Geronda Joseph Mammis was born George Mammis on August 19, 1972 in Montreal, Canada by parents (Alexandros and Vera) who had emigrated from Greece. He received his general education in Montreal and is fluent in three languages: Greek, French and English. After graduating from high school, he went on to receive his degree in Athletic Therapy from Concordia University which included a two year internship in clinical work. His daily life as a student included politics, athletics, and involvement as an active member of the Greek Orthodox Community in Montreal.
Geronda Ephraim has a very strong and loyal following in Montreal. Years ago, Bishop Sotirios decided not to give Geronda Ehraim permission to come to Canada. The Montreal Greek community were so scandalized that they started to make threatening phone calls to Bishop Sotirios warning him what would happen the next time he came to Montreal. They even threatened to burn down his Metropolis. Eventually, Bishop Sotirios lifted the ban and Geronda Ephraim came to Canada, confessed his spiritual children, and the sins of uttering death threats were absolved.
He then entered the monastic life in 1995. He started out as a sub-novice at St. John the Theologian Greek Orthodox Monastery in Picton, Ontario under Geronda Joseph Voutsas (This monastery shut down in the spring of 1997. The brotherhood re-established itself as the St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery in Roscoe, NY during January 1999). After a couple of weeks at St. John the Theologian Monastery, Geronda Ephraim had sub-novice George sent down to the monastery of St. Anthony in Florence, AZ.
In November of 1996, George was tonsured a monk and given the name Joseph. In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, the monks and nuns named Joseph or Josephia usually have St. Joseph the Betrothed as their patron saint. However, as a sort of double speak code, these monks and nuns are also named in honor of Elder Joseph the Hesychast. Also, the monks and nuns named Joseph or Ephraim are usually considered to be exceptional in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries as he doesn’t give out those names lightly.
On January 16, 1997, Fr. Joseph was ordained to the diaconate by the late Metropolitan Anthony of San Francisco. During this time period, Geronda Ephraim lived in the building known as the Gerontikon. At that time, both Deacons Joseph and Ephraim (Andrei Poonan) also lived in the Gerontikon and served as Geronda Ephraim’s cell attendants.
Then, in August of 1998, Fr. Joseph was asked to help establish the monastery of Holy Trinity in Smiths Creek. MI. Geronda Ephraim sent him up with two cousins from Toronto, Frs. Gabriel and Michael. Not long after, Fr. Joseph sent Fr. Gabriel back to the Arizona monastery due to various issues (This Fr. Gabriel was later ordained to the priesthood in Arizona). Fr. Raphael (son of the priest for Holy Protection Monastery, Fr. Mark Andrews) was then sent to Holy Trinity Monastery as a replacement. Not long after, due to numerous problems and disobediences, Fr. Raphael was sent to St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe.
Deacon Joseph was ordained to the priesthood at the Holy Monastery of the Archangels in Kendalia, TX on November 4 1998, by then Archbishop of America Spyridon, and was appointed Abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery in Smiths Creek, MI. He has since served as abbot and spiritual father of the community, which now includes a brotherhood of nine, the majority being immigrants from Canada. Geronda Joseph (Mammis) sometimes tells pilgrims an interesting story relating to his blind obedience to Geronda Ephraim while he was a monk in Arizona. One day, while he was cooking a big pot of food, Geronda Ephraim came into the kitchen. He went over to the pot, took the spoon, and tasted what Fr. Joseph was making. He then immediately spit it out into Fr. Joseph’s face and started insulting him and the food. These are some of the tests Geronda Ephraim does to test the loyalty of his disciples, but also to give them an opportunity to gain crowns and grace.
The following is transcribed from a youtube video of Metropolitan Sotirios’ speech during an undated Christmas Lent. There are usually a couple buses organized to take Greek Torontonians down for confession at St. Nektarios in NY and Holy Trinity in MI. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7EMKMvdQzc
We are now in the period of Christmas Lent. You very well know that sometimes our Metropolis brings over father-confessors. This year, in this particular period, we are not going to bring in any father-confessors. But, all of us must confess. All of us must prepare ourselves to receive the Prince of peace, Christ, Who is God and is coming to be born as a human being. And i want all of the faithful Christians to go in repentance and confess to our priests.
