Are the Ephraimite Monasteries a legitimate Athonite Monastic Witness? (Dr. George Stevens, 1998)

A debate about Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries from an Orthodox forum in 1998.

The Charter referred to in the GOA press release giving Athonite autonomy to the Ephrimite monasteries is an attempt to copy the famous Holy Mountain Charter which was written on a goat skin and is the governing document of the 20 ruling monasteries on the Holy Mountain. The Archdiocese is attempting to assert that it is establishing an Athonite presence here. It has been my prayer for many, many years that this would happen. Yet I do not believe that such is the case now with this current effort. Lets examine why.

First of all, the Athonite charter which gives Athos autonomy and places the Holy Mountain directly under the EP, also establishes a synod of 20 Abbotts to rule over the monasteries by a democratic conciliar system of governance which is common to Orthodoxy. Not any one Abbott is under obedience to any other and each is free to vote his conscience in all matters. This is why they are called Abbotts, (hegumenie). Rule is through consensus with an occasional intervention by the EP. When the Abbotts combine to issue a united statement from the Holy Mountain, the whole Orthodox Church takes notice, no
matter what branch or Patriarchate it is.

What is developing in the United States is completely different and foriegn. You have a number of monasteries that all have been founded by one man. The Abbotts of these monasteries are all under absolute monastic obedience to that one man. There is no Athonite system of ruling monasteries with Abbotts who are free to vote their consciences in conciliarity. The charter effectively removes all checks and balances from the American Diocesan Bishops over them and places them only answerable to the Archbishop, whom has shown himself to be an obvious problem or the EP who isn’t here to discern what is really happening and obviously reluctant to intervene in anything here even if he is informed
and does understand.

Finally we come to the issue of the person in which all this authority is being given, Fr. Ephriem. This is a man that left the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and joined ROCOR for a time. He only returned to the GOA after being threatened with excommunication by the EP. There have been serious allegations in the press as to the circumstances of his leaving the Holy Mountain. It has been said that the man was ejected as an abbot from the Holy Mountain and removed by police on moral conduct grounds. I have no way of verifying this statement and this is why I haven’t written about it in the past. However the situation is becoming so crucial now that we can no longer keep silent about it in ignorance. I’ve heard it from enough clergy and laity that the Holy Mountain itself must issue a statement to clarify the circumstances of Fr. Ephraim’s departure.

I call upon the Holy Communities of the Holy Mountain, indeed the Holy Synod of the ruling 20 monasteries, to put to rest this issue once and for all. If there are problems with Fr. Ephriem formerly Abbot of Philotheou and his ministry, if he was ejected from the Holy Mountain, they must reveal this for the sake of the Church in America and her faithful. If on the other hand, he is being maligned for political reasons and he is an innocent man, and perhaps a living saint establishing a genuine Athonite presence in America, then they need to come out and endorse the man’s ministry as an Athonite monastic witness, in the tradition of the historical witness of Philotheou. Silence on this issue will only continue to breed confusion. This is the only way that this man’s ministry can be trusted in the United States. I call on the Gerondas in Christ to speak the truth on this issue and possibly prevent a psuedo-monastic like tax-exempt money-moving cult from growing and spreading. I further call on them, if the man is not an authentic representative of the Athonite Orthodox witness, to look into sending us two or three. As the Abbot of Gergoriou, ( a Monastery on the Holy Mountain) once told me, it is the single greatest spiritual need of the Americas.”

In Christ,

Dr. George Stevens

Dr. George Stevens
Dr. George Stevens

The remainder of the debate can be found here: