I Bought Psychiatric Drugs for 40 [Athonite] Monks (Fr. Porphyrios, 2001)

NOTE: The following are excerpts taken from “Radioparagka” (Ράδιο Παράγκα) show—the Radio Station of the Church Greece. The show’s theme was “Obedience and Freedom” and it was broadcast on November 10, 2002. Fr. Constantine interviews Fr. Porphyrios, a monk from the Hilander Cell of St. Isaac the Syrian. Since the interview has a lot of repetitiveness and superfluous banter, this article has been condensed and contains only the pertinent information.

Since the turn of the century, a few Hagiorite monks have spoken out about the abuses that take place in various monasteries on Mount Athos. These individuals were from different monasteries, under different Gerondas, and yet tell the same story: authoritarianism, sick forms of obedience being imposed, individuals developing mental illnesses after years in these environments, compulsion of monastics to see psychiatrists and take psychiatric drugs, monastics attempting suicides and monastics committing suicide. This “authentic” Athonite monasticism has been prevalent since at least the 70s and these irregularities are now accepted as a normal part of the genuine 21st century monastic experience.

MP3/AUDIO (στα ελληνικά)

TEXT (στα ελληνικά)

Fr. Constantine: Do sick forms of obedience exist?

Fr. Porphyrios: I will disillusion you, Fr. Constantine. Yes, only sick forms of obedience exist today. I’m talking about Mount Athos; I’m speaking purely about Athonite matters and I’ll be speaking from my own experience.

An Abbot yells at his monks, “You don’t listen to me! I lost 500,000 [dr.] on Coca Colas and 7 Up! You’re going to make me explode! Does my money grow on trees?”1 Contemporary Elders are tilling and organizing over Greece towards wild novices. And the finale of these relationships is authoritarianism, which reaches schizophrenia. The difference with the Great Anthony is that he said, “My child, in order to sit near me, certain conditions must be met and above all, love Christ.” Whereas what we seek today on Mount Athos, dozens of times, is what is said and sucked like candy from Athonite abbots who, as you know, 90% of them didn’t do one hour of obedience.

Patriarch Bartholomew & Archbishop Demetrios with the The Coca-Cola Polar Bear ( The World of Coca-Cola, Atlanta, Georgia, USA. October 29, 2009)

Fr. Constantine: They weren’t subordinates beforehand?

Fr. Porphyrios: Never! Only the elders who came from Joseph the Cave-dweller previously did obedience.2 All the others, from the office or Brussels, with their collars and their trousers, became abbots on Mount Athos. Forgive me, but this is the reality. But, exceptions exist. Nothing is 100% absolute. Even on gold we write 999.99.3 Understand? And so, St. Anthony said, “You must love Christ.” Do you know what contemporary elders say? “If you leave my side, you will go to hell my evil child. You will be lost!” Understand?

Once, I was at a monastery and a student came to stay for fifteen days. After fifteen days, they placed him as my assistant. I saw him with a new pair of shoes. Hm! He smelt like gun powder to me. I asked him, “Are you engaged, will you go, this and that.” He said, “I thought that I would stay here.” Today, he is a schizophrenic! And the monastery boasts 120-130 monks. I don’t know how many monks they have but 40 of them are taking psychiatric drugs out of obedience…bad obedience!

ιερομόναχος π. Λουκάς
Hieromonk Lukas Gregoriatis (one of the monk-doctors who manages the use of psychotropic drugs in the monastery)

Fr. Constantine: Of course, when you say psychotropic drugs, there is a book written by a Grigoriatis monk who responds to such allegations. He mentions that psychotropic drugs are bought for Mount Athos. He also says that he buys them for the pilgrims that visit from abroad. Visitors come and say they need psychiatric drugs.” 

Fr. Porphyrios: Excuse me! I myself bought psychotropic drugs for 40 monks! Understand? I personally bought psychiatric medication for 40 monks when I went out of Mount Athos to run errands. I don’t know how many monks there are now who take psychiatric drugs.

I tread differently. I went asked someone once—one with no taste, from the bench, the university—and I asked him. We chatted a bit and he told me, “You will do this!” I said, “I cannot.” He replied, “You will do this, it is obedience!” I was coerced; the priest said it. Fr. Constantine, everyone has been trampled by disobedience. I was pressed by obedience. I did obedience and suffered AF [atrial fibrillation] and was put on a pacemaker.5

Fr. Constantine: This priest gave you that medical advice?

Fr. Porphyrios: No! He told me to do something that my conscience couldn’t allow me to do. I told him, “I cannot do that thing.”

Fr. Constantine: Was the obedience a sin?

Fr. Porphyrios: The obedience was a spiritual sin, not a carnal sin. My conscience would not allow it.

Fr. Constantine: You had the right not to do this obedience since it was a spiritual sin.

Fr. Porphyrios: Yes, of course. Also, this priest wasn’t my spiritual father. We chatted, I told him one issue. What else do you want me to tell you?

Fr. Constantine: Everything! You lived the events.

Fr. Porphyrios: A certain monk in a large monastery fell into some small offence. He was ashamed to tell the abbot and he told some transient, worldly spiritual father. All of Mount Athos to Daphne learned about it. And his geronda—the great and holy geronda—called him to the Assembly and told him, “Because you didn’t tell me this, for one year you will not receive a blessing and I will not give you my blessing.” Fr. Constantine, before the new elders, spiritual fathers, such as the ascetic Geronda Sofronius, came to the monastery every month to confess people. The old elders wisely decided that a spiritual father from another monastery could come every month so that we could say something that we couldn’t tell the abbot so as not to create a disagreement or discord. Understand? Today, this has been cut off. Now if you confess to someone other than the abbot, you’re excommunicated and expelled from the community.6

And I’ll tell you something else. I saw a “very pleasant” abbot beating a subordinate and I lost it! I got my stuff and left. The abbot told me, “Come here! Do you know what I’m doing? What Abba Dorotheos did!” Eh! I couldn’t bear it and told him, “Excuse me, Geronda, but as soon as you become St. Dorotheos and Abba Seridos, then you can hit children.”7 It broke my heart. Now this monk is in the wind. I went and he told me, “Porphyrios, I beg you to discharge me.” We both cried. This is obedience today, Fr. Constantine. But when we haven’t done obedience ourselves, how can we impose someone else to do obedience? Naturally, obedience is salvation!

“But if one does not sincerely wish to do the will of God, then though go to a prophet, God might place in the heart of that prophet an answer corresponding to the man’s corrupt heart, as the Scripture says, And if a prophet should cause to err and should speak, I the Lord have caused that prophet to err (Ezekiel 14:9).”

I remember Geronda Gabriel told me the following, “Do you see that man? He came from Cambridge with a transistor in the armpit. And I said to him, ‘What did you come here to do?’ He replied, ‘I came here to be a monk.’ I asked him, ‘Do you know what it means to be a monk?’ I tell you to fall from the balcony and you fall.’ The man replied, ‘Be careful, Geronda. If you’re telling me a joke, you catch me by my feet because I will fall.’ Geronda Gabriel told me, ‘He is an angel.’

And Geronda Gabriel Dionysiatis placed someone as the supervisor and tells him after three-four sessions; the monk disagreed, ‘Geronda, I will resign.’ The Geronda asked, ‘Why, my child?’ ‘I cannot disagree with my Geronda.’ Geronda Gabriel told him, ‘Ah, pay attention. I placed you there for this reason. You will say your opinion in governing. You will do obedience in spiritual matters. Also, I want there to be a contrary voice.’

Today, whoever disagrees about the Hegumen council departs. And they’ve gathered all the idiots; those who never tread in the monastery, they are from outside and they’ve placed them, how do you say…

Elder Gabriel Dionysiatis a
Elder Gabriel Dionysiatis (†1983)

Fr. Constantine: This is sick. If there is no voice to be heard…

Fr. Porphyrios: No, no, no. Let me tell you something else—Speechless!—about an abbot who went to a new monastery that had an old brotherhood. ‘Oh well,’ he says, ‘are they dumb? Do they not have any other opinion than that from the Geronda?’ And Geronda Gabriel told Fr. Kallinikos, ‘You will stay, my child! Your objection is needed so we can find the right one.

Today, Fr. Constantine, the Geronda is the path (ο-δο) of salvation. And he is also our obstacle to arrive at Christ. ‘I am here (‘δω)!’ Understand? Things are tragic!



1. When Geronda Ephraim of Arizona was the abbot of Filotheou Monastery, on the Feast Day of Pascha he would traditionally bless the monks to have a can of Coca Cola for trapeza. He carried this tradition over to St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence, AZ. In some of Geronda Ephraim’s North American monasteries, the monastics have soda frequently throughout the year.

2. The following is a pilgrim’s impression of his visit to Elder Joseph the Hesychast and his disciples in the 50s:

“Many times the Greeks have a weakness to make up stories, especially about people‘s alleged holiness, and as is often the case, once a story starts, it gets repeated and magnified and blown completely out of proportion. Others hear it and relate it in a different way, and it becomes another story, and soon someone has a reputation of being one of the greatest wonderworkers the Church has ever known.

“To some extent, this is what happened with this Elder Ephraim of Katounakia, and it‘s most definitely what happened to the other Fr. Ephraim, who took control of Philotheou Monastery, and who could not remain on the Holy Mountain, but resides in America. The three pilgrims came to Katounakia for a visit, and the meeting with Fr. Ephraim of Katounakia was quite eventless, other than the fact that Fr. Ephraim seemed like a reluctant prisoner, not one rejoicing in obedience. There was quiet talking, all in Greek, greetings and goodbyes.

“The outcome of this occasion was in stark contrast with the words of Fr. Ephraim in his book which recently appeared. Ironically, the book was named Obedience is Life: Elder Ephraim of Katounakia, and in this very book this alleged Elder Ephraim records that he later forced his elder to begin once again commemorating the Ecumenical Patriarch at a time when the Ecumenical Patriarch had openly espoused the heresy of Ecumenism. He thus recorded his own blatant disobedience in a book supposedly teaching obedience. The Elder Nikephoros, it is said, grieved very much that his disciple, Fr. Ephraim, had forced him to do something against his conscience. Three years before he died, however, the Elder Nikephoros returned to the church. 

3. 999.99 (five nines fine) The purest type of gold currently produced.

4. In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, it is taught that monastics lose their salvation if they leave the monastery, unless of course they get a blessing first which is almost impossible. Novices are encouraged not to leave because, “it’s almost impossible to find salvation in the world.” Rassaphores are treated and counselled as though they made verbal vows in church, which they didn’t (rassaphores are essentially novices according to the canons; theoretically “engaged” but not yet married with vows).

In 2000/2001 a monk from St. Nektarios Monastery was visiting St. Anthony’s once for an immigration appointment–when new monasteries were opened the immigrant monks who were transferred did not update their address and would travel back to Arizona when they had INS appointments. This monk did not want to return to St. Nektarios Monastery due to the angry and oppressive atmosphere that existed there at that time (as one of the Athonite Fathers said, “Do you want to destroy a monk’s spirituality? Send him to help establish a new monastery for the first couple of years.”). Geronda Ephraim gave him a blessing to be a monk at St. Anthony’s but due to the fact that he didn’t first consult his Geronda [Joseph] and did it of his own volition, it was frowned upon by many of the other monastics in various monasteries. Some even believed that this act would greatly hinder his chances for salvation and that although Geronda Ephraim gave a “blessing,” he was actually doing obedience to this young monk, and the whole affair was really just an act of self-will not really covered by a blessing.

In another case, a novice from Arizona received a blessing to go live at Filotheou Monastery on Mount Athos. Many of his brother monastics gossiped that in reality, Geronda didn’t actually bless it but rather this novice ceaselessly begged and harassed Geronda to allow him to go and in the end Geronda Ephraim did obedience to his will and “blessed” it. Later, rumors went around the monastery that he became deluded, was re-baptized at an old calendarist monastery, and was ordained a deacon. Afterwards, he left the monastic life and returned to the world.

These stories are used as cautionary tales to scare young novices and remind them that if they don’t stay with their elder no matter what, and do absolute blind obedience, they will become deluded, leave, and lose their soul. The basis of the message is, “you’re lost without Geronda Ephraim.”

5. In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, the only possible sin in obedience is disobedience; i.e. not obeying the command the elder has given. Both physical and spiritual obedience are expected, and it must be blind, without inner or outer questioning, back-talk, murmuring, judging, etc. Thus, if the obedience is a “spiritual” sin (i.e. lying, perjury, falsifying records, gaslighting pilgrims to cover-up a scandal, etc.), the disciple is not sinning if he/she obeys the command. The Geronda or Gerondissa are responsible before God for the commands given (thus, if the order they give is a sin, it is their burden and sin). The disciple is only responsible before God for the obedience they did or did not do, regardless of whether it is a sin or breaking of the commandments. In doing obedience they have not sinned and will not have to give an account before God on why they broke His commandments. If they disobey the command, they will have to give an account for their disobedience, and possibly lose their salvation for this crime.

