NOTE: Though Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries have not yet had the kind of homosexual/pedophile scandals that some of the other monasteries on American soil have experienced—something which the monasteries pride themselves on and attribute to the virtue of blind obedience and Geronda Ephraim’s saintliness—this does not mean they are immune, nor does it mean that certain of his monks and nuns do not struggle with these passions. One of Geronda Ephraim’s monks, who suffers from these passions and was/is potentially dangerous, was allowed to remain in the monastery due to his father being a priest for one of Geronda Ephraim’s nunneries. The Abbot gave certain monks an obedience to immediately report to him if they saw this monk talking to young boys, especially a particular boy who was a spiritual child of this monk’s father. This monk was banned from cleaning the male guest quarters (he had a problem with stealing deodorant, articles of clothing, watches, alarm clocks with am/fm radio and other contraband, as well as a sniffing fetish). There were other minor precautions also taken. However, the fact of the matter remains that there was a potentially dangerous predator allowed to mingle amongst the pilgrims, at times freely and unchecked. Usually, a monastic with these problems—whether male or female—would be sent home by Geronda Ephraim (as was his protocol in Greece). In this case, this monastic had a free pass due to his father being one of Geronda Ephraim’s lay priests at a female monastery. Below is a compilation extracted from various articles dealing with homosexuality and orthodox monasticism:
In Orthodoxy, though technically homosexuality should not be an obstacle to entering the monastic life, usually those who suffer and are defeated by such tendencies do not receive a blessing to enter into one of Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries. Time and experience has revealed that this passion can greatly disrupt a monastery—either female or male. Some men who’ve had practised homosexuality, then repented and started having a desire for the monastic life, were denied and advised that it would be better for them to get married and struggled in the world because they would have to difficult a time in the monastery due to their passions. Another young man tried out as a sub-novice but could not overcome his homosexual thoughts and inclinations and was sent home.
Advice for struggling against homosexuality is not uncommon in the patristic collections such as the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, and the Questions and Answers of SS. Barsanuphius and John. Back then, whether the carnal inclinations were heterosexual or homosexual didn’t really matter – monastics struggled to remain chaste, regardless of their inclinations. It should be noted that having homosexual thoughts does not make one a homosexual; this is considered something quite different than having an actual sexual attraction and inclination towards the same sex. It is taught that often the demons will present images and fantasies of things that the individual normally would never dream of, in order to trip them up. This happens mostly in the novitiate when the individual is not too “experienced in the art of warfare.” However, by the time a person is a rassaphore, they are expected to be able to struggle, fight and overcome these kind of temptations and not give into them.
Fr. Seraphim Rose is a perfect example. In 1956, Rose came out as a homosexual to a close friend from college after his mother had discovered letters between him and Walter Pomeroy, Rose’s friend from high school. He ceased his homosexual activities after accepting Orthodoxy, eventually ending a relationship with Jon Gregerson, a Californian of Finnish ancestry whom Rose had met in 1955 while attending Watts’ academy, and who had become his partner.
Some of the Athonite monks that Geronda Ephraim brought here have hinted during talks that there was homosexual activity going on at St. Herman’s Monastery while Fr. Seraphim Rose was alive. Though they would not divulge in specific details, they would only say that certain monk(s) from Filotheou had visited there [as laymen before they went to Mount Athos] and witnessed things with their own eyes. These were the kind of stories told to some of the monastics who esteemed Fr. Seraphim Rose “too much” and needed to understand that “Fr. Seraphim Rose wasn’t even worth one of Elder Ephraim’s pinky fingers” let alone holy or a saint.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the jurisdiction of Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, teaches: “The position of the Orthodox Church toward homosexual acts has been expressed by synodicals, canons and patristic pronouncements from the very first centuries of Orthodox ecclesiastical life. In them, the Orthodox Church condemns unreservedly all expressions of personal sexual experience which prove contrary to the definite and unalterable function ascribed to sex by God’s ordinance and expressed in man’s experience as a law of nature. The Orthodox Church believes that homosexual behavior is a sin. In full confidentiality the Orthodox Church cares and provides pastorally for homosexuals in the belief that no sinner who has failed himself and God should be allowed to deteriorate morally and spiritually.” http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/controversialissues
In the monasteries, lay people who have participated in same sex sins, depending on the act, can receive up to a ten year or more penance of no Holy Communion. In some cases, when a lay person is an “active homosexual with no desire to change”, an Abbot will warn his monastics about the individual and tell them to be careful around him because “it could be dangerous.”
The Church Fathers are clear on the dangers of exposing oneself to the object of one’s passionate desire. Some well meaning, but misguided clinical and pastoral approaches to adjusting to a homosexual orientation are to establish same-sex friendships. This flies in the face of the wisdom of the Church Fathers and scientific research psychology. Returning to the heterosexual example, St. John Cassian stated that:
The way to keep guard over our heart is immediately to expel from the mind every demon-inspired recollection of woman — even of mother or sister or any other devout woman — lest by dwelling on it for too long the mind is thrown headlong by the deceiver into debased and pernicious thoughts. The commandments given by God to the first man, Adam, told him to keep watch over the head of the serpent (cf. Genesis 3:15), that is, over the first inkling of the pernicious thoughts by means of which the serpent tries to creep into our souls. If we do not admit the serpent’s head, which is the provocation of the thought, we will not admit the rest of its body, that is, the assent to the sensual pleasure which the thought suggests-and so debase the mind towards the illicit act itself” (Philokalia I).
The monastic rule of St. Joseph Volotsky warned against homosexual temptation as well as outlined in the ordinances that guided the governing of monasteries. For example, one rule stated: “…it is not proper for beardless boys to live in the monastery and concerning other necessary causes,” clearly a recognition that some monks struggled with same-sex desire, and by prohibiting young boys from monastic life, tempation would be easier to manage. Other counsels include: “In wanting to be saved, therefore, let us move far away from them as from a flame. Let us not turn towards them in a house or in a place where no one sees us. Let us sit far away from them on benches … lest in some way looking in their faces, we get the seed of lust from the Adversary … Let us not believe the deceitful thought, which suggests to us that this is not tempting” St. Ephraim wrote: “It is a great calamity for boys to be in a coenobium. Even if we converse with them about chastity, we are stabbed in the heart” (Volotsky, Ninth Discourse).
In the 1950’s, behavioral psychologists formulated the “Approach Curve” which measured the strength of attraction within arousal. This techniques replicates the knowledge of earlier Church Fathers discussed above. This basic formulation posits that the closer a person is to a desired stimulus, the stronger his level of attraction. Furthermore, drive (the intensity of the arousal) levels increase the strength of attraction (Dollard and Miller, 1950). Not only do sexual cues elicit arousal, but also the arousal level increases the subsequent attraction of the cues. This becomes a pernicious vicious cycle.
Interestingly, the LGBT community has made a Calendar of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Saints. Though it incorporates saints commemorated in various jurisdictions, they do have few orthodox saints whom they have listed as “transvestite” saints, with the following explanation:
I have treated these saints as a group as their stories are often similar. These are the large number of saints who were famous for their holy cross-dressing. All of these were women, and the stories, largely but not exclusively fictional, generally have them escaping marriage or some other dreaded end by dressing as monks. This is no short term ploy, however. The women then live their lives as men (in direct contradiction to the Levitical Law which calls cross-dressing an “abomination”), some of them becoming abbots of monasteries. In such positions it is hard to imagine that they would not perform roles such as confessor. Their biological sex is only discovered after they die. It is sometimes argued that these transvestite saints did not cross-dress because they wanted to but because they had to, and so calling them “transvestites” is wrong. It is true that we know nothing of the psychology of these women, but when they dressed as man for 20 years and became abbots of monasteries, it is hard to know in what way they were being “forced” to cross-dress. These women chose to live their Christian lives as members of the opposite biological sex – it is fair to see them as “transgendered”. There are no male saints, it seems, who dressed as women (with the possible exception of Sergius and Bacchus, who were forcibly paraded through the streets in women’s clothes). At work here is an old notion that women are saved in so far as they have “male souls”, a repeated term of praise in lives of female saints. These women’s lives do show that the Levitical Law was not determinative in Christian estimations of holiness, and that modern rigid gender categories had much less role in earlier epochs of Christianity than nowadays. These saints found a place in both Orthodox and Roman calendars.
*St. Anastasia the Patrician (or “of Constantinople”)
Interestingly, one of the last books translated by St. Anthony’s Monastery, Hermitess Photini, is about a young woman who dresses up as a man and struggles ascetically and becomes sanctified. Geronda Ephraim really loves this story which is why he instructed to have it translated.
For the orthodox teaching, as well as the monasteries’ fronima on homosexuality, see:
Elder Ephraim: How do they call those who are marrying illegally here?
Interlocutor: Do you mean homosexuals?
Elder Ephraim: Yes them. The Old Testament says: “My spirit will not remain with man because they are flesh.” This applies today. Sodom burned just like a nuclear bomb. Christ does not tolerate such sins. Everywhere the sins of the flesh are worshipped. There is no repentance. The Venerable Mary of Egypt repented. All homosexuals will be eliminated. Everything will become dirt, nuclear, all dirt. The war will begin because of our sins.
Hailed as the greatest Russian writer of the 20th century, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn went from avowed Communist to Gulag prisoner and outspoken advocate for the destruction of the Soviet empire. His writings exploded the myth of the Communist ideology and set the stage for the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Fr. Seraphim Rose greatly respected Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and frequently mentioned him in his writings and talks. In the first edition of Not of This World, we read: “When Aleksandr Solzenhitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago came out in 1974, Fr. Seraphim not only read it, he studied it as a textbook.” (p. 615).
Solzhenitsyn is greatly esteemed in Orthodox circles, primarily in the Russian Church, as well as within convert circles who have been influenced by Fr. Seraphim Rose’s teachings. His books are on the recommended list for Orthodox Christians. In 2003, he published a controversial book which has been banned in some countries, Two Hundred Years Together. It was written as a comprehensive history of Jews in the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and modern Russia between the years 1795 and 1995, especially with regard to government attitudes toward Jews. It is viewed by most historians as as unreliable in both factual data and ideological approach, as well as anti-Semitic. It is hailed as a masterpiece in traditionalist, as well as, nationalist Eastern Orthodox circles.
On Russia and the Jews
Although Solzhenitsyn has often been accused of anti-Semitism, there is sharp division on whether or not the charge is valid. According to proponents, Solzhenitsyn was a Russian ultra-nationalist and anti-Semite in the mold of Fyodor Dostoevsky. Those who reject accusations of anti-Semitism insist that Solzhenitsyn merely held the Jewish people to the same standard of repentance and self limitation as he held other nations.
In his 1974 essay “Repentance and Self-Limitation in the Life of Nations”, Solzhenitsyn called for Russian Gentiles and Jews alike to take moral responsibility for the “renegades” from both communities who enthusiastically created a Marxist-Leninist police state after the October Revolution.
In a November 13, 1985 review of Solzhenitsyn’s novel August 1914 in the New York Times, Polish-American historian Richard Pipes commented: “Every culture has its own brand of anti-Semitism. In Solzhenitsyn’s case, it’s not racial. It has nothing to do with blood. He’s certainly not a racist; the question is fundamentally religious and cultural. He bears some resemblance to Dostoyevsky, who was a fervent Christian and patriot and a rabid anti-Semite. Solzhenitsyn is unquestionably in the grip of the Russian extreme right’s view of the Revolution, which is that it was the doing of the Jews”.
Hungarian-American Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel denied this claim and insisted that Solzhenitsyn was not an anti-Semite: “He is too intelligent, too honest, too courageous, too great a writer.” He added he wished Solzhenitsyn were more sensitive to Jewish suffering, but believed his insensitivity to be unconscious.
In his 1998 book Russia in Collapse, Solzhenitsyn excoriated the Russian extreme right’s obsession with anti-Semitic and anti-Masonic conspiracy theories.
In 2001, however, Solzhenitsyn published a two-volume work on the history of Russian-Jewish relations (Two Hundred Years Together 2001, 2002). A bestseller in Russia, the book triggered renewed accusations of anti-Semitism.
The controversy was fueled by the similarities between Two Hundred Years Together and an anti-Semitic essay titled “Jews in the USSR and in the Future Russia”. According to the historian Semyon Reznik, textological analyses of the essay indicate Solzhenitsyn’s authorship.
Solzhenitsyn responded by saying that the essay was written using manuscripts stolen from him by the KGB forty years before. They were then carefully edited as part of the Soviet State’s “active measures” against him.
Although Two Hundred Years Together has never been published in the United States, long excerpts from it appear in The Solzhenitsyn Reader. The book began with a plea for “patient mutual comprehension” on the part of Russian Gentiles and Jews. Solzhenitsyn explained that the book was conceived in the hope of promoting “mutually agreeable and fruitful pathways for the future development of Russian-Jewish relations”.
In Chapter 9, Solzhenitsyn that, “…it would be quite wrong to say that the Jews ‘organized’ the revolutions of 1905 and 1917, just as it was not organized by any other nation as such.”
At the end of chapter 15, Solzhenitsyn expressed a belief that, “every people must answer morally for all of its past — including that past which is shameful.” In this spirit, he urged the Jewish people to answer, “both for the revolutionary cutthroats and the ranks willing to serve them.” It is not, he insists, a matter of answering “before other peoples, but to oneself, to one’s consciousness, and before God.” He explains that Russian Gentiles must also repent “for the pogroms, for those merciless arsonist peasants, for those crazed revolutionary soldiers, for those savage sailors… To answer just as we would answer for members of our own family. For if we release ourselves from any responsibility for the actions of our national kin, the very concept of a people loses any real meaning.”
NOTE: This is a woman’s account of growing up in the Russian Orthodox/St. Herman of Alaska/Old Calendar church.Since the late 90’s and early 2000’s, factions of this sect have been joining the canonical Orthodox Church under the Serbian Patriarchate, the OCA, and the Bulgarian Diocese.
One day, while eating at a new Greek cafe in the local mall, mom saw two men with long beards and long robes sitting at the next table. She had read something in the paper about a new church in town, so she went over and asked questions. If I could go back and freeze time to change it, this is the very moment I would stop: that one second before we walked in there. It changed the lives of not only my immediate family, but many others as well.
We were urged to attend their “Liturgy” and “Reader’s services” at the little Boy Scout Hut downtown. And here is what happened in only a few short months.
The two men in the Greek restaurant turned out to be a priest from northern New Mexico, and a monk or “brother”. The priest had a long gray beard and ponytail, and he wore a long gray robe. The “brother”, who was later ordained a priest as well, wore a filthy black robe and had his long, unwashed hair pulled back into a knot at the back of his neck. He also had on a traditional Eastern Orthodox monk’s hat.
The priest, Father N., was retired from military service. The monk, Brother Benedict, later told us that he had been “discharged recently from the Army”; whether it was honorable or not, I never found out. He told us that he purposely disobeyed rules and did things like march while reading from his prayer book or chanting. He also told us, on the first meeting at the Boy Scout Hut, that because he was a monk, he was NEVER allowed to bathe again, or cut his hair, as long as he lived. I still gag at the familiar smell of sweaty monastic clothing, which I was later to come across in many churches and monasteries. I guess these people had never heard of the old saying, “cleanliness is next to godliness.”
Well, we were invited to attend our very first service, which happened to be a Liturgy, because the priest was there. Without his presence, the service was called a “reader’s service”, and it could be performed anywhere at all, even in a living room or a garage at someone’s private house. The services began in the local Boy Scout Hut, but soon moved to the new buildings out at Dog Canyon, a remote desert area between Alamogordo and El Paso.
We were inundated with information during the first meeting, and the lectures began right afterwards, and lasted about an hour or two. We were taught about world history, church history, secret history, world conspiracies, and the unseen world of angels and devils, and the coming Apocalypse. I did not want to go at all, but I was forced to go by my parents. First impressions are usually right, if they begin deep in your gut. Mine was, “This is weird. Why is no one else here, and why has God kept us from His ultimate “true church” for over 2000 years??”
I would like to add here that during the first two to three weeks of attending the increasingly frequent services, my mom started to wake up from nightmares. I am just telling you here what she said herself. She dreamed she was taken to a dark, gray building, and was surrounded by monks in brown robes with hoods. When she got closer, they had blood in their holy water bowls. This dream repeated itself for some reason, and she would wake up screaming sometimes. Now, I don’t know what she was reading at the time, and people are really impressionable; she began to go to the public library to research about groups of monks and the names they told her in her dreams. But when she told Brother B., he assured her right away that these monks were “obviously LATINS (Roman Catholics), because of the robes; and that God was “warning” us to come out of that church, as well as all others, and He was “leading” us to the one and only church of “apostolic succession”: the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, otherwise known as the “St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood Church.” From that point on, everything that happened in our lives had some mystical meaning, and we were compelled to tell “everything” to our new “spiritual fathers”, so as to gain salvation. This included nightmares which were the obvious result of too much cold pizza before bed!
The services we were “required” to attend, as new catechumens, became more and more frequent, as I mentioned above. That is because we were slowly being “let into” the elite and the elect of God, and told about the ancient ways and secrets only known to the “true Orthodox.” (By the way, from the start the word “Orthodox” began to replace the word “Christian”, and the lovely name of JESUS was seldom used or spoken. A whole new vocabulary was instilled in us, and we had to use it daily.) We learned quickly how to “do” the Hours, the Matins, the Complines, and the Vespers, as well as the Reader’s services. We had to be ready for the imminent reign of the Antichrist, and learn how to keep the monastic services at home, secretly, for fear of persecution in America, which had already begun! Keep reading, it gets more thrilling!!
Both clergymen began to appear at our house, mostly late at night, or at dinnertime. Brother B. became the main “teacher”, and he would sit at the kitchen table with my family, keeping my dad up till 2:00 AM in the morning. I would often go to bed, then get up hours later to find him still sitting there, with his head about to fall on his crossed arms, listening intently to the loud voice of Brother B., under the dim light of the overhead lamp. My dad had to get up before 5:00 in the mornings to go to work, and he was slowly being run down to the point that he was accepting whatever was taught to him.
Looking back, I believe these two men were specially selected to establish their new “monastery” in the desert outside of Holloman Air Force Base, because they were both ex-military. Not only did they know the right lingo to use when converting people, who came mostly from the nearby base, but they carried that extra advantage of being trustworthy, because they had served in the military themselves. Several lonely or divorced GIs were drawn from the base: fresh meat for the cult, who fed on the earnest young minds as well as their pocketbooks. You see, we were told that the main purpose for the Dog Canyon Monastery of St. Anthony, was to eventually build an “exact replica” of the famous Hagia Sophia church in Turkey, which is now a beautiful mosque. Of course, on a bit smaller scale. Nevertheless, a lot of moolah was needed as soon as possible, as well as volunteers and donations from construction companies. So, as soon as my parents were “hooked”, they began to give large amounts of money to these men, and have continued to do so for the past 25 years.
I have not, to this day, seen any true “fruit” come from these places (I have gone to several of these monasteries): no orphans were helped, no soup kitchens were established, no shelters for abused women or homeless, etc. Because “monasticism” is the “highest” calling one can have in life. I remember feeling despair when I was told that the only path for women in God’s eyes was either to be married and have children, or to become an Orthodox monastic. Now, I have yet to meet a truly happy Orthodox nun (at least in America); the Catholic teachers I had had in school, for the most part, absolutely loved their lives, their vocations, and their students. Many had degrees and pursued continuing education. They spent more time actually doing things than praying that things be done, cloisters aside. This is just my own observation.
Next, mountains of books and religious reading material were presented to us, and we had to read through it all to even be allowed to be part of the true church. The writings and personal interpretations of the “holy fathers”, their lives and fights with demons and human passions, and the writings of a certain Fr. Seraphim (Eugene) Rose took precedence over the Bible. My parents began to follow the “St. Herman of Alaska” calendar, which gave specific little verses to read for each day of the week, for the whole year. They were not allowed to read the Bible alone, for danger of “prelest”, or being led into lies and “deception”. Since that time, my parents have not picked up a Bible just to read the dear old stories like Daniel in the lion’s den; they have not read a letter of Paul or Peter or John straight through, which is how they were meant to be read. The verses were taken out of context, and usually had nothing to do with each other. The more confused my parents became, the more they were told to just “trust the elders”; after all, we were told that all the Russian priests in this church could trace their ordinations back to the Apostles themselves; however, we were never shown any proof of this, of course!
Fr. Seraphim Rose was held up to us as a “modern-day saint”, whose books were held in authority comparable to the Bible. Now, this man was a bit of a scholarly genius, who had studied Eastern religions and faiths in CA universities, and when he was introduced to the Russian Church in San Francisco by his male lover, he brought many of these beliefs over into his new-found religion. This can be seen in his book, “The Soul After Death”, which details the human soul’s journey after death as it passes through the “toll-houses”, being constantly tormented by demons. That book alone would scare the living daylights out of a child or pure-hearted Christian, but his other books dealt with topics such as New Age philosophies and even UFO phenomena. His main topic was the end of the world, and we learned his most famous quote by heart: “It is later than you think”. Suffice it to say here that his teachings are widespread over the whole world now, even in Russia; however, they are NOT the official dogma of all Orthodox churches. There is even a pamphlet printed by a Greek church which is called, “The Soul After Death: The Neo-Gnosticism of Father Seraphim Rose”, which refutes this (in my opinion) crazy and dangerous book.
Which brings us to the biggest “selling point” for those of us who joined this cult. The end of the world. We were inundated with eschatological teachings from many different “holy fathers”, which often contradicted one another, but no one paid attention to those “small ” glitches or misquotes. I was extremely frightened when we were “taught” with authority that the Antichrist was ALIVE and ALREADY BORN, and we had to prepare for his imminent reign of terror! A certain Russian Archbishop in San Francisco (famous for levitating and glowing during services, as well as for “never sleeping” and “severe fasting”) said it had been revealed to him that the “man of perdition” had been born in 1962, and according to prophecy, would begin his reign at age 30– like the Lord’s. Some people in the church refuted this, but we didn’t know that. We were given weekly “reports” of mysterious young men who were seen being driven around in limos in Jerusalem. What more proof did we want???
We were recruited with the best tool of all: FEAR.
Then, one by one, every other Christian denomination was torn apart and condemned by our new “teachers”; my dad’s familiar old hero, Martin Luther was an “apostate”; ALL Protestants were going to hell; and the worst of all were the Catholics, or the “LATINS.” There is even a liturgy done annually which brands other people, churches, organizations, and ideas as “ANATHEMA”, or “cursed”. It was a cursing service, let’s just call a spade a spade.
We were each told to carry an icon of a young Aleut boy name Peter, who had been “hacked slowly to death in front of a California Catholic mission church a few hundred years ago.” And whenever Brother B. would read the “saints and martyrs” for the day, at the end of the long services, he would purposely yell out which ones had been murdered by the “LATINS”, and he would laugh, and everyone in the church would laugh. There was absolutely NO SALVATION outside of this church, which was called the modern-day “ARK” (like Noah’s ark.) Get on board fast or be damned.
Next, we were taught how to chant. Not just a few mantras. Long, long chanting while standing upright (sitting was for “old ladies” and “spiritually weak”.) 40 “Lord Have Mercy” phrases were multiplied into 120 by switching languages, even into Chinese. This was to be done several times during church, while staring at nothing but the icons (to look elsewhere was evil); and it was to be done before each meal, before getting up in the morning, and before bed. I watched my dad, mom, and brother become weary and glassy-eyed. They soon got it down so good that nothing could disturb them, they were in a trance-like state. This was the work of “the Holy Spirit”. We were also given “prayer ropes” to take with us everywhere, and pray with. A quote from Steve Hassan’s excellent book is needed here: “People indoctrinated to perform excessive (hours long) meditation or chanting techniques daily can become psychologically addicted to the mind control technique. [This]…generates strong releases of brain chemicals which cause not only a dissociated mental state, but also a ‘high’ similar to that created by illegal drugs.” (p. 44, Combatting Mind Control).
I would often challenge Brother B. or the other clergy, asking clear questions such as “how can this be required when the Lord stated “do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do…” I was either laughed at or told I was too stupid to understand these things–Orthodoxy was only for the “intellectually superior”. I quote. Also, because we were told that no one could be a Christian without venerating icons, or carrying them everywhere–I wondered whether a blind person could then be saved (??) I was told to be quiet. Then we learned about the wicked Iconoclasts in another history lesson.
Another book we were require to read over and over was the translated “Way of A Pilgrim”, which basically was an instruction book on how to chant while controlling the breathing, so that the chanting and meditation became internal and continuous; you were supposed to be able to work, eat, sleep, and even carry on conversations while chanting in your head. Now, what other religions does that remind you of? It was a simple way to learn how to put yourself in a trance-like state, and in such a state you were able to accept whatever garbage was thrust down your throat. A common tool used by all kinds of cults.
Then came the diet change: the fasting. Following the “ancient Julian calendar” and “ancient Christian life”, we were to fast according to the “elders’ ” instructions. Wednesdays and Fridays were ALWAYS fast days. Several long periods during the year, some lasting a whole 40 days, were fast days. The time before any Liturgy with communion, was fasting time. The new rules excluded all meat, dairy, fish, eggs, and even cooking oil, as well as alcohol (not many people followed that last one.) Sugar, peanut butter, vegetables, and white breads were eaten in small amounts. This was to “sharpen the mind for prayer”, “purify the soul”, and “put the evil flesh (body) into subjection”. For the body was evil. Period. (Gosh, women and girls were not even allowed to take communion or go certain areas in the church while they had their periods!)
This low-protein, high sugar diet will wear down a person very quickly, physically and mentally. Then they become more open to suggestions and acceptance of “holy teachings”. Bodily neglect was holy, it was the way to Heaven. It is also another commonly used method of cult mind-control. I watched my dad and brother loose weight rapidly, and become extremely tired and open to all sorts of infections and flus and colds. My little brother hung on to this fasting so rigidly, that in high school he was the “runt” of the class, causing great concern among the teachers and especially his principal. (My mom made sure to make friends with all our teachers and principals wherever we moved thereafter, so as not to be suspected of child abuse.)
Speaking of the “evil flesh”, fasting included abstinence between married people during the fast times, and before and after church services. Marriage was held in disdain. We were told that to be truly holy, a married man and woman should enter separate monasteries as soon as their children had been raised. Sex was only for procreation. It was also very evil, because it was a human “passion”, not a beautiful expression of love invented by God Himself. A few years later, I actually met a young Russian priest and his wife out in the Bay Area, who were firmly committed to separating when their kids were grown to go to pre-selected monastic communities.
The “passions” were talked about a lot, and they had to be controlled. Humility was taken to the extreme, until the constant repetition of this word reminded me of Dicken’s “Uriah Heep”, from his great “David Copperfield”! This is when confession was introduced to us. Not like in the Catholic church we had gone to. These were deep, soul-wrenching, tell-all, lengthy sessions, from which we would emerge in tears and terrible confusion. First, there was the “life confession”, which consisted of all we could remember before coming to the “truth”. Wow. Then they became weekly. I remember getting down on my hands and knees in front of an ugly icon, trying to think of something evil inside of me to write down to confess. The more I had written down, the “better” I was at confessing. It was an art. I met several people who said when they were in this cult, they would try to do or say at least one “bad” thing during the week, so that they would have something to say, and be allowed to take communion! I did that.
We were not allowed to say prayers from our own hearts. We had to use the prescribed prayers only from the Russian Orthodox prayer books. One of these had some long pre-confession prayer which I will never forget, because it said, “I am sorry for the sins of sight, hearing, speech, touch, and smell…” Now THAT one really confused me– how on earth can you sin by SMELLING something? I think that was where I dropped that book for good. It was just too ridiculous.
Confessions were to include EVERY single thought, natural desire, or pleasure one had experienced during the week. That meant “lust” of a man or woman for a spouse, “lust” for a piece of pie; “lust” for television or even a great new song on the radio! The whole “outside world” (the West, especially) was evil, and soon our house was devoid of the music and singing which had previously filled it. Nothing except pre-recorded liturgies and chanting tapes were played, both at home and in my dad’s automobiles. On a more personal note, I missed my dad’s singing, which we could hear all over the house (and in the shower), anytime he was home. Oh, how I have missed that! I believe he himself has forgotten the songs he used to sing. Or the “fractured fairy tales” he used to tell us at bedtime, until we laughed so hard we couldn’t breathe. All the joy was gone.
Confusion reigned. Questions were answered in an indirect manner, “you will understand later.” It was total chaos, but it was completely controlled by those men who knew EXACTLY what they were doing to us, step by practiced step!
Then came a few weeks where my parents were arguing between themselves, sometimes heatedly, about the required “re-baptism”. Dad had already been baptized Lutheran, mom had as well; we all had. They finally gave in to Brother B.’s demands and convoluted explanations; however, they balked at his insistence that we all be baptized together NAKED, as the “ancient” Christians were. I will relate how we were re-baptized below.
Finally, the last stage. Our “new names and identities”. We were “given” names by Brother B., which he decided upon himself with the help of God.
They were names of Christian saints and martyrs, most we had never heard of, like “Kyriaki” and “Xenia of St. Petersburg, fool for Christ.” Mom became “Maria, joy of all who sorrow” (wow, was that the antithesis of her personality!), and dad became what he intensely disliked, “Lazarus”. Not the person, just the name. I was dubbed that Xenia gal, whose icon scared me with her dead husband’s army coat and her stringy gray hair. Her life, also, was one of a severely disturbed woman who needed help, or at least “some protein and a dose of lithium”, as quoted in one Greek Orthodox article. I was told that my own life should begin to mimic hers, especially in her suffering, so that I could become like her. (She lived in a graveyard, for Heaven’s sake!!) I NEVER let a person call me that after I left there, although my family still prays for “Xenia.” I told God to His Face, “If I die and you call out that name, I will not answer. My real, “pagan” name was given to me by my mom, because it was from an old song she liked. (Note: Elizabeth Ann is my pen name.)
We were then instructed to keep our “name-days” instead of birthdays. Talk about losing your identity!
Xenia also was a “fool for Christ”, which was a way the Russian church had of explaining away the religious fanatics who acted crazy. Didn’t Paul say, “God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of love, and power, and of a SOUND MIND”? Oh, but we were forbidden to read St. Paul (without the St. Herman calendar). Sorry. (Note: there are other “St. Xenias”, one of whom was an early Christian martyr.)
Finally, we were instructed in the proper way to dress and how to talk. Women had to wear long skirts, thick socks, long-sleeved shirts, and complete head coverings while attending any services. No makeup, no jewelry, etc. My very, very pretty mother, who always used to smell of perfume, and who wore pantyhose and nice clothes, as well as jewelry now and then—who had her hair colored and permed every two weeks or so– began to neglect her appearance. She wore shabby clothing, and refused all womanly things except for a heavy Orthodox cross which hung on a piece of dental floss. Men were encouraged to grow beards, or at least cover up all skin. My dad began to be ashamed of his military job and his uniform, and even his country. He wanted to be Russian. And lastly, my family began to talk like robots, using Br. B’s phrases and even his so-called humor.
We were pretty well ready for our “chrismation” and “denunciation of the devil”. This was done quickly in one service, and we didn’t know what was really happening. We were handed things to chant, told to bow to this icon or that, told to prostrate ourselves, and told to spit on the floor to the west. Then we were going to be baptized out at the Dog Canyon building.
We were taught how to bow and prostrate ourselves before all kinds of unknown icons; we were taught how to go into a chapel or church and make our way around, kissing all the faces of these cold paintings. It was repulsive to me and my dad, but we did it anyway. Um, didn’t it say somewhere in the Ten Commandments not to “bow down thyself before the images of anything in heaven or on earth”? I asked these questions. I got the usual answer. The Bible is not the sole authority on everything. There is “holy tradition” and the “holy fathers”, which often supersede the very words of God. “Become like little children and trust us,” we were repeatedly ordered. As Steve Hassan wrote: “It is not accidental that many destructive cults tell their members to ‘become like little children’. Adults can easily be age-regressed to a time when they had little or no critical faculties…dependent on our parents as the ultimate authority figures.” (p. 47, Combatting Mind Control.)
Next, we needed “real” godparents. Godparents were to be present at our baptisms, and throughout all of our lives. They were to guide us to Heaven, along with the “spiritual fathers.” And godparents had authority over anything mothers and fathers taught. That was a strange new idea. But we were assured it was “ancient Christianity.” So we were assigned strangers we had never met. Only my little brother, who was 11 years old at the time, was chosen to be one of the many godsons of the illustrious Brother B.
As I will write later, this fast-talking man gained complete control over my brother’s life, his thinking, and his will. This man became his “father” where my own dad was absent, and often would not return my brother’s phone calls after we moved. This “love-bombing”, which made my brother feel special, followed by long spells of silence from his godfather, to whom he had become severely attached, caused him to be on an emotional roller-coaster, well into his 20s.
I must add here that lots of strange things began to happen in the family, which I will recount below. These included not only “miracles” and “exorcisms”, but health problems. Some of them were quite subtle, but some of them were LOUD RED FLAGS, which should have been heeded by my deluded parents. Such as the rectal bleeding which my little brother began to experience after our involvement with the cult and its clergy. And the crying, and the violent outbursts, followed by intense periods of guilt.
He may have been molested. I know we all were spiritually abused. You can read about these things on the links listed at the left.
Finally, we were made to be a “mission” ourselves. Our next job was to “make converts”, teaching them what we had been taught, and to bring in more, uh, money. Actually, this was kind of a joke, because my parents were more concerned with “hiding from persecution” and “separating themselves from the world.” They only “made” one convert in 25 years: my dad’s very best friend, who was completely ignored when he became ill and then died a lonely death.
NOTE: This is a woman’s account of growing up in the Russian Orthodox/St. Herman of Alaska/Old Calendar church. For those unfamiliar with the background of this organization, Fr. Jonah Paffhausen wrote an article about the “Journey of the Holy Order of MANS / Christ the Saviour Brotherhood and the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood into the Canonical Orthodox Church”:
Welcome. Please take a few moments to read a personal account of one family’s life after entering an Eastern Orthodox cult in America. This is a brief memoir about the serious consequences of blindly following a “spiritual father”, and what happened to a loving, normal family because of this. I also relate how it feels to be disowned by one’s own family for not being part of the cult. My hope is that this site will be of help to at least one other person coping with similar circumstances. I also hope it will serve as a warning to families: NEVER disown, abandon, or shun a person simply for believing differently.
I am a former “Russian Orthodox Abroad” member; my “identity” was Xenia of St.Petersburg, a woman whose life I was told mine own should resemble, according to God’s will. A frightening thought, if you know how this woman lived. I was forced into the church by my parents, kept in complete control throughout my teenage and young adult years, and finally escaped: first, in my mind and soul, and then physically. I still suffer some PTSD symptoms, common with cult withdrawal; however, I am finding the faith of my childhood, something simple and bright, which is the first light I have seen in a long, long time. My wish is that this blog will help ONE person, somewhere, to have the courage to speak out and perhaps even say all alone, “The Emperor has no clothes!” (Hans Christian Andersen).
View my complete profile http://www.blogger.com/profile/13289117518609567601 CONVERSION AND MIND CONTROL TECHNIQUES
As you read the personal story of my family and how we came to be part of this cult, please refer to two excellent resources: The Watchtower Expositor: Cult or Cultic (by Craig Branch); and Combatting Mind Control (by psychologist and cult expert Steve Hassan.) http://www.watchman.org/articles/cults-alternative-religions/destructive-cults/ and http://www.watchman.org/articles/cults-alternative-religions/cult-or-cultic/
CONVERSION TECHNIQUES (Craig Branch)
Below are ten techniques of unethical thought reform and mind control (I quote), with some examples of how these were used by the Orthodox cult. 1) Focus on felt needs & defects, with exaggerated promises of fulfillment.
It was drilled into us over and over that we were spiritually “sick”, that our whole “mind-set” and way of life were evil, and that we were damned if we didn’t accept the new baptism and join the church. We were promised unending love from the church, help in any crisis, and spiritual fathers who would get us past the “toll-houses” and save our souls after we died. We were promised to always be the “right believers” who were the “elite and the elect of God”, and who would play a large role in the conversion of others before the final Tribulation.
2) Rigid Control of Time and Activities
Required to attend more and more services; demanded to read lengthy prayer books at home throughout the day; pushed to do the “Hours”; taught by book “Way of the Pilgrim” to constantly chant the “Jesus Prayer” at all times, even in school.
3) Information Control
Not allowed to read newspapers, magazines, or non-religious books, especially during the time as “catechumens.” Told that all new movies and T.V. programs and T.V. news were “of the devil.” Given more and more Orthodox “patrisitic” ( holy fathers’) writings to read and re-read. Told to cut off family, which my mother did by way of letters.
4) Language Manipulation
Besides being taught to laugh at certain words such as “the Latins” or “the West”, we were taught an exclusive new vocabulary for “insiders”, some of which is put in bold print in the posts at right. Our new names were to replace our real names, forever. The lovely name “JESUS” was seldom used.
5) Discouraging Critical, Rational Thought and Questions
Obvious contradictions and questions were greeted with either long, convoluted, and evasive explanations, or we were told that “you will understand later when you have become an adult in the faith. Just become like little children.” I was laughed at when I pointed out specific verses in the Bible, which I knew very well. I was even called “that Baptist girl” in a derogatory way. We were told during the second liturgy that clergy and priests must ALWAYS be obeyed, EVEN IF THEIR PERSONAL LIVES WERE NOT HOLY (i.e. they had murdered a person!) I quote Br. B. Now I add (“even if they have sodomized your child.”)
6) Instruction in Trance Induction Techniques
One of the first things taught to us: how to stand completely still, stare at the icons, and say “Lord Have Mercy” in five different languages, sometimes amounting to 120 phrases at a time. Again, “The Way of a Pilgrim” was to be memorized and internalized, to learn how to breathe properly and chant simultaneously. Continuous repetitions during Complines, Matins, and then Liturgy, while staring at the icons, made me go into a kind of half-sleep–still able to listen intently and remember things.
7) Confession Sessions (a powerful tool to manipulate, blackmail, and emotionally bond you to the priest; a depersonalization or stripping of yourself–submission to the group.)
As explained at left. Confessions would be labeled “good” or “bad”, depending on how much we could come up with and whether we started “weeping”. The priests put each person under an intense “grilling” session, delving into EVERY thought and action.
8) Guilt and Fear (Weapons used to maintain group/church loyalty, suppress questions and defections.)
As I have already said, FEAR was the most powerful tool which made us listen to and believe every lie we were told. The Antichrist was ALIVE and about to begin his prophesied ministry; “it was later than we thought”, and unseen demons were constantly around us. The realization of our immense sinfulness (which was never relieved) caused terrible guilt. Some of us were made to feel guilty about going to the bathroom, because our pure guardian angels would have to watch this. Thoughts of going to another church, or none at all, caused immense spontaneous guilt.
9) Control of Sexuality and Intimacy
In this cult, all sexual desires, normal sex in marriage, and physical love in marriage was “impure” and part of the “fallen flesh.” So it was severely restricted to only certain times during the week and the year. All was to be confessed.
10) Excessive Financial Obligations (a form of complete submission to God.)
The only place for tithes and donations was cultic Orthodox churches or monasteries (the one in Dog Canyon never was built.) Later on, in a Russian Abroad Church in Sunnyvale, CA, I was pushed to give my monthly wages to dubious causes, such as the “compound” which was to be built, with greenhouses and all.
RECRUITMENT AND MIND CONTROL (Steve Hassan)
“…’mind control’ may be understood as a SYSTEM of influences that disrupts an individual’s identity (beliefs, behavior, thinking, and emotions) and replaces it with a new identity.” (p. 7, Combatting…)
“If deception, hypnosis, and other mind control techniques are used to recruit and control followers, then people’s rights are being infringed upon.” (p.37.)
Note: Steve Hassan’s FOUR COMPONENTS OF MIND CONTROL are best described and connected with the Orthodox cults in the PSEUDO-PROPHET.org webpage. Personal family experiences are briefly recounted below:
1) BEHAVIOR CONTROL (includes control of environment: location, clothing, diet, sleep patterns, jobs, rituals..)
