Ocala, FL – Faithful pilgrams traveled in bus loads from afar on the feast of the Annunciation to worship with Metropolitan Alexios at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Monastery for women and the Panagia Vlahemon Orthodox men’s monastery near Ocala, FL. They left behind the “cares of the world” to grasp a small peek into the lives of Orthodox Christian monks and nuns. This video includes highlights of this special day.
In 2005, Mauricio Herreros published Spiritual Florida: A Guide to Retreat Centers and Religious Sites in Florida and Nearby. This book contains two entries on Geronda Ephraim’s Monasteries in Ocala, Florida: Panagia Vlahernon (monks) and Annunciation of the Theotokos (nuns). Though the author states that he interviewed Fr. Joseph of Panagia Vlahernon for over two hours, there is unfortunately not much content from the conversation recorded in the book. Below are the two entries:
PANAGIA VLAHERNON MONASTERY Williston
Panagia Vlahernon is a Greek Orthodox Monastery located on 140 acres off Highway 318 in Levy County, just south of Gainesville and north of Ocala. The monastery was founded in early 1999 by a group of monks from the Saint Anthony Monastery in Arizona, which in turn had come from the monastery of Philotheou on Mount Athos in Greece. The small monastic community came to Florida with the mission of bringing the pure tradition and uncompromised teachings of the Holy Orthodox Faith to the faithful.
Panagia Vlahernon Monastery is dedicated to the Mother of God and was named after the famous fifth-century Church of Panagia of Blachernae (Vlahernes) in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul). The original church is now destroyed, but several miracles were attributed to it, including the Deposition of the robe of the Most Holy Mother of God. This is when the robe of Mary was brought from Nazareth in the fifth century and placed in the Church of Panagia of Blachernae. This event is commemorated at Panagia Vlahernon Monastery every July. Other important Orthodox feasts are celebrated throughout the year at the monastery. The monks live a simple life dedicated to prayer, work, and service. In the Orthodox monastic tradition daily liturgies and vesper services are very important, as are fasting, confession, and communion.
The first thing that caught my attention when I arrived at the Panagia Vlahernon Monastery was the sight of two monks working outside in the midday summer heat. Dressed in a black tunic and wearing a straw hat, one of them approached. Father Joseph greeted me and went out of his way to make me feel at home. Although I explained to him that I am not an Orthodox Christian, he showed me around and spent almost two hours describing the Orthodox monastic life and answering my questions. He was most friendly and invited me to return for a longer visit. Talking with Father Joseph helped me realize how valuable monasteries are in keeping alive the spirituality of the faith.
The area surrounding the monastery is very rural, with gentle slopes and farms. The monastery church and buildings are not visible from the outside road. As you turn into the main entrance you will pass the monastery sign. The narrow road winds around for about a quarter of a mile before you see the monastic buildings. There is a pond on the left and a big two-story house ahead. This is the monks’ residence. The church and other buildings are located further up past the house. The grounds are very picturesque with live oaks, benches, and open meadows giving a welcoming park like atmosphere. The monastery church is small but very beautiful with a great aura of peace, a true spiritual treasure. Next to the church are the refectory (dining area) and the bookstore. The bookstore has a large selection of religious icons, articles, and books in both Greel and English. The overnight guesthouse is situated to the right of the church. It has a small living room, bathroom with shower, and several single beds. It is air-conditioned and comfortable. There is no TV. There is no fee for overnight stays, which include room and board. Donations are accepted but not required. Overnight retreats are primarily for men and families. Because space is limited, pre-arrangements are required. Contact the monastery with plenty of advance time if interested in staying overnight.
During services in the monastery church, men sit on the right side and women sit on the left side of the church. When visiting the monastery you are asked to adhere to the dress code. All guests should be modestly dressed. Men should wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, no shorts or T-shirts. Women should wear a head scarf and a dress that covers the knees, no shorts, mini-skirts, or low-necked blouses. Ask the monks when in doubt.
Panagia Vlahernon Monastery is opened daily for visits.
