Reading Names During the Proskomide at Geronda Ephraim’s Monasteries

The liturgy of Preparation, also Prothesis or Proskomide, is the act of preparing the bread and wine for the Eucharist. The Liturgy of Preparation is done quietly before the public part of the Divine Liturgy begins and symbolizes the “hidden years” of Christ’s earthly life. This is where particles of the prosphoron are taken out for commemorating both the living and the dead. This is also the point of the Service where the names of the living and the dead are read. Every monastery has printed copies of name commemoration sheets either in the narthex by the candles or in the reception area. For an explanation of the Proskomide, see:

The office of Preparation of the Divine Liturgy and The Office of Oblation (Proskomide)

St. Anthony's Monastery Feast Day (early - mid-2000s)

Orthodox Christians give names whenever they go to the monasteries but this traffic greatly increases during the two forty-day Lenten periods of Christmas and Pascha. In the male monasteries, the fathers go into the altar to read the names during the Proskomide. When they’re finished reading all the typed name lists, they then have a blessing to read their own personal list of names. Most monks have a notebook with the names of their family, friends and those who ask them to pray for them.

Geronda Dositheos and the Fathers.
Geronda Dositheos and the Fathers.

Every monastery has their own special list of names which are read every Liturgy during the Proskomide by the priest celebrating the Liturgy. Every list starts with Geronda Ephraim’s name, all of Geronda Ephraim’s monastics who have died, all the monastic names of that monastery, and all the benefactors of the monastery. The hieromonks of the monastery may have their own names incorporated into this list as well.

The monks of St. Nektarios Monastery (NY) with Metropolitan Athanasios of Lemesos, Cyprus.
The monks of St. Nektarios Monastery (NY) with Metropolitan Athanasios of Lemesos, Cyprus.

For the monasteries, benefactors fall into two categories:

  • The financial donors. This could be either huge donors, donors who give nice sums regularly, people who regularly donate large amounts of expensive supplies, people who organize large groups to come to the monastery (there is usually an extra fee placed on top of the cost of the seat, whether it be bus or plane, that is then given as a donation to the monastery), etc.
  • The donors of time and work. Not everyone has the means to give large sums of money to the monastery. Many of the pilgrims are working-middle class and in lieu of money will donate their time and effort to help build the monastery or to help keep it functioning.
  • Men with trade skills might help do construction, carpentry or electrical work for free. Women may help in the kitchen, or cleaning the guest houses, doing laundry, dusting furniture, etc. Depending on the seasons and monasteries, there is also help in gardening, shoveling snow, sweeping desert dust off the walkways, etc.
Inside the altar during Divine Liturgy at St. Anthony's Monastery (AZ)
Inside the altar during Divine Liturgy at St. Anthony’s Monastery (AZ)

So these particular pilgrims, depending on the capacity of their aid, will end up on the permanent altar name lists that are read every Liturgy. They are classified as builders of the monastery. The only time they get removed is if they do something really bad to betray the monastery or join another religion and can no longer be commemorated.

Inside the altar during Divine Liturgy at St. Anthony's Monastery (AZ)
Inside the altar during Divine Liturgy at St. Anthony’s Monastery (AZ)

Now due to the huge influx of names that the monasteries continually receive throughout the year, problems in reading them all in time before the Proskomide finished started to arise. In larger monasteries where there are 20+ monastics, it isn’t so much a problem. In smaller monasteries, it becomes difficult. However, Geronda Ephraim devised a strategy for his monasteries to sort the names they receive into different categories to lighten the burden:

  • Under $40: These lists get read only once and then are thrown out. They are put in a pile separate from the name lists that will be typed up on the computer. The 1x folder in the altar is always the thickest.
  • $40-$100: Though this category varies slightly form monastery to monastery, this pile of name lists is put in the “few times” category. This means the name lists will be read more than once in the Proskomide, but not the full 40 liturgies.
  • Over $100: This category of name lists usually makes it into the 40 day pile. This means the names will be typed up on the computer, printed out and placed in the 40x folder in the altar. Each monastery has their own system of tracking how many times a sheet of names has been read. After the list has been read for 40 Liturgies, it is thrown out.
Inside the altar during Divine Liturgy at St. Anthony's Monastery (AZ)
Inside the altar during Divine Liturgy at St. Anthony’s Monastery (AZ)

There is another category of name lists that don’t even get read: the ones that are so illegible that no one can even make out what names are written.

Inside the altar during Divine Liturgy at St. Anthony's Monastery (AZ)
Inside the altar during Divine Liturgy at St. Anthony’s Monastery (AZ)

So, if one wants to sort of guarantee that their names will be read for the entire 40 Liturgies, they should donate at least $100 or more with their list. Or, at the very least, they should donate large amounts of their time to help the monasteries with anything they require. In this way, the Abbot or Abbess may feel compelled or obligated to enter their name list into the 40x folder. The worth of a pilgrim is measured by their dedication and filial devotion to the monastery, whether it be donation of time, money, work, effort, etc.

Geronda Joseph Mammis (MI) Great Entrance at Holy Annunciation Monastery (FL)
Geronda Joseph Mammis (MI) Great Entrance at Holy Annunciation Monastery (FL)

Time is money. Reading thousands of names also takes time and effort on the part of the monastics. Not to mention, many of the monastics are eager to read their own personal name lists of family, friends from the past, pilgrims, etc.


St. Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery: Approval for Phase 3 – Monastery Building and Additions (2010)


Ta Skedia

The owner has filed a site plan development application to facilitate the construction of a new 2 storey residence for St. Kosmas to replace the existing monastery residence which is proposed to be demolished (574 m2  or 6179 square feet) in order to provide for sufficiently sized living quarters for the existing sisters as well as provide guest rooms for travelling bishops, priests and nuns. The new residence would have a total gross floor area of 1788 m (19,250 square feet). A front entrance feature is proposed to be added to the existing place of worship
consisting of 87.37 m2 or 940 square feet.  The place of worship and residence will be connected through a basement corridor. Within the cluster of buildings a stand alone monastic prayer building is also proposed (70.95 m2 or 764 square feet). These buildings will be located  approximately 470 metres from the Caledon-King Townline Road.  Since the existing septic system was upgraded in recent years there is no proposal to make any changes to the system as the daily use of the residence cannot exceed 4500L/day.

St. Kosmas Monastery

A minor variance was obtained by the owner to reduce the front’ yard minimum from 480 metres to 470 metres to permit the construction of the monastery residence in February of 2010 with no appeals filed.

5.6 Discussion

5.6.1   Replacement Dwelling
The proposed monastery will replace a current dwelling on the property which is currently being utilized as a residence for the sisters; however the size does not accommodate their current or future needs. When the new monastery was originally proposed as part of the overall master plan for the site it was to be located in the same general location of the current residence. The owner is proposing to complete the overall site development with the construction of a monastery originally outlined in the master plan for the property except for a future cemetery. The proposal is for a replacement dwelling as well as a small expansion to the place of worship and the construction of ·a prayer building. The overall design of the monastery is to resemble a large country estate home and not to appear institutional in anyway in order to achieve the intent of the official plan amendment for the property.


In order to attain this country home appearance, significant site works are proposed in the form of a circular driveway with a main entry covered with a porte cochere, central terrace in which the house, place of worship and prayer building surround, terraced retaining walls, green roof for the underground area connecting the house to the place of worship and terraced gardens which is flush with the grade of the terrace. Substantial site works are proposed as part of this development area in order to adequately address stormwater on the site. Storm drains, dry wells and catch basins are proposed to deal with overland flow routes. As a result, a detailed stormwater management and grading plans were submitted with the required erosion and sediment controls illustrated on the drawings. Based upon a review by Township Engineering staff, the overall stormwater design is found to be acceptable.

In order to address safety, the existing driveway was constructed at an appropriate grade to  accommodate EMS vehicles.   Further, it is proposed to have the residence installed with a sprinkler system so this further provides another element of safety from the standpoint of the Township of King Fire and Emergency Services Department.

St. Kosmas 1

5.6.2  Addition to the Place of Worship

The proposal also includes an addition to the existing place of worship in the form of a multi­ purpose room, gift shop and lobby. Due to current space constraints, some of the public functions of the place of worship such as the gift shop are carried out in the present monastery residence. With the replacement of the monastery with a proper residence and an addition to the place of worship, public uses will be solely directed to the place of worship. The intent of site plan development agreement for the proposed uses on the subject property in the past always related to ensuring the public interest was maintained. The first two phases involved the construction of gates and an extensive driveway leading to the place of worship and monastery. The second phase concerned the construction of a parking lot with screening.

The proposed site plan for the overall development was reviewed in terms of stormwater management and grading and there are still outstanding issues identified by Township staff. These are to be resolved prior to the execution of a site plan development agreement. The outside place of worship courtyard provides a public gathering space which is then linked to the parking lot with an existing sidewalk. The draft site plan development agreement has conditions relating to the site works required for the area of the place of worship only as this is the area of public interest to ensure they are constructed appropriately.

St Kosmas 2

5.6.3   Valley Slope Reforestation

As part of the overall master plan, valley slope reforestation was to occur to help stabilize the steep valley slope at the far rear portion of the site. This valley slope reforestation was also part of the phase 3. During pre-consultation to complete phase 3, it was determined at the time of the official plan amendment in 2000 there was concern addressed by the TRCA and Township of protecting the stream corridor from development and to stabilize this area. As time has passed, the area has naturalized and reforested itself. Based on a site inspection by TRCA staff in August of 2009, the area targeted for restoration has already naturally regenerated and therefore, there is no need to propose a planting plan. TRCA has no objection to agreeing that this condition in the site plan development agreement has been fulfilled for the phase 3 works (APPENDIX B)

St. Kosmas 3


The required application fee has been submitted. In addition, any external costs incurred by the Township through the processing and review of these applications will be recovered from the applicant.

7.        CONCLUSION

The application proposes the construction of a replacement dwelling to the existing monastery, addition to a place of worship and a stand along prayer building. The proposed development represents the final (phase 3) of the overall site works for the subject property except for a future cemetery. The replacement dwelling is required to address space constraints associated with the existing monastery building. The place of worship addition with its connection to the monastery will concentrate all public uses into one structure. The development has demonstrated conformity with the site specific official plan amendment and zoning by-law for the subject property.


The proposal has been reviewed by the relevant commenting agencies and departments and the applicant has addressed the majority of issues which have been raised to date except for stormwater management. It is recommended that site plan approval be approved subject to the owner resolving the stormwater management issues prior to the execut ion of a site plan development  agreement.

St. Kosmas Greek Orthodox Monastery: Exemptions to Noise By-Laws

Every year, due to specific by-laws, the sisters of St. Kosmas Monastery have to request an exempt to the Noise By-Law for the night of their Feast Day (August 23rd-August 24th). Each year it is granted.

St Kosmas Backview

C.O.W. #2006-193

Committee considered correspondence from the St. Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery, dated July 5, 2006 requesting and exemption to the noise by-law to host outdoor Church Services on Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006 and Thursday, August 24th, 2006.

Nun Procession at St. Kosmas Monastery, Canada.
Nun Procession at St. Kosmas Monastery, Canada.

Committee recommends that the correspondence from the St. Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery be received and that an exemption to the Noise By-law for Church Services for Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006 from 6:00 p.m. until 10:30 p.m. and Thursday, August 24th, 2006 morning from 10:00 a.m. until 12:00p.m., be approved and that the St. Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery be requested to notify all residents in the vicinity in advance of the event.


C.O.W. #2007-182
Request for exemption to the Noise By-law
Re: St. Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery
14155 Caledon King Townline

Committee considered correspondence from the St. Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery, dated July 5th, 2007 requesting an exemption to the noise by-law to host outdoor Church Services on Thursday, August 23rd, 2007 and Friday, August 24th, 2007.

Nuns chanting at St. Kosmas Feast Day (August 24, 2009)
Nuns chanting at St. Kosmas Feast Day (August 24, 2009)

Committee recommends that the correspondence from the St. Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery be received and that an exemption to the Noise By-law for Church Services for Thursday, August 23rd, 2007 from 6:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. and Friday, August 24th, 2007 from 8:00 a.m. until 12:00 p.m., be approved and that the St. Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery be requested to notify all residents in the vicinity in advance of the event.

Gerondissa Alexia Voutzali
Gerondissa Alexia Voutzali


Sister Philothei's Request for Noise By-Law Exempt

C.O.W. #2008-177
St. Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery  requesting exemption to the Noise By-law

Feast of Patrokosmas 2014 4-02

Committee considered correspondence from St. Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery, dated June 30th, 2008 requesting an exemption to the noise by-law to celebrate an outdoor Church Service on Saturday, August 23rd and Sunday, August 24th, 2008.

Feast of Patrokosmas 2014 5-01

Committee recommends that the correspondence from St. Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery be received and that an exemption to the Noise By-law for St. Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery at 14155 Caledon King Townline Rd., Bolton for Saturday, August 23rd, 2008 from 6:00 p.m. until 10:30 p.m. and Sunday, August 24th, 2008 from 8:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. be approved and that the applicant be requested to notify all residents in the vicinity in advance of the event.


Feast Day

King Township and Saint Kosmas Monastery (2000)


The Planning Committee recommends the adoption of the following report, January 25, 2000, from the Acting Commissioner of Planning and Development Services:

 St. Kosmas 1


It is recommended that the Commissioner of Planning and Development Services be authorized to give notice of intention to approve Amendment No. 59 to the Official Plan of the King Planning Area subject to the inclusion of the following modification:

  1. Section 3 (13) (17) – Policies – The Official Plan Amendment is hereby amended by adding an additional section (v) to read as follows: “(v) As part of the Site Plan Approval process, the proponent shall complete an entrance design report acceptable to the Township of King and the Township of Caledon. Improvements to the King-Caledon Townline Road required by the report shall be the responsibility of the proponent.” $_21

The proposed Amendment would add specific limited institutional and related uses as permitted uses within the “Rural” land use designation, in order to recognize an existing residential building as a residential dormitory with attached chapel and place of worship and to permit the development of additional institutional uses associated with the St. Kosmas Aitolos Monastery and the Greek Orthodox religion.

