr. Philotheos did not want to return to New York due to ongoing problems there, and asked Geronda Ephraim if he could transfer to St. Anthony’s Monastery. He relentlessly begged big Geronda to allow this. Big Geronda allowed it and the monk remained at St. Anthony’s.

Katerina interpreted this event as an attempted cover-up, i.e. this monk was sent far away, out of state, so he wouldn’t be called to the hearing to testify, and thus must have been responsible as well.

Katerina talked to Fr. Philotheos when she visited St. Anthony’s to see  Geronda Ephraim for confession. She secretly recorded Fr. Philotheos while conversing with him, in the hopes she could obtain some kind of evidence to help her case. She understood his vague apology and self-reproach as an admission of guilt which further confused things, but was later resolved.

Geronda Ephraim admonished Katerina to drop the lawsuit. She did not obey his counsel.
Geronda Ephraim admonished Katerina to drop the lawsuit. She did not obey his counsel.

Despite Geronda Ephraim admonishing Katerina not to sue St. Nektarios Monastery, she proceeded (keep in mind, Geronda Ephraim’s own words are advice and admonishments are obediences too, the Elder shouldn’t have to say “I command you” or “This is a command.”). Katerina was awarded approximately $650,000.

This settlement was a setback for St. Nektarios Monastery as they had an obligation to pay a $25,000/month mortgage for the first two years of their existence, with the possible penalty of losing the property.

Geronda Joseph Voutsas, Abbot of St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY.
Geronda Joseph Voutsas, Abbot of St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY.

The consensus of the Elders was that Katerina would not enjoy her money and it’d bring her misery as she essentially was attacking St. Nektarios himself via her actions. Also, since she lost big Geronda as her spiritual father, and by extension the monasteries, she had essentially lost or forfeited her salvation.

The first grey tabby at St. Nektarios Monastery (NY) was named Arapi.
The first grey tabby at St. Nektarios Monastery (NY) was named Arapi.

NOTE: Arapi is equivalent to the English word “nigger” and at the monasteries, it is a name reserved for the black animals, or animals with the most black in them. ( http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Arapi )

"Arapis" the black cat at St. Anthony's Monastery in Arizona.
“Arapis” the black cat at St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona.

Geronda Ephraim had a black cat when he lived on Mount Athos with St. Joseph the Hesychast. He named it Arapi and it was one of his favorite cats. Thus, the name now has somewhat of a sentimental tradition and has been transplanted to the North American monasteries. The black cat at St. Anthony’s is named Arapi. Later, when the Geronda Joseph obtained some cats for St. Nektarios Monastery to help with mice control, he named the gray tabby cat Arapis).

Hierodeacon Stephanos Giannakouros feeding the cats at St. Nektarios Monastery.
Hierodeacon Stephanos Giannakouros feeding the cats at St. Nektarios Monastery.

Also see: https://scottnevinssuicide.wordpress.com/category/anti-black-sentiment-in-orthodox-patristics/

Blind obedience: For readers that may not understand, whenever a monk or nun is issued an obedience–and by extension a lay person who is confesses at the monastery–they are expected to do it, without complaints, grumbling, and especially without judging, criticizing or examining the order that is give. Even if the obedience is a ‘sin’, or a crime, etc. the disciple is not accountable for doing it; the one who has given the command will account for it. The disciple is accountable, though, if he/she does not obey. Geronda Ephraim has said in many homilies to his monastics, “On Judgement Day, God will ask a monk only one question: ‘Did you do obedience?’ If the answer is yes, then the monk will go to Paradise. If the answer is no, then eternal hell. This is the mindset monks and nuns live; and if they don’t have it, they struggle to acquire it through prayer, warring their thoughts, and caning themselves.  This is why there is a conspiracy of silence when incidents occur, and it’s also how the monasteries insulate themselves from outsiders. When the whole brotherhood or sisterhood is told, if anyone asks, this is the answer. Even if it is a lie, in the minds of the monks and nuns, they are not lying: they are doing their obedience and gaining crowns for the next life. Their only fear is not executing the obedience properly, by which they could lose their eternal soul if God happens to call them to the next life and they die in disobedience.

It should also be noted that one of the main obediences Geronda Ephraim has given to all the abbots and abbesses (and their second-in-commands) is he does not want scandals, he does not want bad examples from monks/nuns that incite people to talk badly about the monastery, extra special caution when a dignitary visits (many times before a bishop or priest visits a monastery, the Abbot or Abbess will call all the monastics for a pep talk to be on their best behavior, not to do or say anything that will scandalize the special guest), etc. There is a constant need for perfection that is not keeping with reality. And this anxiety of the abbots and abbesses not to sadden Geronda Ephraim is many times transmitted to the monastics.

Fr. Philotheos and Novice Gregory have both left the monastic life, and are now happily married living in the world.

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