Love bombing is an attempt to influence a person by lavish demonstrations of attention and affection. The phrase can be used in different ways. In the monasteries, love bombing takes on its own unique meaning as will be shown below.
Psychology professor Margaret Singer popularized the concept, becoming closely identified with the love-bombing-as-brainwashing point of view. In her 1996 book, Cults in Our Midst, she described the technique:
As soon as any interest is shown by the recruits, they may be love bombed by the recruiter or other cult members. This process of feigning friendship and interest in the recruit was originally associated with one of the early youth cults, but soon it was taken up by a number of groups as part of their program for luring people in. Love bombing is a coordinated effort, usually under the direction of leadership, that involves long-term members’ flooding recruits and newer members with flattery, verbal seduction, affectionate but usually nonsexual touching, and lots of attention to their every remark. Love bombing – or the offer of instant companionship – is a deceptive ploy accounting for many successful recruitment drives.
Dr. Geri-Ann Galanti (in a sympathetic article) writes: “A basic human need is for self-esteem…. Basically [love bombing] consists of giving someone a lot of positive attention.”38]
Love Bombing in the Monasteries
Although each monastery has different methodologies of application, there is a common form of love bombing that exists within the monasteries if one is potentially interested in monasticism.
There is a whole systematic methodology, applied differently in each case depending on a person’s disposition, when one shows interest or confesses to a hieromonk or Gerondissa an interest in monasticism.
Behind-the-Scenes Scenario in a Monastery:
An abbot or abbess calls all the monastics for a talk. “So and so is showing signs of interest in monasticism. Show them love. And above all, do not scandalize them. Give them a good witness of monasticism.” The superior may also give the monastics—even ones who usually are not allowed to talk with visitors—a blessing to talk with these potential recruits. Again, an obedience is given on the content of the conversations: “How beautiful the monastic life is; it’s difficult but there is so much grace, how holy Geronda Ephraim is, etc.” The irony is, sometimes the individual monastic speaking is suffering depression, or is struggling with remaining in the monastery, or may be having a brief warfare with regretting the monastic life, etc. Either way, rain or shine, happy or sad, the monastic will be admonishing the young aspirant about “how amazing the monastic life is; it’s like nothing else in the world.”
So, essentially, the monastics are instructed to give more attention to this individual, be extra nice, show love–to give a particularly extra special treatment not normally given to the average pilgrim, making them feel more special and important–even down to hugging the potential recruit when they leave the monastery after a visit (monks and nuns normally do not have this kind of affectionate contact with lay people). As well, this creates a bond, albeit superficial, between the monastery and the individual. The monastics have a “holy anxiety” not to scandalize this individual, and thus upset their Elder, causing them to be hyper vigilant in all aspects of their external behavior.
This person will then be set up to work with the monks or nuns at various diakonima. If a problematic monk or nun does something to scandalize this person (idle talking, yelling at another monastic, speaking in a judgemental manner of others, acting worldly, being argumentative with other monastics, etc.) this is reported to the superior. Then, all the monastics will be called together again. The monastic in question will be centered out, humbled and shamed in front of the other monastics for his or her behavior. A kanona will be given which is tailored to the individual monastic. An obedience may be given to the monastics that if they see similar behavior it is to be reported immediately. Further disobedience could result a time period in the Lity, extra prostrations, elimination of privileges, no sweets for a period of time, a rusk and apple for each meal until the superior decides the monastic can have a real meal, etc.
The Monk Who Was Given a Lifelong Ban from Eating Oranges
In one monastery, a monk reversed a truck into an orange tree, destroyed it, and the Geronda told him he had no blessing to eat another orange for the rest of his life (this monk loved oranges). For someone who hasn’t been a monastic, and has access to all the pleasures that the world offers, this may seem like something insignificant. However, in a life of “voluntary imprisonment” which is full of deprivations of even the simplest things in life, this kind of penance is very severe.
However, the mindset of the monastic should be on the one hand, begging God to forgive them, while shedding copious tears, for grieving his/her Elder (because grieving the Elder severs a subordinate’s connection with God), as well as, thanking God for enlightening his/her elder for punishing them. At no time should a monastic have feelings of protest, whether internal or external, as the “mouth of the elder is the mouth of Christ,” and what the elder says is God’s will for the monastic.
Experiences Tailor-made for the Individual
Essentially, behind the scenes, a whole experience is being tailor-made for the individual with an interest in monasticism. When this individual finally joins the monastery, as a sub-novice—and, in some cases, even as a novice—the individual is still not privy to the inner scandals and problems of the monastery, they are “shielded” and “protected” from them so as not to be “scandalized” and have their resolve weaken. This is much easier to do in the larger monasteries as higher numbers equals better ways to insulate and hide incidents. In smaller numbers, in smaller settings, it’s harder to hide things, though not impossible.
As a novice, the individual may slowly be exposed to the “dirty laundry” of the monastery, or in some cases, if their resolve isn’t steadfast, they may be excluded from the gatherings when all the rassaphores get called for disciplinary action. It really depends on the individual and the “incidents’ that are being disciplined or scrutinized.
Of course, when a novice has to be disciplined, this many times happens in front of the entire brother/sisterhood. Also, if a novice is sent to the Lity, then the entire monastery and all the pilgrims witness his/her shame.
“Pep Talks” Before Dignitaries or Benefactors Visit the Monastery
As an aside, experiences are also tailor-made for dignitaries, benefactors of the monastery, and special guests. Many times, before a dignitary visits the monastery, the monastcis will be called for a “pep talk.” Geronda Ephraim did this at Filotheou all the years he was an abbot there, and this strategy has been adopted here in the monasteries. So, the superior will say something along the lines of, “Today this priest, or this bishop, is coming to the monastery. I want everyone on their best behavior. No idle talking, yelling, horsing around, etc. just say the prayer. Take their blessing and give a good example (or witness) of monasticism, etc.” If certain individual monastics have shortcomings that scandalize people, they will be centered out with an “especially you, don’t do…” Now, if the individual coming is against the monasteries or has spoken against Geronda Ephraim, etc., that will be emphasized as well as an extra warning, “We don’t know what their purpose is coming here, so be extra careful, etc.” Of course, when it comes to dignitaries, the monastics are threatened with the severest punishments and warnings.
1. Richardson, James T. (2004). Regulating Religion: Case Studies from Around the Globe. Springer. ISBN 0-306-47887-0. p. 479
2. Singer, Margaret (1996; 2003) Cults in Our Midst. Revised edition, 2003. Wiley. ISBN 0-7879-6741-6 .
3. Langone, Michael, Recovery from Cults, Chapter 3 – Reflections on “Brainwashing”, Geri-Ann Galanti.
4. When giving a kanona to a monk or nun, the superior takes into consideration their individual weaknesses. For instance, if a monastic does not want to partake of deserts every day and fast more, banning them from sweets is not a punishment. If a monastic loves ascesis and prostrations, giving them 500 extra is not always a punishment. Thus, a monastic with a sweet tooth will be deprived of sweets. A monastic with a big appetite will be given bread and water, or a rusk and a fruit—even on a dairy day. A monastic who is uncomfortable with public humiliation will be put in the Lity. Furthermore, the monastic may be given a diakonima he/she does not like as punishment (sewing, making beds, cleaning toilets, cleaning the feces from animal pens, etc.) All punishments are corrective and meant to humble and teach the individual.