Monastery Complex Fire in Goldendale (September, 2011)

It’s interesting to note that this isn’t the first time one of Elder Ephraim’s monasteries have caught fire. Disciples claim this is the work of demons, moved by jealousy against Elder Ephraim because of all the myriad of souls he has saved.

On December 12, 2010, less than a year before the Goldendale fire, there was a fire at these nuns’ “mother monastery” in Serres, Greece, also named “St. John the Forerunner.” Apparently, an electrical problem caused the fire. Initially, their Metropolitan, Theologos, said €2,000,000 was required, then the amount rose to €5,000,000 until it arrived at €8,000,000. A lot of Greeks were scandalized as this was in the midst of the Greek financial crisis (after the 1st bailout and the ECB’s launching of the Securities Market Program). Gerondissa Fevronia and the sisterhood had a Paypal account set up to make it easier for people outside Greece to donate. It is unclear whether the nuns reached their target goal.

In November, 2013, St. Artemios (in Provata), the former cell of Elder Ephraim also caught fire for the second time. Apparently, the cause of the fire was a furnace problem. In 1977, the cell of St. Artemios burned down. Only ruins have remained of most of the buildings. The restoration of the monastery began in 1987, when Fr. Euphemius, a close companion of elder Ephraim, was appointed its Abbot.

On June 15, 2015, the Nativity of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Monastery in Saxonburg, PA (under Elder Ephraim) was struck by lightning. The nuns had a GoFundME and Crowdrise set up by lay people. The insurance would cover the cost of the damage but they needed money for their temporary housing. Then the big reveal: ” After 23 years, faulty construction reveals mold, rotting wood, and moisture throughout the entire structure rendering the facility unlivable. Their home, the Church they worship in, the place they welcome pilgrims, has become hazardous.” (the updates on the GoFundMe page are just as interesting as the back story)

On September 9, 2016, the Monastery of the Archangel Michael on the Island of Thassos in Greece (also under Elder Ephraim) was ravaged by fire. The fire department believed the fire was caused by lightning. The fire destroyed some buildings, orchards and gardens. There was a Go Fund Me set up for the Monastery but that has since disappeared. It is unclear whether the nuns met their target goal.

The following article is taken from various newspaper and video reports.

Three sisters from the Monastery of St. John the Forerunner, about 10 miles east of Goldendale, race across Highway 97 on Wednesday. The nuns were bringing garden hoses across the highway to fight the fire. They also used rags to beat the flames down near their monastery. The Monastery Complex fire had grown to 5.300 acres by Thursday. (Roger Mullis/AP)
3 nuns from the Monastery of St. John the Forerunner, about 10 miles east of Goldendale, race across Highway 97 on Wednesday. The nuns were bringing garden hoses across the highway to fight the fire. They also used rags to beat the flames down near their monastery. The Monastery Complex fire had grown to 5.300 acres by Thursday.

Clark County firefighters help battle wildfire: Monastery Complex near Goldendale has grown to 5,300 acres

By Eric Florip
Columbian Staff Reporter
Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sister Ephraimia, a Greek Orthodox nun, shovels dirt onto small flames near Goldendale, Wash. on Thursday Sept. 8, 2011. The sister and other nuns helped firefighters battle a wildfire that threatened their monastery and has burned several homes.
Sister Ephraimia, a Greek Orthodox nun, shovels dirt onto small flames near Goldendale, Wash. on Thursday Sept. 8, 2011. The sister and other nuns helped firefighters battle a wildfire that threatened their monastery and has burned several homes.

A 17-member strike force from Clark County has joined the effort to battle the fast-moving Monastery Complex fire northeast of Goldendale.

The strike team, with members representing Clark County Fire & Rescue, Washougal Fire and fire districts 3, 10 and 13, was told to expect to spend at least a week fighting fires, Battalion Chief Gordon Brooks of Fire District 10 said.

The fire, which sparked around noon Wednesday, is spreading quickly.

As of 7 a.m. Thursday, the fire burned about 1,100 acres. By late Thursday afternoon, it had swelled to more than 5,300 acres, said Bryan Flint, communications director for the state Department of Natural Resources.

The fire is about 120 highway miles east of Vancouver.

Sister Katerina, right, hands a bucket of water to sister Prodromia, while they and other nuns at St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Monastery, extinguish spot fires around their property, which was threatened the night before by a wildfire near Goldendale, Wash., Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011.
Sister Katerina, right, hands a bucket of water to sister Prodromia, while they and other nuns at St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Monastery, extinguish spot fires around their property, which was threatened the night before by a wildfire near Goldendale, Wash., Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011.

 

Greek Orthodox sisters from Saint Johns Monastery help to fight the 250-acre Monastery Fire that threatened their home Wednesday.
Greek Orthodox sisters from Saint Johns Monastery help to fight the 250-acre Monastery Fire that threatened their home Wednesday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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As flames swallowed dense swaths of ponderosa pine in Klickitat County, the blaze dried out the air and fuel ahead of it, Flint said. Its energy also kicked up swift air movement on an otherwise calm day, he said.

