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

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

ΝΟΣΟΚΟΜΕΙΟ
Halkidiki General Hospital.

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

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

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

Ιατρικής Σχολής του Πανεπιστημίου Αθηνών
Medical School of Athens University

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

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

Prozac

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

RESPONSIBILITIES

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

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

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

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

DISORDERS

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

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

Caste system

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

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

The Town of Karye
The Town of Karyes

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

SCANDAL-MONGERING

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

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

Elder Makarios

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

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

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

NOTES:

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

Huff House

In the Fall of 1998, with the blessing of Elder Ephraim, Elder Joseph Voutsas and Fr. Germanos Ponitkas purchased the 188 acre property known as the Huff House Golf Resort in Roscoe, NY for $2,500,000. Three lay-disciples from Toronto had taken second mortgages from their houses for $100,000 each and donated it for the down payment of the property, which helped greatly. Two of the donors gave the money as donations and the other donor gave the money as a loan. There was also a $25,000/month mortgage for the first 2 years and with the help of donations, the two monks paid off the mortgage.

Cell phone pic of Fr. Epifanios old desk mat (aerial of the property)
Cell phone pic of Fr. Epifanios old desk mat (aerial of the property)

Many of the original structures of the Golf Resort have been torn down. The structures that remained have had their exteriors and interiors redone, and new buildings have been erected. The property value has also sky-rocketed. The amount of money put into each new building (chapel, trapeza, monks’ quarters, new reception area, etc.) averages at over 2 million dollars/building.

The monks of St. Nektarios Monastery (NY) with Metropolitan Athanasios of Lemesos, Cyprus.
The monks of St. Nektarios Monastery (NY) with Metropolitan Athanasios of Lemesos, Cyprus.

At the end of December 1998, Abbot Joseph, together with 3 monks (Fr Germanos, Kassianos & Epifanios) and 4 novices (Symeon, Philotheos, Alexios and Michael) departed St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence, AZ and drove to Roscoe, NY to start setting up St. Nektarios Monastery. They arrived in early January 1999. Fr. Seraphim came from Arizona shortly afterwards. Due to problematic issues, Elder Joseph sent Fr. Seraphim back to Arizona after a brief stay at St. Nektarios Monastery. The monks were instructed to tell pilgrims that Fr. Seraphim was only sent up on loan to help start the monastery. This was so the pilgrims wouldn’t be scandalized

Brotherhood of St. Nektarios at Russian Synodal Building, NY.

During Holy Week of 1999, Elder Ephraim visited the Monastery and tonsured the four novices as monks in the old chapel. Elder Ephraim did not change the names of the new for two reasons:

  1. Because they were recently baptized converts who just changed their names at baptism.
  2. So the lie that they were given as an obedience to tell people would be more believable—The new monks had an obedience to tell people they were tonsured in Arizona but their koukoulis weren’t made yet and they had just received their koukoulis now. This was to cover-up the fact that Elder Ephraim visited the monastery and performed an ecclesiastical function without the knowledge or permission of the Bishop.
St. Nektarios Monastery, Kursk Root Icon, Russian Clergy and monks.
St. Nektarios Monastery, Kursk Root Icon, Russian Clergy and monks.

Some years later, Elder Ephraim again secretly visited St. Nektarios and tonsured 4 novices: Kosmas (Jason), Ephraim (Gerasimos), Nektarios (Gregory), and Damianos (Anestis). This time, the tonsure took place in the new chapel as the old chapel had been converted into a living room for the monks and a temporary dorm when the monastery couldn’t accommodate all the visitors in the guest houses.

The First Chapel at St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc.—The Upstairs Living Room

Fr. Michael outside the old kitchen of main house. The upstairs living room of this house was originally the first chapel.
Fr. Michael outside the old kitchen of main house. The upstairs living room of this house was originally the first chapel.

The first church at St. Nektarios Monastery was located in the upstairs living room of the white building, originally dubbed “the main house.” The iconostasis from St. John the Theologian Monastery (closed in 1997) was used, as well as all the other materials from that chapel. The Chapel had golf green wall-to-wall carpeting. The use of the living room as a chapel was a temporary solution until the main church could be built. When the temporary chapel was no longer needed, it was converted back to a living room—a couch occupied the area of the Holy Altar, a computer station the area of the Proskomide. The former narthex was also used as temporary sleeping quarters when the guest houses became full and there was nowhere to put the extra pilgrims.

Originally destined to be the female guest quarters, the abbot decided part way through construction to make this structure the monks' quarters.
Originally destined to be the female guest quarters, the abbot decided part way through construction to make this structure the monks’ quarters.

When Geronda Ephraim secretly visited the monastery during Holy Week of 1999, he gave obediences on where to build everything and how the monastery should look. Geronda Ephraim told the abbot to build the main church where the tennis courts are and the trapeza would be where the current monks’ quarters are now built.

The Present-day Chapel of Archangel Michael Madamado (formerly, the Chapel of St. Nektarios)

03

The new chapel—which was formerly a Gaming/Entertainment Room—was finished shortly before the first Feast Day of the Monastery in September 1999. Of course, there was still lots more work to be done, this was only the initial groundwork so it could be used as a Church. The new chapel was originally dedicated to St. Nektarios. During the mid-aughties, Elder Joseph decided to change this and re-dedicated the chapel to Archangel Michael icon of Madamado. This was done for two reasons:

  1. The monastery needed another feast day type event to help generate more income and donations for all the projects that were taking place and will continue to take place.
  2. The large church that has yet to be built will be dedicated to St. Nektarios and it wouldn’t make sense to have two chapels dedicated to the same saint.
The 3D sculpture of Archangel Michael Mantamados, Lesvos, made from the blood of martyrs and mud.
The 3D icon of Archangel Michael Mantamados, Lesvos, made from the blood of martyrs and mud.

The present-day chapel at St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc., Roscoe, NY is dedicated to the Archangel Michael icon of Madamado. So far, it has cost the monastery a couple million dollars to “beautify God’s house.”

Some Aspects in the Construction of the Chapel

The chapel circa 2005, before the bell tower was completed.
The chapel circa 2005, before the bell tower was completed.

In order to do the stone work and add a bell tower, etc. the pre-existing structure needed some foundational reinforcement. [NOTE: The bell tower was originally going to be taller. Before it was completed, Gerondissa Olympiada drove Gerondissa Ephraimia, abbess of the Archangel Michael Monastery on Thassos, for a visit. Gerondissa Ephraimia told Geronda Joseph the bell tower should be lower, so he changed the plans and did obedience to her suggestion].

