I Bought Psychiatric Drugs for 40 [Athonite] Monks (Fr. Porphyrios, 2001)

NOTE: The following are excerpts taken from “Radioparagka” (Ράδιο Παράγκα) show—the Radio Station of the Church Greece. The show’s theme was “Obedience and Freedom” and it was broadcast on November 10, 2002. Fr. Constantine interviews Fr. Porphyrios, a monk from the Hilander Cell of St. Isaac the Syrian. Since the interview has a lot of repetitiveness and superfluous banter, this article has been condensed and contains only the pertinent information.

Since the turn of the century, a few Hagiorite monks have spoken out about the abuses that take place in various monasteries on Mount Athos. These individuals were from different monasteries, under different Gerondas, and yet tell the same story: authoritarianism, sick forms of obedience being imposed, individuals developing mental illnesses after years in these environments, compulsion of monastics to see psychiatrists and take psychiatric drugs, monastics attempting suicides and monastics committing suicide. This “authentic” Athonite monasticism has been prevalent since at least the 70s and these irregularities are now accepted as a normal part of the genuine 21st century monastic experience.

MP3/AUDIO (στα ελληνικά)

TEXT (στα ελληνικά)

Fr. Constantine: Do sick forms of obedience exist?

Fr. Porphyrios: I will disillusion you, Fr. Constantine. Yes, only sick forms of obedience exist today. I’m talking about Mount Athos; I’m speaking purely about Athonite matters and I’ll be speaking from my own experience.

An Abbot yells at his monks, “You don’t listen to me! I lost 500,000 [dr.] on Coca Colas and 7 Up! You’re going to make me explode! Does my money grow on trees?”1 Contemporary Elders are tilling and organizing over Greece towards wild novices. And the finale of these relationships is authoritarianism, which reaches schizophrenia. The difference with the Great Anthony is that he said, “My child, in order to sit near me, certain conditions must be met and above all, love Christ.” Whereas what we seek today on Mount Athos, dozens of times, is what is said and sucked like candy from Athonite abbots who, as you know, 90% of them didn’t do one hour of obedience.

cocapatriach
Patriarch Bartholomew & Archbishop Demetrios with the The Coca-Cola Polar Bear ( The World of Coca-Cola, Atlanta, Georgia, USA. October 29, 2009)

Fr. Constantine: They weren’t subordinates beforehand?

Fr. Porphyrios: Never! Only the elders who came from Joseph the Cave-dweller previously did obedience.2 All the others, from the office or Brussels, with their collars and their trousers, became abbots on Mount Athos. Forgive me, but this is the reality. But, exceptions exist. Nothing is 100% absolute. Even on gold we write 999.99.3 Understand? And so, St. Anthony said, “You must love Christ.” Do you know what contemporary elders say? “If you leave my side, you will go to hell my evil child. You will be lost!” Understand?

Once, I was at a monastery and a student came to stay for fifteen days. After fifteen days, they placed him as my assistant. I saw him with a new pair of shoes. Hm! He smelt like gun powder to me. I asked him, “Are you engaged, will you go, this and that.” He said, “I thought that I would stay here.” Today, he is a schizophrenic! And the monastery boasts 120-130 monks. I don’t know how many monks they have but 40 of them are taking psychiatric drugs out of obedience…bad obedience!

ιερομόναχος π. Λουκάς
Hieromonk Lukas Gregoriatis (one of the monk-doctors who manages the use of psychotropic drugs in the monastery)

Fr. Constantine: Of course, when you say psychotropic drugs, there is a book written by a Grigoriatis monk who responds to such allegations. He mentions that psychotropic drugs are bought for Mount Athos. He also says that he buys them for the pilgrims that visit from abroad. Visitors come and say they need psychiatric drugs.” 

Fr. Porphyrios: Excuse me! I myself bought psychotropic drugs for 40 monks! Understand? I personally bought psychiatric medication for 40 monks when I went out of Mount Athos to run errands. I don’t know how many monks there are now who take psychiatric drugs.

I tread differently. I went asked someone once—one with no taste, from the bench, the university—and I asked him. We chatted a bit and he told me, “You will do this!” I said, “I cannot.” He replied, “You will do this, it is obedience!” I was coerced; the priest said it. Fr. Constantine, everyone has been trampled by disobedience. I was pressed by obedience. I did obedience and suffered AF [atrial fibrillation] and was put on a pacemaker.5

Fr. Constantine: This priest gave you that medical advice?

Fr. Porphyrios: No! He told me to do something that my conscience couldn’t allow me to do. I told him, “I cannot do that thing.”

Fr. Constantine: Was the obedience a sin?

Fr. Porphyrios: The obedience was a spiritual sin, not a carnal sin. My conscience would not allow it.

Fr. Constantine: You had the right not to do this obedience since it was a spiritual sin.

Fr. Porphyrios: Yes, of course. Also, this priest wasn’t my spiritual father. We chatted, I told him one issue. What else do you want me to tell you?

Fr. Constantine: Everything! You lived the events.

Fr. Porphyrios: A certain monk in a large monastery fell into some small offence. He was ashamed to tell the abbot and he told some transient, worldly spiritual father. All of Mount Athos to Daphne learned about it. And his geronda—the great and holy geronda—called him to the Assembly and told him, “Because you didn’t tell me this, for one year you will not receive a blessing and I will not give you my blessing.” Fr. Constantine, before the new elders, spiritual fathers, such as the ascetic Geronda Sofronius, came to the monastery every month to confess people. The old elders wisely decided that a spiritual father from another monastery could come every month so that we could say something that we couldn’t tell the abbot so as not to create a disagreement or discord. Understand? Today, this has been cut off. Now if you confess to someone other than the abbot, you’re excommunicated and expelled from the community.6

And I’ll tell you something else. I saw a “very pleasant” abbot beating a subordinate and I lost it! I got my stuff and left. The abbot told me, “Come here! Do you know what I’m doing? What Abba Dorotheos did!” Eh! I couldn’t bear it and told him, “Excuse me, Geronda, but as soon as you become St. Dorotheos and Abba Seridos, then you can hit children.”7 It broke my heart. Now this monk is in the wind. I went and he told me, “Porphyrios, I beg you to discharge me.” We both cried. This is obedience today, Fr. Constantine. But when we haven’t done obedience ourselves, how can we impose someone else to do obedience? Naturally, obedience is salvation!

dorotheos1-209x300
“But if one does not sincerely wish to do the will of God, then though go to a prophet, God might place in the heart of that prophet an answer corresponding to the man’s corrupt heart, as the Scripture says, And if a prophet should cause to err and should speak, I the Lord have caused that prophet to err (Ezekiel 14:9).”

I remember Geronda Gabriel told me the following, “Do you see that man? He came from Cambridge with a transistor in the armpit. And I said to him, ‘What did you come here to do?’ He replied, ‘I came here to be a monk.’ I asked him, ‘Do you know what it means to be a monk?’ I tell you to fall from the balcony and you fall.’ The man replied, ‘Be careful, Geronda. If you’re telling me a joke, you catch me by my feet because I will fall.’ Geronda Gabriel told me, ‘He is an angel.’

