The Orthodox Patristic Teaching on “The Curse of Ham” and the Origin of Black People

NOTE: “The Curse of Ham” is a misnomer for the curse upon Canaan that was imposed by the biblical patriarch Noah. The narrative occurs in the Book of Genesis and concerns Noah’s drunkenness and the accompanying shameful act perpetrated by his son Ham the father of Canaan (Gen. 9:20–27).

Noah Dunk Mosaic

This article is not about the various terms used in Patristic and Hagiographic literature that denote an anti-Black sentiment. This article examines the racist Patristic teaching concerning the Orthodox Christian belief on where black people originate—i.e. When Noah cursed Canaan, he also cursed that God make his face black. This belief is rooted in an older Talmudic Tradition that was accepted and taught by the early Church Fathers. Essentially, Canaan, or Ham’s, white skin was changed into black through Noah’s curse. These early Patristic teachings also led to the later biblical justification of colonialism and the African slave trade, since Noah’s statement that Canaan should be the slave of Japheth and Shem was translated into blacks, or “Hamites,” should be subject to whites as a result of the “Curse of Ham” [Genesis 9:18-29].

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Though today the vast majority of those involved in research on human variation would agree that biological races do not exist among humans,1 the early Patristic texts recognized three races: the descendants of Noah’s three sons, Japheth, Shem, and Canaan. For an Orthodox Christian, “the Holy Fathers—the ‘mind of the church’—are the key to the understanding of Genesis.

Chronology of a Racist Patristic Teaching (Later writers of the non-Chalcedonian churches are also included to illustrate that this teaching is universal amongst both Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches):

Icon of the Fathers and Mothers of the Church who used the writings of the Theologian Origen of Alexandria.
Icon of the Fathers and Mothers of the Church who used the writings of the Theologian Origen of Alexandria.

Origen (ca. 185-254): ―For the Egyptians are prone to a degenerate life and quickly sink to every slavery of the vices. Look at the origin of the race and you will discover that their father Cham, who had laughed at his father‘s nakedness, deserved a judgment of this kind, that his son Chanaan should be a servant to his brothers, in which case the condition of bondage would prove the wickedness of his conduct. Not without merit, therefore, does the discolored posterity imitate the ignobility of the race.2

St. Ephraim the Syrian (ca. 306 – 373): “When Noah awoke and was told what Canaan did, Noah said, ‘Cursed be Canaan and may God make his face black,’ and immediately the face of Canaan changed; so did of his father Ham, and their white faces became black and dark and their color changed.”3

The Cave of Treasures [attributed to St. Ephraim the Syrian] (4th century): Gives the explanation that Canaan’s curse was actually earned because he revived the sinful music and arts of Cain’s progeny that had been before the flood.4 “And Canaan was cursed because he had dared to do this, and his seed becamea servant of servants, that is to say, to the Egyptians, and the Cushites, and the Mûsâyê, [and theIndians, and all the Ethiopians, whose skins are black].”5

St. Ephraim the Syrian (Patron saint of Geronda Ephraim)
St. Ephraim the Syrian (Patron saint of Geronda Ephraim)

Ishodad of Merv, the Syrian Christian bishop of Hedhatha,(9th century): “When Noah cursed Canaan, ―instantly, by the force of the curse. . .his face and entire body became black [ukmotha]. This is the black color which has persisted in his descendants.”6

Eutychius, an Alexandrian Melkite patriarch, (d. 940): ― “Cursed be Ham and may he be a servant to his brothers… He himself and his descendants, who are the Egyptians, the Negroes, the Ethiopians and (it is said) the Barbari.”7

Ibn al-Tayyib, an Arabic Christian scholar, Baghdad, (d. 1043): ― “The curse of Noah affected the posterity of Canaan who were killed by Joshua son of Nun. At the moment of the curse, Canaan‘s body became black and the blackness spread out among them.”8

