St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite’s Exomolgetarion: A Manual of Confession, which is a compilation drawn from various works and Exomologetaria from the libraries throughout the Holy Mountain, combined with the Saint’s own inspired spiritual counsels, was published in 1794. The book is composed of three distinct sections: the first being the qualifications of a true confessor, the second being the 38 canons and 17 penances of St. John the Faster together with commentaries and interpretations, and the third being St. Nikodemos’ own fatherly counsels and a homily concerning the Mystery of Confession.
This book is the mandatory study guide for all of Geronda Ephraim’s hieromonks. This is the guideline they use, except in the cases where Geronda Ephraim has implemented his own fronima. Every confessional at the monasteries has a copy of this book, along with the New Testament. At times, during confession, one may witness a hieromonk peruse this book when deciding a penance to give to the penitent.
St. John the Faster’s canons cover a lot of the carnal sins, and St. Nikodemos’ footnotes compare a lot of the other canons in existence for the same sins. Below are some excerpts of the book, including the Canons of the Faster:
That the Spiritual Father Is Not to Reveal Sins (St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite)1
Nothing else remains after confession, Spiritual Father, except to keep the sins you hear a secret, and to never reveal them, either by word, or by letter, or by a bodily gesture, or by any other sign, even if you are in danger of death, for that which the wise Sirach says applies to you: “Have you heard a word? Let it die with you” (Sir. 19:10); and again: “With friend or foe do not report it” (Sir. 19:8); meaning, if you heard a secret word, let the word also die along with you, and do not tell it to either a friend of yours or an enemy of yours, for as long as you live. And further still, that which the Prophet Micah says: “Trust not in friends…beware of thy wife, so as not to commit anything to her” (Mic. 7:5).
For if you reveal them, firstly, you will be suspended or daresay deposed completely by the Ecclesiastical Canons, and according to political laws you will be thrown in jail for the rest of your life and have your tongue cut out.2 Secondly, you become a reason for more Christians not to confess, being afraid that you will reveal their sins, just as it happened during the time of Nektarios of Constantinople when the Christians did not want to confess on account of a Spiritual Father who revealed the sin of a woman.3 The divine Chrysostom both witnessed these things and suffered because of them on account of his trying to convince the people to confess. It is impossible for me to describe in words how much punishment this brings upon you, who are the cause of these things.
[NOTE: An Elder can use his discretion to reveal the sins of other monks to the brotherhood in order to humble the disobedient monk, or, in the case of the sinful monk’s absence, to warn and caution the brotherhood. As well, the Elder can use his discretion to reveal certain things from laypeople’s confessions as cautionary tales or for the spiritual edification of the fathers or other laypeople, usually without naming the individual].
1. St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, Exomologetarion, pp. 189-90.
2. Patriarch Luke of Constantinople disciplined the abbot of the Monastery of Xerotrophos with a penance of suspension because he revealed the sin of one of his spiritual children, as Balsamon reports (Explanation of Canon 141 of Carthage, PG 138, 424D)…Let Spiritual Fathers be reminded of this by God Himself, Who never publicly revealed the confession of any person, as John of the Ladder says: “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” (To the Shepherd, The Ladder, p. 243).
3. See Socrates, Historia Ecclesiastica 5, 19 PG 67, 613A-620A. And Sozomen says that the Spiritual Father was chosen on account of his being secretive and discrete (Historia Ecclesiastica 7, 16 PG 67, 1460A).
The following account is a perfect example of when the Abbot or Elder can reveal the sins of other monks to the brotherhood. In 2000, Fr. R was sent from Holy Trinity Monastery in Michigan to St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe. While this monk was in Michigan, he stole the Abbot’s cell phone and made numerous calls to a number known as Manline. He refused to wear any monastic garments in his cell. He took all the files from the office filing cabinet and discarded them in the forest (a layperson from Toronto found them on a walk and alerted the Abbot). He would go into the other monks’ cells without permission, sometimes taking things. And he tried to scandalize the lay people. It had gotten so out of hand that the Abbot would call this monk’s father to come visit, and essentially babysit, whenever the Abbot had to leave the monastery for more than a day.
This monk had been very problematic in Arizona and Michigan and St. Nektarios was sort of a last hope for him.
Although Elder Ephraim usually sends such problematic monks home (or, as in the case with Fr. S. in Arizona, prays to the Panagia to drive them out so he doesn’t bear the burden and responsibility of their leaving), the Elder made a large dispensation for Fr. R because his father is a priest for one of the female monasteries. So, the night before Fr. R came to St. Nektarios, the Abbot called the brotherhood for a homily about this monk’s situation. He informed the fathers that Fr. R had the demon of homosexuality and kleptomania amongst other things and that such demons have destroyed brotherhoods in the past. The monks were instructed to be careful around him, certain monks were instructed to watch and follow him, and all the monks were ordered to inform the Abbot immediately if they witnessed Fr. R do anything that was inappropriate (i.e. talking to laypeople, especially young males; being in areas of the monastery he shouldn’t, disappearing to his cell; using the phone, etc.).
Furthermore, in cases where monks have specific passions or repeatedly commit certain sins or disobediences (masturbation, secret eating, idle talking and joking with laypeople when not allowed, pulling worldy magazines out of the garbage to look at pictures of female or male models, etc.) they may be asked to go on their knees and admit their transgression to the brotherhood. In cases where an individual monk cannot handle this shame, the Abbot may use his discretion to call the brotherhood secretly, minus this one monk, and tell them in his absence what is going on, what to watch for and to report any inappropriate behavior they may witness. In extreme cases, when a monk is challenging the abbot through his ego and disobedience, the Abbot may advise the brotherhood to cold shoulder this monk and act as if he doesn’t exist (i.e. none of the monks will talk to him, no food will be placed at his setting, etc.) until he breaks, humbles himself, and repents. as well, most monks and nuns know that when one is in the Lity, prostrate, saying, “Forgive me, brothers and Fathers, I am filthy in both body and soul,” then the monastic is being punished for a carnal sin. The most common carnal sin for a monastic is masturbation, though sometimes interactions between two monastics, or a monastic and a lay person occurs (the latter is very rare).