The monastery hired Joe Valentine—owner of Valentine Construction Company, Inc. in Deposit, NY—to do the work. Joe Valentine’s crew was so impressive, that the monastery would hire them to do the foundation and concrete work of all their future projects. And thus, Valentine Construction’s annual revenue became 1 to 2.5 million dollars.

Fr. Epifanios Kapritsas
Fr. Epifanios Kapritsas

The Valentine crew became very close with the monks at the monastery. When Joe Valentine was in a custody battle for his baby boy, he asked Geronda Joseph if he could testify as a character witness for him in court. Geronda Joseph told him he didn’t know the language that well and it would be difficult for him to testify. However, Geronda Joseph gave Fr. Epifanios the obedience to testify as a character witness, which he did, and Joe Valentine won custody. Geronda Joseph later told the fathers that he didn’t testify for him because if something bad happened later, his name would be attached to it. He also told the fathers, and Joe himself, that he won custody because of all the help he gave to St. Nektarios monastery, etc.

Concrete

According to the Masters Concrete webpage, as of November 23, 2009, Masters Ready Mixed Concrete (Kingsley, PA) has provided approximately 1900 yards of concrete between the two buildings.

Also see an interview with Fr. Epifanios Kapritsas of St. Nektarios Monastery concerning the benefits of Insulating Concrete Forms (ICF’s).

http://www.specifyconcrete.org/project-profiles/view/st-nektarios-monastery

Stone Work

1

The Monastery ordered their stones from a New York State company, Champlain Stone, Ltd. South Bay Quartzite® was the material used for the Chapel’s exterior. It is advertised as: “A quartzitic sandstone with an advancing and receding surface that resembles a windswept and sandy beach. Visually smooth, yet heavily textured with a blend of tan, antique white, ice blue, amber, and brown. South Bay Quartzite® will enhance any home from warm beach cottages to cozy cabins deep in the woods.”

http://www.champlainstone.com/south-bay-quartzite%c2%ae.html

The stone work itself was done mainly by a crew of Ecuadorian stone masons who work for a Greek man named George from New York. The Fathers also helped out with the project. The Ecuadorians’ work was so impressive that they were to be hired for other projects as well. The fathers also respected their ethical work etiquette: “They don’t swear, smoke, and they don’t talk much, just work.” Later, during the construction of the new monks’ quarters, the Ecuadorians experienced a big temptation.

Fr. Raphael (Micah) Andrews of St. Nektarios Monastery, NY [son of Fr. Mark Andrews of Holy Protection Monastery, PA]
Fr. Raphael (Micah) Andrews of St. Nektarios Monastery, NY [son of Fr. Mark Andrews of Holy Protection Monastery, PA]
Father Raphael had stolen a radio from the pick-up truck of a Mexican work crew doing the drywall. As the drywall crew couldn’t imagine a monk stealing their property, the only other suspects were the Ecuadorians. There was nationalistic and heated tension between the crews from that time on. When Geronda Joseph discovered the stolen radio during a routine, random cell check, he was almost ready to call the police on Fr. Raphael. As Geronda Joseph has repeatedly told Fr. Raphael, “If it wasn’t for your father, Geronda Ephraim would have sent you home ages ago!”

Page 12 of the brochure below has pictures of the stonework on the chapel.

Framing/Roofing

06

One of the main crews the monastery uses for framing is JP Construction, Inc., Brooklyn, NY, which is owned by John Paralavos. They were used for the extension of the Chapel, as well as all the other building projects. His crew was given special liberties: they could smoke and get drunk on monastery property. Like the other crews that did jobs at the monastery, the workers would stay overnight and sometimes for an entire week. One of John’s workers was an alcoholic. The abbot would give him a large cup of Metaxa every night as a reward for a good day’s work.

005

The story of how John became close to the monastery is interesting. Shortly after he visited the monastery with his family, the abbot read an article in one of the Greek papers which listed the richest Greeks in America—the abbots and abbesses like to know which pilgrims need “special attention.” When the abbot saw Johns  name  he decided to cultivate and groom him. This is a common practice with most of the wealthy Greeks that visit the monasteries: special treatment, groom and cultivate. The monasteries have a lot of bills and expenses and wealthy donors are a good asset. John Paralavos’ wife had lupus so he was already in an emotionally vulnerable state that could be easily manipulated. Regular blessings with St. Nektarios’ relics, house visits, taking him on a trip to Arizona to meet Geronda Ephraim, etc. also helped.

Geronda Joseph Voutsas, Abbot of St. Nektarios Monastery
Geronda Joseph Voutsas, Abbot of St. Nektarios Monastery

One time, John told one of the monks at St. Nektarios that he was thinking of asking Geronda to do a holy water blessing of his house. This monk told Geronda Joseph just before John and his wife went in for confession—it is a common practice for monastics to relay everything a pilgrim has told them before they go into confession. Geronda Joseph brought it up to them before they could ask and John started hailing him as a holy prophet, which the abbot dismissed. Later, the abbot asked the monk if he told John he had been informed beforehand about John’s desire to ask for the blessing. The monk responded, “No, I didn’t say anything.” The monk was then given an obedience not to tell John that he had told the abbot beforehand. Thus, John could continue to believe that the abbot was a God-inspired prophet who read his heart.

http://www.schmidtswholesale.com/

Stastidia in the Church

The stastidia in the Church were designed and made by the company in Serres, Greece that does all the wood work for Elder Ephraim’s monasteries in North America (chairs in the church, iconostasis’, etc.): Eleftheriadis Bros Sa.

Before the stastidia were made, there were wooden chairs for the pilgrims, and cushioned arm chairs for the monastics. Periodically, some pilgrims would become scandalized that the monks “sat in fancy chairs” while the pilgrims were forced to sit in “less comfortable chairs” or stand. One pilgrim even had the audacity to quote scripture to some of the monks in this regard, “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues…”

Stasidia

Each individual seat cost close to $600, the Bishop’s Throne cost much more. The monastery made a plea letter to raise the funds to cover the cost and mailed it out to the pilgrims on their mailing list. With the help of donations, the monastery was able to cover the cost of the stasidia. The abbot would sometimes state, “It’s the poor people who build this monastery.” He gave a homily to a group of close spiritual children visiting the monastery and related a story:

0

“There was one man in New York who is very rich. He made a comment that he’d donate if there was going to be a plaque with his name stating he donated. The pilgrim told the rich man that the monasteries aren’t like the parishes in the world and don’t do plaques of honor. The rich man replied he wouldn’t give a cent, then. And to his shame, poor women who work hard cleaning toilets and save up money—which they hide from their husbands—gave donations for the entire amount of a stasidia. It’s the pain and sweat of the poor that build the monasteries.”