There are certain things we must know when we are confessing: 1) If we confess for the first time, we should repent and confess all our sins from the very beginning until the moment of our confession. When I do that in true repentance, and the priest or bishop forgives us in the name of Christ—or Christ forgives us through the priest or bishop—then we must know that those sins we have repented for and confessed through the priest or bishop have been erased by God and they will not exist anymore. 2) When you go to confession a second or another time, you must know that you should never repeat the sins, you should never confess the sins again that you confessed in previous confessions that you had. For if you do, you commit a greater sin. If you do that it means that you are not believing in the healing and forgiving power and the mercy of God. I want all of you to prepare yourselves for Christmas and for receiving Christ. Christ Who is the Messiah. The only Redeemer and Savior of the world.
Some of our people make the mistake that they don’t trust their priest. And of course, the Church tries to understand it, and by economy and showing love to the people, we sometimes bring over father-confessors from other regions. And we will do that during the period of Great Lent for Easter.
But some other people make the big mistake to go to some monasteries in the United States. Believe me, I am for the monasteries, but sometimes some of the father-confessors who are so inexperienced—there is one of them I have in mind but I am not going to say any names and who has been a priest for only two years—then damage is done to the souls of the people.
I don’t want to recount the story of a young man who went to one of those monasteries. But I want you to know there are some father-confessors who, instead of being an example of love and forgiveness, what they do many times they pass judgment on our priests who serve our communities. Many times they say that these priests are not worth your going to confess to them because some of them do not have beards, or some of them do not have the experience. But in reality, they don’t have the experience. I do not allow our priests to receive people for confession if I know that they don’t have the necessary experience.
And one of these abbots, I’m not going to say any names, he goes as far as to think he’s above the Church. And though the rule says of the people have not been married in the Church they cannot receive Holy Communion until they are married in the Church, he allows them to receive Holy Communion. And he is the one who passed judgment on our priests. I want all of you to be very careful. I want you to repent. I want you to purify your souls. And I want you to be prepared for the coming of Jesus Christ. He is the only Redeemer and Savior of the world. He is the Messiah. Let us prepare ourselves for His coming.
NOTE: In the spring of 1997, Geronda Joseph, with the help of Fr. George Passias, took his brotherhood from St. John the Theologian Monastery in Picton, ON and immigrated to the United States via St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona. They sought refuge there from Bishop Sotirios’ persecutions until December 1998, when they relocated and founded the St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY. This was followed by a series of accusations by Bishops Sotirios of stolen money, etc., which were countered by Geronda Joseph’s rebuttals in the Toronto Greek newspapers.
For those unfamiliar with the St. John the Theologian brotherhood, it consisted of:
*Fr. Germanos, who came with Geronda Joseph from Philotheou Monastery.
*Novice Anastasios, now Fr. Theophanes at Panagia Pammakaristos Monastery (NC). Bishop Sotirios once investigated the cells of the monks. Fr. Theophanes relates the bishop was scandalized because he had lots of pictures of Geronda Ephraim on his wall, and only one icon of Christ. Fr. Theophanes mother also became a nun at Holy Protection Monastery (at the original property in Weatherly, PA).
*Novice Athanasios, now Fr. Kassianos at St. Nektarios Monastery (NY)
*Novice Nikos, he was sent home from Arizona in 1998. Apparently he hid his thoughts from his Geronda, and couldn’t detach himself from his sister whom he frequently called. Thus, the devil isolated him from the brotherhood through his disobediences and he didn’t progress. It is said that shortly before he left the monastery, he started punching and breaking things and was losing control of his temper and composure.
*Novice Demetrios, now Geronda Nektarios, abbot of Panagia Pammakaristos (NC).
*Novice Iraklis, now Fr. Epifanios at St. Nektarios Monastery (NY).
Also, George (Mammis), now Geronda Joseph at Holy Trinity Monastery (MI) stayed as a sub-novice in Picton for a week or two and then afterwards was sent down to St. Anthony’s Monastery (AZ).
