NOTE: The following testimony contains many similarities and patterns as those experienced by novices and rassaphores under Geronta Panteleimon of Boston. Although Serbia and Massachusetts are separated by over 4,300 miles, the predation of abbots on their monastics, as well as older fathers with younger monastics, share the same trademarks. It should also be noted that stories like these [i.e. scandals, homosexual predator abbots, etc.] are utilized in some of Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries as examples of why the monastics should be grateful they have Geronda Ephraim as a spiritual Father and God called them to his monasteries as they could’ve ended up in a “problematic monastery.” These stories are usually utilized when many of the monastics are having logismoi about the monastery, administration, actions of the elder, or the heavy workload, etc. Though the stories are meant for inspiration and to help increase zeal and gratefulness, these tactics tend to be manipulative in nature.
“When it comes to homosexuality, we, who are gay, know from medical research and also from the Bible, that our orientation is not our own choice, but it is something that God has given us from the day we were born (see Matthew 19/11, 12). There are eunuchs from birth (likewise, there are those who have themselves been eunuched or eunuched by others). Unfortunately, the Church (let’s call her that way) has been trying for centuries to put into her doctrine a new homophobic god who doesn’t resemble the evangelical Jesus at all, the Son of God who loved us while we were sinners (unbelievers).
I was unfortunately one of many who were taught by the local “church” that the Lord is homophobic, and that, therefore it takes a long, hard work, pain, fasting, faith, prayers and tears to make the Lord have mercy and correct his own mistake by making us straight. The proof that God is infallible in his creation is that there are thousands and thousands of LGBT people in the world. We are not evidence of imperfection of God’s creation, but a blessing, and I realized that after I passed very difficult, painful and, I can say bloody path of self-discipline, or perhaps it is better to say, the pious self-destruction.
This is actually a small part of what I have went through in my painful Christian way, but if I wrote in more details it would be a huge book. If anyone thinks that sexuality is changeable and does not believe my testimony, let them try themself to change it and God will certainly show them it is not, I am sure. And even in the Bible itself it is not written anywhere that God has ever changed anyone’s sexual orientation, which He created, by the way.
My parents have baptized me in the Orthodox church of St. George in 1993 when I was six. However, I became a Christian ten years later, when I was 16, when for the first time I heard the gospel of Christ, whom I had believed as personal savior. The same year I began my Bible correspondence course and a daily Bible studying. I understood that salvation results from faith, but I became confused because of the Orthodox environment in which the Gospel of Christ is not preached, so I put myself in a religious, ceremonial system of my own environment. It was very upsetting to know that because I was gay I didn’t have any equal right to be a member of the church if I didn’t change my orientation, but the same church had promised me the help from God in which I really never doubted because I knew He was almighty.
When I was seventeen years old I began to fast regularly, to confess and partake in my local church. In my town, in the temple of Holy Mother of Jesus I came across a group of people who have turned me away from studying the Bible and told me to read Bishop’s Nikolai books and start studying the lessons of Holy fathers. Momentarily I dismissed my individual Bible studies as heretical, and started learning of the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church. What I found in this doctrine was crystal clear, it was the teaching that salvation is possible either through straight marriage or through monasticism.
Oh, how I was suffering and wept in despair, wondering is it really possible that there was no salvation to me, even though the Bible teaches the opposite (John 3/16, 5/24, 20/31, Rome. 10/9, the first John 5 / 13, Efes. 2/8, 9). I decided to fight. To give my best, to the end. In next few years I have been working diligently studying the lessons of Bishop Nikolai, the various Orthodox books of practical, spiritual, moral, and so on.
Already at the age of eighteen, under the influence of books of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnitsa I got a sincere desire to spend the rest of my life serving Christ as an Orthodox monk and a firm resolve to endure in this way, believing that I will eventually change myself with God’s help.
Then I started going regularly to explore the surrounding monasteries, both in Serbia and abroad. I kept praying, asking from God to clear my misdirected sexuality as they taught me it was, but also to clear myself from all of my sinful thoughts, words and deeds. I visited some of monasteries in Greece as well as the famous Meteora. I was collecting various relics, praying and making hundreds bows to the ground every day, praying sincerely and with tears doing very hard daily prayers which my spiritual father gave me to pray. Oh, I tried so hard. I was going to spiritual conversations with various elders, very known monks from all parts of Serbia.
At the same time I was always obedient to my spiritual father, listening to all of his advices. I learnt and tried to do my best to change myself. I met many monks, nuns and absorbed all their spiritual teachings. So, I came in contact with my future abbot from the Monastery of Holy Healers. He guided me spiritually, slowly preparing me for life in monastery and I had to study some of monastic books like The Ladder, various editions of Svetigora (Holy Month); Otacnik, Philokalia according to this I was living sincerely with all my heart and faith as a monk even before I went to monastery.
In all of my confessions I was saying every single sin of mine in great details, because the monks told me so and I was even making the list of my sins every day. But nothing helped, although my spiritual father was praying for me a lot, regularly mentioning me in prayers on the (Liturgy) prothesis, spraying me with holy water, covering me with holy oils, even reading exorcisms above myself. Nothing was better off. I was still me.
With my twenty-one years, I began to sing regularly at the Divine Liturgy in the church of St. Athanasius in my place. Every day I went twice to church for morning service and evening. I didn’t miss any vigil, nor petohlebnica (bread sanctifying), akathists, all of that in order to make me better spiritually armed. I prayed to hundreds of various saints, angels, archangels, Mary, but I just kept staying with all my sinful nature which I deliberately suppressed improvising God’s action. Thousands of times, I was in despair, I threw myself to the ground in prayer, hating myself because I could not be what I was taught that the Orthodox Church want me to be. It was a horrible experience. Hell alive.
That same year I went on pilgrimage trip to Romania. Worshiping the relics of St. Parascheva in Iasi, bowing in monastery Sihastria in elder Cleopas grave, in great hope visited monasteries Chetatsuia, Neamt and Golia with bitter tears, and love spending hours in prayer to the Holy Spirit to change my nature. And immediately after returning, I went to Mount Athos in Chilandar.
Then I moved to another town. Immediately, I received the blessing of my abbot, to start serving in the civilian military service in Gerontology Center. I was spending my days, visiting the old and sick, spending time with them, reading them the Bible and the Prologue of Ohrid (Saint’s biography) and teaching them to keep everything what is prescribed by the Orthodox Church. Along with my civilian military service I was daily going to morning and evening services at Holy Trinity Church, where I also sang in the kliros on services.
Then, I became a member of the choir of the church of St. Nicholas and was often hired to work on cleaning the candle burner in the temple of the Holy Emperor Constantine and Helen, and also I started working as an assistant of priest and chanter of one of the priests from the same temple. And people, they admired me, watching me as the new St. Sava and admired my life, which made me even more sad so I just often cried. I visited various local Churches and monasteries of the local diocese, visiting the monasteries of the old ras (place in South Serbia) and the famous monastery Ostrog, crying to God to change me. On the internet I connected with various orthodox monasteries around the world in Australia, America, Asia and other countries of Europe and sent them all packets and some gifts requesting them to pray for me.
After all of the mighty effort, fasting, sackcloth, mad abstinence, with a heavy bucket of tears spilled suffering, mighty prayer, I never forgot alms. Almost all of my clothes I donated to the poor and with less personal things, upon completion of the civilian army, with my 23 years, strengthened by the blessing of the Serbian Patriarch, and the blessing of my dad I went to the monastery of Holy Healers and became a novice. In the monastery I humbly performed many of obedience such as, singing in the church, cleaning and maintenance of the dormitory, cultivation of bees, working in the garden, making incense and bottling of wine and brandy, doing missionary and caring of the guests. With the blessing of my abbot I learnt icon painting, translated from English akathist to Holy Chinese martyrs as well as various Internet sites about Orthodoxy in China and wrote missionary tracts.
During I was novice, I occasionally visited the monasteries of the diocese of Zica (Jeetsa). I also went to Croatia to the monastery of Lepavina to miraculous icon, and then went on a tour of Mount Athos monasteries Chilandar and Esphigmen, and visiting on way back the monastery of elder Paisious St. John the Theologian in Suroti.
In the meantime, I experienced many shocks. I realised that the Holy Spirit does not really change people by default, and that it’s terrible to try to improvise its actions. I learned that about 70 percent of Orthodox monks in monasteries are actually gay or bi. Many of them have secret relationships, they all used to hope that this could be changed but no, it’s impossible. Likewise, my old spiritual father himself (who was 62 years old by the way) had a gay relationship with the other monks, and another brother who was with me in the same monastery was in love with me and for that I forced myself to change the monastery.
After nine months of being a novice with the blessing of my abbot, I went to another monastery dedicated to the Nativity of Virgin, and there I spent a month and a half. There I found the same situation, at first the abbot himself felt in love with me and insisted that I sexually satisfy him which I refused, and then another brother started flirting with me and I had my first gay relationship with him. After that, some young monks who knew I was gay almost gave me marriage proposals, inviting me to go and live with them in their monasteries. There was an abbot who was so in love with me and insisting that I cross in his monastery, so then my local abbot even gave me blessing for a gay relationship with a brother within the monastery I belonged to, so that I would not leave the monastery nor tear down the integrity of the brothers. That was already too much for my soul. I could not do it anymore. It was not that I was abused for I was born as gay too, I was actually shocked by this knowledge, and also felt sorry for them, because these people have to hide that they need to be loved. The things have been crystal clear, especially when I found out of some gay bishops’ certain activities. No, that will never change.
I left the monastery. Illumined by the Gospel, knowing exactly in the monastery that salvation does not really results from acts, but results from the faith, and reading the Bible, after nearly a year, only a few months before my own official turning to a monk was planned, I left the monastery and returned to my parents’ house. For the next six months I was working as an assistant priest in the temple of the Holy Emperor Constantine and Empress Helena, where I assisted in the kliros and altar. It is important to mention that at last I even began to pray for help and some Catholic saints, but they also did not help me to change and become something who I am actually not. You cannot change it.
Finally, I found my way back to apostolic Christianity since I came into contact with a pastor from the Evangelical Church in which I was baptized and became an active member. Now, I’m an evangelical missionary withim my local church by referring others to the Gospel of Jesus and the fact that Jesus loves everyone no matter who we are. I’m glad that today, with my life partner, with the blessing of our church I can live my life as a rescued child by the grace of God and constantly rejoicing and celebrating in the joy of the gospel of the One whose love we will never be apart of (Rom 8/35, 39). To Him be glory forever and ever. Hallelujah!”
~ An ex-Monk, Serbia