Address: Serres 621 21, Greece

Phone: +30 2321 078297

http://www.eleftheriadi.gr/

Iconography in the Church

07

George Filippakis of Woodbury, NY, is an artist who specializes in Byzantine iconography. He was commissioned to do the iconography at St. Nektarios Monastery, Inc. His first project was in the Trapeza, and then he did the Archangel Michael Chapel. The cost of the Church’s iconography was quite a few hundred thousands of dollars.

100% Beeswax Candles

23

The candles in the narthex are hand-made from real beeswax by the monks of St. Nektarios with the help of various pilgrims. Originally they were manually dipped by hand. In 2008, Geronda Joseph decided to order a $20,000 candle-making machine from Greece which would do most of the work for the monks.

The beeswax was originally bought from a company in Babylon, NY. Geronda Modestos offered Geronda Joseph his contact in China, where they bought “100% pure beeswax” for $1/lb., however, it had a funny smell. Though pure beeswax is expensive, and the prices increase yearly due to the high death rate of bees and hive collapses, the recycling of used candles from the narthex in the candle-making process helps cut the costs.

http://www.spwax.com/

22

St. Nektarios was one of the last of 8 monasteries to be established in the year of 1998 via the blessing of then Archbishop Spyridon (2 in Florida, 2 in North Carolina, 1 in Texas, 1 in Michigan, 1 in Illinois and finally the 1 in NY). 1998 was a busy year for Elder Ephraim having to oversee the establishment of 8 new monasteries in less than 12 months, which his disciples state is further proof of his sanctity.

As two other monasteries have feast days in November, the Brotherhood decided to celebrate their main feast day on September 3, the day of the translation of the relics of St. Nektarios. This can ensure that each monastery can still attract peak numbers of visitors for their individual feast days, as well as allow the monks or nuns from those monasteries to travel to each others’ feast day celebrations.

The monastery has grown to over 20 monks with only a few monks having left in its 15 years of existence.

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

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Orthodox Monks Don’t Experience Rigor Mortis?

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

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

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

SOME OBSERVABLE AND PROVEN FACTS ABOUT RIGOR MORTIS

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT IS RIGOR MORTIS?

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

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

gerontissa efpraxia

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

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

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

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

 INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT RIGOR MORTIS

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

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

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

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

MONASTIC FUNERALS

Schema Monk Constantine Cavranos
Schema Monk Constantine Cavranos

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

Constantine2

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

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

Persistent Frontal Suture Once Again Misrepresented as an “Orthodox Miracle” and “Testimony of Holiness” (Geronda Evdokimos of St. Savvas Lavra)

On the website Apanta Orthodoxias, there is an article displaying the picture of a monk’s skull with persistent frontal suture. This article states that this “sign of the cross” is a miracle and testifies to the holiness of this monk. This is similar to the misinformation “miracle” stories taught to pilgrims at Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries—i.e., that persistent frontal suture is a miracle exclusive to orthodoxy and occurs only to priests (or, depending on who is telling the story, only priest-monks or only priest-monks on Mount Athos). As stated in a previous article, Persistent Frontal Suture is found all over the world. Many times the skulls belonged to people who were non-Orthodox and even non-Christian. See: https://scottnevinssuicide.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/persistent-frontal-suture-a-miracle-exclusive-to-orthodox-clergymen/comment-page-1/ Furthermore, many female adult skulls also have Persistent Frontal Suture (thus ruling out the “only Orthodox Priest” theory). It is not an “Orthodox miracle,” nor does it represent “sanctity.” Though uncommon, it does occur throughout the world in both female and male non-orthodox populations. Just because a monk states Persistent Frontal Suture is an orthodox miracle doesn’t validate it as a miracle; it is inaccurate and misleading:

Skull of an orthodox martyr with Persistent Frontal Suture.
Skull of an orthodox martyr with Persistent Frontal Suture.

The website states:

“Fr. Ignatios look at the cross that has been created on top of the holy skull of the righteous monk! This cross declares the holiness of the martyr!!!”

Skull of an orthodox martyr with Persistent Frontal Suture.
Skull of an orthodox martyr with Persistent Frontal Suture.
Non-Orthodox  Brazil Complete metopic suture (arrow)
Non-Orthodox Brazilian Skull Complete metopic suture (arrow)

In our Exarchate in Cyprus, we left the holy skull of an anonymous saint, from the “Martyrdom of the 44 Holy Sabaite fathers, monk-martyrs of the Great Lavra of St. Sabbas the Sanctified, massacred by the Saracens (Blemmyes) (610 or 614). The blessed Patraiarch of Jerusalem, Theophilus gave the order for the holy skull to remain there forever. He gave the command to Fr. Evdokimos, the spiritual father of the Holy Monastery. While we were already in Cyprus in the Exarchate, we celebrated a holy vigil in memory of the Holy Martyrs on May 16th. It was so peaceful and compunctionate.

Skull of an orthodox martyr with Persistent Frontal Suture.
Skull of an orthodox martyr with Persistent Frontal Suture.
Non-Orthodox South Indian Skulls with Persistent Frontal Suture
Non-Orthodox South Indian Skulls with Persistent Frontal Suture

Fr. Evdokimos had left with His Beatitude for the Holy Land, and before leaving he told me, “Fr. Ignatios look at the cross that has been created on top of the holy skull of the righteous monk! This cross declares the holiness of the martyr!!!”

Patriarch Theodosios & Geronda Evdokios (wearing cross).
Patriarch Theodosios & Geronda Evdokios (wearing cross).

http://apantaortodoxias.blogspot.ca/2014/05/blog-post_8992.html

According to Geronda Evdokimos’ statement, these skulls of non-Orthodox men and women with Persistent Frontal Suture from India, Thailand and Brazil can be assumed to declare their holiness and sanctity. Based upon Geronda Evdokimos’ teaching, these skulls of non-orthodox men and women are “holy relics.”

