Seraphim Larsen is a convert to Orthodoxy and has been a pilgrim to St. Anthony’s Monastery pretty much since its beginning. Geronda Paisios is his spiritual father and also the priest who baptized him. Thus, as a lay person, he is in a very good position to refute accusations against the monastery as he knows more than the average person due to his unique relationship with the fathers there. In December 2012, he was elected chairman for the Pinal County Republican Party (Florence, AZ is a town in and the county seat of Pinal County). He was also the representative for Presidential Candidate Ron Paul the same year. He is currently a member of the Greater Phoenix Tea Party Patriots.
The difficulty does not lie in answering Smith’s specific complaints; in fact, he really makes only one specific accusation, namely, that Elder Ephraim teaches anti-Semitism (which I have already refuted). Rather, the difficulty lies in the long and winding path by which Smith arrives at that one accusation. This is a path strewn with misconceptions, misunderstandings, innuendo, and petty nonsense. It is very time-consuming to attempt to address each of these twists and turns – requiring more time than I have at my disposal. Therefore, I will provide a sampling, which I hope will be sufficient to indicate to readers the strained character of Smith’s argumentation. Following this, I will address one or two concrete issues.
Smith begins his answer to my earlier posting with a perplexing statement – “I never said the monks were racists or anti-Semites. I said that Ephraim’s teachings are anti-Semitic.” What is the purpose of this hair-splitting? Is he trying to distinguish between the terms “anti-Semite” and “anti-Semitic”? What is the point here? Following the same online dictionary that Smith referenced (link, and especially link), one sees that these terms are essentially synonomous: an anti-Semite is one who promotes anti-Semitic teaching.
Is he then trying to distinguish between the teachings of the monks at Elder Ephraim’s monasteries, and the teachings of the Elder himself? This does not make sense either, as Smith repeatedly refers to “the Monastery’s network of people”, teachings “propagated by the Monastery”, “taught by the monks”, or by “the Elder’s followers”. He generally equates all of these things.
Perhaps Smith intended to communicate some nuance that escapes my notice; were it not for this possibility, I would be inclined to regard Smith’s statement as petty equivocation.
Continuing through Smith’s argument, he makes the following assertions.
(1) The Protocols are absolutely proven forgery.
My response: There are many reasonable people who would not make such a firm and absolute assertion, either for or against the Protocols. I will address this later on in this post.
(2) Smith demonstrates that Elder Ephraim’s disciples have expressed various opinions on the issue, some opposing the authenticity of the Protocols, and some supporting it. He quotes from several of these people.
Smith looks upon this variety of opinion as vacillation – people scrambling to downplay the Elder’s references to the Protocols. Smith describes this circumstance as “interesting”, insinuating that there is some attempt at a “cover-up”.
A much simpler explanation is that, in fact, the Elder’s spiritual children are ordinary people with their own reasonably considered opinions, some of them accepting the Protocols as valid, some denouncing them, and others never having heard of them at all. However, Smith cannot take this position, because he asserts that the Elder is running a cult, that the Elder’s spiritual children “aren’t allowed” to have any opinions of their own, and that the Elder is “pushing” the Protocols on his “followers”. The more rational explanation is much simpler.
(3) Smith provides a quote from Saint Ambrose of Milan, presenting it in a light that makes the Saint appear to be an anti-Semite.
Smith does not even refer to this Holy Father as a Saint, but refers to him simply as “Bishop Ambrose of Milan”, despite the fact that Saint Ambrose is universally regarded as one of the greatest fathers of the Western Church. One immediately suspects that the Saint has been quoted out of context, and upon reading the source of the quote, one finds that this is indeed the case.
Saint Ambrose is writing a letter to the Emperor Theodosius, asking for clemency for a village bishop and some other Christians who were accused of burning down a synagogue. Apparently the Emperor had already decreed a sentence in the matter, and Saint Ambrose reminds him that the accused bishop had not even been allowed to give a defense of himself. The Saint further reminds the Emperor that many Jews and pagans had recently destroyed a large number of basilicas and churches, and had received no punishment for their deeds. How, then, could the Emperor rightly mete out a strict punishment against these Christians, whose guilt had not even been proven? This would not only be unjust, but would also be showing partiality to those who deny Christ; by doing so, the Emperor would be making himself an enemy of Christ.
In the course of this epistle, one can find the passage quoted by Smith. Smith condemns the “hateful practice” of burning synagogues, insinuating that Saint Ambrose actually condones this, where this is not at all what Saint Ambrose is advocating. Saint Ambrose was writing in defense of a particular group of Christians in the case of a particular event, not at all trying to persuade people in general to rise up against civil order and burn down synagogues as a general practice. Saint Ambrose certainly uses strong language in his admonition of the Emperor, referring to several Old Testament passages that condemn the false religion practiced at times by the ancient Jews, but this language is not even as strong as that used by the Apostles themselves (cf. Rev. 3:9).
In my opinion, Smith has shown himself to be an unreliable patristic interpreter, spinning the Saint’s writings to fit his own purposes. He skews the evidence to support his pre-determined conclusion. He even dares to misrepresent a great father of the Church in this way.
(4) Smith finally makes a concrete accusation – “There is NO place in Christianity for the kind of statements about Jews (or anyone else) that Ephraim is making and encouraging his followers to make.”
However, Smith has very little to stand on. He refers to one or two obscure references to the Protocols in Elder Ephraim’s books, and based on this he claims the Elder is teaching anti-Semitism. Based on the writings of “a disciple of Fr. Paisios”, who provides a general characterization of Judaic spirituality, Smith assumes he learned these things from St. Anthony’s Monastery, and declares there is “NO place in Christianity” for opinions of this kind.
Smith imagines there is a concerted secret effort going on amongst Elder Ephraim’s spiritual children to incite prejudice against the Jews and get people to believe in the Protocols. But Smith himself demonstrates that the Elder’s spiritual children have expressed many different opinions on the matter.
I think it is fair to ask, who is really being prejudiced here? Who is really taking an extreme position and making a ridiculous argument?
Now, to move on to Smith’s specific allegations. Smith continues to charge Elder Ephraim with teaching anti-Semitism, based solely on the Elder’s referring to the Protocols as though they were a genuine document. Smith cites many sources that purport to make the case that the Protocols are a forgery.
As I have already pointed out, it is quite possible for reasonable people to look at the evidence on both sides of the issue, and come to different conclusions. I personally believe that this happens because the issue is quite complex. People think differently and give different weight to the various points of evidence, thereby reaching different conclusions.
Smith, however, seems to think that the only way a person can assess the evidence and then conclude that the Protocols are genuine, is if the person is already predisposed by anti-Semitic prejudice. Of course, Smith’s approach precludes any rational discussion of the topic, since if a person takes the opposing point of view, Smith will denounce him as de facto anti-Semitic.
Smith therefore concludes that the Elder must teach (and therefore believe) anti-Semitism, because the Elder apparently teaches (and believes) that the Protocols are genuine.
I have already given substantial evidence to show that the Elder has absolutely no prejudice towards the Jews. But the only thing that seems to matter to David Smith is the Elder’s opinion of the Protocols; this is enough to convict the Elder of anti-Semitism. It doesn’t matter that many of the Elder’s spiritual children are Jews. It doesn’t matter that many of the monks and nuns in the Elder’s monasteries are Jews. It doesn’t matter that even the Elder’s personal physician is a Jew. It doesn’t matter to Smith that none of these people have ever complained of anti-Semitism from the Elder or from the monasteries, and that they have experienced no negative prejudice shown toward them. The only thing that seems to matter is this one allegation — that Smith believes the Protocols are a fraud — and anyone who disagrees with his opinion is anti-Semitic.
Which point of view is truly prejudiced?
Smith concludes his argument about anti-Semitism as follows: “The only reason to propagate the Protocols, like Ephraimites do, and like the Archdiocese allows the Ephraimites to, is if you honestly believe there is a conspiracy against Christianity by Zionists, which Ephraim certainly believes and it appears his followers do too.”
Surely Smith (and perhaps some other readers) will object that I have not yet come out and stated clearly whether the Elder actually does “honestly believe there is a conspiracy against Christianity by Zionists”, and so on.
It is true that I have not addressed the issue. I have many good reasons for this. Chiefly, this is a very serious topic that especially requires an appreciation and understanding of what the Holy Fathers have written about it. But in an atmosphere of innuendo, misunderstanding, and antipathy towards the Holy Fathers, to begin a discussion of these things in detail would surely only add to the confusion. This is why I have preferred to limit my current response, addressing only the disingenuous method of argumentation employed by David Smith.
If we are able to “clear the air” and discuss the issues forthrightly, with at least some deference shown toward the opinions of the Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church, and without knee-jerk accusations of anti-Semitism being flung about, then perhaps a discussion of the Protocols would be worthwhile. But in the current atmosphere, I doubt such a discussion would be profitable for anyone.