St. Anthony’s Monastery, Florence AZ, Elder Ephraim of Arizona & Monasticism in America (Fr. Constantine J. Simones)

NOTE: The following article is taken from  http://apantaortodoxias.blogspot.ca/2015/03/st-anthonys-monastery-florence-az-elder.html

Geronda Ephraim at Archangel Michael Monastery in Thasos (A dependency of Filotheou Monastery)
Geronda Ephraim at Archangel Michael Monastery in Thasos (A dependency of Filotheou Monastery)

One of the great stumbling blocks in the development of Holy Orthodoxy in America in the twentieth century has been the lack of monastic communities.  As a Greek Orthodox priest who has traveled extensively to the monastic communities of Greece and the Holy Land, I have always felt that the presence of monasticism in America was vital for the Church to truly flourish.  Ever since Holy Orthodoxy was established in North America by the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska there has never been an organized and sustained effort to establish monastic communities in our midst.  This changed about twenty years ago when the Elder Ephraim arrived in North America from Mount Athos.  I would like to share with you the history of this development in the recent past.

Fr. John Romanides http://www.romanity.org/htm/ro4enfm.htm
Fr. John Romanides http://www.romanity.org/htm/ro4enfm.htm

Fr. John Romanides of blessed memory, an outstanding Greek-American theologian was burdened by this missing link in the development of Holy Orthodoxy in America.  Having taught and lived in both America and Greece, he had the foresight to initiate an effort to bring monasticism to America in 1960.  Fr. John in that year wrote a letter to Elder Theoklitos of St. Dionysius Monastery on Mt. Athos requesting that the Holy Mountain send monks to America to establish at least one monastery.  Fr. John said that without monasticism and a monastic ascetic spirit of Orthodoxy in America the Church will die or be transformed into something else.  It will end up like the Roman Catholic Church or Protestant Churches which have done away with fasts and concern themselves with just about everything else other than ascetism and (νήψις) prayer of the heart.  http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/11/prophetic-letter-of-fr-john-romanides.html

Geronda Theoklitos Dionysiatis
Geronda Theoklitos Dionysiatis

That which Fr. John requested in 1960 unfortunately Mt. Athos could not fulfill.  But God fulfilled this request fourteen years later, very quietly, without fanfare and without anyone realizing it.  This happened as follows.  In 1979, Fr. Ephraim arrived in Canada for health reasons.  At the time of his arrival in Canada Fr. Ephraim was the Abbot of the Philotheou Monastery on Mt. Athos.  He was also the spiritual child of the well-known Hesycast Elder Joseph.  Elder Joseph was the person who promoted the renaissance of monasticism on Mt. Athos in the 20th century.  He also repopulated the monasteries of Karakalou, Xeropotamou and Kostamonitou with his monks.  Elder Joseph represented the classic old true Athonite ascetic tradition and was the major reason for the rebirth of Athonite monasticism.

brotherhood

Fr. Ephraim, as soon as he arrived in Canada and began his medical tests he concurrently heard confessions, counseled and taught the faithful immigrant Greek families that lived in Canada.  His pastoral activity extended over into the USA after being invited to go there. From then on, his visits were expanded and his pastoral outreach was constantly increasing.  This gave rise to the need to establish a Monastery in the USA so that the Greek Orthodox faithful could have a base of spiritual sustenance.  Efforts were put forth and two Monasteries were established one in Montreal, Canada and one in Pittsburgh, PA.  This divinely inspired experiment was very successful and it continued with the establishment of other Monasteries.  The result of this effort has been that today there are 19 Monasteries and two more are now being established.  Suggestions and donations from the faithful were received from both Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians.   Recently the Elder has been asked to establish monastic communities on another hemisphere of our planet.  Let us pray that this invitation will bring results.

Gerondissa Thekla, Abbess of the Montreal Monastery.
Gerondissa Thekla, Abbess of the Montreal Monastery.

