NOTE: This article is taken from the Cypriot newspaper Phileleftheros (“Ο Φιλελευθερος”), December 24th, 2010. It is a response to an article published the week before in the same newspaper written by Monk Christodoulos. The former monk of Grigoriou claimed in that article that the monastery employed methods of controlling the monastics by compulsory use of psychiatric drugs or being referred to psychiatric asylums. In the following article, Grigoriou Monastery: The Sludge War is set in Motion, the Monastery attempts to rebut these accusations.http://anavaseis.blogspot.ca/2010/12/blog-post_6672.html
Dear Director of the Newspaper,
It is with amazement and wonder that we were informed of the newspaper article you published, “Cuckoo’s Nest”: Grigoriou Monastery on the Holy Mountain (18/12/2010), which consists of an interview given by the monk Christodoulos.
We do not expect that either you personally nor your partners have specialized knowledge of psychiatry to properly assess the content of his interview and to decide whether it is publishable. On the other hand, one would be expected to ask, to explore beforehand, if the maneuvers of the responsible were liable before lawmen, officers of Public Health, based on real events and mental states. It would take perhaps rudimentary care on your part to preserve the prestige of your newspaper since it is likely that your publication consists of slandering many honest people.
Regarding the contents of Monk Christodoulos’ interview, we want to you and the readers of your newspaper to know that you insulted our monastery with this publication by offensively describing it as a “Cuckoo’s Nest”. Also, you primarily and decisively insulted Monk Christodoulos himself by publicizing sensitive personal information, something he would not have wanted in a calm phase of his life. Our monastery has handled the issue if this afflicted brother with great caution and delicacy, whether he realizes it or not. Such matters are not treated in the way your partner journalist has chosen. Besides, our Monastery cannot speak publicly, out of courtesy and respect for the persons involved. This is due to our obligation to observe the Holy Canons requiring confidentiality of confession, but also because there is the Personal Data Protection Authority. For this reason, we do not now refute his accusations contained in your publications. We only disclose to your readers that issues relating to the Monk Christodoulos, are pending before the Greek Courts.
However, the most significant thing about your publication is that you created, or perhaps reinforced, the impression that the monasteries implement a control method by forcing monks to use psychiatric drugs or by referral to a mental hospital. This is a completely false impression. Only someone deliberately ill-natured or perverse could accept these things as true.
Perhaps without realizing it, you insult both Orthodox Monasticism and the Church with your publication. But this does not suit the traditional pious and philo-monastic people of Cyprus. In Cyprus, there are exceptional hierarchs, pious clergymen and laity spiritual brothers who can prove that the exercise of evangelical love governs contemporary Orthodox Monasticism.
As for the Holy Mountain, it suffices to quote from a letter-response by the eminent psychiatrist Dr. Panagiotis Grigoriou (Hospital Polygyros Chalkidiki) in the Athenian newspaper “Eleftherotypia”, in connection with a similar publication in 2001:
“The reason I thought of myself to be a “substantive qualifier” is that I’ve practised psychiatry for 20 years. For the past 12 years, I’ve been the Director of the Psychiatric Department of the Halkidiki General Hospital in whose jurisdiction Mount Athos falls in terms of health coverage. With my position, I know very well the question under dispute (the use of psychiatric drugs on Mount Athos).”
“Contrary to what one not acquainted with such things might imagine, the way of life on the Holy Mountain is not disease producing but rather psychotherapeutic.”
“The Athonite State, Panagia’s Garden, is an open space, social and genuinely human; a struggling society journeying towards God. The sick have their place and even honour in such a community! Where else would the remaining healthy monks show their love, patience and ministry if not to those who are beside them even if they happen to be sick?”
“The monastic family surround the suffering brother with much care, love and tolerance and spare neither expense nor labor to ensure the best possible treatment and aid.9 He is provided a treatment rarely seen in today’s society, with respect to mental illness, the suffering monk’s soul and his dignity—a treatment that preserves the patient’s self-esteem.”
Dr. Panagiotis Grigoriou, Neurologist-Psychiatrist and director of the Psychiatric Department of the Halkidiki General Hospital.Polygyros May 26, 2001.
We hope that you understand how detrimental Vassos Vassiliou’s article is to both the monk Christodoulos and your local community. Because we believe you are motivated by feelings of truthfulness and impartiality, we ask that you please observe journalistic ethics and in compliance with the law, to publish this article in the same place of your newspaper and with the same elements as those of the controversial publication.
MONASTERY OF ST GREGORY THE HOLY MOUNTAIN: LETTER OF REGRET TO A BROTHER OF THE MONASTERY, FR. CHRISTODOULOS GRIGORIATIS
Meeting and taking council, the following signatories to this document, the prior of the Monastery of Saint Gregory Fr. George Kapsanis, Hieromonk Fr. Demetrios and Hieromonk Fr. Luke, fathers and brothers of the Monastery and the other members of elderly congregation of the monastery, the current chairman of the Abbot of the Holy Monastery, Fr. Christoforou, jointly decided and sign the things agreed below.
We renounce with abhorrence, aversion and regret our decision in 2003 to seek by Attorney the confinement (supposedly for “treatment”) of the monk and brother of our Monastery, Fr. Christodoulos Grigoriatis (according to the following despicable annexed document), at the Public Psychiatric Hospital of Thessaloniki. We accept with humility and contrition of heart that our decision was a product of medical error, with potential deception!!!
We recognize and accept unreservedly the diagnoses of two medical psychiatrists attached below (confirming the full mental health of Fr. Christodoulou, who does not need “treatment”). We accept these as the only valid diagnoses which cancel out every other misleading medical placement, or “diagnosis” on matters of the aforementioned brother, Fr. Christodoulos’ mental health.
After agreement and consensus, we recall and accept as invalid the decisions (Θ’-8.4.2010) made during the session of elderly congregation of the monastery, as well as the forced “Apolytirio” (Απολυτήριο) signed by the hieromonk Fr. Panaretos (as one not having such a responsibility), and the second issued “certificate” signed by the then Abbot of the monastery Fr. George Kapsanis. We recognize this second certificate as a product of backstage coercion and extortion (for the signature) by a particular monk and head of the monastery, who ministering then (as gerokomos) the constant attendance of the Abbot and Elder of the monastery Fr. George Kapsanis, thus situated in this detailed condition due to serious health problems!!!
We accept the following agreement and συνεναίσεως the following request of the monk and brother of our monastery, Fr. Christodoulos Grigoriatis, through the moral satisfaction and economical compensate accordingly, on the injury suffered by his unjust expulsion from the Holy Monastery of his repentance, with the symbolic sum of 100,000 Euros, deposited in his bank account within three hours of the signing of this, our repentance.
APPLICATION OF MONK CHRISTODOULOS, BROTHER OF THE HOLY MONASTERY OF ST. GREGORY, MT. ATHOS
I would like to request from the monastery of my repentance, as a small token of moral satisfaction and compensation of the damage I have suffered from my wrongful expulsion from the monastery, the symbolic sum of one hundred thousand 100,000 Euros—for my unpaid ministry of more than 20 years within the monastery, for my personal library that I handed over to the monastery upon my arrival in order to dedicate myself as a monk for the rest of my life there and for depositing money in a bank account of the Monastery from the sale of my property.
Given that my expulsion from the monastery was completely unfair, since there had not been and there is no final judgment against me—no conviction of ecclesiastical or civil court that implicate me in crimes in order to justify the decision (Θ’-8.4.2010) at the Session of elderly synaxis of the monastery on the issue against my mandatory apolytirion.
KATAΘΕΣΗ ΣΤΟΝ ΛΟΓΑΡΙΑΣΜΟ:
NATIONAL BANK OF GREECE
ΟΙ ΥΠΟΓΡΑΦΟΝΤΕΣ ΤΗΝ ΑΝΩΤΕΡΩ ΜΕΤΑΜΕΛΕΙΑΝ
Ο ΠΡΟΗΓΟΥΜΕΝΟΣ ΤΗΣ ΜΟΝΗΣ ΟΣΙΟΥ ΓΡΗΓΟΡΙΟΥ ΑΓ ΟΡΟΥΣ Π. ΓΕΩΡΓΙΟΣ ΚΑΨΑΝΗΣ
Ο ΙΕΡΟΜΟΝΑΧΟΣ ΚΑΙ ΙΑΤΡΟΣ ΤΗΣ ΑΥΤΗΣ ΜΟΝΗΣ Π. ΔΗΜΗΤΡΙΟΣ
Ο ΙΕΡΟΜΟΝΑΧΟΣ ΚΑΙ ΙΑΤΡΟΣ ΤΗΣ ΑΥΤΗΣ ΜΟΝΗΣ Π. ΛΟΥΚΑΣ
ΚΑΘΩΣ ΚΑΙ ΤΑ ΛΟΙΠΑ ΜΕΛΗ ΤΗΣ ΓΕΡΟΝΤΙΚΗΣ ΣΥΝΑΞΕΩΣ ΤΗΣ ΑΥΤΗΣ ΜΟΝΗΣ
NOTE: The following article is taken from the Cypriot newspaper “Phileleftheros” (Ό Φιλελεύθερος), December 18, 2010, p. 23. The article contains the accusations of a hieromonk who was ousted after 22 years of control methods via the administration of psychiatric drugs. http://www.zougla.gr/page.ashx?pid=80&aid=227195&cid=122
The monk, who “was expelled” from the Grigoriou monastery1 on Mount Athos 22 years after his admittance, denounces methods reminiscent of the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.2 According to his allegations, methods of controlling the monks were applied with the administration of psychiatric drugs. The complaints come from Father Christodoulos3 who also produced a movie clip which shows him tied with leg padlocks to a bed, in a room of the Thessaloniki Hospital, where he was brought for “treatment.”
Fr. Christodoulos maintains he was of sound mind. He cites the opinion of Cypriot psychiatrist, Yiangou Mikelidis,4 who states that he examined Father Christodoulos and “he is not suffering from any serious mental illness and has no need of treatment.”
“The monk’s so-called mental illness reacheded,” as he says, “up to the Prefect of Thessaloniki whose testimony was invoked to register a complaint against the Abbot of Gregoriou5 Monastery for slanderous libel. Furthermore, he accuses the monastery’s administration of not returning money that he secured from the sale of his own real estate. Father Christodoulos was not the “typical” type of monk since he sought the Abbot’s resignation, he went on a hunger strike twice and while he was not as obedient, he remained an administrator of the monastery.
When they gave him a certificate of discharge and he refused to leave the monastery, the Monastery’s administration called up policemen from Karyes who accompanied him off the Holy Mountain. They transferred the monk’s belongings to Karyes; these numbered 47 boxes with various personal items and were not delivered to him upon his expulsion.
“They tried to make me crazy”
Fr. Christodoulos (Nicholas Diamantopoulos in the world) spoke to “Φ” about everything he claims happened in Grigoriou Monastery:6
“I joined the Grigoriou Monastery in 1987 at age 30. In 2003 I did a hunger strike demanding the resignation of the Abbot because he could not exercise his duties completely. The Abbot gave me a handwritten letter in which he resigned and asked me to pass it to the elderly congregation (a copy was given to the “Φ”).
“I raised the issue of resignation before the elderly assembly (composed of seven monks) but I was told they did not accept it. I returned to the Abbot and asked to be heard by the whole fraternity consisting of about 70 monks. I developed my position before them and they thereupon prepared a document calling the Public Prosecutor of Thessaloniki to lock me in a mental hospital. With the mobilization of the police, they lead me the mental hospital. The psychiatrist chanced to be a fellow student of the Monastery’s doctor; the one who sent me to the psychiatric hospital. I mentioned to the psychiatrist that I have differences with the Monastery’s administration. I explained that this administration wants to use him to make me out as crazy.
“I called my brother from a phone booth and explained that they wanted to declare me insane. So until he came, they tied me to a bed with the help of security guard. They used straps and padlock. When my two brothers came to ask me what happened, they were paid no attention to. When they saw me tied up, they made a clip with a camera and warned those responsible at the hospital they would be given to the public if they continued to have me bound. My brothers said they would take me to another psychiatrist who is not influenced by the monastery. It took three days of contacts and interventions to allow me to leave.
“I went to another psychiatrist who, after a month of visits, advised that I am suffering from mixed personality disorder which has nothing to do with mental illness or any other serious illness. The doctor told me that I can go to the monastery with no problem. I returned to the monastery where they accepted me. (Last May I went to a psychiatrist, Giagkos Mikellides, who after examining me, opined in writing that I do not suffer from any serious mental illness and have no need of treatment. A copy of the advice was made available to “Φ”).
“In 2004 a priest-monk threatened me, saying they would expel me from the monastery. I started a hunger strike and sought the Abbot’s resignation. An assembly occurred, minus the Abbot who was then outside Mount Athos and I was told that either they would deport me from Mount Athos or I would go to a psychiatrist in Patras.
“I told them that I accept going to a psychiatrist. I went off to my hometown in Peloponnese without seeing a psychiatrist. When I returned a week later, the Abbot didn’t say anything to me nor ask me what happened with the psychiatrist. This means that two powers co-exist in the monastery. On the one hand, the Abbot and on the other an elderly congregation that insists on making me a mental patient.
“The elderly congregation has a problem because when I go out with permission, I travel abroad instead of only in Greece. With the “indiscipline” I require small chastisements for my “indiscipline” such as refraining from chanting, etc.
“In 2006 they changed the exit certificate and restricted my travels to only in Greece. On one occasion the Abbot obliged me to give him 500 prayer ropes, which I made, to enable me to go on a pilgrimage to the Patriarchate. Since then, when I go out with permission, I travel abroad without the blessing of the Abbot.
“This year in March I went to the abbot and asked him to convene the fraternity and invite anyone who has something against me to say it before all. He threatened me with a curse (that he would curse me) because I ask things beyond obedience. When he threatened me with a curse, I wrote a curse. I noted that if I am right then the curse is to fall upon the head of the Abbot; if not, then the curse would fall to mine.7 After that, I came to Cyprus where I spent Pascha and when I returned I was called to the synaxis and they asked me for an explanation about my behavior.
“I told them that I cannot respect them to the depth they want; when in 2003 they tried to make me crazy.
“Afterwards, they gave me a certificate for insult and contempt towards the Abbot, but I returned it because it did not have his signature.
“They insisted that I leave. I didn’t leave and they brought the police in and they escorted me to Karyes.
“The Abbot told the Prefect of Thessaloniki, Mr. Psomiadi, that I’m a mental patient. Then I registered a lawsuit against the Abbot for slander which is pending before the Court.8
To this day, Fr. Christodoulos still speaks out and references the injustices he suffered while living as a monk at Grigoriou Monastery. Here is a recent example, dated January 15, 2016:
“Many who know the details of my monastic life urge me to write an autobiography. If I decide to do such a “crazy thing”, the dead will roll in their graves, as well as the bones of those who are alive—the guileful, treacherous rassaphore monks of Grigoriou Monastery, Mt. Athos who through plots and intrigues that even the Italian Kamora would envy, continually tried to shut my mouth, slander me, humiliate me, ridicule me with processes that reach beyond the limits of a murder attempt at my expense.”
“I have evidence and documents stored electronically that would overturn the thrones of Churches (and not just sovereigns) if I were to publish them!!!”
Grigoriou Monastery (Greek: Γρηγορίου) is situated on the southwest side of the Athos Peninsula in northern Greece, between the monasteries of Dionysiou and Simonopetra. Grigoriou originally was dedicated to the St. Nicholas but later was renamed in honor of its founder, Gregory. It is ranked seventeenth in the hierarchical order of the twenty monasteries located on the Mount Athos peninsula. Grigoriou is reputed to be one of the most well-organized and strict coenobitic monasteries on the Mount Athos peninsula.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a 1975 American drama film directed by Miloš Forman, based on the 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. Now considered to be one of the greatest films ever made, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is No. 33 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years… 100 Movies list. In 1993, it was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
A blog exists under the name of Χριστόδουλος Μοναχός Γρηγοριάτης—though there is no validation that the Monk Christodoulos actually wrote the posts contained therein (especially since he continues to make comments about the monastery to this day). Notably, to this day, he still speaks out about his experiences at Grigoriou Monastery. A month after Abbot George’s resignation, the following retraction was posted on this blog, “My esteemed Geronda, beloved fathers and brothers, please consider everything I posted on this blog as invalid. I recall all of my posts and have deleted them! I seek forgiveness from all of you, hoping that I will obtain favorable treatment. Pray for my salvation as I too! My Metanoia [repentance or prostration] to all of you! Monk Christodoulos. http://monaxoschristodoulos.blogspot.com/2014/03/blog-post.html
Archimandrite George Kapsanis resigned from his abbacy in February 2014 for reasons unknown. He died on the day of Pentecost later that year (June 8, 2014).
In April 2014, a blog existing under the name of “Monk Christodoulos Grigoriatis”, posted “My Second Sorry to Grigoriou Monastery.” This “Epistle of Repentance to Geronda George Kapsanis and the Holy Monastery of Grigoriou, Mount Athos” sounds more like a PR campaign contrived by the monastery. To this day, when talking about his experiences at Grigoriou Monastery, Christodoulos speaks quite differently than the content found in this epistle. Here is the epistle in its entirety:
My esteemed Geronda,
Since April 2010, I have written and published on the internet or notifications by means of mass media (television, radio, newspapers) that gave me step of speech, ungrounded, obscene and other charges against you and against the brothers of the Monastery.
I recognize fully that both you and the brothers of the monastery are persons above reproach in every respect and that my accusations were untrue. But now I am fully aware of the truth and repent for what they did. I confess that I caused you great grief and psychic pain, but also scandalized many people who did not know the ethos of Grigoriou Monastery. I publicly apologize for this, both to you and the brothers of the monastery and the people I scandalized.
As a minimum indication of my practical repentance, I’ve already deleted my website that I maintained with the unjust and false accusations which I address to you and the brothers of the monastery, and I have posted two letters of apology online (this and the preceding that I have sent).
I hope that in this way I can restore, albeit slightly, the harm I caused you.
Because I am monk and I look forward to my salvation, I put my metanoia [repentance or prostration] and ask for your blessing.
I wish you a good and blessed Pascha in love of the Lord!
My repentance towards my former monastery Fr. George Kapsanis, Elder Fr. Christopher, the Fathers of the Holy Assembly and all the fathers of the monastery. Evlogeite your blessing!!
Geronda Ephraim teaches that cursing clergymen never works and it always falls back on the curser seven-fold. However, a curse by a clergyman always sticks due to the grace of ordination. In this case, both participants are ordained priests; thus, the curse by whichever hieromonk is in the right would have stuck.
There does not seem to be any information about these proceedings available on the web.
Psychiatric drugs are not antibiotics. Do not confuse mucus with marmalades.
Our interview on April 22, 2001 dealt with many of the problems that occur on Mount Athos and even more mobilized against us. As they told me on my recent trip to the Mt. Athos, the Holy Community of Mount Athos, as well as the Church of Greece, has exercised more pressure to censure and refute me. There is even a decision made by the Holy Community to not sell my books in any of the stores in Daphne and Karyes.1
A neurologist-psychiatrist named Panos Grigoriou—Director of the Psychiatric Department of the general Hospital in Halkidiki—was one of those that mobilized against us. Firstly, the likeable psychiatrist with his epistle in the Sunday Typos 10/06/2001 is surprised because I consider psychiatric drugs an indication of morbidity and failure on Mount Athos. He states, “We take psychiatric drugs just as we take antibiotics, anti-hypersensitive or anti-rheumatic medicine.”
The above mentality of the psychiatrist is representative of a new generation of Christians—and monks in particular—that now consider psychiatric drugs as a natural fact of daily life. The conversation we had with a doctor-novice at Grigoriou Monastery at the Monastery of the Holy Forerunner in Dimitsana (Summer 2001), is indicative of this entire spirit. This novice-doctor made a special trip to meet me there.
Novice-Doctor: “Why does it surprise you, Fr. Michael, that monks take psychiatric drugs? Are they not people, too? For example, I arranged the pharmacy of our monastery and indeed I saw boxes with psychiatric drugs but they are used very little. Then I asked the Elder if we could make a special area for the psychotropic medicine and that space was made. I assure you that the monks taking psychiatric drugs continue their lives at the same rate without affecting their spiritual life in the least. Do you know such and such a priest?”
Monk Michael: “Yes, I’ve known him since 1975.”
Novice-Doctor: “Heh, I put him on medication when I arranged the pharmacy.”
Monk Michael: “You mean psychiatric drugs?”
Novice-Doctor: “Yes, I mean psychiatric drugs. But I assure you that he continues to be the same sweet, gentle, humble person as before. And those who confess him confirm this and they assure me that he gives rest to those close to him. So, what is your problem?”
I was startled!
Monk Michael: “Oh well, have you not yet understood as a doctor that healthy is quite different than sick? People take drugs when they lose their health and, in this case, mental health and balance, to support and continue their life. It is surprising that you say this is the same thing. Afterwards, you say that hundreds of boxes of psychiatric drugs inside the monastery and then assure us that they are rarely used. For me, the question isn’t how often are they used but rather what business does psychotropic drugs have in a monastery? What was the reasoning to purchase them? Under what pressing need did they fill their pharmacy with these drugs?
“Understand how ‘psychiatric drugs for Mount Athos’ sounds to my ears—it’s almost like telling me that you arranged contraceptives in the pharmacy. It’s about the same absurdity. So tell me about how this priest went to psychiatric drugs after 25 years [in the monastery]?”
Novice-Doctor: “Yes, but he remains the same as he always was.”
Conclusion: “No, my beloved psychiatrist, psychotropic drugs are neither antibiotics nor anti-rheumatic. Getting physically sick and probably restoring health once again is different than breaking down and your little soul becoming sick—a sickness that frequently the remainder of your life does not suffice to restore it.”
In a strange manner, both Dr. Panos Grigoriou and Makis Triantaphullopoulos expressed precisely the same question with the same words: “If some people have a need why shouldn’t they take psychiatric drugs?”
This is a misleading question. Firstly, let’s make a clarification: When the monks entered the brotherhood, did they take psychiatric drugs or not? If they didn’t take them when they entered and started taking them in the monastery after 10-15 years of the monastic life, then it’s time some prosecutor to investigate the situation and pull the ears of some abbots. In the latter case, it is unacceptable if the individual was already mentally ill when he entered the monastery because a mentally ill person is never allowed to join the monastic brotherhood. You treat him kindly, you support him, you share his pain, help him as much as you can, but you don’t enroll him. There are two reasons for not enlisting a mentally ill individual into a monastic brotherhood.
Because you cannot recruit some young man for an uphill struggle—indeed even for the rest of his life—if he doesn’t have the necessary presuppositions to withstand the pressure and deprivation to make ends meet. The most basic presupposition for one entering a monastery is mental health and balance.
The experience of the Athonite life knows that a mentally ill individual with a strong character can topple an entire brotherhood. Mental illness hides an indomitable ego that becomes uncontrolled and destructive when it finds room to be developed. This is expressed with an unbridled stubbornness, lack of cooperation, fixed ideas, tantrums, complexes, etc. Due to all these things, the mentally ill patient cannot join the monastic brotherhood.
Dr. Panos writes: “Fr. Michael implies that the way of life imposed upon the monks (militarization) is what causes psychiatric problems.” It is not restricted to that. There are many things that smash the soul of a monk.
The false sanctities of their Elder.2
Their “miracles” and “visions” that serve obvious purposes, such as absolute obedience and submission.3
Dispute by the abbots of every healthy reflection and privation of the possibility of dialogue from the simple monk. It suffices to say that three Hagiorite Hegoumens have said to their brotherhoods: “For you, I am your God.”4
In the “neptic” monastery,5 the Geronda announced that he would travel again to America. A monastic thought: “Doesn’t it seem like our Geronda goes out into the world a lot? Why can’t we also travel?” That evening he confessed his logismoi (Geronda had imposed daily confession/revelation of thoughts); the monk told the Geronda his thoughts. The next morning, as the fathers exited the church to go to the dining-hall the monk was kneeling at the door and cried with a lamentable tone:
“Fathers and Brothers, forgive me, the sinner, because the devil deluded me and I judged my Geronda!”6
This happened recently.