We learned to act like Br. B. and the other cult members. We learned how to fast, to celebrate feasts (on the proper old-Calendar days), how to cut off the outside world and even American holidays. (I LOVE AMERICA!!!–Elizabeth Ann.) We learned how to do all the prayer services; how to cross ourselves with three fingers, properly, at specific times during the day; how to
venerate icons. We learned how to speak, dress, etc.
2) THOUGHT CONTROL
Besides the new language, we learned “stop” wicked thoughts, or “blocking” techniques like chanting “Lord Have Mercy,” or the “Jesus Prayer” over and over, louder and louder. My parents and brothers still start to chant and talk “over a conversation”, which is VERY RUDE, if the person they are talking with questions their beliefs. We learned to feel the “unseen battle” and consider ourselves the “Church Militant”, as opposed to the “fallen outside world.”
3) EMOTIONAL CONTROL
Fear reigned supreme. Fear of other people not in the cult (almost the whole world! ), fear of imminent death, fear of the Apocalypse, fear of the living Antichrist, fear of PERSECUTION, fear of demons, fear of the consequences of leaving the cult–or questioning things like the “Holy Fire”. Oh, did I mention that ALL psychologists, counselors, and psychiatrists were trained in satanic methods? Fear of the world conspiracies. At one point, my parents were certain that our phones were always “bugged” by the government, because of our foreign friends!!
GUILT. About supposed “bad thoughts” and made-up sins. Confessions.
4) INFORMATION CONTROL
As I describe at right: no worldly newspapers, TV news, non-religious books or magazines; even old friends and family were shunned in case they would “draw us away from the faith.” We never again saw a movie in a theater together as a family (except for ‘Pinocchio’, once). The “Orthodox America” (http://www.roca.org/OA/) paper gave modern movie reviews, which almost always were negative and demonic. All questions had to be through the “spiritual fathers” or clergy. Rational, critical thinking was abandoned.
THREE STEPS TO GAIN MIND CONTROL
(These are explained on pp. 67 -72 of Steve Hassan’s book, Combatting Mind Control. Here I briefly connect them with my own experience.)
As my family “died” to our “old selves” and old lives, we were broken down physically, mentally, and emotionally. Fasting, sleep deprivation, rigorous prayer schedules, confessions, lectures, and lack of contact with old friends and family did this. We believed our former lives had been ALL evil, wrong, and deluded. We were the most pitiable creatures on earth–spiritually fallen.
We were given our new baptisms, new names, and new identities, with life instructions. More reading material, more lectures, and complete compliance with the behaviors of the cult members were required. We were “re-taught”.
After being completely divested of our old selves and old lives, then “taught” how to live the “truth”, we BECAME the new people. We were now part of the family! Immediately, we were told to form a “mission” church, to bring in more converts (and their checkbooks.)
Well, that is a brief overview of the initial cult experience as it related to our involvement with the Russian Orthodox/St. Herman of Alaska/Old Calendar church. It didn’t end there.
Recently I have had conversations with people who have been to the monasteries of Father Ephraim. I also have received one novice here who departed from one of his monasteries.
There are two teachings reported, which trouble me the most–one is about marriage and the other about the so-called “Aerial toll houses.”
“Aerial toll houses”?
Supposedly upon death, the souls of believers must pass through demonic tollhouses. According to this doctrine souls are tried and judged by demons. If the demons find more bad works than good works, or find some sin that has not been confessed to the Geronda and received his prayer of forgiveness–they are taken immediately to hell. This includes even the souls of the faithful who had acquired the Holy Spirit in this life and lived truly Christian lives.
This fable is based on an old Bogomil (Gnostic) tale, which teaches that the Geronda has excess merits with which he can pay the toll of his faithful disciples as they pass through the “Aerial toll-houses.” It seems that, based upon this Gnostic fable, some monastic leaders have taken to twisting and re-interpreting words of actual fathers of the Church and prayers of the Church–so that they appear to support this audacious claim of special spiritual power (i.e. an unscriptural and gross tale as the Gnostic “Aerial toll-house” fable).
The “Aerial toll-house” myth gives the Gerondas the power of supererogatory merits and leaves people guilty of sins–“which they did not know were sins or, which they forgot to confess to the Geronda and receive his forgiveness for.” Such sins, we are told, will cause the demons of the “Aerial toll houses” to seize a soul on its way to heaven and take it screaming to hell.
Surely this is a dangerous form of cultism.
Our press has produced three books refuting this tale:
“The Soul, The Body and Death”
“The Tale of Basil the New: Study of a Gnostic Document”
“The Aerial Toll-Houses: The Neo-Gnosticism of Seraphim Rose”
Synaxis Press, P.O. Box 689, Lynden, WA. 98264
[Note: Father Seraphim Rose’s monastery was instrumental in bringing the Holy Order of MANS, a purported “cult,” into the Greek Orthodox Church under the name of “Christ the Savior Brotherhood.”]
Marriage is “dirty”?
Men tell me that they went to a Father Ephraim monastery expecting to hear about the love and compassion of Jesus Christ, but instead heard that marriage is “dirty.”
It might be meaningful to know exactly what the Ephraimites are teaching about normal heterosexual relationships in marriage. By every report I have received, they are claiming that sexual relations within marriage is sinful and dirty and that even a newly wed couple should sleep in separate bedrooms–unless they are planning to procreate. Also, that even under such an arrangement a married couple must be careful not to take any pleasure in their sexual encounter.
We also know of at least one Geronda who insists that husbands telephone him and ask for a blessing to have sexual relations with their wives. I understand that Father Ephraim insists that a married couple must abstain from Holy Communion for a forty-day “purification” period after they have had sexual relations.
Marriage is difficult enough to sustain in our current times without such condemnation of heterosexuality and lawful relations within marriage. This matter is of great concern to us.