The sizes of the properties on which the Monasteries are built are huge, four to five hundred acres.  Recently a Jewish lady donated two thousand acres in New Mexico to be used for a new Monastery.  The communities are male and female.  The monks who come from Greece are few.  The majority of the monks are American born of various nationalities.  There are also many converts.  The converts are former Mormons, Muslims, Indians, Jews, Roman Catholics and Protestants.  The liturgical language is basically Greek with some English.  All the monks are required to learn the Greek language and Byzantine music.

monk-crucified010

Many of the young monks travel to Mt. Athos in order to experience authentic Athonite monasticism.  All these Monasteries have been built during the last twenty years.  The Orthodox faithful of America have embraced the Monasteries with a great deal of love.  Many people attend services at the Monasteries on Sundays and feast days.  One must remember that in doing this, these people must follow the long and difficult monastic services.

  1. ANTHONY MOSCHONAS AND HIS MIRACULOUS CONNECTION WITH SAINT ANTHONY’S MONASTERY IN FLORENCE, ARIZONA

Fr. Anthony of blessed memory was the parish priest in Tucson, Arizona when Fr. Ephraim was looking for a piece of property for the building of St. Anthony’s Monastery.  He providentially taped a historical video of the events that led to the building of the Monastery.  It is in Greek and I found it most informative and spiritual.  I took the liberty to translate the text into English for the benefit of our faithful.  Fr. Anthony’s narration follows:  “I had spoken to the Elder about finding some property to build a Monastery.  One of our friends suggested that we buy eighty acres for this purpose.  When the Elder arrived in Arizona on February 2, 1995, we had initially set out to look at another location and we ended up taking the wrong road.   We took a road that goes directly in front of the present Monastery.  We had set out earlier in the day from my parish in Tucson.  We used the parish van.  There were six of us in the van.  There was myself, Elder Ephraim, Fr. Sava, my presbytera and a couple from Canada.  Fr. Moschonas suggests that they first drive to Florence to find a real estate agent in order to find out what was available for sale.  We found the agent and he first took us to a location that was forty acres.  He also told us that he had another site available that was one hundred eighty acres.

Geronda Ephraim and Fr. Anthony Moschonas Sitting and Chatting
Geronda Ephraim and Fr. Anthony Moschonas Sitting and Chatting

We decided to go and see the one hundred eighty acre site.  As we were driving along, we approached an intersection near the site.  As we were getting out of the van we heard Church bells ringing.  They sounded like amazing monastery bells.  I asked the Elder; “do you hear the bells?”  He said he heard the bells coming from the desert.  I then turned to speak to the real estate agent and the sound of the bells was still ringing in my ears.  I again asked the Elder; “do you still hear the bells ringing?”  He responded; “here, my dear priest, is where we will build the Monastery.”  The property was listed for $149,000 and we bought it for $50,000.  The miracle happened then and it continues happening today.  The agent came back in five minutes and said “Fr. Anthony the property is yours.”  We went to his office and gave him a thousand dollar deposit and on the 5th of May the deal was finalized.  We received the rest of the money, paid the agent and received the deed.  By the 18th of June, we purchased and placed four campers on the property for housing.  Then five monks came from Mt. Athos.

The late Fr. Savas Filotheitis
The late Fr. Savas Filotheitis

With the blessing of the Elder, it has become not only an earthly paradise but a spiritual paradise that was established by the Elder on this property.  We in America up until this time did not have this stairway that ascends from earth up to heaven. This was brought about by a microscopic man; Fr. Ephraim who has no PhD’s, or Masters Degrees but a man holding the greatest PhD possible which is named Jesus Christ.  While we priests and bishops in America had lost our connection with Christ because we had attempted to feed our people with Greek festivals, with παστίτσιο, γύρους μπακλαβάδες καί δίπλες, Fr. Ephraim fed the people Jesus Christ, the Christ that we failed as priests, as metropolitans and as a Church to communicate.  That man gave the food of Christ to the people.  We now see people coming to confession and holding prayer ropes.  We never knew about prayer ropes.  We didn’t know about the Sacrament of Confession.