DIRECTIONS AND INFORMATION
Panagia Vlahernon Monastery’s address is 12600 W. Highway 318, Williston, Florida 32696. The monastery is located on Highway 318 about 5 miles west of the I-75 exit. The entrance is on the south side of Highway 318.
SOURCE: Mauricio Herreros, Spiritual Florida: A Guide to Retreat Centers and Religious Sites in Florida and Nearby, Pineapple Press Inc, 2005, pp. 17-20
ANNUNCIATION OF THE THEOTOKOS MONASTERY Reddick
Annunciation of the Theotokos is a Greek Orthodox monastery for women located off Highway 225 in Reddick (Marion County). The Annunciation of Theotokos Monastery was established in 1998 by a group of nuns under the auspices of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. The sisters trace their spiritual roots to the Holy Monastery of St. John the Forerunner in Serres, Greece. This historic thirteenth-century monastery became a convent in 1986 and is a very popular pilgrimage site.
The Annunciation of Theotokos Monastery is situated in an area of much natural charm with green fields and horse farms nearby. The monastery church and buildings are set far away from the main entrance. Follow the signs along the peaceful road to the monastery. The guesthouse is located on the right about halfway between the entrance and the monastery. The grounds are well kept with flowers and many trees. The monastery building is at the end of the paved road. The icons in the small chapel are very beautiful. There is a bookstore that sells religious articles, music, books, and high quality incense made by the sisters.
The Greek word Theotokos means “Mother of God,” and the monastery is dedicated to her. Every year in March the Annunciation of Theotokos feast is celebrated at the monastery. Many monks and nuns from other monasteries, as well as lay people, come to this event. The nuns follow a strict schedule of daily of daily prayers, liturgy, and services. Overnight stays are available but are limited to women. These must be prearranged. The monastery is open daily to visitors.
When visiting the monastery proper attire is required. Women should wear a head scarf and a dress that covers the knees; no shorts, mini-skirts, or low-necked blouses are permitted. Men should wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants; no shorts or T-shirts are allowed. When in doubt, ask the nuns.
DIRECTIONS AND INFORMATION
Annunciation of the Theotokos Monastery’s address is 13486 N.W. Highway 225, Reddick, Florida 32686. The monastery is located a few miles west of I-75, between Gainesville and Ocala. The entrance is on the north side of Highway 225.
Below is a series of newspaper articles concerning the first years of the 2 Ocala monasteries: Panagia Vlahernon (monks) and Annunciation of the Theotokos (nuns). The male monastery has had a lot of difficulties and changeovers since its start. Originally, Deacon Chrysostomos was sent with two other monks from Arizona. Due to heavy humidity and other unbearable conditions of Florida State, novices kept being sent back and forth from Arizona because it was unendurable. Fr. Joseph, one of the original monks, also had a very serious accident with a table saw (he was talking with someone while cutting and his rassa, which wasn’t rolled up, got caught in the saw and pulled him in, slicing up a large part of his arm). These articles cover the time when Fr. Chrysostomos was the abbot, and Fr. Philotheos and Novice Yianni were sent from Arizona. This is shortly before Geronda Ephraim sent Fr. Modestos to Florida which created a period of tension and arguments on who actually was the Geronda of the monastery, etc. Anyways, Fr. Modestos stayed on as the abbot, and Fr. Chrysostomos went back to Arizona for a brief period before until Geronda Ephraim could find a place for him. He was eventually sent up to the Chicago monastery to help Gerondissa Melanie with services.
Monastery Gets Zoning Approval (Lakeland Ledger, December 10, 1998, p. B1) By Tom Palmer A 100-seat sanctuary and dormitory for 50 monks will be built near Alturas.
Bartow—Florida’s second Greek Orthodox monastery was approved Wednesday for a 120-acre site in a rural area near Alturas.
The facility approved unanimously by the Polk County Zoning Advisory Board will include a building complex that will contain a 100-seat sanctuary and dormitory for 50 monks.
Father Chrysostomos, the project’s representative, said this is one of five monasteries proposed in the United States to expand the denomination’s St. Anthony’s Monastery in the Sonora Desert, south of Phoenix. The only other Greek Orthodox monastery is near Fort Myers, he said.
The site is on Alturas-Babson Park Cutoff Road, overlooking Gator Lake.
Chrysostomos said the monastery buildings would be constructed in typical Byzantine style of traditional monasteries in Greece.
He presented a video at the hearing showing some of those monasteries.
He said the monks would produce candles, incense and other religious items.
No construction date has been set, but Chrysostomos said the complex would overlook the lake. Engineering is under way, he said. The church and dining hall would be the first phase.
The same article, with a different title, Greek Monastery gets Approval, appeared in the Lakeland Ledger, December 10, 1998, p. F1
Seeking a home (Ocala Star-Banner, June 10th, 1999 p. B1) By Joe Byrnes Many residents protest monastery in horse country
REDDICK—New Greek Orthodox communities—a convent for women and a monastery for men—have found little welcome in the heart of horse country.
Three monks and three nuns have asked the Marion County Commission for zoning permits to build their new communities in northwest Marion County.
Many of the horse-farming neighbors, however, have risen in protest. Traffic impacts and the housing required for as many as 50 occupants at each facility are two of their main concerns.
“We think that this is a use that is simply not appropriate for the area,” said John P. McKeever, attorney for a landowner near the convent.
Those against the permits are not opposed to Greek Orthodoxy, which is one of the oldest branches of Christianity, nor to the nuns themselves, he said. “We simply think they’ve chosen the wrong piece of property.”
Fr. George Konstantopoulos, pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Tampa, helped choose the two sites for the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Atlanta. The Ocala area was picked because of its central location, he said. The nuns have been here since August, and the monks since March. The Panagia Vlahernon Monastery, named for a former monastery in ancient Constantinople, is the old Sugarbrook Farm on Country Road 318, seven miles west of Interstate 75.
Annunciation of the Theotokos Convent is nearby, on County Road 225. Its name refers to the New Testament story in which the angel Gabriel tells Mary she will have a son and give him the name Jesus.
Konstantopoulos said he is shocked by the opposition.
Greek Orthodox monasteries, with their focus on prayer and quiet, make good neighbors, he said. “And we also saw so many Christian churches in the area. We felt that this was a religious community and it was a Christian community and the presence of the monastery would be considered as a blessing and not as a threat.”
The County Commission is scheduled to consider the two special use permits at a public hearing at 2 p.m. next Tuesday.
PLEASE SEE MONKS ON 3B
Monks, nuns seeking zoning change (Ocala Star-Banner, June 10th, 1999 p. B3)
The Planning Department and Zoning Commission have recommended approval of the permits, with certain conditions. The monastic communities must follow their site plans, access must be limited to existing entrances and exits, trees along the property line must be maintained, and the number of residents and overnight guests may not exceed 50.
The 80-acre convent and 141-acre monastery would remain agricultural, with hay farming and, perhaps, horses as well.
County staff determined that the monastery and convent were “compatible with the general character of the area” and would not hurt the neighborhood.
The Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association, however, argued against the permits in a letter to Commission Chairman Parnell Townley.
“The association normally does not, as a matter of policy, take sides in a specific planning or zoning controversy, and does not intend to do so by this letter,” wrote executive vice president Richard E. Hancock.
“At the same time, the association is deeply concerned that the ‘preservation of the equine industry’…be weighed carefully in evaluating land use changes sought in the heart of Marion County’s horse farm district. This situation appears to be vastly different than those caused by natural growth patterns.”
One landowner in opposition, Linda Harlow, summoned neighbors to a community meeting with McKeever Tuesday night. Estimates of attendance range from 60 to 90 people.
Harlow pointed out that the area around the convent is generally zoned for agriculture and single-family homes. She compared the convent, with its potential for 50 occupants, to a hotel. She expressed concern about the issues of water, sewer, traffic, and building size.