Bar Hebraeus, a Syrian Christian scholar, (1226–86): ― “And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and showed [it] to his two brothers, That is…that Canaan was cursed and not Ham, and with the very curse he became black and the blackness was transmitted to his descendants… And he said, ‘Cursed be Canaan! A servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.’”9

Saints-of-Africa-lg

Serfdom

The curse of Ham became used as a justification for serfdom during the medieval era. Honorius Augustodunensis (c. 1100) was the first recorded to propose a caste system associating Ham with serfdom, writing that serfs were descended from Ham, nobles from Japheth, and free men from Shem.However, he also followed the earlier interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:21 by Ambrosiaster (late 4thcentury), that as servants in the temporal world, these “Hamites” were likely to receive a far greater reward in the next world than would the Japhetic nobility.10

The idea that serfs were the descendants of Ham soon became widely promoted in Europe. At the height of the medieval era, it was a significant trend in Genesis exegesis to interpret that the descendants of Ham were serfs. Dame Juliana Berners (c. 1388) in a treatise on hawks, claimed that the “churlish” descendants of Ham had settled in Europe, those of Shem in Africa, and those of Japheth in Asia—a departure from normal arrangements — because she considered Europe to be the “country of churls”, Asia of gentility, and Africa of temperance.11

As serfdom waned in the late medieval era, the interpretation of serfs beingdescendants of Ham decreased as well.12

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 Proslavery

The curse of Ham has been used to promoted race and slavery movements as early as Classical antiquity. European biblical scholars of the Middle Ages supported the view that the “sons of Ham” of Hamites were cursed, possibly “blackened” by their sins. Though early arguments to this effect were sporadic, they became increasingly common during the slave trade of the 18th and 19th centuries.13

The justification of slavery itself through the sins of Ham was well suited to the ideological interests of the elite; with the emergence of the slave trade, its racialized version justified the exploitation of a ready supply of African labour.

In the parts of Africa where Christianity flourished in the early days, while it was still illegal in Rome, this idea never took hold, and its interpretation of scripture was never adopted by the African Coptic Churches. A modern Amharic commentary on Genesis notes the 19th century and earlier European theory that blacks were subject to whites as a result of the “curse of Ham”, but calls this a false teaching unsupported by the text of the Bible, emphatically pointing out that this curse fell not upon all descendants of Ham but only on the descendants of Canaan, and asserting that it was fulfilled when Canaan was occupied by both Semites (Israel) and Japethites (ancient Philistines). The commentary further notes that Canaanites ceased to exist politically after the Third Punic War (149 BC), and that their current descendants are thus unknown and scattered among all peoples.14

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NOTES:

  1. In 1950, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) issued a statement asserting that all humans belong to the same species and that “race” is not a biological reality but a myth. This was a summary of the findings of an international panel of anthropologists, geneticists, sociologists, and psychologists. Today the vast majority of those involved in research on human variation would agree that biological races do not exist among humans. Among those who study the subject, who use and accept modern scientific techniques and logic, this scientific fact is as valid and true as the fact that the earth is round and revolves around the sun. http://www.newsweek.com/there-no-such-thing-race-283123
  2. Homilies on Genesis 16.1.
  3. Paul de Lagarde. Materialien zur Kritik und Geschichte des Pentateuchs,(Leipzig, 1867), part II.
  4. This sentiment also appears in the later Syriac Book of the Bee (1222).
  5. Cave of Treasures, E. Wallis Budge translation from Syriac.
  6. C. Van Den Eynde, Corpus scriptorium Christianorum orientalium 156, Scriptores Syri 75(Louvain, 1955), p. 139.
  7. Patrologiae cursus completes…series Graeca, ed. J.P. Migne (Paris, 1857 –66), Pococke‘s (1658–59) translation of the Annales, 111.917B (sec. 41-43)7)
  8. Joannes C.J. Sanders, Commentaire sur la Genèse, Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium274-275, Scriptores Arabici 24-25 (Louvain, 1967), 1:56 (text), 2:52-55 (translation).
  9. Sprengling and Graham, Barhebraeus‘ Scholia on the Old Testament, pp. 40 – 41, to Gen 9:22.
  10. Paul H. Freedman, 1999,  Images of the mediaeval peasant  p. 291; Whitford 2009 pp. 31-34.13)
  11. Whitford 2009 p. 38.14)
  12. David Mark Whitford (21 October 2009). The curse of Ham in the early modern era: the Bible and the justifications for slavery. .Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.. p. 173.ISBN978-0-7546-6625-7.  Retrieved 15 September 2011.15)
  13. Benjamin Braude, “The Sons of Noah and the Construction of Ethnic and Geographical Identitiesin the Medieval and Early Modern Periods, “William and Mary Quarterly LIV (January 1997):103 – 142. See also William McKee Evans, “From the Land of Canaan to the Land of Guinea: TheStrange Odyssey of the Sons of Ham,”American Historical Review 85 (February 1980): 15 – 4316)
  14. Commentary on Genesis) p. 133-142.

