The Truth about the Holy Mountain and its Monks (Dr Panagiotis Grigoriou, 2001)

NOTE: This article is taken from the Sunday Typos, June 10, 2001. It was written to refute Monk Michael’s accusations. Dr. Gregoriou is a Neurologist-Psychiatrist and director of the Psychiatric Department of the Halkidiki General Hospital.1 In this article, Dr. Gregoriou validates Monk Michael’s claim that there are Hagiorite monks who have mental disorders, see psychiatrists, and take psychiatric drugs. http://www.psyche.gr/lgreekdiasyndpsyttheo.htm

ΝΟΣΟΚΟΜΕΙΟ
Halkidiki General Hospital.

I was motivated to write this article when I read the Monk Michael Hatziantoniou’s interview with the journalist Peter Papavasileios (see the magazine “E” in the Sunday Eleftherotypia, April 22, 2001).

The reason I thought of myself to be a “substantive qualifier” is that I’ve practised psychiatry for 20 years. For the past 12 years, I’ve been the Director of the Psychiatric Department of the Halkidiki General Hospital in whose jurisdiction Mount Athos falls in terms of health coverage.

With my position, I know very well the question under dispute (the use of psychiatric drugs on Mount Athos). Moreover, the fact that I have regularly visited Mount Athos since 1974 (I was then a graduate student at the Medical School of Athens University) permits me to know the people and things of the area quite well.

Ιατρικής Σχολής του Πανεπιστημίου Αθηνών
Medical School of Athens University

Firstly, why did the news use the pompous title with the exclamation that “They Take Psychiatric Drugs on Mount Athos?” For a prudent and impartial reader, it has the same “originality” as “They take antibiotics or antihypertensive or anti-rheumatic medications on Mount Athos.” Psychiatric drugs are also medications that relieve and help the people who need them. I don’t understand why particularly on Mount Athos the mentally ill should not take psychotropic drugs. Is it not a shame to be excluded from the therapeutic means of modern medical science?

Fr. Michael rents his garments: “I cannot bear this situation,” he says. He maintains that anyone can cure their mental symptoms with personal effort. Something that is heard daily amongst the ignorant: “Banish your anxiety, pull the sadness from your soul, throw it out,” etc. Similar views proceed either from ignorance or out of some unconscious fear against mental illness and psychotropic drugs. If such counsels were effective then the existence of our psychiatrists would probably have been unnecessary.

Prozac

Another “scandalous revelation” Fr. Michael makes—that Hagiorites are visiting psychiatrists—pertains to the same spirit! But are we psychiatrists such defiled beings that all sensible and virtuous people must avoid us “so as not to be defiled?” The fact that Hagiorites visit psychiatrists constitutes an occasion of praise, not reproach. If they didn’t visit psychiatrists then they should be accused of medievalism and criminal omission.2

RESPONSIBILITIES

I stress here that the attitude of some religious people—even spiritual fathers—who claim that anyone who lives in God should never resort to psychiatrists or psychotropic drugs is, in every respect, incorrect.3 They believe that psychiatrists wrongly assume responsibilities that belong exclusively to God and the spiritual father. The Hagiorite monks, following the vibrant spiritual tradition, avoid such absolutes. They recognize the difference between mental and spiritual problems. Like all other diseases, they consider mental illnesses result from defects and the corruption of post-Fall man. They do not identify mental illnesses with outside demonic influences. The respect of the Hagiorites towards the proper use of its results is an example of wisdom and ampleness of spirit.

If I understood correctly, Fr. Michael implies amongst his contradictions that the way of life imposed upon the monks (militarization) is what causes psychiatric problems. He also insinuates that some Hagiorites (I wonder what percentage?) who regretted becoming monks were trapped in the system and because they were prevented from leaving the monastery occasionally they killed themselves or set themselves on fire.4 Then the abbots, in order to deter their escape from Mount Athos, issue them psychotropic drugs to bend their will and make them thoughtless, subservient zombies! Yet, Fr. Michael doesn’t complain that he had such a treatment when he decided to abandon his monastery. Contrary to what one not acquainted with such things might imagine, the way of life on the Holy Mountain is not disease producing but rather psychotherapeutic.

Thic Duc
On June 11, 1963, a Vietnamese monk named Thich Quang Duc shocked the world when he burned himself to death in public as a protest against the Vietnamese government, a gesture known as self-immolation.

The reference to famous boxes with mysterious contents is naive at the very least. The monasteries obtain their drugs from pharmacies, usually from Thessaloniki, because they don’t operate a pharmacy on Mount Athos. The medication orders for the needs of 80-100 people (with a large percentage of elderly) for a period of one or two months apparently have some volume and should be packed well in “boxes” to reach their destination safely. Usually, these boxes contain drugs of every kind and a portion of them are psychotropic drugs. Let he who doubts ask any pharmacy serving a population of 2,000 residents and let him learn what the current monthly consumption of psychotropic drugs is and a percentage of all drugs, but also an absolute number inserted in boxes and let him calculate their approximate volume. It should be taken into consideration that a significant portion of these drugs are consumed for the extraordinary needs of the numerous visitors as well as the hundreds of laymen who work on the Mountain.5

DISORDERS

Mount Athos is also entitled to have its mentally ill. It would be very unnatural if they didn’t exist since the percentage of those in the adult population who exhibit mental disorders at any given time has been estimated at around 15% for residents in the Western hemisphere.

Besides, as we know, one does not require a bill of health to become a monk, nor is a monk expelled from his monastery when some serious illness appears.6 Mount Athos is not an unrealistic place, nor does it aspire to present an outward image of an “elite” community, like the “caste” of Eastern religions or Gnostics or whatever else. The Athonite State, Panagia’s Garden, is an open space, social and genuinely human; a struggling society journeying towards God. The sick have their place and even honour in such a community! Where else would the remaining healthy monks show their love, patience and ministry if not to those who are beside them even if they happen to be sick?

Caste system

I cannot tolerate that Fr. Michael—the author of the article—professes the popular unscientific opinions: “Don’t go to the crazy doctor, he will make you completely crazy and you will be stigmatized for life!” Or, “Don’t take psychiatric medicine, they’re narcotics, you’ll become dependent and you’ll be rendered a vegetable!” Such positions need no response, this would be futile.7

As a doctor, my ascertainment is that the mentally ill on Mount Athos are treated more correctly, more scientifically and more effectively than whatever in the outside world.8 The monastic family surround the suffering brother with much care, love and tolerance and spare neither expense nor labor to ensure the best possible treatment and aid.9 He is provided a treatment rarely seen in today’s society, with respect to mental illness, the suffering monk’s soul and his dignity—a treatment that preserves the patient’s self-esteem.10 It should be made clear that in no way is an incompetent person involved in the treatment process. They follow the indication on the medication from the specialist physician, which is prescribed under the responsibility of the rural clinic in Karyes. Also, the administration of drugs and the assessment of the patient’s clinical progress are not made by upstart monks. Most of the monasteries have at least one or more doctor-monks with extensive experience who have impressed me with their scientific competence and awareness.11 The long existing journey of mentally ill Athonite monks is many times better than those who have mental illnesses in the world, where human dignity is trivialized with confinement in psychiatric asylums or the taunts of their fellow villagers.12

The Town of Karye
The Town of Karyes

Fr. Michael’s inappropriate parallelism of Bedouin doped out on hashish and the Athonite monks is an unfortunate verbal exaggeration.13 It might have been worthwhile before the interview was published to have a psychiatrist (of a trusted newspaper) examine the text and question whether Fr. Michael’s allegations have any scientific standing. I am certain that he would have agreed with me that the anti-psychiatry opinions usually belong to uneducated people.14

SCANDAL-MONGERING

Regarding Fr. Michael’s “showcase” allegation, Mount Athos does not claim to be a society of perfect men.15 Moreover, he stresses in the last paragraph of the interview (essentially negating everything previous): “The majority of monks are very nice guys! The love, they look at you with clean eyes. I speak for the majority because there are certainly a very small number of monks who have a pure heart…” If this is the case then what is with all the scandal-mongering throughout the rest of the interview? He did not clarify for us from the start of the interview that he was only speaking about a few exceptions! He allowed us to believe that this is the picture of Mount Athos in general. According to Fr. Michael, what is the real and representative showcase of Mount Athos? The 5-10 likeable mentally ill patients, 5-10 unruly monks and the one monk who set himself on fire? Do we not wrong the 2000 struggling monks who live imperceptibly with ascesis, a pure life and hard work, and are happy and normal?16

We were distressed in seeing the exceptions generalized. The error of one was aggrandized and expressed while the virtue of the many was hushed up. The Hagiorites know this and it is natural and imperative for them to take precautions. We accuse them of hypocrisy because they protect themselves? What family would voluntarily surrender the proclamation of their son or daughter’s deviation to public vilification and shaming? By protecting the reputation of the person who erred, as well as the family’s reputation, from the sneer of the voracious publicity, we hope to heal the wounds. Otherwise, “the last error becomes worse than the first.” Mount Athos is a community of true love where the erring sinners are neither ostracized nor pilloried or stoned.17 They are consoled and covered as suffering brothers and they are “economized” with sympathy and spiritual treatment so they are induced to “repentance and come to salvation.”

Elder Makarios

Fr. Michael’s interview saddened me. He light-heartedly accuses holy people—humble and obscure to the general public—but accomplished in the heart of whoever knew those who apparently “raised themselves as charismatic figures” to captivate souls! It is a shame for a monk to offer his brothers and fathers as victims to the Moloch of publicity in exchange for the silver pieces and the honorary title of “debunker” and “whistle-blower” who apparently tells everything out right. The monastic life starts out with promises of obedience, humility, and devotion to the brotherhood. Self-projection and self-complacency are not included in these promises. In searching for the deeper “why”, I would say that Fr. Michael’s position against the Holy Mountain, in a psychodynamic interpretation, serves as a personal apology.18

Finally, I want to reassure and cheer up those who were perhaps troubled by reading the publication of “E”. No! The Mountain is not a “concentration camp,” nor some “mental hospital” for dissidents.19 The Kassandres and those appearing as benevolent dirge singers have no place here!20 Mount Athos did not lose the “rota”, it is not sinking! The Holy Mountain continues to sail correctly as it has for centuries. For over a thousand years, the rowers stand vigilant night and day at their oar. The Captain—the Lady of the Mount—holds the steering wheel firmly and the compass firmly shows God’s Kingdom. It is not shipwrecked and it collects castaways!

