Dear Editor of the Orthodox News, In response to Maria Bernal’s Sept. 27, 1999 letter to you asking about the monk Ephraim, we can answer it easily. Our family, like many, many others, has suffered for the past three years since our son entered an Ephraim-led monastery when he was 18 years old.
The monk Ephraim’s monasteries are filled with vulnerable young adults, recruited by parish priests, ardent followers of this monk. He is not a priest; he is a monk. His methods of recruitment do not include any screening, family participation, or open dialogue. Our son told us in April 1996 of his decision to become a monk and left the following month. Everything was done in secrecy among our son, the then parish priest, his followers in our church, and the monk Ephraim. Twice since then we have seen the Patriarch in an attempt to bring our son home and to allow him time to reconsider and get his education first before making such a monumental decision. Even though the Patriarch told our son to go home for a few weeks, our son refused saying, “Only if Ephraim tells me, would I leave the monastery.”
All over the U.S., and possibly Canada, parishes are being divided by this monk–the monastic supporters and the non-monastic ones. The two sides are fighting each other causing division, heartache, disenchantment with our Church, and frequent replacement of parish priests. The non-monastic parishioners are made to feel “less Orthodox” and the Ephraimites consider themselves “super Orthodox.” Those who want to speak out about the rigid control of the Ephraimites in their parish are often ridiculed and isolated. Thus, the silence. Thus, the monk Ephraim is able to establish 16 monasteries/convents in only 10 years. Money flows to him so easily because people want to believe that there is a super-human saint among us. People want to believe they can buy salvation by donating money to this monk. This is a new wave, but we hope that the truth will prevail allowing our sons and daughters to see the truth and re-unite with their families.
John & Jo Ann Pantanizopoulos Knoxville TN
NOTE: In January of 2007, after leaving St. Anthony’s Monastery Feast Day celebration, Fr. Theologos did not return to his monastery in Harvard, IL. Instead, he took a plane home and reunited with his family. He is now happily married with a couple of children. The monastery spin after his departure was the usual disdain of a “Judas” and monastics were told that he lived at home, was miserable, his parents were going to kick him out because he didn’t have a job, etc. and the usual, “See, no one does well or is happy after they leave” homilies.
Fr. Seraphim left St. Anthony’s Monastery to go back home not long afterwards. The monastery spin on his departure was that Geronda Ephraim didn’t want him in the monastery, but also didn’t want the responsibility on his soul if he kicked him out. Thus, Geronda prayed really hard to the Panagia so that Fr. Seraphim would leave on his own accord, which he did. Afterwards, it was said that Fr. Seraphim was miserable in the world and wanted to come back, but Geronda said, “No.” Then it is said that Fr. Seraphim’s mother called the monastery and begged and pleaded with them to take her son back. Geronda’s response was, “Once someone leaves, they can’t come back.”
These are the stories Elders will tell their disciples after a monk throws off his rassa and returns to the world. Except in certain cases, such as Fr. Silouanos. He was the second in command at St. Anthony’s Monastery and had been a monk for 20 years or so, having started out at Filotheou Monastery. Geronda Ephraim and Geronda Paisios kept his departure a secret. Even the monks in Arizona didn’t know he renounced the monastic life, nor even many of the abbots and abbesses. The party line for all was, “He went to Mount Athos on a sabbatical, we don’t know when he is coming back.”
Monk Joseph, originally from Pennsylvania, told Monk Raphael (the two were buddies in the world before they became monks) that Fr. Silouanos went back to the world. After that, everyone learned the secret.
Another anomaly is when a monk or nun who has left their monastery with a blessing to become a layman again (this is usually at the novice level, but sometimes occurs at the rassaphore degree, too) want to come back to their monastery to visit. The abbess and abbots sometimes allow this once or twice but usually frown upon allowing the visits to continue as it weakens the resolves of monks and nuns when they see former co-strugglers returning as worldy people.
Such was the case of Michelle Santos, brother of Hieromonk Michael Santos, St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY. She was a novice at Holy Protection Monastery (at its first location in Weatherly, PA and its new property in White Haven, PA) for 8 years.
St. Nektarios Monastery has a special connection with Holy Protection due to the Abbess and Abbot having been formerly married as lay people; the resident priest, Fr. Mark Andrews has a son at St. Nektarios, Fr. Raphael (Micah) Andrews; and some of the nuns at Holy Protection were spiritual children of St. Nektarios’ abbot when they were lay people in Toronto and he was the abbot of a Monastery in Picton, Ontario.
Anyways, Michelle, whom Fr. Michael always referred to as “my sanctified sister” or “holy nun” left the monastery after 8 years, but was still confessing to Fr. Mark. She visited Holy Protection as a post-novice lay person which was not only awkward for her, but very straining for the nuns. Gerondissa Olympiada was not comfortable with it because “it’s not good for nuns to experience and see this.” Eventually, Michelle changed spiritual fathers to the abbot of St. Nektarios Monastery.