St. Nikodemos’ Exomologetarion: The Guide for Geronda Ephraim and His Hieromonks

The Exomologetarion in Greek.
The Exomologetarion in Greek.

St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite’s Exomolgetarion: A Manual of Confession, which is a compilation drawn from various works and Exomologetaria from the libraries throughout the Holy Mountain, combined with the Saint’s own inspired spiritual counsels, was published in 1794. The book is composed of three distinct sections: the first being the qualifications of a true confessor, the second being the 38 canons and 17 penances of St. John the Faster together with commentaries and interpretations, and the third being St. Nikodemos’ own fatherly counsels and a homily concerning the Mystery of Confession.

This book is the mandatory study guide for all of Geronda Ephraim’s hieromonks. This is the guideline they use, except in the cases where Geronda Ephraim has implemented his own fronima. Every confessional at the monasteries has a copy of this book, along with the New Testament. At times, during confession, one may witness a hieromonk peruse this book when deciding a penance to give to the penitent.

Confession room at St. Anthony's Monastery.
Confession room at St. Anthony’s Monastery.

St. John the Faster’s canons cover a lot of the carnal sins, and St. Nikodemos’ footnotes compare a lot of the other canons in existence for the same sins. Below are some excerpts of the book, including the Canons of the Faster:

That the Spiritual Father Is Not to Reveal Sins (St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite)1

Nothing else remains after confession, Spiritual Father, except to keep the sins you hear a secret, and to never reveal them, either by word, or by letter, or by a bodily gesture, or by any other sign, even if you are in danger of death, for that which the wise Sirach says applies to you: “Have you heard a word? Let it die with you” (Sir. 19:10); and again: “With friend or foe do not report it” (Sir. 19:8); meaning, if you heard a secret word, let the word also die along with you, and do not tell it to either a friend of yours or an enemy of yours, for as long as you live. And further still, that which the Prophet Micah says: “Trust not in friends…beware of thy wife, so as not to commit anything to her” (Mic. 7:5).

For if you reveal them, firstly, you will be suspended or daresay deposed completely by the Ecclesiastical Canons, and according to political laws you will be thrown in jail for the rest of your life and have your tongue cut out.2 Secondly, you become a reason for more Christians not to confess, being afraid that you will reveal their sins, just as it happened during the time of Nektarios of Constantinople when the Christians did not want to confess on account of a Spiritual Father who revealed the sin of a woman.3 The divine Chrysostom both witnessed these things and suffered because of them on account of his trying to convince the people to confess. It is impossible for me to describe in words how much punishment this brings upon you, who are the cause of these things.

[NOTE: In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, an Elder can use his “discernment” to reveal the sins of other monks to the brotherhood in order to humble the disobedient monk, or, in the case of the sinful monk’s absence, to warn and caution the brotherhood. A Gerondissa can do the same in a nunnery as she also hears the confession of thoughts from all her nuns and knows their virtues, vices and innermost secrets. This can be one of the greatest tools of leverage and control for a spiritual director in a monastery and is highly discouraged in the St. John Climacus’ Homily to the Shepherd#83; however, there are other passages in The Ladder which would seem to suggest that these actions are okay if the purpose is to crush the will, shattering the ego, and publicly shame and humiliate the disobedient disciple.

Also, it’s not uncommon for a Geronda or Gerondissa to use their “discernment”  to reveal certain things from laypeople’s confessions as cautionary tales or for the spiritual edification of the fathers or other laypeople, usually without naming the individual].

NOTES

1. St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, Exomologetarion, pp. 189-90.

2. Patriarch Luke of Constantinople disciplined the abbot of the Monastery of Xerotrophos with a penance of suspension because he revealed the sin of one of his spiritual children, as Balsamon reports (Explanation of Canon 141 of Carthage, PG 138, 424D)…Let Spiritual Fathers be reminded of this by God Himself, Who never publicly revealed the confession of any person, as John of the Ladder says: “At no time do we find God revealing the sins which have been confessed to Him, lest by making these public knowledge, He should impede those who would confess and so make them incurably sick” (To the Shepherd, The Ladder, p. 243).

3. See Socrates, Historia Ecclesiastica 5, 19 PG 67, 613A-620A. And Sozomen says that the Spiritual Father was chosen on account of his being secretive and discrete (Historia Ecclesiastica 7, 16 PG 67, 1460A).

The brotherhood of St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY with visiting abbots monks from other monasteries.
The brotherhood of St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY with visiting abbots monks from other monasteries.

The following account is a perfect example of when the Abbot or Elder can reveal the sins of other monks to his brotherhood:

In 2000, Fr. R was sent from Holy Trinity Monastery in Michigan to St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe. While this monk was in Michigan, he stole the Abbot’s cell phone and made numerous calls to a number known as Manline. He refused to wear any monastic garments in his cell. He took all the files from the office filing cabinet and discarded them in the forest (a layperson from Toronto named Photios found them on a walk and alerted the Abbot). Fr. R. would go into the other monks’ cells without permission, sometimes taking things; this behaviour started in Arizona and continued on in New York. He also tried to scandalize the lay people. It had gotten so out of hand that the Abbot would call this monk’s father to come visit, and essentially babysit, whenever the Abbot had to leave the monastery for more than a day.

This monk had been very problematic in Arizona and Michigan and St. Nektarios was sort of a last hope for him.

Although Elder Ephraim usually sends such problematic monks home (or, as in the case with Fr. S. in Arizona, prays to the Panagia to drive them out so he doesn’t bear the burden and responsibility of their leaving), the Elder made a large dispensation for Fr. R because his father is a priest for one of his nunneries.

The night before Fr. R came to St. Nektarios, the Abbot called the brotherhood for a homily about this monk’s situation. He informed the fathers that Fr. R had the demon of homosexuality and kleptomania among other things and that such demons have destroyed brotherhoods in the past. The monks were instructed to be careful around him, certain monks were instructed to watch and follow him, and all the monks were ordered to inform the Abbot immediately if they witnessed Fr. R do anything that was inappropriate (i.e. talking to laypeople, especially young males; being in areas of the monastery he shouldn’t, disappearing to his cell; using the phone, etc.).

Furthermore, in cases where monks have specific passions or repeatedly commit certain sins or disobediences (masturbation, secret eating, idle talking and joking with laypeople when not allowed, pulling worldy magazines out of the garbage to look at pictures of female or male models, etc.) they may be asked to go on their knees and admit their transgression to the brotherhood. In cases where an individual monk cannot handle this shame, the Abbot may use his “discernment” (διάκρισις) to call the brotherhood secretly, minus this one monk, and tell them in his absence what is going on, what to watch for and to report any inappropriate behavior they may witness. In extreme cases, when a monk is challenging the abbot through his ego and disobedience, the Abbot may advise the brotherhood to cold shoulder this monk and act as if he doesn’t exist (i.e. none of the monks will talk to him, no food will be placed at his setting, etc.) until he breaks, humbles himself, and repents. as well, most monks and nuns know that when one is in the Lity, prostrate, saying, “Forgive me, brothers and Fathers, I am filthy in both body and soul,” then the monastic is being punished for a carnal sin. The most common carnal sin for a monastic is masturbation, though sometimes interactions between two monastics, or a monastic and a lay person occurs (the latter is very rare).

SOURCE: https://www.tumblr.com/blog/stnektariosmonastery

[Note: This blog was shut down after repeated harassment and complaints from St. Nektarios Monastery, Inc.

First, St. Nektarios Monastery, Inc. hired a lawyer, Robert J. Dickover, ESQ.,  and he wrote a letter to Tumblr accusing the site of “impersonation”. However, the site never claimed it was an official page of St. Nektarios Monastery, Inc. Do celebrities normally hire lawyers to shut down every fan page on social media platforms because their “personal name” is in the url? No. There are major cults with famous celebrities who imitate this kind of persecution in efforts to hide their “backstage behaviour” from newer members, large donors, and potential new recruits, though.

Tumblr temporarily terminated the blog until they added a disclaimer that they were not affiliated with the monastery and also sent the lawyer’s letter to them [see below].

The blog then reappeared online shortly afterwards with the following disclaimer: “This blog is not directly affiliated with St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery (According to the monastery’s lawyers, this blog “misrepresents the ideological underpinnings of their tenets”.) 

This was not the desired or anticipated result that the monastery was looking for and so they began their second phase of harassment by claiming the photographs posted belonged to the Monastery and thus were a copyright violation.

Apparently, the Monastery feels any photograph of their property, regardless of who took the picture, is property of and copyrighted by the Monastery. So, the monastery contacted Tumblr and falsely claimed that they owned photos that were not theirs (Keep in mind the monastics who lied will not be judged for breaking the commandments because they did obedience to their superior’s command and thus are blameless).

After repeated false complaints of this nature, Tumblr finally had to censor the page, thus enabling the Monastery to attempt some damage control and spin the narrative to reflect a more positive light on them.

The one positive outcome of this whole affair was the Monastery’s admittance that their way of life is an ideology. This is quite interesting as ideology has never been used by the Church Fathers to describe monasticism. It has been frequently used by Orthodox authors writing apologetic texts against various political -isms, such as Communism, Marxism, Fascism, Nazism, Feminism, Racism, Nationalism, etc. Orthodox writers have also used ideology in apologetics against destructive cults and new religious movements; i.e. things that are new, novel, uncanonical and unorthodox. Orthodoxy and orthodox monasticism have never been portrayed as an “ideology” in either ancient or modern Orthodox texts. The fact that St. Nektarios Monastery, Inc. understands it’s beliefs, lifestyle and spiritual teachings as an ideology should concern Orthodox Christians.

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