Seraphim Larsen has been a spiritual child of Geronda Paisios, abbot of St. Anthony’s Monastery, almost since the beginning of the monastery’s establishment in Florence; circa 1995. Geronda Paisios baptized him into the orthodox faith during a secret ceremony. Seraphim was the chairman of the Pinal County Republican party.1 Furthermore, he is also a member of the Greater Phoenix Tea Party Patriots.2 It is no secret that Geronda Paisios has openly supported Ron Paul and other right-wing candidates when asked by his spiritual children who they should vote for. Greek edition books concerning the New World Order and Globalism that are sold in St. Anthony’s bookstore contain photocopies from English pamphlets distributed by American neo-Nazi groups.
A developer is proposing drastic changes to the zoning and land usage for parcels of land IMMEDIATELY ADJACENT to Saint Anthony’s Monastery. These changes would have a dramatic and significant negative impact to Saint Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery. It would also be a dramatic negative impact to all the local residents and out-of-state visitors who attend services there, to all the families who have relatives buried in the cemetery, and to everyone who currently enjoys the tranquil and graceful nature of the Monastery.
The proposed development is truly a drastic change:
• Over 200 new houses are to be developed on land north of the Monastery, including the area immediately adjacent to the Monastery Cemetery
• A new road is to be built extending from Paisano Road, then running in between the two Monastery hills, immediately at the base of the Prophet Elias Chapel, then very close to the cemetery. As this would be the only access road to the 200+ houses, traffic and noise would be greatly increased.
• The noise, traffic, housing, music, animals, etc. would bring a dramatic change to the whole community, disturbing not only the Monastery but the neighbors as well.
• The natural habitat and wildlife would be impacted by a big new development as well, disturbing several rare plant and animal species in the area.
YOUR URGENT ACTION IS REQUESTED! Public meetings are already scheduled for the coming week!! Please sign the petition immediately!
The petition simply asks the local authorities to leave the zoning of these properties unchanged. The purpose of zoning laws is to provide long-term expectations for property owners on how the land in their neighborhood is intended to be used. This allows people to plan and build in a manner appropriate to the existing neighborhood. The proposed new development represents a drastic change to current zoning usage and would have a strongly negative impact on the local community.
The petition also asks the Bureau of Land Management and the Arizona State Land Department simply to leave the usage of these properties unchanged. These agencies must approve any changes to the land usage where the developer wants to build the new road, since it passes through lands controlled by those agencies.
There is a private hearing early next week with Planning & Zoning and the local property owners (including the monastery). The monastery is hoping to bring as many signatures as possible (both paper petitions and printouts of the online petition) to that meeting.
If they don’t make a decision following that initial meeting, it’s likely they will have a public hearing sometime over the next few weeks.
Seraphim Larsen has also made a sample email for people to send:4
Send to: Pinal County Supervisors: Pete Rios <Pete.Rios@pinalcountyaz.gov>, Cheryl Chase <email@example.com>, Steve Miller <Steve.Miller@pinalcountyaz.gov>, Anthony Smith <Anthony.Smith@pinalcountyaz.gov>, Todd House <Todd.House@pinalcountyaz.gov>
Subject Line: Leave Zoning Unchanged near Saint Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery
Dear Pinal County Supervisors,
Thank you for all the great things you are doing for Pinal County!
I am writing to ask you to leave the zoning unchanged near Saint Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery at the end of Paisano Road in the Cactus Forest area immediately south of Florence.
Elmore/Brimhall LLC has submitted a rezoning application to the Pinal County Planning and Zoning Commission, asking that a large parcel immediately adjacent to the north border of the Monastery be rezoned from General Rural to a Residential classification for one-acre residential homes.
I am writing to you to express my strong opposition to this rezoning proposal. The Monastery is the spiritual home to thousands of Greek Orthodox faithful who regularly attend services and pray on the peaceful grounds of the Monastery. The Monastery is the actual residence to over fifty Greek Orthodox Monks who have devoted their lives to worship, prayer, and serving the community. The Monastery is world-renowned for its tranquil, beautiful, and holy grounds, a major tourist attraction where tens of thousands of people visit every year from Arizona and around the world. Many visitors have also expressed interest and concern about the natural habitat and wildlife, and the negative impact of significant development. Finally, the Cemetery at the Monastery is the resting place for many faithful people whose family and relatives would be greatly disturbed to have a busy new road and housing development immediately adjacent to the cemetery, with road noise, houses, animals, and music disturbing the peace of the holy grounds.
I strongly urge you to advise the Planning and Zoning Commission to deny this application for a zoning change.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
NAME and CITY, STATE
UPDATE FROM SERAPHIM LARSEN (JUNE 03, 2016)
More than 5,000 signatures!
JUN 3, 2016 — We passed two significant milestones yesterday:
• We exceeded 5,000 signatures! The petition continues to build momentum!
• We had the meeting with the developer, with the Monastery and the other adjacent property owners.
The developer presented their plans and explained why they are asking for a change in zoning. They listened to the Monastery’s objections but gave no hint of conceding anything to the Monastery—they fully intend to go forward with their rezoning application. The one other neighbor who attended the meeting seemed sympathetic to the Monastery’s concerns, but their own concerns were more about how the development could impact access to their own property, which is at the far end of the development.
In other words, there weren’t any real surprises—this is the outcome we were expecting. The developer is not going to give up this project easily.
This meeting was required for the developer to complete the submission of their zoning application, which will all be turned over to the Planning and Zoning Commission in 1-2 weeks. A public hearing before the Planning & Zoning Commission will then be scheduled—we will be sure to let everyone know when that will happen and how you can speak at the hearing if you want.
It’s likely there will be more than one public hearing with Planning & Zoning, who will eventually make their recommendation to the County Board of Supervisors. The Supervisors will then address the question at another public meeting, at which they will approve or deny the rezoning application.
We will keep everyone informed every step of the way, and let you know what you can do to help. For now, please continue to email the Board of Supervisors—especially if you are local or in-state. See the link below for a sample message and all the contact information for the Board members.
NOTE: The following article is taken from Phoenix Mag, Issue: January 2016:
South of the Arizona State Prison Complex in Florence, smack dab in the middle of the desert with distant mountain vistas, is a serene Orthodox Greek monastery. Flagstone pathways meander around meticulously manicured grounds and storybook chapels.
St. Anthony’s Monastery, established in 1995, funds itself in part by selling olive oil its monks press and bottle on-site from an estate grove. The oil is exquisite, and a fine example of terroir in action: Olive trees flourish in the Sonoran desert. In the fall, monks handpick olives from Mission, Manzanilla and Sevillano olive trees, pressing them all together to produce a cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil that is raw, robust and a clear expression of the harsh ground from where it comes.
Visitors are welcome at the monastery, but check the website for hours and dress code. Women are required to wear loose-fitting long skirts and long-sleeve shirts, headscarves and closed-toe shoes. The bookstore sells the olive oil in addition to whole olives, hot sauces, and jams and marmalades made from the property’s orchards. You don’t have to travel to Florence to buy a bottle of this exceptional, unfiltered olive oil. Find the oil, sold by volunteers, at select farmers’ markets including Old Town Scottsdale, Roadrunner and Singh Farms, as well as at The Bodega at FnB and Sphinx Date Co. Palm & Pantry. $9 for 250 ml; $24 for 750 ml.
NOTE: This article is based on the writings of Albert D. Biderman, a sociologist who worked for the USAF in the 1950s. Biderman showed how Chinese and Korean interrogators used techniques including sleep deprivation, darkness or bright light, insults, threats, and exposure far more than physical force to break prisoners. A link to the entire pdf can be found at the end of the article.
“Most people who brainwash…use methods similar to those of prison guards who recognize that physical control is never easily accomplished without the cooperation of the prisoner. The most effective way to gain that cooperation is through subversive manipulation of the mind and feelings of the victim, who then becomes a psychological, as well as a physical, prisoner.” from an Amnesty International publication, “Report on Torture“, which depicts the brainwashing of prisoners of war.
Deprives individual of social support, effectively rendering him unable to resist
Makes individual dependent upon interrogator
Develops an intense concern with self.
Once a person is away from longstanding emotional support and thus reality checks, it is fairly easy to set a stage for brainwashing. Spiritually abusive groups work to isolate individuals from friends and family, whether directly, by requiring the individuals to forsake friends and family for the sake of the “Kingdom” (group membership), or indirectly, by preaching the necessity to demonstrate one’s love for God by “hating” one’s father, mother, family, friends.
Abusive groups are not outward-looking, but inward-looking, insisting that members find all comfort and support and a replacement family within the group. Cut off from friends, relatives, previous relationships, abusive groups surround the recruits and hammer rigid ideologies into their consciousnesses, saturating their senses with specific doctrines and requirements of the group.
Isolated from everyone but those within the group, recruits become dependent upon group members and leaders and find it difficult if not impossible to offer resistance to group teachings. They become self-interested and hyper-vigilant, very fearful should they incur the disapproval of the group, which now offers the only support available to them which has group approval.
The seed of extremism exists wherever a group demands all the free time of a member, insisting he be in church every time the doors are open and calling him to account if he isn’t, is critical or disapproving of involvements with friends and family outside the group, encourages secrecy by asking that members not share what they have seen or heard in meetings or about church affairs with outsiders, is openly, publicly, and repeatedly critical of other churches or groups (especially if the group claims to be the only one which speaks for God), is critical when members attend conferences, workshops or services at other churches, checks up on members in any way, i.e., to determine that the reason they gave for missing a meeting was valid, or makes attendance at all church functions mandatory for participating in church ministry or enjoying other benefits of church fellowship.
Once a member stops interacting openly with others, the group’s influence is all that matters. He is bombarded with group values and information and there is no one outside the group with whom to share thoughts or who will offer reinforcement or affirmation if the member disagrees with or doubts the values of the group. The process of isolation and the self-doubt it creates allow the group and its leaders to gain power over the members. Leaders may criticize major and minor flaws of members, sometimes publically, or remind them of present or past sins. They may call members names, insult them or ignore them, or practice a combination of ignoring members at some times and receiving them warmly at others, thus maintaining a position of power (i.e., the leaders call the shots.)
The sense of humiliation makes members feel they deserve the poor treatment they are receiving and may cause them to allow themselves to be subjected to any and all indignities out of gratefulness that one as unworthy as they feel is allowed to participate in the group at all. When leaders treat the member well occasionally, they accept any and all crumbs gratefully. Eventually, awareness of how dependent they are on the group and gratitude for the smallest attention contributes to an increasing sense of shame and degradation on the part of the members, who begin to abuse themselves with “litanies of self-blame,” i.e., “No matter what they do to me, I deserve it, as sinful and wretched as I am. I deserve no better. I have no rights but to go to hell. I should be grateful for everything I receive, even punishment.”
Monopolization of Perception
Fixes attention upon immediate predicament; fosters introspection
Eliminates stimuli competing with those controlled by captor
Frustrates all actions not consistent with compliance
Abusive groups insist on compliance with trival demands related to all facets of life: food, clothing, money, household arrangements, children, conversation. They monitor members’ appearances, criticize language and childcare practices. They insist on precise schedules and routines, which may change and be contradictory from day to day or moment to moment, depending on the whims of group leaders.
At first, new members may think these expectations are unreasonable and may dispute them, but later, either because they want to be at peace or because they are afraid, or because everyone else is complying, they attempt to comply. After all, what real difference does it make if a member is not allowed to wear a certain color, or to wear his hair in a certain way, to eat certain foods, or say certain words, to go certain places, watch certain things, or associate with certain individuals. In the overall scheme of things, does it really matter? In fact, in the long run, the member begins to reason, it is probably good to learn these disciplines, and after all, as they have frequently been reminded, they are to submit to spiritual authority as unto the Lord.. Soon it becomes apparent that the demands will be unending, and increasing time and energy are focused on avoiding group disapproval by doing something “wrong.” There is a feeling of walking on eggs. Everything becomes important in terms of how the group or its leaders will respond, and members’ desires, feelings and ideas become insignificant. Eventually, members may no longer even know what they want, feel or think. The group has so monopolized all of the members’ perceptions with trivial demands that members lose their perspective as to the enormity of the situation they are in.
The leaders may also persuade the members that they have the inside track with God and therefore know how everything should be done. When their behavior results in disastrous consequences, as it often does, the members are blamed. Sometimes the leaders may have moments, especially after abusive episodes, when they appear to humble themselves and confess their faults, and the contrast of these moments of vulnerability with their usual pose of being all-powerful endears them to members and gives hope for some open communication.
Threats sometimes accompany all of these methods. Members are told they will be under God’s judgment, under a curse, punished, chastised, chastened if they leave the group or disobey group leaders. Sometimes the leaders, themselves, punish the members, and so members can never be sure when leaders will make good on the threats which they say are God’s idea. The members begin to focus on what they can do to meet any and all group demands and how to preserve peace in the short run. Abusive groups may remove children from their parents, control all the money in the group, arrange marriages, destroy personal items of members or hide personal items.
Preoccupation with trivial demands of daily life, demanding strict compliance with standards of appearance, dress codes, what foods are or are not to be eaten and when, schedules, threats of God’s wrath if group rules are not obeyed, a feeling of being monitored, watched constantly by those in the group or by leaders. In other words, what the church wants, believes and thinks its members should do becomes everything, and you feel preoccupied with making sure you are meeting the standards. It no longer matters whether you agree that the standards are correct, only that you follow them and thus keep the peace and in the good graces of leaders.
Induced Debility and Exhaustion
People subjected to this type of spiritual abuse become worn out by tension, fear and continual rushing about in an effort to meet group standards. They must often avoid displays of fear, sorrow or rage, since these may result in ridicule or punishment. Rigid ministry demands and requirements that members attend unreasonable numbers of meetings and events makes the exhaustion and ability to resist group pressure even worse.
Feelings of being overwhelmed by demands, close to tears, guilty if one says no to a request or goes against a church standards. Being intimidated or pressured into volunteering for church duties and subjected to scorn or ridicule when one does not “volunteer.” Being rebuked or reproved when family or work responsibilities intrude on church responsibilities.
Provides motivation for compliance
Leaders of abusive groups often sense when members are making plans to leave and may suddenly offer some kind of indulgence, perhaps just love or affection, attention where there was none before, a note or a gesture of concern. Hope that the situation in the church will change or self doubt (“Maybe I’m just imagining it’s this bad,”) then replace fear or despair and the members decide to stay a while longer. Other groups practice sporadic demonstrations of compassion or affection right in the middle of desperate conflict or abusive episodes. This keeps members off guard and doubting their own perceptions of what is happening.
Some of the brainwashing techniques described are extreme, some groups may use them in a disciplined, regular manner while others use them more sporadically. But even mild, occasional use of these techniques is effective in gaining power.
Be concerned if you have had an ongoing desire to leave a church or group you believe may be abusive, but find yourself repeatedly drawn back in just at the moment you are ready to leave, by a call, a comment or moment of compassion. These moments, infrequent as they may be, are enough to keep hope in change alive and thus you sacrifice years and years to an abusive group.
Devaluing the Individual
Creates fear of freedom and dependence upon captors
Creates feelings of helplessness
Develops lack of faith in individual capabilities
Abusive leaders are frequently uncannily able to pick out traits church members are proud of and to use those very traits against the members. Those with natural gifts in the areas of music may be told they are proud or puffed up or “anxious to be up front” if they want to use their talents and denied that opportunity. Those with discernment are called judgmental or critical, the merciful are lacking in holiness or good judgment, the peacemakers are reminded the Lord came to bring a sword, not peace. Sometimes efforts are made to convince members that they really are not gifted teachers or musically talented or prophetically inclined as they believed they were. When members begin to doubt the one or two special gifts they possess which they have always been sure were God-given, they begin to doubt everything else they have ever believed about themselves, to feel dependent upon church leaders and afraid to leave the group. (“If I’ve been wrong about even *that*, how can I ever trust myself to make right decisions ever again?”).
Unwillingness to allow members to use their gifts. Establishing rigid boot camp-like requirements for the sake of proving commitment to the group before gifts may be exercised. Repeatedly criticizing natural giftedness by reminding members they must die to their natural gifts, that Paul, after all, said, “When I’m weak, I’m strong,” and that they should expect God to use them in areas other than their areas of giftedness. Emphasizing helps or service to the group as a prerequisite to church ministry. This might take the form of requiring that anyone wanting to serve in any way first have the responsibility of cleaning toilets or cleaning the church for a specified time, that anyone wanting to sing in the worship band must first sing to the children in Sunday School, or that before exercising any gifts at all, members must demonstrate loyalty to the group by faithful attendance at all functions and such things as tithing. No consideration is given to the length of time a new member has been a Christian or to his age or station in life or his unique talents or abilities. The rules apply to everyone alike. This has the effect of reducing everyone to some kind of lowest common denominator where no one’s gifts or natural abilities are valued or appreciated, where the individual is not cherished for the unique blessing he or she is to the body of Christ, where what is most highly valued is service, obedience, submission to authority, and performance without regard to gifts or abilities or, for that matter, individual limitations.
“Validation” is a buzzword that is thrown around frequently in some of Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word validate as follows:
2a. To support or corroborate on a sound or authoritative basis.
2b. To recognize, establish, or illustrate the worthiness or legitimacy of
In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, “validation” is normally used in the context of Geronda Ephraim: what he did or didn’t say, what miracles he performed or didn’t, what he does or doesn’t do, etc. It is quite common to find the “broken telephone” phenomena amongst the monasteries’ pilgrims. It is also common for rumors to spread around, such as, “Geronda Ephraim said the Antichrist has been born during a homily.” Thus the monks and nuns constantly “validate” and do not “validate” the various stories and rumors that spread amongst Geronda Ephraim’s followers.
A standard rule of thumb for the monasteries is that any negative story—whether true or false—is automatically dismissed as “invalid.” If it cannot be outright denied, it is minimized. If someone involved relates the scandal or embarrassing (for the monastery) incident to other pilgrims and spiritual children of Geronda Ephraim, then a system of damage control is put into effect:
If the person telling the story (or “gossiping”/”slandering”) is a spiritual child of Geronda Ephraim, then the Geronda or Gerondissa will talk to the individual directly. This will usually start with asking the individual why they repeated such things and ending with an obedience not to repeat the story again. If the individual is resisting the admonitions, they may be told some cautionary tales about all the tragic things that happen to individuals who speak against or go against Geronda Ephraim; “punishments from God.”
If the individual “running his mouth” is not close to the monastery, they are easily dismissed to others as “liars,” “deluded,” having “psychological problems,” etc. Though these epitaphs have also been hurled onto close spiritual children of the monasteries who repeated big scandals or very private information to others.
The Gerondissa or Geronda will also try to find out how many people were told and if they do not call each one individually to affect damage control, they may call the main persons of those pilgrim circles and ask them to tell the others.
The Gerondissa or Geronda will also call all their monastics (or at least the ones who are aware of the scandalous incident) and give them a strict obedience not to talk to anyone about the incident. “If anyone asks, I don’t have a blessing to speak to lay people.” If it is a monastic who has diakonimata where they have to somewhat talk with lay people, they might be told, “If anyone asks, say no (or I don’t know)”; if they keep persisting, tell them to ask the Geronda or Gerondissa. For a monastic, this is not lying or breaking a commandment; it is obedience. The only sin in obedience is not doing obedience.
In the cases of former monastics talking about their personal experiences, they are easily dismissed as deluded. “They didn’t do obedience, they hid thoughts from their Geronda or Gerondissa, and the devil gained a foothold in their soul. They became deluded and left.” In some cases, the former monastic will be dismissed as one with lots of psychological problems, or even “possessed.”
The above are just a few ways in which the monasteries manoeuvre in order to protect their image, as well as keep the pilgrims in check. Their image must be kept pristine and immaculate, without scandal. Geronda Ephraim has given strict obediences to all his abbots and abbesses, “You must know and see everything that is going on in your monasteries. I do not want scandals, especially in front of lay people. I do not want to hear anything negative or complaints from pilgrims about your monasteries, etc.”
KVOA TV TUCSON 4: MONASTERY MYSTERY REPORT (2005)
Sometimes the monasteries cannot silence those who reveal their secrets, or simply speak about the things that go on behind closed doors. At this point, a discrediting campaign begins. If this doesn’t work then they will sometimes utilize lawyers as a scare tactic. These tactics were used a day or so before the KVOA TV [Tucson 4] exposé on St. Anthony’s Monastery in 2005. Geronda Ephraim was really saddened that this exposé was being aired, and a call was sent out to spiritual children to call, fax, email, and flood the station anyway they could with support for the monasteries and Geronda. Also, spiritual children of Geronda Ephraim who are lawyers contacted the TV station and threatened them with legal action if there was anything false or slanderous. Spiritual children of Geronda Ephraim and Geronda Paisios began an internet campaign to discredit David Smith and the content of his webpage. David Smith’s webpage was taken down a couple years later, but an archived edition still exists:
Pilgrims who had no knowledge of the inner workings of the monasteries—something only trusted monastics are privy to—began to defend the inner workings of the monastery based on the experiences that were tailor-made for them. Some spiritual children went as far as to threaten David Smith and try to intimidate him to stop talking about Geronda Ephraim.
Thus, true to their cult-like nature, and following the trend of every other cult that tries to silence their accusers, the monasteries and their pilgrims utilize a basic campaign of fear-mongering (“don’t speak against Geronda, it’ll end bad for you;” i.e. possession, losing salvation, etc.); intimidation, smear campaigns of discrediting (“psychological problems,” “deluded,” etc.).
In the monasteries, paranoia and suspicion was ramped up, making the atmospheres tense and suffocating.
NEKTARIOS MONASTERY TUMBLR PAGE
Last year, a Tumblr page about St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. (Roscoe, NY) was started and it revealed many of the scandals and indiscretions that have occurred there since its’ foundation, as well as, private details not commonly known by the
general public. The monastery attempted to have the page pulled through numerous complaints to TUMBLR. When that method of harassment didn’t work, they hired a lawyer and accused the TUMBLR page of “impersonating the monastery,” stating that the page “misrepresents the ideological underpinnings” of the monastery’s “tenets.” The monastery’s use of the term “ideology” is quite interesting. In contemporary usage, this word is generally used in the context of politics, though in the case of religion, it refers to fundamentalists and extremists. Furthermore, the effect of an ideology is always to destroy true moral transcendence.1
According to the TUMBLR page, a disclaimer that they were not affiliated with the monastery was required in order to keep the page running. The TUMBLR page also posted the lawyer’s letter.
It was also noted that shortly after this page appeared, the Monastery’s website added a Notice to Users section stating:
NOTICE TO USERS: The information on this site is the property of The Holy Monastery of St. Nektarios. This is the only website on the internet that is managed and approved by the monks of The Holy Monastery of St. Nektarios. Information found posted on other internet sites and blogs regarding St. Nektarios Monastery and its monks has not been validated, and in certain instances is inaccurate and misleading. Everyone is free to read and reflect on the information on this site. However, none of the information on this site may be reproduced without the prior written consent of St. Nektarios Monastery. If you wish to use any of the material on this site please contact us. †May our Lord Jesus Christ bless you! http://www.stnektariosmonastery.org/notice.php
This is a very interesting statement. Essentially, the monastery will decide what stories are valid and which ones are invalid. Even if a story is true, it will be dismissed if it mars the monastery’s image. Thus, the monastery will paint a tailored image of its blameless perfection.
ST. PAISIOS & ST. PORPHYRIOS BELIEVED GERONDA EPHRAIM WAS DELUDED
In another interesting twist, the monasteries also use stories that have not been validated in order to promote Geronda Ephraim. Capitalizing on the fame and glory of Saints Porphyrios the Kafsokalavyte and Paisios the Hagiorite, a recent trend in the monasteries is to tell pilgrims how these two Elders highly praised Geronda Ephraim and commented on his holiness, etc. However, none of these statements have been validated by these two Elders’ monasteries, nor are they found in any of the books about these Elders.
In the 90’s and early 00’s however, the stories at Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries were much different. The content of the stories centered on how much difficulty St. Porphyrios and St. Paisios gave Geronda Ephraim in Greece. Both of them were highly critical of Elder Joseph the Hesychast and stated on many occasions to many people that he was deluded. In Elder Paisios book, Athonite Fathers and Athonite Matters—in which he gives short biographies of the greatest and holiest monks on Mount Athos—Elder Joseph is nowhere to be found.
Both these saints criticized and disagreed with his methodologies as an Elder. They believed he was deluded and they cautioned people about him. St. Paisios was also very critical of Philotheou Monastery and how things were run there; especially the practise of “yelling the prayer.” St. Paisios would tell pilgrims who were thinking of visiting Philotheou, “Don’t go there, it’s too noisy.”
In the mid-90’s, Geronda Joseph Voutsas (NY); Gerondissa Olympiada Voutsas (PA) and Gerondissa Melanie Mikragiannis (WI) would tell pilgrims about St. Porphyrios, “Yes, he was very holy but he was also very critical of Geronda Ephraim.” Apparently, all three of them, together with Sister Vryenni, went to visit St. Porphyrios when they were lay people, and heard themselves many negative things come out of St. Porphyrios mouth about Geronda Ephraim, “Things not worth repeating!”
The monasteries’ storyline back then was that both St. Porphyrios and St. Paisios were jealous of Geronda Ephraim; how holy he is, what spiritual heights he has reached, how he has revived the Holy Mountain, and all the thousands of spiritual children that flock to him, etc. Sometimes detailed descriptions were given about how both saints didn’t have the kind of blind obedience Geronda Ephraim had and that rendered it impossible for them to reach the same spiritual heights. Then details of how Apostle Peter and Paul fought, or St. John Chrysostom and St. Epiphanios of Salamis fought and cursed each other were given as analogies.
BOYCOTT OF ST. PORPHYRIOS & ST. PAISIOS BOOKS AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY
Due to the above things, plus many more unspoken things that only the Athonite monks here in America know about, certain measures were taken at the monasteries to boycott the two saints. In 1998, at a gathering at the Holy Archangels Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. (TX), Geronda Paisios (AZ), Geronda Dositheos (TX) and Geronda Joseph (NY) decided to boycott the publications of Saints Porphyrios and Paisios—especially Athonite Fathers and Athonite Matters, which was a huge slight to both Elder Joseph and Elder Ephraim.
During this time period, the backrooms of the bookstore at St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. (AZ) were flooded with unopened boxes of books about these two saints which were never going to be put out in the bookstore. Many of the boxes were sent free as a blessing, too. Not all the monasteries were joined in the boycott, but even those that were breached the boycott; there’s good money and profit in selling Geronda Porphyrios and Paisios books.
As these two saints became increasingly popular in the West, and more publications were being made available in the English language, the demand increased greatly. People start asking the monasteries in the boycott to order these books for them. Over time, the boycott slowly faded away, and much profit was made in peddling these two elders’ books. In time, the New York monastery—one of the original boycotters—even distributed a couple Elder Paisios’ books.
BOYCOTT ENDS: IN AN EFFORT TO VALIDATE GERONDA EPHRAIM, THE MONASTERIES DISSEMINATE UNVALIDATED QUOTES BY SAINTS PORPHYRIOS & PAISIOS ABOUT HIS HOLINESS
Due to increasing popularity in the English-speaking world, via the numerous English translations of their books, some of the monasteries involved in the boycott realized it was a good opportunity to make profit. As well, the monastics couldn’t really tell the pilgrims the books were boycotted, nor the reasons why. The books of these two saints were in high demand, pilgrims kept requesting them and asking if they could place special orders. Thus, giving into the pressure and demand, some of the monasteries lifted the boycott and began to sell Elder Porphyrios and Elder Paisios books. St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY even distributed a couple of the English titles.
Eventually, the old stories—true stories—about how much these two Elders (now officially canonized saints) fought against Elder Ephraim diminished. Then, the new stories came—stories not validated by the monasteries under these two saints, nor mentioned in any publications of these two saints, either validated or not. It’s now being taught that St. Porphyrios called Elder Ephraim the last saint, the last depository of healing, the saint of humility, etc. St. Paisios is now said to have prophesied the monasteries in America and extolled Elder Ephraim for his apostolic efforts.
The biography of Elder Arsenios states St. Paisios retracted his original opinion that Elder Joseph the Hesychast was deluded:
“Elder Paisios admired the life and struggles of our ever-to-be-remembered Elder, Fr. Joseph. He told us:
-‘Oh, what I lost! When I came to the Holy Mountain the blessed Elder was living. I heard of his reputation and one of my acquaintances said to me: ‘Don’t listen. They are all lies. They are in error [πλανεμένοι]’. I believed him and did not go to get to know him and benefit from him. However, when his letters were published and I read them, then I understood what a rare person this was, and what a great treasure I lost.'” (Taken from Elder Arsenios the Cave-Dweller)
This book was published after both these men were long dead, and neither can validate or refute it; however, the monastery under St. Paisios, St. John the Theologian in Sourouti, has not validated this tale. Up until the mid-2000s, the monasteries here taught the Elder Paisios criticized Elder Jospeh the Hesychast and Geronda Ephraim as deluded, and had many critical things to say about Elder Joseph the Hesychast. This book is published by a monastery under one of Elder Joseph the Hesychast’s disicples, and it states that St. Paisios admired him.
It should be noted that neither the disciples of Saints Porphyrios and Paisios have validated any of the stories or prophecies these two supposedly said about Geronda Ephraim of Arizona. It should also be noted that none of the publications in circulation by or about these two saints mention any of the supposed quotes and prophecies about Geronda Ephraim of Arizona.
Thus, an interesting double standard has occurred at Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries:
Any negative press about Geronda Ephraim and his monasteries is automatically dismissed as invalid. The monasteries will choose which stories are valid and will dictate their history and truth exactly the way they want people to view it. And these validations can only be okayed by the abbot or abbess.
Any negative press about Geronda Ephraim and his monasteries that came from the mouths of Geronda Porphyrios and Geronda Paisios is no longer spoken of since they are both officially canonized as saints. It looks bad for the monasteries if two of the biggest contemporary saints after St. Nektarios discredited Geronda Ephraim and his elder (Joseph the Hesychast) as deluded.
Today, stories that have not been validated by St. Porphyrios and St. Paisios’ disciples, and were unheard of until recently, are told to pilgrims as validated truth. These “invalidated” stories are capitalizations on the fame and holiness of St. Porphyrios and St. Paisios and are used to promote and validate Geronda Ephraim. Now that these two elders are officially canonized, their words have even more weight and validity in the orthodox world.
Thus, the abbots and abbesses choose what stories are valid and invalid for their own monasteries. They also validate invalid stories from other monasteries to further promote their own agenda.
“MIRACLES” THAT WERE INITIALLY VALIDATED BY THE MONASTERIES
The “Holy Manna Relic”
For over a decade, one of the reliquaries of St. Nektarios Monastery had a “piece of Holy Manna” from the Old Testament. For over a decade, people venerated this “relic” with reverence, not realizing that is was a biblically impossible miracle for manna to last for more than a day, let alone 3,400 years or so. The Israelites were instructed to eat only the manna they had gathered for each day. Leftovers of manna stored up for the following day “bred worms and stank”: the exception being the day before the Sabbath (Preparation Day), when twice the amount of manna was gathered, which did not spoil overnight; because, Exodus 16:23-24 [states] “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’ So they saved it until morning, as Moses said was commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it.” A novice with a theological degree finally convinced the abbot that it was impossible for the fragment to be true manna from the Old Testament. Initially there was resistance, but the abbot finally decided the authority of the Old Testament was more valid than the word of the person who gave him the “relic.” The abbot ordered a new reliquary from Greece and did not include a space for the manna.
Stylianos Kementzetzidis and his fabricated Crypto-Christians of Turkey persecution and miracle stories
The monasteries have had a long history of “validation” issues. They validated and promoted Stylianos Kementzetzidis, a long-time spiritual child of Geronda Ephraim, and retold all his “miracle” and “vision” stories to visiting pilgrims. When it came to light that it was all an elaborate hoax to raise money for his ailing publishing house, Orthodox Kypseli, the monasteries stopped telling pilgrims these stories, but also tried to hide the fact that they were a lie, so as not to “weaken the faith of the faint-hearted.”
Persistent frontal suture misrepresented as exclusive orthodox miracle
The monasteries claim that priests on Mount Athos have crosses on their skulls; i.e. “an extra suture that runs down the front of their skull which is scientifically impossible and is only a miracle in orthodoxy,” etc. This “miracle” validates Orthodoxy as the only truth. Yet, it is well documented in medical literature and occurs throughout the world in both male and female populations; it’s called metopic (or persistent) frontal suture. The simplest spin on this, “Well, that’s the tradition passed down on Mount Athos.”
A pilgrim once asked an Athonite monk at one of Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries about Fr. Seraphim Rose. The response was an issue about him only being chrismated (cannot be holy or a saint without orthodox baptism); there was an issue about him being idiorhythmic; there was issue of him saying things like there are no more elders (Geronda Ephraim was stated to be the holiest man alive and one of the greatest Elders in the history of the church). The pilgrim was told Fr. Seraphim Rose was deluded and issues of homosexuality were witnessed at his monastery while he was alive (apparently pilgrims to the monastery during those years later became monks at Philothoeu Monastery and told the other monks about the homosexual vibe they witnessed there).
When the pilgrim asked about Fr. Seraphim’s repose and his smiling corpse with a peaceful expression, the Athonite monk responded that it was said that he had a very difficult death and that his disciples manipulated the body so it looked like he had a blessed repose. Yet, Geronda Joseph of Vatopaidi—whom Geronda Ephraim has mentioned in homilies did not have complete obedience and was problematic—has a similar smiling corpse and peaceful look on his face.
Thus, one is to surmise that Fr. Seraphim Rose’s death is not blessed—since Geronda Ephraim’s monks have not validated it as miraculous—but Geronda Joseph of Vatopaidi’s repose is blessed because it has been validated by the monks. The pilgrim also asked about Geronda Paisios (abbot of St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence, AZ), who praised Fr. Seraphim Rose in an Orthodox Word article as someone converts can look up to, etc. The monk chuckled and said, “That’s not what I’ve heard him say,” and left it at that.
The biologically natural process of corpses returning to their pre-Rigor condition misrepresented as an exclusive Orthodox monastic miracle
Furthermore, the Athonite monks in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries talk about a miracle on Mount Athos where monks do not experience rigor mortis—thus another “miracle exclusive to Orthodoxy.” However, depending on which monk one talks to, this is either exclusively Athonite monks, all orthodox monks throughout the world, or unsure. However, every mortician knows the technique of “breaking the rigor mortise.” Basically, you bend the limbs back and forth a few times and the joints will loosen up. This “breaks” the stiffness and the body is back to normal. Surely, Athonite monks know this trick if they’re teaching pilgrims that faces of corpses can be manipulated to look like they are smiling. Also, contrary to common perception the process of Rigor Mortis actually does reverse and the body returns to a flaccid state; the muscles losing their tightness in the reverse of how they gained it: i.e.: those larger muscles that contracted last will lose their stiffness first and return to their pre-Rigor condition. Thus, if a monastic is left out long enough before burial, it is natural for him to return to his pre-Rigor condition. No miracle, just natural process.
1 According to former Islamic extremist, Tawfik Hamid, “A religion becomes an ideology when the followers of this religion cannot tolerate the existence of those who have different views or beliefs, and when they understand their religious text literally and refuse to accept any way of understanding the religion other than their own way of understanding.” According to scholar David Satter, “Religion becomes an ideology when man-made dogma is treated as infallible truth.” http://www.frontpagemag.com/2010/jamie-glazov/symposium-when-does-a-religion-become-an-ideology/
Pilgrims to Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries are taught about a “Miracle exclusive to Orthodoxy”—i.e., monks do not experience rigor mortis when they die. Typical of the other “exclusive miracles” which are taught at the monasteries, this one also has some grey areas. Depending on the monastic giving the sermon, it is either all orthodox monastics throughout the world, or just Athonite monastics. In some cases, the monastic giving the sermon will grab the book Athonite Moments and show the pilgrims a photograph of a monk being lowered into a grave with signs of flexibility and no rigor mortis.
Of course, if you question the monastic giving the sermon, they only have a cursory understanding of what rigor mortis is—which usually amounts to “all corpses are stiff after they die and any flexibility in a corpse is scientifically impossible.” What “proof” do they offer to validate their erroneous understanding of corpses, decomposition and rigor mortis? A photograph from a book and their “authority” validates this “scientifically impossible” phenomenon.
Similar to their erroneous claim of Persistent Frontal Suture being an “exclusive orthodox miracle,” the claim that a corpse without rigor mortis is an “exclusive orthodox miracle” is also scientifically and biologically erroneous. In both cases, “science is not needed to validate these miracles” because they are an Athonite oral tradition and “monks who speak to God know more than a worldly scientist.” Science is not always rejected by the monastics—if science validates something in orthodoxy, or if science cannot explain phenomenon which for the monastics validates a divine origin, then it is accepted. When science conflicts with orthodoxy, then it is dismissed as idle, vain, worldly knowledge that is incompatible with spiritual knowledge.
SOME OBSERVABLE AND PROVEN FACTS ABOUT RIGOR MORTIS
First of all, rigor mortis is easily “broken” by bending and moving the joints about. A common question people have for morticians is whether they need to break a corpse’s legs if the body doesn’t fit into the coffin properly. The answer is, of course, no. The legs bend quite easily even after death.
Second of all, rigor mortis is basically a stiffening of the limbs. The joints become difficult to bend, but this does not happen with all bodies. There is a technique morticians use to get rid of it called “breaking the rigor mortise.” Basically, you bend the limbs back and forth a few times and the joints will loosen up. This “breaks” the stiffness and the body is back to normal.
The Athonite monks are aware of corpse manipulation because some of them have stated that Fr. Seraphim Rose’s corpse was manipulated by his disciples to smile, etc., to give the appearance that he had a saintly death.
Rigor Mortis is the stiffening of the body after death because of a loss of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) from the body’s muscles. ATP is the substance that allows energy to flow to the muscles and help them work and without this the muscles become stiff and inflexible.
Rigor Mortis begins throughout the body at the same time but the body’s smaller muscles – such as those in the face, neck, arms and shoulders – are affected first and then the subsequent muscles throughout the rest of the body; those which are larger in size, are affected later.
Rigor normally appears within the body around two hours after the deceased has passed away with – as we have already mentioned – the facial and upper neck and shoulder muscles first to visibly suffer from its effects. Many Scenes of Crime Officers (SOCO) have reported that upon discovering the deceased that their face might have taken on what looks to be a grimace; this is because the facial muscles have contracted as ATP drains from them.
Once the contracting of all the body’s muscles has taken place this state of Rigor – technically referred to as the Rigid Stage – normally lasts anywhere from eight to twelve hours after which time the body is completely stiff; this fixed state can last up to another eighteen hours.
Contrary to common perception the process of Rigor Mortis actually does reverse and the body returns to a flaccid state; the muscles losing their tightness in the reverse of how they gained it: i.e.: those larger muscles that contracted last will lose their stiffness first and return to their pre-Rigor condition.
Rigor mortis can be used to help estimate time of death. The onset of rigor mortis may range from 10 minutes to several hours, depending on factors including temperature (rapid cooling of a body can inhibit rigor mortis, but it occurs upon thawing). Maximum stiffness is reached around 12-24 hours post mortem. Facial muscles are affected first, with the rigor then spreading to other parts of the body. The joints are stiff for 1-3 days, but after this time general tissue decay and leaking of lysosomal intracellular digestive enzymes will cause the muscles to relax.
During rigor mortis, another process called autolysis takes place. This is the self-digestion of the body’s cells. The walls of the cells give way, and their contents flow out. Rigor mortis ends not because the muscles relax, but because autolysis takes over. The muscles break down and become soft on their way to further decomposition.
Thus, contrary to the misconceptions disseminated by the monastics, the flexibility witnessed in some monastic corpses during their funeral—which occur 24-48+ hours after their repose—is not “a scientifically impossible miracle which scientists cannot explain.” Rather, it is a natural process that is quite common and has been observed in corpses throughout the world, both orthodox and non-orthodox, lay people and monastics. Once again, the monastics misrepresent a natural phenomenon as an “exclusive miracle to Orthodoxy.” As stated above, in Greek-American orthodox monasteries, the “secular sciences” are generally not considered a “valid” source of information when it comes to understanding or interpreting natural phenomena and processes.
The monastic funerals here in North America are unlike those in Mount Athos: the body is not flung into a hole, but rather it is placed in a coffin and lowered into the hole. Thus, there isn’t much contact with the body before burial other than the last kiss. So witnessing such “miracles” of corpses without rigor mortis here is uncommon. Of course, if the superior tells the monastics that the body is warm and without rigor mortis, then they will believe it is so, and will also transmit this “miracle” to the pilgrims who visit.
Each monastery has its own process of preparing the body for burial, again giving opportunity for manipulation. The body is then placed in the middle of the Church, usually under the polyeleos, and the monastics have to read the entire Psalter continually until the next day. Then the funeral service occurs in the church ending with the procession to burial. Depending on time and circumstance, this process can take from 24-36 hours or more. Thus, photographs of monks without rigor mortis after such a time period cannot be considered a “miracle exclusive to orthodoxy” as this can happen to any corpse; i.e. the natural return to the pre-rigor condition.
NOTE: These practices are also continued today in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries. In Arizona, after Fr. Anthonios backed a truck into an orange tree, Geronda Ephraim told him he’d never eat another orange again. Thus, every Trapeza, when the Fathers were eating fresh picked and juicy oranges from the orchards, Fr. Anthonios would have a different fruit placed in front of him. In other monasteries, a monastic may be punished with being served a rusk and a fruit, even on dairy days, or no food whatsoever. During a bus pilgrimage to St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY, Fr. Kassianos was forced to stand in the middle of the trapeza doing prayer rope while everyone else ate. Breaking, scratching, or ruining things, and in some monasteries even just dropping objects, is also punishable with prostrations—usually 50-100, though in cases of expensive tools, machinery and vehicles it can be up to 1000+ prostrations and this could be for many days. Each monastery has its own methodology of punishment and the punishments are tailored to the individual monastic according to their vulnerabilities and weaknesses.
A medieval visitor to a Byzantine trapeza might observe some monks or nuns being singled out for punishment. One monk might be doing the equivalent of one hundred pushups, another standing next to the abbot holding fragments of a broken ceramic vessel, and another might be eating only olives and nuts, while his tablemates were feasting on lentil soup and boiled greens seasoned with olive oil.
The refectory, as a communal gathering place for monks and nuns, was deemed an appropriate location for public penance, particularly for misbehavior and infractions of the rule related to preparation of food and refectory discipline. A particularly useful source of information in this regard is the penitential’ of Theodore of Stoudios. He prescribes, for example, a series of 20 to 300 penitential prostrations (metanoiai) for various lapses of the cooks, such as failure to add oil and salt to food at the proper time while cooking, allowing broth to boil over, spilling wine or oil or vinegar, permitting food to spoil, or leaving a pot uncovered for a long time.1 Breaking a clay pot was viewed as a serious act of carelessness and might be punished by making the monk perform up to 300 metanoiai (the number probably depending upon the size of the pot) or stand at the front of the refectory holding the pieces of the pot in his hands, until he received the forgiveness of his brethren.2 A slight variant of this punishment is found in the eleventh-century vita of St Neilos of Rossano. After a young monk broke a pot by overfilling it with legumes and boiling them too vigorously, he had to tie the potsherds together with a string and wear them around his neck like a necklace while standing in the refectory.
Misbehaviour while eating might also be punished by a prescribed number of metanoiai, or by deprivation of certain foods or an entire meal. Examples of infractions of refectory discipline were conversing or laughing during a meal (one hundred metanoiai), missing a meal altogether (standing penance in the refectory, or eating of dry foods or fasting until the following day), idle or loose talk (deprivation of wine for one day and forty metanoiai), and getting up from the table before dismissal (no wine for three days and one hundred metanoiai).3
See Theodore of Stoudios, Poenae monasteriales, nos A36-9, 41-5; PG 99.1737-40. These particular penitential regulations do not specify that the prostrations are to be performed in the refectory, but others (nos A2, 8, B29, 55) do, and this practice is confirmed by the evidence of the rule of Stoudios and vita B of Athanasios (see next footnote).
Poenae monasteriales, nos A40 and 46; PG 99.1737 and 1740; Stoudios, chap. 35, BMFD 1.113AB, adds the detail that the careless monk had to stand next to the abbot with his cowl covering his head, while vita B of Athanasios of Athos says he had to stand next to the reader (Noret, Vitae duae, chap. 29, p. 118).
See Theodore of Stoudios, Poenae monasteriales, nos B29, A12, B37, B36; PG 99.1735 and 1753.
NOTE: The following article is taken from The Lincoln Journal Star, March 7th, 2015:
Florence, Arizona, an Old West desert town is an unlikely location for Greek monks, but there it is, a little oasis among the sagebrush and cactus about halfway between Tucson and Phoenix, just off Route 79 that connects the two cities.
Six Greek monks from the Holy Mountain, Athos, in Greece came to this Sonoran desert location in 1995 and began work on a monastery consisting of chapels, gardens, gazebos, walkways, fountains, citrus orchards, olive gardens and even guest quarters.
Visitors are welcomed inside the main gate by monks and volunteers, and are encouraged, of course, to visit the gift shop filled with Greek-themed icons and locally made jams and jellies. Before you make your way around the beautifully attended grounds and enter the various chapels, men must be clothed in long pants and long-sleeved shirts, and women with a head scarf and long skirt. Some are available to borrow for those who didn’t visit the website, stanthonysmonastery.org , ahead of time to learn about the dress code.
About 40 monks and novices populate the grounds, praying, tending the orchards and vineyards and doing tasks, such as woodworking, construction, publishing and kitchen work. Greek Orthodoxy is a Christian religion, tracing its history back thousands of years, and the monastery is named after St. Anthony the Great, an Egyptian ascetic who is known as “the father of monasticism.”
As my wife, Jane and I, and visiting friends Connie and Ken Keith, from cold and snowy Omaha, strolled the grounds on a warm and sunny February day, we marveled at the intricately detailed altars, the religious artwork and other colorful attractions on the monastery grounds. There is no tour guide, so if you pick up the literature at the entrance, each suggested stop is explained and numbered on a colorful map that will help you hit all the high points.
Especially striking, but not on the main grounds, is St. Elijah Chapel, which sits on a hill about a mile away. A short climb takes you to a gleaming white building, and as you walk around it, the view of the mountains and desert is breathtaking.
Following our two-hour visit, we drove to nearby Florence and had a wonderful lunch at the Mount Athos Restaurant and Cafe, not connected to the monastery, but opened by a Greek family as a way to help continue your Hellenic adventure in this most unlikely of locations.
Randy Moody is a retired lawyer and lobbyist who lives in Lincoln and near Tucson and enjoys travel, photography and Greek food.