AthosMap
The island of Amoulianni, off the northwest coast of Athos, was once said to be run like a sort of ‘concentration camp’ for naughty monks.

NOTES:

  1. A google search of Dr. Grigoriou’s name in Greek only produces results in connection to this article. There is no photo, articles or a record of him anywhere in Greece other than in relation to this article. Other doctors with the same name do not have the same credentials as listed here. There is a Dr. Panagiotis Dimitrios Grigoriou in the UK, GMC # 7015533. His primary medical qualification is listed as Ptychio Iatrikes 2006 National Capodistrian University of Athens and he is obviously not the same person as the author of this article.
  2. According to the contemporary spiritual fathers of Greece, all neuroses stem from the guilt of unconfessed sins. The monastery is a hospital where the sick go to be healed. However, if daily confession and revelation of thoughts, combined with frequent Holy Communion and the Jesus Prayer isn’t helping the monk, will a psychiatrist be able to help the individual monk more than his own spiritual father? Hierotheos Vlachos writes, “Orthodoxy is mainly a therapeutic science and treatment. It differs clearly from other psychiatric methods, because it is not anthropocentric and because it does not do its work with human methods, but with the help and energy of divine grace, essentially through the synergy of divine and human volition… I know that the term `psychotherapy’ is almost modern and is used by many psychiatrists to indicate the method which they follow for curing neurotics. But since many psychiatrists do not know the Church’s teaching or do not wish to apply it, and since their anthropology is very different from the anthropology and soteriology of the Fathers, in using the term `psychotherapy’, I have not made use of their views. It would have been very easy at some points to set out their views, some of which agree with the teaching of the Fathers and others of which are in conflict with it, and to make the necessary comments, but I did not wish to do that. I thought that it would be better to follow the teaching of the Church through the Fathers without mingling them together. Therefore I have prefixed the word `Orthodox’ to the word `Psychotherapy’ (healing of the soul), to make the title “Orthodox Psychotherapy”. It could also have been formulated as “Orthodox Therapeutic Treatment”.(Orthodox Psychotherapy, Introduction)
  3. Most contemporary spiritual fathers are not against their spiritual children going to psychiatrists and, in certain cases, taking psychotropics. See http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/11/elder-epiphanios-theodoropoulos-on_11.html However, some spiritual fathers do not agree with monastics seeing psychiatrists or taking psychotropic drugs.
  4. It is amazing that Dr. Grigoriou, with all his experience, is unaware of the vast amount of research in his field on the subject of blind obedience, authoritarianism, cult-like mentalities, and the emotional and psychological abuse that exist in such oppressive atmospheres. Evidence shows that these things lead to neuroses, PTSD, and various other mental illnesses. Studies on the emotional and psychological effects of confinement and feeling trapped are also in abundance.
  5. Dr. Grigoriou does not clarify if these medications are administered to laymen by monastics that are licensed professionals, or if these professionals have up-to-date training.
  6. This statement is not true, at least for the monasteries under Geronda Ephraim. There are numerous stories in circulation about the numerous monastics Geronda Ephraim sent packing on Mount Athos. The reasons ranged from not doing obedience, causing to many scandals, becoming a danger to themselves or others, homosexual incidents, or just so deluded that something really bad could have happened if they were allowed to stay. Geronda Ephraim has also sent a number of novices home from Arizona for various issues. As for prerequisites, homosexuals are generally not allowed to become monks. Geronda Ephraim has said it’s like inviting the devil into your monastery, and without going into specifics, he has hinted at the damage such men have caused in monasteries on Mount Athos. Also, people with mental illnesses are gently discouraged from becoming monastics in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries and are usually told it would be better for them to remain and struggle in the world.
  7. Monk Michael did not say those things in his interview. Perhaps Dr. Grigoriou heard read them in some of his other writings?
  8. As a layman who visits the monasteries and witnesses the front stage behavior—without actually living in a monastery or being a monk and witnessing the back stage behavior—Dr. Grigoriou is not in a position to make such a catch all statement. Monastics who make statements like this usually have a PR agenda.
  9. Sick monks—either physically or mentally—have all had their own experiences of neglect from their brother monastics. One who has to stay in his cell may be forgotten and not have meals brought to him, or the person who tends to them may get caught up in another obedience and not show up to help, etc, in some cases remaining in a dirty diaper for a day or so before his monk-attendant comes to change his diaper and bathe him. A monastic suffering from some ailment may not be able to go to a doctor for a long period of time due to whatever circumstances, thus prolonging the suffering. At other times, the Geronda may say do patience and one has to endure. Again, one may have been given specific instructions for recovery and the Geronda will cut it short, saying it’s not necessary, you’re fine and you have to work, now go.
  10. Again, Dr. Grigoriou is trying to paint an unrealistic utopia experience for ailing monks. Fr. Makarios of St. Anthony’s Monastery, AZ is a perfect example of how this is not always true. After he received his head injury and remained in a somewhat vegetative state, it put a strain on the brotherhood. Some of the younger monks giggled and mocked some of his newly acquired idiosyncrasies, especially during the services when he would stand up abruptly and say insensible things or pass wind in church throughout the night. Initially, Geronda said, “What use is he now? He has the mind of a baby,” and wanted to send him home. However, he did not send him away because he felt obliged to keep him (Fr. Makarios’ father is a priest who helps out at Geronda Ephraim’s nunneries). Of course, there was economia given to him due to his mental incapacitation but not all his brother monks had patience and understanding towards him. The reality in a monastery is once you start losing your usefulness you are made to feel like a burden. Woe unto those who get old and have nothing to contribute to the monastery; even more so if they need to take other monastics from more useful jobs to help them in their daily routine.
  11. In many of the monasteries, the doctor monastics do not keep up-to-date with their training. Thus, many times one finds a doctor with an outdated degree. Of course, the basics don’t change much but would you trust going to a doctor who graduated from university in say 1990, never had a practice, and has not kept up-to-date on his training or the new breakthroughs in science and medicine nor had his license renewed?
  12. Again, this is a far stretch of a statement. A perfect example would be the monasteries here in North America where fat-shaming is quite common among the monastics. The following information is not written to center anyone out or further fat shame individuals, but to point out that these things happen in the monasteries just as they do in the world. Furthermore, there is a complex link between obesity and mental illness and fat shaming is a method of stigmatizing. In the beginning, Fr. Germanos was constantly the brunt of jokes and taunts about his weight (both to his face and behind his back). In the mid-90’s, when Fr. Germanos was visiting Archangels Monastery in Texas, Geronda Dositheos walked up to him and said, “Do you know what we use to do to fat kids in school?” and he bumped his stomach into Fr. Germanos’ stomach. Also in the mid-late 90s, while Fr. Germanos was looking for property in New York, Geronda Ephraim gave many homilies to the Fathers in Arizona. In a couple of homilies, he’d joke about Fr. Germanos with his cheeks puffed, arms outstretched indicating fat, and wobble his body back and forth. All the Fathers would break out in laughter at this display. Though Fr. Germanos was not present for these homilies, he’d hear his brothers laughing and mocking him years later when these cassettes were digitalized and all the monasteries were given the DVDs. Another time, Fr. Germanos had forgot to erase his data from the treadmill they bought for the monastery. Fr. Kassianos, Fr. Michael and Fr. Kosmas had to move it from the living room up to the attic to make room for pilgrims and read the data which included his weight. These monks then joked about it and revealed to the other fathers, including Geronda, how much Fr. Germanos weighed. As time went on, stress-eating and high dessert diets increased in the other monasteries and the other superiors and second-in-commands also started to increase in weight and size; many hitting the 300lb + mark. As the other monastics’ weights increased, the teasing of Fr. Germanos decreased. Once, when the subject of how much weight all the abbots have been gaining came up, Fr. Germanos said jokingly, “It’s because you all judged me.” Taunts and shaming exist in the monasteries and neither the physically deformed, the handicapped or mentally ill are spared. Of course, those who become offended are given this explanation, “We do it out of love, not malice.” But in what universe can this be considered monastic, let alone Christian conduct? Sarcasm, contempt and mockery are not indications of brotherly love nor the presence of the Holy Spirit.
  13. It’s not a far stretch. For example, when Fr. Gergory was a hieromonk at St. Anthony’s Monastery, he drank skullcap, St. John’s Wort, and various other nerve relaxant teas around the clock. And he walked around like he was zoned out and doped up. Other monastics that have a blessing for sleeping pills or herbal remedies to help them sleep also have similar demeanors. The monastics who have a blessing to take Lorazepam for anxiety attacks, panic or stress also have similar doped out demeanors. However, the monastics who take antihistamines with pseudoephedrine are a little more alert and tweaked out (though in some monasteries the use of allergy medicine with pseudoephedrine is no longer blessed. This is because some monastics were abusing the medicine and taking it even when they had no allergy symptoms).
  14. Dr. Grigoriou opens his article with his credentials, familiarity with Mount Athos and the fact that there are Hagiorite monks on psychotropic drugs. These things, he states, make him a “substantive qualifier” to address Monk Michael’s interview. Now, Dr. Grigoriou suggests any psychiatrist is quite capable of analyzing the subject. Someone in Dr. Grigoriou’s position must be aware that many Greek psychiatrists are atheists and have biases and predispositions against Christianity, especially the monastic life.
  15. The deeper issue is when the showcase and external image of a monastery become more important than the individual monastics. How often does the showcase image lead to harm (either of a monastic or a laymen)? To what lengths will a monastery go—lying, perjury, gaslighting, cover-ups—what illegal activities will it commit, to ensure that its image remains spotless? And how do these methods damage individuals?
  16. This is a classic example of monastic minimization of serious issues. Not to mention, Dr. Grigoriou is actually stigmatizing the mentally ill by indirectly calling them “abnormal,” when he states that the other monks are “happy and normal.”
  17. Ostracizing does occur in monasteries. This usually happens when a monastic is not doing obedience or toeing the line. Many times, the superior may instruct the members of the brotherhood to ignore this individual, do not talk to him/her, walk away if this individual tries talking to you, etc. Ostracizing also occurs when one is punished in the Lity or given only rusks or one piece of fruit for a meal while everyone else has a full meal. Ostracizing erring monastics is suggested as an instructional technique by St. Basil the Great, St. John of the Ladder and many other Church Fathers.
  18. This resembles a spiritual father’s reproach to his spiritual child; the wording is attempted to instill guilt. The author is playing the Judas card; a classic amongst the Elders. A similar tactic was used in the HOCNA circles when former monastics started revealing the homosexual abuses perpetrated by their Geronda, Fr. Panteleimon Metropoulos. Ad hominen and straw man attacks and arguments were used against the former monastics that were sexually abused and raped. Gaslighting and dismissing them as deluded liars and Judas traitors was a common tactic used. In the last century, similar methods were used in other Orthodox scandal stories against the accusers/ whistle-blowers. In many of these situations, it eventually came to light that the accused were guilty and they ended up in prison or defrocked.
  19. The island of Amoulianni, off the northwest coast of Athos, was once said to be run like a sort of ‘concentration camp’ for naughty monks. (See Ralph H. Brewster, The 6,000 Beards of Athos, 1935, p. 26). Up to early 1900s, Ammouliani was a dependency of Vatopedi Monasteryof Mount Athos. In 1925, the island was given in the refugees’ families who had come from islands of Propontis (Marmaras Sea), after Asia Minor Disaster. The population of the island was developed quickly and today the island has over 500 residents. Nowadays Ammouliani is a touristic place with frequent transportation with the opposite coast.
  20. The Cassandra metaphor(variously labelled the Cassandra ‘syndrome’, ‘complex’, ‘phenomenon’, ‘predicament’, ‘dilemma’, or ‘curse’) occurs when valid warnings or concerns are dismissed or disbelieved. The Cassandra metaphor is applied by some psychologists to individuals who experience physical and emotional suffering as a result of distressing personal perceptions, and who are disbelieved when they attempt to share the cause of their suffering with others. In 1963, psychologist Melanie Klein provided an interpretation of Cassandra as representing the human moral conscience whose main task is to issue warnings. Cassandra as moral conscience, “predicts ill to come and warns that punishment will follow and grief arise.” Cassandra’s need to point out moral infringements and subsequent social consequences is driven by what Klein calls “the destructive influences of the cruel super-ego,” which is represented in the Greek myth by the god Apollo, Cassandra’s overlord and persecutor. Klein’s use of the metaphor centers on the moral nature of certain predictions, which tends to evoke in others “a refusal to believe what at the same time they know to be true, and expresses the universal tendency toward denial, [with] denial being a potent defence against persecutory anxiety and guilt.” (See Klein, M., Envy and Gratitude- And Other Works 1946–1963)
  • Filotheou Brotherhood late ca. 80s/early 90s [Geronda Paisios of Arizona, kneeling far right, Fr. Germanos of NY kneeling opposite]
    Filotheou Brotherhood late ca. 80s/early 90s [Geronda Paisios of Arizona, kneeling far right, Fr. Germanos of NY kneeling opposite]
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Mount Athos, Homosexuality, Addiction to Heavy Psychotropic Drugs & Suicide (Monk Michael, 2001)

NOTE: The following article, entitled They Take Psychotropic Drugs on Mount Athos, is a Free Press (ΕΛΕΥΘΕΡΟΤΥΠΙΑ) Sunday insert magazine “E” (Έψιλον), Issue 524, 22/4/2001. Peter Papavasiliou interviews Monk Michael Haztiantoniou who lived as a monk in the Sinai desert for 11 years (1988-1998) and Mount Athos for 14 years (1973-1988).

Μιχαήλ, Μοναχός

After 14 years in Simonopetra Monastery, the Athonite monk raised his voice in protest about what is happening in the Athonite state. Today, Monk Michael lives alone in hesychia in the mountains of Corinth, in a cell allocated to him by some pious people. He writes his books from this cell. He has published 12 books so far and many of his accusations can be found recorded in them; he denounces “things and wonders” about the Athonite republic from homosexuality to heavy psychotropic drug addiction! http://aretimaurogianni2.blogspot.gr/2013/06/blog-post_6872.html

PP: Do the abbots in the monasteries of Mount Athos display authoritarian behavior?

MM: When they first appeared, these abbots projected themselves as charismatic personalities who had somehow received the mission from God to create a new model of monasticism.1 So, for many people these personalities were expressing hopes and dreams. They endeavoured, they created and built brotherhoods, monasteries, and were very actively involved. However, what all this activity has produced is significant. I can mention a conversation we had with Geronda Paisios on this subject. The basic question that disturbed me was: ‘Why is my generation, on the level of monks, while it presented refinement, culture, and sensitiveness—very positive signs for Geronda Paisios—did not yield spiritual fruitfulness?

Paisios-at-Kelli-Panagouda

PP: Do the abbots use special methods to persuade or to render all the monks conformable?’2

“I think that many Geronta Abbots started out differently and ended up otherwise. It was entirely different when the brotherhood numbered 6 to 7 monks and different when the same Geronda had more monks. In the beginning they organized it patristically and monastically. They had found a tradition on Mount Athos. Later, however, as the brotherhood grew, they started to ‘militarize’ it and treat it like a camp.”3

“Consistency and order had to be kept and a new element appeared which was crucial to the mentality of this organization: the showcase. They were extremely cautious in how they expressed themselves, regardless of how we lived and the things we said amongst ourselves. How will we appear? How will our showcase not be ‘scratched’? How can we ensure that our problems will not be heard about in Thessaloniki?”4

“I was present at the Assembly debate when some Abbot telephoned and said an Iveritis monk (i.e. a monk from Iveron Monastery) was found dead in Thessaloniki. This dead monk was a homosexual and had relations with two Romanians. It didn’t particularly trouble us because such incidents could occur in a large number of monks. But the Abbot whom it offended requested the Holy Community5 publish a paper which would state that this monk had no relationship with the Holy Mountain even though the victim was an Athonite monk for decades.”

“The Holy Community then discussed the matter and said: ‘How would we say this? Anyone would be able to overturn us since he hasn’t been erased from the Monastery…He is a canonical Hagiorite.’ This problem shows that that many Gerondas today have transferred their interest to the showcase.”

Iveron Monastery
Iveron Monastery, Mount Athos

PP: What are the problems behind the showcase? In your books you maintain that a fraction of monks take heavy psychotropic drugs, even by the Abbot’s orders.6

MM: This was also a very great and sad realization for me. It was a painful decision to start disclosing and writing about these things. I did it after 25 years in monasticism though my realizations had occurred many years ago. After publishing certain books that mentioned psychiatric drugs, many monks came forward and assured me that what I write is very mild compared to the realities that are in force on Mount Athos.

PP: You mentioned in one of your books that a pharmacist from Thessaloniki, who was spiritually connected with some monastery on Mount Athos, was put in a difficult position when an Abbot requested boxes of heavy psychotropic drugs from him.7

MM: We say that this monastery is the chief representative of ‘noetic’ prayer (i.e. the continuous repetition of the phrase, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner,’ which leads to illumination); meaning it represents whatever is the most spiritual at this time to dispose Orthodoxy towards contemporary issues.

PP: Which monastery are you referring to, Fr. Michael? In what monastery did this incident with the two boxes of psychiatric drugs occur?

MM: The incident concerns Filotheou Monastery and Geronda Ephraim is the abbot who wanted the psychotropic drugs.8

Geronda Ephraim

PP: One can contradict that half of Greece takes psychiatric drugs, anxiolytics, or whatever else.

MM: I do not tolerate this situation. I wish everyone could improve their psychological and spiritual condition with effort and balance their everyday life. But even more, I cannot tolerate this (i.e. taking psychiatric drugs) from the people who came to occupy themselves with a higher way of life, consequently to overcome their human elements and weaknesses and acquire what we call the angelic life.

PP: Namely, the sober, meek and bland lifestyle of many monks on Mount Athos is due to the influence of milligrams of sedatives?

Bedouin

MM: I’ll make a comparison with the Bedouin when I lived in Sinai for 11 years. I was responsible for some hermitages many kilometers away and I watched them basking in the sun with a wonderful smile because they used hashish. They called them ‘sacred plants’ there. They used hashish in their daily lives like tomatoes. They, too, were very meek, mild, smiling and sweet. Consequently, external behaviors and conduct do not suffice for me.9

PP: Let’s return to the Holy Mountain. You’ve written in your books that the abbot, in order to exert psychosomatic control, imposes “reactionary” monks and those who doubt his words every night to take a strong dose of sedative every night. Is this true?

MM: This isn’t a canona that you described, but it does happen. I asked a monk who made a pilgrimage to Sinai, ‘How did you take a psychotropic drug for the first time?’ He answered me, ‘The epitropos (i.e. the epitropos is the abbot’s replacement) put a bottle on the table and told me, ‘You will take one pill in the morning and one in the evening. Geronda sends this and you must drink it …’ As the young monk told me, that night he did ‘obedience’ and drank the medicine. I asked this monk what percentage of the monastery took psychiatric drugs. He replied, ‘A very large percentage of the monks.’

PP: The young monk spoke to you about large percentages of monks taking psychotropic drugs. Was he referring to his monastery or the Athonite monasteries in general?

MM: He spoke to me about his monastery. Of course, I never imagined that psychiatric drugs would find an application in such a large scale. There was a doctor who had continued in Karyes and had taken it upon himself to arrange the pharmacy in a monastery. He had seen the boxes of psychiatric drugs. Later, this doctor decided to become a monk.

psychotropic

PP: Even after seeing the boxes of psychiatric drugs?

MM: Yes indeed. He even became a monk at this monastery where he arranged the pharmacy.

PP: Which monastery?

MM: It is a famous monastery which has over 50 monks in its ranks.”

PP: Can you be more specific?

MM: No, because I think it becomes more personal empathy. Namely, I know these monks. They will say that Michael attacked us personally. I do not want to but if, for some reason, the Community of Mount Athos invites me, then I will speak about the details. I can speak about these things there. I don’t want to become too specific or, perhaps, the time hasn’t come yet … However, the responsibility for these things is transferred to the Abbot and 2-3 persons of his entourage who impose. There is some responsibility and I would even say legal responsibility. One enters a monastery without taking psychotropic drugs and then after 10 or 15 years he starts taking them—and this in a large percentage. Well, then, if our community was healthy, they would not have tolerated this so simply and mildly.

PP: Are there such incidents of people entering Mount Athos healthy and coming out addicted to soothing substances and sedatives?

st_kia_f

MM: Yes, this happens quite a lot … (quietly and with a sense of shame). Recently, I spoke with a former Athonite monk who told me: ‘I want to find a channel to speak. They tested 30 psychotropic drugs on me. I lived simply and naturally for 15 years. How did I get on the list to become a guinea pig?’

PP: Did you ever see them moving boxes (i.e. of psychotropics) on Mount Athos during the years you lived there as a monk?

