The Abbot’s Sexual “Right” In Pre-Modern Romanian and Other European Culture (Andrei Oisteanu, 2016)

NOTE: The following article is excerpted from Studies in the History of Religions XIXXX:317-351.

CONTENTS:

  • “Do as the Priest Says, Not as the Priest Does!”
  • “I Worship the Icons | My Eyes on the Matrons”
  • Men vs Women: Isolation And Discrimination
  • “The Abbots’ Right Over Gypsy Women”
  • Homosexuality and Pedophilia in the Monasteries

“DO AS THE PREIST SAYS, NOT AS THE PRIEST DOES!”

At the beginning of the 18th century, Romanian Metropolitan Antim Ivireanul created, through his Didahii (Sermons), a genuine “theology of sin,” setting the stage for the immorality of erotic voluptuousness. To him, women were “reprobate and tempting to evil things.” All vices, but especially sexual ones (“the bitter sweetness of foul fornication”) were demonized by the Metropolitan (“He who sins is from the Devil”), Hell being “the consummate payment for sin”:

“Think […] that you have defiled your soul with fornications, adulteries, sodomies, soblazne-s [= pollutions], with debaucheries and food galore; your hands, with foul fondling [= masturbation], with perversions and rapes [= sexual violations], with killings and others.” Didachies (Sermons), 1709-1716.

The metropolitan was speaking not only to Christian laymen, but also to clerics, handing them genuine “textbooks of the confessor.” The confessor had to know “how he will question” the wretched sinner during “confession” and “how to bring him back to the righteous path” (Teachings for Confession, 1710).1

…Most of the sins confessed into the priest’s ear were surely those of an erotic nature. As Michel Foucault put it: “sex has been the privileged matter of confession.”2 Compared to the rigorism of the clerics, the peasants’ mentality was more flexible, more permissive…Quite often, however, the confessors needed confessors themselves, as they were not immune to the temptation of sin either…More than that, “due to uninterrupted idleness and abundant food,” some clerics “are naturally more exposed to the temptation of the body than other people.”3

The sinner’s confession took place in the intimate and dark space of the confessional or, with the Orthodox Christians, in a less “hygienic” space, under the priest’s apron (patrafir, Neo-Greek epitrahilion = “around the neck”).4 The confessor (who played the role of the psychiatrist in ancient times) had to know relevant details, but he also wanted to hear them. Listening to countless illicit sexual exploits, told by their parishioners with hundreds of licentious details, the confessors saw them with the mind’s eye, becoming inclined towards erotic fantasies. They were prone to sin first “in thought” and then “in deed.” As an old Romanian proverb goes, which was recorded in a manuscript dating back to the middle of the 18th century: “The appetite for fornication is much whetted by gazing” (Mss. BAR no. 273, 1759)5 . “Gazing,” but also “lending an ear” whets “the appetite for fornication.” That is what Antim Ivireanu also said explicitly, at the beginning of the 18th century:

“You have defiled your ears with dirty songs and words […] you have [defiled] your eyes with impious sights and signs of fornication” (Didahii [Sermons], 1709-1716).

“There are men who rape a woman with their eyes,” says a character from a novel by Octav Şuluţiu (Ambigen, 1935)6. The sensory system plays a paramount role. The rest is a matter of the imagination. The main sexual organ is not the penis or the vagina, but the brain.

One of the first Romanian poets who addressed the hypocrisy of the Christian Orthodox priests was Alecu Văcărescu, around 1795: “Should a priest walk your way | He acts in a hallowed way | But he’s masked his face away.”7 When Eminescu wrote in a poem (Egipetul, 1872) about the “debauched clergy,” he was surely not referring only to ancient Egyptian clergymen. Presumably, he also had in mind contemporary Romanian, Christian Orthodox clerics. There are many debauched priests and monks in Romanian literature…

A caricature on the cover of a Romanian magazine, 1896, representing a hetero- and homosexual orgy of members of the clergy.
A caricature on the cover of a Romanian magazine, 1896, representing a hetero- and homosexual orgy of members of the clergy.

Even when they were married, some Orthodox priests would not refrain from bedding one of their women parishioners or from raping a maid. The following is the real testimony, from a complaint dating back to 1791, submitted to the Metropolitan’s office and probably signed by a neighbour, who bears witness to the way in which a certain Father Toma had raped and deflowered his young maid, Pena:

“(One evening), as he came back home drunk, [Father Toma] beat up his wife and threw her out of the house and then he turned upon this girl [Pena] and spoiled [=deflowered] her. And to prevent her from shouting, he gagged her. And he repeated that exploit twice that night.”8

Following the girl’s complaint, the Metropolitan’s office launched an inquiry, opening a “case.” The confrontation was, however, asymmetrical and unjust. The priest’s sexual privileges, even if they are not provided for (and are even banned) by law, through custom and use, became tradition, into lex non scripta: “[b]ut the legal battle did not give [the maid] a winning hand”, Constanţa Vintilă-Ghiţulescu rightly comments, “for the priest had on his side his friends from the slum, his prestige and his power. To denounce such a master involved much greater risks than keeping the secret: losing the job, dishonour, the impossibility of finding another job.”9

In their turn, abbots and monks from Christian Orthodox monasteries were not guileless either. On seeing a beautiful maiden, they feared they would be tempted to sin:

The poor monk’s desire, See his soul burning on fire […] Where he sees a maiden fair His frock is blown in the air, For his soul is in despair, Afraid a great sin to bear!10

Obviously, some monks got over their “fear to sin” and raped girls. One of them, in a monastery in Moldova, in 1739, tried (without success) to avoid sanctions (“beating” and “gaol punishment”), confessing that it had been a freely consensual act, not a sexual violation: “with the girl’s approval he committed fornication, not forcefully.”11

The monk and priest Eufrosin Poteca (1785-1858), the future prior of the Gura Motrului monastery, also suffered from “the disease of loving maidens,” being always “consumed by love” and feeling “in the depths of his heart, the fire of love” for fair maidens. These are almost innocent vices, which, he claimed, he had to experiment in order to be able afterwards “to bring others to the right path as well”: “I wanted to learn better the passion of love so that I might learn by trial and error how I might lead others to the right path, too.”12

Small wonder that the reformist theologian was deeply resented by the senior clergy of the Romanian Orthodox Church. For the early decades of the 19th century, but not only, Eufrosin Poteca behaved at the limit of scandal and sacrilege. As to Prior Eufrosin Poteca, the Metropolitan was “full of rabid venom.”

Eufrosin Poteca promoted a sort of “erotic mysticism,” as George Călinescu dubbed it. In 1828, for instance, while in Pest, the Romanian monk and priest experienced a state of supreme spiritualization, of mystic de-materialization (“she seemed to have turned me all into spirit), making love to “a mystery maiden.” A very beautiful maiden, true, but who proved to be of light mores, “a harlot”:

“[The girl] was very pretty, indeed, like a fresh rose bud, like an angel, like a goddess […] We slept together in bed and we tasted a sweetness, a pleasure which to me, seemed a blessing from God […]. She seemed to have turned me all into spirit.”13

And all this, he confesses to the reader, not because he might have been a “virgin,” it was “as if he hadn’t known a woman before.” More than anything, the reformist priest-monk and Prior Eufrosin Poteca stood up against monastic asceticism. “He did not fast or bow down to the ground in church,” G. Călinescu wrote. He lamented his fate (and the fate of the monk in general) of leading a sad and unfulfilled life without a wife: “[t]his is a life against nature, against the consorting law, against God.”14

“I WORSHIP THE ICONS | MY EYES ON THE MATRONS”

A whole chapter in the index of folk motifs by ethnologist Stith Thompson (Motif-Index of Folk-Literature, 1932-1937; T330- T350) is devoted to the theme of folk tales and legends related to the sexual temptations of monks and hermits: T350. Anachorites under temptation.15

The monks in Buddhist monasteries were banned from all sexual activities: masturbation, sodomy, zoophilia, etc. As we have seen, it is precisely the bans of some practices that prove their existence. However, paradoxically, the greatest sin was the heterosexual sex act. A woman could not be penetrated by a monk in any of “the three impure orifices” (the vagina, the anus, the mouth). The erect penis was not allowed to penetrate inside “not even the length of a sesame seed,” according to the Buddhist texts.16

…For the Christian-Orthodox space, see Cânticul călugărului (The Monk’s Song), collected at the middle of the 19th century by Vasile Alecsandri17 and the song Călugăritul (Donning the Monk’s Frock), collected around 1868 from the repertory of the Bucharest Gypsy rhapsodists by G. Dem. Teodorescu18, a great admirer of Eufrosin Poteca19. The poor monk lived in a true state of schizophrenia, his eyes and his mind juggling “from icons to matrons”20 and “from (the pages of) the Bible,” to “fair maids”:

I was not good for the frock, For my heart is like a rock, Nor was I good for the cloth, But for love I am no sloth, ‘Cos I worship all the icons My eyes set on the fair matrons, As I read, the Bible fades When I watch the fairest maids, When a fair maid walks my track, My frock shivers on my back. The Monk’s Song, 1856. 21

Continuing the Orthodox tradition of hypocritical pietism, Fr. Luke Melackrinos was suspended for sending lewd selfies to a female parishioner.
Continuing the Orthodox tradition of hypocritical pietism, Fr. Luke Melackrinos was suspended for sending lewd selfies to a female parishioner.

 

Or, as one of those “matrons” sexually harassed around the nooks and corners of the church might say, the priest or the monk is “His mind all to the Kingdom come, his hands deep in my bosom.” That is a popular saying collected by the beginning of the 19th century “by Lord Governor (dvornic) Iordache Golescul” (Pilde i tâlcuirea lor (Parables And Their Meaning), c. 1832). 22 Sometimes, worshipping icons and reciting verses from the Holy Book could appease sexual impulses. In other cases, it did not work that way:

When to church I go to pray, My lover stands in my way, I try to worship the icons, My lover around me fawns, He beguiles me from my canons; I pray and I cross my heart, My lover thinks it is smart To think that hell won’t us part. Tulip leaves will entwine, Lord, it is no fault of mine: If my sins do make me blunt My lover should bear the brunt. La biserică (In Church), 1871. 23

The Christian icons (and the saintly women painted on them) are not always remedies that repress the erotic fantasies of the monks, secluded behind the walls of their monasteries. On the contrary, they even provoke fantasies, verging on blasphemy.  It is not by accident that Gustave Flaubert (The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1872) imagines the Christian theologian Tertullian (early 3rd century AD) urging “the smashing of icons” (that was a long time before the iconoclastic crisis), as a proponent of asceticism and of the cultivation of values:

“Smash the icons! Cover the virgins with veils! Pray, fast, cry, make penance!”24

Even if the religious motivation is replaced by the sociopolitical one, we are not too far from the romantic revolt of Eminescu’s proletarian, who claimed the smashing of “all that entices their sick heart”, of all that sparks “the voluptuousness of the ribald orgy”:

Smash down the antique bronze that Venus naked shows, Let pictures that do wickedly entice be brought to dust.Emperor and Proletarian, 1874. 25

…The monk Hans (Adeodatus, by his monastic name) – a character imagined by novelist Liviu Rebreanu (Adam şi Eva [Adam and Eve], 1925) – passionately falls in love with the icon of the Holy Virgin adorning his cell in the Abbey of Lorsch, near the town of Worms, in Germany: an icon which had accompanied all his trials as a young man, throughout his monastic life. Adoring the icon, he had started to notice the anatomical details of the painted body of the Holy Virgin, her “alluring and caressing” eyes, her “beguiling” smile, “(her) round bosom heaving under the silky gown,” etc. Eventually, due to his erotic fantasies, the monk’s love for the icon becomes carnal, bodily, sexual:

| “Adeodatus took the icon, with both hands, and kissed it rapturously, without realizing that his passion might be unholy. (…) The Virgin Mary seemed like any woman of flesh and blood, and he himself, without true faith in his soul. And they made love with a sinful love: they embraced each other passionately and bit their lips with such devilish pleasure that, waking up, he still felt for a few moments, in all his body, that damning voluptuousness. […] All day long, he flogged his body, but he dared not glance at the icon. And the following night, the dream repeated itself, even more wicked than before. (…) And the third night, the same.”26

…It might be that the apocalyptic state around him, the Sodom and Gomorrah atmosphere, is leading the monk towards such “Satanic” fantasies. It must be the millennium crisis situation, of a “world gone out of joint,” which motivated and pushed Rebreanu to insert that strange episode into his strange novel…

Obviously, not only the monks, but also the nuns – “the brides of Christ” – were (are) dominated by sexual impulses in the convent. “With a courtesan’s smile and a churchgoer’s eyes,” as Eminescu might say (Scrisoarea [Letter] V, 1881).27 Unbridled, these propensities can lead to the supreme sin, of replacing religious feelings with erotic ones. Even worse, to replacing their supreme “groom,” Jesus Christ, with a young, beautiful and very much alive layman, of flesh and blood:

“Woe betide the poor nun, For her heart is on the run, Where she sees a handsome lad, Her white veil will billow glad, Where she sees a youth, Her step’s small in sooth, For she would follow, smooth; Where she sees a dapper man She bends down as much she can To pray, like to Jesus then.”28

Obviously, the sin is lurking around the nun all the more so as to bring the sinning layman closer to her. As the popular saying goes, which was reported by Governor Iordache Golescu around 1832: “I tell him that I’m a nun and he unties my pants (to tell the brassy ones).”29

In the first decades of the 19th century, the custom had it that some of the daughters of the boyars from Moldova should take the veil, especially at the Agapia and Văratec convents in northern Moldova. That is how two younger sisters of Gheorghe Sion took that path. Around 1840-1841, Gheorghe Sion (then aged 18-19) led them to the Agapia nunnery. He spent three to four days there, and he met many novice nuns, all coming from aristocratic families:

“Some (young nuns) were so fair,” Gheorghe Sion reminisced, “and even, God forbid, so flirtatious, that, had I not feared to sin and had I not been naïve and shy (as I was at that time), who knows how many sins I would have burdened my soul with! (…) Besides the jams, cups of coffee, breakfasts and lunches I was treated to (by these nuns), I felt bathed in their charming glances and rocked in dreams of voluptuousness.”30

Constanţa Vintilă-Ghiţulescu associates this story with the fact that, at the same time (1 st May 1844), upon the express request of the Metropolitan, reigning Prince Mihai Sturdza issued an order for young unmarried men to avoid visiting the Agapia and Văratec convents, where they would have gone only to commit “misdeeds.” “In other words,” – the scholar concludes – “to twist the minds of the young nuns. Knowing the story of Anton Pann or of Barbu Mumuleanu, we also know why the Prince was right to be worried…” 31

In a well known apocryphal text, The Apocalypse of the Holy Mother, which has some eighty versions in the Romanian language, attested to the 18th -19th centuries, the “Pregesta” (The Holy Mother of God) visits Hell and sees the sinners doomed to infernal ordeals. The wanton nuns have a special place in “The River of Fire.” At some point, “The Holy Mother of God saw another place of great toil, and only women labouring there”: “These are the nuns which have slipped into fornication (…) and are led by their carnal desires, and who do not seek to redeem their souls from sins.”32

In an article dating from 1922, Tudor Arghezi raised his voice against the common mentality that perceived the monk as a “hypocritical libidinous man.” The great poet and publicist considered that it was just a stereotype, a bias, a mental cliché:

“Whoever sees in monasticism the permanently present image of sex, and nothing else, is making a simplistic and vulgar judgment.”33 However, Arghezi realized that erotic drives are hard to rein in during a prolonged monastic seclusion. In a poem also written in the 1920s, he tried to describe the sexual fantasies of an ordinary deacon, Iakint (a kind of Eufrosin Poteca). It is about the phantasms experienced by a deacon during the period of spiritual and food fasting which the other monks from the monastery observed before the Easter holidays:

While all the hermits, Lord, it grieves, Are punishing themselves, like thieves, With bitter fasting and obedience, In Holy Week, doing their penance, In his small cell (the deacon’s), last night, A real girl made darkness bright With her firm breasts and narrow hips Of Florentine lute, an ellipse. Mâhniri [Sorrows], 1927.34

The materialization of the deacon’s erotic vision was so strong, so concrete and real, that even the almighty God, “who sees all,” caught a glimpse of the girl, as she sneaked out from monk Iakint’s cell, in the morning.

The love of beauty, specific to God, can mitigate the guilt of some sins committed “willingly and unwillingly,” “in deed,” but also “in thought.” As we have seen, for the rigorist Antim Ivireanul, the eyes are soiled “with unbecoming views and with signs of fornication” (Didahii [Sermons], 1709-1716). As Cantemir put it: “by day and night, he would punish and torment himself in his thought even worse and in a more terrible fashion than in his body” (Istoria ieroglifică [The Hieroglyphic History], 1705)…

MEN VS. WOMEN: ISOLATION AND DISCRIMINATION

In the sacred spaces of the temples, the meeting and the nearness of men and women were limited, if not altogether banned. The mere sight of a woman was considered to be apt to distract a man’s concentration from “the things holy.” An erection could even happen in the space of a church, as happens, according to the Romanian popular saying: “The poor man’s oxen won’t pull the cart, his bread falls in the mud and his cock gets a rise in church.” That is why special, isolated, places have been imagined and built for women in churches, synagogues and mosques. The idea is to isolate women, doubled by their discrimination. Not only did women sit completely separated from men in synagogues and in mosques (on a floor upstairs, behind a parting screen), but sometimes they also had separate entrances (like in the Choral Temple, built in Bucharest over 1864-1866). Sometimes, in the Jewish quarters of some mediaeval cities (for instance, in the judería from the city of Gerona, in Catalonia), there were so-called “women’s streets,” which they could use to get to the synagogue, without meeting men on their road.

The worshipping men used to sit (in the conservative regions they still do) separated from the women in the Christian Orthodox churches too, even if not on different floors. The men sat in front, in the naos, and the women at the back, in the pronaos.35 Or the men sat to the right side of the naos, while the women sat on the left. The gender considered “weaker” (the woman) was seated on the side which was considered “weaker” (the left)36. Exceptionally, following the Islamic (Turkish) model, even in some Christian Orthodox churches in Romania, the women sat on a different floor.37 As I have said, the separation of men from women goes hand in hand with the negative discrimination of the latter. In the synagogue, church or mosque, the place destined for women is always in a less favourable space, a “weaker” space from a symbolic and ritual point of view: behind a screen, on a higher floor (on a different floor than the altar and the officiating priest); in the pronaos or in the back (further away from the altar); in the naos, but on the left, etc.

Another way to limit the temptation of men (this time, of Christian monks) is the interdiction of women to enter the precincts of a monastery dressed in an “immodest” (“indecent”) way, or with their hair untied and uncovered. There are also other places where there are prohibitions for women, regarding “immodest clothes”: in the public space in some Islamic states, but also in the district of the ultra-orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, called Mea She’arim (“One Hundred Gates”).

In some monastic spaces, the presence of women is totally prohibited. The best known case is the monastic complex at Mt. Athos (20 monasteries and 12 hermitages), where the interdiction of women is total. “If women came here, – one monk from Mount Athos said, – two-thirds of us would follow them and would get married.”38 This is, of course, an exaggeration, but a significant one. From the so-called “ascetics of the wilderness” (3rd -4 th centuries A.D.) to the monks from Mt. Athos, the total repression of any sexual intercourse (happening “in thought or in deed”) was a steadfast rule: “Looking at a female, even at a chicken,” – as I. P. Culianu ironically said – “posed a great spiritual danger.”39

An old monastic parable – also reported by Culianu, – says much about the monk’s interdiction to look at (to admire) a girl, even accidentally. The hero of this story is Serbian Athonite monk St Sava (1175-1235), the founder of the Hilandar monastery on Mount Athos, who became the first archbishop of the autocephalous Serbian Orthodox Church, and was later canonised. The parable attests to a test of monastic restrictions, of total erotic abstinence. Whoever failed the test was excluded:

“When the old Saba (= Sava) and a disciple walked on their way past a good-looking girl, Saba said that she had only one eye, and his disciple protested: he had seen that the girl had both eyes. That had been however, a trick of Saba’s, to see if his disciple had taken a good look at the girl. Then the disciple was driven away.”40

“THE ABBOTS’ RIGHT OVER GYPSY WOMEN” 

Besides the settlements of “princes’ gypsies” and of “boyars’ gypsies,” there were also gypsy slaves living around the monasteries in Wallachia and Moldova. They are the so-called “monastery gypsies”.41 In this case, the “abbot’s right” (that of the egumen, in Romanian: from the Neo-Greek igúmenos), worked just as the “boyar’s right” worked over “the boyar’s gypsies”.42 Speaking of the sexual privileges which the boyars arrogated over the young slaves, historian Radu Rosetti synthesized in a few lines the similarity of behavior with that of abbots in monasteries of the 18th century, and the first half of the 19th century:

“You should not believe that only the lay masters (the boyars) used royal rights over the gypsy women belonging to them: these slaves made up genuine harems for the abbots of the monasteries which the generosity of the pious donors had endowed with a great many gypsy souls. Especially the Greek abbots of the dedicated monasteries had a reputation of knowing how to build up seraglios of gypsy beauties, through exchanges (of slaves).”43

…It is not only the lord of the land that was entitled to ius primae noctis over the boyars’ slaves, but also the abbot, over the monastery slaves. Let us switch to the non-fiction area. Some documents attest to the existence of this situation until very late. In 1843 (and previously, in 1836), the slaves from the Râncăciov Monastery (Muscel county) sent a complaint to Wallachia’s ruling Prince Gheorghe Bibescu (and previously to ruling Prince Alexandru Ghica), exposing the “tyrannical” behaviour of the “famous abbot, Father David.” One of the complaints in the princely supplication went as follows:

“Our daughters who are of marrying age, if we want to marry them to a lad, the abbot hides them and he puts them under lock and key, with his armed guards, ordering us first to take the girls to his Holiness, to deflower them, and then only to be free to marry them”44

The supplicant slaves – who most probably were helped by a lawyer – note the fact that the abbot illegally applied this sexual “right” (“like a lawless man”), both from ecclesiastic and legal points of view: “a consequence totally alien to the church and political laws.” Moreover, as we saw how things happened with the boyars, the abbot’s erotic privileges did not stop only at the gypsy women slaves of the monastery, but extended over “the wives in the village with (whom) he has his pleasure.”

The sexual slippages of the priors and abbots were so usual that they could be invoked even when they did not happen. Blaming them was quite likely, even if the erotic abuses of the monks were not always real, but on occasion estaged. In the spring of 1785, for instance, a girl named Stana went to Prior Gavrilă (a confessor at the Radu-Vodă monastery in Bucharest) to pay the rent for the hovel on the monastery estate where she was living. The monk jokingly made some sexual innuendos to the girl, but nothing more. However, prodded by a neighbour, the young Stana sent a complaint to the Metropolitan, alleging that she was raped and deflowered, thinking that “she would get 300 thalers from the confessor”: “Then, at the moment of giving the money (for the rent), the said Prior (Gavrilă) allegedly took her in his cell and spoilt her virginity.”

Fr. George Passias inhaling Ethel Bouzalas' feet.
Fr. George Passias inhaling Ethel Bouzalas’ feet.

To stay in the spirit of the age, we are not too far from the stories told by Marquis de Sade, in his novel Justine (Justine ou Les Malheurs de la vertu, 1791). The accusation brought against prior Gavrilă was easy to believe. It was plausible because, at the time, in the monastic environment, that was a fairly common sin. In order to be even more persuasive, Stana cut a chicken’s crest and, with the blood dripping from it, smeared her blouse, as a proof of the deflowering. Although some witnesses (especially women neighbors), conniving with Stana, defended her version, the Metropolitan council ruled in favour of Prior Gavrilă, also taking into account that the poor man was old, sick and impotent: “And even more vigorously as we have ascertained (Confessor Gavrilă) is also a man tormented by rupture (hernia) and he is also past his prime.”45

For her false statements and perjury, Stana was banished to the convent of Viforâta, near the town of Târgovişte (Wallachia).

This true story reminds me of a hagiographic legend from the collection Vieţile sfinţilor (The Lives of The Saints).46 It is an etiological legend about the genesis of the Gypsy people, told by Costache Negruzzi in 1839. Negruzzi’s text is titled exactly like this: Pentru ce ţiganii nu sunt români (Why Gypsies Are Not Romanians).47 It says that several heretics, some “lost sheep,” complained to ecclesiastic authorities that Bishop Gregory (Grigorie) was a sexual profligate and that he had a mistress, “a young and beautiful girl.” A priestly synod was sent to the place to look into the facts. And indeed, in the bishop’s bedroom, they discovered “a young girl,” in a state of “scandalous lack of clothing.” The bishop was sentenced to death. But in order to convince the priests that “he doesn’t know what the sin of fornication” is, St. Gregory “lifted the hem of his frock.” And then, “the gathering was dumbstruck, for the holy father was…like Abeilard [sic]”. In other words, he was castrated, just as had happened to French theologian Pierre Abélard (1079-1142), as a punishment for having deflowered his beloved Héloїse. St. Gregory was exonerated, and the heretics who had “badmouthed the man of God” were cursed to be “black skinned,” “to live from thieving,” and “in eternal slavery from father to son,” with their owner “having the right to sell them as beasts,” “to call them Gypsies,” etc. “The Romanians immediately rushed in and took them as slaves.” This is how the Gypsy population allegedly appeared in the world…48

Sifting through and reading the supplications kept at the Department of National Archives, researcher Constanţa Vintilă- Ghiţulescu found many important social history documents. Some of them are related to the subject under discussion. Here, for instance, is a case dating from the end of the 18th century, which happened in a monastery in Wallachia. The Butoiu Monastery (village of Potoc, Dâmboviţa county) was rebuilt in 1648-1649, under ruling Prince Matei Basarab, who also endowed it with a settlement of Gypsy slaves. At the beginning of the year 1799, some Gypsies belonging to this monastery mustered their courage and complained to father Climent (probably a bishop) and then higher up, to his Holiness the Metropolitan, alleging that Abbot Ignat lived with a young slave woman, Gherghina, and also committed other abuses. In their complaint, they alleged that “due to one woman called Gherghina the gypsy, we cannot live.”

It is interesting that if a boyar had been in the same situation as the abbot, the civil authorities (“the lay judge”) would not have intervened at all. The boyar would not have infringed any rule, be it legal or moral. The sexual “right” of the boyar over the Gypsy women slaves from the settlements on his estate was tacitly recognized by everybody, even if it was based only on an archaic custom, on a lex non scripta. An unwritten law which dates back to the Greek-Roman Antiquity. Artemidorus of Ephesus, for instance, defined as being “links in keeping with the norm” (kata nomon) the sexual relations between a master and his slave, be the latter “a man or a woman.” “Unfit for the norm” (para nomon) would have been only if the slave had been the one who “possessed” the master, not the other way round: “It is no good to let yourself to be possessed by the slave: through his touch, he would show contempt towards you.”49

In the case of Butoiu monastery, however, the monk was not violating the lay norms, but those of the church. Even more, the actions of the abbot ran counter to the rules of monastic asceticism. In keeping with their own regulations, the ecclesiastical authorities were compelled to intervene, be it only to appease public opinion. Indeed, in the summer of 1799, the Metropolitan’s office sent a group of priests, led by Father Nicodim, to investigate the case and to propose possible sanctions, This is what the situation in Bucharest looked like, at the beginning of the 19th century:

“Besides the jail, besides the police prison from the dungeons of the Old Princely Court, and the vaults of the military governor and of the Aga, the Metropolitan also had a jail for priests.50

Returning to the case of the Butoiu Monastery, before the authorities, even the ecclesiastical, all the slaves from the settlement (except for the signatories of the complaint) were afraid to confirm the situation which was known to all the Roma community. Especially as they were accused of sending over the complaint. The fear of the authorities was a typical behavioural attitude for the traditional Romanian society. That psycho-social illness has tenaciously survived to date. For the collective mind, nothing good could come from the authorities. Be they administrative or ecclesiastical, central or local, police or financial, the authorities in the Romanian space have been high-handed, corrupt, abusive and punitive over the centuries. The situation was even more dramatic with respect to “aliens” (Romas, Jews, etc.). As such, the Romas under investigation at the Butoiu Monastery in 1799 shrugged in fear, insisting they knew nothing: “(We) had no idea, nor did we prompt them to make a complaint.” Eventually, it seems that Abbot Ignat was not found guilty of fornication with the Gypsy woman slave Gherghina. The only culprits were the elderly Gypsies from the settlement. Headed by their chieftains, Nedelco and Stan, they wrote (probably under dictation) and signed a deed whereby they pledged to make the younger slaves “more submissive”: “In duty being bound, we, the elders, to advise all the other younger ones to do good and to be submissive.”51

HOMOSEXUALITY AND PEDOPHILIA IN THE MONASTERIES

Seraphim Storheim, former OCA Archbishop of Canada, was convicted of sexually assaulting a young altar boy at a Winnipeg church has been demoted to a monk.
Seraphim Storheim, former OCA Archbishop of Canada, was convicted of sexually assaulting a young altar boy at a Winnipeg church has been demoted to a monk.