But the cultivation in monasticism and turning their monastic interest exclusively to utopian goals, such as lights, visions, charismas, sanctimoniousness, foresight, etc., under its presupposition of absolute obedience to the ruling Abbot. According to them one “no” destroys and negates not only the existing spiritual edifice that they built with so much pain and toil, but also erases and excludes any future spiritual success—it also has tragic consequences.7
These theories replaced the mindset we found when we went to the Holy Mountain: the teaching of repentance and the awareness of our sinfulness as a presupposition of spiritual development and progress.
All these things, amongst many others, cause the complete suppression of personality and suppress any personal expression and healthy manifestation. Over time, these things consistently drive one to mental fatigue, melancholy, disillusionment and slowly to psychiatric drugs. As for the militarization and total subjugation of the contemporary neo-Hagiorite Abbots, it suffices us to mention what occurred at the recent biannual Synaxis of the Holy Mountain [These gatherings take place twice a year consisting of 20 abbots and 20 representatives of the monasteries in Karyes].
A monk left his monastery (Xenophontos) and sought a cell in another monastery. His Abbot, Alexios, intervened and persuaded the other monastery not to give him a cell. When the monk addressed two other monasteries, the Abbot chased him out of there. I asked the monk who told me about the incident, “Why did your Abbot do this?” He answered, “He wanted me to be discouraged as a monk and throw off my rassa. And thus he could justify this to the brotherhood, ‘Here was the one left; a humiliated failure.’”
At this biannual Assembly, Abbot Alexios proposed to the other abbots to make a decision: when a monk leaves a monastery, no other Athonite monastery should accept him. Then Parthenius, Abbot of St. Paul Monastery, stood up and told him:
“Are you not ashamed at what you’re saying? For the child to leave from his monastery means that he is not at rest and fatigued there. He has all the right to look somewhere else, within Mount Athos, to find rest. We already made the decision earlier and we did not give dismissal to monks who wanted to leave Mount Athos. If we deprive them of the ability to another monastery on Athos, then the children facing this dead end we thrush upon them might throw of their robes and go to the world to be married. Is this where you ultimately want to lead them?”8
And the monk who narrated this story concluded, “The good-natured Hagiorite Abbot [Parthenius] could not imagine that our Geronda (Alexios) wanted to push things there.”
But Geronda Parthenius of St. Paul Monastery is the exception in the neo-Hagiorite Abbots as he is of the old and genuine Athonite guard. Concerning the above, Geronda Parthenius, we say unto you: “May your memory be eternal, may your memory be eternal, may your memory be eternal.”
The sympathetic psychiatrist writes: “It is to their praise that the prudent and virtuous monks visit the psychiatrist.” This premise is unprecedented in monastic history because it is particularly absurd. The virtuous monk is presumed to be healthy because as long as virtue is a supernatural event, he will have some supernatural elements in his life. However, the restoration of mental health precedes every trace of spiritual phenomenon and virtue.
It costs him that we consider psychiatrists unnecessary for monks. I would like to say that if there are healthy and normal clergy in the Orthodox Church, then the collaboration with a psychiatrist would be superfluous not only for monks but for every conscious Christian and even every rational Greek. The psychiatrist tries to persuade us that he contributes to restoring the patient’s mental/spiritual health. I myself believe more in what Geronda Porphyrios told me:
“It is humanly impossible for the mentally/spiritually suffering to be helped except only through the Holy Spirit. He who created the human heart is the only one who is able to replace a part when it becomes sick.”9
Namely, the Geronda wanted to say that the boat of everyday life can overturn on someone and result in mental illness, whether with a careless life or through inheritance or by tragic events. From there on, let him look for the miracle in his life because only the intervention of some saint or God’s grace, through our repentance and contrition of heart, may bring healing and health. As long as Elders like Geronda Porphyrios, Geronda Paisios and others exist, psychiatrists are unnecessary for monks or any believer who has associated with them and derived strength from the life-giving power of their heart to continue their life normally without psychiatrists. But now that they have completely missed these healthy and life-giving spiritual personalities and they’ve been replaced by monkeys [also can mean mimics or cunning, malicious fellows], they have discovered that psychiatric centers are useful for monks!10
But psychiatric drugs—useful for the psychiatrist Panos and an honor for the virtuous monks who take them—are soul-destroying because they don’t only suppress mental anomalies and disorders, they also bind every instinctive potential movement of the heart towards its Creator. Therefore, psychiatric drugs exclude the main source of healing, which is the cultivation of relations with God.
The entire article attempts to make prose of the problem and annihilate it with enviable maneuver and excessive art. This whole effort seems funny to me and reminds me of General Mardonius’ speech to King Xerxes after the naval battle of Salamis.11 When Xerxes looked abject and shocked at the debris of hundreds of Persian ships, Mardonius undertook to console him:
“My King, do not be saddened about planks and beams. Did we come to Greece for timber? The mainland army remains integral. My King, don’t allow your heart to be depressed over some broken planks!”
Etc…etc…Panos writes lots of similar things.
The fact that you can prose such tragic events and debase them like Mardonius as well as distort them with such force means that you need a psychiatrist—to at least restore your judgment and say things as they are and as they appear to the rest of the world. You see, I also find some useful roles for psychiatrists.
You address yourself to the Greek people, reassuring them: “Nothing serious and ugly happens on Mount Athos, you can be certain.”
You and those you represent can convince and manipulate the Greeks because they are a species in decline and one does whatever he wants, especially the Hagiorites. But now we’ve entered the European Union where there are civilized societies with sensitivities and human rights. And the time will come when they learn about what is happening on Mount Athos. They will expose you and all of Orthodoxy will be vilified along with you. If you cannot tolerate a debate or criticism by a monk with comprehension and, I can assure you, with a genuine interest, then you will be ridiculed mercilessly by others for your antics. This is a spiritual law and it will be fully applied to you. Your special privileges and whims are recognized and imposed on the decayed Helladic society and Church. Not to God, however, Who requires sincerity, openness, honesty, courage and especially modesty and humility from those associated with Him; namely they don’t have a high opinion of themselves.
This kind of censorship is used by the monasteries under Geronda Ephraim. Books by authors who have criticized the person of Geronda Ephraim or his methodologies (i.e.; requiring absolute blind obedience, authoritarianism, etc.) are usually not sold in the bookstores. For a number of years, St. Anthony’s Monastery, and a few of Geronda Ephraim’s other monasteries, boycotted Geronda Porphyrios and Geronda Paisios’ books “because of all the difficulties they gave Geronda Ephraim in Greece and all their criticisms of him.” However, as more books were translated into English and demands for orders increased, the boycott was slackened. Now that both Elders are officially canonized as saints in the Orthodox Church, the earlier stories about their criticisms are no longer talked about and have been swept under the carpet as if they never existed.
Before one enters a monastery under Geronda Ephraim, no doubt they’ve been inundated with many stories of the elder’s miracles and visions both by lay and monastic disciples. These stories are reinforced during the novitiate by the superior and other monastics.
Geronda Ephraim’s homilies to his monastics, as well as the private conversations he has with them, are full of self-promotion and narrations of his visions and “special powers”, combined with a feigned humility and self-reproach as the worst sinner in the world. Examples are: entering the divine darkness, seeing the face of God, communicating personally with the Father, seeing the actual event of Christ’s birth, physical alterations with demons, having the Archangels Michael and Gabriel as personal bodyguards, bi-locating to various places around the world without his body—such as during a homily in St. Anthony’s dining hall to Montreal pilgrims where he revealed to them that he left twice while talking to them to check up on his monasteries and they didn’t even realize that he had left. These stories which are used to validate Geronda Ephraim has a living saint are also used as leverage to make monks comply in obedience, even when the obedience breaks the commandments, so as not to sadden the Elder and separate oneself from God. As one of his disciple Gerondas once said to his monks, “Your obedience or disobedience goes through me, to Geronda Ephraim, and then to God.”
Some Gerondas have gone so far as to warn their monastics that saying no or refusing an obedience makes one susceptible to delusion and even demon possession. Any form of “rebuttal” or “back talk” is automatically categorized as demonic and evil. Geronda Ephraim has stated, “The mouth of the elder is the mouth of Christ. If your elder speaks, God speaks.”
Monk Michael is referring to Filotheou Monastery.
This form of punishment is called “being put in the Lity” and can be found in The Ladder of Divine Ascent (7th).
Geronda Ephraim teaches his monastics, “On Judgment Day, Christ will ask you only one question: ‘Did you do obedience?’ If the answer is yes, you go to eternal life. If the answer is no, you go to eternal damnation.”
Despite the fact that many monastic saints (and non-canonized fathers) in the history of Orthodoxy did not remain in their monasteries until death—and many times they lived in many different monasteries—Geronda Ephraim is very strict about his monastics staying in their monastery until death, or until their elder dies. If, for some reason, he allows a monastic to go to another monastery, it always has to be a monastery within his own family. Geronda Ephraim also teaches that it’s almost impossible to find salvation of a monk leaves his monastery (whether he has made the vows for the great schema or a rassaphore).
Geronda Porphyrios once decided to attend some classes on psychiatry at the university. However, his response, though not totally negative, was not particularly encouraging. He acknowledged that “they tried to do something, but what can they do? Psychiatrists and psychologists are like a blind man who tries to understand the things around him by touch. The soul is very deep and only God really knows it” (Yiannitsiotis 200:186). Yiannitsiotis relates that at another time the Elder said, “I don’t want psychiatry, but I love psychiatrists.”… [He] understood that anything spiritual concerning the human condition is not going to be unveiled in psychiatry. The assumptions of materialism, which are part of this discipline, limit the reaches of physical medicine or even psychology. If psychiatry claims to understand the entirety of the human psychological condition, if it rests upon a reductive biological view of consciousness and the human condition, then those claims are counter to an Orthodox perception of the person. One can accept the behavioral sciences without accepting all of their metaphysics. Yiannitsiotis alludes to a remark he heard by a Christian psychiatrist spoken during a conference that may be a kind of summary of this topic: “As a psychiatrist I am not a healer of the human soul, but of the nervous system” (Ibid., 2001: 192). [Professor Daniel Buxhoeveden, Science and the Eastern Orthodox Church, 2013, pp. 15-16].
It is notable that many of the contemporary monastics and spiritual fathers from Greece who knew and revered St. Porphyrios and St. Paisios when they were alive do not hold a high opinion for Elder Joseph the Hesychast and his disciples. This is because the two saints disagreed with many of their methods and teachings, primarily the demand of absolute, blind obediene and authoritarianism. These two saints’ teachings about sick and disturbed forms of obedience are references to Geronda Ephraim’s fronima and teachings.
Mardonius was a leading Persian military commander during the Persian Wars with Greece in the early 5th century BC who died at the Battle of Platea.
NOTE: This article is taken from the Sunday Typos, June 10, 2001. It was written to refute Monk Michael’s accusations. Dr. Gregoriou is a Neurologist-Psychiatrist and director of the Psychiatric Department of the Halkidiki General Hospital.1 In this article, Dr. Gregoriou validates Monk Michael’s claim that there are Hagiorite monks who have mental disorders, see psychiatrists, and take psychiatric drugs. http://www.psyche.gr/lgreekdiasyndpsyttheo.htm
I was motivated to write this article when I read the Monk Michael Hatziantoniou’s interview with the journalist Peter Papavasileios (see the magazine “E” in the Sunday Eleftherotypia, April 22, 2001).
The reason I thought of myself to be a “substantive qualifier” is that I’ve practised psychiatry for 20 years. For the past 12 years, I’ve been the Director of the Psychiatric Department of the Halkidiki General Hospital in whose jurisdiction Mount Athos falls in terms of health coverage.
With my position, I know very well the question under dispute (the use of psychiatric drugs on Mount Athos). Moreover, the fact that I have regularly visited Mount Athos since 1974 (I was then a graduate student at the Medical School of Athens University) permits me to know the people and things of the area quite well.
Firstly, why did the news use the pompous title with the exclamation that “They Take Psychiatric Drugs on Mount Athos?” For a prudent and impartial reader, it has the same “originality” as “They take antibiotics or antihypertensive or anti-rheumatic medications on Mount Athos.” Psychiatric drugs are also medications that relieve and help the people who need them. I don’t understand why particularly on Mount Athos the mentally ill should not take psychotropic drugs. Is it not a shame to be excluded from the therapeutic means of modern medical science?
Fr. Michael rents his garments: “I cannot bear this situation,” he says. He maintains that anyone can cure their mental symptoms with personal effort. Something that is heard daily amongst the ignorant: “Banish your anxiety, pull the sadness from your soul, throw it out,” etc. Similar views proceed either from ignorance or out of some unconscious fear against mental illness and psychotropic drugs. If such counsels were effective then the existence of our psychiatrists would probably have been unnecessary.
Another “scandalous revelation” Fr. Michael makes—that Hagiorites are visiting psychiatrists—pertains to the same spirit! But are we psychiatrists such defiled beings that all sensible and virtuous people must avoid us “so as not to be defiled?” The fact that Hagiorites visit psychiatrists constitutes an occasion of praise, not reproach. If they didn’t visit psychiatrists then they should be accused of medievalism and criminal omission.2
I stress here that the attitude of some religious people—even spiritual fathers—who claim that anyone who lives in God should never resort to psychiatrists or psychotropic drugs is, in every respect, incorrect.3 They believe that psychiatrists wrongly assume responsibilities that belong exclusively to God and the spiritual father. The Hagiorite monks, following the vibrant spiritual tradition, avoid such absolutes. They recognize the difference between mental and spiritual problems. Like all other diseases, they consider mental illnesses result from defects and the corruption of post-Fall man. They do not identify mental illnesses with outside demonic influences. The respect of the Hagiorites towards the proper use of its results is an example of wisdom and ampleness of spirit.
If I understood correctly, Fr. Michael implies amongst his contradictions that the way of life imposed upon the monks (militarization) is what causes psychiatric problems. He also insinuates that some Hagiorites (I wonder what percentage?) who regretted becoming monks were trapped in the system and because they were prevented from leaving the monastery occasionally they killed themselves or set themselves on fire.4 Then the abbots, in order to deter their escape from Mount Athos, issue them psychotropic drugs to bend their will and make them thoughtless, subservient zombies! Yet, Fr. Michael doesn’t complain that he had such a treatment when he decided to abandon his monastery. Contrary to what one not acquainted with such things might imagine, the way of life on the Holy Mountain is not disease producing but rather psychotherapeutic.
The reference to famous boxes with mysterious contents is naive at the very least. The monasteries obtain their drugs from pharmacies, usually from Thessaloniki, because they don’t operate a pharmacy on Mount Athos. The medication orders for the needs of 80-100 people (with a large percentage of elderly) for a period of one or two months apparently have some volume and should be packed well in “boxes” to reach their destination safely. Usually, these boxes contain drugs of every kind and a portion of them are psychotropic drugs. Let he who doubts ask any pharmacy serving a population of 2,000 residents and let him learn what the current monthly consumption of psychotropic drugs is and a percentage of all drugs, but also an absolute number inserted in boxes and let him calculate their approximate volume. It should be taken into consideration that a significant portion of these drugs are consumed for the extraordinary needs of the numerous visitors as well as the hundreds of laymen who work on the Mountain.5
Mount Athos is also entitled to have its mentally ill. It would be very unnatural if they didn’t exist since the percentage of those in the adult population who exhibit mental disorders at any given time has been estimated at around 15% for residents in the Western hemisphere.
Besides, as we know, one does not require a bill of health to become a monk, nor is a monk expelled from his monastery when some serious illness appears.6 Mount Athos is not an unrealistic place, nor does it aspire to present an outward image of an “elite” community, like the “caste” of Eastern religions or Gnostics or whatever else. The Athonite State, Panagia’s Garden, is an open space, social and genuinely human; a struggling society journeying towards God. The sick have their place and even honour in such a community! Where else would the remaining healthy monks show their love, patience and ministry if not to those who are beside them even if they happen to be sick?
I cannot tolerate that Fr. Michael—the author of the article—professes the popular unscientific opinions: “Don’t go to the crazy doctor, he will make you completely crazy and you will be stigmatized for life!” Or, “Don’t take psychiatric medicine, they’re narcotics, you’ll become dependent and you’ll be rendered a vegetable!” Such positions need no response, this would be futile.7
As a doctor, my ascertainment is that the mentally ill on Mount Athos are treated more correctly, more scientifically and more effectively than whatever in the outside world.8 The monastic family surround the suffering brother with much care, love and tolerance and spare neither expense nor labor to ensure the best possible treatment and aid.9 He is provided a treatment rarely seen in today’s society, with respect to mental illness, the suffering monk’s soul and his dignity—a treatment that preserves the patient’s self-esteem.10 It should be made clear that in no way is an incompetent person involved in the treatment process. They follow the indication on the medication from the specialist physician, which is prescribed under the responsibility of the rural clinic in Karyes. Also, the administration of drugs and the assessment of the patient’s clinical progress are not made by upstart monks. Most of the monasteries have at least one or more doctor-monks with extensive experience who have impressed me with their scientific competence and awareness.11 The long existing journey of mentally ill Athonite monks is many times better than those who have mental illnesses in the world, where human dignity is trivialized with confinement in psychiatric asylums or the taunts of their fellow villagers.12
Fr. Michael’s inappropriate parallelism of Bedouin doped out on hashish and the Athonite monks is an unfortunate verbal exaggeration.13 It might have been worthwhile before the interview was published to have a psychiatrist (of a trusted newspaper) examine the text and question whether Fr. Michael’s allegations have any scientific standing. I am certain that he would have agreed with me that the anti-psychiatry opinions usually belong to uneducated people.14
Regarding Fr. Michael’s “showcase” allegation, Mount Athos does not claim to be a society of perfect men.15 Moreover, he stresses in the last paragraph of the interview (essentially negating everything previous): “The majority of monks are very nice guys! The love, they look at you with clean eyes. I speak for the majority because there are certainly a very small number of monks who have a pure heart…” If this is the case then what is with all the scandal-mongering throughout the rest of the interview? He did not clarify for us from the start of the interview that he was only speaking about a few exceptions! He allowed us to believe that this is the picture of Mount Athos in general. According to Fr. Michael, what is the real and representative showcase of Mount Athos? The 5-10 likeable mentally ill patients, 5-10 unruly monks and the one monk who set himself on fire? Do we not wrong the 2000 struggling monks who live imperceptibly with ascesis, a pure life and hard work, and are happy and normal?16
We were distressed in seeing the exceptions generalized. The error of one was aggrandized and expressed while the virtue of the many was hushed up. The Hagiorites know this and it is natural and imperative for them to take precautions. We accuse them of hypocrisy because they protect themselves? What family would voluntarily surrender the proclamation of their son or daughter’s deviation to public vilification and shaming? By protecting the reputation of the person who erred, as well as the family’s reputation, from the sneer of the voracious publicity, we hope to heal the wounds. Otherwise, “the last error becomes worse than the first.” Mount Athos is a community of true love where the erring sinners are neither ostracized nor pilloried or stoned.17 They are consoled and covered as suffering brothers and they are “economized” with sympathy and spiritual treatment so they are induced to “repentance and come to salvation.”
Fr. Michael’s interview saddened me. He light-heartedly accuses holy people—humble and obscure to the general public—but accomplished in the heart of whoever knew those who apparently “raised themselves as charismatic figures” to captivate souls! It is a shame for a monk to offer his brothers and fathers as victims to the Moloch of publicity in exchange for the silver pieces and the honorary title of “debunker” and “whistle-blower” who apparently tells everything out right. The monastic life starts out with promises of obedience, humility, and devotion to the brotherhood. Self-projection and self-complacency are not included in these promises. In searching for the deeper “why”, I would say that Fr. Michael’s position against the Holy Mountain, in a psychodynamic interpretation, serves as a personal apology.18
Finally, I want to reassure and cheer up those who were perhaps troubled by reading the publication of “E”. No! The Mountain is not a “concentration camp,” nor some “mental hospital” for dissidents.19 The Kassandres and those appearing as benevolent dirge singers have no place here!20 Mount Athos did not lose the “rota”, it is not sinking! The Holy Mountain continues to sail correctly as it has for centuries. For over a thousand years, the rowers stand vigilant night and day at their oar. The Captain—the Lady of the Mount—holds the steering wheel firmly and the compass firmly shows God’s Kingdom. It is not shipwrecked and it collects castaways!
A google search of Dr. Grigoriou’s name in Greek only produces results in connection to this article. There is no photo, articles or a record of him anywhere in Greece other than in relation to this article. Other doctors with the same name do not have the same credentials as listed here. There is a Dr. Panagiotis Dimitrios Grigoriou in the UK, GMC # 7015533. His primary medical qualification is listed as Ptychio Iatrikes 2006 National Capodistrian University of Athens and he is obviously not the same person as the author of this article.
According to the contemporary spiritual fathers of Greece, all neuroses stem from the guilt of unconfessed sins. The monastery is a hospital where the sick go to be healed. However, if daily confession and revelation of thoughts, combined with frequent Holy Communion and the Jesus Prayer isn’t helping the monk, will a psychiatrist be able to help the individual monk more than his own spiritual father? Hierotheos Vlachos writes, “Orthodoxy is mainly a therapeutic science and treatment. It differs clearly from other psychiatric methods, because it is not anthropocentric and because it does not do its work with human methods, but with the help and energy of divine grace, essentially through the synergy of divine and human volition… I know that the term `psychotherapy’ is almost modern and is used by many psychiatrists to indicate the method which they follow for curing neurotics. But since many psychiatrists do not know the Church’s teaching or do not wish to apply it, and since their anthropology is very different from the anthropology and soteriology of the Fathers, in using the term `psychotherapy’, I have not made use of their views. It would have been very easy at some points to set out their views, some of which agree with the teaching of the Fathers and others of which are in conflict with it, and to make the necessary comments, but I did not wish to do that. I thought that it would be better to follow the teaching of the Church through the Fathers without mingling them together. Therefore I have prefixed the word `Orthodox’ to the word `Psychotherapy’ (healing of the soul), to make the title “Orthodox Psychotherapy”. It could also have been formulated as “Orthodox Therapeutic Treatment”.(Orthodox Psychotherapy, Introduction)
It is amazing that Dr. Grigoriou, with all his experience, is unaware of the vast amount of research in his field on the subject of blind obedience, authoritarianism, cult-like mentalities, and the emotional and psychological abuse that exist in such oppressive atmospheres. Evidence shows that these things lead to neuroses, PTSD, and various other mental illnesses. Studies on the emotional and psychological effects of confinement and feeling trapped are also in abundance.
Dr. Grigoriou does not clarify if these medications are administered to laymen by monastics that are licensed professionals, or if these professionals have up-to-date training.
This statement is not true, at least for the monasteries under Geronda Ephraim. There are numerous stories in circulation about the numerous monastics Geronda Ephraim sent packing on Mount Athos. The reasons ranged from not doing obedience, causing to many scandals, becoming a danger to themselves or others, homosexual incidents, or just so deluded that something really bad could have happened if they were allowed to stay. Geronda Ephraim has also sent a number of novices home from Arizona for various issues. As for prerequisites, homosexuals are generally not allowed to become monks. Geronda Ephraim has said it’s like inviting the devil into your monastery, and without going into specifics, he has hinted at the damage such men have caused in monasteries on Mount Athos. Also, people with mental illnesses are gently discouraged from becoming monastics in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries and are usually told it would be better for them to remain and struggle in the world.
Monk Michael did not say those things in his interview. Perhaps Dr. Grigoriou heard read them in some of his other writings?
As a layman who visits the monasteries and witnesses the front stage behavior—without actually living in a monastery or being a monk and witnessing the back stage behavior—Dr. Grigoriou is not in a position to make such a catch all statement. Monastics who make statements like this usually have a PR agenda.
Sick monks—either physically or mentally—have all had their own experiences of neglect from their brother monastics. One who has to stay in his cell may be forgotten and not have meals brought to him, or the person who tends to them may get caught up in another obedience and not show up to help, etc, in some cases remaining in a dirty diaper for a day or so before his monk-attendant comes to change his diaper and bathe him. A monastic suffering from some ailment may not be able to go to a doctor for a long period of time due to whatever circumstances, thus prolonging the suffering. At other times, the Geronda may say do patience and one has to endure. Again, one may have been given specific instructions for recovery and the Geronda will cut it short, saying it’s not necessary, you’re fine and you have to work, now go.
Again, Dr. Grigoriou is trying to paint an unrealistic utopia experience for ailing monks. Fr. Makarios of St. Anthony’s Monastery, AZ is a perfect example of how this is not always true. After he received his head injury and remained in a somewhat vegetative state, it put a strain on the brotherhood. Some of the younger monks giggled and mocked some of his newly acquired idiosyncrasies, especially during the services when he would stand up abruptly and say insensible things or pass wind in church throughout the night. Initially, Geronda said, “What use is he now? He has the mind of a baby,” and wanted to send him home. However, he did not send him away because he felt obliged to keep him (Fr. Makarios’ father is a priest who helps out at Geronda Ephraim’s nunneries). Of course, there was economia given to him due to his mental incapacitation but not all his brother monks had patience and understanding towards him. The reality in a monastery is once you start losing your usefulness you are made to feel like a burden. Woe unto those who get old and have nothing to contribute to the monastery; even more so if they need to take other monastics from more useful jobs to help them in their daily routine.
In many of the monasteries, the doctor monastics do not keep up-to-date with their training. Thus, many times one finds a doctor with an outdated degree. Of course, the basics don’t change much but would you trust going to a doctor who graduated from university in say 1990, never had a practice, and has not kept up-to-date on his training or the new breakthroughs in science and medicine nor had his license renewed?
Again, this is a far stretch of a statement. A perfect example would be the monasteries here in North America where fat-shaming is quite common among the monastics. The following information is not written to center anyone out or further fat shame individuals, but to point out that these things happen in the monasteries just as they do in the world. Furthermore, there is a complex link between obesity and mental illness and fat shaming is a method of stigmatizing. In the beginning, Fr. Germanos was constantly the brunt of jokes and taunts about his weight (both to his face and behind his back). In the mid-90’s, when Fr. Germanos was visiting Archangels Monastery in Texas, Geronda Dositheos walked up to him and said, “Do you know what we use to do to fat kids in school?” and he bumped his stomach into Fr. Germanos’ stomach. Also in the mid-late 90s, while Fr. Germanos was looking for property in New York, Geronda Ephraim gave many homilies to the Fathers in Arizona. In a couple of homilies, he’d joke about Fr. Germanos with his cheeks puffed, arms outstretched indicating fat, and wobble his body back and forth. All the Fathers would break out in laughter at this display. Though Fr. Germanos was not present for these homilies, he’d hear his brothers laughing and mocking him years later when these cassettes were digitalized and all the monasteries were given the DVDs. Another time, Fr. Germanos had forgot to erase his data from the treadmill they bought for the monastery. Fr. Kassianos, Fr. Michael and Fr. Kosmas had to move it from the living room up to the attic to make room for pilgrims and read the data which included his weight. These monks then joked about it and revealed to the other fathers, including Geronda, how much Fr. Germanos weighed. As time went on, stress-eating and high dessert diets increased in the other monasteries and the other superiors and second-in-commands also started to increase in weight and size; many hitting the 300lb + mark. As the other monastics’ weights increased, the teasing of Fr. Germanos decreased. Once, when the subject of how much weight all the abbots have been gaining came up, Fr. Germanos said jokingly, “It’s because you all judged me.” Taunts and shaming exist in the monasteries and neither the physically deformed, the handicapped or mentally ill are spared. Of course, those who become offended are given this explanation, “We do it out of love, not malice.” But in what universe can this be considered monastic, let alone Christian conduct? Sarcasm, contempt and mockery are not indications of brotherly love nor the presence of the Holy Spirit.
It’s not a far stretch. For example, when Fr. Gergory was a hieromonk at St. Anthony’s Monastery, he drank skullcap, St. John’s Wort, and various other nerve relaxant teas around the clock. And he walked around like he was zoned out and doped up. Other monastics that have a blessing for sleeping pills or herbal remedies to help them sleep also have similar demeanors. The monastics who have a blessing to take Lorazepam for anxiety attacks, panic or stress also have similar doped out demeanors. However, the monastics who take antihistamines with pseudoephedrine are a little more alert and tweaked out (though in some monasteries the use of allergy medicine with pseudoephedrine is no longer blessed. This is because some monastics were abusing the medicine and taking it even when they had no allergy symptoms).
Dr. Grigoriou opens his article with his credentials, familiarity with Mount Athos and the fact that there are Hagiorite monks on psychotropic drugs. These things, he states, make him a “substantive qualifier” to address Monk Michael’s interview. Now, Dr. Grigoriou suggests any psychiatrist is quite capable of analyzing the subject. Someone in Dr. Grigoriou’s position must be aware that many Greek psychiatrists are atheists and have biases and predispositions against Christianity, especially the monastic life.
The deeper issue is when the showcase and external image of a monastery become more important than the individual monastics. How often does the showcase image lead to harm (either of a monastic or a laymen)? To what lengths will a monastery go—lying, perjury, gaslighting, cover-ups—what illegal activities will it commit, to ensure that its image remains spotless? And how do these methods damage individuals?
This is a classic example of monastic minimization of serious issues. Not to mention, Dr. Grigoriou is actually stigmatizing the mentally ill by indirectly calling them “abnormal,” when he states that the other monks are “happy and normal.”
Ostracizing does occur in monasteries. This usually happens when a monastic is not doing obedience or toeing the line. Many times, the superior may instruct the members of the brotherhood to ignore this individual, do not talk to him/her, walk away if this individual tries talking to you, etc. Ostracizing also occurs when one is punished in the Lity or given only rusks or one piece of fruit for a meal while everyone else has a full meal. Ostracizing erring monastics is suggested as an instructional technique by St. Basil the Great, St. John of the Ladder and many other Church Fathers.
This resembles a spiritual father’s reproach to his spiritual child; the wording is attempted to instill guilt. The author is playing the Judas card; a classic amongst the Elders. A similar tactic was used in the HOCNA circles when former monastics started revealing the homosexual abuses perpetrated by their Geronda, Fr. Panteleimon Metropoulos. Ad hominen and straw man attacks and arguments were used against the former monastics that were sexually abused and raped. Gaslighting and dismissing them as deluded liars and Judas traitors was a common tactic used. In the last century, similar methods were used in other Orthodox scandal stories against the accusers/ whistle-blowers. In many of these situations, it eventually came to light that the accused were guilty and they ended up in prison or defrocked.
The island of Amoulianni, off the northwest coast of Athos, was once said to be run like a sort of ‘concentration camp’ for naughty monks. (See Ralph H. Brewster, The 6,000 Beards of Athos, 1935, p. 26). Up to early 1900s, Ammouliani was a dependency of Vatopedi Monasteryof Mount Athos. In 1925, the island was given in the refugees’ families who had come from islands of Propontis (Marmaras Sea), after Asia Minor Disaster. The population of the island was developed quickly and today the island has over 500 residents. Nowadays Ammouliani is a touristic place with frequent transportation with the opposite coast.
The Cassandra metaphor(variously labelled the Cassandra ‘syndrome’, ‘complex’, ‘phenomenon’, ‘predicament’, ‘dilemma’, or ‘curse’) occurs when valid warnings or concerns are dismissed or disbelieved. The Cassandra metaphor is applied by some psychologists to individuals who experience physical and emotional suffering as a result of distressing personal perceptions, and who are disbelieved when they attempt to share the cause of their suffering with others. In 1963, psychologistMelanie Klein provided an interpretation of Cassandra as representing the human moral conscience whose main task is to issue warnings. Cassandra as moral conscience, “predicts ill to come and warns that punishment will follow and grief arise.” Cassandra’s need to point out moral infringements and subsequent social consequences is driven by what Klein calls “the destructive influences of the cruel super-ego,” which is represented in the Greek myth by the god Apollo, Cassandra’s overlord and persecutor. Klein’s use of the metaphor centers on the moral nature of certain predictions, which tends to evoke in others “a refusal to believe what at the same time they know to be true, and expresses the universal tendency toward denial, [with] denial being a potent defence against persecutory anxiety and guilt.” (See Klein, M., Envy and Gratitude- And Other Works 1946–1963)
NOTE: The following article, entitled They Take Psychotropic Drugs on Mount Athos, is a Free Press (ΕΛΕΥΘΕΡΟΤΥΠΙΑ) Sunday insert magazine “E” (Έψιλον), Issue 524, 22/4/2001. Peter Papavasiliou interviews Monk Michael Haztiantoniou who lived as a monk in the Sinai desert for 11 years (1988-1998) and Mount Athos for 14 years (1973-1988).
After 14 years in Simonopetra Monastery, the Athonite monk raised his voice in protest about what is happening in the Athonite state. Today, Monk Michael lives alone in hesychia in the mountains of Corinth, in a cell allocated to him by some pious people. He writes his books from this cell. He has published 12 books so far and many of his accusations can be found recorded in them; he denounces “things and wonders” about the Athonite republic from homosexuality to heavy psychotropic drug addiction! http://aretimaurogianni2.blogspot.gr/2013/06/blog-post_6872.html
PP: Do the abbots in the monasteries of Mount Athos display authoritarian behavior?
MM: When they first appeared, these abbots projected themselves as charismatic personalities who had somehow received the mission from God to create a new model of monasticism.1 So, for many people these personalities were expressing hopes and dreams. They endeavoured, they created and built brotherhoods, monasteries, and were very actively involved. However, what all this activity has produced is significant. I can mention a conversation we had with Geronda Paisios on this subject. The basic question that disturbed me was: ‘Why is my generation, on the level of monks, while it presented refinement, culture, and sensitiveness—very positive signs for Geronda Paisios—did not yield spiritual fruitfulness?
PP: Do the abbots use special methods to persuade or to render all the monks conformable?’2
“I think that many Geronta Abbots started out differently and ended up otherwise. It was entirely different when the brotherhood numbered 6 to 7 monks and different when the same Geronda had more monks. In the beginning they organized it patristically and monastically. They had found a tradition on Mount Athos. Later, however, as the brotherhood grew, they started to ‘militarize’ it and treat it like a camp.”3
“Consistency and order had to be kept and a new element appeared which was crucial to the mentality of this organization: the showcase. They were extremely cautious in how they expressed themselves, regardless of how we lived and the things we said amongst ourselves. How will we appear? How will our showcase not be ‘scratched’? How can we ensure that our problems will not be heard about in Thessaloniki?”4
“I was present at the Assembly debate when some Abbot telephoned and said an Iveritis monk (i.e. a monk from Iveron Monastery) was found dead in Thessaloniki. This dead monk was a homosexual and had relations with two Romanians. It didn’t particularly trouble us because such incidents could occur in a large number of monks. But the Abbot whom it offended requested the Holy Community5 publish a paper which would state that this monk had no relationship with the Holy Mountain even though the victim was an Athonite monk for decades.”
“The Holy Community then discussed the matter and said: ‘How would we say this? Anyone would be able to overturn us since he hasn’t been erased from the Monastery…He is a canonical Hagiorite.’ This problem shows that that many Gerondas today have transferred their interest to the showcase.”
PP: What are the problems behind the showcase? In your books you maintain that a fraction of monks take heavy psychotropic drugs, even by the Abbot’s orders.6
MM: This was also a very great and sad realization for me. It was a painful decision to start disclosing and writing about these things. I did it after 25 years in monasticism though my realizations had occurred many years ago. After publishing certain books that mentioned psychiatric drugs, many monks came forward and assured me that what I write is very mild compared to the realities that are in force on Mount Athos.
PP: You mentioned in one of your books that a pharmacist from Thessaloniki, who was spiritually connected with some monastery on Mount Athos, was put in a difficult position when an Abbot requested boxes of heavy psychotropic drugs from him.7
MM: We say that this monastery is the chief representative of ‘noetic’ prayer (i.e. the continuous repetition of the phrase, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner,’ which leads to illumination); meaning it represents whatever is the most spiritual at this time to dispose Orthodoxy towards contemporary issues.
PP: Which monastery are you referring to, Fr. Michael? In what monastery did this incident with the two boxes of psychiatric drugs occur?
MM: The incident concerns Filotheou Monastery and Geronda Ephraim is the abbot who wanted the psychotropic drugs.8
PP: One can contradict that half of Greece takes psychiatric drugs, anxiolytics, or whatever else.
MM: I do not tolerate this situation. I wish everyone could improve their psychological and spiritual condition with effort and balance their everyday life. But even more, I cannot tolerate this (i.e. taking psychiatric drugs) from the people who came to occupy themselves with a higher way of life, consequently to overcome their human elements and weaknesses and acquire what we call the angelic life.
PP: Namely, the sober, meek and bland lifestyle of many monks on Mount Athos is due to the influence of milligrams of sedatives?
MM: I’ll make a comparison with the Bedouin when I lived in Sinai for 11 years. I was responsible for some hermitages many kilometers away and I watched them basking in the sun with a wonderful smile because they used hashish. They called them ‘sacred plants’ there. They used hashish in their daily lives like tomatoes. They, too, were very meek, mild, smiling and sweet. Consequently, external behaviors and conduct do not suffice for me.9
PP: Let’s return to the Holy Mountain. You’ve written in your books that the abbot, in order to exert psychosomatic control, imposes “reactionary” monks and those who doubt his words every night to take a strong dose of sedative every night. Is this true?
MM: This isn’t a canona that you described, but it does happen. I asked a monk who made a pilgrimage to Sinai, ‘How did you take a psychotropic drug for the first time?’ He answered me, ‘The epitropos (i.e. the epitropos is the abbot’s replacement) put a bottle on the table and told me, ‘You will take one pill in the morning and one in the evening. Geronda sends this and you must drink it …’ As the young monk told me, that night he did ‘obedience’ and drank the medicine. I asked this monk what percentage of the monastery took psychiatric drugs. He replied, ‘A very large percentage of the monks.’
PP: The young monk spoke to you about large percentages of monks taking psychotropic drugs. Was he referring to his monastery or the Athonite monasteries in general?
MM: He spoke to me about his monastery. Of course, I never imagined that psychiatric drugs would find an application in such a large scale. There was a doctor who had continued in Karyes and had taken it upon himself to arrange the pharmacy in a monastery. He had seen the boxes of psychiatric drugs. Later, this doctor decided to become a monk.
PP: Even after seeing the boxes of psychiatric drugs?
MM: Yes indeed. He even became a monk at this monastery where he arranged the pharmacy.
PP: Which monastery?
MM: It is a famous monastery which has over 50 monks in its ranks.”
PP: Can you be more specific?
MM: No, because I think it becomes more personal empathy. Namely, I know these monks. They will say that Michael attacked us personally. I do not want to but if, for some reason, the Community of Mount Athos invites me, then I will speak about the details. I can speak about these things there. I don’t want to become too specific or, perhaps, the time hasn’t come yet … However, the responsibility for these things is transferred to the Abbot and 2-3 persons of his entourage who impose. There is some responsibility and I would even say legal responsibility. One enters a monastery without taking psychotropic drugs and then after 10 or 15 years he starts taking them—and this in a large percentage. Well, then, if our community was healthy, they would not have tolerated this so simply and mildly.
PP: Are there such incidents of people entering Mount Athos healthy and coming out addicted to soothing substances and sedatives?
MM: Yes, this happens quite a lot … (quietly and with a sense of shame). Recently, I spoke with a former Athonite monk who told me: ‘I want to find a channel to speak. They tested 30 psychotropic drugs on me. I lived simply and naturally for 15 years. How did I get on the list to become a guinea pig?’
PP: Did you ever see them moving boxes (i.e. of psychotropics) on Mount Athos during the years you lived there as a monk?
MM: No, I didn’t know about these things. I saw the boxes but didn’t know what they contained exactly.
PP: You thought that they were simple drugs…
MM: Yes. For example, a monk had sent me once to buy medicine when I was out. He had given me a list. At the pharmacy, the pharmacist looked me over well and good.
PP: At the pharmacy in Thessaloniki?
MM: Yes. He asked me, ‘Who do you want these drugs for?’ I told him that I wanted them for a monk. He told me, ‘Father, did you know that these drugs are very heavy and we do not dispense them without a prescription?’ Then I thought they didn’t have the drugs I sought and went to another pharmacy where they told me exactly the same things. When I asked what these drugs were that no one could give me, the pharmacist answered, ‘My Father, I cannot give you these drugs without a prescription and without knowing who they are intended because they are very heavy psychotropics.’ Well, I was very irritated with the monk who sent me.
PP: In other conversations, Fr. Michael, you have revealed to me that many Athonite monks frequently visit a psychiatrist. Is this a fact?
MM: The first is in Thessaloniki. He does therapeutic exercise. He knows the mindset of the monks very well and is very familiar with them. Many monks go to him and they always start talking about the uncreated light (i.e., the indication of the Holy Spirit’s presence that surrounds spiritual monks with brightness) and noetic prayer.”
PP: Does this psychiatrist visit Mount Athos as a family physician?
MM: Yes, he also practises on Mount Athos but the monks visit him in Thessaloniki for more comprehensive treatment. There was an incident where a monk jumped from his balcony and they pulled him out there at a seaside monastery. Fortunately, the monk lived…
PP: As long as the incident is in the past, can we disclose it?
MM: And yet it never became known.
PP: In what monastery did this suicide attempt occur?
MM: Firstly, as the boat goes … However, some specific questions preoccupy me: 1) Why would a monk not be able to leave from a place where he reached a dead end?—because we’re talking about before authoritarianism. 2) If a monk attempted suicide, does the abbot have the right to keep him close by his side? I don’t think so. We know that we all became monks to claim a right, to give rest to our little hearts, to satisfy a spiritual longing, a thirst we have in life. How did these children reach such a tragic point and how did it not become an issue?
PP: Are there many suicide attempts on Mount Athos?10
MM: I know of an incident where a monk had set himself on fire.11
PP: What year was that?
MM: It occurred in 1994 approximately.
PP: Did this happen in a monastery or skete?
MM: In a monastery. Things are much milder in the sketes.”
PP: Who is ultimately responsible for everything that happens in Panagia’s Garden?
MM: Two sides are responsible (i.e. he means the abbots and the monks). However, I think the head is implicated more since he is able to sanitize the emergent. For the emergent comes and is delivered to him with an almost absolute confidence. I would like to see cases of some healthy personalities, open-minded, free, to operate without complex, oppression, etc. We have not seen this yet…
PP: The matter of psychotropic drugs has never been raised to the assembly of the Holy Community?
MM: From what I know, no.”
PP: Only the issue of homosexual relations was raised when and if an outbreak occurred.
MM: Many epidemic cases—indeed, some time ago, an old Athonite monk called me UFO and he expected me to be shrewd. There were cliques in Karyes, or in whatever cell, where we met famous monks and they waited for when I would leave so they could manifest more freely. I treated them all so naturally that I confused them. And so one monk asked me, ‘Well, do you not understand anything about what is happening?’ And he continued in the same tone: ‘Did such and such a monk never suspect you? Let me tell you that there is a cassette which has recorded conversations.’ I answered: ‘But I was friends with him for so many years. When did these things happen?’ And he answered: ‘That is why I call you UFO.’ Yes, homosexual issues have been raised at the Assembly, but I no longer believe in this institution to speak honestly, frankly, at a cost. For many years, decades, I saw that the showcase is their priority and I can also say at some point their economy became their priority. Not an economy in ecclesiastical terms, but rather a ‘practical’ economy, namely, the covering up of everything.
Fr. Michael, do you want to compliment/supplement something?
MM: I would like to emphasize that the children today on Mount Athos (i.e. he means the monks) are very good kids. The love, they look at you with clean eyes. I speak for the majority because there are certainly a very small number of monks who have a pure heart. We said the heads share a large portion of the responsibility…
Monk Michael is referring mainly to the disciples of Elder Joseph the Hesychast—Elders Ephraim, Haralambos and Joseph—who took charge of 6 of the 20 main monasteries on Mount Athos in the 60s and 70s.
In the 60s and 70s, many of the Athonite monks had issue with what they viewed as young upstarts (i.e. Elder Joseph the Hesychast’s disciples) starting a new brand of monasticism. Furthermore, many of the Athonite Fathers believed Elder Joseph and his synodia were deluded. Some of the more vocal Athonite opponents of Geronda Ephraim were St. Paisios the Athonite, St. Porphyrios the the Kapsokalyvite, Monk Moses the Athonite, and Archimandrite Vasileiosof Iveron (then Abbot of the Stavronikita).
Some of Geronda Ephraim’s former monastics—both in Greece and North America—have remarked that the structure and atmosphere in the monastery was very oppressive and like a boot camp. Some have expressed that it was like a prison camp without the physical torture but rather with lots of psychological and emotional abuse.
This “showcase” mentality still prevails in Geronda Ephraim’s North American monasteries. One of the main obediences for all his monastics is: “At all costs, do not scandalize the lay people. I do not want to hear complaints from pilgrims. No matter what, always show a good representation of monasticism to the pilgrims.” This is called “front stage” behaviour; i.e. this is the behaviour they want pilgrims to see, however, it does not represent in actuality the truth of what goes on behind closed doors—“backstage behaviour.” When a pilgrim witnesses an action unbecoming of a monastic, or expresses being scandalized due to something a monastic has done or said, then there will be some very serious consequences for that monastic individual. Sometimes this can also include a serious yelling rebuke in front of the scandalized victim to shame and humiliate the monk and appease the pilgrim. No doubt the entire brotherhood/sisterhood will be summoned for a homily where this monastic will be centered out, rebuked and humiliated. This is also done as a warning to the other monastics and to instill fear. Furthermore, the individual monastic will end up in the Lity at the end of the church services confessing their sin and begging every individual leaving for forgiveness.
Athos is governed by the “Holy Community” (Ιερά Κοινότητα – Iera Koinotita) which consists of the representatives of the 20 Holy Monasteries, having as executive committee the four-membered “Holy Administration” (Ιερά Επιστασία – Iera Epistasia), with the Protos (Πρώτος) being its head. Civil authorities are represented by the Civil Governor, appointed by the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose main duty is to supervise the function of the institutions and the public order. The current Civil Governor is Aristos Kasmiroglou.
In St. Anthony’s Monastery, one of the monks was on anti-depressants before he entered the monastery and out of economia, Geronda Ephraim allowed him to continue. There have been unsubstantiated rumors of other monastics on psychiatric drugs, too. A monk at St. Nektarios Monastery (NY) entered the monastery taking Ritalin for his ADHD. Geronda Joseph made him stop his prescription immediately and he hasn’t taken any prescriptions for his condition since. There is a blessing for abbots/abbesses, and their second-in-commands to take things like Lorazepam (or other anxiolytics) when they suffer from severe anxiety or panic attacks—something which is frequent in their line of work. As well, on numerous occasions, Fr. Germanos of St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery in Roscoe, NY, has given homilies about psychiatric and emotional problems being a direct result of a disciple’s disobedience. In these homilies, he has mentioned the fact that many Hagiorites who had been monastics for 15-25 years are suffering from mental illness as a fruit of all the disobediences they had committed. It was unknown if Fr. Germanos was also referring to himself and his own experiences, something the Athonite Fathers do many times when giving cautionary homilies.
Many of Geronda Ephraim’s North American monasteries have a Greek Orthodox doctor, who is also devoted pilgrim. In some cases, a monastery may also have a monastic who is a doctor. In the early days, many of Geronda Ephraim’s monastics did not have any medical insurance. Usually the superior and second-in-command would have private insurance. The monasteries bypassed expensive medical costs by having the loyal and obedient doctor write prescriptions for all their monastics without insurance in the names of those who had insurance. Also, these doctors would also put aside all the free medical samples they received from pharmaceutical companies (if they were medicines the monastics used) and “donate” them to the monasteries. Thus, most monasteries have a large medicine cabinet full of antibiotics, antihistamines, anti-inflammatory drugs, psychotropic drugs (low doses which are said to be useful for pain), muscle relaxants, prescription pain killers, etc.
Interestingly, Geronda Joseph (Ioannis) Voutsas, abbot of St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY, is from Thessaloniki. He was also a pharmacist and earned his degree at the University of Thessaloniki.
Though the main emphasis in Geronda Ephraim’s monastery is blind obedience and the Jesus Prayer, external behaviour and conduct also has a very serious importance. Essentially, ‘fake it until you make it.’
Fr. Germanos of St. Nektarios Monastery, Rosoce, NY, has stated in homilies that there is a high suicide rate on Mount Athos. The Gerontikon and Synaxarion are filled with many cautionary tales about monastics who have become deluded or fallen into such despair that they attempted suicide. There are also many cautionary tales about those monastics who succeeded in killing themselves.
In the first few centuries of Orthodox Christianity, the Orthodox Church and the Church Fathers accepted the act of suicide if it was to preserve one’s virginity; i.e. an individual could commit suicide to prevent being raped and it was not considered a mortal sin and one was even eligible to be ranked as a virgin-martyr. Also, some of the martyrs commemorated in the Church were not actually killed by their tormentors but rather they leapt to their own deaths after a period of torture or with the threat of martyrdom. Thus, in the Lives of the Saints of the first few centuries, one can find many saints who committed suicide. After the 4th-5th century, suicide was no longer an acceptable practise to preserve chastity which creates a little confusion. Those before this time period are saints in the ranks of heaven, whereas those who commit suicide after this time period have committed mortal sin and lost their souls.
The majority of the early Church Fathers evidently not only justified but commended suicide in such an extremity. The first Father distinctly to condemn the practice was Augustine (De civ. Dei. I. 22–27). He takes strong ground on the subject, and while admiring the bravery and chastity of the many famous women that had rescued themselves by taking their own lives, he denounces their act as sinful under all circumstances, maintaining that suicide is never anything else than a crime against the law of God. The view of Augustine has very generally prevailed since his time. In the 9th century, St. Theodore of Studite clearly states in his epistle: “It is not permitted in any situation whatsoever for a service or liturgy to be performed for him (namely, the one who commits suicide)” [PG 99, 1477B].
Interestingly, though homosexual rape and pedophilia were quite predominant in the early days of the Church (both within and without of Christianity), the Fathers seem to only accept women virgin-martyrs. There is no mention of “economia” when it comes to male on male rape. It should be noted that in some medieval non-Christian cultures, a common practise of male victors in a raid or war was to rape (sometimes gang-rape) the male captors to shame and humiliate them. This practise continues today throughout the world both in war and prison systems.
Also, the early Fathers don’t talk much about clergymen hiding behind their rank to sexually abuse others (whether heterosexual, homosexual or pedophilia). This trend which existed in the early Orthodox Church is today quite predominant worldwide. Perhaps this silence is because St. Constantine the Great set the precedent of protecting them when he stated at the First Ecumenical Council: “If I would see with my own eyes a bishop, a priest or a monk in a sinful act, I would cover him with my cloak, so that no one would ever see his sin.”
ORTHODOX CHURCH FATHERS WHO SUPPORTED SUICIDE TO PRESERVE CHASTITY
St. Ambrose of Milan (4th c.): Though St. Ambrose disapproved of suicide in general, he embraced the idea that women who committed suicide to protect their virginity received the martyr’s crown. St. Ambrose ends his ascetical treatise On Virgins by explaining to his sister that suicide is preferable to losing one’s virginity. He tells his sister that she can be confident suicide is permissible when protecting chastity because the Church has examples of martyrs who did that very thing. He then proceeds to tell the story of a teenager named Pelagia who lived in Antioch. She threw herself off a building to avoid lecherous pursuers. St. Ambrose even has her rationalizing her plans in his retelling. Ambrose’s Pelagia says, “God is not offended by the remedy [avoiding rape], and faith mitigates the misdeed [of suicide].” Though still a “misdeed,” St. Ambrose clearly views it as the lesser of two evils when a woman’s virginity is at stake.
Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, Church Historian (4th c.): In his Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius writes about the abominable treatment of female Christians formed a feature of the persecutions both of Maximian and Maximin, who were alike monsters of licentiousness. Eusebius wrote about the suicides of St. Domnina and Her Two Daughters and evidently approved of these women’s suicide. [Book VIII, Chapter 12]
St. John Chrysostom (4th-5th c.): St. John Chrysostom’s stance regarding suicide and martyrdom is relatively close to St. Ambrose’s. John condemns suicide, believing it to be against God’s will, and claims that real martyrs do not commit suicide. Even though they do not kill themselves, John believed they must face death willingly. However, like St. Ambrose, Chrysostom accepts suicide for women who are attempting to protect their purity.
St. John Chrysostom, like many of his contemporaries, highly prized virginity, and when he considered the importance of sexual purity, St. John rationalized behaviors that would otherwise be condemnable. Specifically, John advocated suicide for women when necessary to protect their chastity. In his sermon on Julian, suicide is a defeat, though John probably had men in mind while preaching that sermon. In his sermon on the Virgin-Martyr Pelagia, suicide is victory over the enemies of God and over the Devil himself.
St. Jerome (4th-5th c.): The early Church Father St Jerome categorically stated that Christ would not receive the soul of one who commits suicide. [Saint Jerome, Letters 39:3]. However, St Jerome makes an interesting exception to their otherwise absolute and inclusive condemnation: those who commit suicide in order to preserve their chastity.
ORTHODOX CHURCH FATHERS WHO OPPOSED SUICIDE TO PRESERVE CHASTITY
St. Augustine of Hippo (5th c.): This, then, is our position, and it seems sufficiently lucid. We maintain that when a woman is violated while her soul admits no consent to the iniquity, but remains inviolably chaste, the sin is not hers, but his who violates her. (Of Lucretia, Who Put an End to Her Life Because of the Outrage Done Her, City of God Chapter 19).
ORTHODOX SAINTS IN THE SYNAXARION WHO COMMITTED SUICIDE
This list is just a brief sample and by no means complete. One can find numerous examples from the first few centuries of the Orthodox Church in the Synaxarion.
St. Agathonike (165 or 251 AD): St. Agathonike did not commit suicide to preserve her virginity, but is in the ranks of “voluntary martyr.” During the reign of Marcus Aurelius, Agathonike became so excited while watching Carpus and Papylus die martyrs’ deaths that she believed she should join them on the pyre. The crowd tried to dissuade her after she announced her intentions, reminding her that her son needed her. She replied that God would take care of him, at which point she disrobed and threw herself on the fire. In the Latin recension of the text, however, Agathonike is arrested with the other two martyrs, which leads Musurillo to suggest, “The Latin redactor was attempting to colour the facts for a later age.” [See: Martyrdom of Carpus, Papylus, and Agothonike 44].
She is celebrated in the Greek Church on October 13th
St. Apollonia (2nd century): St. Apollonia also did not commit suicide to preserve her virginity but did so after being tortured. Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria (247–265), relates the sufferings of his people in a letter addressed to Fabius, Bishop of Antioch, of which long extracts have been preserved in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: “At that time Apollonia, parthénos presbytis (mostly likely meaning a deaconess) was held in high esteem. These men seized her also and by repeated blows broke all her teeth. They then erected outside the city gates a pile of fagots and threatened to burn her alive if she refused to repeat after them impious words (either a blasphemy against Christ, or an invocation of the heathen gods). Given, at her own request, a little freedom, she sprang quickly into the fire and was burned to death.” [6.41 (PG 20:605–607)]
She is celebrated in the Greek Church on February 9th.
St. Pelagia of Antioch (late 3rd century): St. Pelagia was a Christian saint, virgin, and martyr who committed suicide during the Diocletian Persecution rather than be forced by Roman soldiers to offer a public sacrifice to the pagan gods. She was 15 years old.
She was home alone during the Diocletian Persecution when Roman soldiers arrived. She came out to meet them and, discovering they intended to compel her to participate in a pagan sacrifice, she received permission to change her clothes. She went to the roof of her house and threw herself into the sea. The patristic sources treat this as a sacred martyrdom rather than an ignoble suicide, usually with reference to the potential that she would have been dishonored by the soldiers.
She is celebrated in the Greek Church on October 8th.
Saints Domnina, Berenice, and Prosdoce (c. 310)
Saint Domnina and her daughters Berenice (Bernice, Veronica, Verine, Vernike) and Prosdoce are venerated as Christian martyrs by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches.
Domnina was arrested by soldiers for her adherence to the Christian religion. Fearing that the soldiers would rape her and her daughters, they threw themselves into a river after they asked their guards for a chance to rest for a while or after the soldiers had become drunk with wine. All three women drowned.
The account of St. John Chrysostom tells a slightly different story: according to Chrysostom, Domnina, after jumping into the river, pulled her daughters in with her to prevent them from being raped. Chrysostom praised Domnina for her courage and Domnina’s daughters for their obedience.
She is celebrated in the Greek Church on October 4th.
PATRISTIC SERMONS LAUDING SUICIDE TO PRESERVE CHASTITY
Saint John Chrysostom delivered the following sermon about St. Pelagia, the Virgin Martyr:
“Even women now poke fun at death and girls mock passing away and quite young, unmarried virgins skip into the very stings of Hades and suffer no ill effects. All of these blessings we experience because of Christ, born of a virgin. For after those blessed contraction pains and utterly awe-inspiring birth the sinews of death were unstrung, the devil’s power was disabled and from then on became contemptible to not just men but also women, and not just women, but also girls….
“It’s for this reason that blessed Pelagia too ran to meet death with such great delight that she didn’t wait for the executioners’ hands nor did she go to court, but escaped their cruelty through the excess of her own enthusiasm. For while she was prepared for tortures and punishments and every kind of penalty, even so she was afraid that she would destroy the crown of her virginity. Indeed, that you might learn that she was afraid of the sexual predation of the unholy men, she got in first and snatched herself away in advance from the shameful violence. None of the [Christian] men ever attempted any such act at all. Instead they all filed into court and displayed their courage there. Yet women, by nature vulnerable to harm, conceived for themselves this manner of death. My point is that, were it possible both to preserve one’s virginity and attain martyrdom’s crown, she wouldn’t have refused to go to court. But since it was utterly inevitable that one of the two would be lost, she thought it a sign of extreme stupidity, when it was possible for her to attain each victory, to depart half crowned. For this reason she wasn’t willing to go to court or to become a spectacle for lecherous eyes, or to give opportunity for predatory eyes to revel in the sight of her own appearance and crudely insult that holy body. Instead she went from her chamber and the women’s quarters to a second chamber – heaven….
“Don’t simply pass over what happened, but consider how it’s likely that she was raised as a gentle girl, knowing nothing beyond her chamber, while soldiers were posted against her en masse, standing in front of the door, summoning her to court, dragging her into the marketplace on weighty sorts of grounds. There was no father inside, no mother present, no nurse, no female attendant, no neighbor, no female friend. Instead, she was left alone in the midst of those executioners. I mean, how isn’t it right that we be astonished and amazed that she had the strength to come out and answer those executioner soldiers, to open her mouth and utter a sound, just to look, stand, and breathe? Those actions weren’t attributable to human nature. For God’s influence introduced the majority. Most assuredly, at the time she didn’t just idly stand around, but displayed all her personal qualities – her enthusiasm, her resolve, her nobility, her willingness, her purpose, her eagerness, her bustling energy. But it was as a result of God’s help and heavenly good goodwill that all these qualities reached maturity….
“In addition to what’s been said, I marvel as well at how the soldiers granted her the favor, how the woman deceived the men, how they didn’t work out the deception. After all, one can’t say that no one effected anything of the sort. For many women, it seems, gave themselves up to a cliff or hurled themselves into the sea or drove a sword through their breast or fastened a noose. That time was full of numerous dramas of that kind. But God blinded the soldier’s hearts so that they wouldn’t openly see the deception. That’s why she flew up out of the middle of their nets….
“Lot’s of people who’ve tumbled from a high roof haven’t suffered any ill effect. Others, in turn, despite suffering permanent disability to some part of their body, have lived for a long time after the fall. But in the case of that blessed virgin God didn’t allow any of these options to happen. Instead, he ordered the body to release the soul immediately and received it on the grounds that it had struggled sufficiently and completed everything. For death wasn’t caused by the nature of the fall, but by God’s command. From that point the body wasn’t lying on a bed, but on the pavement. yet it wasn’t without honor as it lay on the pavement…For this reason, then, that virginal body purer than any gold lay on the pavement, on the street.” [St. John Chrysostom, A homily on Pelagia, Virgin and Martyr, translated into English by Wendy Mayer, from the book Let Us Die That We May Live (pp. 148-161)]
Saint John Chrysostom delivered a sermon about St. Domnina and her two daughters:
In St. John’s sermon probably preached in the 390s in Antioch, the story takes an interesting turn. The women do not just kill themselves; John suggests that the mother actually drowns her daughters. He preaches, “And so, the mother entered in the middle [of the river], restraining her daughters on either side.” Once in the river, John says, “That blessed woman [Domnina] … lowered them down into the waters, and in this way they drowned.” Domnina then drowns herself to claim her martyr’s crown. Astonishingly, in this sermon, the protection of virginity not only justifies self-murder, but also John uses it justify murdering one’s children. He actually esteems Domnina because he claims that drowning her own daughters was an exceedingly painful form of martyrdom. Domnina could have suffered at the court, but then she would not have been able to ensure her daughters’ purity.
She endured far greater tortures in the river [than she would have at court]. My point, as I started saying, is that it was truly far more cruel and painful than to see flesh scourged, to drown her own innards, I mean her daughters, by her own hand, and to see them suffocating, and it required far greater philosophy than to endure tortures for her to have the capacity to restrain her children’s right hands and to drag them along with her into the river’s currents. For it was not the same in terms of pain to see [her daughters] suffering badly at the hands of others and to herself act as death’s servant, to herself promote their end, to herself stand against her daughters in place of an executioner.
John imputes extraordinary suffering to a mother who kills her young daughters, and he not only excuses the killing but also lauds it because she did it to preserve virginity. John commends these martyrs as prime examples for mothers and daughters in his congregation. No doubt, this sermon worried not a few daughters whose reputations were at risk. [see, The Cult of the Saints: St. John Chrysostom, http://www.svspress.com/the-cult-of-the-saints-st-john-chrysostom/ ]
Saint Ambrose replies to Marcellina, who had asked what should be thought of those who to escape violence killed themselves, by narrating the history of Pelagia, a virgin, with her mother and sister…
As I am drawing near the close of my address, you make a good suggestion, holy sister, that I should touch upon what we ought to think of the merits of those who have cast themselves down from a height, or have drowned themselves in a river, lest they should fall into the hands of persecutors, seeing that holy Scripture forbids a Christian to lay hands on himself. And indeed as regards virgins placed in the necessity of preserving their purity, we have a plain answer, seeing that there exists an instance of martyrdom.
Saint Pelagia lived formerly at Antioch, being about fifteen years old, a sister of virgins, and a virgin herself. She shut herself up at home at the first sound of persecution, seeing herself surrounded by those who would rob her of her faith and purity, in the absence of her mother and sisters, without any defence, but all the more filled with God. What are we to do, unless, says she to herself, you, a captive of virginity, takest thought? I both wish and fear to die, for I meet not death but seek it. Let us die if we are allowed, or if they will not allow it, still let us die. God is not offended by a remedy against evil, and faith permits the act. In truth, if we think of the real meaning of the word, how can what is voluntary be violence? It is rather violence to wish to die and not to be able. And we do not fear any difficulty. For who is there who wishes to die and is not able to do so, when there are so many easy ways to death? For I can now rush upon the sacrilegious altars and overthrow them, and quench with my blood the kindled fires. I am not afraid that my right hand may fail to deliver the blow, or that my breast may shrink from the pain. I shall leave no sin to my flesh. I fear not that a sword will be wanting. I can die by my own weapons, I can die without the help of an executioner, in my mother’s bosom.
She is said to have adorned her head, and to have put on a bridal dress, so that one would say that she was going to a bridegroom, not to death. But when the hateful persecutors saw that they had lost the prey of her chastity, they began to seek her mother and sisters. But they, by a spiritual flight, already held the field of chastity, when, as on the one side, persecutors suddenly threatened them, and on the other, escape was shut off by an impetuous river, they said, what do we fear? See the water, what hinders us from being baptized? And this is the baptism whereby sins are forgiven, and kingdoms are sought. This is a baptism after which no one sins. Let the water receive us, which is wont to regenerate. Let the water receive us, which makes virgins. Let the water receive us, which opens heaven, protects the weak, hides death, makes martyrs. We pray You, God, Creator of all things, let not the water scatter our bodies, deprived of the breath of life; let not death separate our obsequies, whose lives affection has always conjoined; but let our constancy be one, our death one, and our burial also be one.
Having said these words, and having slightly girded up the bosom of their dress, to veil their modesty without impeding their steps, joining hands as though to lead a dance, they went forward to the middle of the river bed, directing their steps to where the stream was more violent, and the depth more abrupt. No one drew back, no one ceased to go on, no one tried where to place her steps, they were anxious only when they felt the ground, grieved when the water was shallow, and glad when it was deep. One could see the pious mother tightening her grasp, rejoicing in her pledges, afraid of a fall lest even the stream should carry off her daughters from her. These victims, O Christ, said she, do I offer as leaders of chastity, guides on my journey, and companions of my sufferings. [On Virgins, Book III, Chapter 7:32-35]
SERMONS OF CHURCH FATHERS CONDEMNING SUICIDE TO PRESERVE CHASTITY
St. Augustine of Hippo, That Christians Have No Authority for Committing Suicide in Any Circumstances Whatever, City of God Chapter 20.
It is not without significance, that in no passage of the holy canonical books there can be found either divine precept or permission to take away our own life, whether for the sake of entering on the enjoyment of immortality, or of shunning, or ridding ourselves of anything whatever. Nay, the law, rightly interpreted, even prohibits suicide, where it says, “Thou shalt not kill.” This is proved especially by the omission of the words “thy neighbor,” which are inserted when false witness is forbidden: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” Nor yet should any one on this account suppose he has not broken this commandment if he has borne false witness only against himself. For the love of our neighbor is regulated by the love of ourselves, as it is written, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” If, then, he who makes false statements about himself is not less guilty of bearing false witness than if he had made them to the injury of his neighbor; although in the commandment prohibiting false witness only his neighbor is mentioned, and persons taking no pains to understand it might suppose that a man was allowed to be a false witness to his own hurt; how much greater reason have we to understand that a man may not kill himself, since in the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” there is no limitation added nor any exception made in favor of any one, and least of all in favor of him on whom the command is laid! And so some attempt to extend this command even to beasts and cattle, as if it forbade us to take life from any creature. But if so, why not extend it also to the plants, and all that is rooted in and nourished by the earth? For though this class of creatures have no sensation, yet they also are said to live, and consequently they can die; and therefore, if violence be done them, can be killed. So, too, the apostle, when speaking of the seeds of such things as these, says, “That which thou sowest is not quickened except it die;” and in the Psalm it is said, “He killed their vines with hail.” Must we therefore reckon it a breaking of this commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” to pull a flower? Are we thus insanely to countenance the foolish error of the Manichæans? Putting aside, then, these ravings, if, when we say, Thou shalt not kill, we do not understand this of the plants, since they have no sensation, nor of the irrational animals that fly, swim, walk, or creep, since they are dissociated from us by their want of reason, and are therefore by the just appointment of the Creator subjected to us to kill or keep alive for our own uses; if so, then it remains that we understand that commandment simply of man. The commandment is, “Thou shall not kill man;” therefore neither another nor yourself, for he who kills himself still kills nothing else than man.
St. Augustine of Hippo, Of Suicide Committed Through Fear of Punishment or Dishonor, City of God Chapter, Book I, Chapter 17.
And consequently, even if some of these virgins killed themselves to avoid such disgrace, who that has any human feeling would refuse to forgive them? And as for those who would not put an end to their lives, lest they might seem to escape the crime of another by a sin of their own, he who lays this to their charge as a great wickedness is himself not guiltless of the fault of folly. For if it is not lawful to take the law into our own hands, and slay even a guilty person, whose death no public sentence has warranted, then certainly he who kills himself is a homicide, and so much the guiltier of his own death, as he was more innocent of that offence for which he doomed himself to die. Do we justly execrate the deed of Judas, and does truth itself pronounce that by hanging himself he rather aggravated than expiated the guilt of that most iniquitous betrayal, since, by despairing of God’s mercy in his sorrow that wrought death, he left to himself no place for a healing penitence? How much more ought he to abstain from laying violent hands on himself who has done nothing worthy of such a punishment! For Judas, when he killed himself, killed a wicked man; but he passed from this life chargeable not only with the death of Christ, but with his own: for though he killed himself on account of his crime, his killing himself was another crime. Why, then, should a man who has done no ill do ill to himself, and by killing himself kill the innocent to escape another’s guilty act, and perpetrate upon himself a sin of his own, that the sin of another may not be perpetrated on him?
NOTE: The following article is taken from the National Herald, January 21, 2016.
BOSTON – Former Archimandrite of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America John Heropoulos, who left the holy priesthood almost nine years ago, was married to a man on Saturday January 9. The civil ceremony took place at The Neighborhood Club of Quincy, MA with relatives and friends in attendance.
Heropoulos is very touched by the responses he has received from people.
Among the first who sent best wishes to the newlywed couple were some close friends of John Heropoulos who learned about the wedding on Facebook. Religious Education Director Tony Vrame congratulated them, as did Presbytera Cynthia Paleologos, the wife of Fr. Constantine Paleologos former priest of St. Spyridon parish in Worchester. She wrote “so happy for you John! Sending love and prayers for health and happiness together.”
Fr. Dean Panagos, the presiding priest of the St. Sophia parish in New London Connecticut who is also the president of the Clergy Association of the Metropolis of Boston wrote on Facebook, “congratulations John”.
Heropoulos was a charismatic and able clergyman with excellent administrative ability. He began his Church service as Deacon to the late Archbishop Iakovos. He then became assistant priest at St. Nicholas parish in Flushing NY, presiding priest at St. Paraskevi in Greenlawn, NY, and presiding priest at St. George in Hartford, CT. He also served as director of the office of Archbishop Spyridon and as chancellor of the Metropolis of Detroit.
He touched the heart of the Greek-American Community when in May of 2003 he donated one of his kidneys to a small boy.
While everything seemed to be going well he informed Archbishop Demetrios that he was leaving the holy priesthood and requested to be defrocked. He went to Boston and worked for six years for the Children’s Tumor Foundation. Today he is working in the development office of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral.
In an interview with The National Herald Heropoulos said that he met his partner Richard “six years ago at a social event in Boston.” Richard works at Harvard University.
When asked when he decided to get married he said ,“I am 52 years old. When I was raised all these things were impossible culturally and socially. I would say that we got to know each other like anyone would and as we became more and more committed to each other we thought that the good and loving and responsible thing to do would be to get married. The state of Massachusetts and the Supreme Court made their rulings and these things and became easier.”
Asked how he felt about this new aspect and dimension of his life and being married to a man, he said “I would say that it is another beautiful aspect of love and companionship that I was able to experience. I experienced love as a priest in human relationships in beautiful ways, but as a married man it is a new dimension of love and it drives away the loneliness.”
TNH asked whether he was attracted to men all of his life or discovered those feelings recently, Heropoulos said, “a gay person is born gay. It is not something that you chose. I was born gay and I was trying to be as good as I could be in my life. As a clergyman I became lonely and so I decided to seek companionship.”
He also said “I told my entire family and many friends years ago that I was gay and nobody was surprised. Everybody – my father, my mother, my dear friends, my family, were accepting and supportive,” and he added “everybody was thrilled that I found somebody to be in love with and to be married to.”
This far, nobody has sent him any negative messages or criticism for getting married to a man, he said.
TNH asked him how he reconciled his past self as a priest, as an Archimandrite, as a official of the Greek Orthodox Church having served in high positions in the Archdiocese, and being well respected, with the new aspect of his life which theologically, ecclesiastically, and spiritually is not an acceptable situation. Heropoulos said “For me, in my service as a priest the issue was to be a celibate priest that was the key issue, to be faithful to the calling to be a celibate priest and then to try to be the best priest that I could be.”
“Are you saying that when you were a celibate priest you didn’t engage in gay sexual activities,” TNH asked. “I was faithful to my vow of celibacy,” he replied.
“Did you experience constant pressure? Were you looking to escape, to liberate yourself from that situation,” he was asked.
“I don’t think it was a matter of escape or liberation. I think that I dearly loved the priesthood and so I became a priest, and I did my very best and I was very faithful to my vows. When I believed that it was the best thing for me personally, spiritually, then I decided it was time to leave,” he said.
Asked if he is concerned that some in the Greek-American Community would be scandalized, he said “I left the Church respectfully. Whether someone agrees or not that ultimately ones has the freedom to make that decision, there is nothing I can do about that.”
Heropoulos revealed to TNH that he goes on Sundays and worships in an Orthodox church and that he receives Holy Communion. He said, “yes of course I go to an Orthodox church and yes I receive Holy Communion.”
To the final question of whether he believed that marriage should be between a man and a woman, Heropoulos, said “I don’t have any comment on that.”