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Anti-Black Sentiment in the Vitae Patrum (Philip Mayerson, 1978)

NOTE: The following article is excerpted from The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 71, No. 3/4 (Jul. – Oct., 1978), pp. 304-311. It is an important article as it sheds light on why anti-Black sentiment exists amongst some of the monastics in the Greek monasteries here and why racial slurs are used freely in the monasteries. Besides, Geronda Ephraim named one of his cats “Arapis” while he was with Elder Joseph the Hesychast on Mt. Athos. “Arapis” is the Greek equivalent to the English derogatory word “nigger.” There have been black pets, or animals with large amounts of black color, at St. Anthony’s (AZ), St. Nektarios (NY), Holy Protection (PA), etc. that have been named Arapis by the Abbots/Abbesses. Though Fr. Vasileios was never called Arapis by the other monks (probably due to the respect factor of being an older father from Filotheou Monastery), lay people did refer to him by that racial slur amongst themselves and behind his back. However, after Mathaios and other African Americans started to become novices at St. Anthony’s Monastery, “Arapis” was used freely by certain monks behind their backs when referring to them. This also extends to other non-white cultures. It is said that at St. Nektarios Monastery, before Geronda Joseph secretly baptized the Woo family (who were of Asian descent), he mocked them to his monks during a homily, saying, “You know, the Woos” (simultaneously slanting his eyes with his fingers and making a laughing expression with his front teeth exposed. It is said that all the monks were roaring in laughter except Novice Vasileios Datch (now Fr. Panteleimon) who knew the family from when he lived in DC and Hieromonk Michael Santos (who is also of Asian descent). As well, some Orthodox monastics believe that Black people originated from Noah’s curse: i.e. when Ham (or Canaan depending on text) were cursed, God turned them Black. This teaching later was also the reason used to justify the African slave trade: When  Noah condemned and cursed Ham in the person of his son Canaan, he said that his offspring would be in slavery to the offspring of his brothers).

"Arapis" the black cat at St. Anthony's Monastery, AZ.
“Arapis” the black cat at St. Anthony’s Monastery, AZ.

Upon looking into the various editions of the Vitae Patrum, 1 this writer has come upon expressions of anti-black (i.e., Ethiopian or “Indian”) sentiment in the early monastic communities of Egypt (third to fifth centuries). The evidence is not one of highly articulated prejudice; on the other hand, it is neither overly subtle nor subliminal

A closer reading of some of the episodes in the life of this Desert Father [Moses the Ethiopian] will show, I believe, that he was abused and subjected to discriminatory treatment because of the color of his skin. On one occasion Moses openly declares himself to be inferior to his white brothers because he is black. In the Vitae Patrum these episodes are cited as examples of the black monk’s humility and fortitude, qualities which earned for him a distinguished place in the annals of the Desert Fathers. But these incidents, regardless of how they were interpreted by the compilers of the Vitae Patrum, are clear evidence of anti-black sentiment.