Exactly ten years later, in February 1809, things repeated at the same Butunoiu Monastery. This time, another abbot was accused by another two slaves of the monastery of other “frightening deeds,” including homosexuality, pedophilia and rape:

“For abbot Constantin there have been many a complaint against him, that for a while now he has fallen into fornications (…); also that for a young gypsy boy that he started to rape him.”

This was a copycat scenario: the dean sent an investigating commission to look into the case, and the Gypsies were herded “in front of the church” and investigated “one by one.” For fear of reprisals, they disassociated themselves from the two “rattling” plaintiffs. Eventually, the latter were the only culprits and they were sentenced to have their soles flogged. Afterwards, they were forced to sign a writ, whereby “they recognized their guilt and that they would desist.”

Serial child molester, Archimandrite Stanley Adamakis, started abusing church members in the 70s. http://ocl.org/ex-clergyman-sexually-abused-at-17-by-his-priest-attempted-suicide/
Serial child molester, Archimandrite Stanley Adamakis, started abusing church members in the 70s. http://ocl.org/ex-clergyman-sexually-abused-at-17-by-his-priest-attempted-suicide/

Historian Constanţa Vintilă-Ghiţescu is right when she wonders whether things really went that way at the Butoiu Monastery, in 1799-1809 (which is very likely), or if the Gypsy slaves had other misunderstandings with the two abbots of the monastery, and tried to have them punished, knowing that the worst accusations in the eyes of the ecclesiastical authorities were fornication, sodomy, pedophilia, rape and the exertion of the lord’s right, etc.52

It is common knowledge that heterosexual and homosexual (including pedophilic) relations were quite usual in the Christian monastic milieu, be it Orthodox or Catholic. I need not go into too many details; only a few examples from Romanian and world culture…

In the middle of the 14th century, Giovanni Boccaccio (The Decameron, 1352) had the courage to raise the thorny issue of debauchery and carnal sins accomplished by “all” the Catholic cardinals, priests and monks. He wrote about sodomy, fornication, pedophilia, etc.:

“From the most senior to the most junior one, the (Catholic) priests were all sinning through carnal debauchery; and not only in those ordred by nature, but even in the debauchery of sodomy, without knowing the rein of repentance or shame, so much so that the most wicked women and the small children had the greatest appeal when it was about winning their favours” (The Decameron I.2).53

The homosexual relationships among monks are also present in Romanian literature, for instance, in Vasile Voiculescu’s prose. In one of his short stories (Chef la mânăstire [Revelry at the Monastery], 1952), which the writer presented as a “true story,” Father Iosafat, the abbot of a monastery in Moldova lives with a very young monk, Brother Minodor. The latter was “the abbot’s darling,” “a rosy-cheeked lad,” “a girlish boy,” “with long and sweet lashes,” who “was inclined more towards women’s sweet and liquor wines.” Everything happens under the complacent gaze of Father Dean Ilie, “the ecclesiastical head of the county,” who had come on an inspection at the respective monastery:

“The Abbot [Iosafat], heaving in his armchair, drew to him, holding him on a protruding knee, Brother [monk] Minodor, who, with his chubby cheeks, his languid blue eyes, and a semblance of black hairs on his upper lip, with rings of hair floating on his back and along his monastic frock, looked like an angel reclining on the chest of an old saint.”54

The defrocked monk Ion Creangă could speak volumes on this subject: “he had learned some of the secrets of life in a monastery.” He was always critical of the monks, the priests and other clergymen: “they burst out of their belts, pot-bellied as they are.”55 Creangă lived among priests and, as a teenager and as a young man, he lived in boarding houses of all kinds of “factories of priests,” such as the theological schools in Fălticeni and Socola. Small wonder that the only homosexual episode in his work has a priest as its hero, in his famous Poveste a poveştilor (The Story of All Stories): “And as he was whistling in surprise, the cock dashed with a smack! right in the priest’s ass! Then, the priest started to yell…”56

As an old popular saying goes, which was commented upon around 1832 by boyar Iordache Golescu: “Another one in the priest’s ass (used when something happens unawares, something irksome).” The same learned boyar wrote down another popular saying, which concerns a man who is in love with a priest: “One loves the priest, another the priest’s wife, and another the priest’s daughter (it shows the variety of pleasures).”57 Speaking openly about “the variety of (sexual) pleasures,” Golescu had a quite Liberal attitude for a boyar from Wallachia, in the first half of the 19th century. True, he was a boyar who had travelled across Europe.

Homosexuality and pedophilia are still big problems among priests and monks today, especially among the Catholic, problems that the Pope himself is at a loss to solve.58 The Vatican is being blamed for putting a lid on these forbidden sexual practices, for decades (centuries, actually).

Coming back to the illicit erotic relations between the Orthodox abbots and the slaves in the monasteries, we must say that homosexual, even pedophilic relations have been attested. Obviously, the latter did not go unpunished by the church authorities. Not only were the jails for priests – as we have seen above – special, but so were their punishments. It seems that for the crime of pedophilia, the clergymen got a special physical punishment, called “the iron child”:

“A device used to punish the priests, when they committed an immoral act, was the “iron child.” This “child” weighed 50-60 kg. The punished priest was forced to hold that weight in his arms for four to five hours.”59

At the end of the 18th century, it was proved that Abbot Teofil of the Căldăruşani Monastery (near Bucharest) “had committed sodomy with the Gypsies, but the Gypsies have committed sodomy with him.” On account of this “ill and wicked deed,” the abbot was demoted to the lowest rank, that of “simple monk.” Moreover, he was banished to the Tismana monastery, “to weep for his sins” there.60

Virtually, in the case of the abbot of the Căldăruşani Monastery, the law (glava (chapter) 333, titled “For Sodomy”), was applied in its letter and spirit:

“If it were that anybody from the church clergy is found to be a sodomite, he shall then be bereft of everything, as the law of the church writes, of all the good he will have had from the church and they shall take him and lock him in a faraway monastery; and they shall even more vigorously demoted him from his position…”

Exceptionally, in aggravated situations, the “sodomite” clergyman was handed over to “the lay judge,” who was supposed “to scold him with death, namely, to behead him.” (Pravila de la Târgovişte [The Codex from Târgoviște], 1652). As the folk saying goes: “Do as the priest says, not as the priest does!”

Perhaps all these illicit sexual practices – which sparked more or less public scandals – have hastened the moment of the liberation of Gypsies from slavery in the Romanian space, which happened around the mid-19th century. Or, at any rate, perhaps they did not push the liberation per se of the slaves from the monastic settlements (1844 in Moldova and 1847 in Wallachia) to happen around one decade before the liberation of the Gypsies owned by boyars (1855 in Moldova and 1856 in Wallachia). The big landowners (and implicitly owners of Gypsy settlements) blocked as much as they could the act of liberation of the boyars’ Gypsies. Although he was in an open conflict with the government of ruling Moldovan Prince, Mihail Sturdza, Kogălniceanu paid homage to the ruling prince for promulgating the law of the emancipation of the monastery Gypsies on 31st of January 1844:

“We, the youth from Moldova, – I speak only of those with whom I have worked – forgot that day our fierce fight against ruling Prince Mihail Sturdza for his abuses” (Dezrobirea ţiganilor, ştergerea privilegiilor boiereşti, emanciparea ţăranilor [The Liberation of the Gypsies, The Eradication of The Boyars’ Privileges, The Emancipation of The Peasants], 1891).

On 6 th of February 1844, a few days after the liberation of the Gypsy slaves from the monasteries, Mihail Kogălniceanu – who was fairly aware of the mechanism which had led to the decision to abolish slavery, “the most heinous social enormity,” – did not forget also to pay tribute to the Romanian Orthodox Church:

“Honour be to the Church, too, today, which has no slaves any longer; for it now shows itself as the true Church of Christ, who brought freedom on Earth, saying that before him there are no rich or poor men, no masters or slaves!” (Dezrobirea ţiganilor [The Emancipation of the Gypsies], 1844).61

Obviously, in the Catholic Middle Ages, too, the sacred space of the churches and monasteries could also become a place for the forbidden fantasies and love affairs, be they homo- or heterosexual. The nuns and abbesses from the Catholic convents were also subject to those types of sins. Boccaccio’s stories (The Decameron, 1352) abound in such erotic monastic prowess. 62

Adam Metropoulos, former priest at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Bangor was sentenced Monday to 12 years in prison with all but 6½ years suspended for sex crimes involving children.
Adam Metropoulos, former priest at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Bangor was sentenced Monday to 12 years in prison with all but 6½ years suspended for sex crimes involving children.

