NOTE: This is a woman’s account of growing up in the Russian Orthodox/St. Herman of Alaska/Old Calendar church. For those unfamiliar with the background of this organization, Fr. Jonah Paffhausen wrote an article about the “Journey of the Holy Order of MANS / Christ the Saviour Brotherhood and the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood into the Canonical Orthodox Church”:
Welcome. Please take a few moments to read a personal account of one family’s life after entering an Eastern Orthodox cult in America. This is a brief memoir about the serious consequences of blindly following a “spiritual father”, and what happened to a loving, normal family because of this. I also relate how it feels to be disowned by one’s own family for not being part of the cult. My hope is that this site will be of help to at least one other person coping with similar circumstances. I also hope it will serve as a warning to families: NEVER disown, abandon, or shun a person simply for believing differently.
I am a former “Russian Orthodox Abroad” member; my “identity” was Xenia of St.Petersburg, a woman whose life I was told mine own should resemble, according to God’s will. A frightening thought, if you know how this woman lived. I was forced into the church by my parents, kept in complete control throughout my teenage and young adult years, and finally escaped: first, in my mind and soul, and then physically. I still suffer some PTSD symptoms, common with cult withdrawal; however, I am finding the faith of my childhood, something simple and bright, which is the first light I have seen in a long, long time. My wish is that this blog will help ONE person, somewhere, to have the courage to speak out and perhaps even say all alone, “The Emperor has no clothes!” (Hans Christian Andersen).
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CONVERSION AND MIND CONTROL TECHNIQUES
As you read the personal story of my family and how we came to be part of this cult, please refer to two excellent resources: The Watchtower Expositor: Cult or Cultic (by Craig Branch); and Combatting Mind Control (by psychologist and cult expert Steve Hassan.) http://www.watchman.org/articles/cults-alternative-religions/destructive-cults/ and http://www.watchman.org/articles/cults-alternative-religions/cult-or-cultic/
CONVERSION TECHNIQUES (Craig Branch)
Below are ten techniques of unethical thought reform and mind control (I quote), with some examples of how these were used by the Orthodox cult.
1) Focus on felt needs & defects, with exaggerated promises of fulfillment.
It was drilled into us over and over that we were spiritually “sick”, that our whole “mind-set” and way of life were evil, and that we were damned if we didn’t accept the new baptism and join the church. We were promised unending love from the church, help in any crisis, and spiritual fathers who would get us past the “toll-houses” and save our souls after we died. We were promised to always be the “right believers” who were the “elite and the elect of God”, and who would play a large role in the conversion of others before the final Tribulation.
2) Rigid Control of Time and Activities
Required to attend more and more services; demanded to read lengthy prayer books at home throughout the day; pushed to do the “Hours”; taught by book “Way of the Pilgrim” to constantly chant the “Jesus Prayer” at all times, even in school.
3) Information Control
Not allowed to read newspapers, magazines, or non-religious books, especially during the time as “catechumens.” Told that all new movies and T.V. programs and T.V. news were “of the devil.” Given more and more Orthodox “patrisitic” ( holy fathers’) writings to read and re-read. Told to cut off family, which my mother did by way of letters.
4) Language Manipulation
Besides being taught to laugh at certain words such as “the Latins” or “the West”, we were taught an exclusive new vocabulary for “insiders”, some of which is put in bold print in the posts at right. Our new names were to replace our real names, forever. The lovely name “JESUS” was seldom used.
5) Discouraging Critical, Rational Thought and Questions
Obvious contradictions and questions were greeted with either long, convoluted, and evasive explanations, or we were told that “you will understand later when you have become an adult in the faith. Just become like little children.” I was laughed at when I pointed out specific verses in the Bible, which I knew very well. I was even called “that Baptist girl” in a derogatory way. We were told during the second liturgy that clergy and priests must ALWAYS be obeyed, EVEN IF THEIR PERSONAL LIVES WERE NOT HOLY (i.e. they had murdered a person!) I quote Br. B. Now I add (“even if they have sodomized your child.”)
6) Instruction in Trance Induction Techniques
One of the first things taught to us: how to stand completely still, stare at the icons, and say “Lord Have Mercy” in five different languages, sometimes amounting to 120 phrases at a time. Again, “The Way of a Pilgrim” was to be memorized and internalized, to learn how to breathe properly and chant simultaneously. Continuous repetitions during Complines, Matins, and then Liturgy, while staring at the icons, made me go into a kind of half-sleep–still able to listen intently and remember things.
7) Confession Sessions (a powerful tool to manipulate, blackmail, and emotionally bond you to the priest; a depersonalization or stripping of yourself–submission to the group.)
As explained at left. Confessions would be labeled “good” or “bad”, depending on how much we could come up with and whether we started “weeping”. The priests put each person under an intense “grilling” session, delving into EVERY thought and action.
8) Guilt and Fear (Weapons used to maintain group/church loyalty, suppress questions and defections.)
As I have already said, FEAR was the most powerful tool which made us listen to and believe every lie we were told. The Antichrist was ALIVE and about to begin his prophesied ministry; “it was later than we thought”, and unseen demons were constantly around us. The realization of our immense sinfulness (which was never relieved) caused terrible guilt. Some of us were made to feel guilty about going to the bathroom, because our pure guardian angels would have to watch this. Thoughts of going to another church, or none at all, caused immense spontaneous guilt.
9) Control of Sexuality and Intimacy
In this cult, all sexual desires, normal sex in marriage, and physical love in marriage was “impure” and part of the “fallen flesh.” So it was severely restricted to only certain times during the week and the year. All was to be confessed.
10) Excessive Financial Obligations (a form of complete submission to God.)
The only place for tithes and donations was cultic Orthodox churches or monasteries (the one in Dog Canyon never was built.) Later on, in a Russian Abroad Church in Sunnyvale, CA, I was pushed to give my monthly wages to dubious causes, such as the “compound” which was to be built, with greenhouses and all.
RECRUITMENT AND MIND CONTROL (Steve Hassan)
“…’mind control’ may be understood as a SYSTEM of influences that disrupts an individual’s identity (beliefs, behavior, thinking, and emotions) and replaces it with a new identity.” (p. 7, Combatting…)
“If deception, hypnosis, and other mind control techniques are used to recruit and control followers, then people’s rights are being infringed upon.” (p.37.)
Note: Steve Hassan’s FOUR COMPONENTS OF MIND CONTROL are best described and connected with the Orthodox cults in the PSEUDO-PROPHET.org webpage. Personal family experiences are briefly recounted below:
1) BEHAVIOR CONTROL (includes control of environment: location, clothing, diet, sleep patterns, jobs, rituals..)
We learned to act like Br. B. and the other cult members. We learned how to fast, to celebrate feasts (on the proper old-Calendar days), how to cut off the outside world and even American holidays. (I LOVE AMERICA!!!–Elizabeth Ann.) We learned how to do all the prayer services; how to cross ourselves with three fingers, properly, at specific times during the day; how to
venerate icons. We learned how to speak, dress, etc.
2) THOUGHT CONTROL
Besides the new language, we learned “stop” wicked thoughts, or “blocking” techniques like chanting “Lord Have Mercy,” or the “Jesus Prayer” over and over, louder and louder. My parents and brothers still start to chant and talk “over a conversation”, which is VERY RUDE, if the person they are talking with questions their beliefs. We learned to feel the “unseen battle” and consider ourselves the “Church Militant”, as opposed to the “fallen outside world.”
3) EMOTIONAL CONTROL
Fear reigned supreme. Fear of other people not in the cult (almost the whole world! ), fear of imminent death, fear of the Apocalypse, fear of the living Antichrist, fear of PERSECUTION, fear of demons, fear of the consequences of leaving the cult–or questioning things like the “Holy Fire”. Oh, did I mention that ALL psychologists, counselors, and psychiatrists were trained in satanic methods? Fear of the world conspiracies. At one point, my parents were certain that our phones were always “bugged” by the government, because of our foreign friends!!
GUILT. About supposed “bad thoughts” and made-up sins. Confessions.
4) INFORMATION CONTROL
As I describe at right: no worldly newspapers, TV news, non-religious books or magazines; even old friends and family were shunned in case they would “draw us away from the faith.” We never again saw a movie in a theater together as a family (except for ‘Pinocchio’, once). The “Orthodox America” (http://www.roca.org/OA/) paper gave modern movie reviews, which almost always were negative and demonic. All questions had to be through the “spiritual fathers” or clergy. Rational, critical thinking was abandoned.
THREE STEPS TO GAIN MIND CONTROL
(These are explained on pp. 67 -72 of Steve Hassan’s book, Combatting Mind Control. Here I briefly connect them with my own experience.)
As my family “died” to our “old selves” and old lives, we were broken down physically, mentally, and emotionally. Fasting, sleep deprivation, rigorous prayer schedules, confessions, lectures, and lack of contact with old friends and family did this. We believed our former lives had been ALL evil, wrong, and deluded. We were the most pitiable creatures on earth–spiritually fallen.
We were given our new baptisms, new names, and new identities, with life instructions. More reading material, more lectures, and complete compliance with the behaviors of the cult members were required. We were “re-taught”.
After being completely divested of our old selves and old lives, then “taught” how to live the “truth”, we BECAME the new people. We were now part of the family! Immediately, we were told to form a “mission” church, to bring in more converts (and their checkbooks.)
Well, that is a brief overview of the initial cult experience as it related to our involvement with the Russian Orthodox/St. Herman of Alaska/Old Calendar church. It didn’t end there.