St. Moses the Ethiopian
St. Moses the Ethiopian

Abba Moses is the sole black among the Desert Fathers about whom we have any biographical information. The other blacks that are cited in the Vitae Pat rum are demons or devils. These, as far as I know, have not entered into any discussion regarding the attitude of early Christians towards Ethiopians or blacks. It is true that in imagery “blackness”was associated with the darker side of human nature. But as far as demons go, the Desert Fathers, who encountered multitudes of them, never characterize them by color or race with the exception of those comparatively few that are cited as Ethiopian or black. Specifically citing a demon as black or as an Ethiopian must surely indicate a sentiment among some unlettered and theologically uninformed monks that black was not always beautiful.

With regard to   Abba Moses, the evidence for the prejudicial treatment he received at the hands of his fellow monks or clerics is contained in four incidents. Moses is either insulted, treated with contempt, “tested,” or reviled; he was subjected to treatment of a kind that was not inflicted upon other monks, even those of a lesser reputation for ascetical good works.

Geronda Ephraim has named his black cats "Arapis" (the Greek equivalent to the slur "nigger")
Geronda Ephraim has named his black cats “Arapis” (the Greek equivalent to the slur “nigger”)

The clearest instance of color prejudice occurs on an occasion when the Fathers were gathered together, and because certain people wished to see Abba Moses, they treated him with contempt, saying, “Why does this Ethiopian come and go among us?” When Moses heard this he held his peace. And when the congregation was dismissed, they (the certain people?) said to him, “Abba Moses, were you not afraid?” And he said to them, “Although I was afraid, I did not say a word.”

The above is adapted with very little change from the Syriac version. The Greek text of the same incident makes no mention of “certain people wishing to see Abba Moses,” but that “the Fathers, wishing to test him, treated him as an object of contempt, saying, ‘Why does this Ethiopian come into our midst?’ Later when the congregation was dismissed, they (the Fathers?) asked him, ‘Abba, were you not in any way upset?’ He replied, ‘I was upset, but I did not speak.”‘

A similar, if not the same, incident is reported in the Syriac Vitae Patrum under the rubric of “Questions and Answers on the Ascetic Rule.” In this instance it is “certain men” who revile Abba Moses. The purpose in recalling the incident is to interpret the words of the monk’s reply: “Although I was troubled, yet I said nothing” The conclusion that is reached is that although Moses had demonstrated spiritual excellence in maintaining silence and in not showing his inner anger, he had not attained the perfect state of impassibility (apatheia?) by being angry neither inwardly nor outwardly.

Troy Polamalu, a Samoan spiritual child of Geronda Ephraim.
Troy Polamalu, a Samoan spiritual child of Geronda Ephraim.

Abba Moses is subjected to two more”tests”at a time when he was an old man and had become a member of the clergy. The two incidents are combined in the Syriac and Latin systematic collections to illustrate the virtue of humility. The translation of the Syriac text is as follows:

They used to say that when Abba Moses was one of the clergy he wore a long outer garment, and that the Bishop said unto him, “Behold , thou art wholly white, 0 Abba Moses.” The old man said unto him, “Is the Pappa within or without?” And again wishing to try him, the Bishop said unto the clergy, “When Abba Moses goeth into the sacrarium drive him out, and go after him and hear what he saith.” Now when he went into the sacrarium they rebuked him and drove him out, saying, “Get outside, 0 Ethiopian”; and having gone forth he began to say to himself , “They have treated thee rightly , 0 thou whose skin is dark and black ; thou shalt not go back as if thou wert a [white] man .””

The Greek text of the alphabetical collection does not differ substantially from the Syriac or Latin versions, but the impact of the treatment that Moses receives at the hands of the Bishop (or Archbishop) and his fellow clerics can be felt more strongly.