And Geronda Gabriel Dionysiatis placed someone as the supervisor and tells him after three-four sessions; the monk disagreed, ‘Geronda, I will resign.’ The Geronda asked, ‘Why, my child?’ ‘I cannot disagree with my Geronda.’ Geronda Gabriel told him, ‘Ah, pay attention. I placed you there for this reason. You will say your opinion in governing. You will do obedience in spiritual matters. Also, I want there to be a contrary voice.’

Today, whoever disagrees about the Hegumen council departs. And they’ve gathered all the idiots; those who never tread in the monastery, they are from outside and they’ve placed them, how do you say…

Elder Gabriel Dionysiatis a
Elder Gabriel Dionysiatis (†1983)

Fr. Constantine: This is sick. If there is no voice to be heard…

Fr. Porphyrios: No, no, no. Let me tell you something else—Speechless!—about an abbot who went to a new monastery that had an old brotherhood. ‘Oh well,’ he says, ‘are they dumb? Do they not have any other opinion than that from the Geronda?’ And Geronda Gabriel told Fr. Kallinikos, ‘You will stay, my child! Your objection is needed so we can find the right one.

Today, Fr. Constantine, the Geronda is the path (ο-δο) of salvation. And he is also our obstacle to arrive at Christ. ‘I am here (‘δω)!’ Understand? Things are tragic!

 

NOTES

1. When Geronda Ephraim of Arizona was the abbot of Filotheou Monastery, on the Feast Day of Pascha he would traditionally bless the monks to have a can of Coca Cola for trapeza. He carried this tradition over to St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence, AZ. In some of Geronda Ephraim’s North American monasteries, the monastics have soda frequently throughout the year.

2. The following is a pilgrim’s impression of his visit to Elder Joseph the Hesychast and his disciples in the 50s:

“Many times the Greeks have a weakness to make up stories, especially about people‘s alleged holiness, and as is often the case, once a story starts, it gets repeated and magnified and blown completely out of proportion. Others hear it and relate it in a different way, and it becomes another story, and soon someone has a reputation of being one of the greatest wonderworkers the Church has ever known.

“To some extent, this is what happened with this Elder Ephraim of Katounakia, and it‘s most definitely what happened to the other Fr. Ephraim, who took control of Philotheou Monastery, and who could not remain on the Holy Mountain, but resides in America. The three pilgrims came to Katounakia for a visit, and the meeting with Fr. Ephraim of Katounakia was quite eventless, other than the fact that Fr. Ephraim seemed like a reluctant prisoner, not one rejoicing in obedience. There was quiet talking, all in Greek, greetings and goodbyes.

“The outcome of this occasion was in stark contrast with the words of Fr. Ephraim in his book which recently appeared. Ironically, the book was named Obedience is Life: Elder Ephraim of Katounakia, and in this very book this alleged Elder Ephraim records that he later forced his elder to begin once again commemorating the Ecumenical Patriarch at a time when the Ecumenical Patriarch had openly espoused the heresy of Ecumenism. He thus recorded his own blatant disobedience in a book supposedly teaching obedience. The Elder Nikephoros, it is said, grieved very much that his disciple, Fr. Ephraim, had forced him to do something against his conscience. Three years before he died, however, the Elder Nikephoros returned to the church. 

3. 999.99 (five nines fine) The purest type of gold currently produced.

4. In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, it is taught that monastics lose their salvation if they leave the monastery, unless of course they get a blessing first which is almost impossible. Novices are encouraged not to leave because, “it’s almost impossible to find salvation in the world.” Rassaphores are treated and counselled as though they made verbal vows in church, which they didn’t (rassaphores are essentially novices according to the canons; theoretically “engaged” but not yet married with vows).

In 2000/2001 a monk from St. Nektarios Monastery was visiting St. Anthony’s once for an immigration appointment–when new monasteries were opened the immigrant monks who were transferred did not update their address and would travel back to Arizona when they had INS appointments. This monk did not want to return to St. Nektarios Monastery due to the angry and oppressive atmosphere that existed there at that time (as one of the Athonite Fathers said, “Do you want to destroy a monk’s spirituality? Send him to help establish a new monastery for the first couple of years.”). Geronda Ephraim gave him a blessing to be a monk at St. Anthony’s but due to the fact that he didn’t first consult his Geronda [Joseph] and did it of his own volition, it was frowned upon by many of the other monastics in various monasteries. Some even believed that this act would greatly hinder his chances for salvation and that although Geronda Ephraim gave a “blessing,” he was actually doing obedience to this young monk, and the whole affair was really just an act of self-will not really covered by a blessing.

In another case, a novice from Arizona received a blessing to go live at Filotheou Monastery on Mount Athos. Many of his brother monastics gossiped that in reality, Geronda didn’t actually bless it but rather this novice ceaselessly begged and harassed Geronda to allow him to go and in the end Geronda Ephraim did obedience to his will and “blessed” it. Later, rumors went around the monastery that he became deluded, was re-baptized at an old calendarist monastery, and was ordained a deacon. Afterwards, he left the monastic life and returned to the world.

These stories are used as cautionary tales to scare young novices and remind them that if they don’t stay with their elder no matter what, and do absolute blind obedience, they will become deluded, leave, and lose their soul. The basis of the message is, “you’re lost without Geronda Ephraim.”

5. In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, the only possible sin in obedience is disobedience; i.e. not obeying the command the elder has given. Both physical and spiritual obedience are expected, and it must be blind, without inner or outer questioning, back-talk, murmuring, judging, etc. Thus, if the obedience is a “spiritual” sin (i.e. lying, perjury, falsifying records, gaslighting pilgrims to cover-up a scandal, etc.), the disciple is not sinning if he/she obeys the command. The Geronda or Gerondissa are responsible before God for the commands given (thus, if the order they give is a sin, it is their burden and sin). The disciple is only responsible before God for the obedience they did or did not do, regardless of whether it is a sin or breaking of the commandments. In doing obedience they have not sinned and will not have to give an account before God on why they broke His commandments. If they disobey the command, they will have to give an account for their disobedience, and possibly lose their salvation for this crime.

6. In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, a monastic does not have a blessing to confess to other spiritual fathers other than their own. I.e., a monk from Michigan wouldn’t ask the hieromonks in TX or NY if he could see them for confession. The only other person monastics can confess to other than their own spiritual father/mother in the monasteries is Geronda Ephraim in Arizona. A blessing is usually still required before this happens, though. The monasteries do follow St. Symeon the New Theologian’s teachings On Unordained Monastics Hearing Confessions.

7. Geronda Ephraim uses the story of Akkakios a lot in his homilies to his monastics. This story is meant to encourage moanstics to endure everything their superiors put them through with patience and without murmuring. “The humble monk distinguished himself by his patient and unquestioning obedience to his Elder, a harsh and dissolute man. He forced his disciple to toil excessively, starved him with hunger, and beat him without mercy. Despite such treatment, St Acacius meekly endured the affliction and thanked God for everything. St Acacius died after suffering these torments for nine years. Five days after Acacius was buried, his Elder told another Elder about the death of his disciple. The second Elder did not believe that the young monk was dead. They went to the grave of Acacius and the second Elder called out: “Brother Acacius, are you dead?” From the grave a voice replied, “No, Father, how is it possible for an obedient man to die?” [St. Akakios is celebrated in the Orthodox Church on July 7th].