MM: No, I didn’t know about these things. I saw the boxes but didn’t know what they contained exactly.

PP: You thought that they were simple drugs…

MM: Yes. For example, a monk had sent me once to buy medicine when I was out. He had given me a list. At the pharmacy, the pharmacist looked me over well and good.

PP: At the pharmacy in Thessaloniki?

MM: Yes. He asked me, ‘Who do you want these drugs for?’ I told him that I wanted them for a monk. He told me, ‘Father, did you know that these drugs are very heavy and we do not dispense them without a prescription?’ Then I thought they didn’t have the drugs I sought and went to another pharmacy where they told me exactly the same things. When I asked what these drugs were that no one could give me, the pharmacist answered, ‘My Father, I cannot give you these drugs without a prescription and without knowing who they are intended because they are very heavy psychotropics.’ Well, I was very irritated with the monk who sent me.

PP: In other conversations, Fr. Michael, you have revealed to me that many Athonite monks frequently visit a psychiatrist. Is this a fact?

MM: The first is in Thessaloniki. He does therapeutic exercise. He knows the mindset of the monks very well and is very familiar with them. Many monks go to him and they always start talking about the uncreated light (i.e., the indication of the Holy Spirit’s presence that surrounds spiritual monks with brightness) and noetic prayer.”

PP: Does this psychiatrist visit Mount Athos as a family physician?

MM: Yes, he also practises on Mount Athos but the monks visit him in Thessaloniki for more comprehensive treatment. There was an incident where a monk jumped from his balcony and they pulled him out there at a seaside monastery. Fortunately, the monk lived…

PP: As long as the incident is in the past, can we disclose it?

MM: And yet it never became known.

Halkidiki_mount_athos

PP: In what monastery did this suicide attempt occur?

MM: Firstly, as the boat goes … However, some specific questions preoccupy me: 1) Why would a monk not be able to leave from a place where he reached a dead end?—because we’re talking about before authoritarianism. 2) If a monk attempted suicide, does the abbot have the right to keep him close by his side? I don’t think so. We know that we all became monks to claim a right, to give rest to our little hearts, to satisfy a spiritual longing, a thirst we have in life. How did these children reach such a tragic point and how did it not become an issue?

PP: Are there many suicide attempts on Mount Athos?10

MM: I know of an incident where a monk had set himself on fire.11

PP: What year was that?

MM: It occurred in 1994 approximately.

PP: Did this happen in a monastery or skete?

MM: In a monastery. Things are much milder in the sketes.”

PP: Who is ultimately responsible for everything that happens in Panagia’s Garden?

MM: Two sides are responsible (i.e. he means the abbots and the monks). However, I think the head is implicated more since he is able to sanitize the emergent. For the emergent comes and is delivered to him with an almost absolute confidence. I would like to see cases of some healthy personalities, open-minded, free, to operate without complex, oppression, etc. We have not seen this yet…

PP: The matter of psychotropic drugs has never been raised to the assembly of the Holy Community?

MM: From what I know, no.”

PP: Only the issue of homosexual relations was raised when and if an outbreak occurred.

Gay monk drawing

MM: Many epidemic cases—indeed, some time ago, an old Athonite monk called me UFO and he expected me to be shrewd. There were cliques in Karyes, or in whatever cell, where we met famous monks and they waited for when I would leave so they could manifest more freely. I treated them all so naturally that I confused them. And so one monk asked me, ‘Well, do you not understand anything about what is happening?’ And he continued in the same tone: ‘Did such and such a monk never suspect you? Let me tell you that there is a cassette which has recorded conversations.’ I answered: ‘But I was friends with him for so many years. When did these things happen?’ And he answered: ‘That is why I call you UFO.’ Yes, homosexual issues have been raised at the Assembly, but I no longer believe in this institution to speak honestly, frankly, at a cost. For many years, decades, I saw that the showcase is their priority and I can also say at some point their economy became their priority. Not an economy in ecclesiastical terms, but rather a ‘practical’ economy, namely, the covering up of everything.

Fr. Michael, do you want to compliment/supplement something?

MM: I would like to emphasize that the children today on Mount Athos (i.e. he means the monks) are very good kids. The love, they look at you with clean eyes. I speak for the majority because there are certainly a very small number of monks who have a pure heart. We said the heads share a large portion of the responsibility…

Elder Joseph synodia

NOTES

  1. Monk Michael is referring mainly to the disciples of Elder Joseph the Hesychast—Elders Ephraim, Haralambos and Joseph—who took charge of 6 of the 20 main monasteries on Mount Athos in the 60s and 70s.
  2. In the 60s and 70s, many of the Athonite monks had issue with what they viewed as young upstarts (i.e. Elder Joseph the Hesychast’s disciples) starting a new brand of monasticism. Furthermore, many of the Athonite Fathers believed Elder Joseph and his synodia were deluded. Some of the more vocal Athonite opponents of Geronda Ephraim were St. Paisios the Athonite, St. Porphyrios the the Kapsokalyvite, Monk Moses the Athonite, and Archimandrite Vasileiosof Iveron (then Abbot of the Stavronikita).
  3. Some of Geronda Ephraim’s former monastics—both in Greece and North America—have remarked that the structure and atmosphere in the monastery was very oppressive and like a boot camp. Some have expressed that it was like a prison camp without the physical torture but rather with lots of psychological and emotional abuse.
  4. This “showcase” mentality still prevails in Geronda Ephraim’s North American monasteries. One of the main obediences for all his monastics is: “At all costs, do not scandalize the lay people. I do not want to hear complaints from pilgrims. No matter what, always show a good representation of monasticism to the pilgrims.” This is called “front stage” behaviour; i.e. this is the behaviour they want pilgrims to see, however, it does not represent in actuality the truth of what goes on behind closed doors—“backstage behaviour.” When a pilgrim witnesses an action unbecoming of a monastic, or expresses being scandalized due to something a monastic has done or said, then there will be some very serious consequences for that monastic individual. Sometimes this can also include a serious yelling rebuke in front of the scandalized victim to shame and humiliate the monk and appease the pilgrim. No doubt the entire brotherhood/sisterhood will be summoned for a homily where this monastic will be centered out, rebuked and humiliated. This is also done as a warning to the other monastics and to instill fear. Furthermore, the individual monastic will end up in the Lity at the end of the church services confessing their sin and begging every individual leaving for forgiveness.
  5. Athos is governed by the “Holy Community” (Ιερά Κοινότητα – Iera Koinotita) which consists of the representatives of the 20 Holy Monasteries, having as executive committee the four-membered “Holy Administration” (Ιερά Επιστασία – Iera Epistasia), with the Protos (Πρώτος) being its head. Civil authorities are represented by the Civil Governor, appointed by the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose main duty is to supervise the function of the institutions and the public order. The current Civil Governor is Aristos Kasmiroglou.
  6. In St. Anthony’s Monastery, one of the monks was on anti-depressants before he entered the monastery and out of economia, Geronda Ephraim allowed him to continue. There have been unsubstantiated rumors of other monastics on psychiatric drugs, too. A monk at St. Nektarios Monastery (NY) entered the monastery taking Ritalin for his ADHD. Geronda Joseph made him stop his prescription immediately and he hasn’t taken any prescriptions for his condition since. There is a blessing for abbots/abbesses, and their second-in-commands to take things like Lorazepam (or other anxiolytics) when they suffer from severe anxiety or panic attacks—something which is frequent in their line of work. As well, on numerous occasions, Fr. Germanos of St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery in Roscoe, NY, has given homilies about psychiatric and emotional problems being a direct result of a disciple’s disobedience. In these homilies, he has mentioned the fact that many Hagiorites who had been monastics for 15-25 years are suffering from mental illness as a fruit of all the disobediences they had committed. It was unknown if Fr. Germanos was also referring to himself and his own experiences, something the Athonite Fathers do many times when giving cautionary homilies.
  7. Many of Geronda Ephraim’s North American monasteries have a Greek Orthodox doctor, who is also devoted pilgrim. In some cases, a monastery may also have a monastic who is a doctor. In the early days, many of Geronda Ephraim’s monastics did not have any medical insurance. Usually the superior and second-in-command would have private insurance. The monasteries bypassed expensive medical costs by having the loyal and obedient doctor write prescriptions for all their monastics without insurance in the names of those who had insurance. Also, these doctors would also put aside all the free medical samples they received from pharmaceutical companies (if they were medicines the monastics used) and “donate” them to the monasteries. Thus, most monasteries have a large medicine cabinet full of antibiotics, antihistamines, anti-inflammatory drugs, psychotropic drugs (low doses which are said to be useful for pain), muscle relaxants, prescription pain killers, etc.
  8. Interestingly, Geronda Joseph (Ioannis) Voutsas, abbot of St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY, is from Thessaloniki. He was also a pharmacist and earned his degree at the University of Thessaloniki.
  9. Though the main emphasis in Geronda Ephraim’s monastery is blind obedience and the Jesus Prayer, external behaviour and conduct also has a very serious importance. Essentially, ‘fake it until you make it.’
  10. Fr. Germanos of St. Nektarios Monastery, Rosoce, NY, has stated in homilies that there is a high suicide rate on Mount Athos. The Gerontikon and Synaxarion are filled with many cautionary tales about monastics who have become deluded or fallen into such despair that they attempted suicide. There are also many cautionary tales about those monastics who succeeded in killing themselves.
  11. To understand the psychology behind why people commit suicide via self-immolation, see: http://news.discovery.com/history/religion/self-immolation-the-macabre-mystery-140127.htm

The Concept of “Validation” in Geronda Ephraim’s Monasteries

“Validation” is a buzzword that is thrown around frequently in some of Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word validate as follows:

2a. To support or corroborate on a sound or authoritative basis.

2b. To recognize, establish, or illustrate the worthiness or legitimacy of

Filotheou Brotherhood late ca. 80s/early 90s [Geronda Paisios of Arizona, kneeling far right, Fr. Germanos of NY kneeling opposite]
Filotheou Brotherhood ca. late 80s/early 90s [Geronda Paisios of Arizona, kneeling far right, Fr. Germanos of NY kneeling opposite]
In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, “validation” is normally used in the context of Geronda Ephraim: what he did or didn’t say, what miracles he performed or didn’t, what he does or doesn’t do, etc. It is quite common to find the “broken telephone” phenomena amongst the monasteries’ pilgrims. It is also common for rumors to spread around, such as, “Geronda Ephraim said the Antichrist has been born during a homily.” Thus the monks and nuns constantly “validate” and do not “validate” the various stories and rumors that spread amongst Geronda Ephraim’s followers.

A standard rule of thumb for the monasteries is that any negative story—whether true or false—is automatically dismissed as “invalid.” If it cannot be outright denied, it is minimized. If someone involved relates the scandal or embarrassing (for the monastery) incident to other pilgrims and spiritual children of Geronda Ephraim, then a system of damage control is put into effect:

  1. If the person telling the story (or “gossiping”/”slandering”) is a spiritual child of Geronda Ephraim, then the Geronda or Gerondissa will talk to the individual directly. This will usually start with asking the individual why they repeated such things and ending with an obedience not to repeat the story again. If the individual is resisting the admonitions, they may be told some cautionary tales about all the tragic things that happen to individuals who speak against or go against Geronda Ephraim; “punishments from God.”
  2. If the individual “running his mouth” is not close to the monastery, they are easily dismissed to others as “liars,” “deluded,” having “psychological problems,” etc. Though these epitaphs have also been hurled onto close spiritual children of the monasteries who repeated big scandals or very private information to others.
  3. The Gerondissa or Geronda will also try to find out how many people were told and if they do not call each one individually to affect damage control, they may call the main persons of those pilgrim circles and ask them to tell the others.
  4. The Gerondissa or Geronda will also call all their monastics (or at least the ones who are aware of the scandalous incident) and give them a strict obedience not to talk to anyone about the incident. “If anyone asks, I don’t have a blessing to speak to lay people.” If it is a monastic who has diakonimata where they have to somewhat talk with lay people, they might be told, “If anyone asks, say no (or I don’t know)”; if they keep persisting, tell them to ask the Geronda or Gerondissa. For a monastic, this is not lying or breaking a commandment; it is obedience. The only sin in obedience is not doing obedience.
  5. In the cases of former monastics talking about their personal experiences, they are easily dismissed as deluded. “They didn’t do obedience, they hid thoughts from their Geronda or Gerondissa, and the devil gained a foothold in their soul. They became deluded and left.” In some cases, the former monastic will be dismissed as one with lots of psychological problems, or even “possessed.”

Newly baptized converts, Filotheou Monastery. [Hieromonk Chrysostoms, Fr. Vasilios & Fr. Germanos are on the left under over-hanging tree branch]
Newly baptized converts, Filotheou Monastery. [Hieromonk Chrysostoms, Fr. Vasilios & Fr. Germanos are on the left under over-hanging tree branch]
The above are just a few ways in which the monasteries manoeuvre in order to protect their image, as well as keep the pilgrims in check. Their image must be kept pristine and immaculate, without scandal. Geronda Ephraim has given strict obediences to all his abbots and abbesses, “You must know and see everything that is going on in your monasteries. I do not want scandals, especially in front of lay people. I do not want to hear anything negative or complaints from pilgrims about your monasteries, etc.”

KVOA TV TUCSON 4: MONASTERY MYSTERY REPORT (2005)

Sometimes the monasteries cannot silence those who reveal their secrets, or simply speak about the things that go on behind closed doors. At this point, a discrediting campaign begins. If this doesn’t work then they will sometimes utilize lawyers as a scare tactic. These tactics were used a day or so before the KVOA TV [Tucson 4] exposé on St. Anthony’s Monastery in 2005. Geronda Ephraim was really saddened that this exposé was being aired, and a call was sent out to spiritual children to call, fax, email, and flood the station anyway they could with support for the monasteries and Geronda. Also, spiritual children of Geronda Ephraim who are lawyers contacted the TV station and threatened them with legal action if there was anything false or slanderous. Spiritual children of Geronda Ephraim and Geronda Paisios began an internet campaign to discredit David Smith and the content of his webpage. David Smith’s webpage was taken down a couple years later, but an archived edition still exists:

https://web.archive.org/web/20070702092829/http://pseudo-prophet.tripod.com/

Geronda Paisios and David Smith.
Geronda Paisios and David Smith.

Pilgrims who had no knowledge of the inner workings of the monasteries—something only trusted monastics are privy to—began to defend the inner workings of the monastery based on the experiences that were tailor-made for them. Some spiritual children went as far as to threaten David Smith and try to intimidate him to stop talking about Geronda Ephraim.

Thus, true to their cult-like nature, and following the trend of every other cult that tries to silence their accusers, the monasteries and their pilgrims utilize a basic campaign of fear-mongering (“don’t speak against Geronda, it’ll end bad for you;” i.e. possession, losing salvation, etc.); intimidation, smear campaigns of discrediting (“psychological problems,” “deluded,” etc.).

In the monasteries, paranoia and suspicion was ramped up, making the atmospheres tense and suffocating.

NEKTARIOS MONASTERY TUMBLR PAGE

0

Last year, a Tumblr page about St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. (Roscoe, NY) was started and it revealed many of the scandals and indiscretions that have occurred there since its’ foundation, as well as, private details not commonly known by the 01

general public. The monastery attempted to have the page pulled through numerous complaints to TUMBLR. When that method of harassment didn’t work, they hired a lawyer and accused the TUMBLR page of “impersonating the monastery,” stating that the page “misrepresents the ideological underpinnings” of the monastery’s “tenets.” The monastery’s use of the term “ideology” is quite interesting. In contemporary usage, this word is generally used in the context of politics, though in the case of religion, it refers to fundamentalists and extremists. Furthermore, the effect of an ideology is always to destroy true moral transcendence.1

According to the TUMBLR page, a disclaimer that they were not affiliated with the monastery was required in order to keep the page running. The TUMBLR page also posted the lawyer’s letter.

“This blog is not directly affiliated with St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery (According to the monastery’s lawyers, this blog “misrepresents the ideological underpinnings of their tenets” – http://stnektariosmonastery.tumblr.com/post/103102374101/account-temporarily-terminated-via-letter-from-the )”

https://www.scribd.com/doc/263270549/Letter-from-St-Nektarios-Monastery-s-Lawyer-attempting-to-take-down-a-TUMBLR-page

It was also noted that shortly after this page appeared, the Monastery’s website added a Notice to Users section stating:

Validations

NOTICE TO USERS: The information on this site is the property of The Holy Monastery of St. Nektarios. This is the only website on the internet that is managed and approved by the monks of The Holy Monastery of St. Nektarios. Information found posted on other internet sites and blogs regarding St. Nektarios Monastery and its monks has not been validated, and in certain instances is inaccurate and misleading. Everyone is free to read and reflect on the information on this site. However, none of the information on this site may be reproduced without the prior written consent of St. Nektarios Monastery. If you wish to use any of the material on this site please contact us. †May our Lord Jesus Christ bless you! http://www.stnektariosmonastery.org/notice.php

This is a very interesting statement. Essentially, the monastery will decide what stories are valid and which ones are invalid. Even if a story is true, it will be dismissed if it mars the monastery’s image. Thus, the monastery will paint a tailored image of its blameless perfection.

p-koulouris_painting_geronda-josif_24x30 p-koulouris_painting_father-epifanios_18x24

ST. PAISIOS & ST. PORPHYRIOS BELIEVED GERONDA EPHRAIM WAS DELUDED

In another interesting twist, the monasteries also use stories that have not been validated in order to promote Geronda Ephraim. Capitalizing on the fame and glory of Saints Porphyrios the Kafsokalavyte and Paisios the Hagiorite, a recent trend in the monasteries is to tell pilgrims how these two Elders highly praised Geronda Ephraim and commented on his holiness, etc. However, none of these statements have been validated by these two Elders’ monasteries, nor are they found in any of the books about these Elders.

St. Paisios the Athonite does not mention Elder Joseph the Hesychast, or his synodia in his book on Athonite monks.
St. Paisios the Athonite does not mention Elder Joseph the Hesychast, or his synodia in his book on Athonite monks.

In the 90’s and early 00’s however, the stories at Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries were much different. The content of the stories centered on how much difficulty St. Porphyrios and St. Paisios gave Geronda Ephraim in Greece. Both of them were highly critical of Elder Joseph the Hesychast and stated on many occasions to many people that he was deluded. In Elder Paisios book, Athonite Fathers and Athonite Matters—in which he gives short biographies of the greatest and holiest monks on Mount Athos—Elder Joseph is nowhere to be found.

Both these saints criticized and disagreed with his methodologies as an Elder. They believed he was deluded and they cautioned people about him. St. Paisios was also very critical of Philotheou Monastery and how things were run there; especially the practise of “yelling the prayer.” St. Paisios would tell pilgrims who were thinking of visiting Philotheou, “Don’t go there, it’s too noisy.”

In the mid-90’s, Geronda Joseph Voutsas (NY); Gerondissa Olympiada Voutsas (PA) and Gerondissa Melanie Mikragiannis (WI) would tell pilgrims about St. Porphyrios, “Yes, he was very holy but he was also very critical of Geronda Ephraim.” Apparently, all three of them, together with Sister Vryenni, went to visit St. Porphyrios when they were lay people, and heard themselves many negative things come out of St. Porphyrios mouth about Geronda Ephraim, “Things not worth repeating!”

Both St. Porphyrios & St. Paisios believed Elder Ephraim of Arizona and his elder were deluded.
Both St. Porphyrios & St. Paisios believed Elder Ephraim of Arizona and his elder were deluded.

The monasteries’ storyline back then was that both St. Porphyrios and St. Paisios were jealous of Geronda Ephraim; how holy he is, what spiritual heights he has reached, how he has revived the Holy Mountain, and all the thousands of spiritual children that flock to him, etc. Sometimes detailed descriptions were given about how both saints didn’t have the kind of blind obedience Geronda Ephraim had and that rendered it impossible for them to reach the same spiritual heights. Then details of how Apostle Peter and Paul fought, or St. John Chrysostom and St. Epiphanios of Salamis fought and cursed each other were given as analogies.

BOYCOTT OF ST. PORPHYRIOS & ST. PAISIOS BOOKS AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY

Due to the above things, plus many more unspoken things that only the Athonite monks here in America know about, certain measures were taken at the monasteries to boycott the two saints. In 1998, at a gathering at the Holy Archangels Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. (TX), Geronda Paisios (AZ), Geronda Dositheos (TX) and Geronda Joseph (NY) decided to boycott the publications of Saints Porphyrios and Paisios—especially Athonite Fathers and Athonite Matters, which was a huge slight to both Elder Joseph and Elder Ephraim.