It is said of Abba Moses that when he became a member of the clergy and had been invested with the ephod, the Archbishop said to him, “See, Abba Moses, you have become entirely white.” The old man said to him, “Outwardly, Lord and Father; am I also so inwardly?” Wishing to test him, the Archbishop said to the clergy, “Whenever Abba Moses comes into the sanctuary, drive him out and follow him so that you may hear what he says. The old man came in and they abused him and drove him out saying, “Get out, Ethiopian!” He went out and said to himself, “They have treated you properly, you soot-skinned black! Since you’re not a man, why should you come into the company of men.”

However much these episodes were viewed in the past as demonstrations of Abba Moses’s humility, they were also deliberate acts of humiliation directed against the man because of the color of his skin.

Hieromonk Michael Santos, a Filipino convert. Geronda Ephraim use to refer to him as "the Chinaman."
Hieromonk Michael Santos, a Filipino convert. Geronda Ephraim use to refer to him as “the Chinaman.”

There can be no question but that the use of the word “Ethiopian” in these contexts is strongly deprecatory and is the equivalent of the most offensive word used against blacks in American society. The demoralizing effect that this treatment had upon Abba Moses understandably results in his denigrating appraisal of himself:”… you soot-skinned black! Since you’re not a man, why should you come into the company of men” He of course means “in the company of white men.” Further, the remark made by the Bishop, gratuitous at best, that Moses had become completely white because of his ephod stirs a hostile reaction within the black monk. His rejoinder-if it is accurately reported -is oblique yet pointed; he says in effect: “It seems that I am completely white outside because of my ephod, but do you think that I am completely white inside as well, and hence in every respect like you?”

The first grey tabby at St. Nektarios Monastery (NY) was named Arapi.
The first grey tabby at St. Nektarios Monastery (NY) was named Arapi.

Whereas Abba Moses is attacked because of the color of his skin, black demons-or even the devil himself in the form of a black -attack the monks as they strive to attain spiritual and moral perfection. These black demons appear in the form of a woman, a man, or as young boys. Four of the seven instances cited in the Vitae Patrum represent demons of fornication or lust; the others represent arrogance or pride, disobedience, and distracting thoughts. The brief narratives that follow are so explicit in characterizing black or Ethiopian spirits as evil that they hardly require further commentary.

Saints of Africa

The rest of the article recounts numerous stories from the Vitae Patrum concerning demons appearing as Ethiopians or Blacks to the Desert Faters.

The Mauling of a Young Girl at St. Nektarios Monastery, Roscoe, NY (ca. 2000) [Updated]

NOTE: The following information is taken from posts published at http://stnektariosmonastery.tumblr.com/

In 1999, Geronda Joseph Voutsas wanted to have guard dogs for the monastery, similar to St. Anthony’s Monastery. He purchased 4 pure bred dogs from a local breeder; 3 German shepherds and 1 Rottweiler. They were named Chiotes, Duvelis, Roussos and Arapis. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Arapi

Arapi, Duvelis and Rousos.
Arapi, Duvelis and Rousos.

The original plan was to train them and use them as guard dogs because there had been numerous incidents of night time intruders and vandalism on the property.

One Sunday, the novice in charge of walking the dogs, Gregory, took them off their leash so they could run freely. On this particular day, a bus from Astoria was visiting the monastery. The bus organizer, Katerina Koutsoupakis, had brought her 2 young daughters. The girls were playing with other children at the monastery’s playground which was located just past the first pond.

The first pond at St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY. There use to be a small playground and trampoline beside it.
The first pond at St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY. There use to be a small playground and trampoline beside it.

The unleashed dogs ran to the playground and attacked Katerina’s daughter who was about 9 or 10 years old.

This girl was severely mauled—her face, arms, legs, etc. had been bitten, leaving wide, deep gashes. She was airlifted to a hospital in the city and proceeded to go through reconstructive surgeries, skin grafts, etc.

The other children were traumatized by the incident. The news spread through the five boroughs quickly. The monks were instructed they had no blessing to speak about the matter to anyone. If someone asked, they were to respond “I don’t know,” and if they were persistent, then the monk would refer them to Fr. Germanos or Fr. Epifanios.

Shortly thereafter, the young girl’s mother decided to sue the monastery to help pay for the large medical bills which her family could not afford. This action initiated a chain of events that were orchestrated by the monastery to help minimize the potential damage this embarrassing scandal could create.

New York State Police - Division Canine Unit in Cooperstown, NY
New York State Police – Division Canine Unit in Cooperstown, NY

First, a State Trooper from the K9 unit was called in to examine the dogs to see if it could be determined if they were at fault, or if they had any predispositions to this type of behavior. The expert determined that the shepherd with a floppy ear, Duvelis, was a fear biter and most likely the culprit that initiated the attack.

The monastery had to eliminate the evidence so no tests could be done on the dogs’ teeth/bite patterns, etc. Fr. Kassianos and a catechumen from Toronto (who was never baptized and has since fallen away from the Church) were given the obedience to take the 3 shepherds to the local animal hospital and have them put down.

Fr. Kassianos Titonis of St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery in Roscoe, NY.
Fr. Kassianos Titonis of St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery in Roscoe, NY.

The Rottweiler, Chiotes, was given as a blessing to a young man named Stavros in New Jersey. The monks were given an obedience to tell pilgrims that they had given all the dogs away as a blessing. The reason: the monks were unable to properly care for them so the dogs were given better homes.

Next, in order to minimize the monastery’s culpability, two of the older fathers started to coach the novice responsible for the dog incident on what his story would be at the hearing. This would be the ‘official’ story and he had to rehearse it daily with them until he had it memorized.

Fr. Mark Andrews:  spiritual Father of the Drewchin family and  biological father of a rassaphore at St. Nektarios Monastery, Fr. Raphael.
Fr. Mark Andrews: spiritual Father of the Drewchin family and biological father of a rassaphore at St. Nektarios Monastery, Fr. Raphael.

Katerina also started looking for a young girl who witnessed the attack. It was decided an older father would call her spiritual father so he could talk to the girl’s mother, who in turn would talk to the girl. She was essentially given an obedience to say she didn’t know or remember anything from that day if anyone was to ask her about what had happened.

Alexandra Drewchin, one of the witnesses of the brutal mauling, has gone on to become a famous musician. She sings in 2 bands: Eartheater & Guardian Alien. http://alexdrewchin.bandcamp.com/
Alexandra Drewchin, one of the witnesses of the brutal mauling, has gone on to become a famous musician. She sings in 2 bands: Eartheater & Guardian Alien. http://alexdrewchin.bandcamp.com/

During this time period, one of the monks from St. Nektarios, Fr. Philotheos, had to travel to St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence as he had an INS appointment down there (as the Brotherhood had not informed INS about relocating to NY, they were still using the Florence address and the monks without citizenship had to fly back and forth to Arizona for immigration appointments).

Fr. Philotheos did not want to return to New York due to ongoing problems there, and asked Geronda Ephraim if he could transfer to St. Anthony’s Monastery. He relentlessly begged big Geronda to allow this. Big Geronda allowed it and the monk remained at St. Anthony’s.

Katerina interpreted this event as an attempted cover-up, i.e. this monk was sent far away, out of state, so he wouldn’t be called to the hearing to testify, and thus must have been responsible as well.

Katerina talked to Fr. Philotheos when she visited St. Anthony’s to see  Geronda Ephraim for confession. She secretly recorded Fr. Philotheos while conversing with him, in the hopes she could obtain some kind of evidence to help her case. She understood his vague apology and self-reproach as an admission of guilt which further confused things, but was later resolved.

Geronda Ephraim admonished Katerina to drop the lawsuit. She did not obey his counsel.
Geronda Ephraim admonished Katerina to drop the lawsuit. She did not obey his counsel.

Despite Geronda Ephraim admonishing Katerina not to sue St. Nektarios Monastery, she proceeded (keep in mind, Geronda Ephraim’s own words are advice and admonishments are obediences too, the Elder shouldn’t have to say “I command you” or “This is a command.”). Katerina was awarded approximately $650,000.

This settlement was a setback for St. Nektarios Monastery as they had an obligation to pay a $25,000/month mortgage for the first two years of their existence, with the possible penalty of losing the property.

Geronda Joseph Voutsas, Abbot of St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY.
Geronda Joseph Voutsas, Abbot of St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY.

The consensus of the Elders was that Katerina would not enjoy her money and it’d bring her misery as she essentially was attacking St. Nektarios himself via her actions. Also, since she lost big Geronda as her spiritual father, and by extension the monasteries, she had essentially lost or forfeited her salvation.

The first grey tabby at St. Nektarios Monastery (NY) was named Arapi.
The first grey tabby at St. Nektarios Monastery (NY) was named Arapi.

NOTE: Arapi is equivalent to the English word “nigger” and at the monasteries, it is a name reserved for the black animals, or animals with the most black in them. ( http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Arapi )

"Arapis" the black cat at St. Anthony's Monastery in Arizona.
“Arapis” the black cat at St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona.

Geronda Ephraim had a black cat when he lived on Mount Athos with St. Joseph the Hesychast. He named it Arapi and it was one of his favorite cats. Thus, the name now has somewhat of a sentimental tradition and has been transplanted to the North American monasteries. The black cat at St. Anthony’s is named Arapi. Later, when the Geronda Joseph obtained some cats for St. Nektarios Monastery to help with mice control, he named the gray tabby cat Arapis).

Hierodeacon Stephanos Giannakouros feeding the cats at St. Nektarios Monastery.
Hierodeacon Stephanos Giannakouros feeding the cats at St. Nektarios Monastery.

Also see: https://scottnevinssuicide.wordpress.com/category/anti-black-sentiment-in-orthodox-patristics/

Blind obedience: For readers that may not understand, whenever a monk or nun is issued an obedience–and by extension a lay person who is confesses at the monastery–they are expected to do it, without complaints, grumbling, and especially without judging, criticizing or examining the order that is give. Even if the obedience is a ‘sin’, or a crime, etc. the disciple is not accountable for doing it; the one who has given the command will account for it. The disciple is accountable, though, if he/she does not obey. Geronda Ephraim has said in many homilies to his monastics, “On Judgement Day, God will ask a monk only one question: ‘Did you do obedience?’ If the answer is yes, then the monk will go to Paradise. If the answer is no, then eternal hell. This is the mindset monks and nuns live; and if they don’t have it, they struggle to acquire it through prayer, warring their thoughts, and caning themselves.  This is why there is a conspiracy of silence when incidents occur, and it’s also how the monasteries insulate themselves from outsiders. When the whole brotherhood or sisterhood is told, if anyone asks, this is the answer. Even if it is a lie, in the minds of the monks and nuns, they are not lying: they are doing their obedience and gaining crowns for the next life. Their only fear is not executing the obedience properly, by which they could lose their eternal soul if God happens to call them to the next life and they die in disobedience.

It should also be noted that one of the main obediences Geronda Ephraim has given to all the abbots and abbesses (and their second-in-commands) is he does not want scandals, he does not want bad examples from monks/nuns that incite people to talk badly about the monastery, extra special caution when a dignitary visits (many times before a bishop or priest visits a monastery, the Abbot or Abbess will call all the monastics for a pep talk to be on their best behavior, not to do or say anything that will scandalize the special guest), etc. There is a constant need for perfection that is not keeping with reality. And this anxiety of the abbots and abbesses not to sadden Geronda Ephraim is many times transmitted to the monastics.

Fr. Philotheos and Novice Gregory have both left the monastic life, and are now happily married living in the world.