“We strongly feel that the proposed complex would forever affect the character and beauty of the rural horse farm community that we all love,” Harlow wrote in a letter to neighbors. “This complex (the convent) is designed to house transient individuals on a daily basis.”
“Should they sell the property at a later time, they could sell to any organization, even a CULT!” Harlow wrote.
The monks and nuns showed up Tuesday evening in their long black tunics but were blocked from entering the Fairfield Community Center.
Fr. Chrysostomos—the priest in charge of the monastery—said they wanted to dispel misconceptions about their group and their plans. He added that some neighbors are supportive. Both sides, he said, have been collecting signatures.
Christina Burton-Rodriguez, a charter school principal in Orlando, went to the meeting with the nuns. She and her two daughters had been visiting—praying and helping make incense—at the convent. Burton-Rodriguez was angry at how they were treated.
“Standing beside these gentle Greek nuns, I was embarrassed by the rudeness and close-mindedness of the Americans in the meeting,” she stated in a letter to the Star-Banner.
She is an example of the guests the monastic communities expect. Fr. Chrysostomos said they range from college students to Greek abbots.
“And we have here, on a daily basis, everyday folks, a cross-section of society,” he said. They join the monks or nuns in prayer for about six hours a day, starting at 3 a.m.—and may participate in their duties.
“What we have here are living examples of individuals who have committed their life to a spiritual life,” Burton-Rodriguez said by phone Wednesday. “That’s very inspirational.”
The new Greek Orthodox communities have close ties with 15 other traditional monastic communities that have sprung up in the United States since 1989. They come, ultimately, from centuries’ old monasteries on Mount Athos in Greece. Fr. Chrysostomos described his brotherhood of monks as “a extended but very close spiritually-tied family.”
He and Sister Efraimia, who heads the convent, detailed three phases of gradual development depending on financial support:
• Phase I would involve using the current buildings. The artists’ studio on Sugarbrook, for example, would serve as a monastery chapel. Fencing would be repaired and the paddocks harvested for hay. • Phase II would involve adding onto existing buildings, to create dining halls at both facilities. • Phase III would include new houses, Byzantine churches at each site, formal dining halls, small private chapels in the woods, and cemeteries for monastics and the pious supporters.
Room to grow (Ocala Star-Banner, June 16th, 1999 p. 1A) Board clears way for convent, monastery By Joe Byrnes
OCALA—A Greek Orthodox monastery and convent got the zoning changes they need to grow quietly in northwest Marion County, but not without vocal opposition from their neighbors.
The Marion County Commission heard perhaps six hours of public comment. Neighbors said they worry about resort-like development with tour buses, traffic, water and sewer impact, and changes in the character of their horse-farming community. Supporters of the monastery for monks and the convent for nuns described a quiet, prayerful place, a good neighbor misunderstood by the community.
In the end, commissioners approved the special use permits, but with some restrictions. The 141-acre Panagia Vlahernon Monastery on County Road 318 west of Interstate 75 must maintain a 25-foot buffer near a neighbor’s farm and a 150-foot setback around the property.
It’s limited to 23,000 square feet of monastery buildings.
And there are other restrictions, including a limit on the number of people who may spend the night there.
Overnight quests and residents may not exceed 50.
The 80-acre Annunciation of the Theotokos Convent on County Road 225 near Fairfield was subject to more strict limitations.
Covent buildings were held to 25 acres. The entrance, which is near a sharp curve in the road, must be moved.
PLEASE SEE COMMISSION ON 6A
Commission OKs monastery (Ocala Star-Banner, June 16th, 1999 p. 6A) CONTINUED FROM 1A
Other restrictions included 19,500 square feet of convent buildings and the requirement that the nuns not ring the church bell except between 8a.m. and 8p.m.
Stephanie Gunter, who owns a strip of land surrounded by the monastery, was concerned that the monks’ plans seemed to change constantly.
She presented the commission with large pictures showing the pastoral view out her back door—and that view with a monastery church in the way.
“It’s not a religious issue,” she said. “It’s a land-use issue. It’s a water consumption issue and it’s a traffic issue.”
She said the monastery is inconsistent with the community of single-family homes.
She compared it to the smaller churches already in the Flemington area. It “doesn’t even come close to what those houses of worship look like,” Gunter said.
Jim Gladwell, who owns a 1,150-farm across CR 318, recalled remarks about the monastery lasting longer than the horse farms.
“We’re not talking about something for 10 years. We’re talking about 200 years,” Gladwell said. “This is a long-term huge impact on this community.”
He also called the monastery proposal too vague. “Before you would even consider this,” he said, “we would like to see a much more detailed proposal.”
Ron Love, a neighbor and nursery owner, also opposed the monastery. He cited environmental concerns, among other things, and the monks’ plans to build a dining hall and other large facilities.
“Now elbow room is elbow room,” Love said. “But we’re talking about feeding folks a lot of food, or a lot of folks a little food.”
The 50-person limit on overnight stays wouldn’t be enforceable, Love said. “I guarantee you a code enforcement officer will not sit out there on a Sunday night and say, ‘I’m sorry, you are the 50th guest, you’ve got to go away.’”
Supporters of the monastery and convent talked about their quiet, prayerful lives—and that they would be praying for the community and their neighbors.
The guests, they said, would not be vagrants but business people, professionals and students, people from all walks of life seeking spiritual enrichment.
Mary Nicholson, a member of the Orthodox Church in Silver Springs Shores, welcomed the monastery and convent.
“All of our people are very happy that the monastery and the convent have moved into our area,” she said. “It give us a place to go besides our own property for spiritual uplift.”
Russ Amerling of southeast Ocala urged opponents of the religious communities to consider the spiritual benefits of having them nearby.
“We believe in the power of prayer,” he said. “And we believe having this monastery in Marion County would be very good for the citizens of Marion County.”
Father Chrysostomos, leader of the two communities, said an Orthodox monastery “is not a hotel for public housing.”
“We would not commercialize what we are doing,” he said. The monastery’s main focus is the spiritual life of its monks. Guests are not required to pay but give from their hearts, he said.
“As far as commercial endeavors and tourism, no we don’t do that.”
Letters to the Editor (Ocala Star-Banner – Jun 18, 1999, p. 6B)
I was deeply shocked to read of the opposition by certain groups to the establishing of a Greek Orthodox Monastery in our locality. I wonder if the opposition consider themselves to be “Good Christians”? If so, they need to acknowledge how extremely rude it was to bar representatives of the monastery from a behind-closed-doors meeting.
To suggest that “at a future date the property might be sold—even to a cult!” is inexcusable bigotry. Don’t these people realize the Orthodox Church is one of the oldest branches of Christianity in the world? Its members have built some of the most impressive churches to be found anywhere and their Church of St. Sophia in Los Angeles is one of, if not, the most beautiful buildings in this country.
With the erosion of morality and family values increasing steadily, we should be grateful for the establishment of a symbol of all that is good and wholesome.
I am not Orthodox, but I have lived where they were a sizable part of the local population and I am proud that some were, and still are, valued friends.
So, to all the small-minded people who oppose this godly group, I say, “Put aside your petty bigotry and open your hearts and your arms to these good people. They will enrich the community.”
Eleanor Hollahan, Ocala Bigots? Not!
Your suggestions in Sunday’s editorial that those opposing the Orthodox convent proposed for County Road 225 are “bigots” was both personally offensive to me and just plain wrong about the people I represent.
Your suggestion that there was something bigoted about not inviting the proponents of the zoning change to participate in a meeting held by opponents of the change to organize and determine how to present their case to the County Commission was just plain silly. How often are those who from time to time sue the Star-Banner invited to attend the publisher’s meetings with your attorneys?
Had you taken the time to learn a little bit about the proposals for the monasteries on County Road 318 and the convent on County Road 225, such as the proposed limitation to “only” 100 overnight residents, and 7,000 square feet dining halls at each, you might have understood the opposition to the facilities in a supposed “low density” rural area. In short, the opposition has nothing to do with either religion or the particular denomination involved: It has everything to do with the density and intensity of the proposed uses in a rural area with insufficient infrastructure to support them.
John McKeever, Ocala Peace and prayer
The Star-Banner is to be congratulated on its presentation on June 13, which reaches many readers. It dealt with the topic of ignorance and bigotry in the county, which is downright shameful.
It seems there is a group who were trying to deny the establishment of a monastery and convent for the Greek Orthodox at the Sugarbrook Farm. The religious group has no intention of destroying this area. They just want a place where they can pray in peace.
The editorial is correct and gives evidence of a courageous stance. What is to be feared by the establishment of a prayerful group of dedicated individuals? Those in opposition to this idea need to examine their motives for their position.
In these trying times, we all need to pray more for so many things. I pray that ignorance and bigotry, which is raising its ugly head, be stopped immediately and the establishment of the monastery and convent proceed immediately. There can be no animosity in this case.
Mary Ann Mellema, Marion Oaks Offended
As a resident in the community of Fairfield, I strongly disagree and I am deeply offended by the remarks in the editorial on June 13, regarding the proposed convent on County Road 225.
As a community, we are not against the Greek Orthodox religion, the nuns, priests or their congregation. The issue is that they want to build an approximately 50,000 square feet of structures on this property. One of the buildings will be a dormitory for approximately 50 overnight guests per night. The traffic, water runoff, vendor deliveries on a daily basis going to the 6,500 square foot dining hall and the need for a sewage plant on the property are the community’s concerns.
The Greek Orthodox religion and their followers are not the issue. This newspaper needs to get the facts straight before calling people in our community “bigots.” The last meeting this congregation had on their property consisted of hundreds of people arriving in tour buses and that’s only the beginning. Lloyd McCraney, Fairfield
A debate on an Orthodox Christian forum in 2002 about why the Greek Archdiocese does not keep track of their newly tonsured monks and nuns in the same way it keeps track of its priests:
A. Styl writes:
The Orthodox Observer often lists a “Clergy Update” that lists ordination of deacons and priests, retirement of priests, and new assignments of priests–all good information.
Where is the list of newly tonsured monks and nuns in the monasteries and convents under the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese? Families of these newly tonsured monastics often learn of the tonsuring and the location of their loved one after the fact. If the Archdiocese keeps track of its priests, why are the monks and nuns kept out of the loop? Why the secrecy or even the shadow of secrecy in listing these monks and nuns?
The absence of this list runs parallel with the absence of information about the monk Ephraim-led monasteries on the GO web site or Orthodox Observer. If establishing 16 monasteries within the last 10 years is a tribute to the Church, why is it not highlighted and presented to the people as a model? Because it is not a model of monasticism and because the GO church doesn’t know what to do with this rogue monk. Cults depend on secrecy and isolation in order to survive.
Alex Arnakis: The difference is that priests, deacons, etc., are public functionaries, and therefore the public has a right to know who they are. Monastics, on the other hand, answer to no one except themselves (and their monastic superiors), and thus are entitled to a curtain of privacy.
If the monastics want to cut themselves off from their families, it’s their business. This isn’t to say that doing so is right, because (in my opinion) it violates the Commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother.” The Commandment applies even if the parents are dysfunctional (and we all know how common dysfunctional families are among Greek-Americans).
Because the Ephraimite monasteries are *not* a tribute to the Church; they’re an embarrassment to the Church. The problem is that monastic life for the young is not consistent with the so-called “family values” that the Church is trying to promote.
Ephraim is a fish out of water. If people want to join monasteries, there are plenty of monasteries in Greece that they can go join. Monasticism just doesn’t fit with the ethos of America.
Serge: Perhaps it has to do with monasticism’s origins as something semi-independent of other church instititutions. Isn’t this still at least somewhat true in Orthodox monasticism, where each full-fledged monastery is independent of the others?
