Rick Ross is asked to add Fr. Ephraim to his Suspected Cults Home Page (John & Jo Ann Pantanizopoulos, 1999)

NOTE: Rick Ross’ rickross.com website is now defunct. He has recently written a book entitled,  Cults Inside Out: How People Get In and Can Get Out Although Rick Ross promotes himself as a professional “cult expert”, a review of his educational background shows that quite apart from being anti-Christian (he refers to Christians as “Bible bangers”) has no religious educational credentials whatsoever. To the contrary, his only formal education is a high school diploma. Self-aggrandizement and personal financial reward seem to be Ross’ primary motive for his attacks on Christians and members of other faiths. Public records reveal that Ross has been the subject of at least three arrests, including an attempted burglary, embezzlement of $100,000 worth of jewelry from a jewelry store, and kidnapping. Two of these arrests resulted in convictions. In the third, Ross’ co-conspirators plead guilty to lesser charges while Ross evaded being found guilty. Ross was sued civilly by the victim in the same kidnapping incident and was punished by the jury for over $3 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

The Cult-Deprogrammer Hall of Fame.
The Cult-Deprogrammer Hall of Fame.

May 1, 1999   Rick Ross P.O. Box 32906 Phoenix, AZ  85064-2906

Dear Mr. Ross,

We discovered your web site as we were browsing the “20-20” home page that recently discussed the Jim Roberts’ Group cult.  Unlike the parents of those cult members, we think we know where our son Niko is — St. Anthony’s Monastery, Florence, Arizona (although we haven’t heard from him since he wrote a short letter in November 1998); we also know that every characteristic mentioned about a cult fits the description of monasteries and convents founded by this Greek Orthodox monk, Fr. Ephraim.  We do not denounce monasteries or those adults who enter them; however we question the tactics, the process, the counseling that should precede such a choice, and the absence of including the family and looking at family vulnerabilities that would lead a young adult to choose this lifestyle.  This specific charismatic monk incorporates every type of coercion used by all cults in cult literature:  strict control of daily life, daily confession, isolation from family and friends, loading the language, etc.; followers claim he has levitated, and even that he has predicted the world will end in 60 years.

Followers claim Geronda Ephraim has predicted the world will end in 60 years.
Followers claim Geronda Ephraim has predicted the world will end in 60 years.

To see and read more about these monasteries/convents and where they’re located, go to:  www.coutput.com/stanthonys

To read opposing opinions about this monk and the dangerous role he plays in the hierarchy of the Greek Orthodox Church, go to:  www.voithia.org

If you need more details about Fr. Ephraim, you can contact Theodore Kalmoukos, a religious reporter with the National Herald (Ethnikos Kyrikas), a Greek newspaper published in the New York area.

Fr. Carellas claimed Fr. Ephraim as his spiritual father.  During Fr. Carellas’ tenure at our church, he spoke of “super Orthodoxy,” a fiercely traditional cult-like pursuit of Christianity.  His ideas were rejected by our parish, and as a result, Carellas was removed from our church by the Atlanta diocese bishop and re-located to a convent in Saxonburg, PA.  Fr. Carellas, father of f

Fr. Carellas claimed Fr. Ephraim as his spiritual father.
Fr. Carellas claimed Fr. Ephraim as his spiritual father.

our children, divorced his wife after he decided to become a priest.  Before he became a priest, he was a mechanical engineer and served as an officer in the military.

When our son was 16 years old, we learned that our oldest daughter was HIV positive.  All of our family drew closer to the church for comfort; however, Niko drew even closer because of his friendship with our priest (at the time) Father Carellas and his son, who was the same age and grade in school as Niko. Thinking Niko might enter the seminary to study to become a priest, we encouraged this close association with Fr. Carellas.  As parents, we thought at the time that church was a safer place.   Yet, we saw Niko slowly giving up his extensive comic book collection, taking down posters of his favorite music groups,  reading only books (written by desert fathers, mostly of Russian Orthodox background) suggested by Fr. Carellas, and listening only to monastic chanting and classical music.  We saw our son change from a happy person to a somber and judgmental individual.  After only one year of college, he told us in April that he was going to become a monk and left our home in May 1996 when he was 18 years old.   During Niko’s transformation, there was no attempt made by Fr. Carellas to include us in this monumental decision our son had made.  We encouraged Niko to speak with Fr. Katinas, our new priest, but Niko said that Fr. Katinas was a “modernist” because he didn’t fit Fr. Carellas’ ultra-Orthodox beliefs.  Our pleas, our tears, our logic did not sway him.  He listened only to Frs. Carellas and Ephraim.  That same year three young people from our small church in Knoxville entered an Ephraim-led monastery and convent (ages 18, 18, and 21) due to their vulnerability and Fr. Carellas’ indoctrination.

AZ 0000000000000000

Shortly after Niko entered the monastery, we begged him to come home to be at his oldest sister’s wedding.  He refused, saying, “I’ll visit her on her death bed.  I’ll see her in heaven.”  His language is loaded with “If it’s God’s will.”  When we asked him when he would know he was ready to become a monk, he said Father Ephraim would tell him.  When we asked if God would tell him instead, he replied, “I am not worthy to speak to God.  Only Fr. Ephraim and the elders are worthy enough to have a dialogue with God.”  When we asked if he couldn’t serve God by working with people as Mother Teresa did, he said, “That’s just social work.”  When we reminded him that Jesus did not escape from humanity but worked with people instead, he said, “Jesus had his calling. I have mine.”  When we pleaded that he listen to us and give “the world” a chance, he said that we were his parents only in the physical sense–Fr. Ephraim was now his spiritual father and the only one to whom he need obey.

Metropolitan Sotirios of Toronto,  agreed Ephraim's monasteries & methods of collecting young and vulnerable adults is cultic.
Metropolitan Sotirios of Toronto, agreed Ephraim’s monasteries & methods of collecting young and vulnerable adults is cultic.

In addition to speaking with other church officials and the Metropolitan Sotirios of Toronto, Canada  (who  agreed Ephraim’s  monasteries/convents and methods of collecting young and vulnerable adults is cultic), we have met twice with Patriarch Bartholomew asking for intervention with no result.  In fact, at the second meeting with the Patriarch and in front of Niko, the Patriarch suggested Niko return home to check into his health problems.  Niko later refused to even consider the idea.  He said, “That was only a suggestion, not a command.”

The Patriarch's visit to St. Anthony's, November 1997
The Patriarch’s visit to St. Anthony’s, November 1997

After only one year and nine months, Niko was tonsured as a monk, rejected his baptismal and family name of Nikolaos, and took the name of Theologos.  According to church tradition, the amount of time an individual serves as novice is three years.  There was no warning or an invitation to attend the ceremony sent to us.  Niko even said that it came as a surprise to him as well that he was to be tonsured on that day.