6. In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, a monastic does not have a blessing to confess to other spiritual fathers other than their own. I.e., a monk from Michigan wouldn’t ask the hieromonks in TX or NY if he could see them for confession. The only other person monastics can confess to other than their own spiritual father/mother in the monasteries is Geronda Ephraim in Arizona. A blessing is usually still required before this happens, though. The monasteries do follow St. Symeon the New Theologian’s teachings On Unordained Monastics Hearing Confessions.

7. Geronda Ephraim uses the story of Akkakios a lot in his homilies to his monastics. This story is meant to encourage moanstics to endure everything their superiors put them through with patience and without murmuring. “The humble monk distinguished himself by his patient and unquestioning obedience to his Elder, a harsh and dissolute man. He forced his disciple to toil excessively, starved him with hunger, and beat him without mercy. Despite such treatment, St Acacius meekly endured the affliction and thanked God for everything. St Acacius died after suffering these torments for nine years. Five days after Acacius was buried, his Elder told another Elder about the death of his disciple. The second Elder did not believe that the young monk was dead. They went to the grave of Acacius and the second Elder called out: “Brother Acacius, are you dead?” From the grave a voice replied, “No, Father, how is it possible for an obedient man to die?” [St. Akakios is celebrated in the Orthodox Church on July 7th].

8. This is the kind of obedience required in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries. Similar to Abraham who didn’t question God when told to murder his son, Isaac, nor did he think twice about sacrificing him, so to should the disciple monk do everything Geronda asks without hesitation or a double mind.



Elder Joseph the Hesychast’s Saying: “The cane is the remedy for every passion”

In Chapter 21 of Monastic Wisdom, Elder Joseph states, “But the cane is the remedy for every passion. Demons fear it and shudder when they see a man punishing himself like a martyr for the love of Christ.” This is accompanied by a cleverly worded footnote, “The elder is not advocating some kind of masochism here, but advises counteracting sinful pleasure—whether it be due to thoughts of anger, pride, or carnal thoughts—with physical pain.” It then lists a few of the numerous Orthodox saints who have used similar techniques—i.e. inflicting pain upon themselves to counteract sinful pleasure, not caning themselves. Though Geronda Joseph Mammis (MI) did the initial translation of Monastic Wisdom, the manuscript was passed around Arizona for the older fathers to edit and add input. One of the monks suggested this footnote and it was added to the manuscript (this footnote is not in the original Greek edition titled Έκφραση Μοναχικής Εμπειρίας).

The footnote about masochism is not in the Greek edition of Monastic Wisdom.
The footnote about masochism is not in the Greek edition of Monastic Wisdom.

It is important to examine some terminology to understand why using the term “masochism” makes this footnote a cleverly worded statement which avoids the true nature of caning oneself:

  • Masochism: a sexual perversion characterized by pleasure in being subjected to pain or humiliation especially by a love object; pleasure in being abused or dominated:a taste for suffering.
  • Auto-sadism: Also known as automasochism, is behavior inflicting pain or humiliation on oneself. It may be related to self-harm, or a paraphilia involving sexual arousal. It can be viewed as a form of masochism, a sublimated form of sadism, or a means to experiencing algolagnia, a sexual tendency which is defined by deriving sexual pleasure and stimulation from physical pain.
  • Self-defeating personality disorder: Also known as masochistic personality disorder, SDPD is a personality disorder that was never formally admitted into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). It involves a persistent pattern of behavior which is detrimental to the self, including being drawn to problematic situations or relationships.
  • Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI): is defined as deliberately injuring oneself without suicidal intent. The most common form of NSSI is self-cutting, but other forms include burning, scratching, hitting, intentionally preventing wounds from healing, and other similar behaviors.

Stating that “the elder isn’t advocating some kind of masochism here,” is stating the obvious. The monastics are not inflicting pain on themselves for sexual gratification, although addiction to pain or the endorphin rush pain causes in some individuals, is well documented in medical literature. Caning one’s thighs or other body parts could technically fall under the category of autosadism, however, it is not practised to derive sexual pleasure. The self-defeating personality disorder can be applied to a few of the monastics in Geronda’s monasteries, though it is not applicable to the act of caning oneself.

The correct definition of this act would be the non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) which is a sub-category of self-harm.

Virginity is one of the three monastic virtues, so explaining the obvious with an authoritative blanket statement—i.e. in essence, celibate monks are not caning themselves to derive sexual gratification from the pain—is misleading. The footnote does not address self-harm or self-injury which is the real issue behind caning oneself.

Elder Joseph the Hesychast (d. 1959)
Elder Joseph the Hesychast (d. 1959)

It is interesting to note that self-harm is listed in the DSM-IV-TR as a symptom of borderline personality disorder. However, patients with other diagnoses may also self-harm, including those with depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, eating disorders, PTSD, schizophrenia, and several personality disorders. Self-harm is also apparent in high-functioning individuals who have no underlying clinical diagnosis. The motivations of self-harm vary and it may be used to fulfill a number of different functions. These functions include self-harm being used as a coping mechanism which provides temporary relief of intense feelings such as anxiety, depression, stress, emotional numbness or a sense of failure or self-loathing and other mental traits including low self-esteem or perfectionism. Self-harm is often associated with a history of trauma or abuse, including emotional and sexual abuse.

Geronda Ephraim has said that Pappou would hit his monks with his cane for disciplinary measures.
Geronda Ephraim has said that Pappou would hit his monks with his cane for disciplinary measures.

It should be mentioned that Geronda Ephraim has stated in homilies to his monastic that Elder Joseph would also hit his monks with his cane as a form of disciplinary measure (i.e. corporal punishment). Flogging as a form of punishing monks was common in the beginning years of Orthodox Monasticism and is mentioned in early texts as well as the Rule of St. Benedict.

Self-flagellation which was a universal pagan practise before the advent of Christianity, is not found in any of the early orthodox texts, not even the Rule of St. Benedict. Self-flagellation as a form of ascesis is a Roman Catholic monastic tradition that appeared sometime after the Great Schism. Though one can find Orthodox Saints who tortured themselves through various ascetical hardships or one time endeavours to battle a temptation (i.e. the saints mentioned in the footnote of Monastic Wisdom), the act of repeatedly caning oneself to counteract sensual pleasure is not found in early Orthodox texts. When saints perform acts that could be categorized as self-flagellation (self harm), they’re always a one off. Monastics used numerous variations of self-harming techniques to “mortify their flesh” but we don’t find the repeated beating of various parts of the body included in their self-torture regimen. The majority of techniques involved some form of hard labour, deprivation and/or starvation.

The practice of self-flagellation seems to have been unknown in Christian Europe until it was adopted by the hermits in the monastic communities of Camoaldoli and Fonte Avellana early in the 11th century. Once invented, the new form of penance spread rapidly until it had become not only a normal feature of monastic life throughout Latin Christendom but the commonest of all penitential techniques—so much so in fact that the very meaning of the term disciplina was restricted to ‘scourge.’

Flagellants, from a 15th-century woodcut.
Flagellants, from a 15th-century woodcut.

In the Greek Orthodox monasteries here, this form of self harm—non-suicidal self-injury—is used as a coping mechanism to deal with logismoi, and any negative or impassioned thought or feeling. For those who’ve attended services at a monastery with a side door that the monastics use to enter and exit the Church without having to pass the lay people, one will often hear the door open and shortly afterwards the rapid sound of wood or whatever striking an object. These are the monastics beating themselves outside because their logismoi was too overwhelming to push away with the Prayer.


Elder Joseph writes, “Here all my young monks have a cane under their pillow. As soon as a carnal thought comes, they let him have it! … So there is no other remedy than prayer, fasting, and the cane.” (p. 121). Following this tradition, all of Geronda Ephraim’s monastics have some object used to beat themselves either under their pillow or in close proximity to their bed. This is because carnal warfare is quite common at bedtime and during the personal vigil in one’s cell. Some monastics, such as Fr. Makarios (AZ), have a blessing to bring their beating stick to church. Thus, during the service, if one starts falling asleep, or having carnal thoughts or any other kind of passions arise, they can leave the church through the side door (or altar door) and go beat themselves—Geronda Ephraim does not like his monastics walking in and out of the church where people can see because they get scandalized and it’s a bad image for the pilgrims.

The side door for monastics to enter and exit the main church at St. Anthony's Monastery (AZ)
The side door for monastics to enter and exit the main church at St. Anthony’s Monastery (AZ)

Other monastics who do not bring their beating stick to Church use pinching, punching, biting and other forms of inflicting pain upon themselves when thoughts arise so they do not have to exit the Church.

Elder Arsenios the Cave-Dweller with his cane.
Elder Arsenios the Cave-Dweller with his cane.

There is also an odd phenomenon where certain monastics, in a fit of rage, will also beat themselves. In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, this style of “caning” is usually accompanied by a warning, and then prostrations and other penances if it persists. Hitting oneself due to outbursts of rage and anger defeats the purpose of ascetical caning, and is also unmonastic. There are also the cases of monastics self-harming themselves when rebuked by the Elder or when they’ve had a mini-break due to overwhelming external pressures and temptations. Such forms of self-harming have been the following:

  • The monastic laid face down on the floor, repeatedly banged his head on the floor, and made guttural noises.
  • Repeatedly banging their head off a dashboard and rapidly slapping the dashboard or steering wheel with both hands while making strange noises.
  • Rapidly punching a brick wall until both hands were bleeding.
  • Rapidly punching the sides of their head with both hands while making strange noises.
  • Intentionally injuring oneself in an attempt to avoid work—known in the military as a self-inflicted wound. Monastics guilty of this were severely censured in front of the other monastics and rebuked for being lazy and cowardly, etc.

Hitting/kicking inanimate objects, destroying inanimate objects, vandalizing one’s cell, etc. out of rage is a whole other chapter of Greek Orthodox monasticism in America. Such actions are generally a red flag indicating these monastics are ready to leave the monastery and return to the world.


Elder Ephraim also writes about the spiritual “benefits” of beating oneself mercilessly while simultaneously trying to rationalize “orthodox self-harm” for the contemporary mind:

He [Elder Joseph] had a cane for hitting himself on his calves and especially on his thighs. He beat himself mercilessly two or three times daily, which left permanent indentations on his thighs. He later wrote:

“I broke many canes on my thighs before subjugating my body. I stood like a torturer over myself. My whole body trembled when it saw that I was about to lay hold of a cane. The demons fled, the passions were pacified, comfort came, and my soul rejoiced. For it is a law of God: whatever causes sensual pleasure is cured by pain.”

It is very likely that contemporary monastics and struggling laymen will wonder why this young ascetic beat himself so mercilessly. Even though it sounds horrible, it is not a sign of mental instability, nor is it the only such instance in ascetical literature.* God has revealed through various miracles that He accepted this form of ascesis as a martyrdom. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers and The Ladder are full of similar ascetical struggles in which the body is not being punished but rather being subdued to the ruling nous. The aim of Orthodox asceticism is to kill the passions, not the body.

…Whenever I encounter great difficulty with carnal thoughts, I gave myself a good beating. I had a cane under my pillow as Geronda had told me so that I would be ready when thoughts came in my sleep or when I was lying down…

….Whenever I faced extreme difficulty from the pressure of the thoughts, I would take a cane and beat and revile myself. This would mitigate the warfare. The thoughts would still come back again, but then I was stronger, and I drove them away.

* For example, see the lives of Saints Leontius, Epiphanius, Nephon, Martinius, and Benedict. (Ephraim, Elder, My Elder Joseph the Hesychast, St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery.. Kindle Edition).

NOTE: Elder Ephraim’s blanket statement about the historical roots of his self-flagellation technique is misleading. If you look at these examples, most of those saints actually performed one major form of non-suicidal self harm. Other than St. Nephon, they didn’t repeatedly flog themselves day and night. Also, these saints were all idorrhythmic and did these things on their own volition. They didn’t have an elder that instructed them to do these things out of blind obedience nor did they have a divine vision wherein they were instructed to do these things.

St. Benedict of Nursia cast himself into a thorn bush while naked, to escape the wily temptation of a woman. Out of the 63-67 years of his life, he performed this type of act only once. The Elder didn’t specify which of the 22 St. Leonidas of the orthodox church he meant; St. Martinian of Caesarea lit a fire and placed his hand in it so he wouldn’t sleep with a woman.

St. Nephon, Bishop of Constantia beat himself repeatedly for 14 years straight but, again, he wasn’t under a geronda, nor was this technique imposed on him by someone else. It was a self-willed decision by an idiorhythmic monk. Sure, a vision from St. Stephen encouraged him to struggle harder, but the saint didn’t specify beating oneself. From his life, we read:

After thanking St. Stephen, he placed a small pebble in his mouth and left it there many days, so that he wouldn’t swear. and if some time the wicked one tricked him into swearing at someone, he would go aside and with his fist would beat his body saying: “I’ll force you to become humble and learn meekness and silence, and not to become angry and swear.”

For the same reason he gave himself penance to hit himself with his fists forty times every day. And if any temptation or passion fought him, then the punches increased to one hundred or even two.  He became weak by hitting his body like this daily. He would often faint due to the pain and would fall down as if dead…

As soon as Nephon would feel drowsy, he would take his staff and beat his body shouting angrily: ‘Insatiable slave, I gave you to eat and drink; now you want to sleep too? I’ll teach you to be sleepy!’ At the same time he would continually beat himself all the more harshly, so that from the painful beating, sleep would–naturally!–disappear. And then, sober, he would stay awake and pray…

…And immediately grabbing a long stick, he hit his feet so terribly, that they were black and blue for a long time…He fought terribly with the spirit of lewdness. He even reached the point where he would hit his body with stones.

It should be noted that St. Nephon is not mentioned in any of the ancient Synaxaria and Menaia, but his name and life is mentioned in ancient manuscripts at the Athonite Monasteries of Great Lavra and Vatopaidi. In the former it says he reposed on December 23rd, though it says he was the Bishop of Almyropolis. A modern translation of his life from the ancient manuscripts was published in 1993 by spiritual children under obedience to Elder Ephraim, with the title, An Ascetic Bishop. 

Elder Ephraim states that excessively beating oneself with an object isn’t a sign of mental instability. However, the church fathers essentially teach that all of humanity are spiritually and mentally ill due to the ancestral sin. The ascetics who invented flogging themselves weren’t at the state of illumination or theosis when they started the beatings and thus, by the definitions of orthodox spirituality, they would’ve been darkened in nous, i.e. mentally and spiritually ill, not “stable”. There are countless examples of orthodox saints putting themselves extreme forms of labour and ascesis. There’s only one or two accounts of saints that repeatedly beat themselves unless, of course, one takes into consideration of Roman Catholic saints after the Great schism (which is the true origin of self-flagellation as a form of ascetical struggle).


Stress, Caffeine and Hallucinations

Many years ago, on the advice of Dr. Gerasimos and other doctors, Geronda Ephraim quit drinking coffee for health reasons. Geronda Paisios (AZ) quit drinking coffee because it caused him anxiety attacks. Many of the other abbots and abbesses also  quit drinking coffee. Geronda Ephraim had also given an obedience to some of his monasteries to ban coffee for the monastics. Before this time period, in the heyday of the 90’s, there was a general blessing for the monastics to drink coffee. Generally, one cup for vigil and one cup in the morning upon waking up (though some monastics had a blessing to drink more than one cup during the day). Later, it changed to only one cup at vigil and the need for a blessing to have any during the day. Later, in some monasteries, it became no coffee whatsoever.

Geronda Ephraim sitting on a bench

Before all these changes, the average father confessor in Geronda Ephraim’s monastery would drink anywhere from 1-4 coffees a day (either Greek or American or a combination of both; and sometimes 1 or 2 Frappé/day in the hotter months). I.e. one for vigil, one in the morning, one at the start of confessing lay people, another in the afternoon. Basically, the father confessors were running their vigil and day on stimulants. The monastics were running their vigils on stimulants.

f_DSC_0039_400 frappe

The History of Coffee and Monasticism

Though there are various legends about the discovery of coffee in both Ethiopia (ca. 875 A.D.) and Yemen (ca. 575 A.D.), the most popular version is the story of Kaldi the goat herd:

In the Ethiopian highlands, where the legend of Kaldi, the goatherd, originated, coffee trees grow today as they have for centuries. Though we will never know with certainty, there probably is some truth to the Kaldi legend.

It is said that he discovered coffee after noticing that his goats, upon eating berries from a certain tree, became so spirited that they did not want to sleep at night.

Kaldi dutifully reported his findings to the abbot of the local monastery who made a drink with the berries and discovered that it kept him alert for the long hours of evening prayer. Soon the abbot had shared his discovery with the other monks at the monastery, and ever so slowly knowledge of the energizing effects of the berries began to spread. As word moved east and coffee reached the Arabian peninsula, it began a journey which would spread its reputation across the globe.

Kaldi, the Ethiopian goat herd who, according to legend, discovered coffee and introduced it to the monks.
Kaldi, the Ethiopian goat herd who, according to legend, discovered coffee and introduced it to the monks.

To this day, in many monasteries, the monastics drink a cup of coffee to start their vigil as it helps them stay more alert and it is also a measure to prevent falling asleep during vigil or the practice of kardiaki proseuche (Prayer of the Heart).

For more stories about coffee’s origins, see:

Ethiopia’s Coffee Origin Myth

Coffee History Chronology

Ripe coffee berries.
Ripe coffee berries.

