The following is an excerpt from the book, Within The Warrior: There Lived A Broken Child, pp. 230-232. The author, though a Greek Protestant, has ties to the Greek Orthodox community of Illinois. He writes his observations and criticisms on how the appearance of St. John Chrysostom Monastery (and the monasteries in general) has affected the Greek community in Illinois.
There were those though who understood our commitment to God and were very supportive, far and few in-between as they were. One of those individuals was Irene’s Koubaro Peter, the father of the son who Irene and her sister baptized. In fact it was not only Peter but also his wife Caroline who understood, because they also had God as a spiritual priority in their family relationship. Peter was and is a very spiritual and God fearing man. Though we may have disagreed on some aspects of our religious beliefs (as he was committed to the Orthodox Church) he and I took time to understand each other, and appreciate where we both came from, and were both able to agree to disagree where there was no commonality. The only major difference we had, that was of any real issue for me, was his commitment to the spirituality of the monastic lifestyle.
Just over the border from Illinois into Wisconsin there was a Greek Orthodox monastery being built at that time, now it is completed. It was built on former Roman Catholic property in Kenosha, Wisconsin, about a fifty to sixty minute drive from Palos Hills. The building and creation of this monastery changed the whole mood of the Greek Orthodox community in and around Chicago and the Chicago land area. Many old world Greeks have the idea that monks are somehow intrinsically holier than your regular priest. The belief stems from the fact that monks spend their whole lives in denial of creature comforts, and money, because of their humbleness and humility, their attire, their beards and long hair. In the mid-east and in the Mediterranean, men who have beards are esteemed as wise and holy if applicable, as is the same with the long hair within the Orthodox Church. The laity believes that any action performed from one of these monks has more power, authority and holiness, than if performed by a priest. This is not my opinion. These are ideas that many within the Greek community have expressed to me and defended. Now the monastery in and of itself, as well as the monks or nuns who run it, or any other monastery, are not the problem. The problem stems when the laity starts to treat these monks and nuns as though they are infallible, all holy and have complete knowledge over all things spiritual. This kind of belief can create many problems, as it did, for a variety of people. What follows are not stories that I have heard second hand; rather, I was there to see them or hear them, and see the consequences unfold before me.
One of the problems that occurred, at least a problem as some of the priests saw it was the fact that many of the laity would go to the monastery for the sacraments that their local priest would provide; such as confession and communion to name two. The reason that this created problems was the fact that the monks would hear confessions, and then would prescribe a Canona (a Greek term for a Canon, and stands for a religious pronouncement of due penance that the person was to follow). The Canona, according to many priests, was way too severe. For instance, I know of two people whose cases the priests were furious over their respective penances.
One person, who confessed to a monk that she went gambling on a riverboat, was told she could no longer participate in the church choir, for life. Another person was told they could not commune for twenty years. This is a big problem because within the Orthodox Church, communion is seen as a sacrament that takes away your sins, it is not a symbolic act, or viewed as a memorial, it is serious business. Thus for twenty years, logically, this persons sins cannot be washed away. One priest explained to me that although technically once a penance has been pronounced it cannot be absolved, he stated that he was looking into receiving authority from the Archbishop to release this person from her Canona.
Another problem that surfaced, and one that had consequences on the everyday practical level was a new form of legalism, one that I call Pseudo-monasticism. Many of these Greeks who started to visit the monastery, all of a sudden believed themselves to be monks and nuns, and many tried to look, act and live like them. Of course, only monks and nuns are monks and nuns, and not those who suppose they are. A monastic lifestyle is for monastics, not for the everyday person. Certainly you can emulate their devotion to prayer, humbleness, humility and caring (these are the ideal monastic qualities, not necessarily the qualities one sees in actual monks and nuns), but that is as far as one could go. However, these Greeks thought they can go further, and many did. Such as sleeping in separate beds from their husbands, because now they were past the child-bearing years or were not having any more children. Why was this happening? Because many believe, (and at times the belief is re-enforced by some within the Orthodox Church, such as monks and nuns) that sex is an activity of the flesh, meaning bad or evil, and should be engaged in only procreation and not for pleasure. You would see many of the husbands of these women (the unwilling participants) walking around with the sourest demeanors you would ever see on a person. I know that some of these men did not agree to this celibacy, which makes it unbiblical to begin with, as I will explain in a minute.
However, that was within their home-life. The problem and irritation for me was when it hit too close to home, with my next-door neighbors, my Koubari. Spiro and Helen next door was a relatively young couple in age. Spiro1 is about four or five years older than I am (around forty-four as of 2005) and Helen I believe is about two years younger than I am. At the time of this incident Spiro was about thirty-five and Helen around twenty-seven. She was told by some of these pseudo-monastic church ladies that now that she had two children and would not be having anymore, that she and her husband should stop engaging in sexual intimacy. When I heard that I nearly lost my head. I remember telling Helen not to take them seriously, and that it was not a sin to be intimate with your husband.
On the contrary, it would be a sin for one partner to withhold sex from another, a biblical principle, which many within the pseudo-monastic community cannot fathom. I know a few men who expressed their frustration and anger when they suggested to their wives to be intimate with them, and their wives’ responses were more or less “your mind is always on the flesh.” Imagine that a husband or wife has to beg his or her partner to fulfill his or her innate God given sexual desire, within the proper and blessed confines of marriage, and the response in effect is it’s of the flesh, i.e., Dirty, sinful, and shameful.
Of course, scripture states that such ideas are far from the truth of God’s design of sex, especially since God created sex and gave it to our first parents as a gift. A gift that is supposed to bring two people together and make them one physically, spiritually and emotionally. Far from married partners withholding sex from each other (or using it as a weapon or a bargaining tool), the Bible states that each person does not control his or her body, but rather, that both the man and the woman turn themselves over to his or her spouse for mutual satisfaction, gratification and fulfillment. A married couple can continue to have sex, and should do so, if their bodies can provide the desire to do so. The Bible states that the marriage bed is a good thing. Paul says that you should enjoy your wife and vice versa. Proverbs are replete with verses about the sexual love of young couples. The Song of Solomon extols the virtues of true blessed love and physical expression of such love. But hey, why should the pseudo-monastics care what God has to say within His Holy book? The pseudo-monastics have their monks and nuns to tell them how they should treat their spouses. I am glad that, as far as I know, Helen and Spiro did not fall for that un-biblical advice.
Another problem that occurred was the fact that a lot of needed funds, in the form of donations, meant for church programs and the maintenance and care of the church, were all of a sudden being re-diverted to the monastery. Many of these pseudo-monastics started to give a large portion of the money, once given to their local church, to the monastery. And they convinced others to do the same. This truly irritated many of the priests because those actions placed may of the churches in financial stress. Now that the monastery has been built, I do not believe that this problem still exists, at least not to the extent it did a few years back.
This pseudo-monastic community, along with the religious beliefs of Irene’s parents, I knew would inevitably bring us problems. Although it was a concern for us in the first few years that we dated, it did not become a real world problem until much later.
1. Spiros is the owner of Pete’s II, on 1515 West Roosevelt Ave. in Broadview. Pete’s I is on Ridgeland and Roosevelt and owned by his Best man/Koubaro Vasili Haralambos. If you have the opportunity, I would suggest that you visit these places, the food there is incredible.