The Reply of Grigoriou Monastery to Monk Christodoulos’ Accusations (December 2010)

NOTE: This article is taken from the Cypriot newspaper Phileleftheros (“Ο Φιλελευθερος”), December 24th, 2010. It is a response to an article published the week before in the same newspaper written by Monk Christodoulos. The former monk of Grigoriou claimed in that article that the monastery employed methods of controlling the monastics by compulsory use of psychiatric drugs or being referred to psychiatric asylums. In the following article, Grigoriou Monastery: The Sludge War is set in Motion, the Monastery attempts to rebut these accusations. http://anavaseis.blogspot.ca/2010/12/blog-post_6672.html

Fr. Christodoulos Grigoriatis
Monk Christodoulos Grigoriatis

Dear Director of the Newspaper,

It is with amazement and wonder that we were informed of the newspaper article you published, “Cuckoo’s Nest”: Grigoriou Monastery on the Holy Mountain (18/12/2010), which consists of an interview given by the monk Christodoulos.

We do not expect that either you personally nor your partners have specialized knowledge of psychiatry to properly assess the content of his interview and to decide whether it is publishable. On the other hand, one would be expected to ask, to explore beforehand, if the maneuvers of the responsible were liable before lawmen, officers of Public Health, based on real events and mental states. It would take perhaps rudimentary care on your part to preserve the prestige of your newspaper since it is likely that your publication consists of slandering many honest people.

Regarding the contents of Monk Christodoulos’ interview, we want to you and the readers of your newspaper to know that you insulted our monastery with this publication by offensively describing it as a “Cuckoo’s Nest”. Also, you primarily and decisively insulted Monk Christodoulos himself by publicizing sensitive personal information, something he would not have wanted in a calm phase of his life. Our monastery has handled the issue if this afflicted brother with great caution and delicacy, whether he realizes it or not. Such matters are not treated in the way your partner journalist has chosen. Besides, our Monastery cannot speak publicly, out of courtesy and respect for the persons involved. This is due to our obligation to observe the Holy Canons requiring confidentiality of confession, but also because there is the Personal Data Protection Authority. For this reason, we do not now refute his accusations contained in your publications. We only disclose to your readers that issues relating to the Monk Christodoulos, are pending before the Greek Courts.

However, the most significant thing about your publication is that you created, or perhaps reinforced, the impression that the monasteries implement a control method by forcing monks to use psychiatric drugs or by referral to a mental hospital. This is a completely false impression. Only someone deliberately ill-natured or perverse could accept these things as true.

Perhaps without realizing it, you insult both Orthodox Monasticism and the Church with your publication. But this does not suit the traditional pious and philo-monastic people of Cyprus. In Cyprus, there are exceptional hierarchs, pious clergymen and laity spiritual brothers who can prove that the exercise of evangelical love governs contemporary Orthodox Monasticism.

Gregoriou The cells of the monks
Gregoriou Monastery: The Cells of the Monks

As for the Holy Mountain, it suffices to quote from a letter-response by the eminent psychiatrist Dr. Panagiotis Grigoriou (Hospital Polygyros Chalkidiki) in the Athenian newspaper “Eleftherotypia”, in connection with a similar publication in 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).”

“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.”

“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?”

“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.”

Dr. Panagiotis Grigoriou, Neurologist-Psychiatrist and director of the Psychiatric Department of the Halkidiki General Hospital.Polygyros May 26, 2001.

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The late Geronda George Kapsanis blesses a couple young men.

We hope that you understand how detrimental Vassos Vassiliou’s article is to both the monk Christodoulos and your local community. Because we believe you are motivated by feelings of truthfulness and impartiality, we ask that you please observe journalistic ethics and in compliance with the law, to publish this article in the same place of your newspaper and with the same elements as those of the controversial publication.

Blessed Christmas.

Sincerely

MONASTERY OF ST GREGORY THE HOLY MOUNTAIN

 

 

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On July 6th, 2014, the following was posted on the Facebook page of the Patriarchal School of Jerusalem: https://www.facebook.com/patriarchcollegeofJerousalaim/posts/267547223447003

MONASTERY OF ST GREGORY THE HOLY MOUNTAIN: LETTER OF REGRET TO A BROTHER OF THE MONASTERY, FR. CHRISTODOULOS GRIGORIATIS

Meeting and taking council, the following signatories to this document, the prior of the Monastery of Saint Gregory Fr. George Kapsanis, Hieromonk Fr. Demetrios and Hieromonk Fr. Luke, fathers and brothers of the Monastery and the other members of elderly congregation of the monastery, the current chairman of the Abbot of the Holy Monastery, Fr. Christoforou, jointly decided and sign the things agreed below.

  1. We renounce with abhorrence, aversion and regret our decision in 2003 to seek by Attorney the confinement (supposedly for “treatment”) of the monk and brother of our Monastery, Fr. Christodoulos Grigoriatis (according to the following despicable annexed document), at the Public Psychiatric Hospital of Thessaloniki. We accept with humility and contrition of heart that our decision was a product of medical error, with potential deception!!!
  2. We recognize and accept unreservedly the diagnoses of two medical psychiatrists attached below (confirming the full mental health of Fr. Christodoulou, who does not need “treatment”). We accept these as the only valid diagnoses which cancel out every other misleading medical placement, or “diagnosis” on matters of the aforementioned brother, Fr. Christodoulos’ mental health.
  3. After agreement and consensus, we recall and accept as invalid the decisions (Θ’-8.4.2010) made during the session of elderly congregation of the monastery, as well as the forced “Apolytirio” (Απολυτήριο) signed by the hieromonk Fr. Panaretos (as one not having such a responsibility), and the second issued “certificate” signed by the then Abbot of the monastery Fr. George Kapsanis. We recognize this second certificate as a product of backstage coercion and extortion (for the signature) by a particular monk and head of the monastery, who ministering then (as gerokomos) the constant attendance of the Abbot and Elder of the monastery Fr. George Kapsanis, thus situated in this detailed condition due to serious health problems!!!
  4. We accept the following agreement and συνεναίσεως the following request of the monk and brother of our monastery, Fr. Christodoulos Grigoriatis, through the moral satisfaction and economical compensate accordingly, on the injury suffered by his unjust expulsion from the Holy Monastery of his repentance, with the symbolic sum of 100,000 Euros, deposited in his bank account within three hours of the signing of this, our repentance.

 

 

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APPLICATION OF MONK CHRISTODOULOS, BROTHER OF THE HOLY MONASTERY OF ST. GREGORY, MT. ATHOS

I would like to request from the monastery of my repentance, as a small token of moral satisfaction and compensation of the damage I have suffered from my wrongful expulsion from the monastery, the symbolic sum of one hundred thousand 100,000 Euros—for my unpaid ministry of more than 20 years within the monastery, for my personal library that I handed over to the monastery upon my arrival in order to dedicate myself as a monk for the rest of my life there and for depositing money in a bank account of the Monastery from the sale of my property.
Given that my expulsion from the monastery was completely unfair, since there had not been and there is no final judgment against me—no conviction of ecclesiastical or civil court that implicate me in crimes in order to justify the decision (Θ’-8.4.2010) at the Session of elderly synaxis of the monastery on the issue against my mandatory apolytirion.

