Concerning Elder Ephraim’s Monasteries In America (Ken McRae, 2005)

NOTE: The following is a segment from an Orthodox Christian debate about Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries. There are links at the end of the article for all the articles referenced:

Map of Geronda Ephraim's monasteries in America (minus the secret ones).
Map of Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries in America (minus the secret ones).

Hello to All ~

Thanks for the links. Sorry, but I have’nt had a chance to check them out as yet, though I intend to. In the mean time, I’ve cut and pasted the passages from the links I originally posted that gave me pause to question what’s going on with Elder Ephraim. For the record, though, I regard or esteem him eminently worthy of double honour for his monastic labours. Sixteen monasteries in the North American wasteland is nothing short of miraculous, IMO.

However, I cannot deny that I’m deeply troubled by the number of hierarchs that obviously have a problem with him and his monasteries. Are these hierarchs working for the Adversary? They certainly seem to think Elder Ephraim might be!! What has the Elder done to offend so many Orthodox hierarchs, who clearly think he’s a great deceiver and manipulator?

From the May  2008 SCOBA Meeting.
From the May 2008 SCOBA Meeting.

The accusations made below, and I’m sure you’ll agree, are clearly of the most serious kind, and it troubles me deeply to see hierarchs utter them daringly or fearlessly! I will have to check all the links that have been posted to keep up-to-date on this matter. I am particularly interested to hear how Elder Ephraim’s spiritual father has addressed the matter. Does anyone know who that is and if he’s ever spoken out, at any time, in Elder Ephraim’s defense?

I must confess, though, that I am deeply biased toward Elder Ephraim. My first inclination is to discredit his enemies, and think them to suffer from strong delusions themselves. Nevertheless, I will reserve such judgment(s) for now, ’til I have time to look into the matter more fully. God grant us all spiritual discerment, in Christ!!

Icon given to monks & nuns for their cells. In some monasteries, monastics have a blessing to prostrate before it and pray to Geronda Ephraim for help during difficult warfares.
Icon given to monks & nuns for their cells. In some monasteries, monastics have a blessing to prostrate before it and pray to Geronda Ephraim for help during difficult warfares.

Excerpts from the Links In the Original Post:-

01 – “There is a wide spectrum of feelings about Ephraim, among both clergy and laity. On the extremes, some view him as God’s gift to Orthodox spirituality in America, while others see him as a cult leader who should return to Mt. Athos.” from The Ephraim Question

02 – “At its annual meeing in the year 2000, the Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL), heard a speaker on “Cult Mentality: A Threat to Individual Responsibility in the Church”. The speaker was Greta Larson, a co-founder of the web-site, “Protection of the Theotokos – A Site for Victims of Abuse in the Orthodox Church.” The site address is “pokrov. org”, and it contains other articles on cults. In her speech, Ms. Larson also referred to an article by Metropolitan Isaiah which warned about the dangers of blind obedience.” from Yes, Investigate the Monasteries

03 – “In 1998, Metropolitan Isaiah of the Denver diocese issued a protocol to his priests titled: “The Lord Does Not Want Slaves in His Kingdom”. He wrote in part:

Metropolitan Isaiah, Geronda Ephraim & Hieromonk Nektarios Arvanitakis
Metropolitan Isaiah, Geronda Ephraim & Hieromonk Nektarios Arvanitakis

“This spirit of blind obedience with the deadening of the free will is unfortunately being practiced among some of our people and even by some of our clergy. They will not do anything without first receiving a ‘blessing’ from their ‘spiritual father’. And if they have been convinced that the spiritual father is a walking saint, they will eat his unfinished food after the common meal and even consume other things which may have touched the spiritual father in some particular way. This is nothing more than idolatry. It puts God aside and constitutes the worship of His creature.”

He went on to say that: “It may be that some of our people, by following the monastic rule in the outside world, feel convinced that they are becoming more spiritual. However, they are sadly mistaken: for the monastic, as a novice, is willingly obedient in order to determine if he wishes to live the life of a monastic. Once he is accepted as a monk, he must resume the use of his free will in conforming to the way of life which he has chosen. The laity, on the other hand, cannot use the monastery or the spiritual elder as one uses a horoscope, not functioning unless they receive permission.”

He concluded with: “If there are members of the Diocese who have fallen into the error of negating their free will and being totally dependent on what their spiritual mentor instructs them to do, let them know that God does not want slaves in His Kingdom, but obedient children who constantly exercise their free will as sons and daughters of our Father in heaven.” from The Ephraim Question

04 – “When the new Metropolitan (Bishop) of the New Jersey diocese took office this spring, it was reported reliably that at his first meeting with the clergy, he announced that Ephraim and his followers were not welcome in the diocese and that the faithful should go to their own priests for confession. This diocese includes some 50 churches in five states. There has been no further confirmation or a denial of the Metropolitan’s statement. In the absence of any denials, one can assume there is some validity to the reports about the Synod’s concern and about the Metropolitan’s directive.

L-R: Bps. Vikentios and Evangelos of New Jersey.
L-R: Bps. Vikentios and Evangelos of New Jersey.

There was also the warning earlier this year from another bishop, Metropolitan Methodios of Boston. He was quoted by the Herald as saying: “Neither is there a place in Orthodoxy for radical fundamentalism, religious fanaticism or cult leaders disguised as Orthodox sages.” “Was he talking about the Ephraim situation? If not, who was he referring to?

Are these accidental words: fundamentalist and cult? Did the bishops wake up one fine day and decide to use them?” from The Ephraim Question

Bishop Methodios of Boston Liturgizing on Mt. Athos (2011)
Bishop Methodios of Boston Liturgizing on Mt. Athos (2011)

05 – “In the Greek-American paper, The National Herald, English Edition of April 5-6, 2003, it was reported that the Eparchial Synod of America, recently discussed “…the monasteries established all over the U.S. by the former abbot from Mt. Athos, Fr. Efraim. It has been said that some sort of fundamentalist movement with a cult philosophy has been advocated by the followers of Efraim, and is having an impact among the clergy and theology students at Holy Cross School of Theology.” from Yes, Investigate the Monasteries

Ambassadors

[Note: Hellenic College Holy Cross sponsors regular pilgrimages to St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery in Roscoe, NY, – See more at: http://www.hchc.edu/studentlife/#sthash.62VYsxtX.dpuf ]

06 – “One of the complaints voiced by some clergy and laity is that the Ephraimite confessors have focused on sexual matters. A member of a group visiting an Ephraimite monastery reported that the monk-confessor had a lengthy list of questions, most of them of a sexual nature, and gave severe penances even to married couples, with the penances being longer for the wives. In the evening, the men and women were separated to hear different speakers. The one who addressed the women berated them about being sinful, as women, and that their only virtue was in bearing children. If true, is this an example of the “fundamentalism” that has been referred to? In view of what has been learned these past two years about the clergy abuse problem , particularly in the Catholic church, the monks’ pre-occupation with sexual matters could indeed be seen as a form of sexual misconduct.” from The Ephraim Question

[Note: The sexual sins contained in the 38 Canons of St. John the Faster are the questions asked in confession:

07 – “I understand that Father Ephraim insists that a married couple must abstain from Holy Communion for a forty-day “purification” period after they have had sexual relations.” by Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, from Troubling Teachings

Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, censing an icon of Fr. Seraphim (Rose)
Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, censing an icon of Fr. Seraphim (Rose)

08 – “Sadly, in our day, perhaps more in North America than in Greece, but even in Greece, there has developed a new guru cult concept of “gerontes.” Alas, this cultish idea is actually cultivated by many self-styled and even acknowledged “elders.” Gerontes or elders, many of them self-appointed and self advertised, others acknowledged by monastic establishments, have begun to act and be looked upon like the Hindu gurus, and this may be linked in part to the all-encompassing New Age Movement. In English, we call this a “cult.” It means that people have begun to have a “proskynisis” [worship] for the “geronta,” that comes parlously close to idolatry, but often even passes over the border into real idolatry. This is a great danger for us in our time. One frequently encounters people who say with complete conviction, “my salvation depends on Father so and so, my geronta.” Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, from The Problem of Guru Cultism

09 – “Concerns about Efraim have been expressed for several years now. It is about time that there was an investigation. Because monasteries don’t have “parish councils” doesn’t mean that lay people should be kept in the dark about them, here in America or elsewhere. Some of the concerns about Efraim and his monasteries have to do with funding, with personality cults and with blind obedience and mind-control.” from Yes, Investigate the Monasteries

St. Kosmas Monastery in Canada is the only Ephraim monastery with a "parish council," collection plate, etc.
St. Kosmas Monastery in Canada is the only Ephraim monastery with a “parish council,” collection plate, etc.

10 – “Fr. Ephraim who came to America under nefarious circumstances in the early 90’s first joined the Russian synod in exile after receiving a “directive” from God as he proclaimed at the time. However, when he was threatened by the Ecumenical Patriarchate that he would be defrocked, he received another “directive” from God and abandoned the Russians.” from Diocesan Clergy Refuse to Support the Archbishop

11 – “One should be reminded that in the past Fr. Ephraim has troubled the Greek Orthodox Church of America including the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the formation of religious organizations with his devotion to the Russian monks of the diaspora, according to the information he received as he claims from God. Later, he left the Russians and placed himself under the Greek Orthodox American Archdiocese. Nikos Pantanizopoulos, according to the interview with his father John, met Fr. Ephraim through their parish priest in Knoxville, Tennessee, a Fr. Carellas, who presently is in a convent in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania. When Niko’s parents advised him to enter the Holy Cross Theological Seminary and then to decide if he wants to become a priest, he answered them, “Fr. Carellas and Fr. Ephraim told him that the Holy Cross is inhabited by the devil” and they [Carellas and Ephraim] advised him to go to the St. Tikon Theological Seminary [Russian], as stated by Mr. Pantanizopoulos.” from He Became Ill

"Fr. Carellas and Fr. Ephraim told him that the Holy Cross is inhabited by the devil" - John Pantanizopoulos
“Fr. Carellas and Fr. Ephraim told him that the Holy Cross is inhabited by the devil” – John Pantanizopoulos

12 – “The Clergy Brotherhoods of the Detroit and Chicago Dioceses refused to throw their support behind Archbishop Spyridon in his effort to fight off open defiance by the five Metropolitans of the Eparchial Synod of America, by a significant part of the clergy and wide segments of the laity.” And: “In private conversations some priests expressed fears about the climate of divisiveness among the clergy which is fostered by the Archdiocese. Just last weekend the Archbishop visited Detroit and had spoken against the Eparchial Synod of the Metropolitans in front of both the clergy as well as the lay Parish officers (see article, page 3).” And again: “Fr. Ephraim has significant influence in the administration of the Archdiocese. The current Chancellor, Fr. George Passias, happens to be one of the Ephraim’s most loyal followers. Ephraim is also admired by the new President of the Theological School, Archimandrite Damaskinos Ganas, who, according to sources, wants to invite Fr. Ephraim to hear confessions from students.” from Diocesan Clergy Refuse to Support the Archbishop

Fr. George Passias, happens to be one of the Ephraim's most loyal followers.
Fr. George Passias, happens to be one of the Ephraim’s most loyal followers.

13 – “Monks from the “army” of the mysterious Fr. Ephraim, the spiritual father of Fr. George Passias, the Chancellor of the Archdiocese, are participating in the pro-Spyridon campaign.” from Church Life In America Is Being Trivialized

14 – ” … all the rules that were stated about monks not interfering with the ministries of our parish have been broken in our parish.” from Monasticism vs. the Parish

15 – “A message that appeared on the Internet in 1999 may provide a clue or two. It was apparently from an Orthodox priest in Arizona, and said, in part:

“My situation has progressed with the mission group here and there is new pressure on me to be in a more ‘regular’ situation. Let me explain. There are about a dozen convert families here who float between all the ‘ethnic’ churches because they are zealous for traditional spirituality and get impatient with either the closed minded ethnic dominance or a ‘modernized’ and enemic version of Orthodoxy. So these people spend a lot of time at Fr. Ephraim’s monastery in Florence and take seriously the advice of their spiritual fathers there. They have committed themselves to starting a new mission parish that is traditional, not dominated by one ‘ethnic’ flavor, doesn’t have the old world parish politics, has services every day, does outreach to young people, helps bring new converts deeper into the church, etc., etc. They are withdrawing from the Greek, Antiochian, OCA and ROCOR churches to begin this new mission, and are doing it under the guidance of the monks at the monastery.” from The Ephraim Question

az-2-10-2014-st-anthonys

https://web.archive.org/web/20091012020433/http://www.monachos.net/forum/showthread.php?t=2198

Articles Referenced:

The Ephraim Question: https://web.archive.org/web/20050826125554/http://www.orthodoxnews.netfirms.com/43/The%20Ephraim%20Question.htm

Yes, Investigate the Monasteries: https://web.archive.org/web/20100106032611/http://rickross.com/reference/ephraim/ephraim12.html

Two Troubling Teachings Reported: https://web.archive.org/web/20091113093352/http://www.rickross.com/reference/ephraim/ephraim11.

The Problem of Guru Occultism: https://web.archive.org/web/20100106032524/http://rickross.com/reference/ephraim/ephraim10.html

Diocesan Clergy Refuse to Support the Archbishop: https://web.archive.org/web/20100106032725/http://rickross.com/reference/ephraim/ephraim1.html

He Became Ill: https://web.archive.org/web/20091113093417/http://www.rickross.com/reference/ephraim/ephraim8.html

Church Life in America is being Trivialized: https://web.archive.org/web/20100106032409/http://rickross.com/reference/ephraim/ephraim4.html

Monasticism vs. the Parish: https://web.archive.org/web/20100106032457/http://rickross.com/reference/ephraim/ephraim5.html

Rick Ross is asked to add Fr. Ephraim to his Suspected Cults Home Page (John & Jo Ann Pantanizopoulos, 1999)

NOTE: Rick Ross’ rickross.com website is now defunct. He has recently written a book entitled,  Cults Inside Out: How People Get In and Can Get Out Although Rick Ross promotes himself as a professional “cult expert”, a review of his educational background shows that quite apart from being anti-Christian (he refers to Christians as “Bible bangers”) has no religious educational credentials whatsoever. To the contrary, his only formal education is a high school diploma. Self-aggrandizement and personal financial reward seem to be Ross’ primary motive for his attacks on Christians and members of other faiths. Public records reveal that Ross has been the subject of at least three arrests, including an attempted burglary, embezzlement of $100,000 worth of jewelry from a jewelry store, and kidnapping. Two of these arrests resulted in convictions. In the third, Ross’ co-conspirators plead guilty to lesser charges while Ross evaded being found guilty. Ross was sued civilly by the victim in the same kidnapping incident and was punished by the jury for over $3 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

The Cult-Deprogrammer Hall of Fame.
The Cult-Deprogrammer Hall of Fame.

May 1, 1999   Rick Ross P.O. Box 32906 Phoenix, AZ  85064-2906

Dear Mr. Ross,

We discovered your web site as we were browsing the “20-20” home page that recently discussed the Jim Roberts’ Group cult.  Unlike the parents of those cult members, we think we know where our son Niko is — St. Anthony’s Monastery, Florence, Arizona (although we haven’t heard from him since he wrote a short letter in November 1998); we also know that every characteristic mentioned about a cult fits the description of monasteries and convents founded by this Greek Orthodox monk, Fr. Ephraim.  We do not denounce monasteries or those adults who enter them; however we question the tactics, the process, the counseling that should precede such a choice, and the absence of including the family and looking at family vulnerabilities that would lead a young adult to choose this lifestyle.  This specific charismatic monk incorporates every type of coercion used by all cults in cult literature:  strict control of daily life, daily confession, isolation from family and friends, loading the language, etc.; followers claim he has levitated, and even that he has predicted the world will end in 60 years.

Followers claim Geronda Ephraim has predicted the world will end in 60 years.
Followers claim Geronda Ephraim has predicted the world will end in 60 years.

To see and read more about these monasteries/convents and where they’re located, go to:  www.coutput.com/stanthonys

To read opposing opinions about this monk and the dangerous role he plays in the hierarchy of the Greek Orthodox Church, go to:  www.voithia.org

If you need more details about Fr. Ephraim, you can contact Theodore Kalmoukos, a religious reporter with the National Herald (Ethnikos Kyrikas), a Greek newspaper published in the New York area.

