Another study guide that is required reading for the abbots and abbesses of Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries is St. John of Sinai’s “Homily to the Shepherd” which is found in the Ladder of Divine Ascent. Though the Ladder is required reading for monks and nuns, for some reason, there are novices and rassaphores in Geronda’s monasteries who have been forbidden to read this section. One was told, “it might cause warfare of thoughts against the Elder,” another was told, “It’s not necessary; this section is for Elders not disciples,” etc. This homily is missing from the English translation of Fr. Lazarus Moore, but can be found in the English translation of Holy Transfiguration Monastery (MA). Here are some excerpts:
#5 A genuine teacher is he who has received from God the tablet of knowledge, inscribed by His Divine finger, that is, by the in-working of illumination, and who has no need of other books. It is as unseemly for teachers to give instruction from notes taken from other men’s writings, as it is for painters to take inspiration from other men’s compositions.
#7 Let the shepherd cast the stones of reprimand at those sheep which fall behind because of slothfulness or gluttony; for this also is the sign of a good shepherd.
#20 The teacher who makes quick-witted pupils wise is not worthy of admiration, but rather he who enlightens and perfects the ignorant and obtuse. The skill of riders is manifested and praised when they achieve victory even on untrained horses, and do them no harm.
(Many “untrained horses” have left the monasteries broken and harmed. The blame is always shifted to the disciple: “They didn’t do obedience, they hid their thoughts, they became deluded.” For the broken and harmed that have stayed, and are still there, some have developed severe emotional and psychological problems, and this they blame on themselves because they did their own will and not absolute, blind obedience. These monks get more dispensation due to their issues: essentially their obedience is reduced to, “Just stay in the monastery, do your daily prayer rule, go to the services and nothing else.”)
#22 I have seen physicians who did not inform their patients of the causes of their illness, and by so doing gave both themselves and their patients much toil and anguish.
#23 According to the great faith which the superior sees in his disciples and in outsiders towards himself, he must take great heed to himself in everything he does and says, understanding that all look upon him as an archetypal image, and they consider whatever he says and does as a standard and a law.
#26 Grieve the sick man for a time, lest from accursed silence his sickness be prolonged or he die; for because of the pilot’s silence, many of presumed that they were sailing fairly, until they struck a reef.
#30 If a man does not feel shame when he is rebuked privately, then he will make a rebuke before many an occasion for greater shamelessness, voluntarily disdaining his own salvation.
(This can either be in the Lity, where the monastic lies prostrate by the Church entrance and begs forgiveness of everyone who is leaving. It could also be a rebuke, sometimes with revealing private and embarrassing things from their confession, in front of all the monks or nuns).
#32 The guide ought not to tell all those who come to him that the way is straight and narrow, nor should he say to each that the yoke is easy and the burden is light. Rather, he should examine the case of each man and prescribe medicines which are suitable. To those who are weighed down by grievous sins and are prone to despair, he should administer the second as an appropriate remedy, but to those who are inclined to haughtiness and conceit, the first.
#35 A good general must know precisely the ability and rank of every man under his command, for perhaps there are with him in his troops front-line fighters, and men suited for single combat on behalf of their comrades, who ought to dwell in stillness.
#39 Often the Lord has shut the eyes of those in obedience to certain failings of the superior, but when the superior himself revealed these to them, he engendered distrust.
#47 It is not right for a lion to pasture sheep, and it is not safe for a man still subject to the passions to rule over passionate men.
#48 A fox found in the company of hens is an unseemly sight, but nothing is more unseemly than an enraged shepherd. The former agitates and destroys but hens, while the latter agitates and destroys rational souls.
#49 See that you are not an exacting investigator of trifling sins, thus showing yourself not to be an imitator of God.
#51 You and all shepherds should inquire into this also: whether, for the most part, grace has deigned to work through us, not on account of our purity, but because of the faith of those who come to us, for even many passionate men have worked miracles in this manner.
#58 A genuine son is made known in the absence of his father. The same seems true to me in respect to those in obedience. Let the superior observe and mark carefully those who contradict and withstand him, and in the presence of highly respected guests, let him rebuke them with most severe reproofs, thus instilling fear in the other brethren by this example, even though they may be exceedingly grieved by such dishonours; for to make many prudent is worth the expense of one man’s injury.
#61 Instruct those under you not to confess in detail sins relating to the body and to lust; but as for all other sins, teach them to bring them to mind in detail, both by day and night.
#67 It is a disgrace for the shepherd to fear death, because the definition of obedience is fearlessness of death.
#70 Before a man gains understanding through experience, let us not lay our hands quickly upon him (as is also the custom in the world), lest when we put some of our sheep to make vows while they are still in ignorance, they afterwards come to know our way of life, and are unable to endure its weight and burning heat, and desert us and return to the world. This will not be without danger for those who tonsure prematurely.
(“Back then it was about quantity, now it is more about quality,” an abbot about the beginnings of the monasteries. In the first years, most novices were tonsured within a year. Though only rassaphores, they were given the impression that they had the same obligation as Schema-monks: “it is for life now, you had your hair cut, if you leave you’ll lose your salvation.” Many monastics are not given the proper explanation of what exactly a rassaphore is (according to the Fathers and Canons, essentially still a novice), nor are they told that the tonsure is like an engagement, whereas the Schema is like the wedding. Thus, many rassaphores feel they have to stay in the monastery until their last breath as they’ve made a vow and will go to hell if they leave or press for a blessing to leave. By the mid-2000s, after all the problems Geronda Ephraim has seen with in his monasteries, and with the large number of tonsured rassaphores that have left, it is said that he decided to leave people as novices for longer periods before tonsuring them; especially converts).
#82 When you have descried men stout of soul, dishonour them without cause in the presence of the weak, so that by the medicine administered to one you may cure another’s inflammable and teach the lax to be resolute.
#83 At no time do we find God revealing the sins which have been confessed to Him, lest by making these public knowledge, He should impede those who would confess and so make them incurably sick.
(In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, the monastic’s confessions are only confidential at the discretion of the Abbot/Abbess. Sometimes things are revealed in front of the fraternity, other times they’re mentioned in conversation with monastics of the monastery. It varies from monastery to monastery).
#94b It is better to drive a man out of the monastery than to let him do his own will. For often the superior will thus make the man whom he has driven out more humble, and afterwards cause him to cut his will himself. However, he that shows apparent loving-kindness and condescension to such men will cause them to curse him in a piteous manner at the time of their departure, as one that led them astray rather than profiting them.
(In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, this can happen in a few different ways. The individual can be kicked out; this is usually the case for novices. For tonsured rassaphores it’s a little different because the Elder has more “responsibility” for their soul and is accountable before God. Other methods to make a monastic tow the line: instruct the fraternity to ignore them, as if they don’t exist: no talking, eye contact, no food placed for them at meal time, etc. This breaks them quickly. The opposite can occur as well: continual rebukes for things the monastic did or didn’t do; being given painstaking diakonimas, continual humbling and shaming in front of the fraternity, the revealing of embarrassing sins in front of the fraternity, etc.)
#94d …Besides this, he appointed two of the brethren to be overseers to watch for and put a stop to idle gatherings and loitering during the day, and to report untimely waking during the night, and things unlawful to record.
(All of Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries have one or two monastics who report everything they see and hear in the monastery to the Abbot or Abbess. Sometimes a monastic will be assigned to spy on another and given an obedience to report certain behaviors immediately. Other times, with problematic monastics, one or two monastics may be assigned to stay awake all night and watch the individual’s cell. As well, there is also the monitoring of phones, there is always another monastic listening with incoming or outgoing phone calls, and reports are made back to the head of the monastery).
#95 I beg you, do not instruct the simpler sort in the complexities of deceitful thoughts, but rather, if possible, make complex men simple—a marvellous thing indeed!
#98 Have no pity in overwearing and taming men young and strong of body, that in the time of their departure they may praise you. (This is where long hours of hard labor apply).