The subject lands have an approximate area of 20 hectares (48 acres) and are located east of the King/Caledon Townline approximately 900 metres south of the 16th sideroad (see location map on Attachment #1). The property is described as Part of Lot 13, Concession 11, in the Township of King.

2.1 Details of Proposal

Amendment No. 59 (see Attachment No. 2) would limit the permitted uses on the subject property to a small scale religious monastery with related accessory uses, and the continuation of agricultural or farm activity. The Amendment excludes religious services such as weddings, baptisms, and funerals (except for funeral services associated with the internment of monastics on the site). The aggregate of the permitted use shall not exceed a daily sewage effluent of 4500 litres. Accommodation would be limited to a maximum of 10 permanent residents, 3 overnight guests, and a weekly average of 30 place of worship visitors daily, or a total of 210 visitors over a one week period.

The Amendment also requires that all existing and future development be subject to specific Zoning By-law provisions and Site Plan Control, to specify the extent of use and address adequate off-street parking, entrance and driveway improvements, adequate screening and landscaping, details on the extent of use (i.e. hours of operation, provisions for special events and services), well-monitoring, and the protection of environmentally sensitive lands.St Kosmas 2


The lands are designated “Rural” and “Open Space” in the Township Official Plan. The “Open Space” designation generally reflects the Cold Creek tributary and valley system which runs through the rear (east) portion of the site.

It should be noted that the Township has recently prepared a new Official Plan in order to update planning policy in the Township and bring it into compliance with the Regional Official Plan. This new Official Plan was adopted by the Township Council as Amendment No. 58 and is currently under review by the Region as the approval authority. The subject lands are similarly designated “Rural” under the new Township Official Plan, as well as “Natural Heritage” to coincide with the present “Open Space” designation.

On Map 6 of the Regional Official Plan, the subject lands are designated “Rural”. Map 4 of the Regional Official Plan also shows the westerly portion of the lands to be within the “Oak Ridges Moraine Planning Area” and the Cold Creek tributary areas on the easterly end to be within the “Regional Greenlands System”.

The subject property has gently to steeply rolling terrain with the easterly portion being traversed by the Cold Creek tributary areas. This natural feature is defined by a valley feature and related forested areas. The central portion of the property has a well-defined ridgeline providing vistas in all directions.

The lands have not been actively cultivated for a number of years. The property currently supports a principal dwelling, currently occupied by ten nuns, at the central portion of the property, and a second dwelling (formerly the original farmhouse), drive shed and agricultural buildings at the front portion of the property. The property gains access from the King Caledon Townline Road.

The lands are presently bounded to the north and east by rural residential and agricultural uses, to the south by agricultural and potential aggregate extraction area, and to the west by rural residential uses in the Town of Caledon.



Official Plan Amendment No. 59 has been submitted by the Township of King to the Region of York for approval in accordance with Section 17(7) of the Planning Act. The Township gave notice of adoption of Amendment No. 59 on November 19, 1999, in accordance with the Planning Act. This notice advised that Amendment No. 59 would be submitted to the Regional Municipality of York and that each person or public body who wishes to receive notice of the proposed decision should request notification of such decision directly from the approval authority. As of the date of this report, the Region has not received any such request for notification.

Based on the foregoing and the circulation undertaken by the Township prior to adoption, the Regional Planning Department restricted the circulation process to the Regional Departments and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA).

There are no objections to the approval of this Amendment from Regional Departments or from the TRCA.



Amendment No. 59 would allow additional permitted uses to the existing “Rural” designation, specifically, a small scale religious monastery and related accessory uses on the lands identified on Attachment 1. The Amendment provides specific land use policies to govern the proposed institutional and related accessory uses and to limit the overall size and scale of the permitted uses, and policies intended to protect and enhance the rural character of the area through Zoning and Site Plan controls.

The Township received applications for the Official Plan and Zoning By-law Amendments on June 6, 1996, under the provisions of Bill 20. Since that time, the Township has been working with the applicant, agencies, and surrounding residents to refine the proposal to make it more compatible with neighbouring property owners, and to ensure conformity with both the Township and Regional Official Plan.

As stated earlier in this report, the Regional Official Plan designates the subject lands as a “Rural Policy Area”. In accordance with Policy 5.7.2 of this designation, limited institutional uses are permitted subject to an amendment to the area municipal official plan and provided an analysis has been undertaken to justify the suitability of the proposed development.

There are several examples of properties in the Region, and specifically the Township (i.e. Seneca College Campus, Cedar Glen Conference Centre), that are designated Rural in local Official Plans but are subject to the Institutional zone category. In these cases, there is planning merit in providing for limited institutional uses that rely on a rural setting, particularly where such uses already exist. The requirement for an Amendment provides a process to evaluate need, impacts to the agricultural land base and natural environment, compatibility with surrounding uses, and the availability of servicing.

In terms of need and the appropriateness of the location, the applicants have outlined that the fundamental religious philosophy of the Greek Orthodox monastic life connects itself to a pastoral lifestyle of quiet meditation and rural surroundings. Since the proponents purchased the property in 1993, regular religious services have been carried out on the site.

In order to address the impact of the proposed use on surrounding land uses and the natural environment, the applicant has submitted a number of technical reports in support of the proposal including a Site Evaluation Report, Servicing Feasibility Study, Traffic Assessment Report, and Preliminary Entrance Design Report. The Township retained Totten Sims Hubicki Associates to review these technical reports.

In their peer review, it was demonstrated that the existing uses do not have an adverse impact on local groundwater conditions and is not expected to decrease the private domestic water supplies in the area. However, it has been suggested that the use of well-monitoring requirements be conditional upon site plan approval for any future expansions proposed.

The review also demonstrated that, although the increase in traffic resulting from the proposed development would be nominal given the existing volumes of traffic, a further review of entrance and design improvements is required prior to site plan approval. The Amendment requires that the Site Plan Development Agreement incorporate adequate off street parking, entrance illumination, and any necessary entrance and design improvements as determined by a detailed Traffic Impact Study and approved by the Town of Caledon and Township Engineer. The Town of Caledon has requested that an additional section be added by Regional modification to require the completion of an entrance design report acceptable to both the Townships of King and Caledon, as part of the site plan approval process.

The modification would clarify that any improvements identified by the report would be the responsibility of the proponent. Township of King Planning staff have confirmed that the modification recommended by the Town of Caledon is minor and have no objection to its inclusion.

In preliminary comments, the Region of York On-Site Sewage Systems Branch confirmed that the numbers which translate to the 4,500 litres per day would generally limit the proposal to 3 overnight guests, 30 transient visitors and a total of 10 permanent residents. Based on the Region’s comments, the Township’s Hydrogeologist confirmed the existing operation can be supported and does not exceed 4,500 litres per day.