AZ 1997

 We then found a company to drill for water.  We today have three wells on the property.  The first one was drilled to nine hundred feet deep.  It was completely dry at that depth.  I called the Elder in NYC and said to him: “Elder I must move the drilling rig to another location to the northwestern corner of the property.”  He said: “Dear Father, I will call you back in a half hour.”  He called me back in fifteen minutes.  He said to me “move the drilling rig and God will provide.”  The following Monday, we started the drilling at the new site.  I received a call from the foreman who informed me that they were at seven hundred feet and there was no water.  I went to the site the following Thursday morning to perform the blessing of the water service.  There was nobody else there other than rabbits and birds.  I blessed the drilling process.  The drilling people called me at 4:45 p.m. and told me that they had struck water at 780 feet.  The well was producing twenty five to thirty gallons of water a day.  I called the Elder in tears to inform him and he said: “I told you dear Father that God is great.  He will not abandon us.”  After this the Elder had two more wells drilled.  During the third drilling for water the Elder took an icon of St. Nektarios and placed it on the ground.  The Elder asked a priest who was with him to tell the workers not to drill where they had the rig but to drill where he had placed the icon of St. Nektarios.  That well produces 80 thousand gallons of water a day.

xarizona3
This is why you see this place is blossoming like paradise around us.  It unites us with the heavenly paradise, the spiritual paradise.  The Elder has united the heavenly with the earthly paradise.

THE ELDER JOSEPH THE SPIRITUAL FATHER
OF ELDER EPHRAIM
ΔΟΞΑ ΤΩ ΘΕΩ ΕΝ ΤΟΙΣ ΑΓΙΟΙΣ ΑΥΤΟΥ
GOD IS GLORIFIED IN HIS HOLY SAINTS

Fr. Constantine Simones
Fr. Constantine Simones

Translated from the Greek by:
+Fr. Constantine (Charles) J. Simones, Waterford, CT, USA, March 11, 2015, 860-460-9089, cjsimones300@gmail.com

http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/affiliates/rca/biography/simones_charles

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Nevins Demand Letter Part 2b: Statement of Facts (2005 continued–Meeting with Metropolitan Gerasimos Michaleas))

Since 1995, Fr. Andrew Barakos has been the priest of Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is currently, the vicar of the southwestern region of the Metropolis of San Francisco. Fr. Andrew is a board member of the Trustees, Hellenic College/Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, the Metropolis Council of San Francisco and the Commission on Missions and Evangelism.
Since 1995, Fr. Andrew Barakos has been the priest of Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is currently, the vicar of the southwestern region of the Metropolis of San Francisco. Fr. Andrew is a board member of the Trustees, Hellenic College/Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, the Metropolis Council of San Francisco and the Commission on Missions and Evangelism.

In late August 2005, Ashley and Diane were approached by Reverend Andrew Barakos, who is the priest at a Greek Church in Scottsdale, Arizona. Barakos told the couple that he was preparing a report for Metropolitan Gerasimos on the practices at the Ephraimite monasteries. Barakos interviewed the Nevins, as well as other concerned individuals and parents, by phone. When Ashley asked the priest what he thought was going on, Barakos replied, ‘”‘I believe we are dealing with a cult here.”
In subsequent emails between Ashley and Barakos, the priest wondered “how this will unfold as the report goes to the Bishop,” and “how bishop Gerasimos is going to exercise his authority.” Barakos was “hopeful because of a conversation I had with him earlier this year, he shared concerns about this particular style of monasticism and its possible dangers.”

In early September, 2005, Barakos warned that if “things blow up in the media before the Metropolitan can do something concerning your son, he could be sent off the Mount Athos without you ever knowing it..” “Please give working through the Bishop a chance it is your only hope, please give this some time.” Ashley asked Barakos whether Archimandrite Ephraim was truly accountable to anyone within the church hierarchy. Not long after Scott died Ashley called Barakos and requested a copy of his report. The priest denied that there was a report, could not explain what it was, contrary to what Ashley and the others inte rviewed were told at the time.

In October 2005, five months after they first requested a meeting, Ashley and Diane finally met with Metropolitan Gerasimos and his chancellor, Father Paul Schroeder, in San Francisco. Schroeder has since been laicized (Complete removal of ordained status).
During this meeting:

Metropolitan Gerasimos  is the author of a number of articles published in periodicals in the area of psychology, and is a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and the American Counseling Association (ACA).
Metropolitan Gerasimos is the author of a number of articles published in periodicals in the area of psychology, and is a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and the American Counseling Association (ACA).

• Ashley began by telling how their son became involved with St. Anthony’s. This was a recap of what the couple had told the Metropolitan in their letter.
• The Nevins emphasized to both the metropolitan and his chancellor the troubling changes in Scott’s behavior which occurred after he became involved with the monastery. That is, their son isolated himself, said contradictory things, answered questions dishonestly, and hid things from them. The couple also made it very clear that they were deeply concerned over the physical safety and emotional well-being of their son. Although Metropolitan Gerasimos and Schroeder did not want to accept it, the Nevins gave them information on identifying groups which engage in thought reform and on the dangers of such groups.
• For the first time, the couple also relayed their concerns about Michael Fowler to the metropolitan. The chancellor responded that he knew who Fowler was, and that he found the man “emotionally immature.”
• The Metropolitan and Schroeder both stressed that every religion had those who strayed from generally accepted practices. Metropolitan Gerasimos told the Nevins, “You really can’t do much about them.” The couple did not accept this statement, and instead challenged the Metropolitan, “What are you going to do about this group?” Contradicting his previous statement, the Metropolitan then announced that they were working on a policy.
• The discussion moved on to the Nevins’ concerns that there were no guidelines for screening teenagers and new converts before they entered the monastery. They wondered why the Modesto priest and the hierarchy did not know that Scott had become a novice until long after he did. The Metropolitan and Chancellor simply replied that they were developing policies that would address this issue. The couple then asked how this would help their son.
• The Nevins also brought up the fact that their son had been rebaptized on Mt. Athos, contrary to church policy, without any instruction in Orthodoxy and without any time as a catechumen in an Orthodox parish. However, neither the Metropolitan nor Chancellor seemed particularly concerned about those omissions.
• As the Nevins disagreed with and challenged the Metropolitan and Chancellor, the meeting became more and more tense. Metropolitan Gerasimos became particularly frustrated with Diane, and bellowed at her, “Madam!” He did not like that fact that Diane did not “keep her place,” and he told the couple that.
• The meeting then took a bizarre turn as the Chancellor asked the Nevins if they believed Scott was a homosexual , and if this is why he wanted to become a monastic. The couple was taken aback, since to the best of their knowledge their son was heterosexual. Schroeder continued with this line of questioning until Diane asked what his point was. However, both the chancellor and the Metropolitan declined to elaborate.

The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. This document is believed to be a legitimate Zionist blueprint for world domination by most contemporary Athonite Fathers & was sold in the bookstore up until the 2006 KVOA exposé.
The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. This document is believed to be a legitimate Zionist blueprint for world domination by most contemporary Athonite Fathers & was sold in the bookstore up until the 2006 KVOA exposé.

• As the Nevins pointed to Archimandrite Ephraim’s books to show that some of the monastery’s teachings, such as the ” Protocols of Zion,” did not conform to the tenets of the Greek faith, Metropolitan Gerasimos stated that he had not read either of the Archimandrite’s books, so he could not comment on whether this outlandish conspiracy theory was a harmful teachings or not. The couple was shocked. As the Nevins tried to elaborate, the Metropolitan refused to look at the books and told the couple to put them away. As had by now become apparent to the Nevins, whenever the Metropolitan did not want to deal with something he would become irritated and then would shut down that topic.
• Subsequently, Metropolitan Gerasimos tried to tell the Nevins that he had only heard about problems with the Ephraimite monasteries during the past year and a half. The Nevins countered with older information, both public and private. The Metropolitan responded, “Oh, well, but the problems were sporadic at the time.” The couple pressed the point, telling the bishop that they were facing the same issues others had faced, so these problems were clearly not sporadic. Again, the Metropolitan was not pleased to be contradicted.
• Metropolitan Gerasimos and Schroeder then recommended that the Nevins read a book called The Desert Fathers, in which parents who were upset with their child becoming a monastic eventually came to realize that it was a good decision. The couple responded that they wanted the Metropolitan to provide a concrete solution to the very real problem of their son’s physical and mental deterioration. As they saw it, the problem was the destructive practices employed by the monastery leadership. Reading a book about a monastery that may not have employed such harmful methodology did not address this issue.
• In the same vein the Metropolitan then told the Nevins a story of young two sisters who lived in his village in Greece who entered the local monastery. When the family learned of the girls ‘ decision, their cries woke the whole neighborhood. Metropolitan Gerasimos told the couple that it all worked out later because the family forgave the girls, and this is what the Nevins should do too. The couple was appalled. Obviously, the Metropolitan had no intention of working with them to find a solution to their problem. He wanted the Nevins to forgive, forget, and go away.