Persistent Frontal Suture in Northeastern Thai Adult
Persistent Frontal Suture in Northeastern Thai Adult

As explained in a previous article, frontal suture is a dense connective tissue structure that divides the two halves of the frontal bone of the skull in infants and children. It usually disappears by the age of six, with the two halves of the frontal bone being fused together. It is also called the metopic suture, although this term may also refer specifically to a persistent frontal suture. In some individuals the suture can persist (totally or partly) into adulthood, and in these cases it is referred to as a persistent metopic suture. The suture can either bisect the frontal bone and run from nasion to bregma or persist as a partial metopic suture (see image of frontal bone) (where part of the suture survives and is connected to either bregma or nasion) or as an isolated metopic fissure. Persistent frontal sutures are of no clinical significance, although they can be mistaken for cranial fractures. As persistent frontal sutures are visible in radiographs, they can be useful for the forensic identification of human skeletal remains. Persistent frontal sutures should not be confused with supranasal sutures (a small zig-zag shaped suture located at and/or immediately superior to the glabella).

More non-orthodox skulls with Persistent Frontal Suture
More non-orthodox skulls with Persistent Frontal Suture
Non-orthodox skull with Persistent Frontal Suture
Non-orthodox skull with Persistent Frontal Suture

Incidence of Metopism in Different Ethnic Groups

Persistent Frontal Suture Sources

The incidence of the metopism and difference in shapes varies by races.

Persistent Frontal Suture: A miracle exclusive to Orthodox Clergymen?

NOTE:  The frontal suture is a dense connective tissue structure that divides the two halves of the frontal bone of the skull in infants and children. It usually disappears by the age of six, with the two halves of the frontal bone being fused together. It is also called the metopic suture, although this term may also refer specifically to a persistent frontal suture. In some individuals the suture can persist (totally or partly) into adulthood, and in these cases it is referred to as a persistent metopic suture. The suture can either bisect the frontal bone and run from nasion to bregma or persist as a partial metopic suture (see image of frontal bone) (where part of the suture survives and is connected to either bregma or nasion) or as an isolated metopic fissure. Persistent frontal sutures are of no clinical significance, although they can be mistaken for cranial fractures. As persistent frontal sutures are visible in radiographs, they can be useful for the forensic identification of human skeletal remains. Persistent frontal sutures should not be confused with supranasal sutures (a small zig-zag shaped suture located at and/or immediately superior to the glabella).

 

Human Baby Skull, anterior view.
Human Baby Skull, anterior view.
Adult human skull, showing the metopique suture ( in red ), which usually is no longer visible after two years old. This skull an archeological artifact from Aisne (France)
Adult human skull, showing the metopique suture ( in red ), which usually is no longer visible after two years old. This skull an archaeological artifact from Aisne (France)

The “Miracle” Story

A persistent story told in the monasteries concerns a “great miracle that only exists in Orthodoxy:” all priests have a frontal suture on their skull that extends down to the top of their nose and in deacons this frontal suture only extends half way down. This is claimed to be a miracle because the adult human skull is not suppose to have a frontal suture. Fr. Germanos Pontikas, an Athonite monk from Filotheou Monastery who is the second-in-command at St. Nektarios Monastery in NY explains:

Fr. Germanos  of St. Nektarios Monastery, NY.
Fr. Germanos of St. Nektarios Monastery, NY.

“During the ordination of a deacon, this new frontal suture appears and extends halfway down the front of his skull. Later, when he is ordained a priest, it extends all the way to the top of his nasal cavity. The lines [i.e. sutures] now form a perfect cross on the skull of a priest. In disorganized charnal houses, priests can be identified by this frontal suture. Also, when the Church exhumes a body, this is one of the indicators they can use to determine if the person was ordained or not. One time, I had to leave the Holy Mountain and go to the doctor in Thessaloniki. I had mentioned this miracle to him and he replied, ‘Ah, that happens to one in a hundred thousand people all over the world, it’s not a miracle.’  I then asked him, ‘Well, how did those people all end up on Mount Athos and ordained priests?’”

Στο Οστεοφυλάκιον Κυριακού Σκήτης Αγίας Άννας
Hieromonk Panteleimon has a frontal suture, Hieromonk Gabriel does not (St. Anne’s Skete)

 

Only for the Orthodox?

Another monk who explains this miracle states, “After the Great Schism, this miracle ceased to occur in the Roman Catholic Church which is also another proof that they do not have the Grace of the Holy Spirit, nor the Grace of Ordination. The relics of Western saints who were ordained before the schism have this frontal suture, after the Schism, it is nowhere to be found.” However, many of the post-Schism charnel houses in western Europe contain skulls with a frontal suture–and just like the charnel houses on Mount Athos,  some are priests, some are not.

Painted skulls, found in the charnel house in Hallstatt, Austria. The back skull has a frontal suture.
Painted skulls, found in the charnel house in Hallstatt, Austria. The back skull has a frontal suture.

There is a grey area in the telling of this tale. Not everyone can agree on whether it is all ordained priests, just priest-monks, or only those ordained on Mount Athos. Pictures of charnel houses on Mount Athos do reveal various skulls with a frontal suture, though the skulls are not always marked to determine if it is in fact an ordained monk or not. Furthermore, this miracle is not mentioned by any of the Church Fathers, nor contemporary Elders and Saints. One cannot find it in any of the books written about Mount Athos in the last century. It has been transmitted here from Mount Athos via Geronda Ephraim’s monastics, but is virtually unknown in other parts of the Orthodox world.

Simonopetra Charnel House.
Simonopetra Charnel House.

Persistent Frontal Suture Well-Documented in the Medical World

Figure 1- Brazil Complete metopic suture (arrow). Figure 2 - Brazil Incomplete metopic suture (arrow).

The 2 skulls above are from Brazil. The skull on the left has a complete metopic suture (Orthodox priest?) and the skull on the right has an incomplete metopic suture (Orthodox deacon?)

This phenomenon, however, is documented in the medical world and is known as persistent frontal suture. Furthermore, in medical research journals, there are numerous photos of skulls from Africa, Brazil, India, Mongolia, Thailand, etc., with complete and incomplete persistent frontal suture. Furthermore, many of these skulls have the yellowish coloring that is also suppose to be a miracle only found in orthodoxy indicating holiness or sanctity.