Subject to further detailed review, the Township has incorporated the recommendations of these reports and commenting agencies in this Amendment and the proposed Zoning Bylaw.

As outlined in the Amendment, specific provisions related to entrance and driveway improvements, landscape buffers and screening, servicing, well-monitoring, and details setting out the extent of use (i.e. hours of operation, frequency of use, special events) will be further addressed through Site Plan Control.

St. Kosmas 3


Amendment No. 59 would add specific limited institutional and related uses as permitted uses within the “Rural” land use designation, in order to recognize an existing residential building as a residential dormitory with attached chapel and place of worship and to permit the development of additional institutional uses associated with the St. Kosmas Aitolos Monastery and the Greek Orthodox religion.

In review of Amendment No. 59 and the supporting material, Regional staff is satisfied that the proposal conforms with the relevant policies of the Regional Official Plan, particularly Policy 5.7.2. The subject development is principally contained within existing facilities and, provided the operation is contained to a limited size, it has been demonstrated that it can be adequately serviced and will not have an impact on agriculture or the environment.

It is recommended that the notice of decision be given to approve Amendment No. 59 to the Township of King Official Plan subject to a modification to Section 3(13)(17) – Policies to require the completion of an entrance design report acceptable to both the Townships of King and Caledon, as part of the site plan approval process. The modification would clarify that any improvements identified by the report would be the responsibility of the proponent.

This report has been reviewed by the Senior Management Group.

(A copy of the attachments referred to in the foregoing has been forwarded to each Member of Council with the February 2, 2000 Planning Committee agenda and a copy thereof is also on file in the office of the Regional Clerk.)



A new family tradition: ‘The Sisters Touch of Christmas’ (Lorne Derraugh, 2014)

NOTE: The following article is taken from the New Tecumseth Times, November 5th, 2014:

Is there such thing as a new tradition? Traditions have their start somewhere. Did you know that for 11 years the Sisters of Saint Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery in Bolton, have been inviting the community to their store ‘The Sisters Touch of Christmas’? A perfect seasonal family outing to a magical store snuggled in Bolton’s rolling hills!

The Sisters Touch of Christmas

An enchanting gateway and manicured driveway leads to a quaint building, the first on the left.
The doors open to a storybook shop of old world charm with stunning displays of floor to ceiling shelves, dazzlingly filled with one-of-a-kind handcrafted gifts and displays; a feast for the eyes. A first glance tells you that you’ll never see an exclusive shop like this in any mall and you notice that this is not your typical Christmas bazaar.
Once inside, volunteer associates of the nuns welcome you and introduce you to ‘Mr. Frosty’. If moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas can hold back their anticipation of what’s to come, everyone may wish to take a selfie with the jolly four foot high snowman.
Then scented candles, joyful music and the thought of yummy treats beckon you onward.


The first of three rooms contains sparkling, singular blown glass tree ornaments painstakingly hand-painted by the Sisters themselves. Upon purchase, some ornaments may be personalized for you by the sisters at no additional charge.

There are dozens of themed ornaments representing the interests of every family member.
The sisters are well known for their baked items, fruit cakes and gingerbread. The next room has a kitchen attached where they make chocolates and traditional Greek baklava. After sampling some treats you may wish to pick up one of their traditional holiday recipe books, if you have the time and the inclination to try your hand. But what could be easier than picking out your favourite treats, already wonderfully wrapped in eye catching packaging. Dads may wish try out their seasoned oils made with 100 per cent olive oil while moms check out the beeswax creams, lip balm and soaps made by the sisters themselves. Then the moms can get the dads to meet up with them again at the jewelry section for some helpful suggestions.


Room number three brings us to the children’s section; Christmas crafts, Advent calendars, nutcrackers and Santas, all to bring visions of sugar plums to dance in their heads. Unique stocking stuffers abound. The other half of the room is brimming with ideas for accentuating your home’s Christmas décor. You’ll want to come soon to look over their linens, runners, colourful tablecloths, elegant centrepieces and candles. You’ll find angel themes and beautiful nativity scenes with artistically designed mangers and quality European imported figurines.
All these reasonably priced gifts are presented to reflect the true meaning of Christmas. The monies raised by the Sisters in their Christmas store help them in their initiatives to help others throughout the year. On the wall behind the register are plaques they have received from some of the many various service organizations they have supported.

When you make a purchase you will receive a ballot for a free weekly draw. While you fill it out, the kids can write and post a letter to Santa in the mailbox next to Mr. Frosty.
For timeless Christmas keepsakes, unique children’s gifts, the very finest holiday items, tastiest recipes and a unique magical experience the Sisters invite you, your family and friends to start a new tradition. Stop by their shop where you are sure to find the perfect yuletide gift!
The store is easy to find. The monastery is located at 14155 Caledon King Townline South Bolton. For those coming from the north, that’s Mount Wolfe Road.
The welcome gate is open during their store hours:
• November 1st – December 21st: Thursday and Friday: 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Saturday: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Sunday: 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
• Monday, December 22nd: 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Tuesday, December 23rd: 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.
• Wednesday, December 24th: 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
For more information call 905 859-8077 or visit


Ivantchenko, et al. v. The Sisters of Saint Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery, 2011 ONSC 6481 (CanLII)

For background info, see:

Nun suing monastery says sisters harrassed her, killed her cats

Ex-nun claims ‘intimidation’ at monastery

Nun took a vow of poverty – but is suing for pay

Can a Nun Sue to Recover Damages for Unpaid Work Performed in a Monastery?



Nun Procession at St. Kosmas Monastery, Canada.
Nun Procession at St. Kosmas Monastery, Canada.

 [1]          The plaintiff Victoria Ivantchenko (“Sister Ivantchenko”) is a nun who resided in Saint Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery (the “Monastery”), under the direction of the Mother Superior/Abbess Anastasia Voutzali (the “Mother Superior”), until May 2010 when she left.

[2]          Sister Ivantchenko seeks damages for wrongful constructive dismissal, for costs related to her retraining, aggravated damages and an accounting of monies allegedly owed to her for work she did in the past. She seeks this relief against the Monastery, which she identifies as the corporation known as the “Sisters of Saint Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery” Sister Ivantchenko claims that the corporate defendant, the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto (Canada) (the “Metropolis”) is her predecessor employer and is also vicariously liable for the actions of the Sisters of Saint Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery. She also alleges breach of fiduciary duty and negligent investigation by the Metropolis. Sister Ivantchenko has included in her action claims for slander and/or defamation, invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of mental suffering, injurious falsehood and wrongful interference with membership at the Monastery and claims under the Ontario Human Right Code.  Some of these claims are also made on behalf of her mother, Ludmilla Davidenko, her sister, Valerie Rost and her brother in law, Max Rost.

[3]          The defendants move for summary judgment against the plaintiffs largely on the basis that there was and is no employment relationship between Sister Ivantchenko and the Metropolis, the Monastery, or the Sisters of Saint Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery. This motion obliges the court to analyze carefully the actual relationships among the parties.

[4]          Mr. Epstein, counsel for the applicant, has conceived of his case in almost entirely secular terms. However, the authorities cited by counsel, including Mr. Epstein, acknowledge that courts must be sensitive to the interplay between civil law and the internal law of the involved religious organization in determining disputes between the organization and its members. Sister Ivantchenko’s claims bring into play the intersection between civil law and the internal law applicable to members of a religious organization, which I will call “ecclesiastical law” for convenience; this case perforce brings civil law into engagement with religion.

The Court’s Approach to the Intersection of Civil and Ecclesiastical Law

Nun Procession at St. Kosmas Monastery, Canada.
Nun Procession at St. Kosmas Monastery, Canada.

[5]          Courts are reluctant to become involved in the internal affairs of a religious organization. The invitation to do so comes invariably, as in this case, at the instance of a member who feels aggrieved by the actions of the organization. There are good reasons for this diffidence. First, the court recognizes that freedom of religion, a right protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, is very much implicated in such disputes and must be fulsomely respected. This may well involve the court accepting, on the evidence, that an individual is not an employee at common law: Hart v. Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of the Diocese of Kingston, 2010 ONSC 4709 (CanLII), [2010] O.J. No. 3747,, 323 D.L.R. (4th) 212 per Beaudoin J.; Brewer v. Anglican Church of Canada, [1996] O.J. No. 634 (C. J. (Gen. Div.)),  per Soubliere J.; Lewery v. Governing Council of the Salvation Army in Canada (1993), 1993 CanLII 5290 (NB CA), 135 N.B.R. (2d) 348,104 D.L.R. (4th) 449 (C.A.), per Hoyt C.J.N.B..

[6]          Second, the court recognizes the real risk of misunderstanding the relevant tradition and culture, which could result in getting the decision wrong and saddling the religious organization with a bad decision. In Lakeside Colony of Hutterian Brethren v. Hofer, 1992 CanLII 37 (SCC), [1992] 3 S.C.R. 165, Gonthier J. made the following observations:

63       It is only from an external viewpoint that the written documents and the authority which they outline seem primary. Indeed, it is difficult for a court to come to a firm conclusion as to what the tradition and custom are, and correspondingly easier to analyze the formal legal documents. This is especially so when the tradition or custom is in dispute, as it will often be when a court is called on to intervene. Especially in interpreting the tradition and custom of religious societies, the court is in great danger of falling into what Professor Chafee called the “Dismal Swamp of obscure rules and [page191] doctrines” (in “The Internal Affairs of Associations Not for Profit” (1930), 43 Harv. L. Rev. 993, at p. 1024). In this regard, Professor Chafee makes this observation (at pp. 1023-24):

In very many instances the courts have interfered in these [church controversies], and consequently have been obliged to write very long opinions on questions which they could not well understand. The result has often been that the judicial review of the highest tribunal of the church is really an appeal from a learned body to an unlearned body.

64        However, as Professor Chafee also recognizes, the difficulty of understanding tradition and custom is really one reason to avoid assuming jurisdiction in the first place. Once the court assumes jurisdiction, there is no alternative but to come to the best understanding possible of the applicable tradition and custom…

This, of course, obliges the affected religious organizations to place the appropriate materials before the court.

[7]          Third, while the court will enforce the civil incidents of an agreement that originates in a religious context, by enforcing, for example, a contract to grant a religious divorce, as in Bruker v. Marcovitz, 2007 SCC 54 (CanLII), [2007] 3 S.C.R. 607 at para. 47, it will take care to avoid involving itself in doctrinal disputes, as McLachlin C.J.C. noted in Syndicat Northcrest v. Amselem, 2004 SCC 47 (CanLII), [2004] 2 S.C.R. 551:

50       In my view, the State is in no position to be, nor should it become, the arbiter of religious dogma. Accordingly, courts should avoid judicially interpreting and thus determining, either explicitly or implicitly, the content of a subjective understanding of religious requirement, “obligation”, precept, “commandment”, custom or ritual. Secular judicial determinations of theological or religious disputes, or of contentious matters of religious doctrine, unjustifiably entangle the court in the affairs of religion.

This caution must be especially pronounced where the court is not certain, on the state of the evidence, about the presence or ambit of a doctrinal dispute.

[8]          Fourth, the concepts underpinning the relationship between civil law, on the one hand, and religious organizations and their internal laws, on the other hand, have not been fully worked out. There are some exceptions, such as the obligation of a religious organization to follow its own rules including the rules of natural justice: Davis v. United Church of Canada (1991), 1992 CanLII 7731 (ON SC), 8 O.R. (3d) 75; Lakeside Colony of Hutterian Brethren v. Hofer, supra; and Davies v. Presbyterian Church of Wales, [1986] 1 All E.R. 705 (H.L.), among others.

[9]          Some relevant unresolved difficulties include the appropriate approach for the court to take when the religious organization is understood primordially as an unincorporated association of individuals sharing a common faith, but which has obtained a civil corporate identity that is not or may not be completely coextensive with it. In Lakeside Colony of Hutterian Brethren v. Hofer, supra, per Gonthier J. at paras. 58-59:

58     The statutory corporation [created under civil law] and the association created by the Constitution [the ecclesiastical document] thus seem neither wholly identical nor wholly distinct. In analyzing the relationship between the Act and the Constitution, it is readily apparent that the Act casts only the top layer of the structure established by the Constitution into legislative form. This is consistent with the view that the purpose of the corporation was to deal with external threats that affected each Hutterite conference equally. To this end, only the top level of the institutional structure needed to be formalized in the statutory corporation. Why it was thought that a statutory corporation was necessary to this end is unclear, but this seems a logical conclusion.

59   The church corporation and the church should therefore be seen as technically distinct entities which in practice have the same members, and are governed by the same managers at the same meetings.

[10]      For an historical analysis and an exploration of the legal complications around the corporate status assumed by an ecclesiastical entity and the proper reach of that status, see J.R.S. v. Glendinning, 2000 CanLII 22641 (ON SC), [2000] O.J. No. 2695, 191 D.L.R. (4th) 750 per Ross J. The complications only increase where the controversy is between ecclesiastical entities that utilize civil corporate entities for certain purposes, as in this case where the Monastery and the Metropolis are both implicated by the plaintiffs’ allegations.

[11]      The typical pattern in court decisions is to carefully explicate the polity of the religious organization based on expert evidence: Davis v. United Church of Canada, supra; Lakeside Colony of Hutterian Brethren v. Hofer, supra; J.R.S. v. Glendinning, supra; Hart v. Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of the Diocese of Kingston, supra; Brewer v. Anglican Church of Canada, supra; Pedersen v. Fulton, [1994] O.J. No. 168. These authorities show that once the ecclesiastical relationships are properly understood, the court will oblige the religious organization and its member to comply with its internal law; this may include, for example, refusing to permit a civil suit to proceed until the internal routes are exhausted and found wanting. None of the parties have tendered expert evidence on this issue.

The Factual Context

Gerondissa Alexia Voutzali
Gerondissa Alexia Voutzali

[12]      In the words of Mother Superior, Sister Ivantchenko “came to live and serve in the Monastery as a novice nun on or about February 26, 1996.” On May 9, 1999, she “became a “Rassaphore, that is, she reached the second stage of her development as a nun.” In May 2010 she left the Monastery. On August 10, 2010, she started this action.

[13]      The individual defendants are all nuns of the Greek Orthodox religion and reside at the Monastery. The defendant, “Sisters of St. Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery” was incorporated in 2001, five years after Sister Ivantchenko came to be a nun at the Monastery. According to Mother Superior, it is a charitable corporation set up for the principal purpose of providing receipts for charitable donations made to the Monastery. These defendants assert that the charitable corporation does not own the Monastery and that only three of the nuns living at the Monastery are on the board of directors of the charitable corporation. These defendants submit that Sister Ivantchenko has not named the Monastery itself in this action, although it is plain that she thought she was doing so when she sued the entity known as Sisters of St. Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery.

[14]      I am especially troubled by the profound ambiguity that permeates the evidence of the Mother Superior in her affidavit dated January 28, 2011, on the nature of the Monastery:

The Monastery was set up under the spiritual guidance of an individual by the name of Elder Ephrem in 1993. I began my relationship with Elder Ephrem when I entered a convent known as Holy Theotokos the Directress in Volos, Greece in 1968.

The Monastery is the only one of its type in Ontario, that is, one dedicated to the works and services of nuns, under the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Canada. There are other monasteries of the Greek Orthodox faith in Ontario, but we are not associated with these monasteries, except by way of common religion. Although Elder Ephrem is the spiritual father of all the Monasteries he has established, he is not involved in the daily supervision of the Monastery. As Mother Superior of the Monastery, I am its spiritual leader.

The Monastery comprises a number of structures including a church, living quarters for the nuns, storage areas, chapels and a parking lot. The land on which the Monastery sits is registered to the Co-Defendant, The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto (Canada) (the “Metropolis”). Although the Monastery enjoys a friendly relationship with the Metropolis, the Monastery is not under the direct, daily, spiritual or economic supervision of the Metropolis, nor is it funded by the Metropolis. The Monastery is responsible for all expenses and activity related to the property.

The Monastery is a cenobitic one in which monastics live together and have their possessions in common under my leadership. The communal way of monastic life has existed for almost 2000 years. This is a tradition that the sisters presently hold and pursue. The obligation of a nun in this type of monastery is to strive to keep, for the love of Christ and for spiritual progress, the monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Although a nun’s free will never disappears, it is the duty of every monastic to focus her free will on keeping the commandments of Christ within the monastic community. Monastics, in general, have little or no contact with the outside world, especially family. A monastic’s family, whose child decides to enter monasticism, understands that their child will become “dead to the world” and will therefore be unavailable for social visits. Monasticism is a way of life in which the monastics devote their life to God. Monastic work is for God and not for people. It is not a career.

[15]      It is common ground that the Metropolis owns the land and buildings that house the Monastery. James Anas is a director and corporate secretary of the corporate defendant known as the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto (Canada). He deposes that:

The Metropolis administers the life of the Greek Orthodox Church in Canada according to the Eastern Orthodox faith and tradition, sanctifying the faithful through the divine liturgy and the holy sacraments and edifying the religious and ethical life of the faithful in accordance with the holy scriptures and in accordance with the principles established by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Metropolis is headed by His Eminence Metropolitan Archbishop Sotirios (the “Metropolitan”).

Icon given to monastics under Geronda Ephraim. There is a blessing to pray to this icon to ask for Geronda's help in times of need
Icon given to monastics under Geronda Ephraim. There is a blessing to pray to this icon to ask for Geronda’s help in times of need

In 1993, Father Ephraim was given the blessing of the Metropolitan to organize the Monastery. The Metropolis provided the building and property upon which Father Ephraim and the defendant, Anastasia Voutzali (the “Mother Superior”) and one other nun, both of whom were from Greece, organized the Monastery. The Mother Superior is the spiritual leader of the Monastery.  Father Ephraim is affiliated with the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco which oversees the western region of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

The Metropolis was and is not involved in the operation of the Monastery. The Monastery is an autonomous entity. The Metropolitan did not appoint or place the Mother Superior in her position. The Metropolis is not involved in any decisions with respect to the Monastery or the sisters. The Metropolitan does not appoint or place individuals to the Monastery, nor monitor or endorse their individual spiritual process or progress. Further, the Metropolis does not fund the Monastery and does not pay any of its expenses. The Monastery is responsible for its own expenses. From time to time, however, the Metropolitan visits the Monastery for liturgical purposes. On these occasions, he is often asked and does provide his blessing to the sisters as a whole, including having dinner with the sisters, beginning and ending same with prayers.

With respect to Ivantchenko specifically, neither the Metropolis nor the Metropolitan appointed or placed Ivantchenko at the Monastery. I am advised by the Metropolitan and do verily believe that Ivantchenko was not known to the Metropolitan or the Metropolis prior to the time he visited the Monastery for liturgical services. The Metropolis never had responsibility for Ivantchenko’s general support or welfare. The Metropolitan did not exercise any discretion with respect to Ivantchenko’s spiritual progression, but was asked to bless the decision of Father Ephraim and Mother Superior for her to be tonsured as a nun.

[16]      The evidence recited in the two preceding paragraphs of these reasons establish that there is a “Monastery.”  The word is used variously and therefore ambiguously. It is a description of a physical structure; it is also a form of community or religious organization independent of the physical structure; it has a relationship with the Metropolis but that relationship is not explained; the Monastery is not the same entity as the Sisters of St. Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery, but precisely what form of entity it is, ecclesiastical or civil, is nowhere described or explained. Is the Monastery, in fact, a legal entity capable of being sued or is the problem one of misnomer?

[17]      In relation to Sister Ivantchenko, Mother Superior asserts:

The sisters in the Monastery sign no contract and receive no salary or pay. There are no pensions and no vacations. This is the circumstance in monastic life the world over. The sisters reside in the Monastery as a family.

Ivantchenko was not hired, or employed, by the Monastery. She entered into the Monastery voluntarily with the awareness that she would not receive any pay or income, or salary of any sort, and would be in the service of God and her fellow sisters. At no point in the 14 years that Ivantchenko was residing at the Monastery did she ask for pay of any sort, or complain at any time that she was not receiving pay.

[18]      Sister Ivantchenko performed tasks that would be seen in the secular world as “work” including sewing religious vestments and doing embroidery, for which the Monastery received compensation. Mother Superior asserts that these tasks fall within the ordinary responsibilities of a nun:

In the secular sense of the word Ivantchenko was not working for anyone, nor was she an employee. At no time was it stated, or implied, that she was working, in any way for pay. Monastery life has, from its inception 2000 years ago, involved voluntary labour for sustaining the common needs of the sisterhood. These labours include daily chores, such as caretaking of the church, church services, chanting, tending to elderly or sick sisters, hospitality and a great variety of artistic and skilful crafts, including iconography and sewing. Some nuns, because of certain talent or ability may begin to dedicate more time to a certain task, but all are willing to help towards the common good, as in a home, where everyone is needed to help with different chores.