Marina: Monastics are not clergy and no such publication exists in Greece or Cyprus, for example.
Cunneen: Alex, I have to take exception to that. On the Catholic side, the Benedictines among others are alive and well in this country. They provide retreat centers and places of silence and peace for the rest of us, which is an important corrective to the ethos of America.
I’m sure that Orthodox monasticism is just as important to American Orthodox.
Alex Arnakis:I should have said “Monasticism in the tradition of Mt. Athos, as promulgated by Elder Ephraim, doesn’t fit with the ethos of America.” I’m sure Roman Catholic monasteries don’t recruit teenagers against the will of their parents, and do other things to split families apart. Nor do they make a personality cult of their abbots, doing such things as drinking their bath water.
The Trappist monks of Holy Cross Abbey (Berryville, Virginia) make some awfully good fruitcake. (BTW, I notice that they don’t accept novices younger than 23.)
Cunneen: All Orthodox monasteries in the U.S. aren’t Athonian, are they? We met monks from a small (monastery?) in Northern California affiliated with OCA; they make icons and do some simple farming. There are only three of them, but they seem very happy and open.
This is at the website for St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence, AZ.
Fr. Ephraim is not being secret. There are several public websites given in the list. Fr. Ephrain travels (insofar as he is allowed to do so) and speaks openly. On the other hand, the efforts at secrecy are coming from those who are trying to suppress monasticism, the heart of our Orthodox Faith, in this country.
Alexander Arnakis: No, there were monasteries before Fr, Ephraim. But he’s the one who sparked the growth, and the controversy.
A. Styl: Yes, there are several public websites, but the Archdiocese’s web site and its newsletter, the Orthodox Observer, do NOT list him or his monasteries’ activities. Those of us who want to expose the monk Ephraim and his cult are not against monasticism within the Church. There is monasticism and then there is monasticism, the Ephraim-type that requires secrecy and deception. The term of “salvific deception,” which allows one to lie in order to preserve one’s salvation is touted to the novices and tonsured monks/nuns. In other words, it’s ok to deceive others in order to preserve and further your own salvation and your monastic community. The guardians of our faith are allowed to lie?
I have attended several GOA National Clergy-Laity Congresses over the past decade, and the Fr. Ephraim monasteries have been a great source of private debate. When they have been brought out at public meetings, the GOA hierarchs clearly have admonished those present that they consider these monasteries under their jurisdictions, but for some reason or another, they have little or no control over what occurs there. Metropolitans will visit these monasteries on occasion, but other than that there appears to be little or no control exterted by them. The GOA drafted some regulations concerning these monasteries, but I am not sure what happened to them.
In the meantime, the GOA over the years has established several monasteries of its own, which are clearly included on their web site. I have visited non-Ephraim and Ephraim monasteries (two Ephraim monasteries are in my area, with one may be housing a young man whose recruitment was and still is a major source of controversy.) The non-Ephraim monasteries are open and warm, the Ephraim ones secretive and furtive in nature. The monk (within one year of joining was tonsured!) in question avoided contact with the general public during my visits. The monks and nuns of the GOA monasteries behaved differently. While rumors swirl about how the Ephraim monasteries operate and how they recruit youngsters to become monks, no such rumors swirl around the GOA formed monasteries, nor of any other monasteries of other canonically recognized Churches in the USA.
The Ephraim monasteries are organized around Fr. Ephraim, all 16 or so of them. True monasteries are organized around a single abbott, not multiple monasteries organized around a single abbott. And Ephraim himself has jurisdiction hopped when it has suited him to do so, and how and why he left Mt. Athos has never been disclosed or explained. Many insist that he left Mt. Athos because he was on the verge of being booted out over some unusual behavior and teachings. Again, there is no way of verifying this, and until there is proof offered, at best they are rumors that just keep on persisting.
You know the old expression, where you smell smoke, there must be fire? In the Ephraim monasteries, the “smoke” smell is clearly evident.