We have tried to involve the media in some way to help us expose this growing cult in the U.S.  In October 1997, Ethnikos Kyrix (National Herald) published an article about our family’s despair.  In June 1998, we contacted the Dateline tv show and spoke at length with an investigator, Jeff Pohlman (1-800-622-6397 ext. 6963),  who promised to look into it.  However, after only three days, he called back saying he’d contacted the Archdiocese with questions and was satisfied that our son was in an established monastery.  This is like asking the wolf if he ate the lamb.  Of course the wolf would deny it!  The present Church leadership is in accord with the super-Orthodox approach and in disagreement with the majority of the Greek American laity. Please see www.voithia.org for more information. Although Mr. Pohlman did not reveal our name or exact details, he did tell us that the spokesman at the Archdiocese asked him, “Did that family in Tennessee ask you to investigate?”

Jeff Pohlman, Investigative Reporter
Jeff Pohlman, Investigative Reporter

We are asking, after due investigation on your part, if you would please list Ephraim’s name and his growing number of monasteries/convents to the list of suspected cults on your home page. We have names of other parents in the same situation as ours.  Perhaps by your listing the Ephraim-led monasteries, other parents in similar circumstances would feel the courage to speak up. Our ultimate goal is to have our son return home.  Should you need additional details from us, please contact us at home.   Sincerely yours,


John & Jo Ann Pantanizopoulos Knoxville, TN

Editor’s Note: The relationship between monastic life and parish life in general, and the role of Fr. Ephraim in particular, continue to be controversial issues in our Church. Voithia’s recent coverage of this topic has included articles by U.S. hierarchs, clergy, and laity, by the Greek press, and our own stories.

To date neither Voithia nor GOAL has taken a position on this topic. A resolution on the subject was introduced at the GOAL national conference in March, 1998, but it was withdrawn due to a lack of consensus at the time.

The above letter was sent to Rick Ross, with a copy to GOAL, asking Mr. Ross to list Fr. Ephraim and his monasteries on his website as suspected cults. As of this writing Mr. Ross has not done so.

On May 5, 1997, The Orthodox Observer, in its “Tell Me Father” column, published an anonymous letter from a parishioner in Tennessee (the home state of Mr. and Mrs. Pantanizopoulos) to then-Fr. George, now Bishop George, Papaioannou, and his response. The full text of that column is reprinted below.

Reader’s Response:

Last year I stayed at the monastery at Florence for six days. During that time I worked on the grounds under the direction of Father Theologos. He did not seem like he was brain washed or under mind control. For that matter during that time I did not witness any cult of Father Ephraim such as the excesses that have been reported on this news group.

I am sorry that Father Theologos’ decision has made his parents so sad. However, I am not entirely sure that their sorrow ought to be used as ammunition to attack Father Ephraim. I know that if any of my children wished to become monks it would make me very sad simply because I would get to see them so much less. However, this would not in any way imply that they had joined a cult.

I usually remain silent but I have some experience with Father Theologos. Last year, I stayed at St. Anthony’s for six days and during that time worked on the grounds with Father Theologos. At no time was there the appearance of brain washing. Further, during that period, Father Ephriam was staying at the monastery. At no time was there any of the outrageous cultic behavior that is constantly reported in this news group.

I know that if my children decide to become monks it will make me very sad. The reason is simple. I love them deeply and hope that I will get to grow old along with them and see their children. On the other hand, I pray I will not create a big fuss if they do.

I would like to clarify my testimony. I am not a monastic wannabe as are so many converts to Orthodoxy. On the whole my impression of the monastery was negative. I don’t think that monastic life tells lay people anything about how to live our lives and I did not get an impression of great holiness. (Of course, this probably has something to do with my own sinfulness.)

I am completely astonished about the big fuss about Father Ephraim. If you don’t want him as a teacher, don’t follow him. If others find his teaching edifying, why bother them?



Behind the Glass Wall: Losing our Son to a Fr. Ephraim-Led Monastery (John & Jo Ann Pantanizopoulos)