1. Take care which spiritual fathers you go to A brother told me: Once, when my job was in a rural area, my wife had gone to a very strict spiritual father. When she had confessed a weakness of hers that she would have repeated, he berated her, he intimidated her and ever since that experience, it took her a very long time to decide to go to confession again. “Do you see”, the elderly Father said to him, “what excessive austerity can do? That’s why I tell you, take care which spiritual fathers you go to for confession – both you and your wife as well as your children – and above all, be honest in whatever you say, because that way, God will forgive everything and you will move up, spiritually.” [Hieromonk Elder Porphyrios, COLLECTED COUNSELS, Published by the Sacred Nunnery Retreat The Transfiguration of the Saviour, 2002, page 337].
2. Some spiritual fathers commit a crime Look, my child! Our God, in His desire to educate His children who believe, trust, love Him and worship Him, resorts to various ways, methods and plans. Among the plans of our God is also the imposition of rules, which of course always aspire to the salvation of our souls. The same applies in your case. We cannot change or delete God’s plans. What is more, we cannot impose any on Him. But we can however ask of Him and beseech Him, and He, being the philanthropist that He is, can hearken to our prayers and shorten Time – or even dispense with it. Either way, it is up to Him. We ask for something, and He is the one who will approve. Even so, these rules do not have the character of revenge or punishment, but of education – and they have nothing to do with the rules imposed by certain spiritual fathers during Confession, who, either out of excessive zeal or out of ignorance, exhaust the limits of punishment without realizing that in that way, they are committing a crime instead of doing any good. I always scold them and counsel them: No severe punishments, just sound advice. Because severe punishments will only supply the “other one” (the devil) with a large clientele; that is exactly what he lies in wait for, and always waits with open arms to receive them! He in fact even promises them impossible things…. That is why the choice of spiritual father demands extreme attention. Just as you would seek the best possible doctor, you should do the same for a spiritual father. They are both doctors – one is for the body, the other for the soul! [Hieromonk Elder Porphyrios, COLLECTED COUNSELS, Published by the Sacred Nunnery Retreat The Transfiguration of the Saviour, 2002, page 337].
3. Pay attention to what you say to spiritual fathers “Be careful what you say to the spiritual fathers that you have chosen for Confession. Because they don’t know everything. They must be very wise, discerning and experienced. They must have God’s spirit within them, in order to be able to solve your various problems.” It should be clarified here, that he was not referring to the simple, everyday sins that we all commit, but to the more profound meanings, like the prayer of the heart, the offensives of the wicked one, etc… [Hieromonk Elder Porphyrios, COLLECTED COUNSELS, Published by the Sacred Nunnery Retreat The Transfiguration of the Saviour, 2002, page 342].
4. Some spiritual fathers can confuse you “When you are a long way from the city”, he said to a brother, “and you can’t come here regularly, you should seek out a very good spiritual father there, to confess your sins. But whatever else preoccupies you with regard to the prayer of the heart or your thoughts, do not mention it to them, because some of them do not know everything and they can confuse you. You should come here and discuss the other issues with me.” [Hieromonk Elder Porphyrios, COLLECTED COUNSELS, Published by the Sacred Nunnery Retreat The Transfiguration of the Saviour, 2002, page 341].
5. Spiritual guides who are animated by a Papist spirit I was discussing a related subject with him: It was about a certain “strict” spiritual father, who had refused to approve the wish of his spiritual child to visit the Elder Porphyrios and talk to him about a serious personal problem of his. This incident had made a painful impression on me and I told him about it. The Elder shook his head sadly and whispered: “What can I say? You see, he is also a spiritual father”. The Elder was always very careful and lenient in his judgments of others – especially when it pertained to priests who made mistakes. In lieu of a characterization, he preferred to speak to me parabolically: “You know, when a Papist missionary receives instructions for a mission, he gets onto a plane in Rome and when he arrives at the airport of an African country, that’s where he opens a sealed envelope and reads what his mission involves – which he is obliged to execute, even if he disagrees with it. With us Orthodox it is not like that.” I understood – more or less – what he was trying to tell me. Besides, it wasn’t the first time I had observed that there also exist in the Orthodox sphere several spiritual guides (fortunately few), who are essentially driven by a Papist mentality; who demand that their instructions be obeyed, in total disregard of the inner resistances of their spiritual children. They tend to cultivate a totalitarian mentality; because they themselves fear freedom they impose discipline, ignoring the fact that Orthodox obedience is the fruit of freedom. It wasn’t long before that bossy compulsion brought on the inevitable results: That same spiritual child of the “strict” spiritual father eventually declared to his friends (who had exhorted him to go to the Elder Porphyrios) that he no longer desired to visit him. In one of my visits to the Elder, I said to him: “I think that the reason he doesn’t come to you is not so much because he doesn’t want to, but because he is showing obedience to his spiritual father.” The Elder surprised me, when he replied: “He is showing obedience, because the advice of his spiritual father satisfied his ego.” It was the first time that I had ever heard the Elder speak so openly about a spiritual faux-pas. I knew he wasn’t doing it because he felt personally offended. The Elder himself never invited people to visit him. (I knew of one exception only, and even that was on account of the fervent pleas by the friends of a certain prejudiced person who was suffering. It was essentially a response to their direct request for a meeting). The Elder did not seek to acquire followers; he simply helped out whoever sought his help at his cell. It is possible he spoke thus openly to me, because he wanted to reveal yet another example of deceitfulness by the devil, among the Christians. And it made me think: “So, the motive behind that person’s obedience was the gratification of his ego.” [Hieromonk Elder Porphyrios, COLLECTED COUNSELS, Published by the Sacred Nunnery Retreat The Transfiguration of the Saviour, 2002, pages 387-389].
NOTE: A little known fact here in America is that both St. Porphyrios the Kapsokalyvite and Elder Paisios the Hagiorite were very critical of Geronda Ephraim (then abbot of Philotheou Monastery). Stemming from a consensus that Elder Joseph the Hesychast was deluded, by extension they judged the fruit by the tree that gave them birth. As well, Elder Paisios did not like the practice of monks yelling the prayer. He was known to dissuade pilgrims from going to Philotheou because “it’s too noisy there.” Both Elders had issue with Geronda Ephraim’s demand of absolute and complete blind obedience; which he demanded from both his monks and nun, as well as lay people in the world. As lay people, Geronda Joseph (Ioannis) Voutsas (St. Nektarios Monastery), Gerondissa Olympiada (Athena) Voutsa (Holy Protection Monastery) and Gerondissa Melanie (Xeni) Makrygiannis (St. John Chrysostom Monastery) had visited Elder Porphyrios when he was alive. They relate that he said many bad things about Geronda Ephraim not worth repeating. “We heard it with our own ears,” they say, in a voice of disdain. In 1998, at the moanstic leader convention convened by Archbishop Spyridon, Geronda Paisios, Dositheos and Joseph had a little meeting of their own where they agreed not to sell the books of both Elders Paisios and Porphyrios due to “all the problems they caused for Geronda Ephraim in Greece.” As well, there are some teachings that are indirectly aimed at contradicting and criticizing Geronda Ephraim’s teachings. Furthermore, Elder Paisios did not even mention Elder Joseph the Hesychast in his book Athonite Fathers and Athonite Matters–a book about all the great 20th century Athonite monks. Elder Paisios lack of acknowledgement concerning Elder Joseph the Hesychast is a great affront to Geronda Ephraim’s disciples. The Abbots and Abbesses dismiss this behavior as jealousy on the parts of St. Porphyrios and Elder Paisios. Quoting the Ladder, where it states “Let no one regard dark spite as a harmless passion, for it often manages to reach out even to spiritual men,” they state that the two Elders were jealous because of the spiritual heights that Geronda Ephraim reached through his blind obedience to Elder Jospeph, a virtue which neither of them possessed to the degree Geronda did. As well, they were jealous of his popularity because he was so young, yet attracted thousands of people to his monasteries on Mount Athos and in Greece. By the early-mid 2000s, with so many books being published on the two elders, in both Greek and English, combined with the hundreds of people asking for these books, the monasteries changed their minds and started selling their books. It’s a good money maker, as well, it’s too confusing for pilgrims for the monasteries to tell them the reasons these Elders’ books have been boycotted. Fr. Germanos Pontikas of St. Nektarios Monastery tells pilgrims that St. Porphyrios stated he was nowhere near the spiritual heights of Geronda Ephraim. An anonymous Abbot tells pilgrims that St. Porphyrios called Geronda Ephraim, ‘the saint of humility.’