Monasticism vs. the Parish (John and Jo Ann Pantanizopoulos)

Dear Editor of the Orthodox News, In response to Maria Bernal’s Sept. 27, 1999 letter to you asking about the monk Ephraim, we can answer it easily. Our family, like many, many others, has suffered for the past three years since our son entered an Ephraim-led monastery when he was 18 years old.

St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery in Florence, AZ. Nikos and Seraphim started out as novices here, and were both tonsured here, Nikos receiving the name Theologos, Seraphim keeping his baptism name.
St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery in Florence, AZ. Nikos and Seraphim started out as novices here, and were both tonsured here, Nikos receiving the name Theologos, Seraphim keeping his baptism name.

The monk Ephraim’s monasteries are filled with vulnerable young adults, recruited by parish priests, ardent followers of this monk. He is not a priest; he is a monk. His methods of recruitment do not include any screening, family participation, or open dialogue. Our son told us in April 1996 of his decision to become a monk and left the following month. Everything was done in secrecy among our son, the then parish priest, his followers in our church, and the monk Ephraim. Twice since then we have seen the Patriarch in an attempt to bring our son home and to allow him time to reconsider and get his education first before making such a monumental decision. Even though the Patriarch told our son to go home for a few weeks, our son refused saying, “Only if Ephraim tells me, would I leave the monastery.”

St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY. Fr. Seraphim did a short stint here in 1999-2000. He later was sent back to St. Anthony's. The party line for visitors so they would not be scandalized was, "He was just on loan from AZ to help the monastery get started."
St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY. Fr. Seraphim did a short stint here in 1999-2000. He later was sent back to St. Anthony’s. The party line for visitors so they would not be scandalized was, “He was just on loan from AZ to help the monastery get started.”

All over the U.S., and possibly Canada, parishes are being divided by this monk–the monastic supporters and the non-monastic ones. The two sides are fighting each other causing division, heartache, disenchantment with our Church, and frequent replacement of parish priests. The non-monastic parishioners are made to feel “less Orthodox” and the Ephraimites consider themselves “super Orthodox.” Those who want to speak out about the rigid control of the Ephraimites in their parish are often ridiculed and isolated. Thus, the silence. Thus, the monk Ephraim is able to establish 16 monasteries/convents in only 10 years. Money flows to him so easily because people want to believe that there is a super-human saint among us. People want to believe they can buy salvation by donating money to this monk. This is a new wave, but we hope that the truth will prevail allowing our sons and daughters to see the truth and re-unite with their families.

John & Jo Ann Pantanizopoulos Knoxville TN

Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Harvard, IL. Geronda Ephraim sent Fr. Theologos, Fr. Akakios (AZ) and Hieromonk Paulos (TX) to Illinois as the founding fathers of this monastery. When Fr. Theologos returned home, nobody foresaw it, not even Geronda Ephraim.
Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Harvard, IL. Geronda Ephraim sent Fr. Theologos, Fr. Akakios (AZ) and Hieromonk Paulos (TX) to Illinois as the founding fathers of this monastery. When Fr. Theologos returned home, nobody foresaw it, not even Geronda Ephraim.

NOTE: In January of 2007, after leaving St. Anthony’s Monastery Feast Day celebration, Fr. Theologos did not return to his monastery in Harvard, IL. Instead, he took a plane home and reunited with his family. He is now happily married with a couple of children. The monastery spin after his departure was the usual disdain of a “Judas” and monastics were told that he lived at home, was miserable, his parents were going to kick him out because he didn’t have a job, etc. and the usual, “See, no one does well or is happy after they leave” homilies.

Monastics who leave Geronda Ephraim are compared to Judas who betrayed Christ.
Monastics who leave Geronda Ephraim are compared to Judas who betrayed Christ.

Fr. Seraphim left St. Anthony’s Monastery to go back home not long afterwards. The monastery spin on his departure was that Geronda Ephraim didn’t want him in the monastery, but also didn’t want the responsibility on his soul if he kicked him out. Thus, Geronda prayed really hard to the Panagia so that Fr. Seraphim would leave on his own accord, which he did. Afterwards, it was said that Fr. Seraphim was miserable in the world and wanted to come back, but Geronda said, “No.” Then it is said that Fr. Seraphim’s mother called the monastery and begged and pleaded with them to take her son back. Geronda’s response was, “Once someone leaves, they can’t come back.”

Fr. Seraphim (Sam) Lawson.
Fr. Seraphim (AZ).

These are the stories Elders will tell their disciples after a monk throws off his rassa and returns to the world. Except in certain cases, such as Fr. Silouanos. He was the second in command at St. Anthony’s Monastery and had been a monk for 20 years or so, having started out at Filotheou Monastery. Geronda Ephraim and Geronda Paisios kept his departure a secret. Even the monks in Arizona didn’t know he renounced the monastic life, nor even many of the abbots and abbesses. The party line for all was, “He went to Mount Athos on a sabbatical, we don’t know when he is coming back.”

Fr. Silouanos.
Fr. Silouanos.

Monk Joseph, originally from Pennsylvania, told Monk Raphael (the two were buddies in the world before they became monks) that Fr. Silouanos went back to the world. After that, everyone learned the secret.

Fr. Raphael, NY.
Fr. Raphael, NY.

Another anomaly is when a monk or nun who has left their monastery with a blessing to become a layman again (this is usually at the novice level, but sometimes occurs at the rassaphore degree, too) want to come back to their monastery to visit. The abbess and abbots sometimes allow this once or twice but usually frown upon allowing the visits to continue as it weakens the resolves of monks and nuns when they see former co-strugglers returning as worldy people.

Hieromonk Michael (NY)
Hieromonk Michael (NY)

Such was the case of Michelle Santos, brother of Hieromonk Michael Santos, St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY. She was a novice at Holy Protection Monastery (at its first location in Weatherly, PA and its new property in White Haven, PA) for 8 years.

Gerondissa Olympiada Voutsa, Abbess of Agia Skepi (PA)
Gerondissa Olympiada Voutsa, Abbess of Agia Skepi (PA)

St. Nektarios Monastery has a special connection with Holy Protection due to the Abbess and Abbot having been formerly married as lay people; the resident priest, Fr. Mark Andrews has a son at St. Nektarios, Fr. Raphael (Micah) Andrews; and some of the nuns at Holy Protection were spiritual children of St. Nektarios’ abbot when they were lay people in Toronto and he was the abbot of a Monastery in Picton, Ontario.

Fr. Mark Andrews, Agia Skepi Feast Day, Oct. 2007
Fr. Mark Andrews, Agia Skepi Feast Day, Oct. 2007

Anyways, Michelle, whom Fr. Michael always referred to as “my sanctified sister” or “holy nun” left the monastery after 8 years, but was still confessing to Fr. Mark. She visited Holy Protection as a post-novice lay person which was not only awkward for her, but very straining for the nuns. Gerondissa Olympiada was not comfortable with it because “it’s not good for nuns to experience and see this.” Eventually, Michelle changed spiritual fathers to the abbot of St. Nektarios Monastery.

Chapel, Agia Skepi (2006)
Chapel, Agia Skepi (2006)
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Monasticism vs. the Parish (Fr. George Papaioannou)

Bishop George Papaioannou of New Jersey became the first married priest to be elevated to the rank of bishop in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Fr. George Papaioannou of New Jersey became the first married priest to be elevated to the rank of bishop in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

Q: Dear Fr. George: I am writing this letter out of concern for the rather negative effect that the monastic movement in America is having on some of the parishes, including my own.

In a recent interview with The Christian Activist, Archbishop Spyridon seemed to acknowledge that this problem exists in our Archdiocese today and pointed out that a parish is one thing and a monastery is another. The danger is that we might have a confusion of the roles of a monastery and of a parish..

My question is, what does the church do to prevent that confusion from taking place? Who is the spiritual leader in the community, the canonically ordained and assigned priests or a monk who invades the parishes, introduces monastic rules and ideas, recruits young people who are only technically adults to monasticism and leaves the parish in disarray? The church should be concerned when outside forces undermine the effectiveness of a parish priest by questioning his orthodoxy, and at the same time, realize that this is an issue that concerns the entire Archdiocese.

I hope you will not hesitate to address this very vital issue in your column. Because of the great sensitivity, please do not publish my name.

A troubled member of a deeply troubled community.

In Tennessee

A: You have raised a very sensitive issue that is both challenging and needs to be addressed by our Synod of Bishops. In fact, the subject of monasticism in America was on the agenda of our Bishops’ meeting last March in New York.

Of course, you are not the first to write and point out the improprieties that are committed by certain monastic forces in our country. However, we must bear in mind that the monastic movement is very young in America, and like any new development it will experience growing pains. Inevitably, as in any other new movement, mistakes will be made, and misunderstandings will occur.

I am well aware that some of our communities are concerned that monastic practices will take over their parish life, become a divisive issue, and drive many of our people away. In their zeal to establish monasticism in America, monastic leaders, and especially some of their overzealous followers (both clergy and laity) have threatened the peace and stability in some of our parishes. This should not be.

Without question, monasticism has played a constructive role in the history of Orthodoxy. It has preserved the rich deposit of our faith handed down to us by the apostles. Monasticism has helped preserve, shape, and define Orthodoxy in its struggle against wanton innovations, heretical beliefs, and State interference.

For instance, Monasticism took the leadership and played an indispensable role against the error of Iconoclasm. The monks were in the vanguard of these battles, and they suffered the most for the sake of the Faith.

Moreover, we owe much of our beautiful liturgical life to monastic influence. Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine Orthodoxy without monastic influence in iconography, hymnology, theology, and prayer life.

No Orthodox Christian could deny the immense contribution that monasticism has made to the True Faith.

The monks of Mount Athos, the holy sites in Palestine, and Mount Sinai (just to name a few) have stood as vigilant and worthy guardians of the Orthodox Faith and the countless relics, manuscripts and priceless religious artifacts for well over a thousand years. We are truly indebted to them.

So why not a monastic movement in America? Shouldn’t any right-thinking Orthodox believer welcome the opportunity to transplant monasticism in America? This writer is an advocate of such a movement. But it must be done properly and carefully, with an appreciation for the unique situation here in America. The canons and Tradition must guide us so that we avoid the confusion and tragic situation that has beset your parish and others like it.

The Archbishop is quite right. The role of the monastery is not to be confused with the role of the parish.

Fr. Demetrios Carellas, long-time spiritual child of Elder Ephraim. He was the spiritual father of Sam Lawson (later Fr. Seraphim in AZ and NY) and Nikos Pantanizopoulos (Later Fr. Theologos in AZ and IL) and is said to have influenced them to enter the monastic life.
Fr. Demetrios Carellas, long-time spiritual child of Elder Ephraim. He was the spiritual father of Sam Lawson (later Fr. Seraphim in AZ and NY) and Nikos Pantanizopoulos (Later Fr. Theologos in AZ and IL) and is said to have influenced them to enter the monastic life.

The Synod of Bishops should carefully study any request to start a new monastery. If and when permission has been granted, it should be made unequivocally clear to those responsible that the monastery is to function under the authority of the local bishop. Monks are not to interfere with the ministry of the parishes and the authority of the priests. Only with the permission of the bishop, should monks visit local parishes and perform any kind of ministry, including the Sacrament of Holy Confession. This rule should be followed very strictly and, when it is violated, appropriate measures should be taken by the local bishop and, if necessary, by the Synod of Bishops.

Recruiting is a very sensitive issue, and the Church leadership should carefully investigate interference in our parishes in order to avoid unnecessary strife and avoidable divisions in our communities.

Monastic life is a special calling. It is a very difficult life that calls for great sacrifice and self-denial, and hence, is not for everyone. I recall that a few years ago a young man left America to become a monk in Greece. Far from home, he found it very difficult to adjust to the rigors of monastic life and eventually succumbed to a severe case of melancholy. The Church must be very careful, if the monasteries are sanctioned by the Archdiocese, the Archdiocese becomes ultimately responsible to both the laws of the individual states and the country.

And finally, I would like to emphasize that parish priests with ties to monastic communities, either here or abroad, must remember that while serving as pastors of communities, they are to minister and behave as priests who serve laymen who live in a dynamic and challenging secular community and not members of a small and limited monastic order. The manner of grooming and clerical attire must therefore be appropriate. The life of a monk, as admirable as it is, must be lived in the monastery, not in the secular community.

MAY 5, 1997 ORTHODOX OBSERVER PAGE 9 Tell Me Father

http://issuu.com/orthodoxmarketplace/docs/1997_05_05_en