*Questions for the Church
*How the Monastary shows Characteristics of a Cult
*What is healthy monasticism in the USA?
*Update (October 1999)
When Niko was five years old, we decided he needed swimming lessons. At that time, we thought the best gifts parents could give was to teach their children to love reading, to learn a musical instrument to lift their spirits and enrich their lives, and to learn how to swim. The first two gifts would fill their inner souls; staying afloat would save their lives. When the YMCA offered tadpole classes, we enrolled our sweet-natured blonde son. During the lesson, parents could watch from a large glass window in a room looking down on the Olympic-sized swimming pool. Sometimes I took a book to read, but didn’t get far because I was always looking to see if Niko had made it across the pool holding onto the styrofoam float.
After being able to kick across holding onto the float, the instructor made the children swim to the float-always holding the float just inches from their finger tips. The instructor had her hands full one day as she led two swimmers across the pool teasing them by placing the float just inches from their strokes. As I glanced up from my book, I suddenly saw Niko sink under the water as the instructor was lifting up her second charge. In panic, I leapt to my feet and banged on the window to alert someone to save my son from drowning. I couldn’t speak or scream; they couldn’t hear me down there. Would I have had time to run downstairs, find the door to the showers and the pool? Could I break the glass so my screams could be heard? With my voice frozen, I could only beat on the glass and watch him struggling under water until the instructor glanced up at my thumping and then over to Niko. She lifted his arm, his head rose above the water, and on he swam.
Niko is now 21 years old and a Greek Orthodox monk who goes by the name of Father Theologos. His father and I continue beating on the glass to save him, but no one has heard us. We feel our son, at a time in his life in which he was dealing with a transition from teen years to adulthood and with the sorrow of having an older sister diagnosed with a serious illness when he was 16, was unduly influenced to enter the monastic life since the age of 16. Our son is not alone. In the same year our son left, two other young people (ages 18 and 21) from our parish church in Knoxville, Tennessee entered a convent in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania and St. Anthony’s monastery in Florence, Arizona. Never were we included in assisting our son in making such a monumental decision. Niko told us in April and left in May 1996. We are concerned for many reasons that these monastic communities founded by Fr. Ephraim are part of a growing cult, a dark and confusing corner of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, a misdirected type of monasticism.
* Niko is the only son of four children, a brother to three sisters. He made us laugh with his impressions, his wry sense of humor, his sensitivity to others, and his kindness. When he first told us he was becoming a monk, I cried telling him that he would lose his wonderful sense of humor. “No, I won’t, Mama. I’ll be the funny monk!” But there is no place in Fr. Ephraim’s monasteries for humor or of seeing the funny quirks in life. Laughter is the result of the devil, Niko now tells us.
* Our son left home in May 1996 to stay a few weeks at a convent led by Fr. Carellas in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania before his trip to Arizona. We spoke on the phone several times and each time, Niko told us that the departure date had changed because he needed to be at the monastery at the same time as Ephraim. Each time he changed his departure date, he had to pay a $50 fine to the airlines. When I told him that the cost was adding up and asked him would he jump off a cliff if Fr. Ephraim asked him, he replied seriously, “Yes, of course I would!”
* After only one year and nine months as a novice, Niko was suddenly tonsured as a monk on April 30, 1998. Normally, three years from the time such young people enter the monastery first as novices, they take their vows and become monks. When we asked our son when he would know he was ready to take his vows to become a monk, he told us that Fr. Ephraim would tell him. When we responded with, “Won’t God tell you?” he told us that he is unworthy to speak to God; only Fr. Ephraim and the elders are worthy enough to have a dialogue with God.
* When we tried to contrast Niko’s isolation from the world to the life of Jesus who embraced the world by working with people in preaching, healing, and showing compassion, just as Mother Teresa has done, Niko responded with “that (Mother Teresa’s work) was just social work. Jesus had his calling; I have mine.”
* We encouraged Niko to consider becoming a priest instead of a monk and to use his talents working with people. We told him we would pay for his education at the Holy Cross Seminary in Brookline, Massachusetts, the only Greek Orthodox seminary in North America. He refused saying that Frs. Carellas and Ephraim said that the seminary was full of satan.
* After our interview with a reporter was published in The National Herald (Ethnikos Kyrix), a Greek language newspaper published in New York, we received many phone calls from distraught parents and friends of novices in Fr. Ephraim’s communities. We urged them to write letters and speak out, but they are fearful of going public with their family sorrows.
* Secrecy is paramount when a young man or woman leaves to enter a monastery or convent. Our son was told by Fr. Carellas to tell no one except his immediate family, and that only one month before he left our home. Niko left without telling his best friend, his aunts, uncles, grandmothers, even our current parish priest. The excuse was that if he told people, they might try to talk him out of becoming a monk, and then the devil would win.
* Fr. Ephraim has been known to have fought the devil who knocked on his door disguised as a goat. This goat attacked him, but the monk physically fought him off!
* Novice nuns have been known to wash this monk’s feet and drink the wash water because they and his followers think the man is a saint. He does nothing to discourage this sentiment.
* Fr. Ephraim has predicted that the world will end in 60 years.
* Fr. Ephraim was forced out of Canada because of the same recruiting tactics he is getting away with in the U.S.
* Divided families, divorces, and marital disharmony are the results of this monk’s teachings. We know that he has encouraged married couples to refrain from sexual intercourse and to live as brother and sister.
* Since entry into the monastery, our son has suffered from GERD, gastro-esophageal reflux disease. Before entry, Niko was never sick and had never suffered any stomach ailments. The novices are told that suffering is good and makes an individual a stronger Orthodox Christian. When he was in high school, he was the star dancer in our parish’s Greek Festival. The other dancers called him “Air Niko,” and he told us that he lived for Greek dancing. Now he keeps his eyes down rarely looking at us directly. He is a very thin, bowed 21 year-old young man.
* Following numerous letters (with responses few and far between) to bishops, the Archbishop, and the Patriarch, we finally were able to meet with Patriarch Bartholomew twice during his recent U.S. tour, once in October (1997) in Atlanta and once at the monastery in November (1997) in the presence of our son and several bishops. We asked that Niko be allowed to go home so we could have him checked by our family doctor. They all agreed it was acceptable; however, Niko later told us it was only a suggestion, not a command. Niko said that unless Ephraim told him to go, he would not leave the monastery. He would ignore the Patriarch’s suggestion.
* Niko does not ask about his family, his sisters, his cousins, his grandmothers. To do so, he says, is to ask about the world which he shuns. He refused to return home for his oldest sister’s wedding. He refused to listen to his 13 year-old sister’s song she wrote and sang for him on an audio tape, because music was from the devil. Christmases, Easters, and other holidays come and go each year without a phone call or a thank you note for the packages we send him. His letters to us have virtually stopped.
* A “spiritual elitism” surrounds the followers of Ephraim. Even in our parish church, a group of his followers defend him, saying “he has the power of discernment.” When I, Niko’s mother, stood up at our parish’s general assembly asking for some support in investigating this anomaly of losing three young people from our church to Fr. Ephraim’s monasticism, I was ridiculed and attacked by several of his ardent followers, told to mind my own business, and be glad my son was becoming a monk.
* St. Anthony’s monastery in Florence, Arizona is a brand new community in the desert, built of only the best materials. During our November 1997 visit that coincided with the Patriarch’s visit, we overheard one man say that it was indeed “more like a Hilton resort, than a monastery.” Our son told us that as soon as it is complete, it will become a convent, and the monks will move on to build yet another monastery, perhaps in New York. During our November visit to the monastery, we spoke with a member of the Patriarch’s entourage. When we told him why we were there, he said that he understood our concerns: “this spiritual dependence is totally unnecessary and is getting out of hand. Someone needs to get a hold of this situation and provide a solution to it.” The same member, who is also a priest, said that he and his wife were uncomfortable that their own son, who was with them that day, could come this close to such an unhealthy environment.
We ask these questions we hope someone will be able to answer:
* Who is funding Fr. Ephraim’s movements?
* What is the charity Fr. Ephraim’s monks perform?
* Under whose supervision do his activities fall?
* What are the names of the novices and monks in Fr. Ephraim’s monasteries and how do their families feel about their sons or daughters being in them?
* How many other families are suffering as we are?
* Does the Greek Orthodox Church have any procedures in place to assist individuals in looking at monasticism in a balanced way?
* What regulations, if any, govern these activities?
* Are any statistics available on the spread of Greek Orthodox monasticism in
the U.S.?
* What is “healthy” monasticism in the USA in contrast with Fr. Ephraim’s communities?
* Is the goal of the present Greek Orthodox Church leadership to divide families or to unite them by any possible means?
Note: We have asked the church these questions, but we have received no answers. We have been patient long enough in dealing with the Church’s hierarchy and speaking out publicly to get our son out of a psychologically abusive and spiritually dependent environment. We feel as if we have had a death in our family without a funeral. We miss our son! Although the church has gained one monk (our son), the remaining five members of our family have become estranged from the church.
Here are just a few of the characteristics of a cult, and they all match what we’ve seen and what we’ve read from our son’s letters:
** Control of the environment of their recruits.
In this monastery, recruits are physically separated from the society. Any books, movies or testimonies of ex-members of the group are to be avoided. We have asked our son to talk to a former nun; he has refused. Like cults, the novices and monks follow a rigid routine of sleep deprivation, limited diet, work, and controlled reading. Niko’s young sister wrote a song and recorded it on a tape. When we tried to play it for him during our visit with him, Niko said he was not allowed to hear music, even a simple song his sister wrote from her heart and recorded on an audio cassette.
** Demand for purity
In this monastery, the world is depicted as black and white with little room for making personal decisions based on a trained conscience. People and organizations are pictured as either good or evil, depending on their relationship to the ideology of the group. We asked our son if he knew that Mother Teresa had died. He told us she was a Catholic, a heretic, and her good works were just “social work.” When we reminded him that Jesus also did this type of “social work” with the people, Niko told us again that we were “talking idly.” He also said that “Jesus had his calling. I have mine.”
** Confession
In this monastery, serious sins are to be confessed immediately. Becoming a monk would be the result of regular confessions. From these confessions, Fr. Ephraim determines when Niko or any novice will be ready to become a monk. Information derived from the confession is used to make the novice feel powerless, more guilty, fearful and ultimately in need of the monastery and the leader’s goodness. This confession can be used to get the novice to re-write his or her personal history so as to reject the past life, making it seem illogical for the novice to want to return to his or her former life of family and friends.
** Sacred Science
In this monastery, the ideology is too “sacred” to call into question, and a reverence is demanded for the leadership. In the eyes of the monks and novices, Fr. Ephraim appears as the absolute truth with no contradictions. When we asked our son how he would know he was ready to become a monk, he told us that Fr. Ephraim would tell him. We asked, “Why doesn’t God tell you this?” He replied that he was not worthy to speak with God; only Fr. Ephraim and the elders are worthy to have a dialogue with God. Upon a visit to the convent in Saxonburg, PA, Fr. Ephraim told our 13-year old daughter and other children present that the world would end in 60 years. How convenient that Fr. Ephraim won’t be around in 60 years, and will not be confronted for his false prophecy!
* Mystical Manipulation
In this monastery, novices have come to believe that they are actually “choosing” this life. If outsiders, even his parents, say Niko has been brainwashed or tricked, he repeats “I have chosen this voluntarily.” This statement was made even in the presence of the Patriarch and other Bishops in November 1997 at the Monastery of St. Anthony. Novices and monks thrive on this myth of voluntarism, insisting time and again that no member is being held against his or her will. Recruits are told that God is ever-present in the workings of the organization. If a person leaves for any reason, he/she is told that accidents or ill-will may befall them and that is attributed always to God’s punishment on them. We have a former nun’s testimony on this.
* Loading the Language
In this monastery, there is frequent use of “thought-terminating cliches,” expressions or words that are designed to end the conversation or controversy. Our son, when asked a difficult question for him to answer, will end the conversation with the statement “This is idle talk.” When we asked our son why he came to the monastery, he said it was God’s will.
* Doctrine over Person
In this monastery, the person is only valuable insomuch as he/she conforms to the role models of the cult (or monastery). Personal history and experiences are ignored. During our visit or phone calls, Niko never asks about friends, relatives, his sisters, or our lives. Only the lives and experiences of monks are true for him. Accomplishments of former monks are repeated to these novices, although none of their fantastic (monastic) experiences can be verified. For example, Niko and his sister were  awestruck from the story told them at the convent in Saxonburg about Fr. Ephraim’s fight with Satan who appeared at his cell door in the form of a goat!
* Dispensing of Existence
In this monastery, they decide who has the right to exist and who does not. The leaders decide which books are accurate and which are biased. Families are cut off. Niko has not written to us since December 1998. In December 1997, he wrote us a note that he would not come home as advised by the Patriarch during our meeting with the Patriarch in November 1997. We wanted Niko to be cared for by our physician for his GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease). Our son said that only if Fr. Ephraim blesses his visit home would he have followed the Patriarch’s suggestion. We have written letters, called him on the phone, and visited him several times but always when we initiated the communication. All of these characteristics describe and document the similarities between monasteries administered by Fr. Ephraim and cults as they are known and defined by experts.In closing, we have come to the conclusion that people in the Church’s hierarchy will not do anything to save our son from the hands of such monastics. They appear to fall under no one’s jurisdiction or regulation. However, as soon as Fr. Ephraim’s type of monasticism is classified as a CULT in this country, we may then be able to save our son. Remember most cults are defined as a splinter of “first generation religions.” We hope this classification will be recognized by the Greek Orthodox clergy and laity as well as the media soon. Young people in transition and facing big decisions about life, such as college, career, and choice of spouse, etc., are easy targets for cult recruiters. Our main issues here are that our son was too young (only 18 years old when he entered the monastery), he was indoctrinated beginning at age 16 by our former parish priest who never involved us in the process, our son had no theological education and is presently not in good health. He never suffered from any illness before. The Greek Orthodox Church has no specific guidelines for proselytizing potential novices.We love our son very, very much, and we will continue to beat on the glass wall to save our son from drowning in a cult led by this monk.
**What is healthy monasticism in the USA?
In our opinion, monastics should have a good theological education, be of a mature age, and should make their choice after careful counseling with their priest and their family. Individuals that best fit the mold of monks should be the clergy. Such individuals have already made this choice to follow Christ’s footsteps and have the theological background needed. Monasteries should be the place for one to retreat from the world for a short period of time to meditate, pray, and discuss religion with others (i.e. in the form of a sabbatical from their everyday life) and then return to the world refreshed. Was this not Christ’s way? The expenditures for building such monasteries should be the responsibility of the Church (Patriarchate) and be run by the Church. Under no condition should a monastery be run by individuals such as the elder Ephraim. Such spiritual dependence at any level can only be cultic with disastrous results.

Geronda Ephraim as a young priest.
Geronda Ephraim as a young priest.
Fr. Demetrios Carellas and Saxonburg nun.
Fr. Demetrios Carellas and Saxonburg nun.

Our son became a monk in April 1998, one year and nine months after entering the St. Anthony’s Monastery as a novice when he was 18 years old. At the age of 20, he became Pater Theologos. In his short note to us, he said even he was surprised when he discovered that he was to take his vows on that day. Since that note, we have received only one other short note to us. Then, in the summer of 1999, we accidentally read on the internet a Chicago Tribune article dated June 2, 1999, “Monks Turn Farm Into Monastery.” The reporter mentioned two monks: Frs. Akakios and Theologos. Wondering if our son could actually be in another monastery, we called the monastery and heard the voice on the answering machine. We knew it was our son Niko. We later sent him a birthday card and called again, leaving a message on the monastery answering machine. Still no letter, no phone call. Since then, we have discovered that Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Harvard, Illinois (northwest of Chicago) recently held a fund-raising banquet with about 600 attending paying $50 for a chicken dinner. A visitor told us that a tall thin young monk wearing glasses was there. He was not introduced and did not speak with any of the attendees. Our son, the one who told us so many times he lived to dance the Greek hasapiko and Kalamatiano is now the quiet monk isolating himself in obedience to the monk Ephraim.


A Diaologue about Geronda Ephraim and Monasticism in America (Derek Copold vs. John Pantanizopoulos)

This dialogue occurred in 1999, and begins with Derek asking John:

Fr. Demetrios Carellas.
Fr. Demetrios Carellas.

John’s reply:
We have attempted to find out what if any guidelines the Church has on monasticism. Neither the Archdiocese nor any of the Bishops we corresponded with for the last three years could offer any policies in place. We cannot begin to offer any specifics. We have always felt that the Church (the Ecumenical Patriarch or the Synods) would be the proper authority to establish such guidelines.
We only know that our son was too young (16 when indoctrination began and turned 19 in the monastery) to make such a monumental decision on his future. He had NO theological education whatsoever. So, we strongly feel that one has to be mature enough, and theologically educated before making such a decision. What age defines maturity or what exactly theological education is required differs from one individual to another. However age 25 can be a beginning. Concerning the theological education, we have always felt that a graduate priest would be a good candidate for a monastic.
The question we have presently is: Why are there so many young people joining the Ephraim-led monasteries whereas the Holy Cross Seminary has so few applicants? This is something the Archdiocese would have to face.
What is your opinion, Derek?
John Pantanizopoulos
Derek’s reply:
You keep mentioning “indoctrination” at 16. What do you mean by this? Exactly how did this work between the ages of 16 – 18 (or 19 as you put up before.) That’s some 2-3 years. It seems an awful long time for a child to be “indoctrinated” without his parents knowledge.
In general, I’m in agreement with your sentiment, but I’d like to know more of the specifics.
Best Regards,
Derek Copold
John’s reply:

Over the past week, you have asked several questions. I will itemize
them as follows:

1. What do I mean by “indoctrination”? You also asked for more specifics.
2. Why is the seminary so vulnerable to the Fr. Ephraim-led monasteries?
3. What are the Greek Orthodox Church guidelines?

1. By “indoctrination” I mean “brainwashing” and here is part of the story. When our son was 16, our oldest daughter was diagnosed with a serious illness. At that time, our whole family drew closer to the church. Our former parish priest offered support. Our son made friends
with the priest’s son and drove him to and from school. They were the same age and grade at the same school. Our parish priest kept mentioning to us and the entire congregation of his spiritual father, a monk Ephraim.
Our son increased his participation with the church activities (GOYA, liturgies, confession, etc.). The rest of our family went to church on Sundays. We thought nothing of his gradual change in behavior because it was connected to the church. We thought he might be considering the priesthood as a vocation.
Conversations at the dinner table began to center around religion and our son started reading books and booklets, given to him by our former priest, on monastics and especially Seraphim Rose, a Russian monk.
In 1995 our parish priest was removed from our church (for reasons never explained to the parishioners) and sent to a convent in Saxonburg PA which is also an Ephraim established convent. Our former priest is there and to our knowledge hasn’t been a parish priest since. In the
meantime, he had made quite a group of followers in our church who visited him occasionally in Saxonburg. Our son would sometimes go with them. We thought, naively, that he wanted to see his friend, the priest’s son. Never did we think that a man of God woudl betray us in this way by doing this in secrecy. Some lessons are learned the hard way! For more information on our family story, please go to the Protection of the Theotokos web site where we have placed our story, “Behind the Glass Wall”: http://www.angelfire.com/bc/orthodoxsurvivors/cultabuse.html
Click on Controversial Orthodox Groups, then on Monasteries of Fr. Ephraim.
2. On Oct 14 Vasos Panagiotopoulos gave you one version of the truth. Here is ours. Remember, we all have our agenda.
In Sept 1996 former Arch. of America Spyridon is enthroned. In the spring of 1997, homosexual molestation of an underclassman by a priest at the Hellenic College/Holy Cross (HC/HC) goes unpunished. Note that Arch. Spyridon is pro-monastic and a supporter of Fr. Ephraim. In July
1997, four priessts-professors at HC/HC are removed because they recommended punishment for the sexual molestation, thereby jeopardizing the HC/HC’s accreditation.
Voithia, an internet web site, and GOAL are created and together they monitor and publish all inproprieties of the Archdiocese. The five Metropolitans, several priests and the laity express their disenchantment with Archbishop Spyridon’s leadership or lack thereof.
In Aug 1999 Arch. Spyridon is forced to resign and the new Arch. Demetrios is enthroned in Sept. 1999.
This we feel is what caused the low registrtion of Hc/HC. Ask yourself, would you choose that college (during the church turmoil) for yourself or your son/daughter? You can read more about it in http://www.voithia.org where you can find the whole chronology of events as they occurred since the enthronement of Arch. Spyridon.
3. As you may have noticed by participating in this discussion group, no one, not even the participating priest, knows of any church guidelienss, simply because there aren’t any! People can express their thoughts, but the fact of the matter remains that there are no church guidelines on what healthy monasticism is or who may become a monk. You may read our thoughts also in “Behind the Glass Wall.”
John & Jo Ann
Derek’s reply:
Actually, I didn’t ask this originally. You did rhetorically. However, I do appreciate this expansion. I’m sorry to hear this. I’ll remember her and you in my prayers.
I don’t believe you mention this in the article. What would your former priest say? Please, excuse my prying, if I’m pushing to far simply tell and I’ll drop it.
To be fair to Seraphim Rose, I don’t believe he advocated activity of the sort your alleging. I’m not saying that you are accusing, just trying to clarify his position. If I’m mistaken, please correct me.
The article does answer questions. I am sorry that this affair has been so hurtful to you both. Unfortunately, along with my prayer that’s the extent of assistance I can offer you.
In regards to Fr. Ephraim, I have your word on one side about the estrangement of your son and Fr. Gregory on the other. There is a monestary in Kendalia, TX under his direction, so if I’m in the Hill country, I may go and investigate.
To be fair, Vasos is rather open about what he believes, and usually when he says something (actually always from what I’ve read of his posts) it’s accurate.
So if HC is or was under the direction of one of his supporters at the time, why was Fr. Ephraim stating that it was “full of Satan?”
I’ve read the chronologies, editorials and articles from them and their opponents. Por favor! No mas! No mas!
Well, GOAL has been talking about taking the iniative and governing from the bottom up, now that they’ve won their victory, I guess this,would be as good a place to start as any. Somehow I don’t think the peace will be any easier to manage than the war.
Best Regards,
Derek Copold
John’s reply:
To really find out the truth you would also have to ask him (our former priest that is). There is only one priest at the Saxonburgh convent. Then you can form a more weighted decision for yourself.
We are stating this about Seraphim Rose to simply show you the direction given to him (our son) by our former priest. What we tried to convey was that if you read a lot about cooking recipes you may eventually start cooking!
Our son entered the monasrery of St. Anthony in Arizona in June 1996. Archbishop Spyridon was enthroned in September 1996. The words that HC/HC was “full of satan” our son mentioned to us in April 1996, that is, before Arch. Spyridon’s enthronement.
We stated that question only to have those in the proper authority to pay attention to what is going on!
I agree with you. We just have to wait and see.


Some Thoughts On Elder Ephraim (Fr. Gregory Jensen)

The following is Fr. Gregory Jensen’s response to Monasticism vs. the Parish,  John & Jo Ann Pantanizopoulos’ letter to the editor of Orthodox News: https://scottnevinssuicide.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/monasticism-vs-the-parish-john-jo-ann-pantanizopoulos/

The response initiated a short dialogue between the two men on an Orthodox forum:

My the Lord bless you.

The Rev. Gregory Jensen is a social scientist specializing in religion and personality theory and a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. (Orthodox Church in America).
The Rev. Gregory Jensen is a social scientist specializing in religion and personality theory and a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. (Orthodox Church in America).
Geronda Ephraim shortly after he was ordained a deacon.
Geronda Ephraim shortly after he was ordained a deacon.

With trepidation I would like to add my own thoughts to this thread on Elder
First of all I have visited the women’s community found by the elder in Saxonsburg, PA and Dunlap, CA. I also spend 2 or 3 days a year at St. Anthony in AZ. I haven’t noticed anything that I would identify as cultic (by the way, I have a Ph.D. in psychology and religion and have worked with people with cultic and occultic backgrounds). The monasteries are all quite strict in their observance, but are hardly outside the pale of Orthodoxy (or Orthopraxy for that matter).
Is 16 too young to begin to consider a monastic vocation? I don’t think so. At 16 I knew I wanted to be a psychologist and a priest. At 16 people know that wish to be married or go to a military service academy like West Point and make the Army their career. We have a boy in our parish who is just turned 17 and aspires to monastic life. So in principle, no, I don’t think that 19, 18, 17 or even 16 is too young to consider monastic life. I have friends who joined Roman Catholic monastic communities at 18 and they are fine. What I cannot speak to, as either an Orthodox priest or a psychologist, is the particulars of anyone I haven’t meet.
What I would like to comment on is this. As I said, I’ve visited a number of the communities founded (all with the blessing and active encouragement of the local bishops and the generous assistance of the laity) by Elder Ephraim. I am sometimes struck by the great difference between what I experience and observe at the various monasteries and how people respond to Elder Ephraim and how people describe the monastery or the Elder. In some cases, there is on correspondence between my experience and what I hear from people. I’m not sure why this is, but I can say that at least in my experience, both supporters and detractors seem about equally likely to inaccurate reporters.
As a married parish priest (I serve a small, poor GOA mission parish in far northern CA), I am not threatened by monasticism in general or Elder Ephraim’s communities in particular. Rather, I thank God for the monastic life and the positive influence it has been in my life, in the life of my dear Presbyteria as well as the members of my parish. We don’t any of us go around pretending to be displaced monastics exiled to a fallen world. We are none of us super ascetics or crypto-gnostics. What we are is a group of quite ordinary, late 20 century men and women from a variety of backgrounds struggling to live an Orthodox Christian life. We take help and encouragement from many sources, including, but not only, from the witness of our monastic fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters.
I am sorry for the hurt and confusion that some have experienced because of the growth the various monastic communities here in the US. Please forgive me if I have offended you by my words.
+Fr. Gregory Jensen
St. George Greek Orthodox Church
Redding, CA


Fr. Jensen,

You have chosen Christ’s way to preach the Gospels and minister to the people. Why did you not choose to become a monk?
Do you have any children? Have any of them joined a monastery? Will you concur if one of them left without discussing it with you?
At the Ephraim-led monasteries we visited, monastics told us, when asked, that they are there to avoid temptation. Do you concur with such a statement?
What questions did you ask the monastics you visited, if any, to draw your conclusions? Do you have a list of the characteristics of a cult, and did you make an attempt to check it against those in an Ephraim-led monastery? In general based on what did you draw your conclusions that
the Ephraim-led monasteries are not cultic?
We have asked three more priests to answer these questions for us. They never did! We hope that you will take the time to answer them.
Dear John,
May the Lord bless and keep you.
First, let me say how sorry I am for the pain that your son’s decision to enter monastic life has caused you.
You wrote/asked:
>You have chosen Christ’s way to preach the Gospels and minister to the people. Why did you not choose to become a monk?

Simply put, I was not called by God to be a monastic. Parish priest are called by God to serve His People in the local parish. This is my vocation, my calling from God. Monastics are called by God to call down mercy for the whole world. This is their vocation.
As a quick aside, I must say that I am confused with what seems to be the general tendency on this thread to confuse priesthood and monasticism. The vocations are different and so the training and tasks for each our different.
> Do you have any children? Have any of them joined a monastery? Will you concur if one of them left without discussing it with you?

My wife and I cannot have children and so I cannot answer your question.
> At the Ephraim-led monasteries we visited, monastics told us, when asked, that they are there to avoid temptation. Do you concur with such a statement?

Yes. Is there something wrong with this statement?
> What questions did you ask the monastics you visited, if any, to draw your conclusions? Do you have a list of the characteristics of a cult, and did you make an attempt to check it against those in an Ephraim-led monastery? In general based on what did you draw your conclusions that the Ephraim-led monasteries are not cultic?

I didn’t ask any questions about to determine if the monastery was a cult. I saw no evidence of cultic behavior.
> We have asked three more priests to answer these questions for us. They never did! We hope that you will take the time to answer them.

+Fr. Gregory
Fr. Jensen,

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Concerning the choice of becoming a priest or a monk, all we tried encourage our son about was that he needed to have all proper education, theological and psychological, and then decide which way to go. As far as the calling goes, he never told us how it happened, but in most questions we asked him about, he referred us to the monk Ephraim. Before he became a novice, he had his first discussion with Ephraim. When our son asked Ephraim’s opinion on whether he should become a novice/monk, Ephraim replied, “You won’t know until you try it.” Is this a calling? When we asked him when he knew he would be ready to take his vows, he said the monk Ephraim would tell him. We then asked him why God wouldn’t “call” him or tell him when he was ready. Our son responded with, “I’m not worthy to speak to God. Only Ephraim and the elders are worthy enough to have a dialogue with God.” If this isn’t following a cult leader, what is? These are the questions that still puzzle us today.
Concerning temptation: We feel that a human is sent to this life by God to be tested and to control his/her temptations in accordance with the Bible. We also feel that whoever handles temptation in accordance with the Bible is one step closer to being worthy of God. Is this not the proper thinking? Was this not Christ’s way when he visited this earth?
We have studied cults and their characteristics and found many similarities to Ephraim’s type of monasticism. If you’re interested in reading these corollaries, please go to the Protection of the Theotokos web site: http://www.pokrov.org and read our story, “Behind the Glass Wall.”
Again, thank you for your response,

Fanny Pappas was stunned at her daughter’s decision to enter St. John Chrysostomos Monastery

St. John Chrysostomos Greek Orthodox Monastery in Pleasant Prairie, WI.
St. John Chrysostomos Greek Orthodox Monastery in Pleasant Prairie, WI.

Posted on May 10, 2002 in Letters to the Editor Editor: Recently I have spoken to John and Joann Pantanizopoulos who told me the account of how their son was influenced to enter the monastic life. My daughter also, had a monastic spiritual Father Ted Petritis, who lives in Pennsylvania, that guided her for seven years. I had no idea of what this meant until the day she announced she was leaving to enter the monastery in Kenosha, WI. Can you tell me if you know anything about St. John Chrysostom Monastery in Pleasent Prairie and Abbess Melaine. We were stunned and surprised at her sudden decision and the secrecy that went with it. Sincerely, Fanny Pappas

Gerondissa Melani Makrygiannis, Abbess of St. John Chrysostom Monastery.
Gerondissa Melani Makrygiannis, Abbess of St. John Chrysostom Monastery.

Editor’s Note: St. John Chrysostomos Monastery, under the leadership of Abbess Melanie, is the fourth of 16 Greek Orthodox monasteries founded by the Elder Ephraim in the United States and Canada since 1989. It is listed on the official website of the monasteries, http://www.stanthonysmonastery.org. According to that listing it is located at 4600 93rd Street, Pleasant Prairie, WI 53858 USA, its telephone number is (262) 694-9850, and its fax number is (262) 697-1581. Elder Ephraim and his monasteries are beloved by many who are familiar with them, and feared by many who are not. We refer you to the related stories and related links below for what little information of which we are aware which has been published on the Internet about these monasteries. However, as with other aspects of Orthodox Christianity, the best way to learn about them is not merely to read about them, but to experience them for yourself. Because we periodically receive inquiries about the monasteries of the Elder Ephraim, we would be interested in receiving letters from any of our readers who might have further information about these monasteries that they may wish to share.

Fr. Theodore Petrides Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church, Stroudsburg, PA.
Fr. Theodore Petrides Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church, Stroudsburg, PA.

He is Suffering from the Tragic Loss of his Son to a Monastery Where he Became Ill (Theodore Kalmoukos)

The National Herald, Oct 27, 1998
By Theodore Kalmoukos

The family of John Pantanizopoulos from Knoxville, Tennessee, is determined to do “all that is possible and necessary to extricate our son from an unhealthy environment,” quoted in an interview to the National Herald for his son Niko, who interrupted his university studies and entered as a novice in the monastery of St. Anthony in Florence, Arizona, The monastery is under the direction of Fr. Ephraim, who was previously from the monastery of Filotheou of the Holy Mountain in Greece. One should be reminded that in the past Fr. Ephraim has troubled the Greek Orthodox Church of America including the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the formation of religious organizations with his devotion to the Russian monks of the diaspora, according to the information he received as he claims from God. Later, he left the Russians and placed himself under the Greek Orthodox American Archdiocese. Nikos Pantanizopoulos, according to the interview with his father John, met Fr. Ephraim through their parish priest in Knoxville, Tennessee, a Fr. Carellas, who presently is in a convent in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania. When Niko’s parents advised him to enter the Holy Cross Theological Seminary and then to decide if he wants to become a priest, he answered them, “Fr. Carellas and Fr. Ephraim told him that the Holy Cross is inhabited by the devil” and they [Carellas and Ephraim] advised him to go to the St. Tikon Theological Seminary [Russian], as stated by Mr. Pantanizopoulos.

The latter disclosed to the National Herald that his son got sick and that the monks are giving him the herb St. John’s Wort. “This is something people use when they suffer from melancholy [depression],” said characteristically the father of Nikos, whom they visited with his wife on Sept. 26, 27, and 28. “We thought we were seeing an old man at 20 years,” stated Mr. Pantanizopoulos.

We (The National Herald) left a message at the monastery’s telephone with Fr. Arsenios who said that Mr. Niko Pantanizopoulos was not in his cell at the time. However, we received no response from him later either. Also, the Bishop Anthony of San Francisco never returned our phone calls as late as Friday evening.


NH: Where, how and when did your son meet Ephraim?

P: Our son Niko met him at the Saxonburg, Pennsylvania convent in April 1996. He met him through Fr. Carellas who is now at the Saxonburg convent. During the time Fr. Carellas was a parish priest here in Knoxville, Tennessee, he always spoke of the monastic life and of his spiritual father, Ephraim. Fr. Carellas used to say that Fr. Ephraim had the power of discernment, he was a saint. From time to time, several people from our church visited the convent in Saxonburg and spoke highly of Fr. Ephraim. Our Niko refused to have Easter with us with the excuse that he was having Easter with his spiritual father, Fr. Carellas. Niko told us that we were his parents in flesh; Carellas was his spiritual father. It was Nikos intent to ask Ephraim, the holy man, if Niko should be a monk. Ephraim would have the answer he thought.

NH: How old was he when he first met Ephraim and how old was he when he left your house to follow Ephraim?

P: Our Niko, born July 26, 1977, was 18 when he first met Ephraim, and he left our house in May 1996 at the age of 18 to spend a few weeks at the Saxonburg convent before he left for Arizona in July directly from there. He turned 19 inside the St. Anthony monastery in Florence, Arizona.

NH: When did he tell you that he decided to become a monk?

P. Upon his return from the convent in April 1996 when he spoke with Ephraim, Niko gathered his two sisters and us at the kitchen table to tell us of his decision to quit college and become a monk at St. Anthonys. At that time, Niko told us he had a calling because Ephraim answered his question Should I become a monk? with You wont know unless you try it. Ephraims answer became Nikos callingfrom God.

NH: What was your first reaction?

P: We told him he was too young, he should get his education first, he should perhaps go to Holy Cross seminary to see if he wanted the priesthood. He said that because Carellas and Ephraim told him that the Holy Cross was full of Satan, he couldnt go there. Carellas and Ephraim suggested he look into a Russian Orthodox seminary, St. Tikons, in New York even though all courses were taught in Russian. Niko felt he might be able to learn Russian over the summer in order to attend that seminary! But he soon put that aside and chose monasticism.

NH: Have you tried to talk with him and convince him to return to your house to continue his studies? And if so, what was his reaction?

P: We have pleaded, cried, and begged him to come home and re-think. We begged him to come home in October for his older sisterVera’s wedding; he refused saying that there would be too much idle talk surrounding him. We told him that even Jesus lived among the people. Couldnt he work with people and still be a part of the Church? Niko replied that Jesus had his calling and Niko had his own.

NH: Has his behavior towards you and in general his personality changed?

P: Yes, he considers us his parents in flesh only. He must obey his spiritual fathers. He talks to us as if we do not exist and are of no importance to him. He does not ask about us or our activities or about his grandmothers, cousins, aunt or uncles, or even his sisters because he considers anything outside of his monastic life as idle talk and idle subjects. He sends no birthday, Christmas, or Easter greetings to anyone in the family.

Niko used to be so funny. He could impersonate just about anyone. He would make everyone in our family laugh. But during the last two years when we were together, the conversations somehow always turned to religion, to Orthodoxy, and to what some esoteric monk said. I remember one day at the dinner table, we were discussing the Ecumenical talks between the Patriarch and the Catholic Pope. Niko actually began to cry that our Patriarch was wrong and that the Orthodox Church was being led astray. There should be no talks, Niko said. When we asked Niko where he got these ideas, he told us Fr. Carellas believes this and since Fr. Carellas is Nikos spiritual father, his ideas are Nikos.

NH: We have information that your son became ill and the monks are giving him herbs to treat his illness. What do you know about that?

P: First of all, Niko has always been healthy and has never had an ongoing illness. Niko wrote and told us, almost from the beginning of his stay there, that he was not well. He complained of an ongoing cough, then of pain in his stomach and an abdominal pain when he walked. Although the monks took him to a doctor and Niko was given prescription medication for an ulcer and for GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease), he later told us that the monks were giving him St. Johns wort, an herb. We researched the herb and discovered that it is one used to treat depression. And we ask, ‘If a monastery is supposed to be a healthy environment, then why is our son sick’?

NH When did you last come in contact with your son?

P: We came in contact with his son when we recently visited him on Sept. 26, 27, and 28 at the St. Anthony monastery in Arizona.

NH: How did your son receive you at the monastery and what did you discuss?

P: He was calm, his movements were slow and slumped over. He hardly ever smiled and we felt like we saw an old man in a 20 year old boy. We discussed with him about the life at the monastery, the pros and cons of monastic living, our family news, and his health. Finally, we asked him, since he did not feel well, to return home with us. His answer was an emphatic, ‘No.’

NH: Did you inform your son and the monastery beforehand about your visit or was it a surprise?

P: One month prior to our trip to Arizona we informed our son and Bishop Anthony of San Francisco. We specifically asked the Bishop to meet us there and discuss with us our son’s ill health. Bishop Anthony did not answer us and did not come to the monastery during the time we visited. In a previous letter to us the Bishop informed us that he worries about our son’s health and that he would find out details from the Abbot.

NH: We’ve been informed that Archbishop Spyridon, Bishop Anthony, Fr. Passias, Fr. Ephraim, Fr. Paissios, and your son Niko met at the St. Anthony monastery and especially Fr. Passias, the Archdiocese Chancellor sent you a letter. Would you like to talk about it?

P: Yes, it is true. Please bear in mind that we visited our son Sept. 26, 27, 28 after asking Bishop Anthony to meet us there. However, on October 1 again, they decided to see our son alone. In the letter, referenced above, concerning their visit, Fr. Passias (acting for Archbishop Spyridon) wrote and told us that our son is under a doctor’s observation and he feels better than before.

And we ask, ‘How is it possible for Fr. Passias who met our son for the first time at the monastery to know how Niko felt before and, second, if our son feels so well, why is he under a doctor’s observation’? At the end of his letter, Fr. Passias wrote that we must pray for the will of God and not our’s or our son’s. We answered him in a letter that we would pray for the will of God and not his, meaning Fr. Passias or Fr. Ephraim.

In addition, Fr. Passias wrote that we must be happy that we can see our son. If he had been at the Holy Mountain (Athos in Greece), we would have never been able to see him. We answered him that those who have children will cross mountains to see their child.

NH: What measures are you willing to take and is one of them legal action against the Archdiocese, Archbishop Spyridon, Diocese of San Francisco and Bishop Anthony under whose jurisdiction is Ephraim?

P: We want to hear our son laugh and to see him dance again. We will do everything possible to extricate our child from an unhealthy environment and at the same time make it known to other families that there are people in the Orthodox Church who follow blindly charismatic leaders. Please note our telephone number, and we invite anyone who is in the same family situation to feel free to come in contact with us.



Monasticism vs. the Parish (John and Jo Ann Pantanizopoulos)

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.

St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery in Florence, AZ. Nikos and Seraphim started out as novices here, and were both tonsured here, Nikos receiving the name Theologos, Seraphim keeping his baptism name.
St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery in Florence, AZ. Nikos and Seraphim started out as novices here, and were both tonsured here, Nikos receiving the name Theologos, Seraphim keeping his baptism name.

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.”

St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY. Fr. Seraphim did a short stint here in 1999-2000. He later was sent back to St. Anthony's. The party line for visitors so they would not be scandalized was, "He was just on loan from AZ to help the monastery get started."
St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY. Fr. Seraphim did a short stint here in 1999-2000. He later was sent back to St. Anthony’s. The party line for visitors so they would not be scandalized was, “He was just on loan from AZ to help the monastery get started.”

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

Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Harvard, IL. Geronda Ephraim sent Fr. Theologos, Fr. Akakios (AZ) and Hieromonk Paulos (TX) to Illinois as the founding fathers of this monastery. When Fr. Theologos returned home, nobody foresaw it, not even Geronda Ephraim.
Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Harvard, IL. Geronda Ephraim sent Fr. Theologos, Fr. Akakios (AZ) and Hieromonk Paulos (TX) to Illinois as the founding fathers of this monastery. When Fr. Theologos returned home, nobody foresaw it, not even Geronda Ephraim.

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.

Monastics who leave Geronda Ephraim are compared to Judas who betrayed Christ.
Monastics who leave Geronda Ephraim are compared to Judas who betrayed Christ.

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.”

Fr. Seraphim (Sam) Lawson.
Fr. Seraphim (AZ).

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.”

Fr. Silouanos.
Fr. Silouanos.

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.

Fr. Raphael, NY.
Fr. Raphael, NY.

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.

Hieromonk Michael (NY)
Hieromonk Michael (NY)

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.

Gerondissa Olympiada Voutsa, Abbess of Agia Skepi (PA)
Gerondissa Olympiada Voutsa, Abbess of Agia Skepi (PA)

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.

Fr. Mark Andrews, Agia Skepi Feast Day, Oct. 2007
Fr. Mark Andrews, Agia Skepi Feast Day, Oct. 2007

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.

Chapel, Agia Skepi (2006)
Chapel, Agia Skepi (2006)