Non-orthodox layman adult skull with Persistent Frontal Suture, forming a perfect  Cross.
Non-orthodox layman adult skull with Persistent Frontal Suture, forming a perfect Cross.

The problem with the “exclusive Orthodox Miracle”

Persistent Frontal Suture is found all over the world. Many times the skulls belonged to people who were non-Orthodox and even non-Christian. Furthermore, many female adult skulls also have PFS. As those who are non-Orthodox are obviously not ordained priests in the Orthodox Church and the Church forbids women to be ordained priests, Persistent Frontal Suture cannot be claimed as a miracle exclusive to clergymen ordained in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Showing pilgrims pictures of Athonite charnel houses containing skulls with PFS does not validate it as an exclusive orthodox miracle, nor does it prove Orthodoxy is the only truth. Telling pilgrims that scientists are baffled and cannot explain this “miracle”—when, in fact, prestigious medical journals around the world are filled with articles about Persistent Frontal Suture in adult skulls—is inaccurate and misleading.

cup 1a cup 1

A rare metopic Tibetan skull bowel. Kapala This rare example has the metopic suture. The lining is silver with a gold wash, and a beautiful matrix turquoise cabochon is mounted inside. Tibet, 19th century.

A) Superior view of the skull showing the metopism, B) Anteroposterior radiograph of the skull showing the complete metopic suture. (CS – coronal suture, SS – sagittal suture, LS – lambdoid suture, MS – metopic suture).
A) Superior view of the skull
showing the metopism,
B) Anteroposterior radiograph of the
skull showing the complete metopic
suture. (CS – coronal suture, SS –
sagittal suture, LS – lambdoid suture,
MS – metopic suture).

Metopic ''Deacon'' (India) Metopic ''Priest'' (India)

Adult skulls from India. The one on the left would be assumed an “orthodox deacon” and the one on the right would be assumed a “orthodox priest.”

REFERENCES:

• A note on the morphology of the metopic suture in the human skull http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15712147
• A rare case of persistent metopic suture in an elderly individual: Incidental autopsy finding with clinical implications (Karnataka, India) http://www.amhsjournal.org/article.asp?issn=2321-4848;year=2014;volume=2;issue=1;spage=61;epage=63;aulast=Vikram
• Autopsy Study of Metopic Suture Incidence in Human Skulls in Western Rajasthan http://www.scopemed.org/?mno=36125
• Imaging in Skull Fractures http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/343764-overview
• Incidence of metopic suture in adult South Indian skulls http://jbsr.pharmainfo.in/documents/vol2issue4/2010020402.pdf
• Incidence of metopic suture in skulls of Northeastern Thai adults http://www.med.cmu.ac.th/journal/fulltext/CMJ_2013_Vol%201-2_No-2_P%2011-16.pdf
• Median Frontal Sutures – Incidence, Morphology and Their Surgical, Radiological Importance http://www.turkishneurosurgery.org.tr/pdf/pdf_JTN_896.pdf
• Metopic suture http://radiopaedia.org/articles/metopic-suture
• Metopism in Adult Skulls from Southern Brazil http://www.scielo.cl/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0717-95022006000100012&lng=en&nrm=iso&a.
• Morphological study of Metopic suture in adult South Indian skulls http://www.academia.edu/6480507/Morphological_study_of_Metopic_suture_in_adult_South_Indian_skulls
• Occurrence of Metopism in Dry Crania of Adult Brazilians http://www.hindawi.com/journals/isrn/2013/158341/
• Persistent Metopic Suture in Various Forms in South Indian Adult Skulls – A Study http://www.ijsrp.org/research-paper-0513/ijsrp-p1719.pdf
• Single Suture Craniosynostoses http://www.thecraniofacialcenter.org/synostoses_treatment.html
• Skulls http://freakmuseum.blogspot.ca/p/skulls.html
• STUDY OF METOPIC SUTURE IN THE ADULT HUMAN SKULLS OF NORTH INDIA http://medind.nic.in/jae/t10/i2/jaet10i2p232.pdf
• Tale of the Taung Child Collapses https://answersingenesis.org/human-evolution/hominids/tale-taung-child-collapses/

Fig 1

Persistent Frontal Suture in Northeastern Thai Adult
Persistent Frontal Suture in Northeastern Thai Adult
Arrow indicating a complete metopic suture. The metopic suture extends from the nasion (A) to the bregma (B).
Arrow indicating a complete metopic suture. The metopic suture extends from the nasion (A) to the bregma (B).

Persitent Full Metopic Suture

Fr. Germanos Pontikas (St. Nektarios Monastery, NY)

Fr. Germanos T. Pontikas of St. Nektarios Monastery.
Fr. Germanos T. Pontikas of St. Nektarios Monastery.

Today is Fr. Germanos T. Pontikas’ name day (i.e. commemoration of St. Herman of Alaska). Born in 1950, he turned 64 last month. Originally from Pennsylvania, he left for Mount Athos in the late 80’s.  He started out at Filotheou Monastery on Mount Athos. He was on the same flight as Demetrios Maroulis from Toronto (now Geronda Dositheos, the abbot of Holy Archangels Monastery in Texas), but because they had an obedience not to tell anyone they were off to become monks, neither of them knew the others’ intentions, despite the continual crossing of paths and chatting, until they reached Filotheou. They became best of friends on the Holy Mountain.

While on Mount Athos, a relative would send pornographic magazines in the mail in an attempt to entice him out of the monastery and return home. Geronda Ephraim screened all the mail, or had a monk screen it for him. Incidents such as this is why the abbots/abbesses screen all the mail that comes in (i.e. open all the monks’ incoming mail to examine contents and read the letters) –it potentially “protects” the monastic from “harmful things” that could trip him up spiritually or entice them to leave the monastery. There are many monks and nuns who’ve had a relative send a manipulative, guilt-tripping letter. If the abbess or abbot had not intercepted it and read it but just handed it to the monastic, it could’ve caused “great harm.” Thus, most of those types of letters are thrown in the garbage before the monk or nun can read them. In the monasteries, only the trusted monastic, if not the heads themselves, collect the mail and it is brought directly to the abbess or abbot. In some monasteries, because a nun or monk went through the garbage and examined the contents from the mail, the abbess or abbot will have their cell attendant dispose of their garbage in a special way so it cannot be examined afterwards.

Fr. Germanos making eggs for the Fathers at Filotheou Monastery
Fr. Germanos making eggs for the Fathers at Filotheou Monastery

If anyone is familiar with how the prison system works, it’s the same concept: an inmate’s letter will be read, and parts that are “potentially harmful” to the inmate’s mental and emotional well-being are blacked out—same concept in the monasteries (the monastic life is also called “voluntary imprisonment” as opposed to the “involuntary imprisonment” of the correctional system).

In the monasteries, if a “problematic” monk or nun sends mail out, it is usually opened and examined first before it is sent: this is in case anything is being sent that doesn’t have a blessing or if the monastic has written anything that isn’t blessed to write about. The above reasons concerning mail examination are also the reason that all novices—and sometimes tonsured monastics depending on the individual—have   their phone calls monitored directly, or with an older monastic standing beside them.

Fr. Germanos explaining the property to a visiting Russian priest (during the Kursk Root Icon visit).
Fr. Germanos explaining the property to a visiting Russian priest (during the Kursk Root Icon visit).

Anyways, back to Fr. Germanos. In 1994, Geronda Ephraim brought Fr. Germanos to Picton, ON (along with Geronda Joseph) to establish the St. John the Theologian Monastery. They have been an inseparable unit ever since, with Geronda as the abbot, and Fr. Germanos as the second in command, though it’s arguable that Fr. Epifanios Kapritsas is second as “he carries half the monastery on his shoulders,” and is Geronda Joseph’s “right-hand.”

While in Picton, Bishop Sotirios was giving the monastery lots of problems. It is said that when they first arrived, a Greek priest from Quebec visited the monastery. He warned them about the bishop because he was “dangerous.” This priest then showed them a binder with photos and articles of a convert, “Monk Martinez,” who “committed suicide.” The priest told them that the RCMP suspected it might not have been suicide and were looking at the Bishop, but didn’t have enough evidence to prove anything.

It is also said that the Bishop gave them a fax machine as a gift but they realized later that it was programmed so that all the faxes going out were also sent to him (people use to do private confessions and get responses for personal matters via fax).

Procession of the Glykofilousa icon during great fire of August 1990. Geronda Dositheos Maroulis (far left); Fr. Germanos Pontikas (far right); Fr. Silouanos Coutavas (middle, holding book up)
Procession of the Glykofilousa icon during great fire of August 1990. Geronda Dositheos Maroulis (far left); Fr. Germanos Pontikas (far right); Fr. Silouanos Coutavas (middle, holding book up)

As time went on, and relations became more strained—the Bishop forbade Geronda Joseph to teach people about toll-houses and ordered him to stop giving out the booklets, he knew there were secret baptisms taking place at Picton but couldn’t prove it, things Geronda said about the Bishop were getting back to him, etc.—Geronda Joseph was informed by someone close to the Bishop to be careful because “you don’t know what he is capable of.” This lady also warned him he shouldn’t leave the monastery by himself. In 1984, as a lay person, Geronda Joseph was ambushed in his car while driving  his spiritual Father, Geronda Ephraim Xeropotamou to Athens. Geronda Ephraim Xeropotamou was murdered in this incident. Geronda Joseph was said to become more hyper-vigilant and take more precautions when going out afterwards.

Eventually, the Bishop was pressuring them to sign over the property to him or the Metropolis. Both Geronda and Fr. Germanos were debating it until one night, it is said that Fr. Germanos saw Elder Joseph the Hesychast in vision, and the Elder told him not to sign. So they didn’t.

Fr. Germanos outside the chapel at St. Nektarios Monastery.
Fr. Germanos outside the chapel at St. Nektarios Monastery.

In the Spring of 1997, they left Canada for good and went down to stay at St. Anthony’s Monastery until they could find new property in New York. They first drove to Brooklyn where they put all their stuff in storage, and then proceeded to Arizona. The Bishop was infuriated because he had no idea (though some people say he exiled them and knew) and started making accusations that they stole money, etc. Geronda Joseph made a rebuttal in the Toronto Greek newspapers. Since then, it is said that Bishop Sotirios has banned him from going to Canada, and it is said he also banned the nuns from the monasteries in Canada from visiting the New York monastery.

In 1998, when Geronda Ephraim was giving multiple homilies to the monks in the Gerondia, and Fr. Germanos was up in New York looking to buy property to establish the St. Nektarios Monastery, Geronda would tell the monks a funny joke:

“I wanted to make a monastery in Alaska in honor of St. Herman. I was thinking to send Germanos up there, but then there’d be all these Germanakis [here Geronda Ephraim stretched his arms out indicating fat] following behind him.” Then all the monks laughed, but it wasn’t out of malice.

Fr. Germanos' patron saint is St. Herman of Alaska.
Fr. Germanos’ patron saint is St. Herman of Alaska.

Also, another funny incident Geronda Ephraim related was the time he sent Fr. Germanos to Holy Archangel Monastery for a little respite. One evening, Geronda Ephraim was driving with Geronda Joseph and decided to call Holy Archangels Monastery. The novice who answered stated Geronda Dositheos was sleeping in his room.* Geronda Ephraim relates that he knew there was no way Geronda Dositheos was asleep with Fr. Germanos in the Monastery. He figured they were out somewhere and called their cellular. He was right, they were out having an ice cream.

In 1999, St. Nektarios Monastery was established, and he has been a pillar and foundation for the functioning of this monastery ever since, despite the severe health problems he has.

Geronda Dositheos Maroulis, abbot of Holy Archangels Monastery in Texas and close friend of Fr. Germanos.
Geronda Dositheos Maroulis, abbot of Holy Archangels Monastery in Texas and close friend of Fr. Germanos.

*NOTE: This is a common rookie mistake that most novices make. Usually when an abbot or abbess doesn’t feel like speaking to anyone, or they don’t want anyone to know where they are, they instruct the person answering the phones, and in some case, the whole monastery to tell people they’re out, or can’t be disturbed, or “I don’t know where he or she is,” etc. However, the #1 rule when Geronda Ephraim calls one of his monasteries is for the monastic to find the abbot or abbess immediately and give them the phone, or tell Geronda Ephraim they are out so he could call them on their cell, or the monastic calls the head to inform them big Geronda called for them.  Geronda Ephraim as first priority over everything. In one of the monasteries, the monk who answered the phone forgot to tell his Geronda that Geronda Ephraim had called and was given 500 prostrations as a kanona, “to help him remember the next time.”

In some cases, “discernment and discretion” is needed when telling an abbess or abbot that Geronda Ephraim was on the phone.

