Diocesan clergy refuse to Support the Archbishop (Theodore Kalmoukos, 1998)

Note: This article is taken from The National Herald, November 21, 1998.

BOSTON. – The Clergy Brotherhoods of the Detroit and Chicago Dioceses refused to throw their support behind Archbishop Spyridon in his effort to fight off open defiance by the five Metropolitans of the Eparchial Synod of America, by a significant part of the clergy and wide segments of the laity. In particular, the two regional clergy organizations refused to endorse a letter put forth by the National Presbyters Council in opposition to previous statement signed by 73 priests which contained a scathing condemnation of the Archbishop’s policies (The National Herald, Nov. 7-8,1998).

Archbishop Spyridon gave Geronda Ephraim the blessing to open 8 new monasteries in 1998 [2 in NC, 2 in FL, 1 in MI, 1 in IL, 1 in TX, 1 in NY].
Archbishop Spyridon gave Geronda Ephraim the blessing to open 8 new monasteries in 1998 [2 in NC, 2 in FL, 1 in MI, 1 in IL, 1 in TX, 1 in NY].
At a Tuesday meeting of the Clergy Brotherhood meeting of the Detroit Diocese, 16 out of the 42 diocesan priests present also questioned the tactics of their Brotherhood’s president Fr. George Matsis, of Toledo, Ohio, who tried to promote the letter supporting the Archbishop. Sources told The National Herald that Fr. Matsis was unable to overcome the opposition and that, after a motion by one of the objecting priests, the proposal was tabled. A telephone message by the Herald to Fr. Matsis has not returned.

Fr. George Matsis. While in Toledo, he was one of 18 priests who were invited to Constantinople to be received at an audience by Patriarch Bartholomew I.
Fr. George Matsis. While in Toledo, he was one of 18 priests who were invited to Constantinople to be received at an audience by Patriarch Bartholomew I.

In private conversations some priests expressed fears about the climate of divisiveness among the clergy which is fostered by the Archdiocese. Just last weekend the Archbishop visited Detroit and had spoken against the Eparchial Synod of the Metropolitans in front of both the clergy as well as the lay Parish officers (see article, page 3).

In Chicago, where Fr. Chris Kerhulas, the President of the National Presbyters’ Council serves as priest at the Parish of St. Basil, the local Clergy Brotherhood was called to a meeting on Friday, November 13. The meeting was attended by only eight outof the 55 diocesan priests. Fr. Kerhulas raised the issue of his letter in response to the statement by his 73 colleagues against Archbishop Spyridon. Participants in the meeting vehemently rejected Fr. Kerhulas proposal– Fr. Kerhulas was unable even to read his letter. (Fr. Kerhulas discusses this issue extensively in an interview published in this issue of the National Herald).

Fr. Chris Kerhulas. Robert Krantz's movie "Do You Wanna Dance" (1999) was based on the life and ministry of Father Chris Kerhulas, who served St. Basil Church in Chicago for many years.
Fr. Chris Kerhulas. Robert Krantz’s movie “Do You Wanna Dance” (1999) was based on the life and ministry of Father Chris Kerhulas, who served St. Basil Church in Chicago for many years.

The influential Fr. Ephraim

In the early 90's, Fr. Ephraim joined the Russian synod in exile after receiving a "directive" from God as he proclaimed at the time. However, when he was threatened by the Ecumenical Patriarchate that he would be defrocked, he received another "directive" from God and abandoned the Russians.
In the early 90’s, Fr. Ephraim joined the Russian synod in exile after receiving a “directive” from God as he proclaimed at the time. However, when he was threatened by the Ecumenical Patriarchate that he would be defrocked, he received another “directive” from God and abandoned the Russians.

