41st Biennial Clergy- Laity Congress Was Assembled In Phoenix (Theodore Kalmoukos)

An article published in the National Herald, July 05, 2012:

PHOENIX, AZ – The 41st Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America convened in Phoenix, AZ closely monitored and guarded because of the recent alleged suicide of 27 year-old novice monk Scott (Ioannis) Nevins outside the St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence. Archbishop Demetrios of America as well as Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco were closed guarded by security men as it was the premises of Marriot Hotel, where the Congress had been taking place.

Archdiocese officials had taken all measures to avoid any discussion among the clergy and the laity participants about the alleged suicide as well as the monasteries established and controlled by elder Ephraim, former abbot of the Philotheou monastery of Mt. Athos in Greece. No official announcement has been issued yet by the police authorities, nor have the results of the autopsy been made public.

TNH has learned that the issue of the monasteries was discussed by the Archdiocese hierarchs and Archbishop Demetrios. Namely, whether the monasteries actually belong ecclesiastically and canonically to the Archdiocese, as well as the properties of the 21 monasteries elder Ephraim secured over the past 20 years. Only half of the parishes of the Archdiocese attended the Congress.

Archdiocese General Legal Counsel Emmanuel Demos announced that 326 parishes were registered with 651 delegate comprising clergy and laity alike. Also in attendance were 372 Philoptochos delegates for the Organization’s Conference, which took place simultaneously with the Congress. The total faithful that attended the Congress were 1162 people.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was represented by Metropolitan Soterios of Toronto and all Canada.

There was no agenda except for the financial budget. The theme of the Congress was “go and bear fruit.” The official opening of the Congress took place on July 2, at the Grand Hall of JW Marriott Desert Ridge Hotel. It was highlighted by Demetrios’ keynote address, presented to an audience of about 1,200 participants.

It is customary for the official opening to be attended by delegates, clergy and laity, of both the Congress and the Philoptochos Convention. Demetrios defined the mission and outlined the necessary steps for the fulfillment of the theme of this Congress with the charge by our Lord Jesus Christ, who has “chosen and appointed us to go and bear fruit.” Demetrios began by expressing gratitude to God and devotion to Bartholomew, along with wishes for the patriarch’s 20th anniversary on the throne of Constantinople. He also expressed thanksgiving to God for a series of people, organizations, and events that have had a significant impact on the life of the Church over the past two years – since the last Congress, in 2010 in Atlanta.

“The world to which we have been appointed to go and bear fruit is a wounded world, a confused world, a fragmented world, in which we have to cultivate and offer the fruit of faith, love, healing, peace and hope,” Demetrios said as he outlined seven fields that should be the focus of cultivation so they can “bear fruit” in the time to come.

He identified those fields as 1) the lives of families of interfaith marriages, 2) children, adolescents and young adults, 3) places of work where we communicate our faith effectively, 4) gathering and reconnecting our disconnected people, 5) inter-orthodox relationships, 6) increasing our stewardship numbers in our communities, and 7) preserving our universal Hellenic treasures and Greek language.

He said “let us not waste time. Let us go now. The field is open, wide open by the grace of God, Who was, is and will forever be with us.” The opening ceremony began with a prayer service, followed by welcoming remarks from the two co-chairs of the Congress, Theofanis Economides and Isidoros Garifalakis.

Councilman Jim Waring, representing the City of Phoenix also offered a warm welcome, followed by the President of the National Ladies Philoptochos Society Aphrodite Skeadas, who offered greetings on behalf of the Philoptochos’ 25,000 women. Also, the host, Hierarch Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco, addressed the audience. He outlined the unique role of the Congresses in promoting unity, fully disclosing the affairs of the Church, and bringing together all parishes. Gerasimos urged the delegates to participate actively and take the message of the Congress back to their communities.

Sotirios of Toronto, conveyed the paternal and patriarchal greetings and blessings of Bartholomew and read the patriarch’s message to the Congress. Bartholomew in his message stated that “this significant assembly of the community provides the forum to offer, in one spirit and one heart, prayers and thanks to our Lord, the giver of all good things, for all that He bestows upon us in His goodness and mercy. At the same time, it is an opportunity to study, examine, and consider, the various issues and matters that concern this Holy Eparchy, its faithful people, the individual Communities, and numerous Institutions, particularly the Holy Cross School of Theology in Boston.”

Bartholomew also stated that “our troubled world, particularly in the United States of America, expects much from you because it considers your mission as heavenly and divine. You can readily see that, on a global level, political and social structures and ideologies are crumbling, leaving peoples’ souls in despair and hunger with regard to truth of divine knowledge. Since, by the Grace of God, all of you have been blessed to be honorable members of the Orthodox Church, many of you dressed with the garment of Archpriesthood and Priesthood, do not disappoint those who look to you with great expectation.”

Immediately following the opening ceremony, the Metropolitans of the Holy Eparchial Synod held separate hierarchal sessions. The theme of the Congress was further discussed during those sessions, giving the opportunity for the delegates to exchange experiences and new ideas. During the course of the Congress several meetings and workshops took place including the Philoptochos General Assembly, meetings of the Church Musicians and Administration Committee, and various ministry workshop sessions.

On July 1, Orthros service and Hierarchical Divine Liturgy were held in the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Trinity of Phoenix, with approximately 1,200 faithful in attendance. Demetrios of America presided over the Divine Liturgy concelebrating with all the members of the Holy Eparchial Synod of the Archdiocese. Sotirios attended the Liturgy from the Solea along with Bishop Sevastianos of Zela, Chief Secretary of the Holy Eparchial Synod.

Just before the dismissal of the Liturgy, Demetrios spoke on the Gospel and the Epistle readings of the day, about faith and love as two essential and indispensable pillars. Emphasizing the theme of the Congress, he said “both are required if we are to ‘go and bear fruit’ as the Lord commands us.” Sotirios said in his sermon that “I have witnessed your faith, and the faith of all the Hierarchs and faithful during the beautiful Divine Liturgy”.. Speaking on the theme of the Congress “to go and bear fruit,” he emphasized the importance of children as a precious gift from God, the importance of their well-being, the Orthodox family, the Sunday, day and afternoon Greek schools and our role in cultivating faith in the younger generation.” He also conveyed the patriarchal greetings. Gerasimos offered a warm welcome to all. He reiterated the message of love in St. Paul’s Epistle and affirmed this love as the context for “all the hard work we do when we come together in these Congresses.” On Sunday afternoon, Demetrios was joined by Metropolitans Sotirios, Methodios, Nicholas and Evangelos, and Leadership 100 Chairman Charles H. Cotros for the cutting of the ribbon at the official opening of the Congress Exhibit Hall.

Leadership 100, provided a gift of $25,000 for the underwriting of the exhibit area, which featured numerous booths with vendors from the United States, Canada, Greece, and Cyprus and included a ministry pavilion which highlights the national ministries of the Archdiocese. The opening ceremony of the National Philoptochos Convention followed. Sotirios read the Patriarchal Message, and a pre-recorded video message of Bartholomew was presented. Philoptochos President Aphrodite Skeadas presented the work and accomplishments of the last two years and thanked among others Bishop Sevastianos of Zela for his devotion to the organization and his spiritual guidance.

Immediately after, Demetrios, Sotirios, and the hierarchs attended a reception of the National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians where a choir performed hymns and the 2012 Recipients of the St. Romanos Medallion were announced. The Order of St. Andrew – Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America also held a reception and an informative presentation on the issues concerning the Ecumenical Patriarchate was attended by the hierarchs, several Archons, and delegates.

THURSDAY, July 5, 2012 - Clergy Breakfast - 41st Clergy Laity Congress - Phoenix, Arizona
THURSDAY, July 5, 2012 – Clergy Breakfast – 41st Clergy Laity Congress – Phoenix, Arizona
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What the Archbishop Could Have Said At the Clergy-Laity (A.P. Cromidas)

An article published on the Pokrov.org website, August 02, 2012:

The recently-concluded Clergy-Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, held in Phoenix, was long on praise and short on forthrightness, like previous such gatherings. Sadly, this year, the opportunity for Archbishop Demetrios to be direct and frank about two timely and important news reports was lost.

First was the alleged sexual misconduct by a married, middle-aged student at Holy Cross Seminary with the under-age daughter of a priest-student also attending the school. Both families were living in campus housing. The report was on the web and in The National Herald, the Greek-American newspaper.

The second matter was about the apparent suicide of Scott Nevins, a young, former monk, at St. Anthony Monastery in Florence, Arizona, not far from Phoenix. This monastery and others are controlled by the monk, “Elder” Ephraim, who has started and sustains some 20 monasteries in the U.S. There has been concern for some years about what is seen as a fundamentalist theological influence on American parishes by the “Ephraimites”. A committee of the archdiocese is said to be studying this matter.

On the misconduct issue, Archbishop Demetrios, in his keynote address to the delegates, came as close to the subject of abuse as he ever does when he said that sexual misconduct is one of the serious problems in today’s world. No mention was made of this also being a problem for the archdiocese, as it has been for other religions, or the allegations at Holy Cross. Another lost opportunity was when the 75th anniversary of the seminary was being noted.

What the archbishop could have said when he mentioned misconduct was at least something like:

‘In that connection, I am sorry to report that there has been a recent allegation of sexual misconduct by one of our married students at our seminary. The matter has been reported to civil authorities and is under investigation. The archdiocese will keep the faithful informed of developments in this situation.’

On the second matter, the archbishop could have started off by expressing sympathy to the Nevins family. He could have outlined some of what is known about the situation, namely that the young man had been at St. Anthony’s for some six years, but left more than a year ago and had been attending community college in Oregon. On a web site he started, Nevins had termed the monastery a cult and the Elder a cult leader.

Why Nevins returned to the monastery site is unknown, but he did, and apparently took his own life near the entry of the facility. There has been little in terms of police reports. Regrettably, what has been reported about the situation and the suicide has come primarily from monastery spokesmen and may not be fully objective.

(It is known that the Nevins family had complained to the archdiocese over a number of years about what they saw as an unhealthy Ephraimite influence on their son and on the church, but to no avail. The family had reported being devastated when their son had left his California home to join the monastery in what was a surprise move to the parents.)

In this case, the archbishop could also have said:

‘I wish to report to you that a committee of our archdiocese is currently examining the concerns that have been expressed about the monasteries by both clergy and lay people. Metropolitan Evangelos is chairman of this committee, and again, the faithful will be informed about the results of this inquiry’.

Will there be more openness on these matters by the archbishop, or by the metropolitans? If their track record is any indication, it would appear not. The National Herald reported that “Archdiocese officials had taken all measures to avoid any discussion among the clergy and laity participants about the alleged suicide as well as the monasteries established and controlled by elder Ephraim…” The Herald also reported that extraordinary security was provided at the Congress – apparently to protect the hierarchs(?) Did that action alone not justify at least some explanation to the assembly?

In a related development, a strongly-worded letter was sent recently to Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco, with copies to all the other American hierarchs, by Cappy Larson, a founder of the Pokrov web-site, regarding the former monk’s tragedy. As of this writing it has not been answered by any of them. The letter accuses the metropolitan and the archdiocese of having “blood on their hands” in the Nevins case.

Each metropolis is supposed to oversee the monasteries in its territory, and Arizona is in the San Francisco metropolis. The Larson letter is posted on http://www.pokrov.org, as is other writing on this subject. For instance, Theodore Kalmoukos, the main religion reporter for The National Herald, also wrote that the archdiocese is now having “to deal with blood on its hands”, in the Nevins matter. The metropolitan did send a letter to clergy notifying them of the death and asking for prayers for the young man’s soul, but there has been no notice to the faithful from the church.

Sexual misconduct, along with the Ephraim issue have both been concerns for the archdiocese for at least the past decade, but the faithful wouldn’t necessarily know it – even though in the misconduct area some $15 million has been paid to settle law suits.

In an ironic development, the second largest of the Orthodox branches in the United States, the OCA – Orthodox Church in America – has just announced the forced resignation of its head, Metropolitan Jonah, in part because of his mishandling of a clergy sexual misconduct situation.

It would appear that all Orthodox hierarchs should also be paying attention to the two recent, highly-publicized convictions in Pennsylvania involving child abuse. In Philadelphia, a Catholic monsignor was convicted of child endangerment and sentenced to “up to six years” in jail because of his role in re-assigning known abuser priests. He is believed to be the highest-ranking U.S. Catholic clergyman convicted of such cover-up.

Can this happen to an Orthodox bishop or chancellor, as well?

As the New York Times editorialized, “The sentence should be a clear warning to church officials that criminal law, not church evasion, is the law of the land when it comes to protecting innocent children.”

In the other case, that of Penn State and the Sandusky conviction, it was clear that the university was being protected over the safety of children, a mind-set and practice – a culture – that exists in churches, as well. Both these convictions should give pause to Orthodox clergy and bishops because Orthodoxy has also covered-up abuse. The Penn State case showed how damaging it can be to the defendants – churches or other institutions – when abuse victims are called on to give graphic testimony in court. That may very well be why such lawsuits against Orthodox churches have usually been settled out of court.

The Holy Cross matter and the Nevins tragedy should also prompt Orthodox lay people to renew their proper and God-given role as human rights “watchdogs” in these matters. “Voice of God, Voice of the Laity”.

 

Scott Nevins before the monastic life.
Scott Nevins before the monastic life.

In the Shadow of the Monk’s Suicide: The Clergy Laity Congress in Arizona (Theodore Kalmoukos)

There has been talk of Fr. Iakovos of Simonopetra (originally from Boston, MA) establishing a new Athonite monastery in New England. This was not be under the direction or guidance of Geronda Ephraim.
There has been talk of Fr. Iakovos of Simonopetra (originally from Boston, MA) establishing a new Athonite monastery in New England. This was not be under the direction or guidance of Geronda Ephraim.

An article published in the National Herald, July 02, 2012:

Under the shadow of the alleged suicide of Scott (Ioannis) Nevins at St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence, AZ, the 41st Clergy Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America convened in nearby Phoenix.

Things are becoming increasingly vague and awkward because more than three weeks after the unfortunate incident, there is virtual silence about it. Neither the police report or autopsy report has been released. The Archdiocese has not said a word yet, except for the letter of Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco informing the faithful of the incident and assuring everyone that he is praying for the repose of the late monk’s soul. The only one who has spoken publicly, through TNH, is Monastery Abbot Archimandrite Paisios.

On the other hand, there is a barrage of electronic messages, comments, and opinions being exchanged, which can be classified more as gossip than legitimate information.

In addition to the investigations underway by law enforcement authorities, the Archdiocese itself should begin an in-depth probe not only about the suicide incident, but also about the monasteries in general. Quite literally, the Archdiocese now has to deal with blood on its hands, and blood does not easily go away.

Moreover, the Archdiocese should investigate the finances of Elder Ephraim’s monasteries from the day he put his foot on Canadian soil to the day he came to the United States, in order to discover where in the world all that money that was used to erect 21 monasteries came from.

The Archbishop and hierarchs alike should be held accountable for Ephraim’s and the monasteries’ activities. Essentially, they have become a “parallel church” with a strange fundamentalist mentality that smells a lot like a cult: a movement that can be called “Ephraimism,” that has instilled in many clergy and laity a kind of fundamentalist pseudo-piety. The cultivation of the “elderism” (from elder) in America today has assumed the form of an Orthodox “guruism” (from guru) with everything that it entails.

The elders have become a religio-social phenomenon in America. They acquire total control on the mind and soul of people, especially of those who are afraid to come of age. The elders assume responsibility for everything – even for family, spousal, and personal matters.

The Christ of the Church has been replaced by the “elders,” who supposedly speak wisely; they appear to be omniscient, prophesizing with authority on imminent wars and economic catastrophes.

We have come to the point today in America where there are priests in the Archdiocese who call their elders – not only Ephraim here in the United States but also in various monasteries in Greece, for example on Mount Athos, in Chalkidiki, in Peloponnesus, and elsewhere – in order to ask them how to go about things that concern them when they create rifts and divisions in their parishes or about ecclesial and community matters in general. There are tragi-comedic situations.

The Archdiocese should depart from Archbishop Demetrios’ ostrich head-in-the-sand tactics of covering up predator clergy, such as in cases of pederasty, and most recently the sexual misconduct at the School of Theology involving a grown up married student and a teenage girl on campus.

The recent revelations about the new Dean of Demetrios Archdiocesan Cathedral of New York, Anastasios Gounaris, should have alarmed His Eminence to make the right decision. Instead, the archbishop and the hierarchs remain speechless, and the attempts of beatification of everything – even the most “dark” situations – cannot continue any longer because they will destroy the Church. The faithful, including the youth, understand that quite well.

Finally, the archbishop and the Archdiocesan Council should stop Methodios Tournas, the Bishop of Boston, from establishing a monastery at the camp in Contoocook, NH, close to small and innocent children. If Methodios wants to repent for his actions against entire parishes in New England, he should go to one of Ephraim’s monasteries or to the Monastery of Simonopetra on Mt. Athos, and leave alone the small children of the Greek-American Community of New England free from any influence of monasteries and monks. New England needs more schools, not more monasteries.

July 02, 2012
http://www.thenationalherald.com/article/55973

Former Monk Dies of Gunshot at Monastery Gates. Does Anyone Care? (June 22, 2012)

Scott Nevins' graduation photo.
Scott Nevins’ graduation photo.

An article found on the Φωνή λαού, οργή Θεού! website:

Today is June 22nd 2012.  After midnight on June 11th former monk Scott Nevins dies of a gunshot near the St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery gates in Arizona.  He was 27 years old. Nevins was a novice monk there from 18 (or 19) through 26 years of age.  He left a year ago under curious circumstances.   He allegedly returned to pick up an expensive retainer that he had left.  Initial reports are referring to it as a suicide.  Whether it is a suicide or not, does anybody really care? For that matter, does anything else going on there matter to anyone?

Legal authorities from the Pinal County Attorney’s Office state that the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office must refer the case to them in order for them to pursue investigating what led to this.  However, in the state of Arizona, suicide is not a crime, therefore the Pinal County Attorney’s Office will not perform an investigation unless the Sheriff refers it to them.  We hope that the County Attorney’s Office investigates this.  We have no reason to doubt the work of the Sheriff’s Department. We are just comfortable with a “checks and balances” system for something so controversial that legitimately calls to question the credibility of the influential monastery leadership.

On June 14th the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco had a statement issued from Metropolitan Gerasimos announcing the death of Scott Nevins.  He shared his condolences and stated that the Metropolis will be investigating this matter. We are sure the Metropolis will do this.  We are not sure how – inasmuch as the Metropolis does not typically investigate deaths of any types. Will the Metropolis retain the services of professional investigative firms? We certainly hope so.

As of yet, there is no statement from the Archdiocese.  The Archdiocesan Charter clearly indicates that Metropolitans are responsible to the Patriarch and the Archbishop.  This being the case, we are confident that the Metropolis of San Francisco promptly communicated this to the Archdiocese and the Patriarchate of Constantinople.  As of yet, there is no statement from either.  Is it too soon?

We hope that the severity of this warrants an investigation on behalf of the Archdiocese as well.  We prefer this not simply for the “checks and balances” aspect of it, but rather because a young man died at one of our monasteries.  This is no small thing.  We expect thoroughness – even if it is redundant.

Every one of us can help accentuate the need for a multi-level investigation by writing our Archdiocese and Patriarchate as well.  We are very much afraid that this will be swept under the rug if we allow it to be.

By calling attention to this, the focus will indeed turn to the leadership of the monastery.  What kind of spiritual direction are they teaching there?  This must be part of the investigation.  We cannot be afraid to ask these questions.  If we are afraid or arrogant enough to not ask these questions, that would hypothetically be no different than blaming the victim of a priest molestation case.

It is certainly no secret that the Ephraimite monasteries have been controversial and raised a number of eyebrows over the years. Their fundamentalist methods and their presentation of an austere form of Orthodoxy that insists on practices that are not the norm in this Holy Archdiocese of America have incited much controversy and debate.  It is no secret that this movement which labels itself as “traditionalist” has been accused of attempting to remake who we are, implying (subtly or overtly) that our Church in America has compromised the Orthodox Faith. As a rule of thumb, this is certainly not the case.

If ever there was a time to do something, it is now.  We cannot sit idly by, like frogs in a pot of water that is beginning to simmer.  We must write to the Archbishop and the Patriarch.  You, the reader, must write and express your concerns.

A young man is dead.  If it was indeed a suicide, we must not leave any stone unturned and investigate what led to this, with the full force of our complete attention and resources.   A young man is dead.   A former novice monk.  He was one of our sons.

The Editors.

Archbishop Demetrios
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
8-10 East 79th St. New York, NY 10075
Tel: (212) 570-3500 Fax: (212) 774-0251

His All-Holiness BARTHOLOMEW
Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch
Rum Patrikhanesi
342 20 Fener- Haliç
Istanbul
TURKEY

Tel.: +90 212 5319670 – 6
Fax: +90 212 5349037

http://weareorthodox.com/ourblog/former-monk-dies-of-gunshot-at-monastery-gates-does-any-one-care/

Announcement Regarding Scott Nevins’ Death (Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco, June 14, 2012)

His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos censes the grave of +His Eminence Metropolitan Anthony at a seven-year memorial service at  the Monastery of the Theotokos the Life-Giving Spring, Dunlap, CA (January 17, 2012)
His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos censes the grave of +His Eminence Metropolitan Anthony at a seven-year memorial service at the Monastery of the Theotokos the Life-Giving Spring, Dunlap, CA (January 17, 2012)

June 14, 2012

The Holy Prophet Elisseus

Dearly Beloved,

It is my paternal obligation to inform you of a tragic event that has occurred within the boundaries of our Holy Metropolis. A young man who had come to our Faith and became a novice at the Holy Monastery of St. Anthony the Great, and subsequently left the Monastery for unknown reasons last year, took his life last Monday morning at approximately 2:45 a.m. Scott Nevins, 27 years old, had spent six years at St. Anthony’s. Last year, after leaving the monastery he enrolled in a college in Oregon. In the early hours of last Monday morning, Scott took his life in an area near the monastery.

The proper authorities are investigating this incident and we will cooperate in every way necessary. In addition, the Metropolis is conducting an investigation into this matter.

On behalf of the Holy Metropolis of San Francisco we wish to extend our prayers and love to the Nevins family. May Christ Jesus, our Lord, God and Savior look with mercy upon the soul of his departed servant. Eternal be his memory!

With Love in Christ,

Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco

http://sanfran.goarch.org/blog/announcement-regarding-scott-nevins-death/