Father Paul Schroeder, proistámenos (head pastor) of  Aghía Triás in Portland, Oregon.
Father Paul Schroeder, proistámenos (head pastor) of Aghía Triás in Portland, Oregon.

• Metropolitan Gerasimos and Schroeder then stated that there were three things they planned to do to address issues at the Ephraimite monasteries:
1. The preliminary investigation by Barakos would be expanded and guidelines developed, but any resulting policy would not be retroactive and so would not apply to Scott’s case. Diane responded pointedly, ‘Then you can’t help us;”
2. 17 Articles of Monastery Regulation had been developed by the Archdiocese. The Articles outlined the requirements for accepting a person into the monastery, but again these requirements were not retroactive. The Metropolitan, over his Chancellor’s objections, gave the Nevins a copy of the Articles.
3. Novices would no longer be allowed to enter the monastery without Metropolitan Gerasimos’ express permission. Moreover, he would meet personally with each candidate to determine if this decision represented the candidate’s free will.

• The Metropolitan then said he planned to meet with Scott in the future to determine if he had entered the monastery freely. The Nevins objected, saying that Scott had been subjected to the unethical practices of the monastery for a year, and would tell him whatever he needed to hear. Metropolitan Gerasimos did not believe the Nevins when they laid out their concerns for the physical safety and emotional health of their son. He would not agree to remove Scott from the monastery. Despite the fact that the Metropolitan appeared to realize what happened to Scott should not have happened, he would not lift a finger to help the Nevins.
• The Metropolitan then absolutely stunned the Nevins. He asked them in a sarcastic and condescending tone, “Whom am I to believe that Scott had been coerced into the monastery, the parents?”
• The meeting ended after one hour and fifteen minutes. Nothing had been resolved. The Metropolitan and Chancellor appeared to be angry at the Nevins for not meekly accepting what they were offered.

POKROV Immediately after this meeting the Nevins went to the home of Cappy Larson to discuss the meeting with her. Cappy, along with Melanie Sadoka, is a co-founder of Pokrov.org. After Scott’s death, Cappy wrote an open letter to Metropolitan Gerasiamos. In it she discusses what Ashley and Diane Nevins told her about this meeting, the questions she raised with the Metropolitan, what her own treatment by the diocese has been, and how the followers of the Archimandrite Ephraim address people who disagree with them.
In June, 2005 Scott began to sign his letters either Scott, Skot, or John (his rebaptized name), and informed his parents not to send him any letter, document, etc. to him unless he asked for it as, “it has to be blessed first” by one of his superiors.
In August 2005 Scott wrote a response letter to his grandmother (now deceased) in response to a letter she had written him where he mentioned that she had forgotten to include all the pages in the letter she had mailed him. She wrote back and informed him that she had included all the pages. This was not the last time pages from a letter sent to Scott went missing.

Fr. Anthony Moschona's grave at St. Anthony's Monastery. He died 8/13/2011.
Fr. Anthony Moschona’s grave at St. Anthony’s Monastery. He died 8/13/2011.

In 2006 KVOA Channel 5 News in Tucson, Arizona, aired a two-part report on St. Anthony’s Monastery. Metropolitan Gerasimos refused to be interviewed by the television station. He did send a written statement to KOV A. In his statement, Metropolitan Gerasimos denied most of what the report had brought to light.
Archimandrites Ephraim and Paisios also declined to speak to the reporter. Father Anthony Moschonas, a retired priest from Tucson, Arizona, represented the monastery on camera in the KYOA report. Among the many things discussed, he explained his viewpoint on the financial transparency of the monastery. (Moschonas was later sued for sexual abuse by a 19 year old woman. The suit resulted in a settlement.)

Monastery Mystery Promo (2013) - St. Anthony's Monastery, Florence, Arizona
Monastery Mystery Promo (2013) – St. Anthony’s Monastery, Florence, Arizona