A Response to Dr. Grigoriou’s Critique Concerning Hagiorites on Psychiatric Drugs (Monk Michael, 2001)

NOTE: The following text is Monk Michael’s response to Dr. Panagiotis Grigoriou’s (psychiatrist) critique in the Sunday Typos, June 10th, 2001. 

https://web.archive.org/web/20060623070110/http://www.dorcas.gr/syn/apant.htm

Psychiatric drugs are not antibiotics. Do not confuse mucus with marmalades.

Our interview on April 22, 2001 dealt with many of the problems that occur on Mount Athos and even more mobilized against us. As they told me on my recent trip to the Mt. Athos, the Holy Community of Mount Athos, as well as the Church of Greece, has exercised more pressure to censure and refute me. There is even a decision made by the Holy Community to not sell my books in any of the stores in Daphne and Karyes.1

108280-big

A neurologist-psychiatrist named Panos Grigoriou—Director of the Psychiatric Department of the general Hospital in Halkidiki—was one of those that mobilized against us. Firstly, the likeable psychiatrist with his epistle in the Sunday Typos 10/06/2001 is surprised because I consider psychiatric drugs an indication of morbidity and failure on Mount Athos. He states, “We take psychiatric drugs just as we take antibiotics, anti-hypersensitive or anti-rheumatic medicine.”

The above mentality of the psychiatrist is representative of a new generation of Christians—and monks in particular—that now consider psychiatric drugs as a natural fact of daily life. The conversation we had with a doctor-novice at Grigoriou Monastery at the Monastery of the Holy Forerunner in Dimitsana (Summer 2001), is indicative of this entire spirit. This novice-doctor made a special trip to meet me there.

Μοναχός Χριστόδουλος Γρηγοριάτης.
In 1996, Monk Christodoulos Gregoriatis was sent by his Geronda to a psychiatrist and put on psychotropic drugs. He had no previous diagnosis of mental illness and had already been a monk for a number of years.

Novice-Doctor: “Why does it surprise you, Fr. Michael, that monks take psychiatric drugs? Are they not people, too? For example, I arranged the pharmacy of our monastery and indeed I saw boxes with psychiatric drugs but they are used very little. Then I asked the Elder if we could make a special area for the psychotropic medicine and that space was made. I assure you that the monks taking psychiatric drugs continue their lives at the same rate without affecting their spiritual life in the least. Do you know such and such a priest?”

Monk Michael: “Yes, I’ve known him since 1975.”

Novice-Doctor: “Heh, I put him on medication when I arranged the pharmacy.”

Monk Michael: “You mean psychiatric drugs?”

Novice-Doctor: “Yes, I mean psychiatric drugs. But I assure you that he continues to be the same sweet, gentle, humble person as before. And those who confess him confirm this and they assure me that he gives rest to those close to him. So, what is your problem?”

I was startled!

Monk Michael: “Oh well, have you not yet understood as a doctor that healthy is quite different than sick? People take drugs when they lose their health and, in this case, mental health and balance, to support and continue their life. It is surprising that you say this is the same thing. Afterwards, you say that hundreds of boxes of psychiatric drugs inside the monastery and then assure us that they are rarely used. For me, the question isn’t how often are they used but rather what business does psychotropic drugs have in a monastery? What was the reasoning to purchase them? Under what pressing need did they fill their pharmacy with these drugs?

“Understand how ‘psychiatric drugs for Mount Athos’ sounds to my ears—it’s almost like telling me that you arranged contraceptives in the pharmacy. It’s about the same absurdity. So tell me about how this priest went to psychiatric drugs after 25 years [in the monastery]?”

Novice-Doctor: “Yes, but he remains the same as he always was.”

Conclusion: “No, my beloved psychiatrist, psychotropic drugs are neither antibiotics nor anti-rheumatic. Getting physically sick and probably restoring health once again is different than breaking down and your little soul becoming sick—a sickness that frequently the remainder of your life does not suffice to restore it.”

In a strange manner, both Dr. Panos Grigoriou and Makis Triantaphullopoulos expressed precisely the same question with the same words: “If some people have a need why shouldn’t they take psychiatric drugs?”