[19]      Mr. Epstein relies on these activities, among other things, to assert that Sister Ivantchenko is an employee for civil law purposes and is entitled to sue for wrongful dismissal.


Metropolitan Sotirios of Canada.
Metropolitan Sotirios of Canada.

[20]      This review of the underlying facts shows that this motion suffers from infirmities that should cause a court to step back. This is because of the risk that a decision could  cast in legal stone a relationship in a religious context that is not fully understood by the court. The parties are obliged to place the appropriate materials before the court, as noted by Gonthier J. in Lakeside Colony of Hutterian Brethren v. Hofer, supra, at paras. 63-64.

[21]      The difficulty in this case is that I have not been provided with evidence concerning     ecclesiastical law as it may apply to the relationships among the parties.  In her book entitled Religious Institutions and the Law in Canada 3rd ed. (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2010), Professor M.H. Ogilvie makes the following observation in a footnote to her description of Orthodox denominations operating in Canada:

The number of these Orthodox communities, each with its unique polity, history, and a cultural identity, made it impossible to choose one as typical for current purposes.  Legal advisers should ensure that they have the appropriate constitutional documents and legislation for the church with which they are dealing.

[22]      Ms. Kotsopolous, counsel for the Metropolis, which is the party in the best position to supply such evidence, asserts in her factum that:

Any relationship that did exist between Ivantchenko and the Metropolis was at all times governed exclusively by the Canons and Rules of the Greek Orthodox Church.  Any relationship was purely in a liturgical or spiritual capacity.  Accordingly, the Superior Court has no jurisdiction over the subject matter of the claim.

[23]      The Metropolis did not, however, provide any evidence about the applicable “Canons and Rules of the Greek Orthodox Church.” These have not been produced in the course of this litigation. Ms. Kotsopoulos asserted in oral argument that they are not relevant. During her cross examination, Mother Superior referred to something called the “Rules of the Order” which suggests that there is an ecclesiastical entity known as an “Order,” and that it has “Rules.”  She describes this as a “coenobitic tradition” that goes back 2,500 years and implies that the tradition is not in writing.

[24]      Who are the proper defendants? The nature of the involved institutions has not been described adequately in the evidence. Is the civil corporation known as the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto (Canada) the same as the ecclesiastical entity known as the Metropolis? Or is it just the civil corporate structure adopted by the ecclesiastical Metropolis to enable it to hold land, collect money for church purposes, issue charitable receipts and employ lay staff, among other activities in the secular world, as in Lakeside Colony of Hutterian Brethren v. Hofer, supra, or J.R.S. v Glendinning, supra?

[25]      The Metropolis describes the Monastery as “an autonomous entity.” That description implies that the Monastery is not only the land and buildings. Perhaps the autonomous entity is not the land and building at all but the people who reside there as a religious community. Or does that autonomy arise from the fact that the Sisters are part of a religious order that possesses and controls the physical Monastery for the time being? What, in ecclesiastical legal terms, is the nature of that entity?

[26]      Do these religious entities operate civil corporations that are implicated in this case but are not properly named? Which are the suable entities in this case?

[27]      Mr. Epstein invokes the concept of “natural justice” but places no evidence before the court describing any relevant ecclesiastical legal process that exists within the “Canons and Rules of the Greek Orthodox Church,” which the defendants may have failed to follow. Nor have the defendants done so.

[28]      I began these reasons with the observation that courts must be sensitive to the interplay between civil law and the internal law of the concerned religious organization in determining disputes between the organization and its members. Sister Ivantchenko’s claims bring into play the intersection between civil law and the internal law applicable to members of a religious organization. The state of the evidence does not permit me to rule with confidence on the main issue of whether Sister Ivantchenko must be understood in civil law terms to be an employee of one or more of the “Monastery,” the Sisters of Saint Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery, the “Order,” the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto (Canada), or some combination of them, let alone whether she might have been wrongfully dismissed. In this extremely sensitive area the parties are obliged to place the appropriate materials before the court about the implicated religious traditions, customs and laws, the nature and interrelationship of the various religious entities involved and their status as a matter of civil law. Certainly the parties have not carefully explicated the polity of the religious organization based on expert evidence.

[29]      I am therefore not prepared to grant summary judgment and dismiss the motion based on the materials filed. This is in spite of my view that the precedents cited by the defendants strongly favour the position of whatever entity may ultimately be considered to be Sister Ivantchenko’s putative employer, if any; the matters raised in this decision may well turn out to require the trial of an issue.

[30]      I am not inclined to award costs to either side in connection with this motion since the deficiencies in the evidence fall on both sides, but if the parties wish to pursue costs I will accept written submissions within 10 days, failing which I will assume that the costs issue need not be decided.

Justice P.D. Lauwers

Released:  November 18, 2011

Nuns & Priests (St. Kosmas Monastery)

CITATIONIvantchenko, et al. v. The Sisters of Saint Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery, et al., 2011 ONSC 6481

COURT FILE NO.:  CV-10-0100432-00

DATE:  20111118

Is a Nun an Employee? Can a Nun Sue to Recover Damages for Unpaid Work Performed in a Monastery? (Professor Doorey)

NOTE: This article is taken from Professor Doorey’s blog, Law of Work. Professor Doorey is an award winning teacher and Associate Professor of Work Law at York University. He is Academic Director of Osgoode Hall Law School’s executive LLM Program in Labour and Employment Law, and sits on the Advisory Board of the Osgoode Certificate program in Labour Law.

Professor Doorey.
Professor Doorey.
Among  the first things we consider in my Employment Law course is “what is an employee” and when is an employment contract created?

When I ask someone to build a deck in my backyard, am I entering into an employment contract with him, or some other form of contract?  Is an intern an employee?  Can the intern sue a business that took her on to do work?

Whether a contract is created, and if so, whether that contract is an ‘employment’ contract matter greatly in our legal system.  A worker can only sue for damages if there was a legally enforceable contract entered into.  They can only make claims for employment regulation benefits if they became an ‘employee’ as defined by our employment laws.

So I was interested in an odd little decision from Ontario released last month dealing with the question of whether a nun residing and performing work in a monastery can sue to recover monies for work she performed while residing at the monastery. The case is called Ivantchenko v. The Sisters of Saint Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery.

Here is a Toronto Star piece discussing the case.

The nun (Ivantchenko) filed a lawsuit alleging constructive dismissal (among other claims, including a variety of torts).   She is seeking notice of termination (back wages), among other remedies.  Only an employee can be constructively dismissed.  While residing as a nun in the monastery, she performed a variety of tasks including sewing.

Chapel entrance at St. Kosmas Monastery, Canada.
Chapel entrance at St. Kosmas Monastery, Canada.

This was a decision on a summary judgment motion brought by the Defendants.  That is, the Defendants argued that the court should dismiss the lawsuit without a trial because the nun is not an employee and no contract was entered into.  They argued that:

Ivantchenko was not hired, or employed, by the Monastery. She entered into the Monastery voluntarily with the awareness that she would not receive any pay or income, or salary of any sort, and would be in the service of God and her fellow sisters. At no point in the 14 years that Ivantchenko was residing at the Monastery did she ask for pay of any sort, or complain at any time that she was not receiving pay.