The decision to boycott St. Paisios & St. Porphyrios' books occurred during this weekend at Holy Archangels Monastery in Texas.
The decision to boycott St. Paisios & St. Porphyrios’ books occurred during this weekend at Holy Archangels Monastery in Texas, 1998.

During this time period, the backrooms of the bookstore at St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. (AZ) were flooded with unopened boxes of books about these two saints which were never going to be put out in the bookstore. Many of the boxes were sent free as a blessing, too. Not all the monasteries were joined in the boycott, but even those that were breached the boycott; there’s good money and profit in selling Geronda Porphyrios and Paisios books.

As these two saints became increasingly popular in the West, and more publications were being made available in the English language, the demand increased greatly. People start asking the monasteries in the boycott to order these books for them. Over time, the boycott slowly faded away, and much profit was made in peddling these two elders’ books. In time, the New York monastery—one of the original boycotters—even distributed a couple Elder Paisios’ books.

BOYCOTT ENDS: IN AN EFFORT TO VALIDATE GERONDA EPHRAIM, THE MONASTERIES DISSEMINATE UNVALIDATED QUOTES BY SAINTS PORPHYRIOS & PAISIOS ABOUT HIS HOLINESS

Due to increasing popularity in the English-speaking world, via the numerous English translations of their books, some of the monasteries involved in the boycott realized it was a good opportunity to make profit. As well, the monastics couldn’t really tell the pilgrims the books were boycotted, nor the reasons why. The books of these two saints were in high demand, pilgrims kept requesting them and asking if they could place special orders. Thus, giving into the pressure and demand, some of the monasteries lifted the boycott and began to sell Elder Porphyrios and Elder Paisios books. St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY even distributed a couple of the English titles.

Elder Paisios Epistles

Eventually, the old stories—true stories—about how much these two Elders (now officially canonized saints) fought against Elder Ephraim diminished. Then, the new stories came—stories not validated by the monasteries under these two saints, nor mentioned in any publications of these two saints, either validated or not. It’s now being taught that St. Porphyrios called Elder Ephraim the last saint, the last depository of healing, the saint of humility, etc. St. Paisios is now said to have prophesied the monasteries in America and extolled Elder Ephraim for his apostolic efforts.

The biography of Elder Arsenios states St. Paisios retracted his original opinion that Elder Joseph the Hesychast was deluded:

Elder Arsenios

“Elder Paisios admired the life and struggles of our ever-to-be-remembered Elder, Fr. Joseph. He told us:

-‘Oh, what I lost! When I came to the Holy Mountain the blessed Elder was living. I heard of his reputation and one of my acquaintances said to me: ‘Don’t listen. They are all lies. They are in error [πλανεμένοι]’. I believed him and did not go to get to know him and benefit from him. However, when his letters were published and I read them, then I understood what a rare person this was, and what a great treasure I lost.'” (Taken from Elder Arsenios the Cave-Dweller)

The humble grave of St. Paisios of the Monastery of St. John the Theologian, Souroti
The humble grave of St. Paisios of the Monastery of St. John the Theologian, Souroti

This book was published after both these men were long dead, and neither can validate or refute it; however, the monastery under St. Paisios, St. John the Theologian in Sourouti, has not validated this tale. Up until the mid-2000s, the monasteries here taught the Elder Paisios criticized Elder Jospeh the Hesychast and Geronda Ephraim as deluded, and had many critical things to say about Elder Joseph the Hesychast. This book is published by a monastery under one of Elder Joseph the Hesychast’s disicples, and it states that St. Paisios admired him.

The humble grave of St. Porphyrios, Kavsokalyvia, Mount Athos
The humble grave of St. Porphyrios, Kavsokalyvia, Mount Athos

It should be noted that neither the disciples of Saints Porphyrios and Paisios have validated any of the stories or prophecies these two supposedly said about Geronda Ephraim of Arizona. It should also be noted that none of the publications in circulation by or about these two saints mention any of the supposed quotes and prophecies about Geronda Ephraim of Arizona.

Thus, an interesting double standard has occurred at Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries:

    1. Any negative press about Geronda Ephraim and his monasteries is automatically dismissed as invalid. The monasteries will choose which stories are valid and will dictate their history and truth exactly the way they want people to view it. And these validations can only be okayed by the abbot or abbess.
    2. Any negative press about Geronda Ephraim and his monasteries that came from the mouths of Geronda Porphyrios and Geronda Paisios is no longer spoken of since they are both officially canonized as saints. It looks bad for the monasteries if two of the biggest contemporary saints after St. Nektarios discredited Geronda Ephraim and his elder (Joseph the Hesychast) as deluded.
    3. Today, stories that have not been validated by St. Porphyrios and St. Paisios’ disciples, and were unheard of until recently, are told to pilgrims as validated truth. These “invalidated” stories are capitalizations on the fame and holiness of St. Porphyrios and St. Paisios and are used to promote and validate Geronda Ephraim. Now that these two elders are officially canonized, their words have even more weight and validity in the orthodox world.
    4. Thus, the abbots and abbesses choose what stories are valid and invalid for their own monasteries. They also validate invalid stories from other monasteries to further promote their own agenda.
The brotherhood of St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY with visiting abbots monks from other monasteries.
The brotherhood of St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY with visiting abbots monks from other monasteries.

“MIRACLES” THAT WERE INITIALLY VALIDATED BY THE MONASTERIES

The “Holy Manna Relic”

Former seminarion Vasili Datch now monk Panteleimon at St. Nektarios Monastery (NY)
Former seminarion Vasili Datch now monk Panteleimon at St. Nektarios Monastery (NY)

For over a decade, one of the reliquaries of St. Nektarios Monastery had a “piece of Holy Manna” from the Old Testament. For over a decade, people venerated this “relic” with reverence, not realizing that is was a biblically impossible miracle for manna to last for more than a day, let alone 3,400 years or so. The Israelites were instructed to eat only the manna they had gathered for each day. Leftovers of manna stored up for the following day “bred worms and stank”: the exception being the day before the Sabbath (Preparation Day), when twice the amount of manna was gathered, which did not spoil overnight; because, Exodus 16:23-24 [states] “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’ So they saved it until morning, as Moses said was commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it.” A novice with a theological degree finally convinced the abbot that it was impossible for the fragment to be true manna from the Old Testament. Initially there was resistance, but the abbot finally decided the authority of the Old Testament was more valid than the word of the person who gave him the “relic.” The abbot ordered a new reliquary from Greece and did not include a space for the manna.

Stylianos Kementzetzidis and his fabricated Crypto-Christians of Turkey persecution and miracle stories

The monasteries have had a long history of “validation” issues. They validated and promoted Stylianos Kementzetzidis, a long-time spiritual child of Geronda Ephraim, and retold all his “miracle” and “vision” stories to visiting pilgrims. When it came to light that it was all an elaborate hoax to raise money for his ailing publishing house, Orthodox Kypseli, the monasteries stopped telling pilgrims these stories, but also tried to hide the fact that they were a lie, so as not to “weaken the faith of the faint-hearted.”

Stylianos

The monasteries that were involved in selling his “Crypto-Christian” miracle books and retelling his hoax stories to numerous pilgrims did not issue a disclaimer about the lie. They simply pulled the books and any literature from the bookstores and stopped repeating the stories. Certain monastics who had blessings to talk with lay people were given obediences not to tell pilgrims these stories were a hoax and lie, so as “not to scandalize them or create a stumbling block to their faith.” https://scottnevinssuicide.wordpress.com/2015/02/01/stylianos-kementzetzidis-and-the-miracles-of-the-crypto-christians-in-turkey-hoax/

The miracle in Syria: Chopped up dead man sewn back together and resurrected

The monasteries also promoted the “Miracle in Syria,” even distributing falsified letters from the Jerusalem Patriarchate “validating” the miracle. Once it turned out to be a hoax that went away to. The flyers detailing the miracle were pulled and the monastics simply stopped relating the “miracle” to pilgrims. http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.ca/2009/01/great-miracle-in-syria-and-convent-of.html

Persistent frontal suture misrepresented as exclusive orthodox miracle

Figure 1- Brazil Complete metopic suture (arrow).The monasteries claim that priests on Mount Athos have crosses on their skulls; i.e. “an extra suture that runs down the front of their skull which is scientifically impossible and is only a miracle in orthodoxy,” etc. This “miracle” validates Orthodoxy as the only truth. Yet, it is well documented in medical literature and occurs throughout the world in both male and female populations; it’s called metopic (or persistent) frontal suture. The simplest spin on this, “Well, that’s the tradition passed down on Mount Athos.”

https://scottnevinssuicide.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/persistent-frontal-suture-a-miracle-exclusive-to-orthodox-clergymen/

https://scottnevinssuicide.wordpress.com/2015/03/30/persistent-frontal-suture-once-again-misinterpreted-as-an-orthodox-miracle-and-testimony-of-holiness-hieromonk-evdokimos-of-st-savvas-lavra/

SERAPHIM ROSE AND MANIPULATING MONK CORPSES

A pilgrim once asked an Athonite monk at one of Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries about Fr. Seraphim Rose. The response was an issue about him only being chrismated (cannot be holy or a saint without orthodox baptism); there was an issue about him being idiorhythmic; there was issue of him saying things like there are no more elders (Geronda Ephraim was stated to be the holiest man alive and one of the greatest Elders in the history of the church). The pilgrim was told Fr. Seraphim Rose was deluded and issues of homosexuality were witnessed at his monastery while he was alive (apparently pilgrims to the monastery during those years later became monks at Philothoeu Monastery and told the other monks about the homosexual vibe they witnessed there).

In the monasteries, it is taught that Fr. Seraphim's disciples manipulated his corpse to make it look peaceful.
In the monasteries, it is taught that Fr. Seraphim’s disciples manipulated his corpse to make it look peaceful.

When the pilgrim asked about Fr. Seraphim’s repose and his smiling corpse with a peaceful expression, the Athonite monk responded that it was said that he had a very difficult death and that his disciples manipulated the body so it looked like he had a blessed repose. Yet, Geronda Joseph of Vatopaidi—whom Geronda Ephraim has mentioned in homilies did not have complete obedience and was problematic—has a similar smiling corpse and peaceful look on his face.

Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi L: Repose with mouth open. R: Afterwards, mouth closed and
Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi L: Repose with mouth open. R: Afterwards, mouth closed and “smiling.”