The Monastery of Gregoriou - Domes of the main church (katholikon)
The Monastery of Gregoriou: Domes of the main church (katholikon)

This is a misleading question. Firstly, let’s make a clarification: When the monks entered the brotherhood, did they take psychiatric drugs or not? If they didn’t take them when they entered and started taking them in the monastery after 10-15 years of the monastic life, then it’s time some prosecutor to investigate the situation and pull the ears of some abbots. In the latter case, it is unacceptable if the individual was already mentally ill when he entered the monastery because a mentally ill person is never allowed to join the monastic brotherhood. You treat him kindly, you support him, you share his pain, help him as much as you can, but you don’t enroll him. There are two reasons for not enlisting a mentally ill individual into a monastic brotherhood.

  1. Because you cannot recruit some young man for an uphill struggle—indeed even for the rest of his life—if he doesn’t have the necessary presuppositions to withstand the pressure and deprivation to make ends meet. The most basic presupposition for one entering a monastery is mental health and balance.
  2. The experience of the Athonite life knows that a mentally ill individual with a strong character can topple an entire brotherhood. Mental illness hides an indomitable ego that becomes uncontrolled and destructive when it finds room to be developed. This is expressed with an unbridled stubbornness, lack of cooperation, fixed ideas, tantrums, complexes, etc. Due to all these things, the mentally ill patient cannot join the monastic brotherhood.

Dr. Panos writes: “Fr. Michael implies that the way of life imposed upon the monks (militarization) is what causes psychiatric problems.” It is not restricted to that. There are many things that smash the soul of a monk.

  1. The false sanctities of their Elder.2
  2. Their “miracles” and “visions” that serve obvious purposes, such as absolute obedience and submission.3
  3. Dispute by the abbots of every healthy reflection and privation of the possibility of dialogue from the simple monk. It suffices to say that three Hagiorite Hegoumens have said to their brotherhoods: “For you, I am your God.”4
Geronda Ephraim Dikaios & Big Geronda
Geronda Ephraim Dikaios & Big Geronda

In the “neptic” monastery,5 the Geronda announced that he would travel again to America. A monastic thought: “Doesn’t it seem like our Geronda goes out into the world a lot? Why can’t we also travel?” That evening he confessed his logismoi (Geronda had imposed daily confession/revelation of thoughts); the monk told the Geronda his thoughts. The next morning, as the fathers exited the church to go to the dining-hall the monk was kneeling at the door and cried with a lamentable tone:

“Fathers and Brothers, forgive me, the sinner, because the devil deluded me and I judged my Geronda!”6

This happened recently.

But the cultivation in monasticism and turning their monastic interest exclusively to utopian goals, such as lights, visions, charismas, sanctimoniousness, foresight, etc., under its presupposition of absolute obedience to the ruling Abbot. According to them one “no” destroys and negates  not only the existing spiritual edifice that they built with so much pain and toil, but also erases and excludes any future spiritual success—it also has tragic consequences.7

These theories replaced the mindset we found when we went to the Holy Mountain: the teaching of repentance and the awareness of our sinfulness as a presupposition of spiritual development and progress.

Philotheou_monastery.JPG

All these things, amongst many others, cause the complete suppression of personality and suppress any personal expression and healthy manifestation. Over time, these things consistently drive one to mental fatigue, melancholy, disillusionment and slowly to psychiatric drugs. As for the militarization and total subjugation of the contemporary neo-Hagiorite Abbots, it suffices us to mention what occurred at the recent biannual Synaxis of the Holy Mountain [These gatherings take place twice a year consisting of 20 abbots and 20 representatives of the monasteries in Karyes].

A monk left his monastery (Xenophontos) and sought a cell in another monastery. His Abbot, Alexios, intervened and persuaded the other monastery not to give him a cell. When the monk addressed two other monasteries, the Abbot chased him out of there. I asked the monk who told me about the incident, “Why did your Abbot do this?” He answered, “He wanted me to be discouraged as a monk and throw off my rassa. And thus he could justify this to the brotherhood, ‘Here was the one left; a humiliated failure.’”

At this biannual Assembly, Abbot Alexios proposed to the other abbots to make a decision: when a monk leaves a monastery, no other Athonite monastery should accept him. Then Parthenius, Abbot of St. Paul Monastery, stood up and told him:

“Are you not ashamed at what you’re saying? For the child to leave from his monastery means that he is not at rest and fatigued there. He has all the right to look somewhere else, within Mount Athos, to find rest. We already made the decision earlier and we did not give dismissal to monks who wanted to leave Mount Athos. If we deprive them of the ability to another monastery on Athos, then the children facing this dead end we thrush upon them might throw of their robes and go to the world to be married. Is this where you ultimately want to lead them?”8
And the monk who narrated this story concluded, “The good-natured Hagiorite Abbot [Parthenius] could not imagine that our Geronda (Alexios) wanted to push things there.”

