The following article was written by an anonymous author in defense of Geronda Ephraim of Arizona. It appeared in a Christian forum on December 12, 1998.
Elder Ephraim is the spiritual son of the great and saintly Athonite ascetic Elder Joseph the Hesychast and Cave-dweller, who reposed in 1959 and is in the process of being glorified by the Patriarch of Constantinople. Elder Joseph’s story is incredible in itself. The book “Monastic Wisdom” which contains his writings on the spiritual life, the Jesus Prayer, etc. has just been translated from the Greek by the monks at St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona. They are now working on the life of Elder Joseph the Hesychast. I have venerated his fragrant relics, have seen icons of him in Greece, and have read hymns written to him (translated into English by Fr. Seraphim of St. Paul’s on Athos who I believe is now the Dikaios at St. Gregory Palamas in OH). Of course, being the spiritual son of a Saint doesn’t necessarily mean anything, so here is a little about Elder Ephraim:
Elder Ephraim’s mother (who became Great-Schema nun Theophano) raised her family to fear and love the Lord and His Holy Church. Elder Ephraim answered the calling to become a monk, so he sought the great ascetic at the time, Elder Joseph, and his co-struggler Elder Arsenios. Elder Joseph knew Elder Ephraim by name (Johnny at the time) when he first met him on the Holy Mountain. “Johnny” never met the Elder before, nor did anyone know he was going to visit him. The Elder Joseph prophesied great things would happen because of “little Johnny”, now Elder Ephraim. Elder Ephraim lived from that day on with Elder Joseph and his synodia until the day of Elder Joseph’s death (August 15, 1959). So for 12 years, Elder Ephraim lived the hesychastic life under complete obedience to Elder Joseph. He lived several more years as an ascetic and then he became the abbot of Philotheou monastery and brought the cenobitic life back to it.
If you visit some of the monasteries or talk to some people, you will hear of incredible stories of how they lived. For example, the monks were not allowed to talk during Lent and were severely disciplined if they did. Elder Joseph never used Elder Ephraim’s name when he talked to him (to keep him humble since it was clear that his spiritual progress was amazing). He would call him “Hey you!”, “Hey monk!” but behind his back he had great things to say about him. The lived a truly hesychastic life, having daily vigils of the Jesus Prayer that lasted 8 hours in solitude.
As Elder Joseph has told many people before his death, Elder Ephraim was considered the most obedient of Elder Joseph’s monks and because of this has received tremendous grace and spiritual gifts. This becomes apparent once you meet him and spend some time with him, rather than listening to what others have to say. Several of Elder Joseph’s monks became great abbots of Athonite monasteries, and greatly contributed to its spiritual renewal.
Elder Ephraim has been known for decades in Greece. His name is not new there. He is a very well respected and revered Athonite spiritual father. He was for many years the abbot of Philotheou Monastery on Mount Athos, as well as the spiritual father of several of the other monasteries there. He has established monasteries outside of Athos under his spiritual direction, both male and female, and renewed and renovated some very old and abandoned monasteries. He was informed while in prayer one night to establish Athonite monasteries in the U.S. and just like St. Kosmas of Aitolos (who is from the same monastery as Elder Ephraim, Philotheou) he humbly undertook the mission to leave the monastery for the good of the Church and to help us.
Elder Ephraim of Katunakia, also a spiritual son of Elder Joseph, said about his spiritual brother Ephraim “he is much, much greater than I!” before he reposed over a year ago. He was considered a very holy ascetic on Athos who is believed to have attained theosis, so let’s just say his opinion means something. Elder Porfirios of blessed memory prophesied over a decade ago, that Elder Ephraim would establish monasteries in the U.S., before it was even a thought. The list can go on for a while as to who believes in the holiness of Elder Ephraim and his mission here in the U.S. Of course, this will rub many people the wrong way, especially non-traditional clergy and laypeople. The monasteries are mirrors to our souls and perhaps we do not like what we see. Perhaps there is also spiritual envy from other monastics who were not able to do what the Elder has done.
Elder Ephraim has overcome great obstacles in establishing monasteries here in the U.S. The EP, Archbishop Iakovos, and most of the bishops at the time were adamantly opposed to him even visiting the U.S. to hear confessions, let alone to establish monasteries. In 1991 he left the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which he called “the proponents of ecumenism and the enemies of monasticism”, to retreat into the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.1 ROCA received him with love and open arms. Following this action, the Patriarchate, the Greek Government (for political reasons), the Holy Mountain (who did not want a schism on the Holy Mountain) and the Archdiocese all violently attacked Elder Ephraim saying that he would be deposed, he was a traitor, etc. They also threatened to revoke his green card so that he could no longer come to the U.S. to see his spiritual children. To prevent division in the Church, (since he had many followers who were willing to leave the EP for ROCA), he humbly returned to the Patriarchate who then allowed him to start the monasteries.2 As a side note, he still has an excellent relationship with ROCA and its hierarchy, whom he considers to be a canonical synod. There are several monks in the monasteries that were allowed by ROCA to transfer to Elder Ephraim’s monasteries, and many clergy and laypeople attend the services there. There are also some monks from other Orthodox jurisdictions who were given the blessing of their bishop and abbot to join one of Elder Ephraim’s brotherhoods.3
There are now 16 monasteries (counting ones that will officially be opened soon), in the US and Canada: California, 2 in Pennsylvania, 2 in Florida, 2 in North Carolina, 2 in the Chicago area, Texas, Arizona, Washington, Michigan,2 in Canada, and soon one in NY. All of the abbots are either American or Canadian, including one convert.4 The abesses are from his monasteries in Greece, but are trying very hard to learn English (which all now know) Most of the nuns and monks are Americans, and many are converts.5 The services all follow the Athonite Typicon, so they are in Greek.
In such few years, against the persecution of much of the hierarchy and people, a simple, poor monk, whose only education is that of the Desert, has done for us here in America what we have been thirsting for. I can understand why some of this is difficult for us here in America. We are not used to this. But we should remember that we are a young church here in America and we have a lot to learn from our experienced older brothers and sisters.
Anything you may hear coming from the Elder or his monasteries is traditional Orthodoxy. Nothing is new or made up.6 The Fathers of Church have taught it, contemporary holy Elders around the world have taught it – it is Orthodoxy. Whether the U.S. is ready for it is another story, but we certainly need it.
After Elder Ephraim’s repose (may it be 50 years from now),7 little by little we will all learn more details of his struggles, his blessed life, his miracles, etc. Until then, if you do not know him, meet him. Why would you base your judgement on what others have to say? My father, a typical stubborn Greek man, who vowed never to fast nor confess to a priest, melted like wax upon meeting the Elder and confessed to him his sins and now follows the fasts to the best of his ability and is in a totally different mindset. While visiting the Holy Mountain this past summer, when any monk heard that he was from the U.S. they would ask him, “How is Geronda Ephraim? You better take good care of him there! You don’t know what you have!” And this was not from monasteries under the Elder’s spiritual direction. Don’t expect a “Joint Statement of the 20 Ruling Monasteries of Mount Athos on Elder Ephraim of Philotheou”. This is not how Athos operates.8 The Elder’s work speaks for itself. So the does the fact that no other Athonite has been able to do what he has done.
Do any of you notice how the Elder never defends himself? He never says anything about those that are persecuting him.9 I have asked him about this and his humble reply is “Don’t worry, pray for them. It isn’t their fault, they do not know.” Go and meet the man. Spend some time at any of the monasteries. Talk to the abbot or abbess. The monasteries are for all of us. Just like you cannot explain to anyone the beauty of Orthodoxy and the worship unless you experience it, the same applies here. Come and see.