Caffeine Dependence

Caffeine addiction is a common problem. The most commonly consumed psychoactive substance on earth, caffeine, is used daily by an estimated 90% of Americans. The Coffee Statistics Report for 2010 reports more than 400 billion cups are consumed worldwide every year.

Caffeine is a commonplace central nervous system stimulant drug which occurs in nature as part of the coffee, tea, yerba mate and some other plants.
Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors A and A2A. Adenosine is a by-product of cellular activity, and stimulation of adenosine receptors produces feelings of tiredness and the need to sleep. Caffeine’s ability to block these receptors means the levels of the body’s natural stimulants, dopamine and norepinephrine continue at higher levels.

Caffeine structurally resembles adenosine enough for it to fit into the brain's adenosine receptors
Caffeine structurally resembles adenosine enough for it to fit into the brain’s adenosine receptors

Mild physical dependence can result from excessive caffeine intake. Caffeine addiction, or a pathological and compulsive form of use, has never been documented in humans.

Health effects of caffeine (negative and positive)
Health effects of caffeine (negative and positive)

Studies have demonstrated that people who take in a minimum of 100 mg of caffeine per day (about the amount in one cup of coffee) can acquire a physical dependence that would trigger withdrawal symptoms that include headaches, muscle pain and stiffness, lethargy, nausea, vomiting, depressed mood, and marked irritability. Professor Roland Griffiths, a professor of neurology at John Hopkins in Baltimore strongly believes that caffeine withdrawal should be classified as a psychological disorder. Through his research, withdrawals occurred within 12–24 hours after stopping caffeine intake and could last as long as nine days. Continued exposure to caffeine will lead the body to create more adenosine receptors in the central nervous system which makes it more sensitive to the effects of adenosine in two ways. Firstly, it will reduce the stimulatory effects of caffeine by increasing tolerance. Secondly, it will increase the withdrawal symptoms of caffeine as the body will be more sensitive to the effects of adenosine once caffeine intake stops. Caffeine tolerance develops very quickly. Tolerance to the sleep disruption effects of caffeine were seen after consumption of 400 mg of caffeine 3 times a day for 7 days, whereas complete tolerance was observed after consumption of 300 mg taken 3 times a day for 18 days.

Main symptoms of caffeine overdose.
Main symptoms of caffeine overdose.

Too Much Coffee Can Make You Hear Things That Are Not There

People with a higher caffeine intake, from sources such as coffee, tea and caffeinated energy drinks, are more likely to report hallucinatory experiences such as hearing voices and seeing things that are not there. Even five coffees per day can trigger this type of hallucination.

Professor Simon Crowe
Professor Simon Crowe

Professor Simon Crowe says:

“High caffeine levels in association with high levels of stressful life events interacted to produce higher levels of ‘hallucination’ in non-clinical participants, indication that further caution needs to be exercised with the use of this overtly ‘safe’ drug.”

“There is a link between high levels of stress and psychosis, and caffeine was found to correlate with hallucination proneness. The combination of caffeine and stress affect the likelihood of an individual experiencing a psychosis-like symptom.”

“The results also support both the diathesis-stress model and the continuum theory of schizophrenia in that stress plays a role in the symptoms of schizophrenia and that everyone, to some degree, can experience these symptoms.

It is apparent that the health risks of excessive caffeine use must be addressed and caution should be raised with regards to the exacerbating use of this stimulant.”

The following measurements of caffeine in a cup of coffee are cited from an article by Bunker and McWilliams, from the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (74:28-32, 1979):
• 1 cup, brewed (7 oz, 207 ml). 80 to 135 mg of caffeine.
• 1 cup, drip (7 oz, 207 ml). 115 to 175 mg of caffeine
• 1 cup, espresso (1.5-2 oz, 45-60 ml). 100 mg of caffeine

Greek coffee caffeine levels vary on whether it is a single (40-60 mg) or double (80-120 mg):

See: The effect of caffeine and stress on auditory hallucinations in a non-clinical sample

Greek Coffee

Interesting articles:

Caffeine, stress, and proneness to psychosis-like experiences: A preliminary investigation

Caffeine-Induced Psychosis: Case Report:


Turkish Coffee or Greek Coffee?

(The following is an essay/short story by Besnik Mustafaj, former Albanian Minister of Foreign Affairs (2005-2007) and former Ambassador of Albania in the Republic of France, 1992-1997. )