Thus, one is to surmise that Fr. Seraphim Rose’s death is not blessed—since Geronda Ephraim’s monks have not validated it as miraculous—but Geronda Joseph of Vatopaidi’s repose is blessed because it has been validated by the monks. The pilgrim also asked about Geronda Paisios (abbot of St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence, AZ), who praised Fr. Seraphim Rose in an Orthodox Word article as someone converts can look up to, etc. The monk chuckled and said, “That’s not what I’ve heard him say,” and left it at that.

The biologically natural process of corpses returning to their pre-Rigor condition misrepresented as an exclusive Orthodox monastic miracle

“A Monk’s Funeral: 30 hrs after death, the corpse retains its flexibility” [Athonite Moments, p. 200]
Furthermore, the Athonite monks in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries talk about a miracle on Mount Athos where monks do not experience rigor mortis—thus another “miracle exclusive to Orthodoxy.” However, depending on which monk one talks to, this is either exclusively Athonite monks, all orthodox monks throughout the world, or unsure. However, every mortician knows the technique of “breaking the rigor mortise.” Basically, you bend the limbs back and forth a few times and the joints will loosen up. This “breaks” the stiffness and the body is back to normal. Surely, Athonite monks know this trick if they’re teaching pilgrims that faces of corpses can be manipulated to look like they are smiling. Also, contrary to common perception the process of Rigor Mortis actually does reverse and the body returns to a flaccid state; the muscles losing their tightness in the reverse of how they gained it: i.e.: those larger muscles that contracted last will lose their stiffness first and return to their pre-Rigor condition. Thus, if a monastic is left out long enough before burial, it is natural for him to return to his pre-Rigor condition. No miracle, just natural process.

https://scottnevinssuicide.wordpress.com/2015/04/28/orthodox-monks-dont-experience-rigor-mortis/

NOTES:

1 According to former Islamic extremist, Tawfik Hamid, “A religion becomes an ideology when the followers of this religion cannot tolerate the existence of those who have different views or beliefs, and when they understand their religious text literally and refuse to accept any way of understanding the religion other than their own way of understanding.” According to scholar David Satter, “Religion becomes an ideology when man-made dogma is treated as infallible truth.” http://www.frontpagemag.com/2010/jamie-glazov/symposium-when-does-a-religion-become-an-ideology/

Orthodox Monks Don’t Experience Rigor Mortis?

“A Monk’s Funeral: 30 hrs after death, the corpse retains its flexibility” [Athonite Moments, p. 200]
Pilgrims to Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries are taught about a “Miracle exclusive to Orthodoxy”—i.e., monks do not experience rigor mortis when they die. Typical of the other “exclusive miracles” which are taught at the monasteries, this one also has some grey areas. Depending on the monastic giving the sermon, it is either all orthodox monastics throughout the world, or just Athonite monastics. In some cases, the monastic giving the sermon will grab the book Athonite Moments and show the pilgrims a photograph of a monk being lowered into a grave with signs of flexibility and no rigor mortis.

Of course, if you question the monastic giving the sermon, they only have a cursory understanding of what rigor mortis is—which usually amounts to “all corpses are stiff after they die and any flexibility in a corpse is scientifically impossible.” What “proof” do they offer to validate their erroneous understanding of corpses, decomposition and rigor mortis?  A photograph from a book and their “authority” validates this “scientifically impossible” phenomenon.

“Black, white, red: An atmosphere of mournful quietness” [Athonite Moments, p. 201]
Similar to their erroneous claim of Persistent Frontal Suture being an “exclusive orthodox miracle,” the claim that a corpse without rigor mortis is an “exclusive orthodox miracle” is also scientifically and biologically erroneous. In both cases, “science is not needed to validate these miracles” because they are an Athonite oral tradition and “monks who speak to God know more than a worldly scientist.” Science is not always rejected by the monastics—if science validates something in orthodoxy, or if science cannot explain phenomenon which for the monastics validates a divine origin, then it is accepted. When science conflicts with orthodoxy, then it is dismissed as idle, vain, worldly knowledge that is incompatible with spiritual knowledge.

SOME OBSERVABLE AND PROVEN FACTS ABOUT RIGOR MORTIS

First of all, rigor mortis is easily “broken” by bending and moving the joints about. A common question people have for morticians is whether they need to break a corpse’s legs if the body doesn’t fit into the coffin properly. The answer is, of course, no. The legs bend quite easily even after death.

''Remember the day of death, but also the day of resurrection & judgment'' [Athonite Moments, p. 201]
”Remember the day of death, but also the day of resurrection & judgment” [Athonite Moments, p. 201]
Second of all, rigor mortis is basically a stiffening of the limbs. The joints become difficult to bend, but this does not happen with all bodies. There is a technique morticians use to get rid of it called “breaking the rigor mortise.” Basically, you bend the limbs back and forth a few times and the joints will loosen up. This “breaks” the stiffness and the body is back to normal.

The Athonite monks are aware of corpse manipulation because some of them have stated that Fr. Seraphim Rose’s corpse was manipulated by his disciples to smile, etc., to give the appearance that he had a saintly death.

http://theothersideoffunerals.blogspot.com.au/p/misconceptions-questions-collection-of.html

http://theothersideoffunerals.blogspot.com.au/2013/02/ask-undertaker.html

WHAT IS RIGOR MORTIS?

Rigor Mortis is the stiffening of the body after death because of a loss of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) from the body’s muscles. ATP is the substance that allows energy to flow to the muscles and help them work and without this the muscles become stiff and inflexible.

Rigor Mortis begins throughout the body at the same time but the body’s smaller muscles – such as those in the face, neck, arms and shoulders – are affected first and then the subsequent muscles throughout the rest of the body; those which are larger in size, are affected later.

gerontissa efpraxia

Rigor normally appears within the body around two hours after the deceased has passed away with – as we have already mentioned – the facial and upper neck and shoulder muscles first to visibly suffer from its effects. Many Scenes of Crime Officers (SOCO) have reported that upon discovering the deceased that their face might have taken on what looks to be a grimace; this is because the facial muscles have contracted as ATP drains from them.

Once the contracting of all the body’s muscles has taken place this state of Rigor – technically referred to as the Rigid Stage – normally lasts anywhere from eight to twelve hours after which time the body is completely stiff; this fixed state can last up to another eighteen hours.

Contrary to common perception the process of Rigor Mortis actually does reverse and the body returns to a flaccid state; the muscles losing their tightness in the reverse of how they gained it: i.e.: those larger muscles that contracted last will lose their stiffness first and return to their pre-Rigor condition.

http://www.exploreforensics.co.uk/rigor-mortis-and-lividity.html

 INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT RIGOR MORTIS

Rigor mortis can be used to help estimate time of death. The onset of rigor mortis may range from 10 minutes to several hours, depending on factors including temperature (rapid cooling of a body can inhibit rigor mortis, but it occurs upon thawing). Maximum stiffness is reached around 12-24 hours post mortem. Facial muscles are affected first, with the rigor then spreading to other parts of the body. The joints are stiff for 1-3 days, but after this time general tissue decay and leaking of lysosomal intracellular digestive enzymes will cause the muscles to relax.

A Funeral Procession, Filotheou Monastery, Mt. Athos
A Funeral Procession, Filotheou Monastery, Mt. Athos

During rigor mortis, another process called autolysis takes place. This is the self-digestion of the body’s cells. The walls of the cells give way, and their contents flow out. Rigor mortis ends not because the muscles relax, but because autolysis takes over. The muscles break down and become soft on their way to further decomposition.

Thus, contrary to the misconceptions disseminated by the monastics, the flexibility witnessed in some monastic corpses during their funeral—which occur 24-48+ hours after their repose—is not “a scientifically impossible miracle which scientists cannot explain.” Rather, it is a natural process that is quite common and has been observed in corpses throughout the world, both orthodox and non-orthodox, lay people and monastics. Once again, the monastics misrepresent a natural phenomenon as an “exclusive miracle to Orthodoxy.” As stated above, in Greek-American orthodox monasteries, the “secular sciences” are generally not considered a “valid” source of information when it comes to understanding or interpreting natural phenomena and processes.

MONASTIC FUNERALS

Schema Monk Constantine Cavranos
Schema Monk Constantine Cavranos

The monastic funerals here in North America are unlike those in Mount Athos: the body is not flung into a hole, but rather it is placed in a coffin and lowered into the hole. Thus, there isn’t much contact with the body before burial other than the last kiss. So witnessing such “miracles” of corpses without rigor mortis here is uncommon. Of course, if the superior tells the monastics that the body is warm and without rigor mortis, then they will believe it is so, and will also transmit this “miracle” to the pilgrims who visit.

Constantine2

Each monastery has its own process of preparing the body for burial, again giving opportunity for manipulation. The body is then placed in the middle of the Church, usually under the polyeleos, and the monastics have to read the entire Psalter continually until the next day. Then the funeral service occurs in the church ending with the procession to burial. Depending on time and circumstance, this process can take from 24-36 hours or more. Thus, photographs of monks without rigor mortis after such a time period cannot be considered a “miracle exclusive to orthodoxy” as this can happen to any corpse; i.e. the natural return to the pre-rigor condition.

Schema Monk Constantine Cavarnos' funeral procession at St. Anthony's Monastery
Schema Monk Constantine Cavarnos’ funeral procession at St. Anthony’s Monastery

Holy Pascha (Geronda Ephraim of Arizona, 1980)

NOTE: The following is taken from Fire from the Holy Mountain: The Prayer Diary of Elder Epraim, entry for March 24, 1980, Sunday of Pascha, p. 86:

PASCHA2

Today is the Resurrection of Christ.

“Come receive light from the unwaning Light…”

PASCHA

O unwaning, unsetting, unending light, supremely radiant and extremely white, how You magnetize my nous, my soul, my heart! I long for You unwaningly, with endless love and eros. When shall I be counted worthy by the gift of mercy of my most holy God and Father to enjoy You eternally, eternally!

PASCHA3

My unworthiness worries me, for I am not worthy of this lot of the saved—rather, I deserve to go to hell and be punished forever.

PASCHA4

The Resurrection, the eternal Pascha, attracts me tremendously. The state of things above draws me. I long and yearn to be up in heaven, up in security. But when will this happen?

PASCHA5

O Pascha with the angels, with the saints, with everyone dressed in white, how much you please and attract me! There they chant new and ineffable songs and sing to God with fantastic but also inexpressible peace and tranquility.

PASCHA6

O Pascha with no end or change of its indescribable joy and celebration! My Father and my God, protect me from every evil so that I, too, the monstrosity, may be counted worthy one day of being in this Pascha that human words cannot describe or express.

PASCHA9

“Likewise, do thou exalt and be glad, O my lady Theotokos, in the arising of Him Whom thou didst bear” (cf. Heirmos, 9th Ode of Paschal Canon). In the loveliness of the divine beauty of Your Son and God, remember even me, the filthy one, so that I may be together with you in the eternal Pascha!

PASCHA0

“It is the day of Resurrection, let us be radiant, O ye peoples; Pascha, the Lord’s Pascha” (Heirmos, 1st Ode of Paschal Canon).

PASCHA10

I bid You farewell, my Father, until next year.

PASCH

Holy Friday (Elder Ephraim of Arizona, 1980)

NOTE: The following is taken from Fire from the Holy Mountain: The Prayer Diary of Elder Epraim, entry for March 22, 1980, Holy Friday, pp. 84-85:

Elder Ephraim Arizonaa

“Already the unjust judges have dipped their pens in ink, and Jesus is sentenced and condemned to the Cross…” (Matins Aposticha, Holy Friday).

O my light, O my joy, what is happening now with Your Passion! You, my sweet breath, my Jesus, You lifted on Your shoulders the burden of my guilt, and like a harmless, innocent, pure, and charming lamb, You are led to the slaughter of crucifixion for my sake.

Oh, what can I say! My mind stops before Your infinite love and sacrifice. I suffer along with You as I follow You during the entire journey of Your sacrifice for me on the Cross. I have nothing else to give You and I sit and weep, because I cannot help You in what is happening to You and in what You allow and have decided. You suffer as man, but as God You command everything to take place.

Oh. I am ashamed to look at You up on Your Cross, because You were innocent and because they should have crucified me. I am the guilty one. But You knew, my Lord, that I could not pay off my debt. This is why You came and put on the garment of my guilt, and the unjust judge with the pen wrote the condemnation for You instead of me.

My debt is infinite towards You, my sweet countenance and beauty! How shall I pay it off, since I am constantly increasing it with my lack of feeling for Your sufferings. Grant me tears to weep and weep, so that You might take pity on me like the harlot (vid. Lk. 7:36-50) and forgive me my great debt.

I kneel before You, my crucified Lord, my most sweet and adored Jesus, I venerate You with streams of tears because of Your great and immense sacrifice for me, who am guilty and liable because of my impious deeds.

I sing praises to You with all my soul. My soul cries out with unutterable shouts, smothered by the unbearable profusion of gratitude and thanks for everything You went through to save me. My debt towards You is enormous.

With inexpressible awe I stand before Your Cross. I see You crucified, in a situation that I should be in, because I am the guilty one that deserves such a death.

But arise, my sweet worship, so that my heart may rejoice and my soul may delight.

A Greek and English draft were sent out to the monasteries in the early 2000s.
A Greek and English draft were sent out to the monasteries in the early 2000s.

On Obedience & Spiritual Struggle (Geronda Ephraim of Arizona)

NOTE: This is the 27th Homily found in The Art of Salvation. Taken from Rev. Fr. George D. Konstantopoulos’ website:   http://www.saintandrewgoc.org/blog/2015/3/9/homily-on-obedience-and-spiritual-struggle.html

3

As I have told you in the past, when I first came to Mount Athos as a young novice, my elder (Geronda Joseph) would frequently give advice. Among other things, he would tell me, “My child, the fathers of old here on Mount Athos would tell us that if a disciple gives rest to his Geronda, he has made God content. If he does not give rest to his Geronda with his life in general, then he has not made God content either.”

I held on to this very small, yet immensely powerful piece of advice within my soul, and I made it my principle and my possession. I told myself, “This will be my goal in life. Since this recommendation is so useful, with God’s help and Geronda’s blessing, I will try to never sadden him as long as I live, and I will try to please him with my way of life.” Thus, I tried twice as hard to give rest to my elder. God knows to what extent I did not sadden him and how much I made his content. I have seen that when a disciple attempts to keep his elder’s commandments and orders, God’s blessings lead the way for him.

It is not possible for a disciple, who, with humility, has given rest to his spiritual father, to fail in the spiritual life and not acquire the Kingdom of God. It is inherently impossible. And when we say inherently impossible, we mean one thousand percent certain. When the disciple asks for guidance and then attempts to apply the advice he receives, it is impossible for him not to succeed and not to find the grace of God.

Through his complete obedience, perfect faith, and the life-giving power of humility, Saint Symeon the New Theologian not only sampled the grace of God, but he was given the grace of the Holy Spirit “by the bucketload.” He became the saint whom we all know and was given the title “New Theologian” by our Church because he received theology directly from above, from the grace of the Holy Spirit. He did not study theology in a classroom, but acquired it by laboring in obedience and devotion.

St. Symeon

Since God has called us through His infinite mercy to come here to the monastery and to wear the honorable monastic raso (cassock), we should take advantage of the time we have (now that we are alive) as best possible, so that our soul bears fruit and is filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit. This way of life is full of blessings and great spiritual rest.

Initially, of course, a person must exert himself because he brings with him an entire world of passions, thoughts, images, and the like. A small amount of effort is required in the beginning; however, once the initial difficulty is overcome, God’s blessing follows, and the fruit of all the initial labors begins to blossom. A person then sees the road wide open before him, he is filled with joy, and he rejoices as he sees himself enriched with a wealth of experience acquired during the battles with the devil. The Fathers refer to this experience as “the second grace” of God.

The first grace is when we feel the love of God and the fruits of the Holy Spirit. But experience constitutes a “second grace” that never disappears, that never fades away, and which remains indelible within a person’s soul. In the beginning we will be tempted. It is quite natural for us to be attacked–this is consistent with the path we have chosen. Ultimately, however, we gain this experience, this second grace, which has enormous value. This knowledge is not only valuable and beneficial to us personally, but it enables us to help another weak brother, another person who is being battled, or a novice. Other people helped us, did they not? In the same manner, we are also obliged to help others who are being battled.

4

Hence we should not find it strange when a war arises or when we are assaulted by temptations. We should realize that the first grace withdraws, it abandons man occasionally in order to test him, and many times a person is brought to his knees by the unbearable weight of a particular battle or cross. At that time the second grace of experience arrives, as a good Cyrenian (vid. Mark 15:21), to lift the cross. It does not remove the temptation altogether, but it advises, “Be patient. This battle will also end, just as the precious one did. Be patient; it is a trial. Don’t you remember how much grace God sent you after the earlier temptation ended? This temptation will subside as well; be a little patient. Don’t you know that God performs miracles?” This how the second grace advises man. Thus, with the knowledge he receives and the courage he obtains from this advice, the temptation becomes lighter. He is strengthened in patience, courage, and faith in God, he finds rest spiritually, and bypasses the difficulty.

We know, through the enlightenment we receive from this “second grace,” that it is mandatory for temptations to arise, and for us to be battled by the devil, our passions, and our fellow man. It is a requirement that we be battled. However, we will also struggle; we will also make an effort. This effort will serve as the cornerstone upon which the beautiful house of God’s grace will subsequently be built. Then we will be left with the invaluable experience of the methods, ways, and cunningness with which the devil battles us. If God does not allow us to be battled, how will we learn this art and science? In time of war, we should be brave and courageous; when we contend with the devil, we should be relentless and crafty. This is what Saint Synkletiki advises us: “The devil is cunning when he battles us, we should also be cunning when we resist him.” When we courageously oppose and repel the devil, we have achieved a victory. From this point onward improvement begins and the door leading to grace and the Kingdom of God opens.

Saint Synkletiki
Saint Synkletiki

There is nothing wrong with battles. War does not signify disaster. It serves as a wake-up call for us, as an invitation to withstand, be crowned, and have the Angels command us in the next life. Work does not harm an employee; rather, it fills his pockets with money. If we want to become rich spiritually, we must welcome temptations and see them as a war, as an incentive to fight with the evil demons of passion and weakness, as an opportunity to be victorious and advance with the grace of God. If we do not overcome particular passion, it will continue to thrash us for the rest of our life. We will drag it behind us like a piece of filthy garbage. This is why God permits us to be battled; so that we can win and be freed from the disgraceful passions that defile our soul. We all feel and sense the filth of the passion and the devil when we are battled by a passion. Conversely, when someone is liberated, clean, and pure, he senses the fragrance of innocence and purity. Something similar occurs with the clothing we wear. If it is dirty and smelly, we feel repulsed, uncomfortable, and want to remove it quickly. When, however, it is washed, ironed, and has a fresh, clean scent, we enjoy wearing it and do not want to take it off. This is how we feel spiritually with regard to the passion.

When a person does not exert himself, his life becomes torturous because he suffers from his guilty conscience for yielding to the passions, and he feels discontent within himself. Conversely, when someone struggles, he feels happiness and joy; he feels that spiritual life truly contains the vitality of Divine Grace…

“…We are God’s children, yet we do not know Who our God is. We have a Heavenly Father and, in reality, we do not know Him. We believe that He is our Father, but our heart does not acknowledge this and has not tasted this; the eyes of our soul have not seen this Father. If we saw what kind of a Father we have, we would cry out like mad due to the infinite joy of having made such an invaluable discovery. We are the children of an awesome Father: awesome with respect to riches and gifts. When someone attempts to speak about this Father, he runs out of words. The closer someone comes to a light, the more he begins to lose his vision. Eventually he is blinded by the light and can no longer see anything. Similarly, as someone draws nearer to God, he begins running out of words and is no longer able to speak about Him. It is a great misfortune for us to have such a Father and yet remain in such spiritual poverty, in such spiritual misery, and not feel His love and bliss.

5

Why were we created? God did not create us simply to show that He has the power to create human beings. He brought us into existence so we can share in His bliss and delight in Him. He created blessed creatures to live in happiness. We, however, strayed from our destiny through our disobedience and have reached the point of being completely unable to recognize our natural Father. Instead, we love so many other things, while not loving God at all. If we loved God, we would keep His Commandments…

“…Things are very simple, but a sustained effort is required on our part. God is ready to help us at every moment. The saints in Heaven are interceding and praying for us because the grace of God guided us to follow their way of life. They also experienced temptations and sorrows; they also had ups and downs during their lifetime. They have enormous experience, and they realize that we contemporary people are weak and do not struggle properly. This is why they pray for us from above. They beseech God to help us, so that we do not fail to achieve our goal and our purpose.

Since we have the intercessions and prayers of our saints, let us have faith that God will help us to make a good beginning even now. Amen!

8