NOTE: This article is taken from the book, Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships. It was adapted from a checklist originally developed by Michael Langone.
Concerted efforts at influence and control lie at the core of cultic groups, programs, and relationships. Many members, former members, and supporters of cults are not fully aware of the extent to which members may have been manipulated, exploited, even abused. The following list of social-structural,
social-psychological, and interpersonal behavioural patterns commonly found in cultic environments may be helpful in assessing a particular group or relationship.
Compare these patterns to the situation you were in (or in which you, a family member, or friend is currently involved). This list may help you determine if there is cause for concern. Bear in mind that this list is not meant to be a “cult scale” or a definitive checklist to determine if a specific group is a cult. This is not so much a diagnostic instrument as it is an analytical tool.
[x] The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law. [Blind obedience to Geronda Ephraim and his teachings is the foundation and essence of his “family.” Many times, he is equated with Christ, and more emphasis is placed on his books and cassette homilies than the Bible].
[x] Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished. [Questioning or talking negatively about Geronda is equated with Luciferian egoism. Both acts are punished with prostrations, the Lity and in some cases, the other monastics will be instructed they have no blessing to talk to the dissenter].
[x] Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s). A monastic, and lay person if possible, must ceaselessly recite the Jesus Prayer 24/7, either mentally or vocally. Within the monasteries, there is also the daily 1/2 hour-3 hour breathing/meditative exercise of Prayer of the Heart. Work hours are long and excessive with the purpose to “exhaust the flesh and carnal desires.”
[x] The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth). Though the dictation of one’s life, thoughts and feelings is much stricter for monastic disciples, lay spiritual children under Geronda Ephraim still need blessings for minute details of their lives–dating, getting a job, how to discipline children, etc. The spiritual Father has the last say–he can order one to break up with someone, not take a job, buy a car, house, etc., all for “the spiritual benefit of their spiritual child.”
[x] The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity). [Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries are the “last bastion of authentic, traditional monasticism in the world.” It is generally taught and believed that “Geronda Ephraim is the holiest man in the world, and the last great saint of the Orthodox Church.” Spiritual children are taught that after the “False Union” that is coming, and especially in the days of the Antichrist, one will only be able to find true Orthodoxy in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries; “everywhere else will be apostate, unionist, pseudo-Orthodox churches.”
[x] The group has a polarised us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society. “Those who aren’t with us are against us.” Essentially, the ecumenist and mainstream hierarchs, priests, Archons, AHEPA, freemasons, Zionists, CIA, etc. are inspired by demons to stop the salvific work of the monasteries and end Geronda Ephraim’s Apostolic work here.
[x] The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations). Though technically accountable to his Hierarch, it is generally accepted in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries that because he is a saint, he is not really bound by Canons, obedience to worldly hierarchs or jurisdictions. Anytime he overrides a hierarch or synodal canon/decree, it is generally accepted that he either received an obedience or a blessing from the Panagia, or Christ Himself.
[x] The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviours or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities). A book can be written about all the white collar crime, falsified documents, lies, cover-ups, lawsuits, etc. A monastic can average lying once to a dozen times a day, all blessed via obedience. This is even more so for the monastic who answers phones. The Gerondissa or Geronda many times will instruct them, “If anyone calls, tell them you don’t know where I am or I am out of the monastery for the day, and take a message.” Meanwhile, they’re in their cell all day. The one answering the phone knows this, but lies, or rather does obedience, and says whatever they are told.
[x] The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion. The superior “rebukes in and out of season,” namely, one gets humbled, insulted and yelled at when they’ve erred, but also when they’ve done nothing wrong, as a test. Private confessions are revealed to other monastics at the “discernment” of the Elder, whether in a group setting to humble the individual, or without the individual’s presence and more as gossip.
[x] Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group. This is a requirement of all monastic novices. Though certain monastics have special privileges and can keep close familial communications and connections.
[x] The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members. More with pilgrims–monastery tourism. In the first years, there was a drive for monastic recruitment but that has dwindled due to all the problems and issues that have occurred in the various monasteries. “In the beginning it was about quantity, now it is about quality.”
[x] The group is preoccupied with making money. The monasteries are all incorporated and they function like corporations. Besides the dependency on donations, the monasteries have all ventured into various business endeavors and projects to help earn more profits to help build bigger and better buildings and chapels.
[x] Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities. This is non-negotiable for the monastics. With lay people, if they want to remain in the monasteries good books, they should comply to any favor asked of them. Noncompliance brings about passive aggressive guilt tripping. Continual noncompliance or making excuses when help is needed can result in the monastery distancing themselves from the individual.
[x] Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialise only with other group members. “Bad company corrupts good habits.”
[x] The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group. Geroinda Ephraim has stated that those who stay with him until the end will be saved; this is based on a vision. Monastics are taught and believe that if they leave the monastic life, there is no hope for salvation for them. Lay people are taught that Geronda Ephraim and his father confessors are the only ones in America with the spiritual experience to help guide them to salvation and theosis.