Let me ask for forgiveness “up front” for what I am going to say in this reply. It might seem insensitive to the family referred to in the post, and to those who support them. It is not my attention to do this, but I feel that I need to speak for the monastic calling.
First of all, I need some clarification on the term “super-Orthodoxy.” Orthodoxy is Orthodoxy, unchanged and always the same, just as our Lord is the same “yesterday, today and forever.” We are all called to live our Orthodox faith, both those of us in the world, and those of us in the Monastaries. We should all be engaged in the Orthodox “askisis” as much as we are able to. Prayer, fasting, honest work, daily worship, a rejection of the material things of this earth are things we should all strive for. Of course, the Monastary is the epitomy of this life, and it is not for everyone, just as the clergy is not for everyone.
Monasticism has been a vital part of our Orthodox heritage since the very beginning. Saint John the Baptist was a “monastic” of sorts. Many people during the first century AD fled to the deserts of Egypt and Syria, and from them we have some of our most brilliant saints (St. Anthony for example, the “father of Monasticism”). When the throne of Byzantium and the EP were submerged in heresy, it was the monks and nuns who defended and preserved our faith.
Monasticism in the US is truly a new and strange concept for most people. A person’s decision to leave his or her family and to permanently retreat from the world automatically make someone think of the Branch Davidians or the Moonies. That is something we will have to grow out of quickly. Orthodox Monasticism, when practiced properly, is a blessing to the faith. There are many theologians who feel that the only reason the earth has yet to witness the Second Coming of Christ is because of the prayers and the grace of the Monastics.
Not keeping in touch with one’s family, not going to weddings and similar functions are all part of the Monastic calling. How can one completely empty himself of all earthly things and totally devote his (or her) life to prayer, when they are constantly bombarded by earthly distractions. Especially in the case when one’s family is adamantly against the decision, who easy it would be for the prospective monastic to be tempted away from their calling, if they were constantly being exposed to negative feedback from the people that he or she loves the most in the world, their parents? The “cultic practices” mentioned, the “strict control of daily life, daily confession, isolation from family and friends” are common monastic practices.
Granted, as is the case with anything involving human beings, even Monasticism can be abused, even monks can (and are) sinful people. Leaving the world does not guarantee sainthood (as we have many “in the world” saints), nor does it free someone from temptations (monastics are attacked by more and fiercer temptations than we are, simply because they choose to get as close to God as is humanly possible). I too have had some questions and misgivings about things I have heard about Fr. Ephraim, but to turn around and claim that he is a cult leader, and to even turn him over to television programs I feel is a bit extreme. Why is it so hard to conceive that this decision is one made out of one’s free will, and not that he or she was “suckered in” or “led away” by some charismatic person, against their will? After all, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And He who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me,” (Matt.10:37) and, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate* his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26) These are the words of Christ.
(note * – “… the word “hate” here represents a Semitic expression used in reference to ultimate commitments (see Luke 16:13; Matt. 6:24). A follower of Christ works for loving relationships toward all, but his commitment to God carries absolute priority, even over family ties. – from “The Orthodox Study Bible”)
I know that this may be a hard thing to hear and face, but it is also true. We must be careful not to find ourselves unwittingly working against God’s will, both for ourselves and for others. It is hard to see someone we love make a decision that takes them away from us, but we must honor and respect that decision, especially if it’s the will of God. To quote from Scriptures again, “When they [the Jews] heard this, they were furious and plotted to kill them [the Apostles]. Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, … he said to them: ‘Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. … After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up … and drew away many people after him. … And now I say to you, keep away from these men [the Apostles] and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it – lest you even be found to fight against God.’ ” (Acts 5:33-40)
We must always pray that we are able to hear what God is saying to us, and that we are able to discern His will, not ours, for our lives. If Fr. Ephraim is working for his own glory, he will be exposed for what he is, a fraud. If he is doing God’s work than we must let him do it, no matter how odd or painful it may seem to us.
Again, let me apologize if this post hurts or offends anyone, it was not my intent.
Humbly yours in Christ,
PS: If you look at the original text of Luke, the evangelist uses the word “μισει”, “misi”, which is the third person singular of the verb “miseo” which means “to hate, to detest” (I looked it up in my interlinear NT
glossary, just to be safe). The KJV, the oldest English translation of the NT also uses the word “hate” in this passage. With regard to the passage from Romans regarding Essau and Jacob, the same verb is used. I even looked up as many “hate” passages in the OT, and the same word “miseo” is used in the Septuagint (Greek) text of the OT, which is the text that is quoted from whenever a NT author quotes from the OT.
That’s not from me, but from the words of Luke himself. It does not say “aporipti” (to turn away or reject) nor does it say “agapa ligotero” (love less) or anything else. It is not my place to translate the words of Scripture in a way that it sounds better to me, in a sugar-coated manner. For whatever the reason, that’s the word that Luke chose to use. Besides, I included the footnote from the Orthodox Study Bible regarding the term “hate” as used in this passage.
Besides, this whole discussion on the usage of the word “hate” or not is not the issue. The point is, that our commitment to Christ supercedes everything else, even our family. https://groups.google.com/forum/#!searchin/alt.religion.christian.east-orthodox/ephraim$20monasteries/alt.religion.christian.east-orthodox/SSI4oP0Z22A/_PZi3GgNsmcJ