Fr. Carellas claimed Fr. Ephraim as his spiritual father.  During Fr. Carellas’ tenure at our church, he spoke of “super Orthodoxy,” a fiercely traditional cult-like pursuit of Christianity.  His ideas were rejected by our parish, and as a result, Carellas was removed from our church by the Atlanta diocese bishop and re-located to a convent in Saxonburg, PA.  Fr. Carellas, father of f

Fr. Carellas claimed Fr. Ephraim as his spiritual father.
Fr. Carellas claimed Fr. Ephraim as his spiritual father.

our children, divorced his wife after he decided to become a priest.  Before he became a priest, he was a mechanical engineer and served as an officer in the military.

When our son was 16 years old, we learned that our oldest daughter was HIV positive.  All of our family drew closer to the church for comfort; however, Niko drew even closer because of his friendship with our priest (at the time) Father Carellas and his son, who was the same age and grade in school as Niko. Thinking Niko might enter the seminary to study to become a priest, we encouraged this close association with Fr. Carellas.  As parents, we thought at the time that church was a safer place.   Yet, we saw Niko slowly giving up his extensive comic book collection, taking down posters of his favorite music groups,  reading only books (written by desert fathers, mostly of Russian Orthodox background) suggested by Fr. Carellas, and listening only to monastic chanting and classical music.  We saw our son change from a happy person to a somber and judgmental individual.  After only one year of college, he told us in April that he was going to become a monk and left our home in May 1996 when he was 18 years old.   During Niko’s transformation, there was no attempt made by Fr. Carellas to include us in this monumental decision our son had made.  We encouraged Niko to speak with Fr. Katinas, our new priest, but Niko said that Fr. Katinas was a “modernist” because he didn’t fit Fr. Carellas’ ultra-Orthodox beliefs.  Our pleas, our tears, our logic did not sway him.  He listened only to Frs. Carellas and Ephraim.  That same year three young people from our small church in Knoxville entered an Ephraim-led monastery and convent (ages 18, 18, and 21) due to their vulnerability and Fr. Carellas’ indoctrination.

AZ 0000000000000000

Shortly after Niko entered the monastery, we begged him to come home to be at his oldest sister’s wedding.  He refused, saying, “I’ll visit her on her death bed.  I’ll see her in heaven.”  His language is loaded with “If it’s God’s will.”  When we asked him when he would know he was ready to become a monk, he said Father Ephraim would tell him.  When we asked if God would tell him instead, he replied, “I am not worthy to speak to God.  Only Fr. Ephraim and the elders are worthy enough to have a dialogue with God.”  When we asked if he couldn’t serve God by working with people as Mother Teresa did, he said, “That’s just social work.”  When we reminded him that Jesus did not escape from humanity but worked with people instead, he said, “Jesus had his calling. I have mine.”  When we pleaded that he listen to us and give “the world” a chance, he said that we were his parents only in the physical sense–Fr. Ephraim was now his spiritual father and the only one to whom he need obey.

Metropolitan Sotirios of Toronto,  agreed Ephraim's monasteries & methods of collecting young and vulnerable adults is cultic.
Metropolitan Sotirios of Toronto, agreed Ephraim’s monasteries & methods of collecting young and vulnerable adults is cultic.

In addition to speaking with other church officials and the Metropolitan Sotirios of Toronto, Canada  (who  agreed Ephraim’s  monasteries/convents and methods of collecting young and vulnerable adults is cultic), we have met twice with Patriarch Bartholomew asking for intervention with no result.  In fact, at the second meeting with the Patriarch and in front of Niko, the Patriarch suggested Niko return home to check into his health problems.  Niko later refused to even consider the idea.  He said, “That was only a suggestion, not a command.”

The Patriarch's visit to St. Anthony's, November 1997
The Patriarch’s visit to St. Anthony’s, November 1997

After only one year and nine months, Niko was tonsured as a monk, rejected his baptismal and family name of Nikolaos, and took the name of Theologos.  According to church tradition, the amount of time an individual serves as novice is three years.  There was no warning or an invitation to attend the ceremony sent to us.  Niko even said that it came as a surprise to him as well that he was to be tonsured on that day.

We have tried to involve the media in some way to help us expose this growing cult in the U.S.  In October 1997, Ethnikos Kyrix (National Herald) published an article about our family’s despair.  In June 1998, we contacted the Dateline tv show and spoke at length with an investigator, Jeff Pohlman (1-800-622-6397 ext. 6963),  who promised to look into it.  However, after only three days, he called back saying he’d contacted the Archdiocese with questions and was satisfied that our son was in an established monastery.  This is like asking the wolf if he ate the lamb.  Of course the wolf would deny it!  The present Church leadership is in accord with the super-Orthodox approach and in disagreement with the majority of the Greek American laity. Please see www.voithia.org for more information. Although Mr. Pohlman did not reveal our name or exact details, he did tell us that the spokesman at the Archdiocese asked him, “Did that family in Tennessee ask you to investigate?”

Jeff Pohlman, Investigative Reporter
Jeff Pohlman, Investigative Reporter

We are asking, after due investigation on your part, if you would please list Ephraim’s name and his growing number of monasteries/convents to the list of suspected cults on your home page. We have names of other parents in the same situation as ours.  Perhaps by your listing the Ephraim-led monasteries, other parents in similar circumstances would feel the courage to speak up. Our ultimate goal is to have our son return home.  Should you need additional details from us, please contact us at home.   Sincerely yours,

(signed)

John & Jo Ann Pantanizopoulos Knoxville, TN

Editor’s Note: The relationship between monastic life and parish life in general, and the role of Fr. Ephraim in particular, continue to be controversial issues in our Church. Voithia’s recent coverage of this topic has included articles by U.S. hierarchs, clergy, and laity, by the Greek press, and our own stories.

To date neither Voithia nor GOAL has taken a position on this topic. A resolution on the subject was introduced at the GOAL national conference in March, 1998, but it was withdrawn due to a lack of consensus at the time.

The above letter was sent to Rick Ross, with a copy to GOAL, asking Mr. Ross to list Fr. Ephraim and his monasteries on his website as suspected cults. As of this writing Mr. Ross has not done so.

On May 5, 1997, The Orthodox Observer, in its “Tell Me Father” column, published an anonymous letter from a parishioner in Tennessee (the home state of Mr. and Mrs. Pantanizopoulos) to then-Fr. George, now Bishop George, Papaioannou, and his response. The full text of that column is reprinted below.

Reader’s Response:

Last year I stayed at the monastery at Florence for six days. During that time I worked on the grounds under the direction of Father Theologos. He did not seem like he was brain washed or under mind control. For that matter during that time I did not witness any cult of Father Ephraim such as the excesses that have been reported on this news group.

I am sorry that Father Theologos’ decision has made his parents so sad. However, I am not entirely sure that their sorrow ought to be used as ammunition to attack Father Ephraim. I know that if any of my children wished to become monks it would make me very sad simply because I would get to see them so much less. However, this would not in any way imply that they had joined a cult.

I usually remain silent but I have some experience with Father Theologos. Last year, I stayed at St. Anthony’s for six days and during that time worked on the grounds with Father Theologos. At no time was there the appearance of brain washing. Further, during that period, Father Ephriam was staying at the monastery. At no time was there any of the outrageous cultic behavior that is constantly reported in this news group.

I know that if my children decide to become monks it will make me very sad. The reason is simple. I love them deeply and hope that I will get to grow old along with them and see their children. On the other hand, I pray I will not create a big fuss if they do.

I would like to clarify my testimony. I am not a monastic wannabe as are so many converts to Orthodoxy. On the whole my impression of the monastery was negative. I don’t think that monastic life tells lay people anything about how to live our lives and I did not get an impression of great holiness. (Of course, this probably has something to do with my own sinfulness.)

I am completely astonished about the big fuss about Father Ephraim. If you don’t want him as a teacher, don’t follow him. If others find his teaching edifying, why bother them?

–Ricks

Behind the Glass Wall: Losing our Son to a Fr. Ephraim-Led Monastery (John & Jo Ann Pantanizopoulos)

*Questions for the Church
*How the Monastary shows Characteristics of a Cult
*What is healthy monasticism in the USA?
*Update (October 1999)
When Niko was five years old, we decided he needed swimming lessons. At that time, we thought the best gifts parents could give was to teach their children to love reading, to learn a musical instrument to lift their spirits and enrich their lives, and to learn how to swim. The first two gifts would fill their inner souls; staying afloat would save their lives. When the YMCA offered tadpole classes, we enrolled our sweet-natured blonde son. During the lesson, parents could watch from a large glass window in a room looking down on the Olympic-sized swimming pool. Sometimes I took a book to read, but didn’t get far because I was always looking to see if Niko had made it across the pool holding onto the styrofoam float.
After being able to kick across holding onto the float, the instructor made the children swim to the float-always holding the float just inches from their finger tips. The instructor had her hands full one day as she led two swimmers across the pool teasing them by placing the float just inches from their strokes. As I glanced up from my book, I suddenly saw Niko sink under the water as the instructor was lifting up her second charge. In panic, I leapt to my feet and banged on the window to alert someone to save my son from drowning. I couldn’t speak or scream; they couldn’t hear me down there. Would I have had time to run downstairs, find the door to the showers and the pool? Could I break the glass so my screams could be heard? With my voice frozen, I could only beat on the glass and watch him struggling under water until the instructor glanced up at my thumping and then over to Niko. She lifted his arm, his head rose above the water, and on he swam.
Niko is now 21 years old and a Greek Orthodox monk who goes by the name of Father Theologos. His father and I continue beating on the glass to save him, but no one has heard us. We feel our son, at a time in his life in which he was dealing with a transition from teen years to adulthood and with the sorrow of having an older sister diagnosed with a serious illness when he was 16, was unduly influenced to enter the monastic life since the age of 16. Our son is not alone. In the same year our son left, two other young people (ages 18 and 21) from our parish church in Knoxville, Tennessee entered a convent in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania and St. Anthony’s monastery in Florence, Arizona. Never were we included in assisting our son in making such a monumental decision. Niko told us in April and left in May 1996. We are concerned for many reasons that these monastic communities founded by Fr. Ephraim are part of a growing cult, a dark and confusing corner of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, a misdirected type of monasticism.
* Niko is the only son of four children, a brother to three sisters. He made us laugh with his impressions, his wry sense of humor, his sensitivity to others, and his kindness. When he first told us he was becoming a monk, I cried telling him that he would lose his wonderful sense of humor. “No, I won’t, Mama. I’ll be the funny monk!” But there is no place in Fr. Ephraim’s monasteries for humor or of seeing the funny quirks in life. Laughter is the result of the devil, Niko now tells us.
* Our son left home in May 1996 to stay a few weeks at a convent led by Fr. Carellas in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania before his trip to Arizona. We spoke on the phone several times and each time, Niko told us that the departure date had changed because he needed to be at the monastery at the same time as Ephraim. Each time he changed his departure date, he had to pay a $50 fine to the airlines. When I told him that the cost was adding up and asked him would he jump off a cliff if Fr. Ephraim asked him, he replied seriously, “Yes, of course I would!”
* After only one year and nine months as a novice, Niko was suddenly tonsured as a monk on April 30, 1998. Normally, three years from the time such young people enter the monastery first as novices, they take their vows and become monks. When we asked our son when he would know he was ready to take his vows to become a monk, he told us that Fr. Ephraim would tell him. When we responded with, “Won’t God tell you?” he told us that he is unworthy to speak to God; only Fr. Ephraim and the elders are worthy enough to have a dialogue with God.
* When we tried to contrast Niko’s isolation from the world to the life of Jesus who embraced the world by working with people in preaching, healing, and showing compassion, just as Mother Teresa has done, Niko responded with “that (Mother Teresa’s work) was just social work. Jesus had his calling; I have mine.”
* We encouraged Niko to consider becoming a priest instead of a monk and to use his talents working with people. We told him we would pay for his education at the Holy Cross Seminary in Brookline, Massachusetts, the only Greek Orthodox seminary in North America. He refused saying that Frs. Carellas and Ephraim said that the seminary was full of satan.
* After our interview with a reporter was published in The National Herald (Ethnikos Kyrix), a Greek language newspaper published in New York, we received many phone calls from distraught parents and friends of novices in Fr. Ephraim’s communities. We urged them to write letters and speak out, but they are fearful of going public with their family sorrows.
* Secrecy is paramount when a young man or woman leaves to enter a monastery or convent. Our son was told by Fr. Carellas to tell no one except his immediate family, and that only one month before he left our home. Niko left without telling his best friend, his aunts, uncles, grandmothers, even our current parish priest. The excuse was that if he told people, they might try to talk him out of becoming a monk, and then the devil would win.
* Fr. Ephraim has been known to have fought the devil who knocked on his door disguised as a goat. This goat attacked him, but the monk physically fought him off!
* Novice nuns have been known to wash this monk’s feet and drink the wash water because they and his followers think the man is a saint. He does nothing to discourage this sentiment.
* Fr. Ephraim has predicted that the world will end in 60 years.
* Fr. Ephraim was forced out of Canada because of the same recruiting tactics he is getting away with in the U.S.
* Divided families, divorces, and marital disharmony are the results of this monk’s teachings. We know that he has encouraged married couples to refrain from sexual intercourse and to live as brother and sister.
* Since entry into the monastery, our son has suffered from GERD, gastro-esophageal reflux disease. Before entry, Niko was never sick and had never suffered any stomach ailments. The novices are told that suffering is good and makes an individual a stronger Orthodox Christian. When he was in high school, he was the star dancer in our parish’s Greek Festival. The other dancers called him “Air Niko,” and he told us that he lived for Greek dancing. Now he keeps his eyes down rarely looking at us directly. He is a very thin, bowed 21 year-old young man.
* Following numerous letters (with responses few and far between) to bishops, the Archbishop, and the Patriarch, we finally were able to meet with Patriarch Bartholomew twice during his recent U.S. tour, once in October (1997) in Atlanta and once at the monastery in November (1997) in the presence of our son and several bishops. We asked that Niko be allowed to go home so we could have him checked by our family doctor. They all agreed it was acceptable; however, Niko later told us it was only a suggestion, not a command. Niko said that unless Ephraim told him to go, he would not leave the monastery. He would ignore the Patriarch’s suggestion.
* Niko does not ask about his family, his sisters, his cousins, his grandmothers. To do so, he says, is to ask about the world which he shuns. He refused to return home for his oldest sister’s wedding. He refused to listen to his 13 year-old sister’s song she wrote and sang for him on an audio tape, because music was from the devil. Christmases, Easters, and other holidays come and go each year without a phone call or a thank you note for the packages we send him. His letters to us have virtually stopped.
* A “spiritual elitism” surrounds the followers of Ephraim. Even in our parish church, a group of his followers defend him, saying “he has the power of discernment.” When I, Niko’s mother, stood up at our parish’s general assembly asking for some support in investigating this anomaly of losing three young people from our church to Fr. Ephraim’s monasticism, I was ridiculed and attacked by several of his ardent followers, told to mind my own business, and be glad my son was becoming a monk.
* St. Anthony’s monastery in Florence, Arizona is a brand new community in the desert, built of only the best materials. During our November 1997 visit that coincided with the Patriarch’s visit, we overheard one man say that it was indeed “more like a Hilton resort, than a monastery.” Our son told us that as soon as it is complete, it will become a convent, and the monks will move on to build yet another monastery, perhaps in New York. During our November visit to the monastery, we spoke with a member of the Patriarch’s entourage. When we told him why we were there, he said that he understood our concerns: “this spiritual dependence is totally unnecessary and is getting out of hand. Someone needs to get a hold of this situation and provide a solution to it.” The same member, who is also a priest, said that he and his wife were uncomfortable that their own son, who was with them that day, could come this close to such an unhealthy environment.
We ask these questions we hope someone will be able to answer:
* Who is funding Fr. Ephraim’s movements?
* What is the charity Fr. Ephraim’s monks perform?
* Under whose supervision do his activities fall?
* What are the names of the novices and monks in Fr. Ephraim’s monasteries and how do their families feel about their sons or daughters being in them?
* How many other families are suffering as we are?
* Does the Greek Orthodox Church have any procedures in place to assist individuals in looking at monasticism in a balanced way?
* What regulations, if any, govern these activities?
* Are any statistics available on the spread of Greek Orthodox monasticism in
the U.S.?
* What is “healthy” monasticism in the USA in contrast with Fr. Ephraim’s communities?
* Is the goal of the present Greek Orthodox Church leadership to divide families or to unite them by any possible means?
Note: We have asked the church these questions, but we have received no answers. We have been patient long enough in dealing with the Church’s hierarchy and speaking out publicly to get our son out of a psychologically abusive and spiritually dependent environment. We feel as if we have had a death in our family without a funeral. We miss our son! Although the church has gained one monk (our son), the remaining five members of our family have become estranged from the church.
Here are just a few of the characteristics of a cult, and they all match what we’ve seen and what we’ve read from our son’s letters:
** Control of the environment of their recruits.
In this monastery, recruits are physically separated from the society. Any books, movies or testimonies of ex-members of the group are to be avoided. We have asked our son to talk to a former nun; he has refused. Like cults, the novices and monks follow a rigid routine of sleep deprivation, limited diet, work, and controlled reading. Niko’s young sister wrote a song and recorded it on a tape. When we tried to play it for him during our visit with him, Niko said he was not allowed to hear music, even a simple song his sister wrote from her heart and recorded on an audio cassette.
** Demand for purity
In this monastery, the world is depicted as black and white with little room for making personal decisions based on a trained conscience. People and organizations are pictured as either good or evil, depending on their relationship to the ideology of the group. We asked our son if he knew that Mother Teresa had died. He told us she was a Catholic, a heretic, and her good works were just “social work.” When we reminded him that Jesus also did this type of “social work” with the people, Niko told us again that we were “talking idly.” He also said that “Jesus had his calling. I have mine.”
** Confession
In this monastery, serious sins are to be confessed immediately. Becoming a monk would be the result of regular confessions. From these confessions, Fr. Ephraim determines when Niko or any novice will be ready to become a monk. Information derived from the confession is used to make the novice feel powerless, more guilty, fearful and ultimately in need of the monastery and the leader’s goodness. This confession can be used to get the novice to re-write his or her personal history so as to reject the past life, making it seem illogical for the novice to want to return to his or her former life of family and friends.
** Sacred Science
In this monastery, the ideology is too “sacred” to call into question, and a reverence is demanded for the leadership. In the eyes of the monks and novices, Fr. Ephraim appears as the absolute truth with no contradictions. When we asked our son how he would know he was ready to become a monk, he told us that Fr. Ephraim would tell him. We asked, “Why doesn’t God tell you this?” He replied that he was not worthy to speak with God; only Fr. Ephraim and the elders are worthy to have a dialogue with God. Upon a visit to the convent in Saxonburg, PA, Fr. Ephraim told our 13-year old daughter and other children present that the world would end in 60 years. How convenient that Fr. Ephraim won’t be around in 60 years, and will not be confronted for his false prophecy!
* Mystical Manipulation
In this monastery, novices have come to believe that they are actually “choosing” this life. If outsiders, even his parents, say Niko has been brainwashed or tricked, he repeats “I have chosen this voluntarily.” This statement was made even in the presence of the Patriarch and other Bishops in November 1997 at the Monastery of St. Anthony. Novices and monks thrive on this myth of voluntarism, insisting time and again that no member is being held against his or her will. Recruits are told that God is ever-present in the workings of the organization. If a person leaves for any reason, he/she is told that accidents or ill-will may befall them and that is attributed always to God’s punishment on them. We have a former nun’s testimony on this.
* Loading the Language
In this monastery, there is frequent use of “thought-terminating cliches,” expressions or words that are designed to end the conversation or controversy. Our son, when asked a difficult question for him to answer, will end the conversation with the statement “This is idle talk.” When we asked our son why he came to the monastery, he said it was God’s will.
* Doctrine over Person
In this monastery, the person is only valuable insomuch as he/she conforms to the role models of the cult (or monastery). Personal history and experiences are ignored. During our visit or phone calls, Niko never asks about friends, relatives, his sisters, or our lives. Only the lives and experiences of monks are true for him. Accomplishments of former monks are repeated to these novices, although none of their fantastic (monastic) experiences can be verified. For example, Niko and his sister were  awestruck from the story told them at the convent in Saxonburg about Fr. Ephraim’s fight with Satan who appeared at his cell door in the form of a goat!
* Dispensing of Existence
In this monastery, they decide who has the right to exist and who does not. The leaders decide which books are accurate and which are biased. Families are cut off. Niko has not written to us since December 1998. In December 1997, he wrote us a note that he would not come home as advised by the Patriarch during our meeting with the Patriarch in November 1997. We wanted Niko to be cared for by our physician for his GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease). Our son said that only if Fr. Ephraim blesses his visit home would he have followed the Patriarch’s suggestion. We have written letters, called him on the phone, and visited him several times but always when we initiated the communication. All of these characteristics describe and document the similarities between monasteries administered by Fr. Ephraim and cults as they are known and defined by experts.In closing, we have come to the conclusion that people in the Church’s hierarchy will not do anything to save our son from the hands of such monastics. They appear to fall under no one’s jurisdiction or regulation. However, as soon as Fr. Ephraim’s type of monasticism is classified as a CULT in this country, we may then be able to save our son. Remember most cults are defined as a splinter of “first generation religions.” We hope this classification will be recognized by the Greek Orthodox clergy and laity as well as the media soon. Young people in transition and facing big decisions about life, such as college, career, and choice of spouse, etc., are easy targets for cult recruiters. Our main issues here are that our son was too young (only 18 years old when he entered the monastery), he was indoctrinated beginning at age 16 by our former parish priest who never involved us in the process, our son had no theological education and is presently not in good health. He never suffered from any illness before. The Greek Orthodox Church has no specific guidelines for proselytizing potential novices.We love our son very, very much, and we will continue to beat on the glass wall to save our son from drowning in a cult led by this monk.
**What is healthy monasticism in the USA?
In our opinion, monastics should have a good theological education, be of a mature age, and should make their choice after careful counseling with their priest and their family. Individuals that best fit the mold of monks should be the clergy. Such individuals have already made this choice to follow Christ’s footsteps and have the theological background needed. Monasteries should be the place for one to retreat from the world for a short period of time to meditate, pray, and discuss religion with others (i.e. in the form of a sabbatical from their everyday life) and then return to the world refreshed. Was this not Christ’s way? The expenditures for building such monasteries should be the responsibility of the Church (Patriarchate) and be run by the Church. Under no condition should a monastery be run by individuals such as the elder Ephraim. Such spiritual dependence at any level can only be cultic with disastrous results.

Geronda Ephraim as a young priest.
Geronda Ephraim as a young priest.
Fr. Demetrios Carellas and Saxonburg nun.
Fr. Demetrios Carellas and Saxonburg nun.

Update
Our son became a monk in April 1998, one year and nine months after entering the St. Anthony’s Monastery as a novice when he was 18 years old. At the age of 20, he became Pater Theologos. In his short note to us, he said even he was surprised when he discovered that he was to take his vows on that day. Since that note, we have received only one other short note to us. Then, in the summer of 1999, we accidentally read on the internet a Chicago Tribune article dated June 2, 1999, “Monks Turn Farm Into Monastery.” The reporter mentioned two monks: Frs. Akakios and Theologos. Wondering if our son could actually be in another monastery, we called the monastery and heard the voice on the answering machine. We knew it was our son Niko. We later sent him a birthday card and called again, leaving a message on the monastery answering machine. Still no letter, no phone call. Since then, we have discovered that Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Harvard, Illinois (northwest of Chicago) recently held a fund-raising banquet with about 600 attending paying $50 for a chicken dinner. A visitor told us that a tall thin young monk wearing glasses was there. He was not introduced and did not speak with any of the attendees. Our son, the one who told us so many times he lived to dance the Greek hasapiko and Kalamatiano is now the quiet monk isolating himself in obedience to the monk Ephraim.

https://web.archive.org/web/19991128190837/http://www.angelfire.com/bc/orthodoxsurvivors/cubehindglass.html

A Diaologue about Geronda Ephraim and Monasticism in America (Derek Copold vs. John Pantanizopoulos)

This dialogue occurred in 1999, and begins with Derek asking John:

Fr. Demetrios Carellas.
Fr. Demetrios Carellas.

John’s reply:
We have attempted to find out what if any guidelines the Church has on monasticism. Neither the Archdiocese nor any of the Bishops we corresponded with for the last three years could offer any policies in place. We cannot begin to offer any specifics. We have always felt that the Church (the Ecumenical Patriarch or the Synods) would be the proper authority to establish such guidelines.
We only know that our son was too young (16 when indoctrination began and turned 19 in the monastery) to make such a monumental decision on his future. He had NO theological education whatsoever. So, we strongly feel that one has to be mature enough, and theologically educated before making such a decision. What age defines maturity or what exactly theological education is required differs from one individual to another. However age 25 can be a beginning. Concerning the theological education, we have always felt that a graduate priest would be a good candidate for a monastic.
The question we have presently is: Why are there so many young people joining the Ephraim-led monasteries whereas the Holy Cross Seminary has so few applicants? This is something the Archdiocese would have to face.
What is your opinion, Derek?
John Pantanizopoulos
Derek’s reply:
John,
You keep mentioning “indoctrination” at 16. What do you mean by this? Exactly how did this work between the ages of 16 – 18 (or 19 as you put up before.) That’s some 2-3 years. It seems an awful long time for a child to be “indoctrinated” without his parents knowledge.
In general, I’m in agreement with your sentiment, but I’d like to know more of the specifics.
Best Regards,
Derek Copold
John’s reply:
Derek,

Over the past week, you have asked several questions. I will itemize
them as follows:

1. What do I mean by “indoctrination”? You also asked for more specifics.
2. Why is the seminary so vulnerable to the Fr. Ephraim-led monasteries?
3. What are the Greek Orthodox Church guidelines?

Answers:
1. By “indoctrination” I mean “brainwashing” and here is part of the story. When our son was 16, our oldest daughter was diagnosed with a serious illness. At that time, our whole family drew closer to the church. Our former parish priest offered support. Our son made friends
with the priest’s son and drove him to and from school. They were the same age and grade at the same school. Our parish priest kept mentioning to us and the entire congregation of his spiritual father, a monk Ephraim.
Our son increased his participation with the church activities (GOYA, liturgies, confession, etc.). The rest of our family went to church on Sundays. We thought nothing of his gradual change in behavior because it was connected to the church. We thought he might be considering the priesthood as a vocation.
Conversations at the dinner table began to center around religion and our son started reading books and booklets, given to him by our former priest, on monastics and especially Seraphim Rose, a Russian monk.
In 1995 our parish priest was removed from our church (for reasons never explained to the parishioners) and sent to a convent in Saxonburg PA which is also an Ephraim established convent. Our former priest is there and to our knowledge hasn’t been a parish priest since. In the
meantime, he had made quite a group of followers in our church who visited him occasionally in Saxonburg. Our son would sometimes go with them. We thought, naively, that he wanted to see his friend, the priest’s son. Never did we think that a man of God woudl betray us in this way by doing this in secrecy. Some lessons are learned the hard way! For more information on our family story, please go to the Protection of the Theotokos web site where we have placed our story, “Behind the Glass Wall”: http://www.angelfire.com/bc/orthodoxsurvivors/cultabuse.html
Click on Controversial Orthodox Groups, then on Monasteries of Fr. Ephraim.
2. On Oct 14 Vasos Panagiotopoulos gave you one version of the truth. Here is ours. Remember, we all have our agenda.
In Sept 1996 former Arch. of America Spyridon is enthroned. In the spring of 1997, homosexual molestation of an underclassman by a priest at the Hellenic College/Holy Cross (HC/HC) goes unpunished. Note that Arch. Spyridon is pro-monastic and a supporter of Fr. Ephraim. In July
1997, four priessts-professors at HC/HC are removed because they recommended punishment for the sexual molestation, thereby jeopardizing the HC/HC’s accreditation.
Voithia, an internet web site, and GOAL are created and together they monitor and publish all inproprieties of the Archdiocese. The five Metropolitans, several priests and the laity express their disenchantment with Archbishop Spyridon’s leadership or lack thereof.
In Aug 1999 Arch. Spyridon is forced to resign and the new Arch. Demetrios is enthroned in Sept. 1999.
This we feel is what caused the low registrtion of Hc/HC. Ask yourself, would you choose that college (during the church turmoil) for yourself or your son/daughter? You can read more about it in http://www.voithia.org where you can find the whole chronology of events as they occurred since the enthronement of Arch. Spyridon.
3. As you may have noticed by participating in this discussion group, no one, not even the participating priest, knows of any church guidelienss, simply because there aren’t any! People can express their thoughts, but the fact of the matter remains that there are no church guidelines on what healthy monasticism is or who may become a monk. You may read our thoughts also in “Behind the Glass Wall.”
Sincerely,
John & Jo Ann
Derek’s reply:
Actually, I didn’t ask this originally. You did rhetorically. However, I do appreciate this expansion. I’m sorry to hear this. I’ll remember her and you in my prayers.
I don’t believe you mention this in the article. What would your former priest say? Please, excuse my prying, if I’m pushing to far simply tell and I’ll drop it.
To be fair to Seraphim Rose, I don’t believe he advocated activity of the sort your alleging. I’m not saying that you are accusing, just trying to clarify his position. If I’m mistaken, please correct me.
The article does answer questions. I am sorry that this affair has been so hurtful to you both. Unfortunately, along with my prayer that’s the extent of assistance I can offer you.
In regards to Fr. Ephraim, I have your word on one side about the estrangement of your son and Fr. Gregory on the other. There is a monestary in Kendalia, TX under his direction, so if I’m in the Hill country, I may go and investigate.
To be fair, Vasos is rather open about what he believes, and usually when he says something (actually always from what I’ve read of his posts) it’s accurate.
So if HC is or was under the direction of one of his supporters at the time, why was Fr. Ephraim stating that it was “full of Satan?”
I’ve read the chronologies, editorials and articles from them and their opponents. Por favor! No mas! No mas!
Well, GOAL has been talking about taking the iniative and governing from the bottom up, now that they’ve won their victory, I guess this,would be as good a place to start as any. Somehow I don’t think the peace will be any easier to manage than the war.
Best Regards,
Derek Copold
John’s reply:
To really find out the truth you would also have to ask him (our former priest that is). There is only one priest at the Saxonburgh convent. Then you can form a more weighted decision for yourself.
We are stating this about Seraphim Rose to simply show you the direction given to him (our son) by our former priest. What we tried to convey was that if you read a lot about cooking recipes you may eventually start cooking!
Our son entered the monasrery of St. Anthony in Arizona in June 1996. Archbishop Spyridon was enthroned in September 1996. The words that HC/HC was “full of satan” our son mentioned to us in April 1996, that is, before Arch. Spyridon’s enthronement.
We stated that question only to have those in the proper authority to pay attention to what is going on!
I agree with you. We just have to wait and see.

Regards,
John

The Ephraim Question (Paul Cromidas)

Several months ago, the Greek-American newspaper, The National Herald, reported that the Synod of American Greek Orthodox bishops had expressed concern about Father Ephraim, and his followers.  This former Athonite (Mt. Athos) monk has established some 16 monasteries in the United States since about 1989.

He is also known as Elder Ephraim.  The news article stated in part : “It has been said that some sort of fundamentalist movement with a cult philosophy has been advocated by the followers of Ephraim, and is having an impact among the clergy and theology students at Holy Cross School of Theology.”  After that article, I urged, in a letter-to-the-editor, that there be an investigation. To my knowledge, there has not been any inquiry, nor has been any further news reporting on the subject.

L-R: Bps. Vikentios and Evangelos of New Jersey.
L-R: Bps. Vikentios and Evangelos of New Jersey.

When the new Metropolitan (Bishop) of the New Jersey diocese took office this spring, it was reported reliably that at his first meeting with the clergy, he announced that Ephraim and his followers were not welcome in the diocese and that the faithful should go to their own priests for confession.  This diocese includes some 50 churches in five states.  There has been no further confirmation or a denial of the Metropolitan’s statement.  In the absence of any denials, one can assume there is some validity to the reports about the Synod’s concern and about the Metropolitan’s directive.

Metropolitan Methodios celebrates the Liturgy at Simonos Petras, Mt. Athos.
Metropolitan Methodios celebrates the Liturgy at Simonos Petras, Mt. Athos.

There was also the warning earlier this year from another bishop, Metropolitan Methodios of Boston.  He was quoted by the Herald  as saying:  “Neither is there a place in Orthodoxy for radical fundamentalism, religious fanaticism or cult leaders disguised as Orthodox sages.”  “Was he talking about the Ephraim situation?  If not, who was he referring to?

Are these accidental words: fundamentalist and cult?  Did the bishops wake up one fine day and decide to use them?

In a similar vein, in 1998, Metropolitan Isaiah of the Denver diocese issued a protocol to his priests titled: “The Lord Does Not Want Slaves in His Kingdom”.  He wrote in part:

Metropolitan Isaiah, Geronda Ephraim & Hieromonk Nektarios Arvanitakis
Metropolitan Isaiah, Geronda Ephraim & Hieromonk Nektarios Arvanitakis

“This spirit of blind obedience with the deadening of the free will is unfortunately being practiced among some of our people and even by some of our clergy. They will not do anything without first receiving a ‘blessing’ from their ‘spiritual father’.  And if they have been convinced that the spiritual father is a walking saint, they will eat his unfinished food after the common meal and even consume other things which may have touched the spiritual father in some particular way.  This is nothing more than idolatry.  It puts God aside and constitutes the worship of His creature.”

He went on to say that:  “It may be that some of our people, by following the monastic rule in the outside world, feel convinced that they are becoming more spiritual.  However, they are sadly mistaken: for the monastic, as a novice, is willingly obedient in order to determine if he wishes to live the life of a monastic. Once he is accepted as a monk, he must resume the use of his free will in conforming to the way of life which he has chosen.  The laity, on the other hand, cannot use the monastery or the spiritual elder as one uses a horoscope, not functioning unless they receive permission.”

He concluded with:  “If there are members of the Diocese who have fallen into the error of negating their free will and being totally dependent on what their spiritual mentor instructs them to do, let them know that God does not want slaves in His Kingdom, but obedient children who constantly exercise their free will as sons and daughters of our Father in heaven.”

In 1998, Metropolitan Isaiah of the Denver diocese warned about the dangers of blind obedience. Today, he is a supporter of Geronda Ephraim.
In 1998, Metropolitan Isaiah of the Denver diocese warned about the dangers of blind obedience. Today, he is a supporter of Geronda Ephraim.

Apparently he received some criticism, for he later wrote wrote:  “I am totally surprised that certain persons misinterpreted the encyclical and thought that I was criticizing our Orthodox monastics and specifically one or two of our Orthodox elders…I was clearly referring only to those followers who relax or negate their free wills.”

During the administration of Archbishop Spyridon, in a November 1998 article in the Herald, the well-known reporter-commentator, Theodore Kalmoukos, wrote:

“Fr. Ephraim who came to America under nefarious circumstances in the early 90’s first joined the Russian synod in exile after receiving a ‘directive’ from God as he proclaimed at the time.  However, when he was threatened by the Ecumenical Patriarchate that he would be defrocked, he received another ‘directive’ from God and abandoned the Russians.   Ephraim has established a string of monasteries in America and, through intense confessional activity, has created many personal loyalties.”

Fr. George Passias & Family (late 90’s): (l-r) Eleni Passias, Fr. George Passias, (former) Archbishop Spyridon, Presvytera Mary, Peter Passias, Katherine Passias, and Costa Passias)
Fr. George Passias & Family (late 90’s): (l-r) Eleni Passias, Fr. George Passias, (former) Archbishop Spyridon, Presvytera Mary, Peter Passias, Katherine Passias, and Costa Passias)

“Fr. Ephraim has significant influence in the administration of the Archdiocese. The current Chancellor, Fr. George Passias, happens to be one of Ephraim’s most loyal followers.  Ephraim is also admired by the new President of the Theological School, Archimandrite Damaskinos Ganas, who, according to sources, wants to invite Fr. Ephraim to hear confessions from students.”

Do the bishops define the situation as being an issue between them and the Ephraimites only?   It would appear so based on a decision at the September 2002 meeting of the Synod.  According to the press release from the Archdiocese, it was decided that the committees of the Synod would be combined with the committees of the Archdiocesan Council, “to provide for more input by members of the Council as well as to facilitate the implementation of decisions that are made in basic areas of the life of the Church.”   But, the release went on to say that this would not apply to the committee on Monasticism.  That apparently would be the bishop’s domain.   It can also be noted that the currently disputed charter of the Archdiocese, “granted” by the Patriarch in 2003, includes authority for the supervision of the monasteries by the bishops.

Hieromonk Michael & Geronda Joseph (Kursk Root Icon)

One of the complaints voiced by some clergy and laity is that the Ephraimite confessors have focused on sexual matters.  A member of a group visiting an Ephraimite monastery reported that the monk-confessor had a lengthy list of questions, most of them of a sexual nature, and gave severe penances even to married couples, with the penances being longer for the wives.  In the evening, the men and women were separated to hear different speakers.  The one who addressed the women berated them about being sinful, as women, and that their only virtue was in bearing children.  If true, is this an example of the “fundamentalism” that has been referred to?  In view of what has been learned these past two years about the clergy abuse problem , particularly in the Catholic church, the monks’ pre-occupation with sexual matters could indeed be seen as a form of sexual misconduct.

Is the concern about Ephraim and his monasteries a territorial or “turf” battle, as well as one of sacramental rights?  Do the parish clergy and bishops feel that the monks are developing a following among the faithful and that a kind of encroachment is taking place?  If the New Jersey announcement is accurate, it would appear so.  It is also ironic that the Ephraim monasteries do not appear to have money problems, while the Greek archdiocese does, and at any given time, parishes are without priests.

At the 2000 Clergy-Laity Congress, Metropolitan Anthony of the San Francisco diocese responded to concerns expressed about Ephraim by saying he was chairing a committee of the synod that was looking into the matter. If there has been a report by this committee, it has not been shared with the faithful.
At the 2000 Clergy-Laity Congress, Metropolitan Anthony of the San Francisco diocese responded to concerns expressed about Ephraim by saying he was chairing a committee of the synod that was looking into the matter. If there has been a report by this committee, it has not been shared with the faithful.

At the 2000 Clergy-Laity Congress, Metropolitan Anthony of the San Francisco diocese responded to concerns expressed about Ephraim by saying he was chairing a committee of the synod that was looking into the matter.  If there has been a report by this committee, it has not been shared with the faithful.

Archbishop Spyridon apparently tried to define the respective roles at a retreat for clergy in March of 1998, held at the Ephraimite monastery in Florence, Arizona.  It was for the clergy of the San Francisco diocese, according to the archdiocese press release, and Metropolitan Anthony and 58 priests were present.  The theme was the “relationship of monasteries to the local bishop and to the local parish”.  The release said that the priests had “lengthy open dialogues” with the Archbishop, and that he stressed the value of all three orders in the Church, clergy, laity and monasticism.  He was quoted as saying:

"Spiritual therapy is indeed the primary role of Monasticism.  It is precisely this role that renders Monasticism friendly and, so to say, popular, at certain levels of the Church, because it does not elevate Monasticism above the other orders in the Church."  Archbishop Spyridon, 1998 Clergy Retreat @ St. Anthony's Monastery. The theme was  "relationship of monasteries to the local bishop and to the local parish".
“Spiritual therapy is indeed the primary role of Monasticism…

“Spiritual therapy is indeed the primary role of Monasticism.  It is precisely this role that renders Monasticism friendly and, so to say, popular, at certain levels of the Church, because it does not elevate Monasticism above the other orders in the Church.”  Just what was meant by spiritual therapy was not explained.  One can hope that confession-by-list and the group sessions mentioned above would not be examples of such “therapy”.  In any case, the current atmosphere would suggest that perhaps, in some circles, monasticism is being elevated above the other orders of the church.  Have the Ephraimites not “kept their proper place”?