“The fire is creating its own weather pattern that’s driving the fire,” said Flint, who spent Thursday at a fire managers’ operations center in Goldendale. “That’s why it’s spreading as fast as it is.”

The fire complex destroyed nine homes and 10 outbuildings as of Thursday afternoon, and threatened another 300 structures. Hundreds of people have been evacuated because of the fire, though no injuries have been reported. A large section of U.S. Highway 97 and other roads were disrupted throughout the day Thursday. Brooks Memorial State Park was also closed.4

 

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“It’s happened late before like this, but this is much later,” Lange said.
Sending staff to help with fires outside a district’s jurisdiction doesn’t have too big an effect on local response to fires, Brooks said. Each department will send a small number of people, he said.

“They’re going to have a busy day today,” Brooks said Thursday. Brooks has assisted with more wildfires than he can count. He wasn’t able to go this time because of a foot injury, but his department sent four firefighters.

Clark County Fire & Rescue sent five people and one truck to help, said Battalion Chief Dean Lange. This isn’t the first wildfire has crew has helped battle this year, he said, but a wet, cool spring and early summer delayed the arrival of this fire season.

The fire was believed to have started along Highway 97 north of Goldendale, just across the street from the Monastery of St. John the Forerunner. The 19 nuns and employees, who operate a well-known bakery there, saw flames and immediately ran outside with water, rakes and rags to beat back the fire.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yai1mkCmKOw

Several customers in the bakery also joined in the effort until firefighters arrived, said Sister Parthenia, who has been at the monastery for 19 years.

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“We’re just so grateful to God and everyone’s efforts. The firefighters worked so hard, even opened up a line up there,” she said, pointing behind one of their buildings. “We thought that was sweet they wanted to save our barn.”

A total of 288 personnel were battling the fire late Thursday, Flint said. That includes crews from nearly every county in the state, he said.

It was too early to tell late Thursday what percentage of the fire had been contained, Flint said. The fire was mostly moving southeast.

Warm, dry weather isn’t going to make fighting the fire any easier. Highs will be in the upper 80s and low 90s through Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

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Starting Tuesday, things will cool off. Highs in Goldendale are expected to be in the low 80s and high 70s next week.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Comments

Marie Eliades That’s our girls! Look at these photos on line and all over the press.. our girls fighting fire..both physical and spiritual! Glory to God…Today I’ve heard the monastery is totally safe but blackend…with love from another mom of a nun (Life Giving Spring) Hi Donna! Reply • 5 • Like • Follow Post • September 9, 2011 at 1:09am

• Donna Armstrong Young • Wasilla, Alaska This is the monastery where our daughter is a nun. She called earlier today and said they were all safe and had been evacuated. At that time the monastery buildings were still intact. I haven’t heard anything since then. My daughter is the one on the left in this picture.

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http://www.columbian.com/news/2011/sep/08/clark-county-firefighters-battling-monastery-compl/

“We’re just so grateful to God and everyone’s efforts. The firefighters worked so hard….We thought that was sweet they wanted to save our barn.” “It was very scary,” said Sister Theopisti. “Thanks to the blessings of God and prayer.”

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Fire Threatens Monastery In Goldendale, Washington (2013)

The Satus Pass fire, located in Goldendale, Washington has presently consumed nearly 9,000 acres, with over 800 firefighters working to control this fire. The Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner in Goldendale is in the vicinity of this fire. The sisters have been evacuated and are seeking refuge in nearby homes. His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos has been in contact with the sisters and they are all safe, and at the present time the Monastery has not sustained any damage.
“This has already been a devastating year of fires throughout the United States. Once again, we find ourselves facing yet another threat as the Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner finds itself in a path of danger,” stated His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco. “We pray for the firefighters who are bravely working to save lives and structures, and we ask for the Lord to calm the fires and bring favorable weather so that no harm may come upon the people in this area.”
Two years ago, this same Monastery was threatened by fire and the sisters joined with the local residents and firefighters in working to protect their property and assist their neighbors and community. Thankfully, the Monastery was spared from damage in 2011 and it is the fervent prayer of the clergy and faithful of the Metropolis of San Francisco that this same outcome may be realized.
The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco will provide further updates as additional information becomes available.
Fr. Timothy Pavlatos, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at NW Counseling Associates, LLC (OR)
Fr. Timothy Pavlatos, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at NW Counseling Associates, LLC (OR)
nuns at the monastery preparing to fight the fire
nuns at the monastery preparing to fight the fire

Nuns live life of seclusion at remote Wash. Monastery (Adriana Janovich, 2006)

The following newspaper article is taken from the Yakima Herald-Republic, November 6th, 2006, p. 6.

WA Moscow-Pullman Daily News November 6, 2006, p. 6A

STATUS PASS, Wash—On a pine-covered patch off U.S. Highway 97, the Pacific Northwest meets the Byzantine Empire.

Evergreens shelter a collection of structures that look more like typical Northwest cabins than a Greek Orthodox monastery. In the wee hours, the woods are dark. So still, so quiet, so peaceful. Elsewhere, bars are closing, truckers are making the long haul, children have been asleep for hours.

At the roadside monastery at the edge of a forest, Greek Orthodox sisters are praying for them all. From this remote sylvan setting 10 miles north of Goldendale, more than a dozen nuns pray for the world. Their prayers continue until the stars disappear from the sky, the sun rises and shines, and darkness sets in again.

Life—a tranquil cycle of work and prayer—goes largely uninterrupted at St. John the Forerunner, the only Greek Orthodox monastery in Central Washington. Tucked under the trees and named in honor of St. John the Baptist, it’s a small version of monasteries in Greece that have been running for hundreds of years, and it’s growing. New sisters, most from the western United States, arrive almost every year.

WA Moscow-Pullman Daily News - Nov 6, 2006 (Sister Arsenia)

The monastery is home to 16 sisters, including four novices. Most are in their 20s.

They pledge to live their lives among the pines of Status Pass, at an elevation of just over 3,000 feet, on the north side of the Horse Heaven Hills in Klickitat County. Nearly 60 miles from Yakima and thousands of miles from Greece, it’s arguably the middle of nowhere.

While other young women are going to college and on dates, getting jobs, getting married and raising families—the sisters are giving their lives to God, living in solitude together—and praying for the world.

“It’s a calling from God,” says 33-year-old Sister Ephraimia. “It grows in your heart. It’s like a fire inside you.”

Originally from Santa Barbara, Calif., Sister Ephraimia was the first American to live at the monastery, founded by three Greek nuns in 1995. She’s been here 11 years.

“I had no idea what the monastic life was before I came here,” she says. “The draw was Christ. Lots of people say it’s like you’re in prison or something. It’s not. It’s the opposite. It’s like you’re free.”

The sisters lead contemplative, quiet lives, largely secluded—save for medical appointments, shopping trips and other errands, and the occasional journey to another monastery—from the outside world. Unlike Catholic nuns, who are usually active in their communities, Orthodox nuns center their lives on a desire to come closer to God through prayer.

“It is hard to understand the depth of this life,” says 30-year-old Sister Iosiphia, originally from Scottsdale, Ariz. She’s lived at the monastery nearly 10 years. “It’s a beautiful life. You’re doing it for God.”

Sisters go through a novice, or trial, period that can last years before becoming tonsured nuns. It is extremely rare for a sister to give up monastic life after that point.

“You come here with the goal to die here,” Sister Iosiphia says. “It’s a very serious commitment.”

WA Winter

A Life Apart: Monastery near Goldendale attracts women who choose a prayerful existence (Kelly Adams, 2005)

The following newspaper article was taken from the Columbian (Vancouver, WA), May 1st, 2005:

WA SIGN

As the world around them sleeps, the sisters of the Holy Monastery of St. John the Forerunner struggle to get out of bed.

Even after nine years, 2 a.m. comes early, said Sister Ephraimia. “Most of us have to force ourselves,” she said. They rise with the assistance of “alarms, alarms and sisters.” Once awake, the sisters start their individual prayers in seclusion. They stand up then drop to the floor or bend at the waist in prostrations, clad head-to-toe in black. “While everyone is sleeping, we are praying for the world,” Sister Iosiphia said. Despite the tiredness, Sister Ephraimia said, “Many say it is their favorite part of the day. That’s where we receive our strength.”

The sisters are among 16 nuns and novices who have pledged to live their lives as part of a monastic community. Many came in their early 20s, an age when young people often struggle with their identity and purpose. Novices spend as long as three years at St. John’s before being tonsured, the final step to becoming a nun.

The Sisterhood of St. john the Forerunner Monastery with Bishop Joseph
The Sisterhood of St. john the Forerunner Monastery with Bishop Joseph

Tucked in the trees just north of Goldendale, St. John’s is one of 18 Greek Orthodox monasteries in North America. It’s just up the highway from the area where entrepreneur Sam Hill dreamed of creating a Quaker agricultural community. Although that dream didn’t come true, his legacy is evident in the Maryhill Museum and the Stonehenge replica dotting the bluffs along the sparkling water.

After more than two hours of solitary prayer, the sisters gather in the chapel. Golden icons look out from a series of panels while lights from oil lamps and thin, amber-colored beeswax tapers flicker in the pre-dawn dark. Located on the ground floor of their large house, the small but elaborately adorned room is the heart of the place where the women gather several times a day. The sisters enter softly through a side door, long black scarves unfurling behind them. As they pray, their individual identities dissolve and merge into a choreographed, single entity. Their call and response of chanting and singing fills the sacred space.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

The 4:30 a.m. common services are led by a priest who travels from Goldendale, 10 miles away, or Yakima, 60 miles away. During services, worshippers, whether they are nuns or one of the local Orthodox Christians, cross themselves and kiss the surface of the paintings, called veneration. Iconic paintings depict the faces of Jesus, the saints and the Virgin Mary as they looked when they were alive, Sister Philothei explained. They help us to pray,” she said. “We don’t worship the wood or the paint.”

‘… fulfilling, sweet life’

Over and over, the women smile as they describe how they were drawn to the solitude, the structure and the spirit of a life spent dedicated to prayer and work. It is with joy that they have turned their backs on careers, marriage, children. “It’s a process of understanding nothing else works for you,” Sister Prodromia said. She does not spend much time thinking about life away from St. John’s. “I think we’re very much in the real world. We see it all the time. The goal is not to be a part of it,” she said.

What they are a part of is trying to make the planet better, “to help the world through our example, through our prayer.” The women embrace the monastery’s restrictions: chastity, hard work, and obedience to the abbess, their spiritual mother. Known as Gerontissa Efpraxia, the abbess of St. John’s has been a nun for 40 years. A kind smile spreads across her softly wrinkled face as she speaks in her native Greek, explaining her role as “mother, sister, friend” to the women in her care.

Sister Prodromia, 27, grew up in Yakima in a Greek Orthodox family. She was then known as Megan Hagler. She made her initial visit to St. John’s when she was 17. “It was the first time I realized monasteries weren’t castles in the clouds,” she said. Although she was drawn to the life, she left home to study theology and philosophy at a small Orthodox college in South Carolina. “I didn’t really have a plan. I think that’s why I was there,” she said. Her mother, Glenna Hagler, said that when her daughter returned to Yakima with the intention of enrolling in college there, she lacked direction.

“She just seemed so sad,” Glenna Hagler recalled. She remembers turning to her daughter and asking: “When was the last time you were happy?” The last time I was happy was when I thought I was going to be a nun,” Megan, then 20, replied. The young woman went to Goldendale for a visit, then accompanied the sisters back to Yakima to attend services at her family’s church, Holy Cross. Her mother was there and knew immediately something had changed. “I looked back at her with the sisters and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, she’s not coming home,'” Glenna Hagler said.

WA St. John iconostasis

Sister Prodromia’s story is similar to many of the women who have embraced an existence of structured spiritual practice that dates back thousands of years. Just as Orthodox nuns centuries ago, they dress modestly in long skirts and long-sleeved shirts. Their heads are wrapped in identical black coverings with small red crosses stitched into the fabric at their foreheads.

Sister Ephraimia, 31, compared the feeling to the way people sometimes describe meeting their future spouse. The knowing goes beyond what can be rationally explained. That is the same way the sisters feel about the monasticism, she said. “Everything else seems so empty,” she said. “The monastic life is really such a beautiful, fulfilling, sweet life.”

Following the 4:30 a.m. service, the sisters spend time on their own resting, reading and praying before breakfast at 8:30 a.m.

Work and prayer

By the time they begin their work day at 9:30 a.m., they have spent many hours praying for both their salvation and peace for the planet. When it is time to work, they scatter to the shop where their wares are sold, the kitchen where the authentic Greek food is prepared, the studio where the icons are painted, the mobile home where the candles and soap are made.

WA St John's Soap

As the sisters go about their day, the swish of dark skirts is accompanied by the whistling whisper of the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ Have Mercy on Us” uttered over and over again in Greek. The softly uttered words form the background to Sister Iosiphia’s work as she dips a large ladle into a huge vat of syrup on the stove, fishing out lemon and orange slices. She pauses in her prayer to explain her choice.

Sister Iosiphia, 29, grew up the oldest of four in a Greek Orthodox family near Phoenix. She loved school, sports and fashion. Sister Iosiphia was studying to be a teacher when she was drawn to the life she experienced during monastery visits. It felt like home.

“It’s a calling,” said Sister Iosiphia. “It’s like a flame inside you.” She has the soul of a scholar, effortlessly quoting Scripture and the teachings of the church leaders. One of Sister Iosiphia’s main duties is to maintain the chapel: filling the oil lamps, straightening the books, looking after the visiting priests who conduct services. She pitches in wherever she is asked by the Gerontissa. Some days that means stuffing vine leaves with meat, vegetables and spices, called dolmadakia. Other days that means preparing syrup to use with the homemade baklava, a popular item in the store.

St. John's Bakery-Espresso

At first sight, the shop just off the highway could be any roadside stop frequented by the campers and hunters who pass through. “ESPRESSO” spelled out in bright neon lures drivers off the rural highway. Once inside, the difference from a typical convenience store becomes apparent: there’s no gleaming silver cases of beer lining the coolers, no bait or tackle for sale. Not a pack of cigarettes or can of chewing tobacco is in sight. A sweet smell from the handmade lotions and soaps mingles with the spices from freshly baked pastries with long, vowel-laden names. The espresso machine in the corner occasionally sputters to life, filling the room with the strong aroma of fresh coffee. The low, melodic rumble of Byzantine chants draws attention to a display filled with pastel-colored bits of incense and black prayer ropes.

Purity of work, purity of life

On most days, Sister Philothei’s work takes her to a tiny, sun-dappled room above the kitchen and bakery. Leaning on large easels are shiny golden-toned icons in progress.

WA Nun Painting Icon

Iconography is the art form of the saints, Jesus and the Virgin Mary painted in a style that dates back to the Byzantine era, about 300 years after the death of Christ. Sister Philothei has a warm smile for everyone she encounters. Her eyes light up as she talks about the life she has chosen. She pages through a large book filled with photographs of murals painted on the walls of a monastery in Greece. The icons depict Jesus’ life from his birth in a manger to his rising from the dead. “We can live the liturgy. We don’t need to see a movie,” Sister Philothei said. “This is the story of the Gospel.”

WA Nun iconographer

She’ll talk passionately about iconography and discuss the meaning behind the paintings. But Sister Philothei, 25, is less comfortable talking about the young woman she was before she became a nun. Her father, Luke Dingman, is an Orthodox priest and artist who lives southwest of San Jose, Calif. His portraits of St. John’s adorn the bottles of lotions and soap as well as the notecards sold by the sisters. His daughter grew up as Sarah Dingman and worked in his art studio before becoming a nun. From a very young age, she showed artistic promise. “She just drew everything,” Luke Dingman said.

Fr. Luke (Rolland) Dingman
Fr. Luke (Rolland) Dingman

Now her art is limited to iconography; she leaves the sketching of the wilderness around her to her father when he visits. She also sees herself not as an individual with unique talents but a member of a community to which she offers her contributions. “This is our life now,” she said. “You don’t want anything else.” Although he misses her, Luke Dingman is proud of his daughter. “I think she’s gone beyond me in the purity of her work and the purity of her life,” Luke Dingman said.

WA Iconographer Nun

The sisters stop their work for lunch at 1 p.m. After lunch, they have quiet free time that they spend in personal prayer, reading, resting or walking. They return to their work at 4 p.m. until they are called to evening services.

The freedom to make individual decisions has been replaced by a life led in obedience to the Gerontissa. Rather than feeling controlled, Sister Philothei said the structure is a comfort. “Obedience is quite an amazing mystery,” she said. “It’s true freedom; it’s freedom from cares.” The Gerontissa said she doesn’t see obedience as a bad word but a way of expressing how their lives are structured. “It kind of keeps a nice order,” she said in Greek, interpreted by Sister Iosiphia. “It’s an understanding, not like servants or a slave. I’m not going to get them to do something that’s against the will of God.”

WA Sara

All of the sisters came to the monastery with the belief that God’s will for them is to live out their days there. “You come here with the goal to die here,” Sister Iosiphia said.

‘Surrounded by angels’

At 6 p.m., as the sun starts to set, Sister Iosiphia summons the sisters to vespers by whacking a long plank of wood with a stick, meant to symbolize Noah calling all the animals into the ark.

The service offers thanks for the day coming to an end and a welcome for the next day to dawn. It is filled with low soothing tones of the sisters reciting prayers. Local Orthodox families join the sisters. The sisters greet the children by name, often wrapping an affectionate arm around them. One mother, Theophano Reese, loves having her four children spend time at the monastery. “It’s like they are surrounded by angels,” she said.

Following vespers, the sisters have dinner, then return to the chapel for small compline, their evening prayers. Sister Iosiphia explained that they are closing their day by asking for forgiveness. You kind of make everything good with everyone,” she said.

“That’s the end of our day,” Sister Ephraimia whispers before quietly disappearing into the residence. “Have a good rest.”

Kelly Adams covers social issues and religion for The Columbian. Contact her at 360-759-8016 or kelly.adams@columbian.com.

http://ariellejuliana.dreamwidth.org/110111.html

More Than Just A House That’s Off In The Woods – 1st Orthodox Monastery For Nuns Opens In West (Jeremy Meyer, 1997)

NOTE:

St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Monastery is a non-profit organization registered under the title “Greek Orthodox Holy Monastery Of St. John The Honorable Forerunner” (EIN: 91-1732560).

St John The Forerunner Foundation (EIN# 31-1786555) was created “To provide support for St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Monastery…Support is used for operating the monastery and supporting a building fund”. 

The following newspaper article is taken from the Yakima-Herald Republic, May 3rd, 1997.

WA Sister SeraphimaGOLDENDALE – The four nuns appear like alien shadows in this rural county – Old World images of God in a land of winter wheat and rolling rangeland.

Their monasticism, black robes and Greek language contrast with Goldendale’s bucolic Americana of Wrangler jeans, pickup trucks and satellite-dish TV.

Two years ago, the Greek Orthodox Church sent four nuns to Klickitat County to establish the first all-woman Orthodox monastery in the Pacific Northwest.

Three of the four came directly from Volos, Greece, which overlooks the Aegean Sea, to this modest, two-story, chalet-style house.

They left behind an established monastery, family and friends and a homeland populated with Orthodox Christians for this rural town, where only one other person claims to practice their Orthodox Christian faith.

DSC08280 DSC08281

The fourth nun is from California and has just finished her first year of monasticism. She is the only native English speaker among them.

In Greek Orthodoxy, such a house of prayer is called a monastery, not a convent, even though the members are all women. This one is less ornate and traditional in its appearance. In fact, it’s just a house surrounded by a small stand of trees, 10 miles north of Goldendale, off Highway 97.

Three years ago, retired Goldendale physician Dr. Gerard Timmer donated the house and its surrounding 48 acres to the church. Visitors have helped the nuns build a guest house next door and complete a kitchen and four rooms. A 100-year-old bell from Boston sits on a knoll behind the house.

Nuns’ job is to pray

The nuns are not here to spread the word or invoke mass conversions of the people of Klickitat County – though that wouldn’t be discouraged.

“Our role isn’t for Goldendale or the state of Washington,” said Sister Agni. “It is for all the people and especially for the Orthodox people.”

They’ve come to pray, to be secluded and to provide a retreat center for followers of this traditional Christian faith.

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“We don’t go out to public places,” said Sister Agni. “We are devoted to Jesus Christ. In public, there is nothing to help us to be concentrated on our prayers.”

They wear black robes and head coverings and follow a life of prayer and self-discipline. They’ve taken oaths of poverty, chastity and obedience. They don’t use mirrors, don’t keep money and have taken religious names.

They speak quietly and seriously. They defer to the Abbess, Gerontissa Efpraxia, whose title means eldest.

They don’t talk about themselves or their past personal lives. Instead, they talk about the lives of their superiors and their faith.

Sister Agni, who believes she is close to 30, said she entered the monastic life a decade ago.

“I knew,” she said. “Everyone who is called to the monastery hears it first in their heart.”

Mostly, they pray.

WA St.John the Forerunner

They awake at 2 a.m., pray for about three hours. After a brief sleep, they awake again at 7 a.m. for a common service of prayer. Vespers, the traditional evening prayers, are at 6 o’clock, followed by a light dinner at 7, and more prayers.

They carry prayer ropes around their wrists or in their pockets. Saying the Jesus Prayer, they move their fingers along the knotted prayer rope.

“Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

“Their work is to pray,” said Father Joseph Copeland, the pastor of the Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Yakima.

Fr. Joseph Copeland is the priest on the right
Fr. Joseph Copeland is the priest on the right

“If it wasn’t for the many monasteries and the amount of prayer for themselves and the world, the world would not be maintained. It would destroy itself. . . . It’s doing a good job of that already.”

The Goldendale monastery is named St. John the Forerunner, in honor of John the Baptist.

It is unlike any other monastery in the Greek Orthodox religion, said Father James Retelas, pastor of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Portland. Monasteries can be century-old structures of ornate architecture. But this is just another house in the woods.

“It will take time,” Retelas said in a telephone interview. “When we establish a monastery, we do so not for 100 years but for thousands of years.”

Eastern Orthodoxy is one of the three main branches of Christianity, with an estimated 240 million adherents worldwide, mostly in Russia, Greece, Eastern Europe and Western Asia. Out of 124 million Christians in the United States, about 4 million practice the Orthodox faith.

Orthodox monasticism new in West

Only recently has the Orthodox Church decided to bring monasticism to the Western world, said Retelas.

Fr-James-thumbnail-for-sermons“From our perspective, (monasticism) represents the fullness of the Orthodox expression of our faith,” he said.

Timmer, 84, is the reason a monastery appeared in this remote region.

Timmer, who still lives in Goldendale, donated the house after his wife died. On a trip through Greece, he was baptized into the faith. Though not a devout practitioner of the faith, Timmer is as close as you get in Goldendale.

“My knowledge of the Greek Orthodox church is very small,” he said in an interview last year. But he still drives from his Goldendale house to the monastery almost every day.

“They call me pa-poo,” he said. “It means grandfather.”

The church took over the home and acreage after one of its top officials, Father Ephraim – a monk from Greece – examined the property and knew it was right, said Retelas.

Geronda Ephraim (1992)
Geronda Ephraim (1992)

“(Father Ephraim) is as close as a clairvoyant that I’d ever seen,” Retelas said. “When he saw the place, he said, `Yes, we need a monastery here.’ He said, `This is where St. John the Forerunner will be established.’ “

The monastery is part of an effort by the Orthodox Church to bring monasticism to the New World.

The first monastery that Father Ephraim established began in Pennsylvania in 1989. He’s now established 11 monasteries, located throughout North America -in Canada, California and Arizona.

The Goldendale monastery is the first all-woman one in the Pacific Northwest and is, by far, the most isolated of the monastic communities, said Copeland, whose Yakima church is the closest Orthodox parish to the monastery.

WA St. John the Forerunner

“For this monastery to be founded in the middle of nowhere is a miracle for us,” Copeland said. “But when you think about a monastery, you think about walls and churches. Here, they have a house, but not like a monastic house. It isn’t the same model that they come from.”

The nuns are supported through alms from followers of the religion and donations from Northwest Orthodox churches.

The nuns produce incense and iconography. They decorate beeswax candles with spiritual sayings.

They also practice the ancient art of painting icons, which sell for about $27 per inch.

http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19970503&slug=2537007

 WA St.John the Forerunner 2

Why are newly tonsured monks and nuns not included in the Orthodox Observer’s Clergy Updates section? (2002)

A debate on an Orthodox Christian forum in 2002 about why the Greek Archdiocese does not keep track of their newly tonsured monks and nuns in the same way it keeps track of its priests:

A. Styl writes:

The Orthodox Observer often lists a “Clergy Update” that lists ordination of deacons and priests, retirement of priests, and new assignments of priests–all good information.

Iero 2
Inside the altar during Divine Liturgy at St. Anthony’s Monastery (AZ)

Where is the list of newly tonsured monks and nuns in the monasteries and convents under the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese? Families of these newly tonsured monastics often learn of the tonsuring and the location of their loved one after the fact. If the Archdiocese keeps track of its priests, why are the monks and nuns kept out of the loop? Why the secrecy or even the shadow of secrecy in listing these monks and nuns?

The absence of this list runs parallel with the absence of information about the monk Ephraim-led monasteries on the GO web site or Orthodox Observer. If establishing 16 monasteries within the last 10 years is a tribute to the Church, why is it not highlighted and presented to the people as a model? Because it is not a model of monasticism and because the GO church doesn’t know what to do with this rogue monk. Cults depend on secrecy and isolation in order to survive.

 

Iero 3
Inside the altar during Divine Liturgy at St. Anthony’s Monastery (AZ)

Alex Arnakis: The difference is that priests, deacons, etc., are public functionaries, and therefore the public has a right to know who they are. Monastics, on the other hand, answer to no one except themselves (and their monastic superiors), and thus are entitled to a curtain of
privacy.

If the monastics want to cut themselves off from their families, it’s their business. This isn’t to say that doing so is right, because (in my opinion) it violates the Commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother.” The Commandment applies even if the parents are dysfunctional (and we all know how common dysfunctional families are among
Greek-Americans).

Because the Ephraimite monasteries are *not* a tribute to the Church; they’re an embarrassment to the Church. The problem is that monastic life for the young is not consistent with the so-called “family values” that the Church is trying to promote.

Ephraim is a fish out of water. If people want to join monasteries, there are plenty of monasteries in Greece that they can go join. Monasticism just doesn’t fit with the ethos of America.

Serge: Perhaps it has to do with monasticism’s origins as something semi-independent of other church instititutions. Isn’t this still at least somewhat true in Orthodox monasticism, where each full-fledged monastery is independent of the others?

Marina: Monastics are not clergy and no such publication exists in Greece or Cyprus, for example.

Cunneen: Alex, I have to take exception to that. On the Catholic side, the Benedictines among others are alive and well in this country. They provide retreat centers and places of silence and peace for the rest of us, which is an important corrective to the ethos of America.

I’m sure that Orthodox monasticism is just as important to American Orthodox.

Alex Arnakis: I should have said “Monasticism in the tradition of Mt. Athos, as promulgated by Elder Ephraim, doesn’t fit with the ethos of America.” I’m sure Roman Catholic monasteries don’t recruit teenagers against the will of their parents, and do other things to split families apart. Nor do they make a personality cult of their abbots, doing such things as drinking their bath water.

The Trappist monks of Holy Cross Abbey (Berryville, Virginia) make some awfully good fruitcake. (BTW, I notice that they don’t accept novices younger than 23.)

Cunneen: All Orthodox monasteries in the U.S. aren’t Athonian, are they? We met monks
from a small (monastery?) in Northern California affiliated with OCA; they make icons and do some simple farming. There are only three of them, but they seem very happy and open.

Rd. Constantine Wright: There is a map and list of the Athonite monasteries in America at the following link: http://www.stanthonysmonastery.org/map.htm

This is at the website for St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence, AZ.

Fr. Ephraim is not being secret. There are several public websites given in the list. Fr. Ephrain travels (insofar as he is allowed to do so) and speaks openly. On the other hand, the efforts at secrecy are coming from those who are trying to suppress monasticism, the heart of our Orthodox Faith, in this country.

Alexander Arnakis: No, there were monasteries before Fr, Ephraim. But he’s the one who sparked the growth, and the controversy.

A. Styl: Yes, there are several public websites, but the Archdiocese’s web site and its newsletter, the Orthodox Observer, do NOT list him or his monasteries’ activities. Those of us who want to expose the monk Ephraim and his cult are not against monasticism within the Church. There is monasticism and then there is monasticism, the Ephraim-type that requires secrecy and deception. The term of “salvific deception,” which allows one to lie in order to preserve one’s salvation is touted to the novices and tonsured monks/nuns. In other words, it’s ok to deceive others in order to preserve and further your own salvation and your monastic community. The guardians of our faith are allowed to lie?

Atstaves:

I have attended several GOA National Clergy-Laity Congresses over the past decade, and the Fr. Ephraim monasteries have been a great source of private debate. When they have been brought out at public meetings, the GOA hierarchs clearly have admonished those present that they consider these monasteries under their jurisdictions, but for some reason or another, they have little or no control over what occurs there. Metropolitans will visit these monasteries on occasion, but other than that there appears to be little or no control exterted by them. The GOA drafted some regulations concerning these monasteries, but I am not sure what happened to them.

In the meantime, the GOA over the years has established several monasteries of its own, which are clearly included on their web site. I have visited non-Ephraim and Ephraim monasteries (two Ephraim monasteries are in my area, with one may be housing a young man whose recruitment was and still is a major source of controversy.) The non-Ephraim monasteries are open and warm, the Ephraim ones secretive and furtive in nature. The monk (within one year of joining was tonsured!) in question avoided contact with the general public during my visits. The monks and nuns of the GOA monasteries behaved
differently. While rumors swirl about how the Ephraim monasteries operate and how they recruit youngsters to become monks, no such rumors swirl around the GOA formed monasteries, nor of any other monasteries of other canonically recognized Churches in the USA.

The Ephraim monasteries are organized around Fr. Ephraim, all 16 or so of them. True monasteries are organized around a single abbott, not multiple monasteries organized around a single abbott. And Ephraim himself has jurisdiction hopped when it has suited him to do so, and how and why he left Mt. Athos has never been disclosed or explained. Many insist that he left Mt. Athos because he was on the verge of being booted out over some unusual behavior and teachings. Again, there is no way of verifying this, and until there is proof offered, at best they are rumors that just keep on persisting.

You know the old expression, where you smell smoke, there must be fire? In the Ephraim monasteries, the “smoke” smell is clearly evident.

Peter A. Neenan: Contrary to American ethos? Tell that to the Benedictines!

Catherine Hampton: Please present the evidence that this term is used and taught by
Archimandrite Ephreim and others in his group….

I’m a former member of a religious cult (a Protestant based cult) who has no problem accepting that an Orthodox group could also fall into this particular sin. (I’ve seen it happen.) However, I also have no problem believing that, for political or other invalid reasons, a group of people might accuse a particular monk or leader of cultism when they are not actually guilty of it.

So far, the evidence I’ve seen about Archimandrite Ephreim is equivocal, and not terribly well supported.

If there is real evidence of genuine cultlike behavior (as teaching the doctrine you cite above would be), I’d like to hear it, and see it posted. But it should be real evidence — the testimony of multiple witnesses, a sound recording in the voice of Archimandrite Ephreim, a document written by him that he acknowledges or that can be proved to
have come from him, etc.

Otherwise, I’m going to assume that the war we all observed within the Greek Orthodox Church in America is continuing, and that a partisan in this war is engaging in propaganda to sway our opinion for reasons that have nothing to do with the guilt or innocence of the person he’s accusing. :/

That’s interesting information…  You know, somebody really should gather together these stories, interview the people involved, and post it in one location.  Over five years ago, I and another former member of a cultish Protestant group did this.  It proved useful to a huge number of people who had been members of or otherwise were affected by the group, people whose very existence we didn’t suspect and most of whom didn’t realize that others had had the same experiences they did.

The advantages of getting specifics into the daylight — names, dates, first-hand testimony, and analysis by outsiders who do  not have an axe to grind — is hard to overstate.  Maybe you could start something like this?

Seth Williamson: Correct me if I’m wrong, but as I understand it, the kid was old enough to join the armed forces without parental consent. Then why can’t he become a monk?

Cunneen: Reading accusations and waiting for evidence seem to be two of the major
activities of this newsgroup. We get a lot of both.

That’s what makes unsupported accusations so evil; puff up enough smoke and people begin to believe there’s a fire because you said so. That’s essentially the method of propaganda: make an accusation often and loudly.

Atstaves: Hi Catherine. Try going to http://www.pokrov.org/. There are extensive articles on the Ephraim monasteries for anyone to review, including a few articles by an Archbishop who has taken exception to several of their teachings and has written articles setting the record straight.

Baseless rumor and its smoke will usually dissipate within a short period of time. With the Ephraim monasteries, after a decade, the smoke just never seems to go away.

Go to http://www.pokrov.org/ and read all about them along with an Archbishop’s response over two or three articles contradicting Ephramite teachings. You will get a better idea of what some of us are talking about.

I wish it were just idle rumor.

Regards, Louis Geo. Atsaves

A. Styl: Catherine, you want real evidence? So do we! Those families, except for the one in Tennessee, hesitate to speak out for two reasons: 1) ostracism from their parish (questioning the Ephraim-type of monasticism is not encouraged or translates into condemnation of all types of monasticism) and 2) isolation from their loved one inside an Ephraim-led monastery or convent as evidenced from the young Fr. Theologos and his self-isolation from his family. Letters are written and calls are made to Church heirarchs but nothing is done to set up guidelines or counseling. The secrecy of the whole thing is mind boggling! This power of spiritual dependence is so strong that parishes and priests fear speaking out because the Ephraimites idolize their “spiritual father”-the monk Ephraim. Families don’t want to be labeled as troubled or dysfunctional because their loved ones joined a cult. These families feel shame and guilt. As a former member of a Protestant cult, you could appreciate this I’m sure. We hear from these families but we cannot reveal their names for the sake of their privacy.

Please go to the following web sites for more information and “evidence” from personal testimonies, newspaper articles, and reports on Ephraim’s views on marriage and aerial toll houses, etc. from the Ukrainian Orthodox Archbishop Lazar Puhalo. Other than a few things on the Orthodox News web site (www.orthodoxnews.com,) we can’t lead you to more “evidence” other than these:

http://www.pokrov.org/cultorth.html
http://www.rickross.com/groups/ephraim.html

 

The rest of the debate can be found here.