Geronda Alexios, Abbot of Xenofontos Monastery
Geronda Alexios, Abbot of Xenofontos Monastery

But Geronda Parthenius of St. Paul Monastery is the exception in the neo-Hagiorite Abbots as he is of the old and genuine Athonite guard. Concerning the above, Geronda Parthenius, we say unto you: “May your memory be eternal, may your memory be eternal, may your memory be eternal.”

The sympathetic psychiatrist writes: “It is to their praise that the prudent and virtuous monks visit the psychiatrist.” This premise is unprecedented in monastic history because it is particularly absurd. The virtuous monk is presumed to be healthy because as long as virtue is a supernatural event, he will have some supernatural elements in his life. However, the restoration of mental health precedes every trace of spiritual phenomenon and virtue.

It costs him that we consider psychiatrists unnecessary for monks. I would like to say that if there are healthy and normal clergy in the Orthodox Church, then the collaboration with a psychiatrist would be superfluous not only for  monks but for every conscious Christian and even every rational Greek. The psychiatrist tries to persuade us that he contributes to restoring the patient’s mental/spiritual health. I myself believe more in what Geronda Porphyrios told me:

“It is humanly impossible for the mentally/spiritually suffering to be helped except only through the Holy Spirit. He who created the human heart is the only one who is able to replace a part when it becomes sick.”9

St. Porphyrios
St. Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia

Namely, the Geronda wanted to say that the boat of everyday life can overturn on someone and result in mental illness, whether with a careless life or through inheritance or by tragic events. From there on, let him look for the miracle in his life because only the intervention of some saint or God’s grace, through our repentance and contrition of heart, may bring healing and health. As long as Elders like Geronda Porphyrios, Geronda Paisios and others exist, psychiatrists are unnecessary for monks or any believer who has associated with them and derived strength from the life-giving power of their heart to continue their life normally without psychiatrists. But now that they have completely missed these healthy and life-giving spiritual personalities and they’ve been replaced by monkeys [also can mean mimics or cunning, malicious fellows], they have discovered that psychiatric centers are useful for monks!10

But psychiatric drugs—useful for the psychiatrist Panos and an honor for the virtuous monks who take them—are soul-destroying because they don’t only suppress mental anomalies and disorders, they also bind every instinctive potential movement of the heart towards its Creator. Therefore, psychiatric drugs exclude the main source of healing, which is the cultivation of relations with God.

The entire article attempts to make prose of the problem and annihilate it with enviable maneuver and excessive art. This whole effort seems funny to me and reminds me of General Mardonius’ speech to King Xerxes after the naval battle of Salamis.11 When Xerxes looked abject and shocked at the debris of hundreds of Persian ships, Mardonius undertook to console him:

“My King, do not be saddened about planks and beams. Did we come to Greece for timber? The mainland army remains integral. My King, don’t allow your heart to be depressed over some broken planks!”

battle-salamis
Battle of Salamis

Etc…etc…Panos writes lots of similar things.

Dear Panos:

  1. The fact that you can prose such tragic events and debase them like Mardonius as well as distort them with such force means that you need a psychiatrist—to at least restore your judgment and say things as they are and as they appear to the rest of the world. You see, I also find some useful roles for psychiatrists.
  2. You address yourself to the Greek people, reassuring them: “Nothing serious and ugly happens on Mount Athos, you can be certain.”

You and those you represent can convince and manipulate the Greeks because they are a species in decline and one does whatever he wants, especially the Hagiorites. But now we’ve entered the European Union where there are civilized societies with sensitivities and human rights. And the time will come when they learn about what is happening on Mount Athos. They will expose you and all of Orthodoxy will be vilified along with you. If you cannot tolerate a debate or criticism by a monk with comprehension and, I can assure you, with a genuine interest, then you will be ridiculed mercilessly by others for your antics. This is a spiritual law and it will be fully applied to you. Your special privileges and whims are recognized and imposed on the decayed Helladic society and Church. Not to God, however, Who requires sincerity, openness, honesty, courage and especially modesty and humility from those associated with Him; namely they don’t have a high opinion of themselves.