8. This is the kind of obedience required in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries. Similar to Abraham who didn’t question God when told to murder his son, Isaac, nor did he think twice about sacrificing him, so to should the disciple monk do everything Geronda asks without hesitation or a double mind.

AKAKIOS111

 

Reading Names During the Proskomide at Geronda Ephraim’s Monasteries

The liturgy of Preparation, also Prothesis or Proskomide, is the act of preparing the bread and wine for the Eucharist. The Liturgy of Preparation is done quietly before the public part of the Divine Liturgy begins and symbolizes the “hidden years” of Christ’s earthly life. This is where particles of the prosphoron are taken out for commemorating both the living and the dead. This is also the point of the Service where the names of the living and the dead are read. Every monastery has printed copies of name commemoration sheets either in the narthex by the candles or in the reception area. For an explanation of the Proskomide, see:

The office of Preparation of the Divine Liturgy and The Office of Oblation (Proskomide)

St. Anthony's Monastery Feast Day (early - mid-2000s)

Orthodox Christians give names whenever they go to the monasteries but this traffic greatly increases during the two forty-day Lenten periods of Christmas and Pascha. In the male monasteries, the fathers go into the altar to read the names during the Proskomide. When they’re finished reading all the typed name lists, they then have a blessing to read their own personal list of names. Most monks have a notebook with the names of their family, friends and those who ask them to pray for them.

Geronda Dositheos and the Fathers.
Geronda Dositheos and the Fathers.

Every monastery has their own special list of names which are read every Liturgy during the Proskomide by the priest celebrating the Liturgy. Every list starts with Geronda Ephraim’s name, all of Geronda Ephraim’s monastics who have died, all the monastic names of that monastery, and all the benefactors of the monastery. The hieromonks of the monastery may have their own names incorporated into this list as well.

The monks of St. Nektarios Monastery (NY) with Metropolitan Athanasios of Lemesos, Cyprus.
The monks of St. Nektarios Monastery (NY) with Metropolitan Athanasios of Lemesos, Cyprus.

For the monasteries, benefactors fall into two categories:

  • The financial donors. This could be either huge donors, donors who give nice sums regularly, people who regularly donate large amounts of expensive supplies, people who organize large groups to come to the monastery (there is usually an extra fee placed on top of the cost of the seat, whether it be bus or plane, that is then given as a donation to the monastery), etc.
  • The donors of time and work. Not everyone has the means to give large sums of money to the monastery. Many of the pilgrims are working-middle class and in lieu of money will donate their time and effort to help build the monastery or to help keep it functioning.
  • Men with trade skills might help do construction, carpentry or electrical work for free. Women may help in the kitchen, or cleaning the guest houses, doing laundry, dusting furniture, etc. Depending on the seasons and monasteries, there is also help in gardening, shoveling snow, sweeping desert dust off the walkways, etc.
Inside the altar during Divine Liturgy at St. Anthony's Monastery (AZ)
Inside the altar during Divine Liturgy at St. Anthony’s Monastery (AZ)

So these particular pilgrims, depending on the capacity of their aid, will end up on the permanent altar name lists that are read every Liturgy. They are classified as builders of the monastery. The only time they get removed is if they do something really bad to betray the monastery or join another religion and can no longer be commemorated.

Inside the altar during Divine Liturgy at St. Anthony's Monastery (AZ)
Inside the altar during Divine Liturgy at St. Anthony’s Monastery (AZ)

Now due to the huge influx of names that the monasteries continually receive throughout the year, problems in reading them all in time before the Proskomide finished started to arise. In larger monasteries where there are 20+ monastics, it isn’t so much a problem. In smaller monasteries, it becomes difficult. However, Geronda Ephraim devised a strategy for his monasteries to sort the names they receive into different categories to lighten the burden:

  • Under $40: These lists get read only once and then are thrown out. They are put in a pile separate from the name lists that will be typed up on the computer. The 1x folder in the altar is always the thickest.
  • $40-$100: Though this category varies slightly form monastery to monastery, this pile of name lists is put in the “few times” category. This means the name lists will be read more than once in the Proskomide, but not the full 40 liturgies.
  • Over $100: This category of name lists usually makes it into the 40 day pile. This means the names will be typed up on the computer, printed out and placed in the 40x folder in the altar. Each monastery has their own system of tracking how many times a sheet of names has been read. After the list has been read for 40 Liturgies, it is thrown out.
Inside the altar during Divine Liturgy at St. Anthony's Monastery (AZ)
Inside the altar during Divine Liturgy at St. Anthony’s Monastery (AZ)

There is another category of name lists that don’t even get read: the ones that are so illegible that no one can even make out what names are written.

Inside the altar during Divine Liturgy at St. Anthony's Monastery (AZ)
Inside the altar during Divine Liturgy at St. Anthony’s Monastery (AZ)

So, if one wants to sort of guarantee that their names will be read for the entire 40 Liturgies, they should donate at least $100 or more with their list. Or, at the very least, they should donate large amounts of their time to help the monasteries with anything they require. In this way, the Abbot or Abbess may feel compelled or obligated to enter their name list into the 40x folder. The worth of a pilgrim is measured by their dedication and filial devotion to the monastery, whether it be donation of time, money, work, effort, etc.

Geronda Joseph Mammis (MI) Great Entrance at Holy Annunciation Monastery (FL)
Geronda Joseph Mammis (MI) Great Entrance at Holy Annunciation Monastery (FL)

Time is money. Reading thousands of names also takes time and effort on the part of the monastics. Not to mention, many of the monastics are eager to read their own personal name lists of family, friends from the past, pilgrims, etc.

WidowMites

Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. (Newspaper Articles, 1999)

NOTE: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, located in Harvard, IL,  was founded in the fall of 1998. Geronda Ephraim sent a hieromonk from the Holy Archangels Monastery in Texas (Papa Pavlos) and two monks from St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona (Fr. Akakios and Fr. Theologos) to start the monastery. Fr. Akakios (Basil Mantjos), former bouncer at L’Amour East, in Elmhurst, Queens (http://www.helpchristopher.com/timeline.html), is the abbot of the monastery. He has one daughter and a grandchild. Papa Pavlos is the priest, father-confessor and tailor of the monastery. Fr. Theologos, of the athosinamerica.org website, returned to the world immediately after the 2007 Feast Day at St. Anthony’s Monastery. He is now happily married with 2 children.

Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Harvard, IL
Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Harvard, IL

Monks Ask County To Ok Farmhouse For Monastery (April 13, 1999)

By Mark R. Madler.

Papa Pavlos.
Papa Pavlos.

HARVARD — For the second time in a year, a monastery of the Greek Orthodox church seeks to move to McHenry County to provide a home for monks and a place for pilgrims to seek solace.

The three monks of the Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox monastery would live in a farmhouse on 89 acres along Illinois Highway 173 a mile and half east of Harvard.

The monks have petitioned the McHenry County Zoning Board of Appeals to grant a conditional-use permit to allow construction of a 4,000-square-foot church and creation of a cemetery. The Zoning Board will hold a hearing on the petition at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in the McHenry County Government Center. The Alden Township Planning Commission will hold a special meeting on the matter Tuesday at 7:15 p.m. in the Township Garage , 16410 Illinois Highway 173.

“The plan is to allow the monks to live in the residence and take the existing barn, raze it and replace it with a church for pilgrims and friends of the monastery to visit,” said Thomas Zanck, the attorney representing the monks for the hearing.

The monastery would be under the auspices of the Chicago Greek Orthodox archdiocese and would be maintained through donations, said Father Akakios, one of the monks who would live there.

“The monastery is a place for penance and redemption,” Father Akakios said. “Part of a monk’s life, and part of our plan, is to beautify the area.”

Last fall, the McHenry County Board granted a permit for a Greek Orthodox monastery to be operated out of farm buildings along Nelson Road, west of Woodstock.

IL Holy_Transfiguration_Orthodox_Monastery_Harvard_Illinois

Zoners Hear Plans For Monastery Near Harvard (April 15, 199)

By Mark R. Madler. Special to the Tribune.

IL ROULA 1With their long black robes and flowing beards, the monks of the proposed Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Monastery say they wish to bring to McHenry County their traditions and a respite from the stresses of daily life.

The monastic lifestyle and the benefits of the proposed monastery were described during a hearing Wednesday before the McHenry County Zoning Board of Appeals. The board is considering a petition to allow the monks to construct and operate a church and cemetery on an 89-acre parcel along Illinois Highway 173, about 3 miles west of Harvard near the intersection with Shields Road.

“The visitors to the monastery are there for spiritual guidance from the fathers who live there,” said Trent Orfanos, a cardiologist from Crown Point, Ind., who is Greek Orthodox and supports the monastery. “They can answer various questions they have about religious and spiritual life. Some have likened a church as a hospital for the soul and the monastery as the intensive care unit. It’s a place you don’t go to very often.”

The plans include tearing down an existing barn and replacing it with a 4,600-square-foot church. But according to Father Akakios, the abbot of the monastery, those plans will materialize “when the Lord allows it.”

“We live on donations,” Father Akakios told the members of the Zoning Board. “When people start giving money for the church, we will build it.”

The Zoning Board heard about three hours of testimony from six witnesses during Wednesday’s hearing. The board is scheduled to vote April 27 on the petition.

Until the church is built, the monks would hold services in the basement of the single-family home, which would also serve as their residence.

If approved by the county, a facility would also be built to be used for overnight stays by up to 10 pilgrims.

The cemetery would be located in the southwest corner of the property and would be used only for burial of monks living at the monastery, Father Akakios said.

Alden Township Planning Commission member Don Mason said the commission voted Tuesday night to recommend the township board not object to the construction of the church building or a 2,000-square-foot assembly hall.

The commission was concerned about long-range plans that called for a larger number of rooms to be used by pilgrims, Mason said.

“If this is used as a monastery, fine, but monasteries come and go,” Mason said. “What is the new owner going to use this for? That’s not where our land-use plan sees any development.”

Holy Transfiguaration Monastery

Monks See Monastery In Old Farmhouse (April 25, 199)

By Mark R. Madler

IL ROULA 2

HARVARD — For the second time in a year, a monastery of the Greek Orthodox Church seeks to move to McHenry County to provide a home for monks and a place for pilgrims to seek solace.

The three monks of the Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox monastery would live in a farmhouse on 89 acres along Illinois Highway 173 a mile and half east of Harvard.

The monks have petitioned the McHenry County Zoning Board of Appeals to grant a conditional-use permit to allow construction of a 4,000-square-foot church and creation of a cemetery.

“The plan is to allow the monks to live in the residence and take the existing barn, raze it and replace it with a church for pilgrims and friends of the monastery to visit,” said Thomas Zanck, the attorney representing the monks for the hearing.

The monastery would be under the auspices of the Chicago Greek Orthodox archdiocese and would be maintained through donations, said Father Akakios, one of the monks who would live there.

“The monastery is a place for penance and redemption,” Father Akakios said. “Part of a monk’s life, and part of our plan, is to beautify the area.”

Last fall, the McHenry County Board granted a permit for a Greek Orthodox monastery to be operated out of farm buildings along Nelson Road, west of Woodstock.

IL HTM 2

Monks Turning Farm Into Their Monastery (June 02, 1999)

By Sarah Downey. Special to the Tribune.

Rev. Demetri Kantzavelos
Rev. Demetri Kantzavelos

With warm weather approaching, Father Akakios is thinking about the swimming pool in the front yard of his monastery, a former farmstead in northern McHenry County.

“The Greek Orthodox monks don’t swim,” he said. “We might put a fountain in the middle with flowers around.”

Next, he’ll move the chickens and a tomcat into new quarters from the barn, which will be razed and replaced with a church.

For now, the house on the property is where Akakios and Father Theologos. a fellow monk, say daily prayers. Its basement is their chapel, and their sleeping rooms are on the second floor.

Last month, the McHenry County Board gave permission to the Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Monastery to operate on 89 acres in rural Alden Township, making the county home to two such religious communities just 15 miles apart.

St. Athanasios the Great Greek Orthodox Monastery, west of Woodstock, opened in November.

“We’re happy at least that it’s not a factory there, or a disco or a casino. The more peaceful settings you have, the better it is for society,” said Father Nilos, a monk at St. Athanasios. “They, too, are just starting off, but we are the first pioneers here.”

Drastically declining numbers worldwide had edged Greek monks toward extinction 30 years ago, but a revival of faith breathed new life into ancient rituals.

About 15 Greek monastic communities have come to the U.S. since the late 1980s. The two in McHenry County are the only Greek Orthodox religious communities in Illinois.
Although the two communities share a common heritage, they have traditionally been separated by their calendars.

St. Athanasios observes the Julian calendar. More commonly known as the Traditional calendar, it was enacted by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C. and remains the time line of choice for most branches of the Greek, Serbian and Russian Orthodox churches.

Holy Transfiguration follows the Gregorian calendar, also known as the New Style calendar, instituted in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII and gradually adopted by most Roman Catholic and Protestant nations, including the United States . Greece finally adopted it in 1924, but many Greek Orthodox have not.

“There aren’t really theological differences, just separate calendars,” says James Skedros, a dean at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Mass.

Indeed, 13 days is all that separates the Julian and Gregorian calendars. But greater divisions date back more than 500 years to the Great Schism, which severed ties between Orthodox and Roman Christianity. They contribute even today to unsteady relations between branches of Greek Orthodoxy.

Even so, common heritage and ethnic roots proved helpful recently when the St. Athanasios monks paid an impromptu social call on their new neighbors at Holy Transfiguration.

“It was a surprise, but I don’t think it was a rude surprise,” Nilos said. “Even though we have differences, we consider them neighbors.”

The visit lasted less than an hour, and traditional coffee was served.

“It is a bit unusual,” says Rev. Demetri Kantzavelos, chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Chicago. “But to hear there’s been visits between these monks is a good thing. It builds fraternity. It builds understanding.”

Although Greek monasteries have multiplied in the U.S., their home base is Mt. Athos overlooking the Aegean Sea.

The first monastery was founded by Athanasios the Athonite in 963. Prior to the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, as many as 40,000 monks lived on Mt. Athos. By the 1960s, there were only 1,000, but today, that number has rebounded to 2,000.

One thing all Greek monks seem to hold in equal reverence is Mt. Athos. While such sentiments may not heal centuries-old rifts, the newcomers in McHenry County seem willing to explore more mutual respect.

“They treated us nicely. They seemed to like our visit,” Nilos said.

“It was a pleasure, actually,” Akakios said. “To us, it is a blessing for people, for anybody, to stop by.”

IL HTM Aerial

http://holytransfigurationmonastery.com/photo_albums

Stacy's Dad

Why are newly tonsured monks and nuns not included in the Orthodox Observer’s Clergy Updates section? (2002)

A debate on an Orthodox Christian forum in 2002 about why the Greek Archdiocese does not keep track of their newly tonsured monks and nuns in the same way it keeps track of its priests:

A. Styl writes:

The Orthodox Observer often lists a “Clergy Update” that lists ordination of deacons and priests, retirement of priests, and new assignments of priests–all good information.

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Inside the altar during Divine Liturgy at St. Anthony’s Monastery (AZ)

Where is the list of newly tonsured monks and nuns in the monasteries and convents under the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese? Families of these newly tonsured monastics often learn of the tonsuring and the location of their loved one after the fact. If the Archdiocese keeps track of its priests, why are the monks and nuns kept out of the loop? Why the secrecy or even the shadow of secrecy in listing these monks and nuns?

The absence of this list runs parallel with the absence of information about the monk Ephraim-led monasteries on the GO web site or Orthodox Observer. If establishing 16 monasteries within the last 10 years is a tribute to the Church, why is it not highlighted and presented to the people as a model? Because it is not a model of monasticism and because the GO church doesn’t know what to do with this rogue monk. Cults depend on secrecy and isolation in order to survive.

 

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Inside the altar during Divine Liturgy at St. Anthony’s Monastery (AZ)

Alex Arnakis: The difference is that priests, deacons, etc., are public functionaries, and therefore the public has a right to know who they are. Monastics, on the other hand, answer to no one except themselves (and their monastic superiors), and thus are entitled to a curtain of
privacy.

If the monastics want to cut themselves off from their families, it’s their business. This isn’t to say that doing so is right, because (in my opinion) it violates the Commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother.” The Commandment applies even if the parents are dysfunctional (and we all know how common dysfunctional families are among
Greek-Americans).

Because the Ephraimite monasteries are *not* a tribute to the Church; they’re an embarrassment to the Church. The problem is that monastic life for the young is not consistent with the so-called “family values” that the Church is trying to promote.

Ephraim is a fish out of water. If people want to join monasteries, there are plenty of monasteries in Greece that they can go join. Monasticism just doesn’t fit with the ethos of America.

Serge: Perhaps it has to do with monasticism’s origins as something semi-independent of other church instititutions. Isn’t this still at least somewhat true in Orthodox monasticism, where each full-fledged monastery is independent of the others?

Marina: Monastics are not clergy and no such publication exists in Greece or Cyprus, for example.

Cunneen: Alex, I have to take exception to that. On the Catholic side, the Benedictines among others are alive and well in this country. They provide retreat centers and places of silence and peace for the rest of us, which is an important corrective to the ethos of America.

I’m sure that Orthodox monasticism is just as important to American Orthodox.

Alex Arnakis: I should have said “Monasticism in the tradition of Mt. Athos, as promulgated by Elder Ephraim, doesn’t fit with the ethos of America.” I’m sure Roman Catholic monasteries don’t recruit teenagers against the will of their parents, and do other things to split families apart. Nor do they make a personality cult of their abbots, doing such things as drinking their bath water.

The Trappist monks of Holy Cross Abbey (Berryville, Virginia) make some awfully good fruitcake. (BTW, I notice that they don’t accept novices younger than 23.)

Cunneen: All Orthodox monasteries in the U.S. aren’t Athonian, are they? We met monks
from a small (monastery?) in Northern California affiliated with OCA; they make icons and do some simple farming. There are only three of them, but they seem very happy and open.

Rd. Constantine Wright: There is a map and list of the Athonite monasteries in America at the following link: http://www.stanthonysmonastery.org/map.htm

This is at the website for St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence, AZ.

Fr. Ephraim is not being secret. There are several public websites given in the list. Fr. Ephrain travels (insofar as he is allowed to do so) and speaks openly. On the other hand, the efforts at secrecy are coming from those who are trying to suppress monasticism, the heart of our Orthodox Faith, in this country.

Alexander Arnakis: No, there were monasteries before Fr, Ephraim. But he’s the one who sparked the growth, and the controversy.

A. Styl: Yes, there are several public websites, but the Archdiocese’s web site and its newsletter, the Orthodox Observer, do NOT list him or his monasteries’ activities. Those of us who want to expose the monk Ephraim and his cult are not against monasticism within the Church. There is monasticism and then there is monasticism, the Ephraim-type that requires secrecy and deception. The term of “salvific deception,” which allows one to lie in order to preserve one’s salvation is touted to the novices and tonsured monks/nuns. In other words, it’s ok to deceive others in order to preserve and further your own salvation and your monastic community. The guardians of our faith are allowed to lie?

Atstaves:

I have attended several GOA National Clergy-Laity Congresses over the past decade, and the Fr. Ephraim monasteries have been a great source of private debate. When they have been brought out at public meetings, the GOA hierarchs clearly have admonished those present that they consider these monasteries under their jurisdictions, but for some reason or another, they have little or no control over what occurs there. Metropolitans will visit these monasteries on occasion, but other than that there appears to be little or no control exterted by them. The GOA drafted some regulations concerning these monasteries, but I am not sure what happened to them.

In the meantime, the GOA over the years has established several monasteries of its own, which are clearly included on their web site. I have visited non-Ephraim and Ephraim monasteries (two Ephraim monasteries are in my area, with one may be housing a young man whose recruitment was and still is a major source of controversy.) The non-Ephraim monasteries are open and warm, the Ephraim ones secretive and furtive in nature. The monk (within one year of joining was tonsured!) in question avoided contact with the general public during my visits. The monks and nuns of the GOA monasteries behaved
differently. While rumors swirl about how the Ephraim monasteries operate and how they recruit youngsters to become monks, no such rumors swirl around the GOA formed monasteries, nor of any other monasteries of other canonically recognized Churches in the USA.

The Ephraim monasteries are organized around Fr. Ephraim, all 16 or so of them. True monasteries are organized around a single abbott, not multiple monasteries organized around a single abbott. And Ephraim himself has jurisdiction hopped when it has suited him to do so, and how and why he left Mt. Athos has never been disclosed or explained. Many insist that he left Mt. Athos because he was on the verge of being booted out over some unusual behavior and teachings. Again, there is no way of verifying this, and until there is proof offered, at best they are rumors that just keep on persisting.

You know the old expression, where you smell smoke, there must be fire? In the Ephraim monasteries, the “smoke” smell is clearly evident.

Peter A. Neenan: Contrary to American ethos? Tell that to the Benedictines!

Catherine Hampton: Please present the evidence that this term is used and taught by
Archimandrite Ephreim and others in his group….

I’m a former member of a religious cult (a Protestant based cult) who has no problem accepting that an Orthodox group could also fall into this particular sin. (I’ve seen it happen.) However, I also have no problem believing that, for political or other invalid reasons, a group of people might accuse a particular monk or leader of cultism when they are not actually guilty of it.

So far, the evidence I’ve seen about Archimandrite Ephreim is equivocal, and not terribly well supported.

If there is real evidence of genuine cultlike behavior (as teaching the doctrine you cite above would be), I’d like to hear it, and see it posted. But it should be real evidence — the testimony of multiple witnesses, a sound recording in the voice of Archimandrite Ephreim, a document written by him that he acknowledges or that can be proved to
have come from him, etc.

Otherwise, I’m going to assume that the war we all observed within the Greek Orthodox Church in America is continuing, and that a partisan in this war is engaging in propaganda to sway our opinion for reasons that have nothing to do with the guilt or innocence of the person he’s accusing. :/

That’s interesting information…  You know, somebody really should gather together these stories, interview the people involved, and post it in one location.  Over five years ago, I and another former member of a cultish Protestant group did this.  It proved useful to a huge number of people who had been members of or otherwise were affected by the group, people whose very existence we didn’t suspect and most of whom didn’t realize that others had had the same experiences they did.

The advantages of getting specifics into the daylight — names, dates, first-hand testimony, and analysis by outsiders who do  not have an axe to grind — is hard to overstate.  Maybe you could start something like this?

Seth Williamson: Correct me if I’m wrong, but as I understand it, the kid was old enough to join the armed forces without parental consent. Then why can’t he become a monk?

Cunneen: Reading accusations and waiting for evidence seem to be two of the major
activities of this newsgroup. We get a lot of both.

That’s what makes unsupported accusations so evil; puff up enough smoke and people begin to believe there’s a fire because you said so. That’s essentially the method of propaganda: make an accusation often and loudly.

Atstaves: Hi Catherine. Try going to http://www.pokrov.org/. There are extensive articles on the Ephraim monasteries for anyone to review, including a few articles by an Archbishop who has taken exception to several of their teachings and has written articles setting the record straight.

Baseless rumor and its smoke will usually dissipate within a short period of time. With the Ephraim monasteries, after a decade, the smoke just never seems to go away.

Go to http://www.pokrov.org/ and read all about them along with an Archbishop’s response over two or three articles contradicting Ephramite teachings. You will get a better idea of what some of us are talking about.

I wish it were just idle rumor.

Regards, Louis Geo. Atsaves

A. Styl: Catherine, you want real evidence? So do we! Those families, except for the one in Tennessee, hesitate to speak out for two reasons: 1) ostracism from their parish (questioning the Ephraim-type of monasticism is not encouraged or translates into condemnation of all types of monasticism) and 2) isolation from their loved one inside an Ephraim-led monastery or convent as evidenced from the young Fr. Theologos and his self-isolation from his family. Letters are written and calls are made to Church heirarchs but nothing is done to set up guidelines or counseling. The secrecy of the whole thing is mind boggling! This power of spiritual dependence is so strong that parishes and priests fear speaking out because the Ephraimites idolize their “spiritual father”-the monk Ephraim. Families don’t want to be labeled as troubled or dysfunctional because their loved ones joined a cult. These families feel shame and guilt. As a former member of a Protestant cult, you could appreciate this I’m sure. We hear from these families but we cannot reveal their names for the sake of their privacy.

Please go to the following web sites for more information and “evidence” from personal testimonies, newspaper articles, and reports on Ephraim’s views on marriage and aerial toll houses, etc. from the Ukrainian Orthodox Archbishop Lazar Puhalo. Other than a few things on the Orthodox News web site (www.orthodoxnews.com,) we can’t lead you to more “evidence” other than these:

http://www.pokrov.org/cultorth.html
http://www.rickross.com/groups/ephraim.html

 

The rest of the debate can be found here.

 

Behind the Glass Wall: Losing our Son to a Fr. Ephraim-Led Monastery (John & Jo Ann Pantanizopoulos)

NOTE: Niko left the monastic life a number of years ago. Shortly after he was tonsured, he was transferred from St. Anthony’s in Florence, AZ to Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Harvard, IL. After visiting St. Anthony’s Monastery on their feast day, instead of returning to Illinois, he took a plane back home to his parents. He eventually married and had children and is doing well for himself.

  • Questions for the Church
  • How the Monastery shows Characteristics of a Cult
  • What is healthy monasticism in the USA?
  • Update (October 1999)

St. Anthony's Monastery Feast Day (early - mid-2000s)

When Niko was five years old, we decided he needed swimming lessons. At that time, we thought the best gifts parents could give was to teach their children to love reading, to learn a musical instrument to lift their spirits and enrich their lives, and to learn how to swim. The first two gifts would fill their inner souls; staying afloat would save their lives. When the YMCA offered tadpole classes, we enrolled our sweet-natured blonde son. During the lesson, parents could watch from a large glass window in a room looking down on the Olympic-sized swimming pool. Sometimes I took a book to read, but didn’t get far because I was always looking to see if Niko had made it across the pool holding onto the styrofoam float.

After being able to kick across holding onto the float, the instructor made the children swim to the float-always holding the float just inches from their finger tips. The instructor had her hands full one day as she led two swimmers across the pool teasing them by placing the float just inches from their strokes. As I glanced up from my book, I suddenly saw Niko sink under the water as the instructor was lifting up her second charge. In panic, I leapt to my feet and banged on the window to alert someone to save my son from drowning. I couldn’t speak or scream; they couldn’t hear me down there. Would I have had time to run downstairs, find the door to the showers and the pool? Could I break the glass so my screams could be heard? With my voice frozen, I could only beat on the glass and watch him struggling under water until the instructor glanced up at my thumping and then over to Niko. She lifted his arm, his head rose above the water, and on he swam.

Nikos is now 21 years old and a Greek Orthodox monk who goes by the name of Father Theologos. His father and I continue beating on the glass to save him, but no one has heard us. We feel our son, at a time in his life in which he was dealing with a transition from teen years to adulthood and with the sorrow of having an older sister diagnosed with a serious illness when he was 16, was unduly influenced to enter the monastic life since the age of 16. Our son is not alone. In the same year our son left, two other young people (ages 18 and 21) from our parish church in Knoxville, Tennessee entered a convent in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania and St. Anthony’s monastery in Florence, Arizona. Never were we included in assisting our son in making such a monumental decision. Niko told us in April and left in May 1996. We are concerned for many reasons that these monastic communities founded by Fr. Ephraim are part of a growing cult, a dark and confusing corner of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, a misdirected type of monasticism.

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* Niko is the only son of four children, a brother to three sisters. He made us laugh with his impressions, his wry sense of humor, his sensitivity to others, and his kindness. When he first told us he was becoming a monk, I cried telling him that he would lose his wonderful sense of humor. “No, I won’t, Mama. I’ll be the funny monk!” But there is no place in Fr. Ephraim’s monasteries for humor or of seeing the funny quirks in life. Laughter is the result of the devil, Niko now tells us.

* Our son left home in May 1996 to stay a few weeks at a convent led by Fr. Carellas in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania before his trip to Arizona. We spoke on the phone several times and each time, Niko told us that the departure date had changed because he needed to be at the monastery at the same time as Ephraim. Each time he changed his departure date, he had to pay a $50 fine to the airlines. When I told him that the cost was adding up and asked him would he jump off a cliff if Fr. Ephraim asked him, he replied seriously, “Yes, of course I would!”

* After only one year and nine months as a novice, Niko was suddenly tonsured as a monk on April 30, 1998. Normally, three years from the time such young people enter the monastery first as novices, they take their vows and become monks. When we asked our son when he would know he was ready to take his vows to become a monk, he told us that Fr. Ephraim would tell him. When we responded with, “Won’t God tell you?” he told us that he is unworthy to speak to God; only Fr. Ephraim and the elders are worthy enough to have a dialogue with God.

* When we tried to contrast Niko’s isolation from the world to the life of Jesus who embraced the world by working with people in preaching, healing, and showing compassion, just as Mother Teresa has done, Niko responded with “that (Mother Teresa’s work) was just social work. Jesus had his calling; I have mine.”

* We encouraged Niko to consider becoming a priest instead of a monk and to use his talents working with people. We told him we would pay for his education at the Holy Cross Seminary in Brookline, Massachusetts, the only Greek Orthodox seminary in North America. He refused saying that Frs. Carellas and Ephraim said that the seminary was full of satan.

* After our interview with a reporter was published in The National Herald (Ethnikos Kyrix), a Greek language newspaper published in New York, we received many phone calls from distraught parents and friends of novices in Fr. Ephraim’s communities. We urged them to write letters and speak out, but they are fearful of going public with their family sorrows.

frdemetrios

* Secrecy is paramount when a young man or woman leaves to enter a monastery or convent. Our son was told by Fr. Carellas to tell no one except his immediate family, and that only one month before he left our home. Niko left without telling his best friend, his aunts, uncles, grandmothers, even our current parish priest. The excuse was that if he told people, they might try to talk him out of becoming a monk, and then the devil would win.

* Fr. Ephraim has been known to have fought the devil who knocked on his door disguised as a goat. This goat attacked him, but the monk physically fought him off!

* Novice nuns have been known to wash this monk’s feet and drink the wash water because they and his followers think the man is a saint. He does nothing to discourage this sentiment.

* Fr. Ephraim has predicted that the world will end in 60 years.

* Fr. Ephraim was forced out of Canada because of the same recruiting tactics he is getting away with in the U.S.

* Divided families, divorces, and marital disharmony are the results of this monk’s teachings. We know that he has encouraged married couples to refrain from sexual intercourse and to live as brother and sister.

* Since entry into the monastery, our son has suffered from GERD, gastro-esophageal reflux disease. Before entry, Niko was never sick and had never suffered any stomach ailments. The novices are told that suffering is good and makes an individual a stronger Orthodox Christian. When he was in high school, he was the star dancer in our parish’s Greek Festival. The other dancers called him “Air Niko,” and he told us that he lived for Greek dancing. Now he keeps his eyes down rarely looking at us directly. He is a very thin, bowed 21 year-old young man.

* Following numerous letters (with responses few and far between) to bishops, the Archbishop, and the Patriarch, we finally were able to meet with Patriarch Bartholomew twice during his recent U.S. tour, once in October (1997) in Atlanta and once at the monastery in November (1997) in the presence of our son and several bishops. We asked that Niko be allowed to go home so we could have him checked by our family doctor. They all agreed it was acceptable; however, Niko later told us it was only a suggestion, not a command. Niko said that unless Ephraim told him to go, he would not leave the monastery. He would ignore the Patriarch’s suggestion.

* Niko does not ask about his family, his sisters, his cousins, his grandmothers. To do so, he says, is to ask about the world which he shuns. He refused to return home for his oldest sister’s wedding. He refused to listen to his 13 year-old sister’s song she wrote and sang for him on an audio tape, because music was from the devil. Christmases, Easters, and other holidays come and go each year without a phone call or a thank you note for the packages we send him. His letters to us have virtually stopped.

* A “spiritual elitism” surrounds the followers of Ephraim. Even in our parish church, a group of his followers defend him, saying “he has the power of discernment.” When I, Niko’s mother, stood up at our parish’s general assembly asking for some support in investigating this anomaly of losing three young people from our church to Fr. Ephraim’s monasticism, I was ridiculed and attacked by several of his ardent followers, told to mind my own business, and be glad my son was becoming a monk.

* St. Anthony’s monastery in Florence, Arizona is a brand new community in the desert, built of only the best materials. During our November 1997 visit that coincided with the Patriarch’s visit, we overheard one man say that it was indeed “more like a Hilton resort, than a monastery.” Our son told us that as soon as it is complete, it will become a convent, and the monks will move on to build yet another monastery, perhaps in New York. During our November visit to the monastery, we spoke with a member of the Patriarch’s entourage. When we told him why we were there, he said that he understood our concerns: “this spiritual dependence is totally unnecessary and is getting out of hand. Someone needs to get a hold of this situation and provide a solution to it.” The same member, who is also a priest, said that he and his wife were uncomfortable that their own son, who was with them that day, could come this close to such an unhealthy environment.

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We ask these questions we hope someone will be able to answer:

  • Who is funding Fr. Ephraim’s movements?
  • What is the charity Fr. Ephraim’s monks perform?
  • Under whose supervision do his activities fall?
  • What are the names of the novices and monks in Fr. Ephraim’s monasteries and how do their families feel about their sons or daughters being in them?
  • How many other families are suffering as we are?
  • Does the Greek Orthodox Church have any procedures in place to assist individuals in looking at monasticism in a balanced way?
  • What regulations, if any, govern these activities?
  • Are any statistics available on the spread of Greek Orthodox monasticism in the U.S.?
  • What is “healthy” monasticism in the USA in contrast with Fr. Ephraim’s communities?
  • Is the goal of the present Greek Orthodox Church leadership to divide families or to unite them by any possible means?

Note: We have asked the church these questions, but we have received no answers. We have been patient long enough in dealing with the Church’s hierarchy and speaking out publicly to get our son out of a psychologically abusive and spiritually dependent environment. We feel as if we have had a death in our family without a funeral. We miss our son! Although the church has gained one monk (our son), the remaining five members of our family have become estranged from the church.

Here are just a few of the characteristics of a cult, and they all match what we’ve seen and what we’ve read from our son’s letters:

Crucified Monk

** Control of the environment of their recruits: In this monastery, recruits are physically separated from the society. Any books, movies or testimonies of ex-members of the group are to be avoided. We have asked our son to talk to a former nun; he has refused. Like cults, the novices and monks follow a rigid routine of sleep deprivation, limited diet, work, and controlled reading. Niko’s young sister wrote a song and recorded it on a tape. When we tried to play it for him during our visit with him, Niko said he was not allowed to hear music, even a simple song his sister wrote from her heart and recorded on an audio cassette.

** Demand for purity: In this monastery, the world is depicted as black and white with little room for making personal decisions based on a trained conscience. People and organizations are pictured as either good or evil, depending on their relationship to the ideology of the group. We asked our son if he knew that Mother Teresa had died. He told us she was a Catholic, a heretic, and her good works were just “social work.” When we reminded him that Jesus also did this type of “social work” with the people, Niko told us again that we were “talking idly.” He also said that “Jesus had his calling. I have mine.”

Crucified Monk2

** Confession: In this monastery, serious sins are to be confessed immediately. Becoming a monk would be the result of regular confessions. From these confessions, Fr. Ephraim determines when Niko or any novice will be ready to become a monk. Information derived from the confession is used to make the novice feel powerless, more guilty, fearful and ultimately in need of the monastery and the leader’s goodness. This confession can be used to get the novice to re-write his or her personal history so as to reject the past life, making it seem illogical for the novice to want to return to his or her former life of family and friends.

** Sacred Science: In this monastery, the ideology is too “sacred” to call into question, and a reverence is demanded for the leadership. In the eyes of the monks and novices, Fr. Ephraim appears as the absolute truth with no contradictions. When we asked our son how he would know he was ready to become a monk, he told us that Fr. Ephraim would tell him. We asked, “Why doesn’t God tell you this?” He replied that he was not worthy to speak with God; only Fr. Ephraim and the elders are worthy to have a dialogue with God. Upon a visit to the convent in Saxonburg, PA, Fr. Ephraim told our 13-year old daughter and other children present that the world would end in 60 years. How convenient that Fr. Ephraim won’t be around in 60 years, and will not be confronted for his false prophecy!

color crucified monk

* Mystical Manipulation: In this monastery, novices have come to believe that they are actually “choosing” this life. If outsiders, even his parents, say Niko has been brainwashed or tricked, he repeats “I have chosen this voluntarily.” This statement was made even in the presence of the Patriarch and other Bishops in November 1997 at the Monastery of St. Anthony. Novices and monks thrive on this myth of voluntarism, insisting time and again that no member is being held against his or her will. Recruits are told that God is ever-present in the workings of the organization. If a person leaves for any reason, he/she is told that accidents or ill-will may befall them and that is attributed always to God’s punishment on them. We have a former nun’s testimony on this.

* Loading the Language: In this monastery, there is frequent use of “thought-terminating cliches,” expressions or words that are designed to end the conversation or controversy. Our son, when asked a difficult question for him to answer, will end the conversation with the statement “This is idle talk.” When we asked our son why he came to the monastery, he said it was God’s will.

Crucified monk 4

* Doctrine over Person: In this monastery, the person is only valuable insomuch as he/she conforms to the role models of the cult (or monastery). Personal history and experiences are ignored. During our visit or phone calls, Niko never asks about friends, relatives, his sisters, or our lives. Only the lives and experiences of monks are true for him. Accomplishments of former monks are repeated to these novices, although none of their fantastic (monastic) experiences can be verified. For example, Niko and his sister were  awestruck from the story told them at the convent in Saxonburg about Fr. Ephraim’s fight with Satan who appeared at his cell door in the form of a goat!

* Dispensing of Existence: In this monastery, they decide who has the right to exist and who does not. The leaders decide which books are accurate and which are biased. Families are cut off. Niko has not written to us since December 1998. In December 1997, he wrote us a note that he would not come home as advised by the Patriarch during our meeting with the Patriarch in November 1997. We wanted Niko to be cared for by our physician for his GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease). Our son said that only if Fr. Ephraim blesses his visit home would he have followed the Patriarch’s suggestion. We have written letters, called him on the phone, and visited him several times but always when we initiated the communication. All of these characteristics describe and document the similarities between monasteries administered by Fr. Ephraim and cults as they are known and defined by experts.In closing, we have come to the conclusion that people in the Church’s hierarchy will not do anything to save our son from the hands of such monastics. They appear to fall under no one’s jurisdiction or regulation. However, as soon as Fr. Ephraim’s type of monasticism is classified as a CULT in this country, we may then be able to save our son.

Remember most cults are defined as a splinter of “first generation religions.” We hope this classification will be recognized by the Greek Orthodox clergy and laity as well as the media soon. Young people in transition and facing big decisions about life, such as college, career, and choice of spouse, etc., are easy targets for cult recruiters. Our main issues here are that our son was too young (only 18 years old when he entered the monastery), he was indoctrinated beginning at age 16 by our former parish priest who never involved us in the process, our son had no theological education and is presently not in good health. He never suffered from any illness before. The Greek Orthodox Church has no specific guidelines for proselytizing potential novices.We love our son very, very much, and we will continue to beat on the glass wall to save our son from drowning in a cult led by this monk.

crucified monk3.

**What is healthy monasticism in the USA?

In our opinion, monastics should have a good theological education, be of a mature age, and should make their choice after careful counseling with their priest and their family. Individuals that best fit the mold of monks should be the clergy. Such individuals have already made this choice to follow Christ’s footsteps and have the theological background needed. Monasteries should be the place for one to retreat from the world for a short period of time to meditate, pray, and discuss religion with others (i.e. in the form of a sabbatical from their everyday life) and then return to the world refreshed. Was this not Christ’s way? The expenditures for building such monasteries should be the responsibility of the Church (Patriarchate) and be run by the Church. Under no condition should a monastery be run by individuals such as the elder Ephraim. Such spiritual dependence at any level can only be cultic with disastrous results.

AZ monks' living quarters

Update

Our son became a monk in April 1998, one year and nine months after entering the St. Anthony’s Monastery as a novice when he was 18 years old. At the age of 20, he became Pater Theologos. In his short note to us, he said even he was surprised when he discovered that he was to take his vows on that day. Since that note, we have received only one other short note to us. Then, in the summer of 1999, we accidentally read on the internet a Chicago Tribune article dated June 2, 1999, “Monks Turn Farm Into Monastery.” The reporter mentioned two monks: Frs. Akakios and Theologos. Wondering if our son could actually be in another monastery, we called the monastery and heard the voice on the answering machine. We knew it was our son Niko. We later sent him a birthday card and called again, leaving a message on the monastery answering machine. Still no letter, no phone call. Since then, we have discovered that Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Harvard, Illinois (northwest of Chicago) recently held a fund-raising banquet with about 600 attending paying $50 for a chicken dinner. A visitor told us that a tall thin young monk wearing glasses was there. He was not introduced and did not speak with any of the attendees. Our son, the one who told us so many times he lived to dance the Greek hasapiko and Kalamatiano is now the quiet monk isolating himself in obedience to the monk Ephraim.

https://web.archive.org/web/19991128190837/http://www.angelfire.com/bc/orthodoxsurvivors/cubehindglass.html

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