European elegance and old-world traditions grace St. John’s Monastery (Loretto J. Hulse, 2015)

NOTE: The following newspaper article was taken from Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business, June 16th, 2015.

Sister Iosiphia, one of 22 nuns at the Holy Monastery of St. John the Forerunner near Goldendale
Sister Iosiphia, one of 22 nuns at the Holy Monastery of St. John the Forerunner near Goldendale, answers questions about the Greek Orthodox religion. She was giving a group of visitors a tour of the buildings, churches and grounds.

There’s a bit of old Europe just a few miles north of Goldendale at the Holy Monastery of St. John the Forerunner.

The chapel and church are built and decorated in a traditional, Greek Orthodox manner, with intricate carvings, colorful icons of Jesus, Mary and the saints and elaborate tile work.

“It’s very normal for an Orthodox church to be elaborately decorated because it is a house of God and you want to give your best to God,” said Sister Philothei, one of the 22 nuns who live at the Monastery.

Sister Philothei said throughout the history of the Greek Orthodox church, which goes back about 2,000 years, the churches have been ornately decorated.

“The churches have had elaborate carvings, parts of it decorated in gold leaf, and wonderful icons,” said Sister Philothei. “Because our churches are an offering up to God, we try to create heaven on earth, a very holy place.”

St. John’s monastery was founded in 1995 when Dr. Gerald Timmer donated 48 acres to the church to establish a Greek Orthodox monastery.

Unlike Roman Catholic nuns, the sisters of a Greek Orthodox monastery do not go out into the community to teach or do social work. Instead, they live a secluded, God-centered life and pray for the salvation of all mankind. When not in prayer, their days are devoted to sustaining the monastery.

The monastery, one of only 20 Greek Orthodox monasteries in the U.S., is home for 22 sisters and novices.

The monastery’s original chapel was cramped and has been replaced by a new larger church. The new church isn’t completely finished, but the nuns began using it for services in June 2014.

Some of the outside tile work still needs to be done and several chandeliers are on order, but the traditional Byzantine icons, fabulously carved seats and altar and soaring architecture of the church are all in place, giving it a European feel.

“If you were to go into a Greek Orthodox church in Greece, Serbia or in Russia, this is what you’d see. People from Greece who visit here say the chapel, our new church, feels like home,” said Sister Philothei.

In fact, what you see in the church at St. John’s monastery — as elaborate as it is — isn’t as over the top as many of the churches in Europe, Sister Philothei added.

In 2013, the sisters ordered the carvings for the new church hoping some would come by June, in time for the special feast day honoring St. John the Forerunner. Instead all the hand-carved elements arrived in time.

“A special family in Greece who do nothing but carvings for Greek Orthodox churches made ours,” said Sister Philotheir. “There’s about 20 people who worked on them — a couple of brothers, their children and their grandchildren.”

[NOTE: This would be the Eleftheriadis Brothers; ]

Sister Philothei couldn’t say what the carvings cost, but knows it will take the monastery years, many years to pay for them.

Inset into the carvings in the church are prints of icons copied from those painted by the sisters of St. John’s monastery.

The icons decorating the chapel, the monastery’s original church, were painted by the sisters who live there. But the sisters haven’t had the time yet to paint icons for the new church.

“As we have time they’ll be replaced with original paintings, but that will take us years,” Sister Philothei said.

With help from parishioners, the sisters care for the extensive grounds including the chickens and goats. They also run a bakery/café, which serves traditional Greek food and baked goods. And they make a variety of Byzantine arts and crafts for the gift shop, including prayer ropes, incense, beeswax candles and handmade lotions and soaps.

In May, the Kennewick Senior Center arranged a tour of the monastery and a luncheon of traditional Greek dishes. Twenty people participated in the trip, which was guided by Frankie Meaders, an assistant volunteer hostess for the center.

Tours of the grounds and two religious buildings on site are available with advance notice.

“It’s best to call a week or more ahead so we can make sure a sister is available,” said Sister Iosiphia, who led the tour.

Sister Iosiphia has been a nun at St. John’s monastery for 18 years and is well versed in the history of the monastic community.

Unlocking the door to the smaller chapel on the grounds, she explained it had been in continuous use for 15 years before they built the new, larger church.

“It would get a little cramped with all the nuns and lay people who attended services,” said Sister Iosiphia. “But we’ll continue to use it for special services. It holds a lot of memories.”