That claim sounds like something employers say when they try to explain why workers they call “unpaid interns” are not employees, and therefore not entitled to minimum wage and other employment-related benefits (other than the God part, that is).  Often that argument fails in the case of interns, as I have noted before, because courts look past how the parties characterize the relationship and apply a series of tests to determine if a worker looks more like an employee, or more like something else (like a person receiving an education, or an independent contractor).

Should the situation be different for nuns?

The court here refuses to grant the summary dismissal.  It rules that there was not enough evidence presented to establish the nature of the relationship, and therefore the facts need to be sorted out at trial.  However, the Judge does hint that he is troubled by the case,  because courts are usually ill-equipped to interpret religious rules and culture, and therefore the risk of a court imposing an inappropriate rule on a religious organization is high.  He says that courts should be very careful in wading into internal religious disputes.

St Kosmas Backview

On the other hand, the courts cannot stand back and allow violations of civil, legal rights to be trampled upon under the guise of religious freedom.  Should every person who performs work inside a monastery be outside the boundaries of employment law, or just some? Should a religious organization be permitted discriminate against people who do not share their faith? Where to draw the line between religious freedom and secular legal rights is a controversial and difficult one.  However, someone needs to answer these sorts of questions.

What do you think?  Should the nun be entitled to employment-related benefits and contractual rights?

Or did she forfeit those rights when she walked into the Monastery?

A requirement of legally enforceable contract is ‘the intention to create legal relations’.  Do you think that the monastery intended to enter into such a contract with the nun?

Two Responses to Can a Nun Sue to Recover Damages for Unpaid Work Performed in a Monastery?

  1. Bob Barnetson Reply

    January 4, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    This isn’t a legal argument, simply an observation: religious orders accorded special treatment have a history of abusing and exploiting the vulnerable. This seems to augur against legal exceptions for religious orders.

    Presumably there was some set of mutual obligations entered into when she entered the relationship with her order. If these obligations weren’t written down, shouldn’t we fall back upon whatever common law doctrines appear most appropriate (and these might or might not employment-related)?

    I’m certainly prepared to entertain arguments about instances where religious beliefs have some legitimate bearing upon employment (e.g., the exception to union security clauses contained in most labour statutes for honestly held religious beliefs), but I’m also heartened the court decided to hear the nun’s case and decide it on its merits.

    2. Ioannis M. Reply

    June 15, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    I will get to the legal aspects near the end of my comment. The first few paragraphs are just some background clarification.

    The 18+ monasteries under Geronda Ephraim’s direction in North America are continually accused as mind-control cults. This is essentially because the most important monastic “virtue” that is emphasized and expected is complete, blind obedience. As Geronda Ephraim teaches, “A disicple should say to oneself, whatever the Elder believes, thinks and feels, I believe, think and feel.” This is very dangerous because the monastics start reprogramming themselves to adapt to this mindset, and begin doing things that go against their conscience, all in the spirit of blind obedience. Of course, there is also a clause in the monastic texts, “It is better to sadden God than your Elder because if you sadden God, your Elder can propitiate for you, but if you sadden your Elder, who will pray for you?”

    With the above in mind, one can see how easy it is for an Elder or Eldress to manipulate their monastics into anything, they have the fear of a) saddening their superior=abandonment of God and grace, b) disobedience=death (i.e. if they die in disobedience they go to hell) and c)they are constantly reminded day in and day out about obedience/disobedience and the day of their death.

    A typical monastery schedule allows 6 1/2 to 7 1/2 hours of sleep daily which is broken up into two portions: 4-5 hours sleep before waking up for an all night vigil (beginning anywhere between midnight to 2am) and then the remaining time is allowed after the vigil. Depending on the monastery, breakfast is eaten before or after the morning sleep (a full stomach sometimes hinders sleep so monastics will eat lightly or not at all). Then a full day of work, which in some cases resembles slave labor, begins. Whatever a monastic is instructed to do, they are expected to do not only without questioning, but also without murmuring or begrudgingly. Work is also usually combined with a superior or older monastic yelling at or insulting the monastic (this is said to be for the benefit of their soul so that they can acquire the virtue of humility). As well as trying to ceaselessly recite the Jesus prayer either verbally or noetically, the monastic also has to include reflections on their death and various forms of self-reproach, i.e. “I’m useless, I’m garbage, I’m worthless, my work isn’t good, I’m nothing, etc.” The superiors will also yell this at the monastic periodically, either daily or throughout the weekly cycle, so they don’t fall into pride.

    So, in essence, eastern orthodox monasticism is a form of slavery which the candidate knowingly enrolls themselves (the catch is, they do not actually understand the depth and the magnitude of this commitment). As a layperson, the monk read the monastic texts, lives of moanstic saints, had conversations with monastics who were grooming them with counsels and stories tailor-made for them, and perhaps even helped out at monasteries during pilgrimages. However, this is all theoretical knowledge without practical experience. Nobody witnesses the ins and outs, or the skeletons in the closet, until they put on the black. Despite all the scandals and hypocrisies one sees behind closed doors, they are suppose to repeatedly justify them with positive thoughts. One saint writes, “Even if you see your elder fall into fornication, do not judge him.” One is suppose to believe that Christ speaks through the Elder, even if they are the most sinful people.

    The Ladder of Divine Ascent—also referred to as “The Monastic Bible”—states: “You who are therefore trying to lay your own burden on Another’s shoulders [i.e. via submitting in blind obedience to an Elder], you who are hastening to sign a pledge that you are voluntarily surrendering yourself to slavery” (Step 4:5). At the end of the book, St. John Climacus writes his own Beautitudes for monastics: “Blessed is he who is as zealous with true zeal as a well-disposed slave towards his master” (Step 30:11).

    Thus, a layperson entering the monastic life knows beforehand that they are making a commitment that will not be paid here on earth, they are doing everything with a hope–not a guarantee–that they will be rewarded in the next life. Geronda Ephraim teaches that not many monastics are saved because of their negligence and disobedience. So it is a life filled with anxiety and constantly reminding oneself that they are probably going to hell because they are not good enough.

    I think Sister Veronica would’ve had a better angle if she sued primarily for emotional and psychological abuse and the damages she suffered from it. Proving it would be hard because Gerondissa Alexia would’ve instructed her nuns to lie (in monasticism, there is no sin in obedience except disobedience, so the nuns technically would not be breaking any commandments if they obeyed).

    Over 40 monks and nuns have left Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries since they started here in 1989. Some of these individuals have been monastics for over 20 years. The majority left with psychological and emotional trauma. However, no one talks out of fear of being “punished by God.” The monastics have heard numerous stories about people who spoke out against Geronda Ephraim being “chastised” with terminal illnesses, lost of a child, even death, thus there is a terror about speaking out against the abuses that go on in the monasteries. Only a few websites have:

    – See more at:

– See more at: