Some Thoughts On Elder Ephraim (Fr. Gregory Jensen)

The following is Fr. Gregory Jensen’s response to Monasticism vs. the Parish,  John & Jo Ann Pantanizopoulos’ letter to the editor of Orthodox News: https://scottnevinssuicide.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/monasticism-vs-the-parish-john-jo-ann-pantanizopoulos/

The response initiated a short dialogue between the two men on an Orthodox forum:

My the Lord bless you.

The Rev. Gregory Jensen is a social scientist specializing in religion and personality theory and a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. (Orthodox Church in America).
The Rev. Gregory Jensen is a social scientist specializing in religion and personality theory and a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. (Orthodox Church in America).
Geronda Ephraim shortly after he was ordained a deacon.
Geronda Ephraim shortly after he was ordained a deacon.

With trepidation I would like to add my own thoughts to this thread on Elder
Ephraim.
First of all I have visited the women’s community found by the elder in Saxonsburg, PA and Dunlap, CA. I also spend 2 or 3 days a year at St. Anthony in AZ. I haven’t noticed anything that I would identify as cultic (by the way, I have a Ph.D. in psychology and religion and have worked with people with cultic and occultic backgrounds). The monasteries are all quite strict in their observance, but are hardly outside the pale of Orthodoxy (or Orthopraxy for that matter).
Is 16 too young to begin to consider a monastic vocation? I don’t think so. At 16 I knew I wanted to be a psychologist and a priest. At 16 people know that wish to be married or go to a military service academy like West Point and make the Army their career. We have a boy in our parish who is just turned 17 and aspires to monastic life. So in principle, no, I don’t think that 19, 18, 17 or even 16 is too young to consider monastic life. I have friends who joined Roman Catholic monastic communities at 18 and they are fine. What I cannot speak to, as either an Orthodox priest or a psychologist, is the particulars of anyone I haven’t meet.
What I would like to comment on is this. As I said, I’ve visited a number of the communities founded (all with the blessing and active encouragement of the local bishops and the generous assistance of the laity) by Elder Ephraim. I am sometimes struck by the great difference between what I experience and observe at the various monasteries and how people respond to Elder Ephraim and how people describe the monastery or the Elder. In some cases, there is on correspondence between my experience and what I hear from people. I’m not sure why this is, but I can say that at least in my experience, both supporters and detractors seem about equally likely to inaccurate reporters.
As a married parish priest (I serve a small, poor GOA mission parish in far northern CA), I am not threatened by monasticism in general or Elder Ephraim’s communities in particular. Rather, I thank God for the monastic life and the positive influence it has been in my life, in the life of my dear Presbyteria as well as the members of my parish. We don’t any of us go around pretending to be displaced monastics exiled to a fallen world. We are none of us super ascetics or crypto-gnostics. What we are is a group of quite ordinary, late 20 century men and women from a variety of backgrounds struggling to live an Orthodox Christian life. We take help and encouragement from many sources, including, but not only, from the witness of our monastic fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters.
I am sorry for the hurt and confusion that some have experienced because of the growth the various monastic communities here in the US. Please forgive me if I have offended you by my words.
+Fr. Gregory Jensen
St. George Greek Orthodox Church
Redding, CA

10/12/99

Fr. Jensen,

You have chosen Christ’s way to preach the Gospels and minister to the people. Why did you not choose to become a monk?
Do you have any children? Have any of them joined a monastery? Will you concur if one of them left without discussing it with you?
At the Ephraim-led monasteries we visited, monastics told us, when asked, that they are there to avoid temptation. Do you concur with such a statement?
What questions did you ask the monastics you visited, if any, to draw your conclusions? Do you have a list of the characteristics of a cult, and did you make an attempt to check it against those in an Ephraim-led monastery? In general based on what did you draw your conclusions that
the Ephraim-led monasteries are not cultic?
We have asked three more priests to answer these questions for us. They never did! We hope that you will take the time to answer them.
John
Dear John,
May the Lord bless and keep you.
First, let me say how sorry I am for the pain that your son’s decision to enter monastic life has caused you.
You wrote/asked:
>You have chosen Christ’s way to preach the Gospels and minister to the people. Why did you not choose to become a monk?

Simply put, I was not called by God to be a monastic. Parish priest are called by God to serve His People in the local parish. This is my vocation, my calling from God. Monastics are called by God to call down mercy for the whole world. This is their vocation.
As a quick aside, I must say that I am confused with what seems to be the general tendency on this thread to confuse priesthood and monasticism. The vocations are different and so the training and tasks for each our different.
> Do you have any children? Have any of them joined a monastery? Will you concur if one of them left without discussing it with you?

My wife and I cannot have children and so I cannot answer your question.
> At the Ephraim-led monasteries we visited, monastics told us, when asked, that they are there to avoid temptation. Do you concur with such a statement?

Yes. Is there something wrong with this statement?
> What questions did you ask the monastics you visited, if any, to draw your conclusions? Do you have a list of the characteristics of a cult, and did you make an attempt to check it against those in an Ephraim-led monastery? In general based on what did you draw your conclusions that the Ephraim-led monasteries are not cultic?

I didn’t ask any questions about to determine if the monastery was a cult. I saw no evidence of cultic behavior.
> We have asked three more priests to answer these questions for us. They never did! We hope that you will take the time to answer them.

+Fr. Gregory
Fr. Jensen,

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Concerning the choice of becoming a priest or a monk, all we tried encourage our son about was that he needed to have all proper education, theological and psychological, and then decide which way to go. As far as the calling goes, he never told us how it happened, but in most questions we asked him about, he referred us to the monk Ephraim. Before he became a novice, he had his first discussion with Ephraim. When our son asked Ephraim’s opinion on whether he should become a novice/monk, Ephraim replied, “You won’t know until you try it.” Is this a calling? When we asked him when he knew he would be ready to take his vows, he said the monk Ephraim would tell him. We then asked him why God wouldn’t “call” him or tell him when he was ready. Our son responded with, “I’m not worthy to speak to God. Only Ephraim and the elders are worthy enough to have a dialogue with God.” If this isn’t following a cult leader, what is? These are the questions that still puzzle us today.
Concerning temptation: We feel that a human is sent to this life by God to be tested and to control his/her temptations in accordance with the Bible. We also feel that whoever handles temptation in accordance with the Bible is one step closer to being worthy of God. Is this not the proper thinking? Was this not Christ’s way when he visited this earth?
We have studied cults and their characteristics and found many similarities to Ephraim’s type of monasticism. If you’re interested in reading these corollaries, please go to the Protection of the Theotokos web site: http://www.pokrov.org and read our story, “Behind the Glass Wall.”
Again, thank you for your response,
John