NOTE: The following article is taken from ΑΠΑΝΤΑ ΟΡΘΟΔΟΞΙΑΣ.
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 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.
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.
[NOTE: Fr. Constantine glosses over Holy Transfiguration Monastery in MA which was established in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in 1960 (some sources say 1962). The founder, Elder Panteleimon Metropoulos, claimed he was a spiritual child of Elder Joseph the Hesychast and was given a blessing by him to open a monastery in America. In 1965, the Elder left the GOA, taking his monastery with him, and joined ROCOR. He later left ROCOR to avoid being defrocked by the Synod for sexual immorality and his “diocese”, HOCNA, cut communion with all other churches.
This was always a sore spot for the GOA. Their only monastery left the diocese and furthermore, wrote numerous apologetic tracts against ecumenism and heresy featuring Archbishop Iakovos and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
In the 90’s, new monastics in Elder Ephraim’s monasteries would learn the “real” history behind Boston. Apparently, Panteleimon stayed briefly at New Skete as a pilgrim but was never part of the brotherhood. Elder Joseph didn’t give him a blessing to build a monastery in America because he foresaw with his prophetic eye that Elder Ephraim would become an apostle here. Elder Joseph also foresaw Panteleimon’s fall and saw that this would inevitably cause problems for Elder Ephraim later when he started his missionary work in America.
None of this is documented in any of the letters that have been preserved between Panteleimon and Elder Joseph, many of which can be found in Monastic Wisdom (yes, that’s right). Elder Ephraim approached Panteleimon to ask for his letters and permission to use them for Philotheou Monastery’s publication of Έκφρασις Μοναχικής Εμπειρίας (1st edition 1979). Desperate times call for desperate measures. Elder Ephraim’s visit with Panteleimon is mentioned in one of his homilies about the Old Calendarists. Elder Ephraim calls him a “spiritual brother“. It should also be noted that all the letters at the end of the book, Ο Γέρων Αρσένιος ο Σπηλαιώτης(1st edition 2008), are all from Panteleimon. Again, as much as the disciples of Elder Joseph tried to distance themselves from Panteleimon to the point of disowning and disavowing the man, they still needed to go back to him for help since both their Elders communicated with him extensively via letters.].
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.
[Note: St. Anthony’s Monastery only has 17 monasteries listed as affiliates on their web page. They can’t list the Dormition of the Theotokos Monastery in Cochise Stronghold because Geronda Ephraim built it without a blessing from Metropolitan Gerasimos. However, the Metropolitan turned a blind eye to it because the property was already purchased and the buildings were erected. Geronda Ephraim has other properties purchased throughout North America but has yet to go public with them because the archdiocese doesn’t want any more new monasteries. Before the monasteries were established in America and also while they were being built, Geronda Ephraim often revealed his end game in homilies: he was going to build 20 monasteries here; the same number as Mount Athos. He stated this was the Panagia’s will and hinted that it was revealed to him through visions and prayer.
The Elder’s plans are constantly changing as “new” information is constantly revealed either in visions, or through voices emanating from the skull of his dead spiritual father. The original plan was to have both a male and a female monastery in whichever states the diocese would allow him to use. However, the plans turned out much different than the information provided in visions.
Elder Ephraim’s monastery in Cochise Stronghold is “illegal”; i.e. Geronda went all idiorrhytmic and built a monastery without the Bishop’s blessing and in breach of orthodox ecclesiastical canons though apparently he was doing obedience to the Virgin Mary. This is why it’s never mentioned on official monastery websites, nor talked about openly with laymen. Due to this lesson, the other properties/monasteries will probably not be revealed to the public until more pliable and monastic-friendly hierarchs are in the appropriate places to bless and allow “God’s plan” to manifest].
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.
[NOTE: The PC doublespeak to validate the monastery against accusations of anti-Semitism and racism. “See, even Jewish people support the monasteries.” This goes hand in hand with the “Elder Ephraim’s doctor is Jewish” defence. Though technically, for years Fr. Savvas (Greek) was Geronda’s personal doctor on Mount Athos and then for years both Dr. Moschonas and Dr. Gerasimos in Arizona who are also Greek. There are many converts and there is a sort of cliquism in some monasteries of Greek vs. non-Greek; not to mention some of the monks and nuns from Greece have retained some bigoted and stereotyped opinions of marginalized peoples].
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.
[NOTE: Usually the monks that “travelled” to Mount Athos either originally started out there and needed to go back to “recharge their spiritual batteries” or they were monks fighting the urges to leave the monastic life and Geronda Paisios did economia and brought them on his pilgrimages in an attempt to encourage them to remain in the monastery. In some cases, the monastic and the monastery were being harassed by angry parents so the monk was transferred to Mount Athos where he’d be unreachable by any relatives or other temptations.
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.
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.
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.
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.
THE ELDER JOSEPH THE SPIRITUAL FATHER OF ELDER EPHRAIM
ΔΟΞΑ ΤΩ ΘΕΩ ΕΝ ΤΟΙΣ ΑΓΙΟΙΣ ΑΥΤΟΥ
GOD IS GLORIFIED IN HIS HOLY SAINTS
Translated from the Greek by:
+Fr. Constantine (Charles) J. Simones, Waterford, CT, USA, March 11, 2015, 860-460-9089, firstname.lastname@example.org