25 Years in an Eastern Orthodox Cult Part 4: Pulling Away (Elizabeth Ann)

NOTE: This is a woman’s account of growing up in the Russian Orthodox/St. Herman of Alaska/Old Calendar church. Since the late 90’s and early 2000’s, factions of this sect have been joining the canonical Orthodox Church under the Serbian Patriarchate, the OCA, and the Bulgarian Diocese.

A lot of time will be compressed here into a few paragraphs, mainly to accentuate the continued decline of family life because of the influences of this cult.

My family returned to New Mexico, and to Br. B. (now a priest.) I had a “breather” for a while, just under a year, actually; I used my savings to attend a local community college which was full of happy memories for me. Again, I maintained “crimson scholar” status, and I earned a scholarship and the first of my internships. There was much to look forward to.

My parents immediately became “established” as a “mission church” in Las Cruces, because there were no Russian Orthodox churches there, and they were still under the jurisdiction of Br. B. My little brother, now more fanatical than ever, built a kind of “chapel” in the GARAGE, which was a 2-car garage–he built it on one side. He made a flimsy wall, a thin iconostasis/curtain, and added a red rug remnant on the concrete. He kept priest’s robes, incense, and other items necessary for a full liturgy, for any traveling priest. Many, many strange priests and clergy came to stay at our house, and they even performed services in the tiny half of the garage.

Incense

My parents and brother would go there to pray at designated times, and during the weekends. The choking smell of too much incense would mix with the odors of gasoline, exhaust, and cleaning chemicals, making it an uncomfortable experience.

My precious little nephew, who was then about 2 or 3, began to be dropped off at our house in the afternoons so that his folks could work out their job schedules. (They had managed just fine before we came back.) But the main reason for this was #1) to get them to join the cult, and #2) to “expose” my nephew to as much church as possible. He would often be out in the backyard, playing with his toys or blowing bubbles, and my mom or brother, now a “deacon”, would grab his little arms and pull him into the “Chapel” for prayers and chanting.

It was dark and gloomy in that room, which didn’t even have a proper roof–there was a gap between the top of the shabby “wall” and the roof of the garage. The little boy would have to stand there (no sitting allowed) and have prayer books forced into his hands as he learned to read, being told what to chant.

Shortly thereafter, my family began to attend an Orthodox church in El Paso, which was kind of normal, and nicely ethnic. They had singing and celebrations and lunches after church. There my parents met a man who was ten years my senior, and they “picked” him for me, to marry. He was invited to our “chapel” and to “secret services”, which were Russian Abroad, or “old calendar”, held either at our home or at a house on the AFB.

To make a long, sad, story very short: I was convinced by my parents and Br. B. that this man was “my only chance”, and “God’s will”, because he was Orthodox. Besides, my mother told me, “no one would ever want someone like me.” Without getting to know this person well, I was married to him shortly after I turned 20.

Fr. Seraphim Rose
Fr. Seraphim Rose

After less than a year out in the Bay Area, attending over a dozen different Orthodox churches, most of them part of the Fr. Seraphim Rose/Russian Abroad/ St. Herman of Alaska bunch, I became very ill from overwork, fasting, and neglect. I was TERRIFIED of the man I was “married” to; he had lied to me about being a “virgin”, about his “past”, about EVERYTHING. He would sometimes grab my neck in a stranglehold, and laugh, watching me try to escape. I will say no more. He refused to eat, to talk to me, or even to touch me, within less than a month! I didn’t know any better, having been so isolated and starved for affection; and my health failed completely.

On another note, some of the young folks I knew who were part of the “St. Herman of Alaska” church in Sunnyvale, began to look into the idea that it was a CULT. I know I shared this idea with my parents on the phone. http://www.sainthermanmission.org/default.aspx

Saint Herman of Alaska Orthodox Church sign, Sunnyvale, CA
Saint Herman of Alaska Orthodox Church sign, Sunnyvale, CA

One day, completely unexpectedly, my parents and brother showed up at my doorstep, saying they had each had a “dream” in which “God had told them to come and get me.” I remember little of what went on, but I found out years later that my parents had lied to me. They told their friends I had been “poisoned with arsenic”, and I found out that this was not true.

Some of my clothes were loaded in my dad’s van, and I was taken “home” to see our family doctor, a hematologist–who found out I had a very severe form of mono, with other complications.

Soon, as I lay in a hospital bed, the “marriage” was annuled, legally– but not by the “Church”. I had lost my health, my friends, my home, my savings, and even the clothes off my back. I had given up a scholarship and an exclusive internship with a senator in Washington, D.C., as well, to please my parents and marry. I was completely penniless and very confused. I was 21 years old. My mom forced me to sign legal papers, as I lay in a hospital bed; papers which gave them complete authority over and access to my medical and financial affairs.

I was ill for the next four years, back in the nightmare house which I had survived in my teens. My parents took me to various doctors, two surgeries, and then from natural remedy to natural remedy. I was forced to be “exorcised”, while laying in my bed, by a weird priest who always “saw his guardian angel in a mirror, sometimes dressed in a business suit.” Oh, and he sometimes saw this “angel” reflected in a television set (not turned on.) But he was a Russian Orthodox priest, and these men could do no wrong.

Guardian Angel

During my one year absence, my older brother and his new wife had been forced to be “re-baptized” at Dog Canyon, and had gone through all the other things as well: “re-marriage”, “exorcism”, and “chrismation.” They were given new names and identities, also. They had joined the rest of the family in donating time and energy to the building of the new “seminary” and “Hagia Sophia” church with Br. B., out in Dog Canyon. Their marriage ended. My precious nephew was taken out of that unhealthy atmosphere by his terrific mother, but it was a close call, as my parents looked into KIDNAPPING him for the “sake of his soul”!

And nothing came of the “new buildings” and donations, because everything was abandoned when Br. B. left for Phoenix, to begin another church, now under the “old-calendar Greek” jurisdiction. (Note: many of these cultic clergy, often former leaders in the Holy Order of MANS/Christ the Savior Brotherhood, would switch jurisdictions over and over again. )Almost all his “spiritual children” were left without their “spiritual father” quite suddenly; and in most cases, they just tried to go on with their shattered lives.

During the Gulf War, my little brother was so frightened of becoming 18 and maybe being called upon for military service to his country, that Br. B. had the abandoned building at Dog Canyon made an “official seminary”, with “real monks from Greece to be arriving soon.” (That never happened.) My little brother had a letter written to the proper government officials, stating that he was one of the “seminarians”, and therefore must be excused from any duty to his country. There NEVER WAS A SEMINARY. It was a LIE. I think that is the beginning of the lies which my parents and brothers began to tell regularly, with no conscience. If the church and the “holy fathers” and their “spiritual” guru said something was O.K., then it was O.K., even if it was by normal standards considered illegal or immoral. This cult stripped its followers of normal consciences, as well as any independent, critical, and rational thinking. In fact, my parents never would commit to anything thereafter, without asking a priest whether it was all right. The common phrase was , “We will see.” In Steve Hassan’s book, he observed: “Family members are frequently told by cult members that they ‘will see’ if they can come home for important family events like marriages, deaths, and even birthdays. What this means is that they will ask their leader.” (P. 103, Combatting Mind Control.)

During the next few years, my parents were able to convince my dad’s very best friend to “join” the church and he did so—even though he had given his life to Jesus Christ many years before, at an altar call (I was there!) He was a devout Christian. He remained faithful to this group, even after moving to Santa Fe. He even refused to be called by his old name, for the rest of his life.

Two tragedies struck this man, who was also a decorated American war veteran. First, he married a woman he loved dearly. But my parents were involved. She did NOT convert. Of marriages broken up: this was #3. Several more followed.

St. Juliana of Lazarevo Orthodox Church, Santa Fe, NM
St. Juliana of Lazarevo Orthodox Church, Santa Fe, NM

After several years, he was completely abandoned and shunned by my parents. He was not “good” enough to be part of the “true church.” When he lay dying, without enough money to even pay for his apartment, he asked both my dad and the Russian Church in Santa Fe for help. He was ignored by my dad. He died on the FlOOR of an overcrowded V.A. hospital, lying on a dirty blanket. My parents did not even acknowledge his death. You see, his parents had come from Mexico. This cult is as close to “white supremecist” in its teachings as you can get, and all “non-whites” are looked down upon. Hence, the reason that His Royal Highness Haile Selassie was not regarded as the “last Orthodox Christian emperor”–his church was considered “heretical”, as well as other African Orthodox or Egyptian Coptic or even some Syrian Orthodox churches are.

(I want to tell you something here, something I wish every person on earth would realize, because it is SCIENTIFIC FACT. There are no “colors” among people. Do you know why? We ALL have the same skin pigmentation–a chemical called MELANIN. Some people, some groups of people–families if you will–simply have more of this skin chemical than others, usually those who live in southern climes. What is the big deal?)

When I got back up on my feet, I found relief by going to a local Episcopalian church and singing in the choir. I celebrated Easter with them, apart from my family, because of the calendar issue. Really, there is no calendar in Heaven, as there is no time in Heaven.

But as I tried to pull away–and let me tell you here it took many years before I could even read the Bible again with a clear head–my family became more and more fanatical. They began to isolate themselves from even their old friends. Services went on constantly in the garage. More and more “conspiracies” were studied, which were “anti-Orthodox” or “pro-Western.”

Black Helicopters

At one time, the rage was the “black helicopters.” These were sent to circle houses of “believers” and they had some kind of special equipment whereby they could “listen in” on conversations in the houses below. They also could “put” electronic ideas into people’s heads at the same time. At the time my little brother was attending the local university, he was also studying these things heavily, as well as the “lost books of the Bible.” One morning, he woke up terrifed, and told us all that a black helicopter had told his mind to “get up and kill, kill.” My parents believed him. I was totally freaked out about him.

In the next few years, several more marriages were broken up in our family, mostly because my parents would not accept a non-white and a “non-Christian” (or “Latin.”) Such unhappiness. I began to dream about what life would have been like if they had just stayed German Lutheran, like the rest of my dad’s big family. For there were no family gatherings, no more Christmas trees, no more Thanksgivings or Fourth of July celebrations. The fights and screaming and yelling continued. More and more people were cut out of our lives, and I was not even allowed to invite a friend in to see me.

And when I was able to work a little, I took that money and used it on FOOD; I was not allowed to cook at home, nor make a meal for the family, nor go to a doctor of my choice. I was forced to eat whatever my mom had prepared, with meager portions and no seconds–so late at night I would go out to a wonderful Kentucky Fried Chicken and order a full meal, and that is how I began to gain strength.

I will end this blog in my last post. Till next time.

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