I don’t normally read this newsgroup, but after hearing of what was going on, I decided to say something. If anyone replies to this, I will not see it unless you email me personally.
If anyone is interested, there is are series of tapes by Constantine Zalalas called “Elder Joseph the Hesychast – The Grandfather of Greek-American Monasticism”.10 It describes the life and teachings of Elder Joseph based on what some of his monastic spiritual children have said and written. Included are some stories about Elder Ephraim. You can pick them up at some of the monasteries or I would be willing to copy them (I have permission) and send them to anyone (for free). Email me if you are sincerely interested.
Forgive me for any errors that I may have reported. This is all based on my personal recollection and knowledge. I am by no means an authority on this.
1) In his letter to the Ecumenical Patriarch, Geronda Ephraim writes that, “he prayed with hot tears streaming down his face, and the Theotokos directed him to leave the EP, and join ROCOR.”
2) Geronda Ephraim stated that the Theotokos informed him during his prayer to return to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
3) In 1997, Hieromonk Gregory came from St. Tikhon’s Monastery (OCA) with a man named Vladimir, who was later tonsured and given the name Symeon. Geronda Ephraim initially told the monks, that Hieromonk Gregory was a sanctified man. Geronda Ephraim gave him 3 simple obediences: “Don’t sleep during the Church services, come to the Church services on time and no more exorcisms.” Hieromonk Gregory did not obey and continued to perform exorcisms. He eventually left the monastery and his departure was used as a cautionary tale about the importance of obedience. Fr. Symeon later returned to the world.
4) Geronda Paisios (AZ) is from Vancouver, BC; Geronda Dositheos (TX) is from Toronto, ON; Geronda Joseph (MI) is from Montreal, QC; Geronda Nektarios (NC) is from Toronto, ON; Geronda Akkakios, (IL) is from New York; Geronda Joseph (NY) is from Thessaloniki, Greece; and the convert, Hieromonk Chrysostomos was abbot at the first property of Panagia Vlahernon in Fairfield, FL, at the time this was written (’98)
5) A large number of the monks and nuns are actually Canadian. When this was written (98), some monasteries were all Canadian (i.e. NC), or almost all Canadian (NY except for two monks), etc.
6) A lot of political theories which circulate in the monasteries which don’t have anything to do for Orthodoxy. In 1998/99, many monks had Valley Fever, and many more would succumb to it. This was attributed to government planes spraying the monasteries with chemicals. The monks were also not allowed to get vaccines due to the secret toxins put in them. Only non-fluoride toothpaste was bought for the monks. Coffeemate was like “chemical warfare,’ same goes with sugar, aspartame, and other sweeteners.
7) Interesting that he mentions the Elder Porphyrios prophecy about monasteries, but not the prophecy that Geronda Ephraim would die when he was 90. The latter was circling among lay disciples since the early 90s.
8) This was a big topic in the mid-late 90s. Who is Geronda Ephraim’s spiritual Father? Who does he answer to? And more specifically, did Mount Athos bless him, or is there a statement from the monasteries, etc. Essentially, the 4 monasteries that are under obedience to him (Philotheou, Karakallou, Xeropotamou, and Konstamonitou), plus the 2 monasteries under obedience to his spiritual brothers (Dionysiou and Vatopaidi), as well as the monasteries of his close spiritual companions, Abbots Aimilianos, Parthenios and George (Simonospetras, St. Paul’s and Gregoriou) would’ve vouched for him.
9) Lay people don’t get to hear the things monks do. Geronda Ephraim is much different with his monks. But this also has a hierarchy so to speak. Novices are kept out of the loop for the most part, unless an older monk idle talks about things he doesn’t have a blessing to talk about. Tonsured rassaphore monks are more privy to information that novices and lay people will never hear. But there is also an inner circle of the hieromonks, abbots, abbesses, and trusted monks who have been with Geronda for years, who hear things that others will never hear, and they also talk amongst themselves at feast days and exchange information, stories, etc.