Sister Iosiphia shared the history of the Greek Orthodox Church and how it was founded thousands of years ago by Jesus and the original apostles.

Greek Orthodox sisters and monks aren’t divided into separate orders as Roman Catholic nuns, priests and monks are. They also, with the exception of very unusual circumstances, spend their lives at the monastery where they take their vows.

To help support the monastery, the sisters opened St. John’s Bakery, Coffee and Gifts in May 2002.

However, it doesn’t bring in enough income to fully support the monastery.

“Donations are very important. Without them we would never have been able to build our new church,” said Sister Iosiphia.

St. John’s Bakery offers a selection of classic Greek foods including dolmadakia, grape leaves stuffed with ground beef, rice and seasonings and gyros, grilled strips of meat stuffed in pita bread and topped with tzatziki sauce. There’s also a Greek lasagna, a Greek pizza of cheeses baked on pita bread and grilled pork shish kabobs.

Several other Greek dishes, such as spanakopita, are available in family-size portions in the freezer case.

They also make traditional Greek baked goods — baklava, biscotti, and koulouakia — using no preservatives. And the sisters mix up melt-in-your-mouth, golf-ball size chocolate truffles, nut clusters and cheesecakes.

The café also has a full espresso bar, using fresh-roasted coffee from Father Michael’s Roastery in Goldendale.

St. John’s Bakery, Coffee and Gifts is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., daily, except Sundays. The monastery is at 2378 Highway 97 in Goldendale. The phone number is 509-773-6650 and the website is


Stress, Caffeine and Hallucinations

Many years ago, on the advice of Dr. Gerasimos and other doctors, Geronda Ephraim quit drinking coffee for health reasons. Geronda Paisios (AZ) quit drinking coffee because it caused him anxiety attacks. Many of the other abbots and abbesses also  quit drinking coffee. Geronda Ephraim had also given an obedience to some of his monasteries to ban coffee for the monastics. Before this time period, in the heyday of the 90’s, there was a general blessing for the monastics to drink coffee. Generally, one cup for vigil and one cup in the morning upon waking up (though some monastics had a blessing to drink more than one cup during the day). Later, it changed to only one cup at vigil and the need for a blessing to have any during the day. Later, in some monasteries, it became no coffee whatsoever.

Geronda Ephraim sitting on a bench

Before all these changes, the average father confessor in Geronda Ephraim’s monastery would drink anywhere from 1-4 coffees a day (either Greek or American or a combination of both; and sometimes 1 or 2 Frappé/day in the hotter months). I.e. one for vigil, one in the morning, one at the start of confessing lay people, another in the afternoon. Basically, the father confessors were running their vigil and day on stimulants. The monastics were running their vigils on stimulants.

f_DSC_0039_400 frappe

The History of Coffee and Monasticism

Though there are various legends about the discovery of coffee in both Ethiopia (ca. 875 A.D.) and Yemen (ca. 575 A.D.), the most popular version is the story of Kaldi the goat herd:

In the Ethiopian highlands, where the legend of Kaldi, the goatherd, originated, coffee trees grow today as they have for centuries. Though we will never know with certainty, there probably is some truth to the Kaldi legend.

It is said that he discovered coffee after noticing that his goats, upon eating berries from a certain tree, became so spirited that they did not want to sleep at night.

Kaldi dutifully reported his findings to the abbot of the local monastery who made a drink with the berries and discovered that it kept him alert for the long hours of evening prayer. Soon the abbot had shared his discovery with the other monks at the monastery, and ever so slowly knowledge of the energizing effects of the berries began to spread. As word moved east and coffee reached the Arabian peninsula, it began a journey which would spread its reputation across the globe.

Kaldi, the Ethiopian goat herd who, according to legend, discovered coffee and introduced it to the monks.
Kaldi, the Ethiopian goat herd who, according to legend, discovered coffee and introduced it to the monks.

To this day, in many monasteries, the monastics drink a cup of coffee to start their vigil as it helps them stay more alert and it is also a measure to prevent falling asleep during vigil or the practice of kardiaki proseuche (Prayer of the Heart).

For more stories about coffee’s origins, see:

Ethiopia’s Coffee Origin Myth:

Coffee History Chronology:

Ripe coffee berries.
Ripe coffee berries.