Peter A. Neenan: Contrary to American ethos? Tell that to the Benedictines!
Catherine Hampton: Please present the evidence that this term is used and taught by Archimandrite Ephreim and others in his group….
I’m a former member of a religious cult (a Protestant based cult) who has no problem accepting that an Orthodox group could also fall into this particular sin. (I’ve seen it happen.) However, I also have no problem believing that, for political or other invalid reasons, a group of people might accuse a particular monk or leader of cultism when they are not actually guilty of it.
So far, the evidence I’ve seen about Archimandrite Ephreim is equivocal, and not terribly well supported.
If there is real evidence of genuine cultlike behavior (as teaching the doctrine you cite above would be), I’d like to hear it, and see it posted. But it should be real evidence — the testimony of multiple witnesses, a sound recording in the voice of Archimandrite Ephreim, a document written by him that he acknowledges or that can be proved to have come from him, etc.
Otherwise, I’m going to assume that the war we all observed within the Greek Orthodox Church in America is continuing, and that a partisan in this war is engaging in propaganda to sway our opinion for reasons that have nothing to do with the guilt or innocence of the person he’s accusing.
That’s interesting information… You know, somebody really should gather together these stories, interview the people involved, and post it in one location. Over five years ago, I and another former member of a cultish Protestant group did this. It proved useful to a huge number of people who had been members of or otherwise were affected by the group, people whose very existence we didn’t suspect and most of whom didn’t realize that others had had the same experiences they did.
The advantages of getting specifics into the daylight — names, dates, first-hand testimony, and analysis by outsiders who do not have an axe to grind — is hard to overstate. Maybe you could start something like this?
Seth Williamson: Correct me if I’m wrong, but as I understand it, the kid was old enough to join the armed forces without parental consent. Then why can’t he become a monk?
Cunneen: Reading accusations and waiting for evidence seem to be two of the major activities of this newsgroup. We get a lot of both.
That’s what makes unsupported accusations so evil; puff up enough smoke and people begin to believe there’s a fire because you said so. That’s essentially the method of propaganda: make an accusation often and loudly.
Atstaves: Hi Catherine. Try going to http://www.pokrov.org/. There are extensive articles on the Ephraim monasteries for anyone to review, including a few articles by an Archbishop who has taken exception to several of their teachings and has written articles setting the record straight.
Baseless rumor and its smoke will usually dissipate within a short period of time. With the Ephraim monasteries, after a decade, the smoke just never seems to go away.
Go to http://www.pokrov.org/ and read all about them along with an Archbishop’s response over two or three articles contradicting Ephramite teachings. You will get a better idea of what some of us are talking about.
I wish it were just idle rumor.
Regards, Louis Geo. Atsaves
A. Styl: Catherine, you want real evidence? So do we! Those families, except for the one in Tennessee, hesitate to speak out for two reasons: 1) ostracism from their parish (questioning the Ephraim-type of monasticism is not encouraged or translates into condemnation of all types of monasticism) and 2) isolation from their loved one inside an Ephraim-led monastery or convent as evidenced from the young Fr. Theologos and his self-isolation from his family. Letters are written and calls are made to Church heirarchs but nothing is done to set up guidelines or counseling. The secrecy of the whole thing is mind boggling! This power of spiritual dependence is so strong that parishes and priests fear speaking out because the Ephraimites idolize their “spiritual father”-the monk Ephraim. Families don’t want to be labeled as troubled or dysfunctional because their loved ones joined a cult. These families feel shame and guilt. As a former member of a Protestant cult, you could appreciate this I’m sure. We hear from these families but we cannot reveal their names for the sake of their privacy.
Please go to the following web sites for more information and “evidence” from personal testimonies, newspaper articles, and reports on Ephraim’s views on marriage and aerial toll houses, etc. from the Ukrainian Orthodox Archbishop Lazar Puhalo. Other than a few things on the Orthodox News web site (www.orthodoxnews.com,) we can’t lead you to more “evidence” other than these: