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

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

ΝΟΣΟΚΟΜΕΙΟ
Halkidiki General Hospital.

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

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

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

Ιατρικής Σχολής του Πανεπιστημίου Αθηνών
Medical School of Athens University

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

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

Prozac

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

RESPONSIBILITIES

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

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

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

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

DISORDERS

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

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

Caste system

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

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

The Town of Karye
The Town of Karyes

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

SCANDAL-MONGERING

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

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

Elder Makarios

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

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

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

NOTES:

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

Testimony of a former Orthodox Presvytera

NOTE: The author was involved with Pangratios Vrionis (AKA Metropolitan Pangratios of the Archdiocese of Vasiloupolis, Queens, New York or Demetrios Vrionis). In 1968 Father Vrionis was a GOA priest in Pennsylvania. He was apparently suspended and defrocked for “disobedience,” and at the same time he was also charged with rape of two teen-aged boys by Dauphin county, Pennsylvania. After serving his sentence, Vrionis founded a children’s school and his own Orthodox Jurisdiction in Queens, New York (the Archdiocese of Vasilupolis).

Vrionis is most widely known for his leadership role in the Holy Order of MANS. In the 1980s Vrionis accepted this new-age group into his jurisdiction, whereupon they changed their name to Christ the Saviour Brotherhood. Benedict Greene was in the Archdiocese of Vasilupolis when the Holy Order of MANS joined them and was responsible for training many of their leaders in the Orthodox tradition along with Vrionis.

In 1968, Vrionis plead guilty to two counts of sodomy and two counts of corrupting the morals of a minor. He was sentenced to probation. (See: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Vrionis, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, County of Dauphin, Case Numbers 1378 and 1377).

"Bishop" Pangratios Vrionis of Queens, NY.
“Bishop” Pangratios Vrionis of Queens, NY.

The Testimony
In my early 30s, I met my husband, Alex. He was an Eastern Orthodox priest, “on leave” after a divorce. I had never heard of Orthodox Christianity before, but I liked what I heard: A mystical or symbolic interpretation of scripture; no Substitutionary Atonement; no literal burning hell, and open to the possibility of people of other religions entering heaven. It seemed to be all the good stuff minus the bad stuff, and the fact that it was the “original church” in history gave it a lot of credibility.

Alex also seemed like the right kind of Christian for me. Raised in a communal atmosphere in Berkeley, he was still a hippie with hair down to his waist, a love for film and rock n’ roll, and liberal political views. He was a recovering drug addict who credited God for his sobriety, and had made his way out of a shockingly violent childhood – but he had become a pastoral counselor. He was a gentle father to his 5-year-old son, and was more intelligent than anyone I had ever met. He was deeply involved in peace issues, and very inclusive as to who would go to heaven.

I recognized a gift from God when I saw one.

Christian Kabbalah Timeline
Christian Kabbalah Timeline

But I didn’t know enough about Orthodoxy to see the red flags. He’d been ordained in a non-canonical “independent” Orthodox church in Queens that mixed Kabballah and Theosophy in with its Orthodox theology. (I found out many years later that the Bishop who had founded it – and who Alex practically worshipped – had served time twice for embezzlement and once for mail fraud).

We were engaged and moved in together a month after we met. He resisted birth control on the grounds that “I trust God about things like that.” He also trusted God so much he didn’t wear a seat belt, and was staunchly opposed to any sort of significant savings, calling a nest egg “greedy and materialistic” and reminding me of the sparrows. He was an artist and didn’t have a “real” job, but promised to get one before we were married. He finally did get a job in IT, and our two jobs helped us to maintain a roof over our heads.

Alex was a study in contradictions. He read the Bible every day, taking copious notes. Our apartment was covered with iconography and he self-published several books on Orthodoxy. He praised God constantly, never taking praise for himself but attributing all to God. To this day I have no doubt that he really DID believe; he wasn’t faking it. But once we returned from our wedding in Queens, more problems came up.

Chronic-fatigue

Now that he was married, he was reinstated to the priesthood. Suddenly I was a priest’s wife, something I hadn’t anticipated. About the same time he came down with a severe illness that kept him bedridden for two weeks, so he lost his job in IT. He was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but refused to try to get disability because he wanted to serve as a (volunteer) priest for a small congregation and he knew that would interfere with getting the benefit. We were back to my small salary, and I was getting scared.

His 5-year-old son was illegitimate, having been conceived during the process of his divorce. Just after our wedding, a 2-year-old illegitimate son popped up; we had to go to court to allow his stepfather to adopt him. I wept uncontrollably during the hearing; Alex seemed to feel nothing. I asked him, “How many more kids are out there?” He shrugged and said, “I don’t know. Probably several.”

He had already informed me that I was fourth on his priority list, after God, the Church, and his son. This was true. Once, when my stepson slammed the door and a large wooden icon fell and cracked me on the head, I swore, and he flew into a rage because I’d sworn in front of the icon. He kissed it – the icon, not my head.

We became the leaders of a congregation, but with a caveat – no one could know of his former divorce or his son’s illegitimacy. So began a life of lies where I had to subtly pretend that my stepson was my own (very difficult to do when the church women ask you about his birth or your child’s earliest years), and my stepson had to stay with the program and not mention his real mom or half-sister. He’s 22 now, and I cry as I write this. What we did to him was so sick, so unfathomable, that I will never, ever forgive myself.

I began to feel more and more isolated, especially since the two congregations we eventually led were immigrants, most of whom did not speak English. I didn’t have anyone to confess my lies to.

feelings of isolation and alienation 2

As it turned out, two of his exes had attempted or committed suicide. I never thought about the statistics of that – Alex explained they were both “crazy.” But as time went on, he displayed more and more of his temper. He would fly into unbelievable rages – often I didn’t know what he was upset about – and scream and swear at me. He was a very large man, and I would sit on the floor as he towered over me, yelled so the neighbors could hear (they told me!), hands in fists, veins poking out of his neck. Co-workers complained to my HR department about the times he dropped me off at work, screaming hysterically at me.

These weren’t “arguments” because I was afraid to reciprocate. Instead, I would go into another room and burn myself. I’d never self-harmed before, but I had nowhere to put my emotions.

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He never actually “hit” me, although he did cause two situations which left me bruised. Anyway, the yelling was worse, because for days afterward, I was physically sore as if he had. But unlike most abusive men, he never once said “I’m sorry.” He may have asked God for forgiveness, but not me.

For some years, I believed I was happy – because I felt every incident was isolated and would never recur. Our family did, in fact, have wonderful times together, but it was like taking a walk though a lovely meadow and having to avoid the landmines. Later I became unhappy, but chose to bear my burden because I didn’t want to break up the church. He had threatened me several times with a “Biblical marriage” in which he would make all decisions and I would submit, but it was that way anyway.

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Yet the idea of divorce was completely foreign to me. God had brought me this man and I was going to make it work somehow. When I was feeling down he sent me to a weekend retreat at a monastery nearby with a sweet and kind bishop we both loved. This bishop was later defrocked for sexual assault.

Things finally came to a head when my company declared bankruptcy and it looked like I would be laid off shortly. I began to hint that he might look into getting another part-time job (he was working for pay one day a week as a hospital chaplain). He exploded that he couldn’t do that and the church, and the church was his priority. He screamed at me to get a job at McDonald’s, when I was already working 50 to 60 hours a week. “YOU DON’T TRUST GOD,” he shrieked.

I began to get sicker and sicker, mentally and physically. Between jaw problems and anxiety, I lost almost 30 pounds and was constantly depressed and anxious. The doctors simply put me on more and more medication. But the more depressed I got, the more angry Alex got, calling me a “selfish bitch.” He would scream and swear at me the whole way to church, then get out of the car and become “The Gentle Priest.” It was as if he was two people. Church members often told me how fortunate I was to be married to such a Godly man.

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Like the Ingrid Bergman character in “Gaslight,” my husband kept trying to convince me that I was crazy, and I came to believe it. He made me flush my meds down the toilet because I was “depending on medication instead of God,” throwing me into SSRI withdrawal. At one point he attempted to exorcise the demons out of me. One minute I was praising God, a moment later the fears came back again. “You TOOK the demons back,” he screamed. “You WANT to be sick.”

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By that time I was in a semi-psychotic state. And one day I was greatly relieved and calmed to hear God’s voice say, “You can come home.” I had taken to sleeping on the floor in front of the altar, and when Alex came in I happily informed him. He flew into a rage. “What will that do to the CHURCH? You will go to HELL if you do this. But if it’s what you want, fine. What should I get you – a gun or a rope!?”

The next morning I made a serious attempt – not a gesture, not to get attention. I was 100% positive that I would die and life would be better for everyone. I wrote a suicide note to the church, telling them what a good man my husband was and why they should stay in his congregation. It was all my fault, I said. Blame me.

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Somehow, I survived. One doctor said he had never had a patient survive what I had done. They all expected me to be happy that I was alive. I was not. I was supposed to stay in the ward for two weeks. Alex called two days after, demanding I come home, and telling me what to say to the doctors in order to get out. It worked.

The next three years were more of the same, except that now when we argued he would pull the suicide card. And his violent behavior kept escalating. Out of curiosity I wrote the city for his police records and discovered that right about the time he’d met me, he’d been arrested and gone to court for hitting his mother.

To be 100% fair, it was two Orthodox friends (from another church) and an Evangelical counselor who told me I HAD to leave. But I was still brainwashed with my own personal religion. I kept promising them things would get better. They HAD to. I was doing this for God.

One night in our 16th year, I came home late from work, as I was dealing with my most time-consuming project of the year. He was waiting for me. When I came in, he said, “So, I suppose you were out screwing someone else.” There was something new in his eyes, something I’d never seen before. The next morning I got up, went to work and never came home.

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Ironically, I still have to support him financially after the divorce. And if the State has a problem with the checks, which it sometimes does, he’s very quick to email me and demand the money (what happened to the sparrows?). MY home has been foreclosed, I’ve lost half my savings, I’ve declared bankruptcy and I have no idea where my stepson is. My father died about the same time. I was diagnosed with PTSD from the abuse. I had lost everything. Everything. I felt like a fool. Still do.

Over the next six months or so, the “feeling” I had, which I had called God, faded and faded. I knew God was gone completely when my father died. I was holding his hand as he passed away, and I felt noting – no compulsion to pray, no concerns about whether he’d gone to heaven or hell, no feeling that his spirit was anywhere at all. The chaplain came by and asked if he could be of any assistance. I said no – unthinkable in the past.

I never, never dreamed I would stop believing in God. For most of my life, even while I wrestled with dogma, God was the one thing I believed to be true. “I believe God exists because I exist,” I would say. I prayed every night before bed and throughout the day as well.

But I can’t imagine the opportunities I missed, the hell I endured, in his name. If there is a god who loves me, he has a funny way of showing it. People will say “I never really believed,” but if I didn’t, why would I have gone through all of that? I defy anyone to go through what I’ve been through and not recognize that God is either evil or a myth.

We’re on our own, and I wish I had known that 30 years ago. I truly feel I wasted my entire life in God’s name.

NOTE: Amethyst7 “was married to an Orthodox pastor for 16 years, after having been disillusioned by every other form of Christianity. For her complete extimony from Orthodoxy (and religion itself), read, The Most Bass-Ackward Path From Christian to Atheist You’Ve Ever Heard.

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The Gaslighting Effect

Etymology

The term derives from the 1938 stage play Gas Light (originally known as Angel Street in the United States), and the 1940 and 1944 film adaptions. The plot concerns a husband who attempts to drive his wife to insanity by manipulating small elements of their environment, and insisting that she is mistaken or misremembering when she points out these changes. The title stems from the husband’s subtle dimming of the house’s gas lights, which she accurately notices and which the husband insists she’s imagining.

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“Gaslighting” has been used colloquially, since at least the early 1980s, to describe psychologically upsetting manipulations of the type depicted in the play and film. In her 1980 book The Best Kept Secret: Sexual Abuse of Children, Florence Rush summarizes George Cukor’s 1944 film version of Gas Light, and writes, “even today the word [gaslight] is used to describe an attempt to destroy another’s perception of reality.”

Examples

The classic example of gaslighting is to change things in a person’s environment without their knowledge, and to explain that they “must be imagining things” when they challenge these changes. Similarly, the Manson Family, during their “creepy crawler” burglaries of the late 1960s, would enter homes and steal nothing, but would rearrange furniture to upset and confuse residents.

According to psychologists Gass and Nichols, another relatively frequent form of gaslighting occurs when a husband has cheated on a wife. The husband may strenuously deny the affair and insist “I’m not lying; you’re just imagining things.” Further “male therapists may contribute to the women’s distress through mislabeling the women’s reactions. […] The gaslighting behaviors of the husband provide a recipe for the so-called ‘nervous breakdown’ for some women [and] suicide in some of the worst situations.”

Psychologist Martha Stout explains how sociopaths frequently use gaslighting tactics. Sociopaths are often cruel, manipulative, or conniving, and are often convincing liars who consistently deny wrongdoing. When coupled with the personal charm that can characterize sociopaths, many who have been victimized by sociopaths may doubt their perception.

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Jacobson and Gottman report that some physically abusive husbands may gaslight their wives, even flatly denying that they have used violence.

Are You Being Gaslighted?

Your husband crosses the line in his flirtations with another woman at a dinner party. When you confront him, he asks you to stop being insecure and controlling. After a long argument, you apologize for giving him a hard time.

Your boss backed you on a project when you met privately in his office, and you went full steam ahead. But at a large gathering of staff – including yours – he suddenly changes his tune and publicly criticizes your poor judgment. When you tell him your concerns for how this will affect your authority, he tells you that the project was ill-conceived and you’ll have to be more careful in the future. You begin to question your competence.

Your mother belittles your clothes, your job, your friends, and your boyfriend. But instead of fighting back as your friends encourage you to do, you tell them that your mother is often right and that a mature person should be able to take a little criticism.

If you think things like this can’t happen to you, think again. Gaslighting is when someone wants you to do what you know you shouldn’t and to believe the unbelieveable. It can happen to you and it probably already has.

How do we know? If you consider answering “yes” to even one of the following questions, you’ve probably been gaslighted:

Does your opinion of yourself change according to approval or disapproval from others who play an important role in your life, such as a spouse, parent, family member, bestfriend?

Do you dread having small things go wrong at home – buying the wrong brand of toothpaste, not having dinner ready on time, a mistaken appointment written on the calendar?

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Gaslighting is an insidious form of emotional abuse and manipulation that is difficult to recognize and even harder to break free from. That’s because it plays into one of our worst fears – of being abandoned – and many of our deepest needs: to be understood, appreciated, and loved. In this groundbreaking guide, the prominent therapist Dr. Robin Stern shows how the Gaslight Effect works and tells you how to:

Turn up your Gaslight Radar, so you know when a relationship is headed for trouble

Determine whether you are enabling a gaslighter

Recognize the Three Stages of Gaslighting: Disbelief, Defense, and Depression

Refuse to be gaslighted by using the Five Rules for Turning Off the Gas

Develop your own “Gaslight Barometer” so you can decide which relationships can be saved -and which you have to walk away from

Learn how to Gasproof Your Life so that you’ll never again choose another gaslighting relationship.

Turn Up Your Gaslight Radar. Check for These Twenty Telltale Signs

Gaslighting may not involve all of these experiences or feelings, but if you recognize yourself in any of them, give it extra attention.

1. You are constantly second-guessing yourself.

2. You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” a dozen times a day.

3. You often feel confused and even crazy at work.

4. You’re always apologizing to your mother, father, boyfriend, boss.

5. You wonder frequently if you are a “good enough” sibling/spouse/employee/friend/child.

6. You can’t understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren’t happier.

7. You buy clothes for yourself, furnishings for your apartment, or other personal purchases with your partner in mind, thinking about what s/he would like instead of what would make you feel great.

8. You frequently make excuses for your significant other’s (sibling’s, friend’s, spouse’s, etc.) behavior to friends and family.

9. You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.

10. You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.

11. You start lying to avoid the put-downs and reality twists.

12. You have trouble making simple decisions.

13. You think twice before bringing up certain seemingly innocent topics of conversation.

14. Before your partner comes home, you run through a checklist in your head to anticipate anything you might have done wrong that day.

15. You have the sense that you used to be a very different person – more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.

16. You start speaking to your husband through his secretary so you don’t have to tell him things you’re afraid might upset him. You avoid speaking directly to your significant other (sibling, friend, spouse, etc.)

17. You feel as though you can’t do anything right.

18. Your kids begin trying to protect you from your partner. Other people try to protect you from your sisignificant other (sibling, friend, spouse, etc.)

19. You find yourself furious with people you’ve always gotten along with before.

20. You feel hopeless and joyless.

How I Discovered the Gaslight Effect

I’ve been a therapist in private practice for the past twenty years, as well as a teacher, leadership coach, consultant, and fellow at the Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership, where I help develop and facilitate trainings for women of all ages. In all these domains, I constantly encounter women who are strong, smart, successful. Yet I kept hearing the same story: Somehow, many of these confident, high-achieving women were being caught in demoralizing, destructive, and bewildering relationships. Although the woman’s friends and colleagues might have seen her as empowered and capable, she had come to view herself as incompetent – a person who could trust neither her own abilities nor her own perception of the world.

There was something sickeningly familiar about these stories, and gradually I realized that not only was I hearing them professionally but they also mirrored experiences my friends and I had had. In every case, a seemingly powerful woman was involved in a relationship with a lover, spouse, friend, colleague, boss, or family member who caused her to question her own sense of reality and left her feeling anxious, confused, and deeply depressed. These relationships were all the more striking because in other domains the women seemed so strong and together. But there was always that one special person – loved one, boss, or relative – whose approval she kept trying to win, even as his treatment of her went from bad to worse. Finally, I was able to give this painful condition a name: the Gaslight Effect, after the old movie Gaslight.

This classic 1944 film is the story of Paula, a young, vulnerable singer (played by Ingrid Bergman) who marries Gregory, a charismatic, mysterious older man (played by Charles Boyer). Unbeknownst to Paula, her beloved husband is trying to drive her insane in order to take over her inheritance. He continually tells her she is ill and fragile, rearranges household items and then accuses her of doing so, and most deviously of all, manipulates the gas so that she sees the lights dim for no apparent reason. Under the spell of her husband’s diabolical scheme, Paula starts to believe that she is going mad. Confused and scared, she begins to act hysterical, actually becoming the fragile, disoriented person that he keeps telling her she is. In a vicious downward spiral, the more she doubts herself, the more confused and hysterical she becomes. She is desperate for her husband to approve of her and to tell her he loves her, but he keeps refusing to do so, insisting that she is insane. Her return to sanity and self-assertion comes only when a police inspector reassures her that he, too, sees the dimming of the light.

As Gaslight makes clear, a gaslighting relationship always involves two people. Gregory needs to seduce Paula to make himself feel powerful and in control. But Paula is also eager to be seduced. She has idealized this strong, handsome man, and she desperately wants to believe that he’ll cherish and protect her. When he starts behaving badly, she’s reluctant to blame him for it or to see him differently; she’d rather preserve her romantic image of the perfect husband. Her insecurity about herself and her idealization of him offer the perfect opening for his manipulation.

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