Other sources told the National Herald that at a meeting of the National Presbyters Council Fr. Kerhulas proposed to invite the controversial priest-monk Ephraim, a former abbot from the Athos, the monastic enclave in northern Greece, as speaker at a retreat of the Clergy of the Archdiocese but was forced to abandon the plan when some of the members of the Council opposed it. Fr. Ephraim who came to America under nefarious circumstances in the early 90’s first joined the Russian synod in exile after receiving a “directive” from God as he proclaimed at the time. However, when he was threatened by the Ecumenical Patriarchate that he would be defrocked, he received another “directive” from God and abandoned the Russians.

Fr. George Passias is a long-time spiritual child of Geronda Ephraim. His time as chancellor in the mid-90's was instrumental in helping the Elder expand his monastic vision here in America.
Fr. George Passias is a long-time spiritual child of Geronda Ephraim. His time as chancellor in the mid-90’s was instrumental in helping the Elder expand his monastic vision here in America.

Ephraim has established a string of monasteries in America and, under through intense confessional activity, has created many personal loyalties. Typical of his activity the case of 16-year-old Angelo Lenekakis who acknowledges Fr. Ephraim is his “role model” as published the “Orthodox Observer,” the official newspaper of the Archdiocese (October 20,1998). Fr. Ephraim and his followers try to attract youths in order to fill his Monasteries.

Angelo Lenakakis (Orthodox Observer Youth Spotlight, Oct 20, 1998, p. 21)
Angelo Lenakakis (Orthodox Observer Youth Spotlight, Oct 20, 1998, p. 21)

Fr. Ephraim has significant influence in the administration of the Archdiocese. The current Chancellor, Fr. George Passias, happens to be one of the Ephraim’s most loyal followers. Ephraim is also admired by the new President of the Theological School, Archimandrite Damaskinos Ganas, who, according to sources, wants to invite Fr. Ephraim to hear confessions from students. Fr. Ganas did not respond to the Herald’s offer for an interview.

V. Rev. Damaskinos Ganas, Presiding Priest at Kimisis Theotokou Church, Brooklyn, NY.
V. Rev. Damaskinos Ganas, Presiding Priest at Kimisis Theotokou Church, Brooklyn, NY.

https://web.archive.org/web/20100106032725/http://rickross.com/reference/ephraim/ephraim1.html

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What the Archbishop Could Have Said At the Clergy-Laity (A.P. Cromidas)

An article published on the Pokrov.org website, August 02, 2012:

The recently-concluded Clergy-Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, held in Phoenix, was long on praise and short on forthrightness, like previous such gatherings. Sadly, this year, the opportunity for Archbishop Demetrios to be direct and frank about two timely and important news reports was lost.

First was the alleged sexual misconduct by a married, middle-aged student at Holy Cross Seminary with the under-age daughter of a priest-student also attending the school. Both families were living in campus housing. The report was on the web and in The National Herald, the Greek-American newspaper.

The second matter was about the apparent suicide of Scott Nevins, a young, former monk, at St. Anthony Monastery in Florence, Arizona, not far from Phoenix. This monastery and others are controlled by the monk, “Elder” Ephraim, who has started and sustains some 20 monasteries in the U.S. There has been concern for some years about what is seen as a fundamentalist theological influence on American parishes by the “Ephraimites”. A committee of the archdiocese is said to be studying this matter.

On the misconduct issue, Archbishop Demetrios, in his keynote address to the delegates, came as close to the subject of abuse as he ever does when he said that sexual misconduct is one of the serious problems in today’s world. No mention was made of this also being a problem for the archdiocese, as it has been for other religions, or the allegations at Holy Cross. Another lost opportunity was when the 75th anniversary of the seminary was being noted.

What the archbishop could have said when he mentioned misconduct was at least something like:

‘In that connection, I am sorry to report that there has been a recent allegation of sexual misconduct by one of our married students at our seminary. The matter has been reported to civil authorities and is under investigation. The archdiocese will keep the faithful informed of developments in this situation.’

On the second matter, the archbishop could have started off by expressing sympathy to the Nevins family. He could have outlined some of what is known about the situation, namely that the young man had been at St. Anthony’s for some six years, but left more than a year ago and had been attending community college in Oregon. On a web site he started, Nevins had termed the monastery a cult and the Elder a cult leader.

Why Nevins returned to the monastery site is unknown, but he did, and apparently took his own life near the entry of the facility. There has been little in terms of police reports. Regrettably, what has been reported about the situation and the suicide has come primarily from monastery spokesmen and may not be fully objective.

(It is known that the Nevins family had complained to the archdiocese over a number of years about what they saw as an unhealthy Ephraimite influence on their son and on the church, but to no avail. The family had reported being devastated when their son had left his California home to join the monastery in what was a surprise move to the parents.)

In this case, the archbishop could also have said:

‘I wish to report to you that a committee of our archdiocese is currently examining the concerns that have been expressed about the monasteries by both clergy and lay people. Metropolitan Evangelos is chairman of this committee, and again, the faithful will be informed about the results of this inquiry’.

Will there be more openness on these matters by the archbishop, or by the metropolitans? If their track record is any indication, it would appear not. The National Herald reported that “Archdiocese officials had taken all measures to avoid any discussion among the clergy and laity participants about the alleged suicide as well as the monasteries established and controlled by elder Ephraim…” The Herald also reported that extraordinary security was provided at the Congress – apparently to protect the hierarchs(?) Did that action alone not justify at least some explanation to the assembly?

In a related development, a strongly-worded letter was sent recently to Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco, with copies to all the other American hierarchs, by Cappy Larson, a founder of the Pokrov web-site, regarding the former monk’s tragedy. As of this writing it has not been answered by any of them. The letter accuses the metropolitan and the archdiocese of having “blood on their hands” in the Nevins case.

Each metropolis is supposed to oversee the monasteries in its territory, and Arizona is in the San Francisco metropolis. The Larson letter is posted on http://www.pokrov.org, as is other writing on this subject. For instance, Theodore Kalmoukos, the main religion reporter for The National Herald, also wrote that the archdiocese is now having “to deal with blood on its hands”, in the Nevins matter. The metropolitan did send a letter to clergy notifying them of the death and asking for prayers for the young man’s soul, but there has been no notice to the faithful from the church.

Sexual misconduct, along with the Ephraim issue have both been concerns for the archdiocese for at least the past decade, but the faithful wouldn’t necessarily know it – even though in the misconduct area some $15 million has been paid to settle law suits.

In an ironic development, the second largest of the Orthodox branches in the United States, the OCA – Orthodox Church in America – has just announced the forced resignation of its head, Metropolitan Jonah, in part because of his mishandling of a clergy sexual misconduct situation.

It would appear that all Orthodox hierarchs should also be paying attention to the two recent, highly-publicized convictions in Pennsylvania involving child abuse. In Philadelphia, a Catholic monsignor was convicted of child endangerment and sentenced to “up to six years” in jail because of his role in re-assigning known abuser priests. He is believed to be the highest-ranking U.S. Catholic clergyman convicted of such cover-up.

Can this happen to an Orthodox bishop or chancellor, as well?

As the New York Times editorialized, “The sentence should be a clear warning to church officials that criminal law, not church evasion, is the law of the land when it comes to protecting innocent children.”

In the other case, that of Penn State and the Sandusky conviction, it was clear that the university was being protected over the safety of children, a mind-set and practice – a culture – that exists in churches, as well. Both these convictions should give pause to Orthodox clergy and bishops because Orthodoxy has also covered-up abuse. The Penn State case showed how damaging it can be to the defendants – churches or other institutions – when abuse victims are called on to give graphic testimony in court. That may very well be why such lawsuits against Orthodox churches have usually been settled out of court.

The Holy Cross matter and the Nevins tragedy should also prompt Orthodox lay people to renew their proper and God-given role as human rights “watchdogs” in these matters. “Voice of God, Voice of the Laity”.

 

Scott Nevins before the monastic life.
Scott Nevins before the monastic life.