A message that appeared on the Internet in 1999 may provide a clue or two.  It was apparently from an Orthodox priest in Arizona, and said, in part:

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

“My situation has progressed with the mission group here and there is new pressure on me to be in a more ‘regular’ situation.  Let me explain.  There are about a dozen convert families here who float between all the ‘ethnic’ churches because they are zealous for traditional spirituality and get impatient with either the closed minded ethnic dominance or a ‘modernized’ and enemic  version of Orthodoxy.  So these people spend a lot of time at Fr. Ephraim’s monastery in Florence and take seriously the advice of their spiritual fathers there.  They have committed themselves to starting a new mission parish that is traditional, not dominated by one ‘ethnic’ flavor, doesn’t have the old world parish politics, has services every day, does outreach to young people, helps bring new converts deeper into the church, etc., etc.  They are withdrawing from the Greek, Antiochian, OCA and ROCOR churches to begin this new mission, and are doing it under the guidance of the monks at the monastery.”

(Note:  OCA is the Orthodox Church in America, and ROCOR stands for Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, two other Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States).

Metropolitan Anthony Gergiannakis  of San Francisco (d. 2004). He was a strong supporter of Geronda Ephraim and made his death-bed confession to Geronda Ephraim. Geronda told the Fathers afterwards: Αυτός είχε πολύ βαρύ!
Metropolitan Anthony Gergiannakis of San Francisco (d. 2004). He was a strong supporter of Geronda Ephraim and made his death-bed confession to Geronda Ephraim. Geronda told the Fathers afterwards: Αυτός είχε πολύ βαρύ!

While the charter mentioned above calls for monastery oversight by the respective diocesan bishops,  Ephraim’s accountability is not clear. Who is his superior?  Does he report to another elder on Mt. Athos?  To Patriarch Bartholomew?  To Archbishop Demetrios?  Or to one of the American Metropolitans, depending on which monastery he’s visiting?  Does he have any accountability to the Greek-American Orthodox faithful, as he moves about the country “in this world, but not of this world”, as the definition of a monastic goes?

There is a wide spectrum of feelings about Ephraim, among both clergy and laity. On the extremes, some view him as God’s gift to Orthodox spirituality in America, while others see him as a cult leader who should return to Mt. Athos.

One thing is apparent: an explanation from the American bishops about the Ephraim situation is long overdue.  It should not be treated as a taboo subject any longer.

Paul Cromidas Dallas, Texas

https://web.archive.org/web/20031209070115/http://www.orthodoxnews.netfirms.com/43/The%20Ephraim%20Question.htm

Monasticism vs. the Parish (Fr. George Papaioannou)

Bishop George Papaioannou of New Jersey became the first married priest to be elevated to the rank of bishop in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Fr. George Papaioannou of New Jersey became the first married priest to be elevated to the rank of bishop in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

Q: Dear Fr. George: I am writing this letter out of concern for the rather negative effect that the monastic movement in America is having on some of the parishes, including my own.

In a recent interview with The Christian Activist, Archbishop Spyridon seemed to acknowledge that this problem exists in our Archdiocese today and pointed out that a parish is one thing and a monastery is another. The danger is that we might have a confusion of the roles of a monastery and of a parish..

My question is, what does the church do to prevent that confusion from taking place? Who is the spiritual leader in the community, the canonically ordained and assigned priests or a monk who invades the parishes, introduces monastic rules and ideas, recruits young people who are only technically adults to monasticism and leaves the parish in disarray? The church should be concerned when outside forces undermine the effectiveness of a parish priest by questioning his orthodoxy, and at the same time, realize that this is an issue that concerns the entire Archdiocese.

I hope you will not hesitate to address this very vital issue in your column. Because of the great sensitivity, please do not publish my name.

A troubled member of a deeply troubled community.

In Tennessee

A: You have raised a very sensitive issue that is both challenging and needs to be addressed by our Synod of Bishops. In fact, the subject of monasticism in America was on the agenda of our Bishops’ meeting last March in New York.

Of course, you are not the first to write and point out the improprieties that are committed by certain monastic forces in our country. However, we must bear in mind that the monastic movement is very young in America, and like any new development it will experience growing pains. Inevitably, as in any other new movement, mistakes will be made, and misunderstandings will occur.

I am well aware that some of our communities are concerned that monastic practices will take over their parish life, become a divisive issue, and drive many of our people away. In their zeal to establish monasticism in America, monastic leaders, and especially some of their overzealous followers (both clergy and laity) have threatened the peace and stability in some of our parishes. This should not be.

Without question, monasticism has played a constructive role in the history of Orthodoxy. It has preserved the rich deposit of our faith handed down to us by the apostles. Monasticism has helped preserve, shape, and define Orthodoxy in its struggle against wanton innovations, heretical beliefs, and State interference.

For instance, Monasticism took the leadership and played an indispensable role against the error of Iconoclasm. The monks were in the vanguard of these battles, and they suffered the most for the sake of the Faith.

Moreover, we owe much of our beautiful liturgical life to monastic influence. Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine Orthodoxy without monastic influence in iconography, hymnology, theology, and prayer life.

No Orthodox Christian could deny the immense contribution that monasticism has made to the True Faith.

The monks of Mount Athos, the holy sites in Palestine, and Mount Sinai (just to name a few) have stood as vigilant and worthy guardians of the Orthodox Faith and the countless relics, manuscripts and priceless religious artifacts for well over a thousand years. We are truly indebted to them.

So why not a monastic movement in America? Shouldn’t any right-thinking Orthodox believer welcome the opportunity to transplant monasticism in America? This writer is an advocate of such a movement. But it must be done properly and carefully, with an appreciation for the unique situation here in America. The canons and Tradition must guide us so that we avoid the confusion and tragic situation that has beset your parish and others like it.

The Archbishop is quite right. The role of the monastery is not to be confused with the role of the parish.

Fr. Demetrios Carellas, long-time spiritual child of Elder Ephraim. He was the spiritual father of Sam Lawson (later Fr. Seraphim in AZ and NY) and Nikos Pantanizopoulos (Later Fr. Theologos in AZ and IL) and is said to have influenced them to enter the monastic life.
Fr. Demetrios Carellas, long-time spiritual child of Elder Ephraim. He was the spiritual father of Sam Lawson (later Fr. Seraphim in AZ and NY) and Nikos Pantanizopoulos (Later Fr. Theologos in AZ and IL) and is said to have influenced them to enter the monastic life.

The Synod of Bishops should carefully study any request to start a new monastery. If and when permission has been granted, it should be made unequivocally clear to those responsible that the monastery is to function under the authority of the local bishop. Monks are not to interfere with the ministry of the parishes and the authority of the priests. Only with the permission of the bishop, should monks visit local parishes and perform any kind of ministry, including the Sacrament of Holy Confession. This rule should be followed very strictly and, when it is violated, appropriate measures should be taken by the local bishop and, if necessary, by the Synod of Bishops.

Recruiting is a very sensitive issue, and the Church leadership should carefully investigate interference in our parishes in order to avoid unnecessary strife and avoidable divisions in our communities.

Monastic life is a special calling. It is a very difficult life that calls for great sacrifice and self-denial, and hence, is not for everyone. I recall that a few years ago a young man left America to become a monk in Greece. Far from home, he found it very difficult to adjust to the rigors of monastic life and eventually succumbed to a severe case of melancholy. The Church must be very careful, if the monasteries are sanctioned by the Archdiocese, the Archdiocese becomes ultimately responsible to both the laws of the individual states and the country.

And finally, I would like to emphasize that parish priests with ties to monastic communities, either here or abroad, must remember that while serving as pastors of communities, they are to minister and behave as priests who serve laymen who live in a dynamic and challenging secular community and not members of a small and limited monastic order. The manner of grooming and clerical attire must therefore be appropriate. The life of a monk, as admirable as it is, must be lived in the monastery, not in the secular community.

MAY 5, 1997 ORTHODOX OBSERVER PAGE 9 Tell Me Father

http://issuu.com/orthodoxmarketplace/docs/1997_05_05_en