KATAΘΕΣΗ ΣΤΟΝ ΛΟΓΑΡΙΑΣΜΟ:
NIKOLAOS DIAMANTOPOULOS
NATIONAL BANK OF GREECE
SWIFT: ETHNGRA

ΟΙ ΥΠΟΓΡΑΦΟΝΤΕΣ ΤΗΝ ΑΝΩΤΕΡΩ ΜΕΤΑΜΕΛΕΙΑΝ

Ο ΠΡΟΗΓΟΥΜΕΝΟΣ ΤΗΣ ΜΟΝΗΣ ΟΣΙΟΥ ΓΡΗΓΟΡΙΟΥ ΑΓ ΟΡΟΥΣ Π. ΓΕΩΡΓΙΟΣ ΚΑΨΑΝΗΣ

Ο ΙΕΡΟΜΟΝΑΧΟΣ ΚΑΙ ΙΑΤΡΟΣ ΤΗΣ ΑΥΤΗΣ ΜΟΝΗΣ Π. ΔΗΜΗΤΡΙΟΣ

Ο ΙΕΡΟΜΟΝΑΧΟΣ ΚΑΙ ΙΑΤΡΟΣ ΤΗΣ ΑΥΤΗΣ ΜΟΝΗΣ Π. ΛΟΥΚΑΣ

ΚΑΘΩΣ ΚΑΙ ΤΑ ΛΟΙΠΑ ΜΕΛΗ ΤΗΣ ΓΕΡΟΝΤΙΚΗΣ ΣΥΝΑΞΕΩΣ ΤΗΣ ΑΥΤΗΣ ΜΟΝΗΣ

Validation

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.

 

Guilt, Depression & The Dobby Effect (LaRae LaBouff)

NOTE: This article is taken from the PsychCentral Blog. The 2007 study referenced is included at the end of the article.

In a 2007 study, researchers found that often people who feel guilty will self-punish by depriving themselves of pleasure or inflicting harm on themselves. They call this The Dobby Effect. For those who have never read the Harry Potter series, Dobby is a magical creature, a house-elf, that is bound by magic to obey his master’s every command. If a house-elf does not obey, they are forced to punish themselves. For example, at various points through the books, Dobby is known to do everything from hit himself in the face to ironing his hands or shutting his ears in the oven door

[NOTE: In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, if the house-elves (i.e. monastic disciples) disobey a command, they are forced to punish themselves with various forms of hardship. Once, a nun would not stop talking and Geronda Ephraim told her to go sew her mouth shut. She went to her cell, took her sewing kit and sewed her mouth shut. It is unknown if she sterilized the needle first. She came back, showed Geronda Ephraim her mouth sewn shut and he marveled at her precision in obedience. Interestingly, sewing one’s mouth shut is popular among the BDSM community, much like Fr. George Passias’ foot and cake crush fetish].

Sewn shut

At first glance, these actions seem comical. It seems ridiculous that someone would go to such extreme measures as self-mutilation simply because they disobeyed a command. Well, about 1 in 6 people purposefully injure themselves every year, and for reasons much less than disobeying an enchantment. For most, the reason is exaggerated, if there is a reason at all. 

[NOTE: The Orthodox Church has various saints that have performed extreme measures of self-harm in an attempt to hinder themselves from falling into sin. These acts are lauded as heroic feats pleasing to God. In their hagiographies it is usually noted that after performing such acts of self harm or self-mutilation, God’s grace alleviated the warfare they were experiencing, or removed it altogether. Examples of such extreme measures are (1) St. Benedict, who cast himself into a thorn bush while naked to escape the wily temptation of a woman; (2) St. Martinian of Caesaria who placed his hand in fire in order not to fornicate with a woman. It is interesting to note that many of the holy acts of self-harm found in the Synaxarion are also prevalent in BDSM, and body modification communities].

Temptation of Saint Benedict and Thornbush, Saint Benoit-sur-Loire Abbey, 11th century
Temptation of Saint Benedict and Thornbush, Saint Benoit-sur-Loire Abbey, 11th century.

That’s the problem with depression and guilt. It goes too far. When you feel trapped in your guilt, self-punishment may feel like the only way out. If you can deprive yourself of something for longer, or if you can cause yourself enough pain, then maybe the feeling will go away. 

[NOTE: In the monasteries, sometimes one’s misdemeanors become like a caste mark on their forehead. Though one is absolved of their misdemeanors, they become their defining characteristic. These disobediences often become the topic of conversation among monastics (this especially occurs when monastics visit other monasteries and gossip/idle talk about such incidents). Like an invisible mark of Cain, a monastic’s misdemeanors can follow them for the rest of their monastic life. This happens via gossip, mockery, forced public confession in front of the group, private shaming, public shaming and/or  repeated rebukes incorporating these things. That is of course, if they aren’t driven from the monastery].

The Mark Of Cain cropped

Many people scoff at self-mutilators, saying they are only seeking attention. I’ve even heard this from physicians. The truth is, physical pain can dissuade feelings of guilt. This is not a new idea. The Catholic church has been condoning the practice of self-flagellation for over 1,000 years. Pope John Paul II was even known to practice it in order to absolve his sins. So if the Pope can do it and be praised for his devotion, why can a teenage girl not be pitied for doing the same for guilt that shouldn’t exist? Even if it is a call for attention, that person needs attention, and your attention could end up saving a life. 

[NOTE: The practice of self-flagellation seems to have been unknown in Europe until it was adopted by the hermits in the monastic communities of Camoaldoli and Fonte Avellana early in the 11th century. Once invented, the new form of penance spread rapidly until it had become not only a normal feature of monastic life throughout Latin Christendom but the commonest of all penitential techniques. In the 20th century, Elder Joseph the Hesychast incorporated it as a necessary part of daily monastic life in his synodia and claimed, “The cane is the remedy for every passion.” Flagellation was incorporated as a disciplinary measure in the earliest monastic communities, but later fell out of use. Both flagellation and self-flagellation are quite popular in the BDSM community–sadists love to hit and masochists love to be hit].

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Young boy being taught by monk to venerate Elder Joseph’s icon on Mount Athos.

If you or someone you know is suffering from self-punishment due to extreme or unnecessary guilt, this is a serious sign of depression, and you should get help. Now is the time to make changes and begin to free yourself from the nagging in your head. 

[NOTE: In Orthodox Monasticism–also called voluntary imprisonment and slavery by the Church Fathers–the only help offered to a disciple, is frequent frank confession (which in many of the busier monasteries does not happen too often. Confession is supplemented with writing sins/thoughts down on paper, then slipping it under the superior’s door, or placing it in a common box. This box is accessible to other monastics, some who have the private pleasure of reading other peoples’–i.e. lay people or monastics‘–confessions). Confession to a priest, battling one’s thoughts, and the frequent, rapid yelling of the Jesus Prayer in an attempt not to allow any thoughts or images to form in one’s mind, are considered the only true psychotherapy. The belief is that “Orthodox Psychotherapy” is the only practice capable of healing one from guilt, depression and any other mental illness in existence. In some severe cases of mental illness, exorcism prayers will be read over the individual]. 

Vlachos

The Dobby effect

The authors suggest that people subconsciously seek out pain to relieve their guilt. Rob Nelissen at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, who wasn’t involved in the study, has previously described a guilt-induced tendency to seek punishment as the “Dobby effect” – named after Harry Potter’s self-punishing house-elf.

He says that self-punishment might relieve guilt by functioning as “a signal by which a transgressor shows remorse to his or her victim when there are no other less painful means available, such as giving a bunch of flowers”.

“In line with this view, excessive forms of self-punishment could be perceived as a consequence of unresolved guilt,” Nelissen adds.

Journal reference: Cleansing the Soul by Hurting the Flesh: The Guilt-Reducing Effect of Pain

Also see: Elder Joseph the Hesychast’s Saying: “The cane is the remedy for every passion”

Elder Ephraim also writes about the spiritual “benefits” of beating oneself mercilessly while simultaneously trying to rationalize “orthodox self-harm” for the contemporary mind:

He [Elder Joseph] had a cane for hitting himself on his calves and especially on his thighs. He beat himself mercilessly two or three times daily, which left permanent indentations on his thighs. He later wrote:

“I broke many canes on my thighs before subjugating my body. I stood like a torturer over myself. My whole body trembled when it saw that I was about to lay hold of a cane. The demons fled, the passions were pacified, comfort came, and my soul rejoiced. For it is a law of God: whatever causes sensual pleasure is cured by pain.”

It is very likely that contemporary monastics and struggling laymen will wonder why this young ascetic beat himself so mercilessly. Even though it sounds horrible, it is not a sign of mental instability, nor is it the only such instance in ascetical literature.* God has revealed through various miracles that He accepted this form of ascesis as a martyrdom. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers and The Ladder are full of similar ascetical struggles in which the body is not being punished but rather being subdued to the ruling nous. The aim of Orthodox asceticism is to kill the passions, not the body.

…Whenever I encounter great difficulty with carnal thoughts, I gave myself a good beating. I had a cane under my pillow as Geronda had told me so that I would be ready when thoughts came in my sleep or when I was lying down…

….Whenever I faced extreme difficulty from the pressure of the thoughts, I would take a cane and beat and revile myself. This would mitigate the warfare. The thoughts would still come back again, but then I was stronger, and I drove them away.

* For example, see the lives of Saints Leontius, Epiphanius, Nephon, Martinius, and Benedict. (Ephraim, Elder, My Elder Joseph the Hesychast, St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery.. Kindle Edition).

NOTE: Elder Ephraim’s blanket statement about the historical roots of his self-flagellation technique is misleading. If you look at these examples, most of those saints actually performed one major form of non-suicidal self harm. Other than St. Nephon, they didn’t repeatedly flog themselves day and night. Also, these saints were all idorrhythmic and did these things on their own volition. They didn’t have an elder that instructed them to do these things out of blind obedience nor did they have a divine vision wherein they were instructed to do these things.

St. Benedict of Nursia cast himself into a thorn bush while naked, to escape the wily temptation of a woman. Out of the 63-67 years of his life, he performed this type of act only once. The Elder didn’t specify which of the 22 St. Leonidas of the orthodox church he meant; St. Martinian of Caesarea lit a fire and placed his hand in it so he wouldn’t sleep with a woman.

St. Nephon, Bishop of Constantia beat himself repeatedly for 14 years straight but, again, he wasn’t under a geronda, nor was this technique imposed on him by someone else. It was a self-willed decision by an idiorhythmic monk. Sure, a vision from St. Stephen encouraged him to struggle harder, but the saint didn’t specify beating oneself. From his life, we read:

After thanking St. Stephen, he placed a small pebble in his mouth and left it there many days, so that he wouldn’t swear. and if some time the wicked one tricked him into swearing at someone, he would go aside and with his fist would beat his body saying: “I’ll force you to become humble and learn meekness and silence, and not to become angry and swear.”

For the same reason he gave himself penance to hit himself with his fists forty times every day. And if any temptation or passion fought him, then the punches increased to one hundred or even two.  He became weak by hitting his body like this daily. He would often faint due to the pain and would fall down as if dead…

As soon as Nephon would feel drowsy, he would take his staff and beat his body shouting angrily: ‘Insatiable slave, I gave you to eat and drink; now you want to sleep too? I’ll teach you to be sleepy!’ At the same time he would continually beat himself all the more harshly, so that from the painful beating, sleep would–naturally!–disappear. And then, sober, he would stay awake and pray…

…And immediately grabbing a long stick, he hit his feet so terribly, that they were black and blue for a long time…He fought terribly with the spirit of lewdness. He even reached the point where he would hit his body with stones.

It should be noted that St. Nephon is not mentioned in any of the ancient Synaxaria and Menaia, but his name and life is mentioned in ancient manuscripts at the Athonite Monasteries of Great Lavra and Vatopaidi. In the former it says he reposed on December 23rd, though it says he was the Bishop of Almyropolis. A modern translation of his life from the ancient manuscripts was published in 1993 by spiritual children under obedience to Elder Ephraim, with the title, An Ascetic Bishop. 

Elder Ephraim states that excessively beating oneself with an object isn’t a sign of mental instability. However, the church fathers essentially teach that all of humanity are spiritually and mentally ill due to the ancestral sin. The ascetics who invented flogging themselves weren’t at the state of illumination or theosis when they started the beatings and thus, by the definitions of orthodox spirituality, they would’ve been darkened in nous, i.e. mentally and spiritually ill, not “stable”. There are countless examples of orthodox saints putting themselves extreme forms of labour and ascesis. There’s only one or two accounts of saints that repeatedly beat themselves unless, of course, one takes into consideration of Roman Catholic saints after the Great schism (which is the true origin of self-flagellation as a form of ascetical struggle).

 

 

On Obedience & Spiritual Struggle (Geronda Ephraim of Arizona)

This is the 27th Homily found in The Art of Salvation. Taken from Rev. Fr. George D. Konstantopoulos’ website.

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As I have told you in the past, when I first came to Mount Athos as a young novice, my elder (Geronda Joseph) would frequently give advice. Among other things, he would tell me, “My child, the fathers of old here on Mount Athos would tell us that if a disciple gives rest to his Geronda, he has made God content. If he does not give rest to his Geronda with his life in general, then he has not made God content either.”

I held on to this very small, yet immensely powerful piece of advice within my soul, and I made it my principle and my possession. I told myself, “This will be my goal in life. Since this recommendation is so useful, with God’s help and Geronda’s blessing, I will try to never sadden him as long as I live, and I will try to please him with my way of life.” Thus, I tried twice as hard to give rest to my elder. God knows to what extent I did not sadden him and how much I made his content. I have seen that when a disciple attempts to keep his elder’s commandments and orders, God’s blessings lead the way for him.

It is not possible for a disciple, who, with humility, has given rest to his spiritual father, to fail in the spiritual life and not acquire the Kingdom of God. It is inherently impossible. And when we say inherently impossible, we mean one thousand percent certain. When the disciple asks for guidance and then attempts to apply the advice he receives, it is impossible for him not to succeed and not to find the grace of God.

Through his complete obedience, perfect faith, and the life-giving power of humility, Saint Symeon the New Theologian not only sampled the grace of God, but he was given the grace of the Holy Spirit “by the bucketload.” He became the saint whom we all know and was given the title “New Theologian” by our Church because he received theology directly from above, from the grace of the Holy Spirit. He did not study theology in a classroom, but acquired it by laboring in obedience and devotion.

St. Symeon

Since God has called us through His infinite mercy to come here to the monastery and to wear the honorable monastic raso (cassock), we should take advantage of the time we have (now that we are alive) as best possible, so that our soul bears fruit and is filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit. This way of life is full of blessings and great spiritual rest.

Initially, of course, a person must exert himself because he brings with him an entire world of passions, thoughts, images, and the like. A small amount of effort is required in the beginning; however, once the initial difficulty is overcome, God’s blessing follows, and the fruit of all the initial labors begins to blossom. A person then sees the road wide open before him, he is filled with joy, and he rejoices as he sees himself enriched with a wealth of experience acquired during the battles with the devil. The Fathers refer to this experience as “the second grace” of God.

The first grace is when we feel the love of God and the fruits of the Holy Spirit. But experience constitutes a “second grace” that never disappears, that never fades away, and which remains indelible within a person’s soul. In the beginning we will be tempted. It is quite natural for us to be attacked–this is consistent with the path we have chosen. Ultimately, however, we gain this experience, this second grace, which has enormous value. This knowledge is not only valuable and beneficial to us personally, but it enables us to help another weak brother, another person who is being battled, or a novice. Other people helped us, did they not? In the same manner, we are also obliged to help others who are being battled.

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Hence we should not find it strange when a war arises or when we are assaulted by temptations. We should realize that the first grace withdraws, it abandons man occasionally in order to test him, and many times a person is brought to his knees by the unbearable weight of a particular battle or cross. At that time the second grace of experience arrives, as a good Cyrenian (vid. Mark 15:21), to lift the cross. It does not remove the temptation altogether, but it advises, “Be patient. This battle will also end, just as the precious one did. Be patient; it is a trial. Don’t you remember how much grace God sent you after the earlier temptation ended? This temptation will subside as well; be a little patient. Don’t you know that God performs miracles?” This how the second grace advises man. Thus, with the knowledge he receives and the courage he obtains from this advice, the temptation becomes lighter. He is strengthened in patience, courage, and faith in God, he finds rest spiritually, and bypasses the difficulty.

We know, through the enlightenment we receive from this “second grace,” that it is mandatory for temptations to arise, and for us to be battled by the devil, our passions, and our fellow man. It is a requirement that we be battled. However, we will also struggle; we will also make an effort. This effort will serve as the cornerstone upon which the beautiful house of God’s grace will subsequently be built. Then we will be left with the invaluable experience of the methods, ways, and cunningness with which the devil battles us. If God does not allow us to be battled, how will we learn this art and science? In time of war, we should be brave and courageous; when we contend with the devil, we should be relentless and crafty. This is what Saint Synkletiki advises us: “The devil is cunning when he battles us, we should also be cunning when we resist him.” When we courageously oppose and repel the devil, we have achieved a victory. From this point onward improvement begins and the door leading to grace and the Kingdom of God opens.

Saint Synkletiki
Saint Synkletiki

There is nothing wrong with battles. War does not signify disaster. It serves as a wake-up call for us, as an invitation to withstand, be crowned, and have the Angels command us in the next life. Work does not harm an employee; rather, it fills his pockets with money. If we want to become rich spiritually, we must welcome temptations and see them as a war, as an incentive to fight with the evil demons of passion and weakness, as an opportunity to be victorious and advance with the grace of God. If we do not overcome particular passion, it will continue to thrash us for the rest of our life. We will drag it behind us like a piece of filthy garbage. This is why God permits us to be battled; so that we can win and be freed from the disgraceful passions that defile our soul. We all feel and sense the filth of the passion and the devil when we are battled by a passion. Conversely, when someone is liberated, clean, and pure, he senses the fragrance of innocence and purity. Something similar occurs with the clothing we wear. If it is dirty and smelly, we feel repulsed, uncomfortable, and want to remove it quickly. When, however, it is washed, ironed, and has a fresh, clean scent, we enjoy wearing it and do not want to take it off. This is how we feel spiritually with regard to the passion.

When a person does not exert himself, his life becomes torturous because he suffers from his guilty conscience for yielding to the passions, and he feels discontent within himself. Conversely, when someone struggles, he feels happiness and joy; he feels that spiritual life truly contains the vitality of Divine Grace…

“…We are God’s children, yet we do not know Who our God is. We have a Heavenly Father and, in reality, we do not know Him. We believe that He is our Father, but our heart does not acknowledge this and has not tasted this; the eyes of our soul have not seen this Father. If we saw what kind of a Father we have, we would cry out like mad due to the infinite joy of having made such an invaluable discovery. We are the children of an awesome Father: awesome with respect to riches and gifts. When someone attempts to speak about this Father, he runs out of words. The closer someone comes to a light, the more he begins to lose his vision. Eventually he is blinded by the light and can no longer see anything. Similarly, as someone draws nearer to God, he begins running out of words and is no longer able to speak about Him. It is a great misfortune for us to have such a Father and yet remain in such spiritual poverty, in such spiritual misery, and not feel His love and bliss.

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Why were we created? God did not create us simply to show that He has the power to create human beings. He brought us into existence so we can share in His bliss and delight in Him. He created blessed creatures to live in happiness. We, however, strayed from our destiny through our disobedience and have reached the point of being completely unable to recognize our natural Father. Instead, we love so many other things, while not loving God at all. If we loved God, we would keep His Commandments…

“…Things are very simple, but a sustained effort is required on our part. God is ready to help us at every moment. The saints in Heaven are interceding and praying for us because the grace of God guided us to follow their way of life. They also experienced temptations and sorrows; they also had ups and downs during their lifetime. They have enormous experience, and they realize that we contemporary people are weak and do not struggle properly. This is why they pray for us from above. They beseech God to help us, so that we do not fail to achieve our goal and our purpose.