Caffeine Dependence

Caffeine addiction is a common problem. The most commonly consumed psychoactive substance on earth, caffeine, is used daily by an estimated 90% of Americans. The Coffee Statistics Report for 2010 reports more than 400 billion cups are consumed worldwide every year.

Caffeine is a commonplace central nervous system stimulant drug which occurs in nature as part of the coffee, tea, yerba mate and some other plants.
Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors A and A2A. Adenosine is a by-product of cellular activity, and stimulation of adenosine receptors produces feelings of tiredness and the need to sleep. Caffeine’s ability to block these receptors means the levels of the body’s natural stimulants, dopamine and norepinephrine continue at higher levels.

Caffeine structurally resembles adenosine enough for it to fit into the brain's adenosine receptors
Caffeine structurally resembles adenosine enough for it to fit into the brain’s adenosine receptors

Mild physical dependence can result from excessive caffeine intake. Caffeine addiction, or a pathological and compulsive form of use, has never been documented in humans.

Health effects of caffeine (negative and positive)
Health effects of caffeine (negative and positive)

Studies have demonstrated that people who take in a minimum of 100 mg of caffeine per day (about the amount in one cup of coffee) can acquire a physical dependence that would trigger withdrawal symptoms that include headaches, muscle pain and stiffness, lethargy, nausea, vomiting, depressed mood, and marked irritability. Professor Roland Griffiths, a professor of neurology at John Hopkins in Baltimore strongly believes that caffeine withdrawal should be classified as a psychological disorder. Through his research, withdrawals occurred within 12–24 hours after stopping caffeine intake and could last as long as nine days. Continued exposure to caffeine will lead the body to create more adenosine receptors in the central nervous system which makes it more sensitive to the effects of adenosine in two ways. Firstly, it will reduce the stimulatory effects of caffeine by increasing tolerance. Secondly, it will increase the withdrawal symptoms of caffeine as the body will be more sensitive to the effects of adenosine once caffeine intake stops. Caffeine tolerance develops very quickly. Tolerance to the sleep disruption effects of caffeine were seen after consumption of 400 mg of caffeine 3 times a day for 7 days, whereas complete tolerance was observed after consumption of 300 mg taken 3 times a day for 18 days.

Main symptoms of caffeine overdose.
Main symptoms of caffeine overdose.

Too Much Coffee Can Make You Hear Things That Are Not There

People with a higher caffeine intake, from sources such as coffee, tea and caffeinated energy drinks, are more likely to report hallucinatory experiences such as hearing voices and seeing things that are not there. Even five coffees per day can trigger this type of hallucination.

Professor Simon Crowe
Professor Simon Crowe

Professor Simon Crowe says:

“High caffeine levels in association with high levels of stressful life events interacted to produce higher levels of ‘hallucination’ in non-clinical participants, indication that further caution needs to be exercised with the use of this overtly ‘safe’ drug.”

“There is a link between high levels of stress and psychosis, and caffeine was found to correlate with hallucination proneness. The combination of caffeine and stress affect the likelihood of an individual experiencing a psychosis-like symptom.”

“The results also support both the diathesis-stress model and the continuum theory of schizophrenia in that stress plays a role in the symptoms of schizophrenia and that everyone, to some degree, can experience these symptoms.

It is apparent that the health risks of excessive caffeine use must be addressed and caution should be raised with regards to the exacerbating use of this stimulant.”

The following measurements of caffeine in a cup of coffee are cited from an article by Bunker and McWilliams, from the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (74:28-32, 1979):
• 1 cup, brewed (7 oz, 207 ml). 80 to 135 mg of caffeine.
• 1 cup, drip (7 oz, 207 ml). 115 to 175 mg of caffeine
• 1 cup, espresso (1.5-2 oz, 45-60 ml). 100 mg of caffeine

Greek coffee levels vary on whether it is a single (40-60 mg) or double (80-120 mg):

See: The effect of caffeine and stress on auditory hallucinations in a non-clinical sample

Greek Coffee

Interesting articles:

Caffeine, stress, and proneness to psychosis-like experiences: A preliminary investigation

Caffeine-Induced Psychosis: Case Report:

Turkish Coffee or Greek Coffee?

(The following is an essay/short story by Besnik Mustafaj, former Albanian Minister of Foreign Affairs (2005-2007) and former Ambassador of Albania in the Republic of France, 1992-1997. )