In the Greek-American paper, The National Herald, English Edition of April 5-6, 2003, it was reported that the Eparchial Synod of America, recently discussed “…the monasteries established all over the U.S. by the former abbot from Mt. Athos, Fr. Efraim. It has been said that some sort of fundamentalist movement with a cult philosophy has been advocated by the followers of Efraim, and is having an impact among the clergy and theology students at Holy Cross School of Theology.”
The Herald deserves thanks for at least reporting something about this matter, brief though it may be. I hope they follow up on this important story.
Concerns about Efraim have been expressed for several years now. It is about time that there was an investigation. Because monasteries don’t have “parish councils” doesn’t mean that lay people should be kept in the dark about them, here in America or elsewhere. Some of the concerns about Efraim and his monasteries have to do with funding, with personality cults and with blind obedience and mind-control. There are families in the Archdiocese who feel devastated because they have “lost” a child to one of these monasteries. That aspect alone needs to be looked into thoroughly.
The bishops are supposed to oversee the monasteries in their territories. We can infer from the Herald article that they are very much concerned about Efraim and his administration. But, the Orthodox laity of this country also have a right to know what is going on in the monasteries. Any proper inquiry should include independent lay people, if it is to have credibility. We should not simply be told that the bishops will handle this and we shouldn’t worry our little heads about it.
At its annual meeting in the year 2000, the Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL), heard a speaker on “Cult Mentality: A Threat to Individual Responsibility in the Church”. The speaker was Greta Larson, a co-founder of the web-site, “Protection of the Theotokos – A Site for Victims of Abuse in the Orthodox Church.” The site address is “pokrov. org“, and it contains other articles on cults. In her speech, Ms. Larson also referred to an article by Metropolitan Isaiah which warned about the dangers of blind obedience.
Because it is difficult to know what is going on in monasteries, the press and the hierarchs have a special obligation to keep the faithful informed. It is to be hoped that they will live up to this duty.
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”.