The Fathers (i.e. those recognized as such by the Church) teach that a monk has to obey the head of his monastery—who is traditionally called “Geronda” as a sign of respect—in everything, unless he acts contrary to our faith. These are the exceptions of obedience which were obvious until recently. There was no reason for all this supposedly orthodox para-philology that has been recently circulating concerning obedience.
Meanwhile, it should be stressed that the obedience which a monk owes to the abbot is not the same as the obedience that a secular owes to the priest to whom he goes for confession.1 Monks obey the Geronda differently than a secular. When a cleric represents the “Geronda” to believers who are not monks of his synodia, but simply confess to him, then it is an unhealthy situation in which one should leave as quickly as possible. No one should have to obey to the extent that disrupting the free development of his personality and coexistence with others, provided that the latter are not contrary to God’s will, that is, the Gospel.
The Church, therefore, must always speak and act according to the Gospel. Those who are really people of God, do so. And the obedience that a monk promises to keep for the rest of his life is based on the Bible (see. Romans 13:1-7; Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:22-4:1; 1 Timothy 6:1-2; Titus 2:9-10, 3:1; Hebrews 13:17; I Peter 2:13-25).
We obey a man only in whatever does not contradict the Gospel:
“Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, ‘We ought to obey God rather than men’” (Acts of the Apostles 5:29).
“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:17-18).
“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be anathema. Or do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men I should not be the servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-11).
“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us” (II Thessalonians 3:6).
“If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself” (I Timothy 6:3-5).
“Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (II John 9-11).
“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.” (Matthew 23:15)
“But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matthew 15:13-14).
1) In the monasteries, lay people are expected to ask the Geronda for blessings in all aspects of their lives; especially in the areas of relations. Many young men and women, after being given an obedience to bring the person they were dating, have been given an obedience to break it off immediately. Many young men and women, after marrying someone whom their Geronda has not approved, have heard the words “I told you so,” when the marriage turns sour. Not a few parents have asked Geronda Ephraim on whether they should or shouldn’t have more kids. One lady in Binghampton, NY, a daughter of a priest, was told to stop after two, they would be monks, and she should now live with her husband like brother and sister. She obeyed and her two sons, are now monks as St. Nektarios Monastery, which she explains is a fulfillment of Geronda Ephraim’s prophecy.
People ask whether they should buy a new car, new house, look for a new job, etc. People ask whether they have a blessing to travel or not. There have been years, when things have been very bad in Greece, where Geronda Ephraim would not give blessings to travel there and advise against it.
As a lay person confesses more and more to a hieromonk in one of Geronda’s monasteries, slowly over time, this hieromonk exercises more control over the minutest details of their lives; though sometimes this happens quicker when a lay person gives consent. Many lay people read the monastic texts (especially the Ladder and the Desert Fathers) and transfer the teachings of monastic blind obedience into their own lives. Thus, they will ask the Gerondas for blessings in almost everything, refusing to trust themselves, and to dissolve the inner anxiety and confusion that exists within when trying to make a life decision. Many times, lay people will get a response they do not like, or may find quite difficult, but now the obedience has been given and following it is expected (Remember: every advice, counsel or exhortation is essentially an obedience and does not have to be presented as “I command you.”).
Many times, when a Geronda sees that the lay person is not adhering to his advice (whether it be not following the daily prayer rule given, or other advice), the Geronda will start pulling away. He may suggest another spiritual father, or choose not to advise on too many things anymore “to protect the individual from further disobedience so the demons do not acquire more rights over their soul.” These actions can have one of two effects, the lay person distances themselves from the Geronda and moves on disenchanted, or slowly starts to submit and succumb to the concept of blind obedience.