In late 2000, shortly before Geronda Ephraim Dikaios abandoned his position as abbot at Philotheou Monastery, he visited his spiritual father, Geronda Ephraim, in Arizona. Afterwards, he visited St. Nektarios Monastery in New York before returning to Mount Athos. When in New York, the atmosphere amongst the Fathers was very tense since the week leading up to this visit was one of continual yelling, rebukes and chastisements meted out by both Geronda Joseph and Fr. Germanos. Prior to the visit, Geronda Joseph gave the fathers a very stern homily, combined with threats of harsh punishments if any of the monks did or said anything unmonastic in front of Geronda Ephraim Dikaios or the layman he brought along as his personal cook. Geronda Joseph wanted no scandals.

Geronda Ephraim Dikaios & Big Geronda
Geronda Ephraim Dikaios & Big Geronda

About a week before these two visited St. Nektarios Monastery, Geronda Ephraim called New York seeking to speak to Geronda Joseph. That morning, Geronda Joseph had instructed the fathers, “No one is to knock on my door for any reason whatsoever. If anyone calls for me, tell them I’m out of the monastery doing works for the monastery.”  The monk who answered the phone followed this obedience and told Geronda Ephraim that Geronda Joseph was out of the monastery.

Fr. Germanos venerating the Kursk Root Icon
Fr. Germanos venerating the Kursk Root Icon

At the end of the day, when Geronda Joseph asked the monk for the log book and to explain his phone calls/messages, he exploded when he learnt big Geronda had called, he was not informed immediately, and he missed it. The monk was kicked out of Geronda Joseph’s cell while the elder tried to call Geronda Ephraim, who did not answer the phone. The monk who answered the phones was then told how stupid and mindless he was and and rebuked for not having the discernment to understand that he should’ve disturbed Geronda Joseph immediately for Geronda Ephraim’s call. After this verbal chastisement, all the fathers were called for a homily. The monk was rebuked and ridiculed in front of the fathers for his mindlessness and it was clarified to all that Geronda Joseph was to be informed immediately, no matter what the circumstance, when Geronda Ephraim calls.

A week later, during Geronda Ephraim Dikaios’ visit, big Geronda called the monastery asking to speak Geronda Joseph. At that time, Geronda Joseph was speaking privately to Geronda Ephraim Dikaios in the bookstore. The monk went to Geronda Joseph and informed him that big Geronda was on the phone and Geronda Joseph told Fr. Germanos to take the call.

The Gerondia (Head) Table at St. Nektarios Monastery (NY)Immediately afterwards, the monk who answered the phone was severely rebuked and given a huge kanona because he told Geronda Joseph that big Geronda was on the phone in front of a monastic from another monastery. The monk answering the phone was unaware that this visiting Athonite was problematic and not doing proper obedience to big Geronda. He was also unaware that this phone call was a checking up call. This monk was rebuked because Geronda Ephraim Dikaios would now know that big Geronda was checking up on him and that the monks in New York were discussing his personal problems.

The fathers were then instructed that when big Geronda Ephraim called, they were never to reveal it in front of any of Geronda Ephraim’s other monastics because sometimes big Geronda was checking up on these individuals. It could also create jealousy for the other monastic, especially an abbot or abbess, as well as thoughts such as , “Why does Geronda Ephraim call this monastery and not mine,” or “Does he call this monastery more than mine?,” etc.

St. Nektarios Brotherhood at The Russian Synodal Building, NY (2010)
St. Nektarios Brotherhood at The Russian Synodal Building, NY (2010)

The Mauling of a Young Girl at St. Nektarios Monastery, Roscoe, NY (ca. 2000) [Updated]

NOTE: The following information is taken from posts published at http://stnektariosmonastery.tumblr.com/

In 1999, Geronda Joseph Voutsas wanted to have guard dogs for the monastery, similar to St. Anthony’s Monastery. He purchased 4 pure bred dogs from a local breeder; 3 German shepherds and 1 Rottweiler. They were named Chiotes, Duvelis, Roussos and Arapis. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Arapi

Arapi, Duvelis and Rousos.
Arapi, Duvelis and Rousos.

The original plan was to train them and use them as guard dogs because there had been numerous incidents of night time intruders and vandalism on the property.

One Sunday, the novice in charge of walking the dogs, Gregory, took them off their leash so they could run freely. On this particular day, a bus from Astoria was visiting the monastery. The bus organizer, Katerina Koutsoupakis, had brought her 2 young daughters. The girls were playing with other children at the monastery’s playground which was located just past the first pond.

The first pond at St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY. There use to be a small playground and trampoline beside it.
The first pond at St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY. There use to be a small playground and trampoline beside it.

The unleashed dogs ran to the playground and attacked Katerina’s daughter who was about 9 or 10 years old.

This girl was severely mauled—her face, arms, legs, etc. had been bitten, leaving wide, deep gashes. She was airlifted to a hospital in the city and proceeded to go through reconstructive surgeries, skin grafts, etc.

The other children were traumatized by the incident. The news spread through the five boroughs quickly. The monks were instructed they had no blessing to speak about the matter to anyone. If someone asked, they were to respond “I don’t know,” and if they were persistent, then the monk would refer them to Fr. Germanos or Fr. Epifanios.

Shortly thereafter, the young girl’s mother decided to sue the monastery to help pay for the large medical bills which her family could not afford. This action initiated a chain of events that were orchestrated by the monastery to help minimize the potential damage this embarrassing scandal could create.

New York State Police - Division Canine Unit in Cooperstown, NY
New York State Police – Division Canine Unit in Cooperstown, NY

First, a State Trooper from the K9 unit was called in to examine the dogs to see if it could be determined if they were at fault, or if they had any predispositions to this type of behavior. The expert determined that the shepherd with a floppy ear, Duvelis, was a fear biter and most likely the culprit that initiated the attack.

The monastery had to eliminate the evidence so no tests could be done on the dogs’ teeth/bite patterns, etc. Fr. Kassianos and a catechumen from Toronto (who was never baptized and has since fallen away from the Church) were given the obedience to take the 3 shepherds to the local animal hospital and have them put down.

Fr. Kassianos Titonis of St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery in Roscoe, NY.
Fr. Kassianos Titonis of St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery in Roscoe, NY.

The Rottweiler, Chiotes, was given as a blessing to a young man named Stavros in New Jersey. The monks were given an obedience to tell pilgrims that they had given all the dogs away as a blessing. The reason: the monks were unable to properly care for them so the dogs were given better homes.

Next, in order to minimize the monastery’s culpability, two of the older fathers started to coach the novice responsible for the dog incident on what his story would be at the hearing. This would be the ‘official’ story and he had to rehearse it daily with them until he had it memorized.

Fr. Mark Andrews:  spiritual Father of the Drewchin family and  biological father of a rassaphore at St. Nektarios Monastery, Fr. Raphael.
Fr. Mark Andrews: spiritual Father of the Drewchin family and biological father of a rassaphore at St. Nektarios Monastery, Fr. Raphael.

Katerina also started looking for a young girl who witnessed the attack. It was decided an older father would call her spiritual father so he could talk to the girl’s mother, who in turn would talk to the girl. She was essentially given an obedience to say she didn’t know or remember anything from that day if anyone was to ask her about what had happened.

Alexandra Drewchin, one of the witnesses of the brutal mauling, has gone on to become a famous musician. She sings in 2 bands: Eartheater & Guardian Alien. http://alexdrewchin.bandcamp.com/
Alexandra Drewchin, one of the witnesses of the brutal mauling, has gone on to become a famous musician. She sings in 2 bands: Eartheater & Guardian Alien. http://alexdrewchin.bandcamp.com/

During this time period, one of the monks from St. Nektarios, Fr. Philotheos, had to travel to St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence as he had an INS appointment down there (as the Brotherhood had not informed INS about relocating to NY, they were still using the Florence address and the monks without citizenship had to fly back and forth to Arizona for immigration appointments).

Fr. Philotheos did not want to return to New York due to ongoing problems there, and asked Geronda Ephraim if he could transfer to St. Anthony’s Monastery. He relentlessly begged big Geronda to allow this. Big Geronda allowed it and the monk remained at St. Anthony’s.

Katerina interpreted this event as an attempted cover-up, i.e. this monk was sent far away, out of state, so he wouldn’t be called to the hearing to testify, and thus must have been responsible as well.

Katerina talked to Fr. Philotheos when she visited St. Anthony’s to see  Geronda Ephraim for confession. She secretly recorded Fr. Philotheos while conversing with him, in the hopes she could obtain some kind of evidence to help her case. She understood his vague apology and self-reproach as an admission of guilt which further confused things, but was later resolved.

Geronda Ephraim admonished Katerina to drop the lawsuit. She did not obey his counsel.
Geronda Ephraim admonished Katerina to drop the lawsuit. She did not obey his counsel.

Despite Geronda Ephraim admonishing Katerina not to sue St. Nektarios Monastery, she proceeded (keep in mind, Geronda Ephraim’s own words are advice and admonishments are obediences too, the Elder shouldn’t have to say “I command you” or “This is a command.”). Katerina was awarded approximately $650,000.

This settlement was a setback for St. Nektarios Monastery as they had an obligation to pay a $25,000/month mortgage for the first two years of their existence, with the possible penalty of losing the property.

Geronda Joseph Voutsas, Abbot of St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY.
Geronda Joseph Voutsas, Abbot of St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY.

The consensus of the Elders was that Katerina would not enjoy her money and it’d bring her misery as she essentially was attacking St. Nektarios himself via her actions. Also, since she lost big Geronda as her spiritual father, and by extension the monasteries, she had essentially lost or forfeited her salvation.

The first grey tabby at St. Nektarios Monastery (NY) was named Arapi.
The first grey tabby at St. Nektarios Monastery (NY) was named Arapi.

NOTE: Arapi is equivalent to the English word “nigger” and at the monasteries, it is a name reserved for the black animals, or animals with the most black in them. ( http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Arapi )

"Arapis" the black cat at St. Anthony's Monastery in Arizona.
“Arapis” the black cat at St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona.

Geronda Ephraim had a black cat when he lived on Mount Athos with St. Joseph the Hesychast. He named it Arapi and it was one of his favorite cats. Thus, the name now has somewhat of a sentimental tradition and has been transplanted to the North American monasteries. The black cat at St. Anthony’s is named Arapi. Later, when the Geronda Joseph obtained some cats for St. Nektarios Monastery to help with mice control, he named the gray tabby cat Arapis).

Hierodeacon Stephanos Giannakouros feeding the cats at St. Nektarios Monastery.
Hierodeacon Stephanos Giannakouros feeding the cats at St. Nektarios Monastery.

Also see: https://scottnevinssuicide.wordpress.com/category/anti-black-sentiment-in-orthodox-patristics/

Blind obedience: For readers that may not understand, whenever a monk or nun is issued an obedience–and by extension a lay person who is confesses at the monastery–they are expected to do it, without complaints, grumbling, and especially without judging, criticizing or examining the order that is give. Even if the obedience is a ‘sin’, or a crime, etc. the disciple is not accountable for doing it; the one who has given the command will account for it. The disciple is accountable, though, if he/she does not obey. Geronda Ephraim has said in many homilies to his monastics, “On Judgement Day, God will ask a monk only one question: ‘Did you do obedience?’ If the answer is yes, then the monk will go to Paradise. If the answer is no, then eternal hell. This is the mindset monks and nuns live; and if they don’t have it, they struggle to acquire it through prayer, warring their thoughts, and caning themselves.  This is why there is a conspiracy of silence when incidents occur, and it’s also how the monasteries insulate themselves from outsiders. When the whole brotherhood or sisterhood is told, if anyone asks, this is the answer. Even if it is a lie, in the minds of the monks and nuns, they are not lying: they are doing their obedience and gaining crowns for the next life. Their only fear is not executing the obedience properly, by which they could lose their eternal soul if God happens to call them to the next life and they die in disobedience.

It should also be noted that one of the main obediences Geronda Ephraim has given to all the abbots and abbesses (and their second-in-commands) is he does not want scandals, he does not want bad examples from monks/nuns that incite people to talk badly about the monastery, extra special caution when a dignitary visits (many times before a bishop or priest visits a monastery, the Abbot or Abbess will call all the monastics for a pep talk to be on their best behavior, not to do or say anything that will scandalize the special guest), etc. There is a constant need for perfection that is not keeping with reality. And this anxiety of the abbots and abbesses not to sadden Geronda Ephraim is many times transmitted to the monastics.

Fr. Philotheos and Novice Gregory have both left the monastic life, and are now happily married living in the world.