Today is Fr. Germanos T. Pontikas’ name day (i.e. commemoration of St. Herman of Alaska). Born in 1950, he turned 64 last month. Originally from Pennsylvania, he left for Mount Athos in the late 80’s. He started out at Filotheou Monastery on Mount Athos. He was on the same flight as Demetrios Maroulis from Toronto (now Geronda Dositheos, the abbot of Holy Archangels Monastery in Texas), but because they had an obedience not to tell anyone they were off to become monks, neither of them knew the others’ intentions, despite the continual crossing of paths and chatting, until they reached Filotheou. They became best of friends on the Holy Mountain.
While on Mount Athos, a relative would send pornographic magazines in the mail in an attempt to entice him out of the monastery and return home. Geronda Ephraim screened all the mail, or had a monk screen it for him. Incidents such as this is why the abbots/abbesses screen all the mail that comes in (i.e. open all the monks’ incoming mail to examine contents and read the letters) –it potentially “protects” the monastic from “harmful things” that could trip him up spiritually or entice them to leave the monastery. There are many monks and nuns who’ve had a relative send a manipulative, guilt-tripping letter. If the abbess or abbot had not intercepted it and read it but just handed it to the monastic, it could’ve caused “great harm.” Thus, most of those types of letters are thrown in the garbage before the monk or nun can read them. In the monasteries, only the trusted monastic, if not the heads themselves, collect the mail and it is brought directly to the abbess or abbot. In some monasteries, because a nun or monk went through the garbage and examined the contents from the mail, the abbess or abbot will have their cell attendant dispose of their garbage in a special way so it cannot be examined afterwards.
If anyone is familiar with how the prison system works, it’s the same concept: an inmate’s letter will be read, and parts that are “potentially harmful” to the inmate’s mental and emotional well-being are blacked out—same concept in the monasteries (the monastic life is also called “voluntary imprisonment” as opposed to the “involuntary imprisonment” of the correctional system).
In the monasteries, if a “problematic” monk or nun sends mail out, it is usually opened and examined first before it is sent: this is in case anything is being sent that doesn’t have a blessing or if the monastic has written anything that isn’t blessed to write about. The above reasons concerning mail examination are also the reason that all novices—and sometimes tonsured monastics depending on the individual—have their phone calls monitored directly, or with an older monastic standing beside them.
Anyways, back to Fr. Germanos. In 1994, Geronda Ephraim brought Fr. Germanos to Picton, ON (along with Geronda Joseph) to establish the St. John the Theologian Monastery. They have been an inseparable unit ever since, with Geronda as the abbot, and Fr. Germanos as the second in command, though it’s arguable that Fr. Epifanios Kapritsas is second as “he carries half the monastery on his shoulders,” and is Geronda Joseph’s “right-hand.”
While in Picton, Bishop Sotirios was giving the monastery lots of problems. It is said that when they first arrived, a Greek priest from Quebec visited the monastery. He warned them about the bishop because he was “dangerous.” This priest then showed them a binder with photos and articles of a convert, “Monk Martinez,” who “committed suicide.” The priest told them that the RCMP suspected it might not have been suicide and were looking at the Bishop, but didn’t have enough evidence to prove anything.
It is also said that the Bishop gave them a fax machine as a gift but they realized later that it was programmed so that all the faxes going out were also sent to him (people use to do private confessions and get responses for personal matters via fax).
As time went on, and relations became more strained—the Bishop forbade Geronda Joseph to teach people about toll-houses and ordered him to stop giving out the booklets, he knew there were secret baptisms taking place at Picton but couldn’t prove it, things Geronda said about the Bishop were getting back to him, etc.—Geronda Joseph was informed by someone close to the Bishop to be careful because “you don’t know what he is capable of.” This lady also warned him he shouldn’t leave the monastery by himself. In 1984, as a lay person, Geronda Joseph was ambushed in his car while driving his spiritual Father, Geronda Ephraim Xeropotamou to Athens. Geronda Ephraim Xeropotamou was murdered in this incident. Geronda Joseph was said to become more hyper-vigilant and take more precautions when going out afterwards.
Eventually, the Bishop was pressuring them to sign over the property to him or the Metropolis. Both Geronda and Fr. Germanos were debating it until one night, it is said that Fr. Germanos saw Elder Joseph the Hesychast in vision, and the Elder told him not to sign. So they didn’t.
In the Spring of 1997, they left Canada for good and went down to stay at St. Anthony’s Monastery until they could find new property in New York. They first drove to Brooklyn where they put all their stuff in storage, and then proceeded to Arizona. The Bishop was infuriated because he had no idea (though some people say he exiled them and knew) and started making accusations that they stole money, etc. Geronda Joseph made a rebuttal in the Toronto Greek newspapers. Since then, it is said that Bishop Sotirios has banned him from going to Canada, and it is said he also banned the nuns from the monasteries in Canada from visiting the New York monastery.