Since we have the intercessions and prayers of our saints, let us have faith that God will help us to make a good beginning even now. Amen!

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25 Years in an Eastern Orthodox Cult – How I Left the Cult – Where to Find Help Part 1 (Elizabeth Ann)

NOTE: This is a woman’s account of growing up in the Russian Orthodox/St. Herman of Alaska/Old Calendar church. For those unfamiliar with the background of this organization, Fr. Jonah Paffhausen wrote an article about the “Journey of the Holy Order of MANS / Christ the Saviour Brotherhood and the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood into the Canonical Orthodox Church”:

Welcome. Please take a few moments to read a personal account of one family’s life after entering an Eastern Orthodox cult in America. This is a brief memoir about the serious consequences of blindly following a “spiritual father”, and what happened to a loving, normal family because of this. I also relate how it feels to be disowned by one’s own family for not being part of the cult. My hope is that this site will be of help to at least one other person coping with similar circumstances. I also hope it will serve as a warning to families: NEVER disown, abandon, or shun a person simply for believing differently.
Elizabeth Ann

St. Xenia of St. Petersburg, Fool-for-Christ
St. Xenia of St. Petersburg, Fool-for-Christ

I am a former “Russian Orthodox Abroad” member; my “identity” was Xenia of St. Petersburg, a woman whose life I was told mine own should resemble, according to God’s will. A frightening thought, if you know how this woman lived. I was forced into the church by my parents, kept in complete control throughout my teenage and young adult years, and finally escaped: first, in my mind and soul, and then physically. I still suffer some PTSD symptoms, common with cult withdrawal; however, I am finding the faith of my childhood, something simple and bright, which is the first light I have seen in a long, long time. My wish is that this blog will help ONE person, somewhere, to have the courage to speak out and perhaps even say all alone, “The Emperor has no clothes!” (Hans Christian Andersen).
View my complete profile

CONVERSION AND MIND CONTROL TECHNIQUES
As you read the personal story of my family and how we came to be part of this cult, please refer to two excellent resources: The Watchtower Expositor: Cult or Cultic (by Craig Branch); and Combatting Mind Control (by psychologist and cult expert Steve Hassan.)

Craig Branch, Watchman Fellowship,  Apologetics Resource Center.
Craig Branch, Watchman Fellowship, Apologetics Resource Center.

CONVERSION TECHNIQUES (Craig Branch)

Below are ten techniques of unethical thought reform and mind control (I quote), with some examples of how these were used by the Orthodox cult.
1) Focus on felt needs & defects, with exaggerated promises of fulfillment.
It was drilled into us over and over that we were spiritually “sick”, that our whole “mind-set” and way of life were evil, and that we were damned if we didn’t accept the new baptism and join the church. We were promised unending love from the church, help in any crisis, and spiritual fathers who would get us past the “toll-houses” and save our souls after we died. We were promised to always be the “right believers” who were the “elite and the elect of God”, and who would play a large role in the conversion of others before the final Tribulation.

[NOTE: The general teaching of the Orthodox Church is that all humans are spiritually sick. The Church or Monastery is the hospital where the sick faithful go to be treated. The sacraments are the medicines that the Physician uses to cure the souls of the sick. In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, the general consensus is, “You can be saved in the world, but it’s better to go to confession in the monasteries and have Geronda Ephraim–or one of his priest(monk)s as a confessor. In the last days, all the orthodox churches in the world will have apostasized and joined the ecumenist World Church/Religion. True orthodoxy will only be found in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries.

Some spiritual children of Elder Ephraim have read Elizabeth Ann’s story and callously stated that these things only happened because she didn’t have a holy elder nor was she part of the canonical church (In monastery double speak, this is code for “you’re hopeless without Geronda Ephraim or one of his priest-monks”). With an air of self satisfaction, they would state with all certainty that such things could never and would never happen in Elder Ephraim’s monasteries or parishes.

It is an odd phenomena but laymen who visit the Elder’s monasteries and decide to become dedicated disciples, often become Geronda Ephraim experts almost overnight. After a handful of visits and hours of absorbing stories concerning “miracles”, “visions”, and “prophecies”(minus the multitude that never came to pass), this lay person is now an “expert” and can tell you everything that doesn’t happen in the monasteries despite never having been invited into the monks’ quarters, nor a monks’ only homily, etc. It’s amazing.

St Herman of Alaska Monastery Entrance
St Herman of Alaska Monastery Entrance

2) Rigid Control of Time and Activities
Required to attend more and more services; demanded to read lengthy prayer books at home throughout the day; pushed to do the “Hours”; taught by book “Way of the Pilgrim” to constantly chant the “Jesus Prayer” at all times, even in school.

The Way of a Pilgrim, A highly recommended book in the monasteries
The Way of a Pilgrim, A highly recommended book in the monasteries

[NOTE: In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, monastics are required to recite the Jesus Prayer ceaselessly; either mentally or out loud. This is expected no matter what they are doing: listening to someone speak to them, eating, going to sleep, working, attending church services, etc. In theory, his monastics aren’t suppose to idle talk or be too chit chatty with other monks or laymen. Everyday of the monastic’s life is ruled by someone else, and their time and activities are rigidly filled controlled. 

3) Information Control
Not allowed to read newspapers, magazines, or non-religious books, especially during the time as “catechumens.” Told that all new movies and T.V. programs and T.V. news were “of the devil.” Given more and more Orthodox “patrisitic” ( holy fathers’) writings to read and re-read. Told to cut off family, which my mother did by way of letters.

Those who control the information control the person. In a mind control cult any information from outside the cult is considered evil, especially if it is opposing the cult. Members are told not to read it or believe it. Only information supplied by the cult is true.

[NOTE: In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, the monastics aren’t allowed to read worldy publications (many do though when they’re afforded the opportunity), let alone information critical of Geronda Ephraim or his monasteries. If they are allowed, this will be curated by the Superior and many times it will turn into a mocking fest of the writer or commentator (many times, the monastics don’t actually get to see the article or news clip to make an informed decision. The Superior gives them only the “necessary” details and makes the informed decision of interpretation for the disciple. With big events like 9/11, some monastics were allowed to watch the news clips and footage of the planes. In some monasteries, Greece winning the World Cup in soccer is also a big enough event, so big that many of Geronda Ephraim’s monastics had a blessing to watch the highlights and in one case, the entire game (nationalist and patriotic sentiment for Greece is very high in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries)].

4) Language Manipulation
Besides being taught to laugh at certain words such as “the Latins” or “the West”, we were taught an exclusive new vocabulary for “insiders”, some of which is put in bold print in the posts at right. Our new names were to replace our real names, forever. The lovely name “JESUS” was seldom used.

1984 Cartoon

[NOTE: The monasteries also have their own vocabulary and special knocks which many laymen also adopt for their everyday use at home and among like-minded Christians–“Na Einai Evlogemeno” (“Let it be blessed”), response to be asked to do something. “Evlogeson” (“Bless”), asking forgiveness, usually a response to making an error or offending someone.

One of Geronda’s elders once observed, “Sorry lost all meaning when the word ‘Evlogeson’ was invented.” He was referring to the fact that no matter how greatly a monastic errs or offends, they have a reflex response to say ‘Evlogeson’ without thinking, with no heartfelt meaning.

Though “Latins” and “the West” are words and concepts looked down upon and sometimes laughed at in the monasteries, this is also the same spirit of almost all the Orthodox patristic writings and encyclicals since the Great Schism of 1054. Other words that receive similar attention are: “Oi Ebraioi” “The Jews” (lit. “The Hebrews”); “Oi Zionistes” (“The Zionists”); “Ta Protokolla” (“The Protocols of Zion”); “Tektonismos” (“Freemasonry”); “O Patriarches” (“The Patriarch”)].

5) Discouraging Critical, Rational Thought and Questions

Obvious contradictions and questions were greeted with either long, convoluted, and evasive explanations, or we were told that “you will understand later when you have become an adult in the faith. Just become like little children.” I was laughed at when I pointed out specific verses in the Bible, which I knew very well. I was even called “that Baptist girl” in a derogatory way. We were told during the second liturgy that clergy and priests must ALWAYS be obeyed, EVEN IF THEIR PERSONAL LIVES WERE NOT HOLY (i.e. they had murdered a person!) I quote Br. B. Now I add (“even if they have sodomized your child.”)

Human Understanding Process
Human Understanding Process

[NOTE: In orthodoxy there is an “answer” for every question, even those with no answers. Most things that are in conflict with orthodoxy or don’t fit in with the vague and contradictory theology around creation and the fall are usually dismissed as “unimportant” or “unnecessary”… “Dinosaurs aren’t important to salvation, don’t waste your time with those things” (common monastery advice to youth)… “Don’t read the Old Testament, the New Testament is what’s important. Anything of real worth in the Old Testament can be found in our church services, it’s better to read those” (advice to those who start getting ‘demonic warfare’–monastic code word for critical thinking and rational thought–after reading about God commanding His people, the Hebrews, to commit infanticide, genocide, and other atrocities)…”God allowed it in His mercy to rescue the children being abused and to punish the sinners; i.e. human traffickers, pedophiles,  polytheists, etc. See, you judge God as merciless and cruel but He has a wisdom and reason we can’t always see right away” (a Hieromonk’s explanation for the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami)… to the question of “Why does God allow some children to get raped and others not?” this hieromonk replied with the who can know the Lord’s mind response that is supposed to stop the questions there.

6) Instruction in Trance Induction Techniques

One of the first things taught to us: how to stand completely still, stare at the icons, and say “Lord Have Mercy” in five different languages, sometimes amounting to 120 phrases at a time. Again, “The Way of a Pilgrim” was to be memorized and internalized, to learn how to breathe properly and chant simultaneously. Continuous repetitions during Complines, Matins, and then Liturgy, while staring at the icons, made me go into a kind of half-sleep–still able to listen intently and remember things.

Covert Hypnosis Cult Induction
Covert Hypnosis Cult Induction

[NOTE: When the monasteries first started, Geronda Ephraim only allowed the Jesus Prayer to be said in Greek. This did result in a bit of protestations from non-Greek monastics (mainly converts) who wanted to say the Prayer in their native language. One novice spoke to Geronda Ephraim personally, who responded, “The Prayer is better in and more powerful in the Greek language. It’s the language of the Holy Spirit, it’s the language the New Testament was written. Also, we’re a Greek monastery mainly for the Greeks so it’s better if they hear the Greek language.” In some monasteries, as years went by, some individuals were blessed to say the Prayer in their native tongues (English or Russian or Romanian, etc.).

Geronda Ephraim’s monastics are also required to focus mainly on the Jesus Prayer during all the church services, in order not to be distracted by the words of the services.].

7) Confession Sessions (a powerful tool to manipulate, blackmail, and emotionally bond you to the priest; a depersonalization or stripping of yourself–submission to the group.)

As explained at left. Confessions would be labeled “good” or “bad”, depending on how much we could come up with and whether we started “weeping”. The priests put each person under an intense “grilling” session, delving into EVERY thought and action.

Cult_3

[NOTE: Confession is a very powerful tool in the monasteries, especially to keep the monastics in line. If one is sinning in a specific way, the Superior many times exposes this action in front of all the other monastics in an attempt to humble and crush the disciple’s ego. Other times, a monastic can be put in the Lity, near the entrance of the Church, where they go on their knees and repeatedly beg everyone for forgiveness, stating their sin or passion, until the last person exits the church. Often, a lay person’s confession will be revealed to the monastics for their spiritual “edification” and also to see how “it’s hell” in the outside world. Though the superior or senior monastic revealing these private, personal stories usually don’t reveal the name, most monastics can figure out who they are talking about. Some monastics will then take this information and speak cryptically to this lay person trying to pass themselves off as some kind of clairvoyant. They won’t say anything outright and feign humility about this “gift” but in the process, this awestruck layperson will also reveal more personal information about his friends and family. This cycle continues until the superior finally catches on, one way or another. It’s embarrassing to witness.

8) Guilt and Fear (Weapons used to maintain group/church loyalty, suppress questions and defections.)

As I have already said, FEAR was the most powerful tool which made us listen to and believe every lie we were told. The Antichrist was ALIVE and about to begin his prophesied ministry; “it was later than we thought”, and unseen demons were constantly around us. The realization of our immense sinfulness (which was never relieved) caused terrible guilt. Some of us were made to feel guilty about going to the bathroom, because our pure guardian angels would have to watch this. Thoughts of going to another church, or none at all, caused immense spontaneous guilt.

Guilt and Fear

[NOTE: Geronda Ephraim would never confirm if the Antichrist was born but he would talk cryptically in ways that would make people think that he was or was soon to be born. He often gives homilies to his monks telling them they’re the monastics of the last days, the last generation, and will be martyred under the Antichrist. When Geronda use to visit Saxonburg in the early 90s, he’d point to children and say, “They’re going to see the Antichrist.”

A monastic, and layperson if possible, is instructed to always find some reason to reproach themselves. In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, the monastics constantly listen to and read homilies by their Elder. In all his talks, Geronda Ephraim criticizes, insults and reproaches himself. All his monastics believe he is the holiest man in the world, the last great saint of the Orthodox Church. Geronda Ephraim says he sees himself as nothing more than an useless, pathetic, beast not worthy of anything in this world. The monastics are constantly trying to acquire this mindset; not to believe only in lip service but rather to the depths of their entire being.

The Orthodox Patristic texts, as well as Geronda Ephraim, encourage their followers to cultivate an anxiety and fear that they call “Holy”.]

9) Control of Sexuality and Intimacy

In this cult, all sexual desires, normal sex in marriage, and physical love in marriage was “impure” and part of the “fallen flesh.” So it was severely restricted to only certain times during the week and the year. All was to be confessed.

Guru Cover 1/99

[NOTE: Geronda Ephraim and his priests generally teach their spiritual children to abstain from carnal relations the night before Holy Communion, on Feast Days of the Virgin Mary, during the fasts ordained by the Church (Wednesdays, Fridays, Great Lent, Dormition, Christmas, etc). Essentially, there are over 200 days of the 365 day year where an Orthodox Christian couple must abstain from sex. These numbers don’t factor in the abstinence days when a woman is on her menstrual cycle or pregnant. 

On days where sex is allowed, Geronda’s spiritual children are encouraged only to do basic missionary sex, try not to enjoy the carnal passion too much so it doesn’t lead to dirtier things, and avoid contraceptives or the pull-out method. Any act related to oral (felatio, cunnilingus, etc.) or anal (penetration, analingus, etc.) is to be avoided as they are sins that carry heavy penances (i.e. years without communion, etc.). These admonitions are only for married spiritual children as any sexual act outside of marriage (including solo acts such as masturbation) are considered serious sins and punishable under the canons.

Abstaining from sex when a couple stops having children is also encouraged. The monasteries call it “Living like brother and sister.”

10) Excessive Financial Obligations (a form of complete submission to God.)

The only place for tithes and donations was cultic Orthodox churches or monasteries (the one in Dog Canyon never was built.) Later on, in a Russian Abroad Church in Sunnyvale, CA, I was pushed to give my monthly wages to dubious causes, such as the “compound” which was to be built, with greenhouses and all.

The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios (Eng)_

[NOTE: Most of Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries don’t pass around collection plates during the Liturgy, nor do they have fixed prices for Sacraments (i.e. baptism, marriage, etc.). Everything is run on donations and there are various things each monastery does to raise funds on top of whatever art, craft, food, they sell.

Rich benefactors, or potential benefactors, can sometimes be groomed and cultivated into a lifetime helper. It helps if the individual has a sick husband or wife and is desperate for a cure or miracle. If the individual goes into remission or the medication treats whatever (though more emphasis is placed on the blessing with relics than western medicine) one could be looking at a lifetime benefactor who will also bring other rich people to the monasteries. This kind of cultivation isn’t viewed as unethical because the monastery is repaying these individuals spiritually with prayer and offering them the means of salvation which “is worth more than all the money in the world combined.”

RECRUITMENT AND MIND CONTROL (Steve Hassan)

“…’mind control’ may be understood as a SYSTEM of influences that disrupts an individual’s identity (beliefs, behavior, thinking, and emotions) and replaces it with a new identity.” (p. 7, Combatting…)

“If deception, hypnosis, and other mind control techniques are used to recruit and control followers, then people’s rights are being infringed upon.” (p.37.)

Note: Steve Hassan’s FOUR COMPONENTS OF MIND CONTROL are best described and  connected with the Orthodox cults in the PSEUDO-PROPHET.org webpage. Personal family experiences are briefly recounted below:

Steve Hassan
Steve Hassan

1) BEHAVIOR CONTROL (includes control of environment: location, clothing, diet, sleep patterns, jobs, rituals..)

We learned to act like Br. B. and the other cult members. We learned how to fast, to celebrate feasts (on the proper old-Calendar days), how to cut off the outside world and even American holidays. (I LOVE AMERICA!!!–Elizabeth Ann.) We learned how to do all the prayer services; how to cross ourselves with three fingers, properly, at specific times during the day; how to venerate icons. We learned how to speak, dress, etc.

Sociological Definition of a Cult
Sociological Definition of a Cult

2) THOUGHT CONTROL

Besides the new language, we learned “stop” wicked thoughts, or “blocking” techniques like chanting “Lord Have Mercy,” or the “Jesus Prayer” over and over, louder and louder. My parents and brothers still start to chant and talk “over a conversation”, which is VERY RUDE, if the person they are talking with questions their beliefs. We learned to feel the “unseen battle” and consider ourselves the “Church Militant”, as opposed to the “fallen outside world.”

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3) EMOTIONAL CONTROL

Fear reigned supreme. Fear of other people not in the cult (almost the whole world! ), fear of imminent death, fear of the Apocalypse, fear of the living Antichrist, fear of PERSECUTION, fear of demons, fear of the consequences of leaving the cult–or questioning things like the “Holy Fire”. Oh, did I mention that ALL psychologists, counselors, and psychiatrists were trained in satanic methods? Fear of the world conspiracies. At one point, my parents were certain that our phones were always “bugged” by the government, because of our foreign friends!!
GUILT. About supposed “bad thoughts” and made-up sins. Confessions.

Behavior Control

4) INFORMATION CONTROL

As I describe at right: no worldly newspapers, TV news, non-religious books or magazines; even old friends and family were shunned in case they would “draw us away from the faith.” We never again saw a movie in a theater together as a family (except for ‘Pinocchio’, once). The “Orthodox America” paper gave modern movie reviews, which almost always were negative and  demonic. All questions had to be through the “spiritual fathers” or clergy. Rational, critical thinking was abandoned.

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THREE STEPS TO GAIN MIND CONTROL

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(These are explained on pp. 67 -72 of Steve Hassan’s book, Combatting Mind Control. Here I briefly connect them with my own experience.)

1) UNFREEZING

As my family “died” to our “old selves” and old lives, we were broken down physically, mentally, and emotionally. Fasting, sleep deprivation, rigorous prayer schedules, confessions, lectures, and lack of contact with old friends and family did this. We believed our former lives had been ALL evil, wrong, and deluded. We were the most pitiable creatures on earth–spiritually fallen.

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2) CHANGING

We were given our new baptisms, new names, and new identities, with life instructions. More reading material, more lectures, and complete compliance with the behaviors of the cult members were required. We were “re-taught”.

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3) REFREEZING

After being completely divested of our old selves and old lives, then “taught” how to live the “truth”, we BECAME the new people. We were now part of the family! Immediately, we were told to form a “mission” church, to bring in more converts (and their checkbooks.)

Well, that is a brief overview of the initial cult experience as it related to our involvement with the Russian Orthodox/St. Herman of Alaska/Old Calendar church. It didn’t end there.

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Conversion Techniques: Changing Minds & Persuasion (Part 8 – Guilt)

GUILT

Giving people guilt trips is a common method of persuasion, and parents and friends often use it. You may have done so yourself. Some individuals and groups, however, take this method to new levels.

Escalate the group

Loyalty to the group is typically escalated to high level, and framed as being a good and right thing to do. This is often couched within talk about obviously good things such helping customers, supporting colleagues and creating world peace. By associating themselves with unchallengeable values, the group and its leader also become unchallengEably ‘good’.

This escalation to ‘godhood’ makes the leader and higher members of the group unchallengeable and able to pronounce on what is good and what is bad. It also, by implication, puts the person lower down the order of ‘goodness’.

Accuse the person

Once the group, its leaders and ideals are established as being above the person, they can then, without fear of challenge, accuse the person of breaking important values and putting themselves ahead of the group and its (very reasonable) values.

If the person is sent out to collect money, for example, if they do not bring back enough cash they are admonished for not being sufficiently dedicated and for putting their own selfish concerns ahead of the good of the group or the causes they promote.

Dangle elevation

The group may dangles the prospect of elevation into higher positions within it, where guilt is left behind as ultimate goodness is approached. Of course the only way to reach this higher station is to do whatever these great people tell them to do.

Eight Ways to Spot Emotional Manipulation (Fiona McColl)

Emotional Manipulation is Also “Covert Aggression.” See: “Psychopaths: Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing” Here is a list adapted from an article by Fiona McColl:

 

1. There is no use in trying to be honest with an emotional manipulator. You make a statement and it will be turned around. Example: I am really angry that you forgot my birthday. Response – “It makes me feel sad that you would think I would forget your birthday, I should have told you of the great personal stress I am facing at the moment – but you see I didn’t want to trouble you. You are right I should have put all this pain (don’t be surprised to see real tears at this point) aside and focused on your birthday. Sorry.” Even as you are hearing the words you get the creeped out sensation that they really do NOT mean they are sorry at all – but since they’ve said the words you’re pretty much left with nothing more to say. Either that or you suddenly find yourself babysitting their angst!! Under all circumstances if you feel this angle is being played – don’t capitulate! Do not care take – do not accept an apology that feels like bullshit. If it feels like bullshit – it probably is. Rule number one – if dealing with an emotional blackmailer TRUST your gut. TRUST your senses. Once an emotional manipulator finds a successful maneuver – it’s added to their hit list and you’ll be fed a steady diet of this shit.

2. An emotional manipulator is the picture of a willing helper. If you ask them to do something they will almost always agree – that is IF they didn’t volunteer to do it first. Then when you say, “ok thanks” – they make a bunch of heavy sighs, or other non verbal signs that let you know they don’t really want to do whatever said thing happens to be. When you tell them it doesn’t seem like they want to do whatever – they will turn it around and try to make it seem like OF COURSE they wanted to and how unreasonable you are. This is a form of crazy making – which is something emotional manipulators are very good at. Rule number two – If an emotional manipulator said YES – make them accountable for it. Do NOT buy into the sighs and subtleties – if they don’t want to do it – make them tell you it up front – or just put on the walk-man headphones and run a bath and leave them to their theater.

3. Crazy making – saying one thing and later assuring you they did not say it.If you find yourself in a relationship where you figure you should start keeping a log of what’s been said because you are beginning to question your own sanity –You are experiencing emotional manipulation. An emotional manipulator is an expert in turning things around, rationalizing, justifying and explaining things away. They can lie so smoothly that you can sit looking at black and they’ll call it white – and argue so persuasively that you begin to doubt your very senses. Over a period of time this is so insidious and eroding it can literally alter your sense of reality. WARNING: Emotional Manipulation is VERY Dangerous! It is very disconcerting for an emotional manipulator if you begin carrying a pad of paper and a pen and making notations during conversations. Feel free to let them know you just are feeling so “forgetful” these days that you want to record their words for posterity’s sake. The damndest thing about this is that having to do such a thing is a clear example for why you should be seriously thinking about removing yourself from range in the first place. If you’re toting a notebook to safeguard yourself – that ol’ bullshit meter should be flashing steady by now!

4. Guilt. Emotional manipulators are excellent guilt mongers. They can make you feel guilty for speaking up or not speaking up, for being emotional or not being emotional enough, for giving and caring, or for not giving and caring enough. Any thing is fair game and open to guilt with an emotional manipulator. Emotional manipulators seldom express their needs or desires openly – they get what they want through emotional manipulation. Guilt is not the only form of this but it is a potent one. Most of us are pretty conditioned to do whatever is necessary to reduce our feelings of guilt. Another powerful emotion that is used is sympathy. An emotional manipulator is a great victim. They inspire a profound sense of needing to support, care for and nurture. Emotional Manipulators seldom fight their own fights or do their own dirty work. The crazy thing is that when you do it for them (which they will never ask directly for), they may just turn around and say they certainly didn’t want or expect you to do anything! Try to make a point of not fighting other people’s battles, or doing their dirty work for them. A great line is “I have every confidence in your ability to work this out on your own” – check out the response and note the bullshit meter once again.

5. Emotional manipulators fight dirty. They don’t deal with things directly. They will talk around behind your back and eventually put others in the position of telling you what they would not say themselves. They are passive aggressive, meaning they find subtle ways of letting you know they are not happy little campers. They’ll tell you what they think you want to hear and then do a bunch of jerk off shit to undermine it. Example: “Of course I want you to go back to school honey and you know I’ll support you.” Then exam night you are sitting at the table and poker buddies show up, the kids are crying the t.v. blasting and the dog needs walking – all the while “Sweetie” is sitting on their ass looking at you blankly. Dare you call them on such behavior you are likely to hear, “well you can’t expect life to just stop because you have an exam can you honey?” Cry, scream or choke ‘em – only the last will have any long-term benefits and it’ll probably wind your butt in jail.

6. If you have a headache an emotional manipulator will have a brain tumor! No matter what your situation is the emotional manipulator has probably been there or is there now – but only ten times worse. It’s hard after a period of time to feel emotionally connected to an emotional manipulator because they have a way of de-railing conversations and putting the spotlight back on themselves. If you call them on this behavior they will likely become deeply wounded or very petulant and call you selfish – or claim that it is you who are always in the spotlight. The thing is that even tho you know this is not the case you are left with the impossible task of proving it. Don’t bother – TRUST your gut and walk away!

7. Emotional manipulators somehow have the ability to impact the emotional climate of those around them. When an emotional manipulator is sad or angry the very room thrums with it – it brings a deep instinctual response to find someway to equalize the emotional climate and the quickest route is by making the emotional manipulator feel better – fixing whatever is broken for them. Stick with this type of loser for too long and you will be so enmeshed and co-dependent you will forget you even have needs – let alone that you have just as much right to have your needs met.

8. Emotional manipulators have no sense of accountability. They take no responsibility for themselves or their behavior – it is always about what everyone else has “done to them”. One of the easiest ways to spot an emotional manipulator is that they often attempt to establish intimacy through the early sharing of deeply personal information that is generally of the “hook-you-in-and-make-you-sorry-for-me” variety. Initially you may perceive this type of person as very sensitive, emotionally open and maybe a little vulnerable. Believe me when I say that an emotional manipulator is about as vulnerable as a rabid pit bull, and there will always be a problem or a crisis to overcome.

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