NOTES

  1. Dan Horia MAZILU, Law and Sacrilege in the Old Romanian Society, Iaşi: Polirom, 2006, pp. 394-397.
  2. Michel FOUCAULT, Istoria sexualităţii [The History of Sexuality], Romanian translation by B. Stanciu and A. Onete, Vest Publishing House, Timisoara, 1995, p. 48.
  3. Andreas Capellanus, Despre iubire (About Love), bilingual edition, translation and notes by Eugenia CRISTEA, study, introductory note, notes and bibliography by Anca Crivat, Polirom Publishing House, Iasi, 2012, p.215.
  4. With Alexandru Macedonski: “Father Cioaca care on Christmas Eve to put his apron over our heads,” or in Dan Botta’s translation, with François Villon: “The Holy Apostles” are “Girdled with sacred aprons | To better seize the villains | who revel in their sins” (François VILLON, Balade şi alte poeme, translation by Dan Botta, presentation by Tudor Arghezi, the Publishing House of the Romanian Cultural Institute, Bucharest, 2006, p.47).
  5. Folclor vechi românesc (Old Romanian Folklore), edition, preface, notes and bibliography by C. Ciuchindel, Bucharest: Minerva, 1990, p. 246.
  6. Octav ȘULUȚIU, Ambigen [Ambigenous], novel illustrated with etchings by I. Anestin, Bucharest: Vremea, 1935, p. 26.
  7. Nicoleta ROMAN, „Deznădăjduită muiere n-au fost ca mine”. Femei, onoare şi păcat în Valahia secolului al XIX-lea, Bucharest: Humanitas, 2016, p. 37.
  8. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830) (The Fire of Love. About Love and Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, p. 55.
  9. Ibid.
  10. G.Dem. TEODORESCU, Poezii populare române [Romanian Folk Poems], critical edition, notes, glossary, bibliography and index by George Antofi, preface by Ovidiu Papadima, Bucharest: Minerva, 1982, p. 349.
  11. Dan Horia MAZILU, op. cit., 2006, p. 422.
  12. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830) (The Fire of Love. About Love and Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, p.221.
  13. George Calinescu, Istoria literaturii române de la origini până în prezent (The History of Romanian Literature From The Origins to The Present), second, revised and enlarged edition, overseen and with preface by Al. Piru, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1986, p.121. Constanţa VINTILĂ- GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830) (The Fire of Love. About Love and Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, pp. 219-220.
  14. G. CĂLINESCU, Istoria literaturii române de la origini până în prezent (The History of Romanian Literature from the Origins to the Present), second, revised and enlarged edition, overseen and with preface by Al. Piru, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1986, p. 121.
  15. Stith THOMPSON, Motif-Index of Folk-Literature: A classification of Narrative Elements in Folktales, Ballads, Myths, Fables, Mediaeval Romances, Exempla, Fabliaux, Jest-Books and Local Legends, revised and enlarged edition, vol. 5, Rosenkilde and Bagger, Copenhagen, 1958, pp. 379- 381.
  16. Bernard FAURE, Sexualités bouddhiques: Entre désirs et réalités, Paris, Flammarion, 2005, pp. 71 sq.
  17. Vasile Alecsandri, Poezii populare ale românilor (Folk Poems of The Romanians), preface and bibliography by Stancu Ilin, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1982, p.228.
  18. G. Dem. TEODORESCU, Poezii populare române [Romanian Folk Poems], critical edition, notes, glossary, bibliography and index by George Antofi, preface by Ovidiu Papadima, Bucharest: Minerva, 1982, p. 349.
  19. G. Dem. TEODORESCU, Viaţa şi operile lui Eufrosin Poteca (cu câteva din scrierile’i inedite), Academy Press, Bucharest, 1883.
  20. A similar saying is also attested by Dinicu Golescu, in 1832: “One eye on the icon and another near the icon” (Iordache GOLESCU, Scrieri alese, [Selected Writings], edition by Mihai Moraru, Bucharest: Cartea Românească, 1990, p. 192).
  21. Vasile Alecsandri, Poezii populare ale românilor (Folk Poems of The Romanians), preface and bibliography by Stancu Ilin, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1982, p.228.
  22. Iordache GOLESCU, Scrieri alese [Selected Writings], edition by Mihai Moraru, Bucharest: Cartea Românească, 1990, p. 193.
  23. G. Dem. TEODORESCU, Poezii populare române [Romanian Folk Poems], critical edition, notes, glossary, bibliography and index by George Antofi, preface by Ovidiu Papadima, Bucharest: Minerva, 1982, p. 393.
  24. Gustave FLAUBERT, Ispitirea Sfântului Anton [The Temptation of St. Anthony], Romanian translation by Mihai Murgu, preface by Irina Mavrodin, Bucharest: Univers, 1977, p. 68.
  25. Mihai EMINESCU, Poezii [Poems], text selected and established, critical fragments by Perpessicius, volume supervised and chronology by D. Vatamaniuc, Bucharest: Romanian Cultural Institute, 2004, p. 67. English translation by Corneliu M. Popescu, http://www.gabrielditu.com/eminescu/emperor_and_proletarian.asp.  
  26. Liviu REBREANU, Adam şi Eva, edition supervised by Niculae Gheran, preface by Ion Simut, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1998, p. 173.
  27. Mihai EMINESCU, Poezii [Poems], text selected and established, critical fragments by Perpessicius, volume supervised and chronology by D. Vatamaniuc, Bucharest: Romanian Cultural Institute, 2004, p. 164 (our translation).
  28. G.Dem. TEODORESCU, Poezii populare române [Romanian Folk Poems], critical edition, notes, glossary, bibliography and index by George Antofi, preface by Ovidiu Papadima, Bucharest: Minerva, 1982, p. 349.
  29. Iordache GOLESCU, Scrieri alese [Selected Writings], edition by Mihai Moraru, Bucharest: Cartea Românească, 1990, p. 170.
  30. G. SION, Suvenire contimpurane [Contemporary Memories], complete edition, Iaşi: Polirom, 2014, p. 372.
  31. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Patimă şi desfătare. Despre lucrurile mărunte ale vieţii cotidiene în societatea românească, 1750-1860 [Passion and Delight. The Small Things of Everyday Life in Romanian Society, 1750-1860], Bucharest: Humanitas, 2015, p. 353.
  32. Timotei OPREA, Rai şi Iad în cultura populară românească. File de apocalips (sec. XVIII-XIX) [Heaven and Hell in Romanian Folk Culture. Pages from an Apocalypse (18th -19th c.)], Buzău: Alpha MDN, 2005, p. 167.
  33. Tudor ARGHEZI, Opere, vol. V: Publicistică (1919–iulie 1928) [Works, vol. V: Journalism (1919-July 1928)], edited by Mitzura Arghezi and Traian Radu, preface by Eugen Simion,), Bucharest, National Foundation for Sciences and Arts & Univers Enciclopedic, 2004, pp. 132-134.
  34. Tudor ARGHEZI, Cuvinte potrivite [Fitting Words], preface by Liviu Papadima, anthology by Mitzura Arghezi and Traian Radu, Bucharest: Minerva, 1990, p. 13 (our translation).
  35. Nicolae IORGA, Istoria românilor în chipuri şi icoane [The History of the Romanians in Faces and Icons], Foreword by Andrei Pippidi, Bucharest: Humanitas, 2012, p. 164.
  36. See the study by Andrei OIȘTEANU, „Stânga versus dreapta. Farmecul discret al dihotomiei” [“Left vs. Right. The Discreet Charm of Dichotomy”], in ID., Mythos & Logos. Studii şi eseuri de antropologie culturală [Mythos and Logos. Studies and Essays in Cultural Anthropology], second, revised and enlarged edition, Bucharest: Nemira, 1998, pp. 267-282.
  37. Under Turkish influence, ruling Prince Petru Cercel (1583-1585) built a balcony behind the naos of the Big princely Church in Târgovişte, above the entrance to the naos, where the Prince’s wife would sit during the mass, hidden behind a curtain. She got to that balcony in the church through a passageway built right from the Princely Palace.
  38. Robert DRAPER, “Chemarea muntelui sfânt” [The Call of the Sacred Mountain], National Geographic Romanian edition, December 2009, p. 104 (our translation).
  39. Ioan Petru CULIANU, Cult, magie, erezii. Articole din enciclopedii ale religiilor [Cult, Magic, Heresies. Articles from the Encyclopaedias of Religions), Romanian translation by Maria-Magdalena Anghelescu and Dan Petrescu, afterword by Eduard Iricinschi, Iași: Polirom, 2003, p. 120 (our translation).
  40. IBID., p. 188 (our translation).
  41. Neagu DJUVARA, Între Orient şi Occident. Ţările române la începutul epocii moderne (1800-1848) [Between East and West. The Romanian Principalities at The Beginning of The Modern Times], Romanian translation by Maria Carpov, Bucharest: Humanitas, 1995, p. 267 (our translation).
  42. See Chap. 27, “The Boyar’s ‘Right’ over Gypsy Women Slaves” in Andrei OIȘTEANU, Sexuality and Society. History, Religion and Literature, Iași: Polirom, 2016.
  43. Radu Rosetti, Amintiri. Ce-am auzit de la alţii, (Memories. What I Heard From Others). Edition and Preface by Mircea Anghelescu, Romanian Cultural Foundation Publishing House, Bucharest, 1996, p.155.
  44. Bogdan Mateescu, Căsătoria robilor. Între alegerea cuplului şi voinţa stăpânului, (The Marriage of The Slaves. Between The Couple’s Choice And The Master’s Will), Etnous Publishing House, Braşov, 2014; Bogdan Mateescu, „Căsătoriile robilor din Ţara Românească după 1830: reglementări ale Statului și ale Bisericii”, (“The Marriages of The Slaves in Wallachia after 1830: State and Church Regulations”), lecture delivered on April 14, 2014 at the New Europe College, as part of the project “Group of Reflection on Political and Social History (18th -19th centuries).” I thank researcher Bogdan Munteanu (a doctoral student at the Nicolae Iorga History Institute of the Romanian Academy) for signaling the presented documents.
  45. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830), (The Fire of Love. Of Love And Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, p.49.
  46. The legend of St. Gregory, bishop of Agrigento (7th c. AD), is old. On a Byzantine thread, it penetrated the collection of The Lives of the Saints, translated in Wallachia.
  47. Constantin NEGRUZZI, Păcatele tinereţilor [The Sins of Youth], Iaşi: Adolf Bermann, 1857, pp. 271-285.
  48. O mie de ani de singurătate. Rromii în proza românească, (One Thousand Years of Loneliness. The Romas in Romanian Prose), Selection, notes and afterword by Vasile Ionescu, “Aven Amentza” Publhsing House, Bucharest, 2000, pp.74-84 (our translation).
  49. Paul Veyne, “Homosexualitatea la Roma”, (Homosexuality in Rome) in the volume Georges Duby et alii, Amor şi sexualitate în Occident, (Love And Sexuality in The West), introduction by Georges Duby, Romanian translation by Laurenţiu Zoicaş, Artemis Publishing House, Bucharest, 1994, p. 53 (our translation).
  50. Gr.I. Dianu, Istoria închisorilor din România. Studiu comparativ. Legi şi obiceiuri, (The History of Jails in Romania. A Compared Study) Laws And Customs) The Royal House Publishing House, Bucharest, 1900, p. 44 (our translation).
  51. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830), (The Fire of Love. Of Love And Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, pp. 163-164 (our translation).
  52. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830), (The Fire of Love. Of Love And Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, pp.164-166.
  53. Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameronul, (The Decameron), Romanian translation by Eta Boeriu, with an introductory study by Alexandru Balaci, vol. I and II, State Publishing House for Literature and Art, Bucharest, 1957, I, p. 78 (our translation).
  54. Vasile Voiculescu, Capul de zimbru, Povestiri, (The Aurochs Head, Stories) vol. I, Edited bby Victor Iova, Cartea Românească Publishing House, Bucharest, 1982, p. 147.
  55. Maria Luisa Lombardo, Erotica magna. O istorie a literaturii române, dincolo de tabuurile ei, (Erotica Magna, A History of Romanian Literature, Beyond Its Taboos), Western University Publishing House, Timişoara, 2004, pp.80/81.
  56. Ion Creangă, Povestea lui Ionică cel Prost (poreclit şi Irimiea) şi Povestea poveştilor (povestea pulei), (The Story of Ionica the Dumb (also nicknamed Irimiea) And The Story of All Stories (The Story of the Cock)), introductory study by Paul Anghel, edited by Nedic Lemnaru, „Roza vânturilor” Publishing House, Bucharest, 1990, p. 31 (our translation).
  57. Iordache GOLESCU, Scrieri alese [Selected Writings], edition by Mihai Moraru, Bucharest: Cartea Românească, 1990, pp. 166, 176.
  58. This very day, as I am writing these lines (September 25, 2011), Pope Benedict XVI (meantime, the former Pope), while visiting Germany, said he was “moved and deeply troubled” after his meetings with persons / children and youths / who had been the victims of the sexual abuse committed by Roman Catholic priests.
  59. Marian Munteanu, Folclorul detenţiei. Formele privării de libertate în literatura poporană. Studiu, tipologie, antologie de texte şi glosar, (The Folklore of Detention. The Forms of Freedom Deprivation in Folk Literature. Study, Typology, Anthology of Texts and Glossary), Valahia Publishing House, Bucharest, 2008, p. 645.
  60. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830) (The Fire of Love. About Love and Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, pp. 162-163 (our translation).
  61. Mihail Kogălniceanu, Tainele inimei, (The Secrets of The Heart), selected writings, edited by Dan Simonescu, The Publishing House for Literature, Bucharest, 1964, pp. 205, 348 (our translation).
  62. Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameronul, (The Decameron), Romanian translation by Eta Boeriu, with an introductory study by Alexandru Balaci, vol. I and II, State Publishing House for Literature and Art, Bucharest, 1957, I, p.265; II, p.366, a.o.
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A Response to Dr. Grigoriou’s Critique Concerning Hagiorites on Psychiatric Drugs (Monk Michael, 2001)

NOTE: The following text is Monk Michael’s response to Dr. Panagiotis Grigoriou’s (psychiatrist) critique in the Sunday Typos, June 10th, 2001. 

https://web.archive.org/web/20060623070110/http://www.dorcas.gr/syn/apant.htm

Psychiatric drugs are not antibiotics. Do not confuse mucus with marmalades.

Our interview on April 22, 2001 dealt with many of the problems that occur on Mount Athos and even more mobilized against us. As they told me on my recent trip to the Mt. Athos, the Holy Community of Mount Athos, as well as the Church of Greece, has exercised more pressure to censure and refute me. There is even a decision made by the Holy Community to not sell my books in any of the stores in Daphne and Karyes.1

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A neurologist-psychiatrist named Panos Grigoriou—Director of the Psychiatric Department of the general Hospital in Halkidiki—was one of those that mobilized against us. Firstly, the likeable psychiatrist with his epistle in the Sunday Typos 10/06/2001 is surprised because I consider psychiatric drugs an indication of morbidity and failure on Mount Athos. He states, “We take psychiatric drugs just as we take antibiotics, anti-hypersensitive or anti-rheumatic medicine.”

The above mentality of the psychiatrist is representative of a new generation of Christians—and monks in particular—that now consider psychiatric drugs as a natural fact of daily life. The conversation we had with a doctor-novice at Grigoriou Monastery at the Monastery of the Holy Forerunner in Dimitsana (Summer 2001), is indicative of this entire spirit. This novice-doctor made a special trip to meet me there.

Μοναχός Χριστόδουλος Γρηγοριάτης.
In 1996, Monk Christodoulos Gregoriatis was sent by his Geronda to a psychiatrist and put on psychotropic drugs. He had no previous diagnosis of mental illness and had already been a monk for a number of years.

Novice-Doctor: “Why does it surprise you, Fr. Michael, that monks take psychiatric drugs? Are they not people, too? For example, I arranged the pharmacy of our monastery and indeed I saw boxes with psychiatric drugs but they are used very little. Then I asked the Elder if we could make a special area for the psychotropic medicine and that space was made. I assure you that the monks taking psychiatric drugs continue their lives at the same rate without affecting their spiritual life in the least. Do you know such and such a priest?”

Monk Michael: “Yes, I’ve known him since 1975.”

Novice-Doctor: “Heh, I put him on medication when I arranged the pharmacy.”

Monk Michael: “You mean psychiatric drugs?”

Novice-Doctor: “Yes, I mean psychiatric drugs. But I assure you that he continues to be the same sweet, gentle, humble person as before. And those who confess him confirm this and they assure me that he gives rest to those close to him. So, what is your problem?”

I was startled!

Monk Michael: “Oh well, have you not yet understood as a doctor that healthy is quite different than sick? People take drugs when they lose their health and, in this case, mental health and balance, to support and continue their life. It is surprising that you say this is the same thing. Afterwards, you say that hundreds of boxes of psychiatric drugs inside the monastery and then assure us that they are rarely used. For me, the question isn’t how often are they used but rather what business does psychotropic drugs have in a monastery? What was the reasoning to purchase them? Under what pressing need did they fill their pharmacy with these drugs?

“Understand how ‘psychiatric drugs for Mount Athos’ sounds to my ears—it’s almost like telling me that you arranged contraceptives in the pharmacy. It’s about the same absurdity. So tell me about how this priest went to psychiatric drugs after 25 years [in the monastery]?”

Novice-Doctor: “Yes, but he remains the same as he always was.”

Conclusion: “No, my beloved psychiatrist, psychotropic drugs are neither antibiotics nor anti-rheumatic. Getting physically sick and probably restoring health once again is different than breaking down and your little soul becoming sick—a sickness that frequently the remainder of your life does not suffice to restore it.”

In a strange manner, both Dr. Panos Grigoriou and Makis Triantaphullopoulos expressed precisely the same question with the same words: “If some people have a need why shouldn’t they take psychiatric drugs?”

The Monastery of Gregoriou - Domes of the main church (katholikon)
The Monastery of Gregoriou: Domes of the main church (katholikon)

This is a misleading question. Firstly, let’s make a clarification: When the monks entered the brotherhood, did they take psychiatric drugs or not? If they didn’t take them when they entered and started taking them in the monastery after 10-15 years of the monastic life, then it’s time some prosecutor to investigate the situation and pull the ears of some abbots. In the latter case, it is unacceptable if the individual was already mentally ill when he entered the monastery because a mentally ill person is never allowed to join the monastic brotherhood. You treat him kindly, you support him, you share his pain, help him as much as you can, but you don’t enroll him. There are two reasons for not enlisting a mentally ill individual into a monastic brotherhood.

  1. Because you cannot recruit some young man for an uphill struggle—indeed even for the rest of his life—if he doesn’t have the necessary presuppositions to withstand the pressure and deprivation to make ends meet. The most basic presupposition for one entering a monastery is mental health and balance.
  2. The experience of the Athonite life knows that a mentally ill individual with a strong character can topple an entire brotherhood. Mental illness hides an indomitable ego that becomes uncontrolled and destructive when it finds room to be developed. This is expressed with an unbridled stubbornness, lack of cooperation, fixed ideas, tantrums, complexes, etc. Due to all these things, the mentally ill patient cannot join the monastic brotherhood.

Dr. Panos writes: “Fr. Michael implies that the way of life imposed upon the monks (militarization) is what causes psychiatric problems.” It is not restricted to that. There are many things that smash the soul of a monk.

  1. The false sanctities of their Elder.2
  2. Their “miracles” and “visions” that serve obvious purposes, such as absolute obedience and submission.3
  3. Dispute by the abbots of every healthy reflection and privation of the possibility of dialogue from the simple monk. It suffices to say that three Hagiorite Hegoumens have said to their brotherhoods: “For you, I am your God.”4
Geronda Ephraim Dikaios & Big Geronda
Geronda Ephraim Dikaios & Big Geronda

In the “neptic” monastery,5 the Geronda announced that he would travel again to America. A monastic thought: “Doesn’t it seem like our Geronda goes out into the world a lot? Why can’t we also travel?” That evening he confessed his logismoi (Geronda had imposed daily confession/revelation of thoughts); the monk told the Geronda his thoughts. The next morning, as the fathers exited the church to go to the dining-hall the monk was kneeling at the door and cried with a lamentable tone:

“Fathers and Brothers, forgive me, the sinner, because the devil deluded me and I judged my Geronda!”6

This happened recently.

But the cultivation in monasticism and turning their monastic interest exclusively to utopian goals, such as lights, visions, charismas, sanctimoniousness, foresight, etc., under its presupposition of absolute obedience to the ruling Abbot. According to them one “no” destroys and negates  not only the existing spiritual edifice that they built with so much pain and toil, but also erases and excludes any future spiritual success—it also has tragic consequences.7

These theories replaced the mindset we found when we went to the Holy Mountain: the teaching of repentance and the awareness of our sinfulness as a presupposition of spiritual development and progress.

Philotheou_monastery.JPG

All these things, amongst many others, cause the complete suppression of personality and suppress any personal expression and healthy manifestation. Over time, these things consistently drive one to mental fatigue, melancholy, disillusionment and slowly to psychiatric drugs. As for the militarization and total subjugation of the contemporary neo-Hagiorite Abbots, it suffices us to mention what occurred at the recent biannual Synaxis of the Holy Mountain [These gatherings take place twice a year consisting of 20 abbots and 20 representatives of the monasteries in Karyes].

A monk left his monastery (Xenophontos) and sought a cell in another monastery. His Abbot, Alexios, intervened and persuaded the other monastery not to give him a cell. When the monk addressed two other monasteries, the Abbot chased him out of there. I asked the monk who told me about the incident, “Why did your Abbot do this?” He answered, “He wanted me to be discouraged as a monk and throw off my rassa. And thus he could justify this to the brotherhood, ‘Here was the one left; a humiliated failure.’”

At this biannual Assembly, Abbot Alexios proposed to the other abbots to make a decision: when a monk leaves a monastery, no other Athonite monastery should accept him. Then Parthenius, Abbot of St. Paul Monastery, stood up and told him:

“Are you not ashamed at what you’re saying? For the child to leave from his monastery means that he is not at rest and fatigued there. He has all the right to look somewhere else, within Mount Athos, to find rest. We already made the decision earlier and we did not give dismissal to monks who wanted to leave Mount Athos. If we deprive them of the ability to another monastery on Athos, then the children facing this dead end we thrush upon them might throw of their robes and go to the world to be married. Is this where you ultimately want to lead them?”8
And the monk who narrated this story concluded, “The good-natured Hagiorite Abbot [Parthenius] could not imagine that our Geronda (Alexios) wanted to push things there.”

Geronda Alexios, Abbot of Xenofontos Monastery
Geronda Alexios, Abbot of Xenofontos Monastery

But Geronda Parthenius of St. Paul Monastery is the exception in the neo-Hagiorite Abbots as he is of the old and genuine Athonite guard. Concerning the above, Geronda Parthenius, we say unto you: “May your memory be eternal, may your memory be eternal, may your memory be eternal.”

The sympathetic psychiatrist writes: “It is to their praise that the prudent and virtuous monks visit the psychiatrist.” This premise is unprecedented in monastic history because it is particularly absurd. The virtuous monk is presumed to be healthy because as long as virtue is a supernatural event, he will have some supernatural elements in his life. However, the restoration of mental health precedes every trace of spiritual phenomenon and virtue.

It costs him that we consider psychiatrists unnecessary for monks. I would like to say that if there are healthy and normal clergy in the Orthodox Church, then the collaboration with a psychiatrist would be superfluous not only for  monks but for every conscious Christian and even every rational Greek. The psychiatrist tries to persuade us that he contributes to restoring the patient’s mental/spiritual health. I myself believe more in what Geronda Porphyrios told me:

“It is humanly impossible for the mentally/spiritually suffering to be helped except only through the Holy Spirit. He who created the human heart is the only one who is able to replace a part when it becomes sick.”9

St. Porphyrios
St. Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia

Namely, the Geronda wanted to say that the boat of everyday life can overturn on someone and result in mental illness, whether with a careless life or through inheritance or by tragic events. From there on, let him look for the miracle in his life because only the intervention of some saint or God’s grace, through our repentance and contrition of heart, may bring healing and health. As long as Elders like Geronda Porphyrios, Geronda Paisios and others exist, psychiatrists are unnecessary for monks or any believer who has associated with them and derived strength from the life-giving power of their heart to continue their life normally without psychiatrists. But now that they have completely missed these healthy and life-giving spiritual personalities and they’ve been replaced by monkeys [also can mean mimics or cunning, malicious fellows], they have discovered that psychiatric centers are useful for monks!10

But psychiatric drugs—useful for the psychiatrist Panos and an honor for the virtuous monks who take them—are soul-destroying because they don’t only suppress mental anomalies and disorders, they also bind every instinctive potential movement of the heart towards its Creator. Therefore, psychiatric drugs exclude the main source of healing, which is the cultivation of relations with God.

The entire article attempts to make prose of the problem and annihilate it with enviable maneuver and excessive art. This whole effort seems funny to me and reminds me of General Mardonius’ speech to King Xerxes after the naval battle of Salamis.11 When Xerxes looked abject and shocked at the debris of hundreds of Persian ships, Mardonius undertook to console him:

“My King, do not be saddened about planks and beams. Did we come to Greece for timber? The mainland army remains integral. My King, don’t allow your heart to be depressed over some broken planks!”

battle-salamis
Battle of Salamis

Etc…etc…Panos writes lots of similar things.

Dear Panos:

  1. The fact that you can prose such tragic events and debase them like Mardonius as well as distort them with such force means that you need a psychiatrist—to at least restore your judgment and say things as they are and as they appear to the rest of the world. You see, I also find some useful roles for psychiatrists.
  2. You address yourself to the Greek people, reassuring them: “Nothing serious and ugly happens on Mount Athos, you can be certain.”

You and those you represent can convince and manipulate the Greeks because they are a species in decline and one does whatever he wants, especially the Hagiorites. But now we’ve entered the European Union where there are civilized societies with sensitivities and human rights. And the time will come when they learn about what is happening on Mount Athos. They will expose you and all of Orthodoxy will be vilified along with you. If you cannot tolerate a debate or criticism by a monk with comprehension and, I can assure you, with a genuine interest, then you will be ridiculed mercilessly by others for your antics. This is a spiritual law and it will be fully applied to you. Your special privileges and whims are recognized and imposed on the decayed Helladic society and Church. Not to God, however, Who requires sincerity, openness, honesty, courage and especially modesty and humility from those associated with Him; namely they don’t have a high opinion of themselves.

Sincerely,

Monk Michael

EU

NOTES

  1. This kind of censorship is used by the monasteries under Geronda Ephraim. Books by authors who have criticized the person of Geronda Ephraim or his methodologies (i.e.; requiring absolute blind obedience, authoritarianism, etc.) are usually not sold in the bookstores. For a number of years, St. Anthony’s Monastery, and a few of Geronda Ephraim’s other monasteries, boycotted Geronda Porphyrios and Geronda Paisios’ books “because of all the difficulties they gave Geronda Ephraim in Greece and all their criticisms of him.” However, as more books were translated into English and demands for orders increased, the boycott was slackened. Now that both Elders are officially canonized as saints in the Orthodox Church, the earlier stories about their criticisms are no longer talked about and have been swept under the carpet as if they never existed.
  2. Before one enters a monastery under Geronda Ephraim, no doubt they’ve been inundated with many stories of the elder’s miracles and visions both by lay and monastic disciples. These stories are reinforced during the novitiate by the superior and other monastics.
  3. Geronda Ephraim’s homilies to his monastics, as well as the private conversations he has with them, are full of self-promotion and narrations of his visions and “special powers”, combined with a feigned humility and self-reproach as the worst sinner in the world. Examples are: entering the divine darkness, seeing the face of God, communicating personally with the Father, seeing the actual event of Christ’s birth, physical alterations with demons, having the Archangels Michael and Gabriel as personal bodyguards, bi-locating to various places around the world without his body—such as during a homily in St. Anthony’s dining hall to Montreal pilgrims where he revealed to them that he left twice while talking to them to check up on his monasteries and they didn’t even realize that he had left. These stories which are used to validate Geronda Ephraim has a living saint are also used as leverage to make monks comply in obedience, even when the obedience breaks the commandments, so as not to sadden the Elder and separate oneself from God. As one of his disciple Gerondas once said to his monks, “Your obedience or disobedience goes through me, to Geronda Ephraim, and then to God.”
  4. Some Gerondas have gone so far as to warn their monastics that saying no or refusing an obedience makes one susceptible to delusion and even demon possession. Any form of “rebuttal” or “back talk” is automatically categorized as demonic and evil. Geronda Ephraim has stated, “The mouth of the elder is the mouth of Christ. If your elder speaks, God speaks.”
  5. Monk Michael is referring to Filotheou Monastery.
  6. This form of punishment is called “being put in the Lity” and can be found in The Ladder of Divine Ascent (7th).
  7. Geronda Ephraim teaches his monastics, “On Judgment Day, Christ will ask you only one question: ‘Did you do obedience?’ If the answer is yes, you go to eternal life. If the answer is no, you go to eternal damnation.”
  8. Despite the fact that many monastic saints (and non-canonized fathers) in the history of Orthodoxy did not remain in their monasteries until death—and many times they lived in many different monasteries—Geronda Ephraim is very strict about his monastics staying in their monastery until death, or until their elder dies. If, for some reason, he allows a monastic to go to another monastery, it always has to be a monastery within his own family. Geronda Ephraim also teaches that it’s almost impossible to find salvation of a monk leaves his monastery (whether he has made the vows for the great schema or a rassaphore).
  9. Geronda Porphyrios once decided to attend some classes on psychiatry at the university. However, his response, though not totally negative, was not particularly encouraging. He acknowledged that “they tried to do something, but what can they do? Psychiatrists and psychologists are like a blind man who tries to understand the things around him by touch. The soul is very deep and only God really knows it” (Yiannitsiotis 200:186). Yiannitsiotis relates that at another time the Elder said, “I don’t want psychiatry, but I love psychiatrists.”… [He] understood that anything spiritual concerning the human condition is not going to be unveiled in psychiatry. The assumptions of materialism, which are part of this discipline, limit the reaches of physical medicine or even psychology. If psychiatry claims to understand the entirety of the human psychological condition, if it rests upon a reductive biological view of consciousness and the human condition, then those claims are counter to an Orthodox perception of the person. One can accept the behavioral sciences without accepting all of their metaphysics. Yiannitsiotis alludes to a remark he heard by a Christian psychiatrist spoken during a conference that may be a kind of summary of this topic: “As a psychiatrist I am not a healer of the human soul, but of the nervous system” (Ibid., 2001: 192). [Professor Daniel Buxhoeveden, Science and the Eastern Orthodox Church, 2013, pp. 15-16].
  10. It is notable that many of the contemporary monastics and spiritual fathers from Greece who knew and revered St. Porphyrios and St. Paisios when they were alive do not hold a high opinion for Elder Joseph the Hesychast and his disciples. This is because the two saints disagreed with many of their methods and teachings, primarily the demand of absolute, blind obediene and authoritarianism. These two saints’ teachings about sick and disturbed forms of obedience are references to Geronda Ephraim’s fronima and teachings.
  11. Mardonius was a leading Persian military commander during the Persian Wars with Greece in the early 5th century BC who died at the Battle of Platea.

 

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

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

ΝΟΣΟΚΟΜΕΙΟ
Halkidiki General Hospital.

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

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

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

Ιατρικής Σχολής του Πανεπιστημίου Αθηνών
Medical School of Athens University

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

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

Prozac

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

RESPONSIBILITIES

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

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

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

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

DISORDERS

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

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

Caste system

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

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

The Town of Karye
The Town of Karyes

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

SCANDAL-MONGERING

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

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

Elder Makarios

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

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

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

NOTES:

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

The Confidence Game: What Con Artists Reveal About the Psychology of Trust and Why Even the Most Rational of Us Are Susceptible to Deception

NOTE: The following article was written by Maria Popova and was taken from https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/01/12/the-confidence-game-maria-konnikova/

“It’s the oldest story ever told. The story of belief — of the basic, irresistible, universal human need to believe in something that gives life meaning, something that reaffirms our view of ourselves, the world, and our place in it.”

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“Reality is what we take to be true,” physicist David Bohm observed in a 1977 lecture. “What we take to be true is what we believe… What we believe determines what we take to be true.” That’s why nothing is more reality-warping than the shock of having come to believe something untrue — an experience so disorienting yet so universal that it doesn’t spare even the most intelligent and self-aware of us, for it springs from the most elemental tendencies of human psychology. “The confidence people have in their beliefs is not a measure of the quality of evidence,” Nobel-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman asserted in examining how our minds mislead us, “but of the coherence of the story that the mind has managed to construct.”

The machinery of that construction is what New Yorker columnist and science writer extraordinaire Maria Konnikova explores in The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It … Every Time (public library) — a thrilling psychological detective story investigating how con artists, the supreme masterminds of malevolent reality-manipulation, prey on our propensity for believing what we wish were true and how this illuminates the inner workings of trust and deception in our everyday lives.

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Art by Edward Gorey for a special edition of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales.

“Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours,” Carl Sagan urged in his excellent Baloney Detection Kit — and yet our tendency is to do just that, becoming increasingly attached to what we’ve come to believe because the belief has sprung from our own glorious, brilliant, fool-proof minds. Through a tapestry of riveting real-life con artist profiles interwoven with decades of psychology experiments, Konnikova demonstrates that a con artist simply takes advantage of this hubris by finding the beliefs in which we are most confident — those we’re least likely to question — and enlisting them in advancing his or her agenda.

To be sure, we all perform micro-cons on a daily basis. White lies are the ink of the social contract — the insincere compliment to a friend who needs a confidence boost, the unaddressed email that “somehow went to spam,” the affinity fib that gives you common ground with a stranger at a party even though you aren’t really a “huge Leonard Cohen fan too.”

We even con ourselves. Every act of falling in love requires a necessary self-con — as Adam Phillips has written in his terrific piece on the paradox of romance, “the person you fall in love with really is the man or woman of your dreams”; we dream the lover up, we construct a fantasy of who she is based on the paltry morsels of information seeded by early impressions, we fall for that fantasy and then, as we immerse ourselves in a real relationship with a real person, we must convince ourselves that the reality corresponds to enough of the fantasy to feel satisfying.

But what sets the con artist apart from the mundane white-liar is the nefarious intent and the deliberate deftness with which he or she goes about executing that reality-manipulation.

Konnikova begins with the story of a lifelong impostor named Ferdinand Waldo Demara, who successfully passed himself off as a psychologist, a professor, a monk, a surgeon, a prison warden, the founder of a religious college, and even his own biographer.

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Ferdinand Waldo Demara (Photograph: Corbis)

Considering the perplexity of his astonishing ability to deceive, Konnikova — whose previous book examined the positive counterpart to the con, the psychology of thinking like Sherlock Holmes — writes:

“How was he so effective? Was it that he preyed on particularly soft, credulous targets? I’m not sure the Texas prison system, one of the toughest in the United States, could be described as such. Was it that he presented an especially compelling, trustworthy figure? Not likely, at six foot one and over 250 pounds, square linebacker’s jaw framed by small eyes that seemed to sit on the border between amusement and chicanery, an expression that made [his] four-year-old daughter Sarah cry and shrink in fear the first time she ever saw it. Or was it something else, something deeper and more fundamental — something that says more about ourselves and how we see the world?

It’s the oldest story ever told. The story of belief — of the basic, irresistible, universal human need to believe in something that gives life meaning, something that reaffirms our view of ourselves, the world, and our place in it… For our minds are built for stories. We crave them, and, when there aren’t ready ones available, we create them. Stories about our origins. Our purpose. The reasons the world is the way it is. Human beings don’t like to exist in a state of uncertainty or ambiguity. When something doesn’t make sense, we want to supply the missing link. When we don’t understand what or why or how something happened, we want to find the explanation. A confidence artist is only too happy to comply — and the well-crafted narrative is his absolute forte.”

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Art by Lisbeth Zwerger for a special edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Konnikova describes the basic elements of the con and the psychological susceptibility into which each of them plays:

“The confidence game starts with basic human psychology. From the artist’s perspective, it’s a question of identifying the victim (the put-up): who is he, what does he want, and how can I play on that desire to achieve what I want? It requires the creation of empathy and rapport (the play): an emotional foundation must be laid before any scheme is proposed, any game set in motion. Only then does it move to logic and persuasion (the rope): the scheme (the tale), the evidence and the way it will work to your benefit (the convincer), the show of actual profits. And like a fly caught in a spider’s web, the more we struggle, the less able to extricate ourselves we become (the breakdown). By the time things begin to look dicey, we tend to be so invested, emotionally and often physically, that we do most of the persuasion ourselves. We may even choose to up our involvement ourselves, even as things turn south (the send), so that by the time we’re completely fleeced (the touch), we don’t quite know what hit us. The con artist may not even need to convince us to stay quiet (the blow-off and fix); we are more likely than not to do so ourselves. We are, after all, the best deceivers of our own minds. At each step of the game, con artists draw from a seemingly endless toolbox of ways to manipulate our belief. And as we become more committed, with every step we give them more psychological material to work with.”

What makes the book especially pleasurable is that Konnikova’s intellectual rigor comes with a side of warm wit. She writes:

“Religion,” Voltaire is said to have remarked, “began when the first scoundrel met the first fool.” It certainly sounds like something he would have said. Voltaire was no fan of the religious establishment. But versions of the exact same words have been attributed to Mark Twain, to Carl Sagan, to Geoffrey Chaucer. It seems so accurate that someone, somewhere, sometime, must certainly have said it.

The invocation of Mark Twain is especially apt — one of America’s first great national celebrities, he was the recipient of some outrageous con attempts. That, in fact, is one of Konnikova’s most disquieting yet strangely assuring points — that although our technologies of deception have changed, the technologies of thought undergirding the art of the con are perennially bound to our basic humanity. She writes:

“The con is the oldest game there is. But it’s also one that is remarkably well suited to the modern age. If anything, the whirlwind advance of technology heralds a new golden age of the grift. Cons thrive in times of transition and fast change, when new things are happening and old ways of looking at the world no longer suffice. That’s why they flourished during the gold rush and spread with manic fury in the days of westward expansion. That’s why they thrive during revolutions, wars, and political upheavals. Transition is the confidence game’s great ally, because transition breeds uncertainty. There’s nothing a con artist likes better than exploiting the sense of unease we feel when it appears that the world as we know it is about to change. We may cling cautiously to the past, but we also find ourselves open to things that are new and not quite expected.

[…]

No amount of technological sophistication or growing scientific knowledge or other markers we like to point to as signs of societal progress will — or can — make cons any less likely. The same schemes that were playing out in the big stores of the Wild West are now being run via your in-box; the same demands that were being made over the wire are hitting your cell phone. A text from a family member. A frantic call from the hospital. A Facebook message from a cousin who seems to have been stranded in a foreign country.

[…]

Technology doesn’t make us more worldly or knowledgeable. It doesn’t protect us. It’s just a change of venue for the same old principles of confidence. What are you confident in? The con artist will find those things where your belief is unshakeable and will build on that foundation to subtly change the world around you. But you will be so confident in the starting point that you won’t even notice what’s happened.”

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Art by Maurice Sendak for The Green Book by Robert Graves.

In a sense, the con is a more extreme and elaborate version of the principles of persuasion that Blaise Pascal outlined half a millennium ago — it is ultimately an art not of coercion but of complicity. Konnikova writes:

“The confidence game — the con — is an exercise in soft skills. Trust, sympathy, persuasion. The true con artist doesn’t force us to do anything; he makes us complicit in our own undoing. He doesn’t steal. We give. He doesn’t have to threaten us. We supply the story ourselves. We believe because we want to, not because anyone made us. And so we offer up whatever they want — money, reputation, trust, fame, legitimacy, support — and we don’t realize what is happening until it is too late. Our need to believe, to embrace things that explain our world, is as pervasive as it is strong. Given the right cues, we’re willing to go along with just about anything and put our confidence in just about anyone.”

So what makes you more susceptible to the confidence game? Not necessarily what you might expect:

“When it comes to predicting who will fall, personality generalities tend to go out the window. Instead, one of the factors that emerges is circumstance: it’s not who you are, but where you happen to be at this particular moment in your life.”

People whose willpower and emotional resilience resources are strained — the lonely, the financially downtrodden, those dealing with the trauma of divorce, injury, or job loss, those undergoing major life changes — are particularly vulnerable. But these, Konnikova reminds us, are states rather than character qualities, circumstances that might and likely will befall each one of us at different points in life for reasons largely outside our control. (One is reminded of philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s excellent work on agency and victimhood: “The victim shows us something about our own lives: we see that we too are vulnerable to misfortune, that we are not any different from the people whose fate we are watching…”) Konnikova writes:

“The more you look, the more you realize that, even with certain markers, like life changes, and certain tendencies in tow, a reliably stable overarching victim profile is simply not there. Marks vary as much as, and perhaps even more than, the grifters who fool them.”

Therein lies the book’s most sobering point — Konnikova demonstrates over and over again, through historical anecdotes and decades of studies, that no one is immune to the art of the con. And yet there is something wonderfully optimistic in this. Konnikova writes:

“The simple truth is that most people aren’t out to get you. We are so bad at spotting deception because it’s better for us to be more trusting. Trust, and not adeptness at spotting deception, is the more evolutionarily beneficial path. People are trusting by nature. We have to be. As infants, we need to trust that the big person holding us will take care of our needs and desires until we’re old enough to do it ourselves. And we never quite let go of that expectation.”

Trust, it turns out, is advantageous in the grand scheme of things. Konnikova cites a number of studies indicating that people who score higher on generalized trust tend to be healthier physically, more psychoemotionally content, likelier to be entrepreneurs, and likelier to volunteer. (The most generous woman I know, who is also a tremendously successful self-made entrepreneur, once reflected: “I’ve never once regretted being generous, I’ve only ever regretted holding back generosity.”) But the greater risk-tolerance necessary for reaping greater rewards also comes with the inevitable downside of greater potential for exploitation — the most trusting among us are also the perfect marks for the player of the confidence game.

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Art by Maurice Sendak for The Green Book by Robert Graves.

But the paradox of trust, Konnikova argues, is only part of our susceptibility to being conned. Another major factor is our sheer human solipsism. She explains:

“We are our own prototype of being, of motivation, of behavior. People, however, are far from being a homogeneous mass. And so, when we depart from our own perspective, as we inevitably must, we often make errors, sometimes significant ones. [Psychologists call this] “egocentric anchoring”: we are our own point of departure. We assume that others know what we know, believe what we believe, and like what we like.”

She cites an extensive study, the results of which were published in a paper cleverly titled “How to Seem Telepathic.” (One ought to appreciate the scientists’ wry sarcasm in poking fun at our clickbait culture.) Konnikova writes:

“Many of our errors, the researchers found, stem from a basic mismatch between how we analyze ourselves and how we analyze others. When it comes to ourselves, we employ a fine-grained, highly contextualized level of detail. When we think about others, however, we operate at a much higher, more generalized and abstract level. For instance, when answering the same question about ourselves or others — how attractive are you? — we use very different cues. For our own appearance, we think about how our hair is looking that morning, whether we got enough sleep, how well that shirt matches our complexion. For that of others, we form a surface judgment based on overall gist. So, there are two mismatches: we aren’t quite sure how others are seeing us, and we are incorrectly judging how they see themselves.”

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Art by Maurice Sendak for a special edition of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales.

The skilled con artist, Konnikova points out, mediates for this mismatch by making an active effort to discern which cues the other person is using to form judgments and which don’t register at all. The result is a practical, non-paranormal exercise in mind-reading, which creates an illusion of greater affinity, which in turn becomes the foundation of greater trust — we tend to trust those similar to us more than the dissimilar, for we intuit that the habits and preferences we have in common stem from shared values.

And yet, once again, we are reminded that the tricks of the con artist’s exploitive game are different only by degree rather than kind from the everyday micro-deceptions of which our social fabric is woven. Konnikova writes:

“Both similarity and familiarity can be faked, as the con artist can easily tell you — and the more you can fake it, the more real information will be forthcoming. Similarity is easy enough. When we like someone or feel an affinity for them, we tend to mimic their behavior, facial expressions, and gestures, a phenomenon known as the chameleon effect. But the effect works the other way, too. If we mimic someone else, they will feel closer and more similar to us; we can fake the natural liking process quite well. We perpetuate minor cons every day, often without realizing it, and sometimes knowing what we do all too well, when we mirror back someone’s words or interests, feign a shared affinity for a sports team or a mutual hatred of a brand. The signs that usually serve us reliably can easily be massaged, especially in the short term — all a good con artist needs.”

In the remainder of the thoroughly fascinating The Confidence Game, Konnikova goes on to explore the role of storytelling in reality-manipulation, what various psychological models reveal about the art of persuasion, and how the two dramatically different systems that govern our perception of reality — emotion and the intellect — conspire in the machinery of trust. Complement it with Adrienne Rich on lying and what “truth” really means, David deSteno on the psychology of trust in work and love, and Alice Walker on what her father taught her about the love-expanding capacity of truth-telling.

 

Biderman’s Chart of Coercion

NOTE: This article is based on the writings of Albert D. Biderman, a sociologist who worked for the USAF in the 1950s. Biderman showed how Chinese and Korean interrogators used techniques including sleep deprivation, darkness or bright light, insults, threats, and exposure far more than physical force to break prisoners. A link to the entire pdf can be found at the end of the article.

Biderman book

“Most people who brainwash…use methods similar to those of prison guards who recognize that physical control is never easily accomplished without the cooperation of the prisoner. The most effective way to gain that cooperation is through subversive manipulation of the mind and feelings of the victim, who then becomes a psychological, as well as a physical, prisoner.” from an Amnesty International publication, “Report on Torture“, which depicts the brainwashing of prisoners of war.

 

Isolation

  • Deprives individual of social support, effectively rendering him unable to resist
  • Makes individual dependent upon interrogator
  • Develops an intense concern with self.

Once a person is away from longstanding emotional support and thus reality checks, it is fairly easy to set a stage for brainwashing. Spiritually abusive groups work to isolate individuals from friends and family, whether directly, by requiring the individuals to forsake friends and family for the sake of the “Kingdom” (group membership), or indirectly, by preaching the necessity to demonstrate one’s love for God by “hating” one’s father, mother, family, friends.

Abusive groups are not outward-looking, but inward-looking, insisting that members find all comfort and support and a replacement family within the group. Cut off from friends, relatives, previous relationships, abusive groups surround the recruits and hammer rigid ideologies into their consciousnesses, saturating their senses with specific doctrines and requirements of the group.

Isolated from everyone but those within the group, recruits become dependent upon group members and leaders and find it difficult if not impossible to offer resistance to group teachings. They become self-interested and hyper-vigilant, very fearful should they incur the disapproval of the group, which now offers the only support available to them which has group approval.

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Monks and nuns from the various monasteries under Geronda Ephraim during St. Anthony Monastery’s Feast Day (ca. 2006)

Warning signs
The seed of extremism exists wherever a group demands all the free time of a member, insisting he be in church every time the doors are open and calling him to account if he isn’t, is critical or disapproving of involvements with friends and family outside the group, encourages secrecy by asking that members not share what they have seen or heard in meetings or about church affairs with outsiders, is openly, publicly, and repeatedly critical of other churches or groups (especially if the group claims to be the only one which speaks for God), is critical when members attend conferences, workshops or services at other churches, checks up on members in any way, i.e., to determine that the reason they gave for missing a meeting was valid, or makes attendance at all church functions mandatory for participating in church ministry or enjoying other benefits of church fellowship.

Once a member stops interacting openly with others, the group’s influence is all that matters. He is bombarded with group values and information and there is no one outside the group with whom to share thoughts or who will offer reinforcement or affirmation if the member disagrees with or doubts the values of the group. The process of isolation and the self-doubt it creates allow the group and its leaders to gain power over the members. Leaders may criticize major and minor flaws of members, sometimes publically, or remind them of present or past sins. They may call members names, insult them or ignore them, or practice a combination of ignoring members at some times and receiving them warmly at others, thus maintaining a position of power (i.e., the leaders call the shots.)

The sense of humiliation makes members feel they deserve the poor treatment they are receiving and may cause them to allow themselves to be subjected to any and all indignities out of gratefulness that one as unworthy as they feel is allowed to participate in the group at all. When leaders treat the member well occasionally, they accept any and all crumbs gratefully. Eventually, awareness of how dependent they are on the group and gratitude for the smallest attention contributes to an increasing sense of shame and degradation on the part of the members, who begin to abuse themselves with “litanies of self-blame,” i.e., “No matter what they do to me, I deserve it, as sinful and wretched as I am. I deserve no better. I have no rights but to go to hell. I should be grateful for everything I receive, even punishment.”

St. Anthony's Monastery Feast Day (early - mid-2000s)
In the monasteries it is taught that the most ideal way for someone to practice Orthodoxy is through blind obedience to a Geronda (or Gerondissa).

Monopolization of Perception

  • Fixes attention upon immediate predicament; fosters introspection
  • Eliminates stimuli competing with those controlled by captor
  • Frustrates all actions not consistent with compliance

Abusive groups insist on compliance with trival demands related to all facets of life: food, clothing, money, household arrangements, children, conversation. They monitor members’ appearances, criticize language and childcare practices. They insist on precise schedules and routines, which may change and be contradictory from day to day or moment to moment, depending on the whims of group leaders.

At first, new members may think these expectations are unreasonable and may dispute them, but later, either because they want to be at peace or because they are afraid, or because everyone else is complying, they attempt to comply. After all, what real difference does it make if a member is not allowed to wear a certain color, or to wear his hair in a certain way, to eat certain foods, or say certain words, to go certain places, watch certain things, or associate with certain individuals. In the overall scheme of things, does it really matter? In fact, in the long run, the member begins to reason, it is probably good to learn these disciplines, and after all, as they have frequently been reminded, they are to submit to spiritual authority as unto the Lord.. Soon it becomes apparent that the demands will be unending, and increasing time and energy are focused on avoiding group disapproval by doing something “wrong.” There is a feeling of walking on eggs. Everything becomes important in terms of how the group or its leaders will respond, and members’ desires, feelings and ideas become insignificant. Eventually, members may no longer even know what they want, feel or think. The group has so monopolized all of the members’ perceptions with trivial demands that members lose their perspective as to the enormity of the situation they are in.

The leaders may also persuade the members that they have the inside track with God and therefore know how everything should be done. When their behavior results in disastrous consequences, as it often does, the members are blamed. Sometimes the leaders may have moments, especially after abusive episodes, when they appear to humble themselves and confess their faults, and the contrast of these moments of vulnerability with their usual pose of being all-powerful endears them to members and gives hope for some open communication.

Threats sometimes accompany all of these methods. Members are told they will be under God’s judgment, under a curse, punished, chastised, chastened if they leave the group or disobey group leaders. Sometimes the leaders, themselves, punish the members, and so members can never be sure when leaders will make good on the threats which they say are God’s idea. The members begin to focus on what they can do to meet any and all group demands and how to preserve peace in the short run. Abusive groups may remove children from their parents, control all the money in the group, arrange marriages, destroy personal items of members or hide personal items.

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Warning signs:
Preoccupation with trivial demands of daily life, demanding strict compliance with standards of appearance, dress codes, what foods are or are not to be eaten and when, schedules, threats of God’s wrath if group rules are not obeyed, a feeling of being monitored, watched constantly by those in the group or by leaders. In other words, what the church wants, believes and thinks its members should do becomes everything, and you feel preoccupied with making sure you are meeting the standards. It no longer matters whether you agree that the standards are correct, only that you follow them and thus keep the peace and in the good graces of leaders.

TX Synodia
The monks of Holy Archangels Monastery (TX).

Induced Debility and Exhaustion

People subjected to this type of spiritual abuse become worn out by tension, fear and continual rushing about in an effort to meet group standards. They must often avoid displays of fear, sorrow or rage, since these may result in ridicule or punishment. Rigid ministry demands and requirements that members attend unreasonable numbers of meetings and events makes the exhaustion and ability to resist group pressure even worse.

The Gerondia (Head) Table at St. Nektarios Monastery (NY)

Warning Signs:
Feelings of being overwhelmed by demands, close to tears, guilty if one says no to a request or goes against a church standards. Being intimidated or pressured into volunteering for church duties and subjected to scorn or ridicule when one does not “volunteer.” Being rebuked or reproved when family or work responsibilities intrude on church responsibilities.

St. Nektarios Brotherhood at The Russian Synodal Building, NY 2010

Occasional Indulgences

  • Provides motivation for compliance

Leaders of abusive groups often sense when members are making plans to leave and may suddenly offer some kind of indulgence, perhaps just love or affection, attention where there was none before, a note or a gesture of concern. Hope that the situation in the church will change or self doubt (“Maybe I’m just imagining it’s this bad,”) then replace fear or despair and the members decide to stay a while longer. Other groups practice sporadic demonstrations of compassion or affection right in the middle of desperate conflict or abusive episodes. This keeps members off guard and doubting their own perceptions of what is happening.

Some of the brainwashing techniques described are extreme, some groups may use them in a disciplined, regular manner while others use them more sporadically. But even mild, occasional use of these techniques is effective in gaining power.

CA nuns procession 5

Warning Signs:
Be concerned if you have had an ongoing desire to leave a church or group you believe may be abusive, but find yourself repeatedly drawn back in just at the moment you are ready to leave, by a call, a comment or moment of compassion. These moments, infrequent as they may be, are enough to keep hope in change alive and thus you sacrifice years and years to an abusive group.

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Feast Day of St. Thekla, 2013, Canada.

Devaluing the Individual

  • Creates fear of freedom and dependence upon captors
  • Creates feelings of helplessness
  • Develops lack of faith in individual capabilities

Abusive leaders are frequently uncannily able to pick out traits church members are proud of and to use those very traits against the members. Those with natural gifts in the areas of music may be told they are proud or puffed up or “anxious to be up front” if they want to use their talents and denied that opportunity. Those with discernment are called judgmental or critical, the merciful are lacking in holiness or good judgment, the peacemakers are reminded the Lord came to bring a sword, not peace. Sometimes efforts are made to convince members that they really are not gifted teachers or musically talented or prophetically inclined as they believed they were. When members begin to doubt the one or two special gifts they possess which they have always been sure were God-given, they begin to doubt everything else they have ever believed about themselves, to feel dependent upon church leaders and afraid to leave the group. (“If I’ve been wrong about even *that*, how can I ever trust myself to make right decisions ever again?”).

CA Nuns choir 3
There are 21 nuns residing at Life-Giving Spring Monastery.

Warning Signs:
Unwillingness to allow members to use their gifts. Establishing rigid boot camp-like requirements for the sake of proving commitment to the group before gifts may be exercised. Repeatedly criticizing natural giftedness by reminding members they must die to their natural gifts, that Paul, after all, said, “When I’m weak, I’m strong,” and that they should expect God to use them in areas other than their areas of giftedness. Emphasizing helps or service to the group as a prerequisite to church ministry. This might take the form of requiring that anyone wanting to serve in any way first have the responsibility of cleaning toilets or cleaning the church for a specified time, that anyone wanting to sing in the worship band must first sing to the children in Sunday School, or that before exercising any gifts at all, members must demonstrate loyalty to the group by faithful attendance at all functions and such things as tithing. No consideration is given to the length of time a new member has been a Christian or to his age or station in life or his unique talents or abilities. The rules apply to everyone alike. This has the effect of reducing everyone to some kind of lowest common denominator where no one’s gifts or natural abilities are valued or appreciated, where the individual is not cherished for the unique blessing he or she is to the body of Christ, where what is most highly valued is service, obedience, submission to authority, and performance without regard to gifts or abilities or, for that matter, individual limitations.

Bishop Joseph at St. John the Forerunner Monastery
Bishop Joseph at St. John the Forerunner Monastery

Biderman Chart

Cold Reading: How to Convince Strangers That You Know All About Them (Ray Hyman, 1977)

NOTE: Cold reading is a set of techniques used by elders, mentalists, psychics, fortune-tellers, mediums and illusionists to determine or express details about another person, often to imply that the reader knows much more about the person than the reader actually does. Without prior knowledge, a practiced cold-reader can quickly obtain a great deal of information by analyzing the person’s body language, age, clothing or fashion, hairstyle, gender, sexual orientation, religion, race or ethnicity, level of education, manner of speech, place of origin, etc. Cold readings commonly employ high-probability guesses, quickly picking up on signals as to whether their guesses are in the right direction or not, then emphasizing and reinforcing chance connections and quickly moving on from missed guesses.

The more a Geronda confesses people, the more developed this practice becomes. The longer a Geronda confesses an individual, the more easier they become to read [not to mention some father confessors keep files of notes on individuals which they briefly scan before they visit the monastery]. Monastics also develop this technique over time, though it will never become as perfected as an elder’s because they do not hear the intimate details of an individual’s private life and secret sins through the sacrament of confession.

The following article is taken from Paranormal Borderlands of Science:

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Over twenty years ago I taught a course at Harvard University called “Applications of Social Psychology.”  The sort of applications that I covered were the various ways in which people were manipulated. I invited various manipulators to demonstrate their techniques– pitchmen, encyclopedia salesmen, hypnotists, advertising experts, evangelists, confidence men, and a variety of individuals who dealt with personal problems. The techniques which we discussed, especially those concerned with helping people with their personal problems, seem to involve the client’s tendency to find more meaning in any situation than is actually there. Students readily accepted this explanation when it was pointed out to them. But I did not feel that they fully realized just how pervasive and powerful this human tendency to make sense out of nonsense really is.

Consequently, in 1955 I wrote a paper entitled “The Psychological Reading: An Infallible Technique For Winning Admiration and Popularity.” Over the years I have distributed copies of this paper to my students. The paper begins as follows:

So you want to be admired! You want people to seek your company, to talk about you, to praise your talents. This manuscript tells you how to satisfy that want.  Herein you will find a sure-fire gimmick for the achievement of fame and popularity.  Just follow the advice that I give you, and, even if you are the most incompetent social bungler, you cannot fail to become the life of the party. What is the secret that underlies this infallible system! The secret, my friend, is a simple and obvious one.  It has been tried and proven by practitioners since the beginnings of mankind. Here is the gist of the secret: To be popular with your fellow man, tell him what he wants to hear. He wants to hear about himself. So tell him about himself. But [do not tell him] what you know to be true about him.

Oh, no! Never tell him the truth. Rather, tell him what he would like to hear about himself.  And there you have it. Simple and obvious, yet so powerful.  This manuscript details the way in which you can exploit this golden rule by assuming the role of a character reader.

I will include essentially the same recipe for character reading in this paper that I give to my students. In addition I will bring the material up to date, describe some relevant research, and indicate some theoretical reasons why the technique “works.” My purpose is not to enable you to enhance your personal magnetism, nor is it to increase the number of character readers. I give you these rules for reading character because I want you to experience how the method works. I want you to see what a powerful technique the psychological reading is, how convincing it is to the psychologist and layman alike.

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When you see how easy it is to convince a person that you can read his character on sight, you will better appreciate why fortune tellers and psychologists are frequently lulled into placing credence in techniques which have not been validated by acceptable scientific methods. The recent controversy in The Humanist magazine and The Zetetic over the scientific status of astrology probably is irrelevant to the reasons that individuals believe in astrology. Almost without exception. the defenders of astrology with whom I have contact do not refer to the evidence relating to the underlying theory. They are convinced of astrology’s value because it “works.” By this they mean that it supplies them with feedback that “feels right”–that convinces them that the horoscope provides a basis for understanding themselves and ordering their lives. It has personal meaning for them.

Some philosophers distinguish between “persuasion” and “conviction.” The distinction is subtle. But for our purposes we can think of subjective experiences that persuade us that something is so and of logical and scientific procedures that convince, or ought to convince, us that something is or is not so. Quite frequently a scientist commits time and resources toward generating scientific evidence for a proposition because he has already been persuaded, on nonscientific grounds, that the proposition is true. Such intuitive persuasion plays an important motivational role in science as well as in the arts. Pathological science and false beliefs come about when such intuitive persuasion overrides or colors the evidence from objective procedures for establishing conviction.

The field of personality assessment has always been plagued by this confusion between persuasion and conviction. In contrast to intelligence and aptitude tests the scientific validation of personality tests, even under ideal conditions, rarely results in unequivocal or satisfactory results. In fact some of the most widely used personality inventories have repeatedly failed to pass validity checks. One of the reasons for this messy state of affairs is the lack of reliable and objective criteria against which to check the results of an assessment.

But the lack of adequate validation has not prevented the use of, and reliance on, such instruments. Assessment psychologists have always placed more reliance on their instruments than is warranted by the scientific evidence. Both psychologist and client are invariably persuaded by the results that the assessment “works.”

Geronda Paisios, Geronda Ephraim & Bishop Panteleimon of Verroias.

This state of affairs, of course, is even more true when we consider divination systems beyond those of the academic and professional psychologist. Every system be it based on the position of the stars, the pattern of lines in the hand, the shape of the face or skull, the fall of the cards or the dice, the accidents of nature, or the intuitions of a “psychic”–claims its quota of satisfied customers. The client invariably feels satisfied with the results. He is convinced that the reader and the system have penetrated to the core of his “true” self. Such satisfaction on the part of the client also feeds back upon the reader. Even if the reader began his career with little belief in his method, the inevitable reinforcement of persuaded clients increases his confidence in himself and his system. In this way a “vicious circle” is established. The reader and his clients become more and more persuaded that they have hold of a direct pipeline to the “truth.”

The state of affairs in which the evaluation of an assessment instrument depends upon the satisfaction of the client is known as “personal validation.” Personal validation is, for all practical purposes, the major reason for the persistence of divinatory and assessment procedures. If the client is not persuaded, then the system will not survive. Personal validation, of course, is the basis for the acceptance of more than just assessment instruments. The widespread acceptance of myths about Bigfoot, the Bermuda Triangle, ancient astronauts, ghosts, the validity of meditation and consciousness-raising schemes, and a host of other beliefs are based on persuasion through personal validation rather than scientific conviction.

COLD READING

“People have always confused us with them, but we have no connection,” Geronda Dositheos

“Cold reading” is a procedure by which a “reader” is able to persuade a client, whom he has never before met, that he knows all about the client’s personality and problems. At one extreme this can be accomplished by delivering a stock spiel, or “psychological reading,” that consists of highly general statements that can fit any individual. A reader who relies on psychological readings will usually have memorized a set of stock spiels. He then can select a reading to deliver which is relatively more appropriate in the general category that the client fits- a young unmarried girl, a senior citizen, and so on. Such an attempt to fit the reading to the client makes the psychological reading a closer approximation to the true cold reading.

The cold reading, at its best, provides the client with a character assessment that is uniquely tailored to fit him or her. The reader begins with the same assumptions that guide the psychological reader who relies on the stock spiel. These assumptions are (1) that we all are basically more alike than different; (2) that our problems are generated by the same major transitions of birth, puberty, work, marriage, children, old age, and death; (3) that, with the exception of curiosity seekers and troublemakers, people come to a character reader because they need someone to listen to their conflicts involving love, money, and health.

The cold reader goes beyond these common denominators by gathering as much additional information about the client as possible. Sometimes such information is obtained in advance of the reading.  If the reading is through appointment, the reader can use directories and other sources to gather information. When the client enters the consulting room, an assistant can examine the coat left behind (and often the purse as well) for papers, notes, labels, and other such cues about socioeconomic status, and so on. Most cold readers, however do not need such advance information. Geronda Joseph (formerly Ioannis Voutsas, now Abbot and father-Confessor at St. Nektarios Monastery, Roscoe, NY).

The cold reader basically relies on a good memory and acute observation. The client is carefully studied. The clothing- for example, style, neatness, cost, age- provides a host of cues for helping the reader make shrewd guesses about socioeconomic level, conservatism or extroversion, and other characteristics. The client’s physical features–weight, posture, looks, eyes, and hands provide further cues. The hands are especially revealing to the good reader. The manner of speech, use of grammar, gestures, and eye contact are also good sources. To the good reader the huge amount of information coming from an initial sizing-up of the client greatly narrows the possible categories into which he classifies clients. His knowledge of actual and statistical data about various subcultures in the population already provides him the basis for making an uncanny and strikingly accurate assessment of the client.

But the skilled reader can go much further in particularizing his reading.  He wants to zero in as quickly as possible on the precise problem that is bothering the client. On the basis of his initial assessment he makes some tentative hypotheses. He tests these out by beginning his assessment in general terms, touching upon general categories of problems and watching the reaction of the client.  If he is on the wrong track the client’s reactions, eye movements, pupillary dilation, other bodily mannerisms—will warn him. When he is on the right track other reactions will tell him so. By watching the client’s reactions as he tests out different hypotheses during his spiel, the good reader quickly hits upon what is bothering the customer and begins to adjust the reading to the situation. By this time, the client has usually been persuaded that the reader, by some uncanny means, has gained insights into the client’s innermost thoughts. His guard is now down. Often he opens up and actually tells the reader, who is also a good listener, the details of his situation. The reader, after a suitable interval, will usually feedback the information that the client has given him in such a way that the client will be further amazed at how much the reader “knows” about him. Invariably the client leaves the reader without realizing that everything he has been told is simply what he himself has unwittingly revealed to the reader.

THE STOCK SPIEL

Geronda Joseph Mammis, Abbot of Holy Trinity monastery, Michigan.

The preceding paragraphs indicate that the cold reader is a highly skilled and talented individual. And this is true. But what is amazing about this area of human assessment is how successfully even an unskilled and incompetent reader can persuade a client that he has fathomed the client’s true nature.  It is probably a tribute to the creativeness of the human mind that a client can, under the right circumstances, make sense out of almost any reading and manage to fit it to his own unique situation. All that is necessary is that the reader make out a plausible case for why the reading ought to fit. The client will do the rest.

You can achieve a surprisingly high degree of success as a character reader even if you merely use a stock spiel which you give to every client. Sundberg (1955), for example, found that if you deliver the following character sketch to a college male, he will usually accept it as a reasonably accurate description of himself:

“You are a person who is very normal in his attitudes, behavior and relationships with people. You get along well without effort. People naturally like you, and you are not overly critical of them or yourself. You are neither overly conventional nor overly individualistic. Your prevailing mood is one of optimism and constructive effort, and you are not troubled by periods of depression, psychosomatic illness or nervous symptoms.”

Sundberg found that the college female will respond with even more pleasure to the following sketch:

“You appear to be a cheerful, well-balanced person. You may have some alternation of happy and unhappy moods, but they are not extreme now. You have few or no problems with your health. You are sociable and mix well with others. You are adaptable to social situations. You tend to be adventurous. Your interests are wide. You are fairly self-confident and usually think clearly.”

Sundberg conducted his study over 20 years ago. But the sketches still work well today. Either will tend to work well with both sexes. More recently, several laboratory studies have had excellent success with the following stock spiel (Snyder and Shenkel 1975)

Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary and resented. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. You pride yourself on being an independent thinker and do nor accept others’ opinions without satisfactory proof.  You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing.  Disciplined and controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside.

Your sexual adjustment has presented some problems for you. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself.  You have a strong need for other people to like you and for them to admire you.

IL Papa Pavlos (2013) Synthronon

Interestingly enough, the statements in this stock spiel were first used in 1943 by Bertram Forer (1948) in a classroom demonstration of personal validation. He obtained most of them from a newsstand astrology book. Forer’s students, who thought the sketch was uniquely intended for them as a result of a personality test, gave the sketch an average rating of 4.26 on a scale of O (poor) to 5 (perfect). As many as 16 our of his 39 students (41 percent) rated it as a perfect fit to their personality. Only five gave it a rating below 4 (the worst being a rating of 2, meaning “average”). Almost 30 years later students give the same sketch an almost identical rating as a unique description of themselves.

THE TECHNIQUE IN ACTION

 

Geronda Ephraim and Geronda Nektarios

The acceptability of the stock spiel depends upon the method and circumstances of its delivery. As we shall later see, laboratory studies have isolated many of the factors that contribute to persuading clients that the sketch is a unique description of themselves. A great deal of the success of the spiel depends upon “setting the stage.”  The reader tries to persuade the client that the sketch is tailored especially for him or her. The reader also creates the impression that it is based on a reliable and proven assessment procedure. The way the sketch is delivered and dramatized also helps. And many of the rules that I give for the cold reading also apply to the delivery of the stock spiel.

The stock spiel, when properly delivered, can be quite effective. In fact, with the right combination of circumstances the stock spiel is often accepted as a perfect and unique description by the client. But, in general, one can achieve even greater success as a character analyst if one uses the more flexible technique of the cold reader. In this method one plays a sort of detective role in which one takes on the role of a Sherlock Holmes. (See the “Case of the Cardboard Box” for an excellent example of cold reading.)  One observes the jewelry, prices the clothing, evaluates the speech mannerisms, and studies the reactions of the subject. Then whatever information these observations provide is pieced together into a character reading which is aimed more specifically at the particular client.

A good illustration of the cold reader in action occurs in a story told by the well-known magician John Mulholland. The incident took place in the 1930s. A young lady in her late twenties or early thirties visited a character reader. She was wearing expensive jewelry, a wedding band, and a black dress of cheap material. The observant reader noted that she was wearing shoes which were currently being advertised for people with foot trouble. (Pause at this point and imagine that you are the reader; see what you would make of these clues.)

By means of just these observations the reader proceeded to amaze his client with his insights. He assumed that this client came to see him, as did most of his female customers, because of a love or financial problem. The black dress and the wedding band led him to reason that her husband had died recently. The expensive jewelry suggested that she had been financially comfortable during marriage, but the cheap dress indicated that her husband’s death had left her penniless. The therapeutic shoes signified that she was now standing on her feet more than she was used to, implying that she was working to support herself since her husband’s death.

The reader’s shrewdness led him to the following conclusion, which turned out to be correct: The lady had met a man who had proposed to her. She wanted to marry the man to end her economic hardship. But she felt guilty about marrying so soon after her husband’s death. The reader told her what she had come to hear–  that it was all right to marry without further delay.

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 NOTE: The remainder of the 15 page article can be read here:

http://skepdic.com/Hyman_cold_reading.htm

Filotheou Monastery Fruit Harvest

Characteristics Associated with Cultic Groups (Janja Lalich, Ph.D. & Michael D. Langone, Ph.D., 2006)

NOTE: This article is taken from the book, Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships. It was adapted from a checklist originally developed by Michael Langone.

cults

Concerted efforts at influence and control lie at the core of cultic groups, programs, and relationships. Many members, former members, and supporters of cults are not fully aware of the extent to which members may have been manipulated, exploited, even abused. The following list of social-structural,
social-psychological, and interpersonal behavioural patterns commonly found in cultic environments may be helpful in assessing a particular group or relationship.

Compare these patterns to the situation you were in (or in which you, a family member, or friend is currently involved). This list may help you determine if there is cause for concern. Bear in mind that this list is not meant to be a “cult scale” or a definitive checklist to determine if a specific group is a cult. This is not so much a diagnostic instrument as it is an analytical tool.

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

[x]  The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law. [Blind obedience to Geronda Ephraim and his teachings is the foundation and essence of his “family.” Many times, he is equated with Christ, and more emphasis is placed on his books and cassette homilies than the Bible].

Disciples are taught that blind obedience to Geronda Ephraim and his teachings are a prerequisite for salvation.
Disciples are taught that blind obedience to Geronda Ephraim and his teachings are a prerequisite for salvation.

[x]   Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished. [Questioning or talking negatively about Geronda is equated with Luciferian egoism. Both acts are punished with prostrations, the Lity and in some cases, the other monastics will be instructed they have no blessing to talk to the dissenter].

[x]  Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s). A monastic, and lay person if possible, must ceaselessly recite the Jesus Prayer 24/7, either mentally or vocally. Within the monasteries, there is also the daily 1/2 hour-3 hour breathing/meditative exercise of Prayer of the Heart. Work hours are long and excessive with the purpose to “exhaust the flesh and carnal desires.”

[x]   The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth). Though the dictation of one’s life, thoughts and feelings is much stricter for monastic disciples, lay spiritual children under Geronda Ephraim still need blessings for minute details of their lives–dating, getting a job, how to discipline children, etc. The spiritual Father has the last say–he can order one to break up with someone, not take a job, buy a car, house, etc., all for “the spiritual benefit of their spiritual child.”

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[x]  The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity). [Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries are the “last bastion of authentic, traditional monasticism in the world.” It is generally taught and believed that “Geronda Ephraim is the holiest man in the world, and the last great saint of the Orthodox Church.” Spiritual children are taught that after the “False Union” that is coming, and especially in the days of the Antichrist, one will only be able to find true Orthodoxy in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries; “everywhere else will be apostate, unionist, pseudo-Orthodox churches.”

[x]   The group has a polarised us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society. “Those who aren’t with us are against us.” Essentially, the ecumenist and mainstream hierarchs, priests, Archons, AHEPA, freemasons, Zionists, CIA, etc. are inspired by demons to stop the salvific work of the monasteries and end Geronda Ephraim’s Apostolic work here.

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[x]  The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations). Though technically accountable to his Hierarch, it is generally accepted in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries that because he is a saint, he is not really bound by Canons, obedience to worldly hierarchs or jurisdictions. Anytime he overrides a hierarch or synodal canon/decree, it is generally accepted that he either received an obedience or a blessing from the Panagia, or Christ Himself.

[x]   The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviours or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities). A book can be written about all the white collar crime, falsified  documents, lies, cover-ups, lawsuits, etc. A monastic can average lying once to a dozen times a day, all blessed via obedience. This is even more so for the monastic who answers phones. The Gerondissa or Geronda many times will instruct them, “If anyone calls, tell them you don’t know where I am or I am out of the monastery for the day, and take a message.” Meanwhile, they’re in their cell all day. The one answering the phone knows this, but lies, or rather does obedience, and says whatever they are told.

TX 1998

[x]   The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion. The superior “rebukes in and out of season,” namely, one gets humbled, insulted and yelled at when they’ve erred, but also when they’ve done nothing wrong, as a test. Private confessions are revealed to other monastics at the “discernment” of the Elder, whether in a group setting to humble the individual, or without the individual’s presence and more as gossip.

[x]   Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group. This is a requirement of all monastic novices. Though certain monastics have special privileges and can keep close familial communications and connections.

[x]   The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members. More with pilgrims–monastery tourism. In the first years, there was a drive for monastic recruitment but that has dwindled due to all the problems and issues that have occurred in the various monasteries. “In the beginning it was about quantity, now it is about quality.”

Fundraising Event held on January 13, 2013 by Friends of the Monastery from St-Mary's Antiochian Orthodox church in Montreal.

[x]   The group is preoccupied with making money. The monasteries are all incorporated and they function like corporations. Besides the dependency on donations, the monasteries have all ventured into various business endeavors and projects to help earn more profits to help build bigger and better buildings and chapels.

[x]  Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities. This is non-negotiable for the monastics. With lay people, if they want to remain in the monasteries good books, they should comply to any favor asked of them. Noncompliance brings about passive aggressive guilt tripping. Continual noncompliance or making excuses when help is needed can result in the monastery distancing themselves from the individual.

[x]   Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialise only with other group members. “Bad company corrupts good habits.”

[x]  The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group. Geroinda Ephraim has stated that those who stay with him until the end will be saved; this is based on a vision. Monastics are taught and believe that if they leave the monastic life, there is no hope for salvation for them. Lay people are taught that Geronda Ephraim and his father confessors are the only ones in America with the spiritual experience to help guide them to salvation and theosis.

05

 https://www.scribd.com/doc/260450299/Cults-102-Commonly-Used-Thought-Reform-Tactics