Sincerely,

Monk Michael

EU

NOTES

  1. This kind of censorship is used by the monasteries under Geronda Ephraim. Books by authors who have criticized the person of Geronda Ephraim or his methodologies (i.e.; requiring absolute blind obedience, authoritarianism, etc.) are usually not sold in the bookstores. For a number of years, St. Anthony’s Monastery, and a few of Geronda Ephraim’s other monasteries, boycotted Geronda Porphyrios and Geronda Paisios’ books “because of all the difficulties they gave Geronda Ephraim in Greece and all their criticisms of him.” However, as more books were translated into English and demands for orders increased, the boycott was slackened. Now that both Elders are officially canonized as saints in the Orthodox Church, the earlier stories about their criticisms are no longer talked about and have been swept under the carpet as if they never existed.
  2. Before one enters a monastery under Geronda Ephraim, no doubt they’ve been inundated with many stories of the elder’s miracles and visions both by lay and monastic disciples. These stories are reinforced during the novitiate by the superior and other monastics.
  3. Geronda Ephraim’s homilies to his monastics, as well as the private conversations he has with them, are full of self-promotion and narrations of his visions and “special powers”, combined with a feigned humility and self-reproach as the worst sinner in the world. Examples are: entering the divine darkness, seeing the face of God, communicating personally with the Father, seeing the actual event of Christ’s birth, physical alterations with demons, having the Archangels Michael and Gabriel as personal bodyguards, bi-locating to various places around the world without his body—such as during a homily in St. Anthony’s dining hall to Montreal pilgrims where he revealed to them that he left twice while talking to them to check up on his monasteries and they didn’t even realize that he had left. These stories which are used to validate Geronda Ephraim has a living saint are also used as leverage to make monks comply in obedience, even when the obedience breaks the commandments, so as not to sadden the Elder and separate oneself from God. As one of his disciple Gerondas once said to his monks, “Your obedience or disobedience goes through me, to Geronda Ephraim, and then to God.”
  4. Some Gerondas have gone so far as to warn their monastics that saying no or refusing an obedience makes one susceptible to delusion and even demon possession. Any form of “rebuttal” or “back talk” is automatically categorized as demonic and evil. Geronda Ephraim has stated, “The mouth of the elder is the mouth of Christ. If your elder speaks, God speaks.”
  5. Monk Michael is referring to Filotheou Monastery.
  6. This form of punishment is called “being put in the Lity” and can be found in The Ladder of Divine Ascent (7th).
  7. Geronda Ephraim teaches his monastics, “On Judgment Day, Christ will ask you only one question: ‘Did you do obedience?’ If the answer is yes, you go to eternal life. If the answer is no, you go to eternal damnation.”
  8. Despite the fact that many monastic saints (and non-canonized fathers) in the history of Orthodoxy did not remain in their monasteries until death—and many times they lived in many different monasteries—Geronda Ephraim is very strict about his monastics staying in their monastery until death, or until their elder dies. If, for some reason, he allows a monastic to go to another monastery, it always has to be a monastery within his own family. Geronda Ephraim also teaches that it’s almost impossible to find salvation of a monk leaves his monastery (whether he has made the vows for the great schema or a rassaphore).
  9. Geronda Porphyrios once decided to attend some classes on psychiatry at the university. However, his response, though not totally negative, was not particularly encouraging. He acknowledged that “they tried to do something, but what can they do? Psychiatrists and psychologists are like a blind man who tries to understand the things around him by touch. The soul is very deep and only God really knows it” (Yiannitsiotis 200:186). Yiannitsiotis relates that at another time the Elder said, “I don’t want psychiatry, but I love psychiatrists.”… [He] understood that anything spiritual concerning the human condition is not going to be unveiled in psychiatry. The assumptions of materialism, which are part of this discipline, limit the reaches of physical medicine or even psychology. If psychiatry claims to understand the entirety of the human psychological condition, if it rests upon a reductive biological view of consciousness and the human condition, then those claims are counter to an Orthodox perception of the person. One can accept the behavioral sciences without accepting all of their metaphysics. Yiannitsiotis alludes to a remark he heard by a Christian psychiatrist spoken during a conference that may be a kind of summary of this topic: “As a psychiatrist I am not a healer of the human soul, but of the nervous system” (Ibid., 2001: 192). [Professor Daniel Buxhoeveden, Science and the Eastern Orthodox Church, 2013, pp. 15-16].
  10. It is notable that many of the contemporary monastics and spiritual fathers from Greece who knew and revered St. Porphyrios and St. Paisios when they were alive do not hold a high opinion for Elder Joseph the Hesychast and his disciples. This is because the two saints disagreed with many of their methods and teachings, primarily the demand of absolute, blind obediene and authoritarianism. These two saints’ teachings about sick and disturbed forms of obedience are references to Geronda Ephraim’s fronima and teachings.
  11. Mardonius was a leading Persian military commander during the Persian Wars with Greece in the early 5th century BC who died at the Battle of Platea.

 

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The Concept of “Validation” in Geronda Ephraim’s Monasteries

“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

Filotheou Brotherhood late ca. 80s/early 90s [Geronda Paisios of Arizona, kneeling far right, Fr. Germanos of NY kneeling opposite]
Filotheou Brotherhood ca. late 80s/early 90s [Geronda Paisios of Arizona, kneeling far right, Fr. Germanos of NY kneeling opposite]
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:

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.”

Newly baptized converts, Filotheou Monastery. [Hieromonk Chrysostoms, Fr. Vasilios & Fr. Germanos are on the left under over-hanging tree branch]
Newly baptized converts, Filotheou Monastery. [Hieromonk Chrysostoms, Fr. Vasilios & Fr. Germanos are on the left under over-hanging tree branch]
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:

https://web.archive.org/web/20070702092829/http://pseudo-prophet.tripod.com/

Geronda Paisios and David Smith.
Geronda Paisios and David Smith.

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

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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 01

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.

“This blog is not directly affiliated with St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery (According to the monastery’s lawyers, this blog “misrepresents the ideological underpinnings of their tenets” – http://stnektariosmonastery.tumblr.com/post/103102374101/account-temporarily-terminated-via-letter-from-the )”

https://www.scribd.com/doc/263270549/Letter-from-St-Nektarios-Monastery-s-Lawyer-attempting-to-take-down-a-TUMBLR-page

It was also noted that shortly after this page appeared, the Monastery’s website added a Notice to Users section stating:

Validations

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.

p-koulouris_painting_geronda-josif_24x30 p-koulouris_painting_father-epifanios_18x24

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.

St. Paisios the Athonite does not mention Elder Joseph the Hesychast, or his synodia in his book on Athonite monks.
St. Paisios the Athonite does not mention Elder Joseph the Hesychast, or his synodia in his book on Athonite monks.

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!”

Both St. Porphyrios & St. Paisios believed Elder Ephraim of Arizona and his elder were deluded.
Both St. Porphyrios & St. Paisios believed Elder Ephraim of Arizona and his elder were deluded.

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.

The decision to boycott St. Paisios & St. Porphyrios' books occurred during this weekend at Holy Archangels Monastery in Texas.
The decision to boycott St. Paisios & St. Porphyrios’ books occurred during this weekend at Holy Archangels Monastery in Texas, 1998.

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.

Elder Paisios Epistles

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 Arsenios

“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)

The humble grave of St. Paisios of the Monastery of St. John the Theologian, Souroti
The humble grave of St. Paisios of the Monastery of St. John the Theologian, Souroti

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.

The humble grave of St. Porphyrios, Kavsokalyvia, Mount Athos
The humble grave of St. Porphyrios, Kavsokalyvia, Mount Athos

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:

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
The brotherhood of St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY with visiting abbots monks from other monasteries.
The brotherhood of St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY with visiting abbots monks from other monasteries.

“MIRACLES” THAT WERE INITIALLY VALIDATED BY THE MONASTERIES

The “Holy Manna Relic”

Former seminarion Vasili Datch now monk Panteleimon at St. Nektarios Monastery (NY)
Former seminarion Vasili Datch now monk Panteleimon at St. Nektarios Monastery (NY)

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.”

Stylianos

The monasteries that were involved in selling his “Crypto-Christian” miracle books and retelling his hoax stories to numerous pilgrims did not issue a disclaimer about the lie. They simply pulled the books and any literature from the bookstores and stopped repeating the stories. Certain monastics who had blessings to talk with lay people were given obediences not to tell pilgrims these stories were a hoax and lie, so as “not to scandalize them or create a stumbling block to their faith.” https://scottnevinssuicide.wordpress.com/2015/02/01/stylianos-kementzetzidis-and-the-miracles-of-the-crypto-christians-in-turkey-hoax/

The miracle in Syria: Chopped up dead man sewn back together and resurrected

The monasteries also promoted the “Miracle in Syria,” even distributing falsified letters from the Jerusalem Patriarchate “validating” the miracle. Once it turned out to be a hoax that went away to. The flyers detailing the miracle were pulled and the monastics simply stopped relating the “miracle” to pilgrims. http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.ca/2009/01/great-miracle-in-syria-and-convent-of.html

Persistent frontal suture misrepresented as exclusive orthodox miracle

Figure 1- Brazil Complete metopic suture (arrow).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.”

https://scottnevinssuicide.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/persistent-frontal-suture-a-miracle-exclusive-to-orthodox-clergymen/

https://scottnevinssuicide.wordpress.com/2015/03/30/persistent-frontal-suture-once-again-misinterpreted-as-an-orthodox-miracle-and-testimony-of-holiness-hieromonk-evdokimos-of-st-savvas-lavra/

SERAPHIM ROSE AND MANIPULATING MONK CORPSES

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).

In the monasteries, it is taught that Fr. Seraphim's disciples manipulated his corpse to make it look peaceful.
In the monasteries, it is taught that Fr. Seraphim’s disciples manipulated his corpse to make it look peaceful.

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.

Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi L: Repose with mouth open. R: Afterwards, mouth closed and
Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi L: Repose with mouth open. R: Afterwards, mouth closed and “smiling.”

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

“A Monk’s Funeral: 30 hrs after death, the corpse retains its flexibility” [Athonite Moments, p. 200]
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.

https://scottnevinssuicide.wordpress.com/2015/04/28/orthodox-monks-dont-experience-rigor-mortis/

NOTES:

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/

The Tragedy of an Untreated Alcoholic Monk (St. Paisios the Athonite)

NOTE: Unfortunately, in some of Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, there are monastics who have substance abuse issues. There are not a few former alcoholics and drug addicts in the ranks of the monasteries. However, there is also the phenomenon of monastics who like wine too much. These monastics can go unnoticed for awhile if they don’t confess their sin. However, sometimes another monastic who sits beside them will inform the superior, other times the superior will notice. In the early years of St. Anthony’s Monastery, there was a short-lived trend of monks who would eat an overabundance of artoklasia soaked with wine, “because it had to be finished.” For some of the monks, this was an excuse that validated eating enough wine-soaked artoklasia to get drunk. Other monks felt that they were doing their duty of brotherly love and helping the ekklesiastikoi finish the bowl. Some monastics have been outright banned from drinking wine on Sundays, Feast Days, etc. Other monastics have been permitted to drink only a 1/4 cup on special occasions. In some monasteries, wine is not served to the monastics except on big Feast Days, and sometimes then, not even. There is also the other issue of hard liquor in the monasteries. Some pilgrims bring Metaxa, and other types of booze as donations to the monasteries. This can also present temptation for monastics. Some superiors have at least one glass a wine daily for reasons of “health benefits.”

Agios-Paisios-Agioreitis-8921

Once on Mount Athos there was a monk who lived in Karyes. He drank and got drunk every day and was the cause of scandal to the pilgrims. Eventually he died and this relieved some of the faithful who went on to tell Elder Paisios that they were delighted that this huge problem was finally solved.

Evangelos-Tsantalis-bei-der-ersten-Ernte-auf-Athos-1976--940x360

Father Paisios answered them that he knew about the death of the monk, after seeing the entire battalion of angels who came to collect his soul. The pilgrims were amazed and some protested and tried to explain to the Elder of whom they were talking about, thinking that the Elder did not understand.

Elder Paisios explained to them: “This particular monk was born in Asia Minor, shortly before the destruction by the Turks when they gathered all the boys. So as not to take him from their parents, they would take him with them to the reaping, and so he wouldn’t cry, they just put raki* into his milk in order for him to sleep. Therefore he grew up as an alcoholic. There he found an elder and said to him that he was an alcoholic. The elder told him to do prostrations and prayers every night and beg the Panagia to help him to reduce by one the glasses he drank.

monks-life-e1365677643834

After a year he managed with struggle and repentance to make the 20 glasses he drank into 19 glasses. The struggle continued over the years and he reached 2-3 glasses, with which he would still get drunk.”

The world for years saw an alcoholic monk who scandalized the pilgrims, but God saw a fighter who fought a long struggle to reduce his passion.

Without knowing what each one is trying to do what he wants to do, what right do we have to judge his effort?

* Raki is a Turkish unsweetened, anise-flavored hard alcoholic drink that is popular in Turkey, Greece, Albania, Serbia, and other Balkan countries as an apéritif.

Dr George Tsantalis with father Filaretos at Mount Athos

NOTE: The following is an analysis of the above story from Orthodoxy and Recovery, A blog about the direct connection between the spirituality of Orthodox Christianity and recovery from alcoholism, drug abuse, and other addictions.

Anyone who has dealt with alcoholics knows what happened here.  Basically, the monk was left as many are in the modern Church to ‘fend for himself’ when it came to his alcoholism.  You can hardly imagine in the Desert Fathers a monk being permitted to continue drinking with only his prayers to rely on.

Just for clarification, I want to make a few points:

  • Elder Paisios does not condemn the alcoholic monk.
  • He reports that the monk’s suffering in life, with no one really helping him, was met at death by God’s own army coming to bring him to heaven.  This type of ‘psychopomp’ is generally reserved for saints and ascetics, since they have repented.  In this case, the monk received the help he did not receive from men.
  • The deterioration in the monk’s condition, whereby at the end he was getting drunk with only two or three drinks, is common with end-stage alcoholism.  Over time, as the alcoholic’s body gives out, his tolerance diminishes.  He clearly drank himself to death.
  • The monk’s elder apparently had no idea what to do with him, and so simply put him in his icon corner and waited for a miracle.
  • Elder Paisios describes the physical allergy aspect of alcoholism in describing his exposure at a young age.
  • Give the time frame of the story (referencing the massacres of Greeks in Turkey in the 1920s), this monk’s experience of Mount Athos was during the ‘idiorrhythmic’ period ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Athos#Ottoman_era) when the monks lived separate lives and the common life of monasteries had not yet been reestablished.  This lasted until the 1970’s, when the renewal efforts began and the monasteries reestablished communal life.  From the Wikipedia article: “After reaching a low point of just 1,145 mainly elderly monks in 1971, the monasteries have been undergoing a steady and sustained renewal. By the year 2000, the monastic population had reached 1,610, with all 20 monasteries and their associated sketes receiving an infusion of mainly young well-educated monks. In 2009, the population stood at nearly 2000.[3]

This tragic story ends on a positive note: even the alcoholic who received no help with his disease can count on God’s mercy in the end if he desires it.  However, it also portrays how many in the Church have handled the disease of alcoholism: judgment without help.  To be fair, most ‘normies’ either inside or outside the Church have no idea how to help addicts.  Yet, the Church has always had the tools necessary to treat addiction through ascetic struggle, like what we see in the 12 Steps.

 St Paisios the Athonite

Yes, the Steps are an ascetic struggle.  Don’t be fooled.  Most people are more willing to go on a diet rather than do the Steps.  Food is easy to give up when it comes up against being honest with one’s self.  Shallow and careless people can diet, but they certainly won’t take the actions the Steps demand.

If the Holy Mountain had been a healthier place (as it is now), undoubtedly this monk would not have been permitted to go so long without any help.  Mind you, there are still plenty of Orthodox who do not understand the Tradition well enough stop themselves from demanding the alcoholic ‘try harder’ to quit.

But, in my experience of talking to Orthodox monastics, when we discuss the matter of addiction and how the Steps work, they enthusiastically agree that what they do in their monasteries is essentially the same process.  The rejuvenation of monasticism is actually happening throughout the Church in recent years, and with this renewal (Mt. Athos is now harder to get into than Harvard) will come more opportunities for people to have the benefit of proper assistance in battling addiction.

Nowhere (other than the US and Canada) in the Orthodox world have we seen monasticism embrace the 12 Steps more enthusiastically than in Romania.  Patriarch Daniel has led the Holy Synod of Romania to embrace the 12 Steps (c.f. http://www.ortodoxantidrog.ro/en/start.html) and work towards integrating the program into seminary education curricula.  Floyd Frantz (http://www.ocmc.org/missionaries/missionary_profile.aspx?MissionaryId=4&PageTitle=Recent+Articles&SearchBy=2011) has reported that the monasteries are especially excited about the Steps and getting AA into the villages.

Hopefully, fewer alcoholics in the Church will be left to struggle without help from the rest of us.

http://orthodoxyandrecovery.blogspot.ca/2012/03/tragedy-of-untreated-alcoholic-monk.html

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