In 1998, when Geronda Ephraim was giving multiple homilies to the monks in the Gerondia, and Fr. Germanos was up in New York looking to buy property to establish the St. Nektarios Monastery, Geronda would tell the monks a funny joke:
“I wanted to make a monastery in Alaska in honor of St. Herman. I was thinking to send Germanos up there, but then there’d be all these Germanakis [here Geronda Ephraim stretched his arms out indicating fat] following behind him.” Then all the monks laughed, but it wasn’t out of malice.
Also, another funny incident Geronda Ephraim related was the time he sent Fr. Germanos to Holy Archangel Monastery for a little respite. One evening, Geronda Ephraim was driving with Geronda Joseph and decided to call Holy Archangels Monastery. The novice who answered stated Geronda Dositheos was sleeping in his room.* Geronda Ephraim relates that he knew there was no way Geronda Dositheos was asleep with Fr. Germanos in the Monastery. He figured they were out somewhere and called their cellular. He was right, they were out having an ice cream.
In 1999, St. Nektarios Monastery was established, and he has been a pillar and foundation for the functioning of this monastery ever since, despite the severe health problems he has.
*NOTE: This is a common rookie mistake that most novices make. Usually when an abbot or abbess doesn’t feel like speaking to anyone, or they don’t want anyone to know where they are, they instruct the person answering the phones, and in some case, the whole monastery to tell people they’re out, or can’t be disturbed, or “I don’t know where he or she is,” etc. However, the #1 rule when Geronda Ephraim calls one of his monasteries is for the monastic to find the abbot or abbess immediately and give them the phone, or tell Geronda Ephraim they are out so he could call them on their cell, or the monastic calls the head to inform them big Geronda called for them. Geronda Ephraim as first priority over everything. In one of the monasteries, the monk who answered the phone forgot to tell his Geronda that Geronda Ephraim had called and was given 500 prostrations as a kanona, “to help him remember the next time.”
In some cases, “discernment and discretion” is needed when telling an abbess or abbot that Geronda Ephraim was on the phone.
In late 2000, shortly before Geronda Ephraim Dikaios abandoned his position as abbot at Philotheou Monastery, he visited his spiritual father, Geronda Ephraim, in Arizona. Afterwards, he visited St. Nektarios Monastery in New York before returning to Mount Athos. When in New York, the atmosphere amongst the Fathers was very tense since the week leading up to this visit was one of continual yelling, rebukes and chastisements meted out by both Geronda Joseph and Fr. Germanos. Prior to the visit, Geronda Joseph gave the fathers a very stern homily, combined with threats of harsh punishments if any of the monks did or said anything unmonastic in front of Geronda Ephraim Dikaios or the layman he brought along as his personal cook. Geronda Joseph wanted no scandals.
About a week before these two visited St. Nektarios Monastery, Geronda Ephraim called New York seeking to speak to Geronda Joseph. That morning, Geronda Joseph had instructed the fathers, “No one is to knock on my door for any reason whatsoever. If anyone calls for me, tell them I’m out of the monastery doing works for the monastery.” The monk who answered the phone followed this obedience and told Geronda Ephraim that Geronda Joseph was out of the monastery.
At the end of the day, when Geronda Joseph asked the monk for the log book and to explain his phone calls/messages, he exploded when he learnt big Geronda had called, he was not informed immediately, and he missed it. The monk was kicked out of Geronda Joseph’s cell while the elder tried to call Geronda Ephraim, who did not answer the phone. The monk who answered the phones was then told how stupid and mindless he was and and rebuked for not having the discernment to understand that he should’ve disturbed Geronda Joseph immediately for Geronda Ephraim’s call. After this verbal chastisement, all the fathers were called for a homily. The monk was rebuked and ridiculed in front of the fathers for his mindlessness and it was clarified to all that Geronda Joseph was to be informed immediately, no matter what the circumstance, when Geronda Ephraim calls.
A week later, during Geronda Ephraim Dikaios’ visit, big Geronda called the monastery asking to speak Geronda Joseph. At that time, Geronda Joseph was speaking privately to Geronda Ephraim Dikaios in the bookstore. The monk went to Geronda Joseph and informed him that big Geronda was on the phone and Geronda Joseph told Fr. Germanos to take the call.
Immediately afterwards, the monk who answered the phone was severely rebuked and given a huge kanona because he told Geronda Joseph that big Geronda was on the phone in front of a monastic from another monastery. The monk answering the phone was unaware that this visiting Athonite was problematic and not doing proper obedience to big Geronda. He was also unaware that this phone call was a checking up call. This monk was rebuked because Geronda Ephraim Dikaios would now know that big Geronda was checking up on him and that the monks in New York were discussing his personal problems.
The fathers were then instructed that when big Geronda Ephraim called, they were never to reveal it in front of any of Geronda Ephraim’s other monastics because sometimes big Geronda was checking up on these individuals. It could also create jealousy for the other monastic, especially an abbot or abbess, as well as thoughts such as , “Why does Geronda Ephraim call this monastery and not mine,” or “Does he call this monastery more than mine?,” etc.