Essentially, Protestantism is nothing other than a generally applied papism. For in Protestantism, the fundamental principle of papism is brought to life by each man individually. After the example of the infallible man in Rome, each Protestant is a cloned infallible man, because he pretends to personal infallibility in matters of faith. It can be said: Protestantism is a vulgarized papism…
Though a Geronda or Gerondissa is not “a cloned infallible man, because he pretends to personal infallibility in matters of faith,” the Orthodox Church and Orthodox Tradition teach that their words are (i.e. a disciple must obey the first words out of the elder’s mouth as from God; “The mouth of the Elder is the mouth of Christ,” as Elder Ephraim categorically states). So is every Geronda an individual, infallible pope? There is a circular reasoning answer to this: the Orthodox Church teaches that no man is infallible, thus every Geronda and Gerondissa are sinners. However, many Patristic texts emphasize that God speaks through the Elder and his words of spiritual counsel are infallible. Thus, it is not the person of the Elder that is infallible, it is their position, or rather, the words coming out of their mouth in spiritual counsel which are infallible. “Even if the command he is given is wrong, God will bless it anyway for obedience’s sake,” teaches Geronda Ephraim. Every monastery is essentially run by an “infallible pope.” By the very nature of blind obedience, the disciples of Geronda Ephraim view him in a very similar way to how a devout Catholic views the Pope.
There is little difference between Ignatius Loyola’s and Geronda Ephraim’s teachings on obedience and Eldership—in fact, they say almost the same thing verbatim. According to both Orthodox and Jesuit teaching, it is irrelevant if the Elder is a drunkard, a fornicator, a slave to vice, etc., because “an individual does not become a monastic for the Elder, but rather for Christ, and to do obedience to Christ through the Elder” (Geronda Ephraim, Homily on Obedience, given to the monks in the Gerontikon, AZ, 1998). So, even if a Geronda is cantankerous, physically abusive, and unspiritual—like in the story of Akkakios (The Ladder, ch. 4)—the disciple only needs blind obedience, combined with ignoring his faults and viewing him as a saint, in order to be saved. Geronda Ephraim has reiterated this point numerous times to his monastics both in verbal homilies, his books and mp3s, and the faxes he sends to his monasteries now and again: “Remember Akkakios!”
The Lord who makes wise the blindopens the eyes of the obedient to the virtues of their guide, and He blinds them to his defects. But the hater of good does the opposite. (Ladder 4:98)
Geronda Ephraim’s Teachings on Obedience
Though many of the monastic texts write about obedience, the novices in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries are encouraged to read and focus mainly on the teachings of Geronda Ephraim and Elder Joseph the Hesychast so they can acquire the proper mindset. Basically, a novice is taught that Geronda Ephraim’s teachings contain the sum and essence of the Holy Scriptures and monastic texts and his teachings are all that is necessary for a monk, if they want to find salvation. An abbot once said, “If all the patristic books and even the Bible were lost, just having Geronda Ephraim’s and Pappou’s book would be enough to find salvation.” Some key teachings that are emphasized in Geronda Ephraim’s teachings and monasteries:
He [the disciple] did not have his own way of thinking. His elder’s way of thinking was also his. This is why we say, “If we don’t have spiritual obedience, we haven’t achieved anything at all”. When we do not want what the elder wants, we are not in essence disciples—we do not have spiritual obedience. [Patristic Obedience]
One must have spiritual obedience. One should say, “Whatever the elder believes, thinks, and decides, I also believe, think, and decide in exactly the same way”. [Patristic Obedience]
It is not to our benefit to sadden and grieve those who struggle for the good of our soul. When we do not find rest or benefit in obedience, something is not going well; we are missing something. When a disciple is counseled by his elder about this or that, he should not take it merely as advice. In essence it is a command, even if it is not explicitly stated clearly as such. [Stories of Obedience and Disobedience]
When a monk does not obey every counsel and exhortation his elder gives him, he is being disobedient. Does the elder have to say explicitly, “I command you to do this and that”, so that the monk is afraid and obeys? Of course not. Commands are given only in particular circumstances. [Stories of Obedience and Disobedience]
So corresponding to how one obeys his spiritual father, he obeys Christ. [Stories of Obedience and Disobedience]
If we are spiritually separated from our spiritual father because we disobey and criticize him, how will we be fortified against the demons at the hour of death? Without the protection of his holy prayers, how will we stand in the presence of Jesus Christ Himself? When we ascend and meet the aerial toll-houses, whose prayers will deliver us? The elder’s? But they have departed from us because we grieved him in this life and so they have no power in our hour of need. [Reverence and Love for the Elder]
The spiritual father bears the living image of Christ, and the disciple is commanded to obey him and respect him solely for the love of Christ—not for the person of the elder, because he might be a sinful person; he might be on his way to hell, as I am. [Stories of Obedience and Disobedience]
This is why a person’s life is enriched when he is obedient to a spiritual father. At some point in the future, such a person will appear before God full of virtues, as a tree whose branches are heavy and abounding with plentiful fruit. [The Art of Salvation]
A Gerondissa of Geronda Ephraim’s once said: “If Geronda Ephraim says the sky isn’t blue, then I will believe it is not blue. If Geronda Ephraim tells me this black thing is white, then I no longer see it as black but as white. This is what obedience means, and this is the kind of obedience a disciple should have if they want to progress spiritually and be saved.”
How Monastics are Expected to View Geronda Ephraim
In the monasteries, all the abbots and abbesses, and their second-in-commands, believe and teach that Geronda Ephraim is the holiest saint in the history of the Orthodox Church and that there will never be another human on this earth who reaches the spiritual caliber that he has attained. Besides the common miracle stories that are circulated about Geronda Ephraim’s feats and miracles, each abbot and abbess also has their own personal experience and stories to draw on which they also impart onto their brother/sisterhoods. In essence, a monk and nun are groomed over time to view Geronda Ephraim the same way as their Geronda or Gerondissa views him: the closest thing to Christ on earth.
Geronda Ephraim teaches, “a monk should say to himself whatever the Elder believes, thinks and feel I also believe, think and feel.” This is a very important concept because once a disciple reaches that degree of slavish devotion, where he/she truly believes “the mouth of the Elder is the mouth of Christ,” then they will accept without hesitation or examination, whatever comes out of their Elder’s mouth. As one monk in Arizona use to teach the younger novices, “Even if Geronda tells you to eat a romp roast on Good Friday, you do it without questioning the obedience, without examining the obedience, without criticizing the obedience or the Elder for instructing you to break the monastic canons.” In the monastic mindset, there is no sin or disobedience in doing blind obedience.
Each of Geronda Ephraim’s Abbots and Abbesses are his “ambassadors.” And the nuns and the monks in his monasteries are encouraged to see their abbot and abbesses in the same way as Geronda Ephraim: “holy, person of God and prayer, continuously enrapt in divine vision, a saint, etc.” Essentially, a disciple has to “deceive” themselves, and force themselves to believe things that are not true—like make-believe. The task of a disciple is to daily rewire their mindset—both in worldview and how they view their Elder—through a series of forced, repetitive mental exercises (i.e. continually telling themselves that their Elder is holy and an icon of Christ). They must also battle any negative thought or emotion against their Elder which they accomplish through changing into a positive thought or emotion or, if the negativity is too overwhelming, through beating themselves with a blunt object. Some disciples will venerate their Elder’s door, viewing his cell as the cleft in the rock where Moses saw God. Some disciples will do a full prostration outside their Elder’s door if they miss receiving his or her morning or nightly blessing. Some disciples do the sign of the cross whenever they pass their Elder’s cell, just as laypeople do whenever they pass an Orthodox church on the street. All these practices and exercises help reinforce the idea that the Elder is a deified human being.
NOTE: This is the 9th Homily of The Art of Salvation. Though many times the Trapeza reading is continued until a book or chapter is finished, there are times that specific content is picked by the superior either targeting certain faults of the monastics in the monastery, or certain largely perpetrated sins in a visiting group. Many times, if this specific chapter on Abortion is picked for the Trapeza reading, it is a good indicator that the group visiting contains many women who have committed one or more abortions. Ironically, Geronda Ephraim’s homily contains a vision of women who have committed abortions, in hell, eating the blood of their own aborted fetuses. Not exactly appropriate dinner conversation but nevertheless this chapter is read.
Geronda Joseph, abbot of St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY, has spoken about abortion on many occasions to pilgrims. In an attempt to convey the “wisdom of the fathers” as well as the “grave seriousness of abortion,” he has taught, “The Fathers teach that it is better to have your baby, baptize it, and then kill it rather than aborting the child. This is because when you have an abortion, the baby dies unbaptized. The canona is less for murdering your baby than it is for abortion.” [The canona for abortion is usually 3 years minimum no Holy Communion, whereas murder is only 1 year].
One of Geronda Ephraim’s long time spiritual children, Fr. Demetrios Carellas, has been very active in the pro-life movement for years and has many additional things to say about this topic:http://orthodoxheritage.org/MOM%2003%202013.htm
My beloved children,
Today, our earth is constantly being saturated with torrents of blood from wars and various other events. It is also saturated, however, with blood that is more innocent than that of Abel’s: the blood of executed infants. It is the blood of innocent babies—these defenceless children—, which is spilt by their very own mothers.
Clinics and obstetricians’ offices have become the “new” slaughterhouses of Herod. Millions upon millions of babies throughout the entire world have been thrown into garbage cans and septic tanks. People don’t even dispose of cats in this way! As we have seen in a startling video documentary, the doctor, obstetrician, and murderer initially kills the child within the mother’s womb using a scalpel. Then with a special instrument, he proceeds to crush the infant’s delicate head, and, finally, removes it. The mother, of course, witnesses none of this and very peacefully departs for her home.
A few days ago, I came across an article written by a physician, and I would like to read it to you, as I think it will help you to understand what abortion is from a practical and scientific point of view. The title of the article is: “The Finishing Blow.” I will read you the original text.
“As the daily media informs us, there will be a vote. In particular, a vote on what will be the most villainous bill ever to pass through the Greek Parliament. At a time when the Greek nation is on the verge of extinction, this decision will serve as the ultimate finishing blow. Unfortunately, this crime is becoming legal. Before, however, members of the parliament approve the aforementioned legislation, we wish to make the following two recommendations:
1) Members of the Parliament should see the film entitled “The Silent Scream.” This video features ultrasound images of the inside of the uterus recorded during an abortion. It is a tragic sight!”
The article continues: “When the instruments of assassination enter the womb, the fetus senses that something foreign has invaded his environment, and he reacts by withdrawing violently from his natural position. Simultaneously, his heart rate increases from the normal 140 beats per minute to 200 beats per minute. The moment the fetus is struck by the medical instruments of execution, something hair-raising occurs! The fetus stretches his mouth wide open and lets out a silent scream as his life comes to a barbaric end! The producer of the video recording, who is a medical doctor and gynecologist, who performed over 10,000 abortions between 1949 and the present, was shocked when he witnessed this heartrending scene and until then unknown spectacle. He not only decided never to perform another abortion, but also became a leading pro-life activist.
If members of the Parliament view this videotaped recording, we are certain that they will prefer to have their right hand cut off rather than to vote in favor of such a deplorable law.
2) Our second recommendation is the following: Members of the Parliament should see to it that this video is aired on national television, so that the Greek people can be informed that the 300,000 abortions take place in Greece each year are not merely surgical procedures, but in fact 300,000 felonies. If, however, this proposed bill is not rejected, then the blood of these defenceless individuals will become a pool in which Greece will drown. And then, our nation’s various enemies will raise a sorrowful sign that reads, ‘Greece has vanished.’ For the enemies, this title will be the cause of villainous joy; for true Greeks and Christians, however, the cause of deep sorrow and great shame.”
Now let us examine what the “democratic” women of Greece are planning to do in relation to this matter. Several such democratic women’s associations exist here. “Through a series of programmed events—the first function already took place with the theme ‘Why YES to Legalizing Abortion’—they seek to remove criminal penalties for abortion and to allocate state funding for the costs of such surgical procedures. This will mean another new burden for the government and the budget, which means new burdens on the backs of the taxpayers. They want information concerning contraceptive methods to be widely circulated. In other words, they want to disseminate shameless and injudicious propaganda in favor of nefarious homicides, as if we have a mission to eradicate our historic nation. They seek to introduce sex education into the educational curriculum, in order to
prompt the interest of children during their elementary school years in such matters;
“open their eyes” early—i.e., before their time; and
avoid, supposedly, undesirable mishaps. In reality, however, this system itself will push children in the direction of misfortune.
Finally, they seek to establish centers for family planning throughout Greece. One of the purposes of these centers will also be to institute the above-mentioned objectives; in other words, to rigorously and systematically impose the beliefs of these ladies upon the entire Greek nation.”
We will say no more. We will only exclaim the following to these women who, as it seems, have forgotten their purpose, and who are determined to uproot everything sacred that God has implanted within them: Is this “democratic” demand you are making humane? We are deeply saddened on account of this plummet and perversion. Do you see how deplorable and grievous the sin of abortion is? Unquestionably, it must come to an end. These innocent human beings must not be assassinated so lightheartedly, on the pretense that one cannot raise another child. Are we going to determine how God should deal with us? Are we going to decide whether or not we will be able to handle all the children that God grants to our family? Will we direct God and tell Him how to take care of us?
Day by day, this crime takes on increasingly dangerous dimensions. Women, at last, must comprehend how horrendous it is! They must attempt to stop it, and prevent other women who, under demonic influence, plan to have an abortion, because women usually end up committing this crime due to sheer ignorance, intense family pressure, or an internal personal conflict. The main contributing factor, however, is the devil, who supplies various unsupported reasons, excuses, pretenses, and weaknesses, such as: “there is not enough money … my husband is pressuring me … my health is compromised…” and so forth. The devil takes advantage of all these factors and craftily persuades mothers to commit this grave sin.
I am not sure if you are aware of the fact that these embryos, these infants, these beings do not cease to exist once they are aborted. On the contrary! Each embryo is a complete human being, especially with respect to the soul. These children live in the other world, and, as you can understand, many millions of children now comprise an entire army in Heaven. All of them protest. Their innocent blood cries out to God that they were killed unjustly, that they did not receive Holy Baptism, that they did not become Orthodox Christians. Who is responsible for this? It is self-explanatory and does not have to be spelled out. When this blood is spilled, God’s computer documents the crime. How will this blood be washed away? When someone becomes dirty, how is he cleansed? Only with clean water. Likewise, water is needed in this case as well. It must flow forth continuously from two faucets, which are the two eyes. Internal repentance should be externalized with a lifelong, never-ending stream of tears.
The sin, of course, is forgiven from the moment it is set forth before the sacred and all-powerful Mystery of Confession, where nothing remains unforgiven. God is love, and “he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 Jn. 4:16). However, He is also righteous (vid. Ps. 10:7; 88:15). For this reason, women who have had abortions should not feel at ease by virtue of the fact they confessed this sin. They must pour forth tears of repentance throughout the remainder of their life. Many of these women do not feel at peace even though they have confessed. Why? Because they still have not repented internally, they have not shed the appropriate amount of tears required to wash away the blood of the abortion or abortions. Repentance is indeed vast and endless. Our very existence and the fact that man is permitted to continue living after committing such a crime is proof of God’s steadfast love and compassion. Man is still alive: this means that God is waiting for him. Since He is waiting, man must not remain indifferent but take advantage of the opportunity.
The penance given by the spiritual father, with respect to this extremely serious sin and specific crime, also requires special attention. The penance serves as an adjunct in the therapy of the soul; but as we have said, the faucets of tears must also be opened. These will wash away the blood of abortion, so that a person may subsequently feel communion with God. Confession alone, therefore, is not enough. What counts, what will change and alter God’s embittered and poisoned heart, what will restore it to its original condition prior to man’s sin, are the tears of repentance flowing from the two faucets of the eyes. Before departing from this life, we must alter God’s heart.
I will use a simple example. Let us suppose that a child was disobedient or disrespectful and saddened his mother. When the child approaches his mother and says, “Forgive me, dear mother, for what I did. I will not do it again,” she will reply, “You are forgiven. Don’t do it again.” At that moment, the child indeed receives forgiveness. If, however, he also falls into his mother’s embrace and begins to cry, sob, plead, and beg his mother to forgive him with all her heart, then not even a trace of sadness or bitterness will remain within her heart. This is precisely what occurs with the person who repents and returns to God after committing a particular sin.
Some people ask, “Why do people who have repented cry continuously (especially they who have worn the raso, who have gone to dwell in the desert, and who have drawn near to God and devoted themselves to Him), even though they have confessed, stopped sinning, received forgiveness, and changed their way of life?” The answer is simple: the more a person repents, and the more tears of repentance he sheds, the more God’s heart is altered. Profound reconciliation takes place between sinful man and God, especially in the case of this crime of abortion, where an unending stream of tears is required. Tears should not cease until one’s last breath.
I will recount an event that serves as an illustration:
In northern Greece, at a church visited by many pilgrims and dedicated to a miracle-working saint, people were preparing for a festival. At that particular church, there was a virtuous elderly lady who would light the vigil lamps. She had worked hard cleaning and preparing the church that day, so in the late afternoon she decided to lie down and take a nap before continuing with the remaining tasks.
She went to sleep, but she couldn’t wake up! She slept for days. A local doctor was called to see what was wrong with her. He instructed them, “Don’t wake her up. Something is definitely occurring that we cannot explain medically. However, at some point she will certainly wake up.”
After several days—I don’t remember how many—she came to her senses. As soon as she opened her eyes she asked, “Has the vigil started yet?” She was under the impression that she had slept for only a few hours. The people surrounding her responded, “No, it has not started. It will begin shortly.”
She believed them. When she was fully awake, she said to the members of the church’s parish council, “Please, call all the women from the village to come here.”
When all of the women had gathered at the church, the lady recounted the following:
“Listen to what I saw! A radiant guide appeared and led me downward. We descended into the depths, to the heart of the earth, where I saw dungeons, darkness, prisoners, and many other dreadful things. Amongst the many people who my guide was showing me, I saw the women who have had abortions eating the blood of their aborted fetuses! I was horrified at this sight, and I heard the angel say to me, ‘Now, when I take you back up to the earth, call all the women and give them an account of what you have seen down here. Urge them to avoid this crime because if they do not repent accordingly, they will also end up down here in this abysmal state.’”
All of us should help prevent this crime. When we learn that someone is contemplating abortion, we should immediately take a firm stand and advise her against it. Usually women who have abortions do not see and are unaware of what takes place within them medically. With the slightest difficulty—it also has become fashionable—they proceed to the physician and have an abortion, as if they are disposing of a dog or a cat. We should dissuade them from proceeding to have the abortion, by telling them that this is the worst possible crime a person can commit.
As a spiritual father, I advise the following to anyone who has committed this sin, either once or repeatedly: try to heal yourselves spiritually with tears. To speak in human terms, try to efface the sorrow and bitterness from God’s heart. When a person repents, cries, struggles spiritually, and strives to make amends (all of which serve as a form of asceticism), he softens God’s heart. The great Fathers of our Church declare that repentance can accomplish wonders. It can actually reach the point of completely erasing the recollection of sin from God’s heart; that is, it can completely obliterate the existence of man’s sin.
Behold the magnificence of repentance! What then is required from all of us, and first of all me? Repentance! Every time a person says, “I have sinned,” God responds, “May you be forgiven.” Afterwards, we must also proceed to receive the seal of forgiveness from the epitrachelion, through the power invested by the Law in the Mystery of Holy Confession. With the courage we receive from the Mystery of Confession and from the realization of the limitless, unceasing, and continuous power of repentance, we will proceed to the throne of the grace of God (vid. Hb. 4:16).
We should not be apprehensive! We should not lend an ear to despair, but rather race toward the Mystery of Confession. Never despair! This is the key! No matter how sinful you feel, never accept despair. Tightly hold on to hope. Never permit yourself to perish by falling into the depth of despair. After having fallen from one cliff, do not jump off another because this will dishonor and insult God’s glory.
Exalt God in your heart to the height that befits His grandeur, for He has the ability to erase every sin. If God erased all of humanity’s sins with His Crucifixion, what are your sins in comparison, O sinful man.
This is why we accept everyone who approaches the life-saving bath and harbor called confession. This is where every ship battered from the storms at sea sets anchor. Whether it has been beaten by winds, exposed to tempests, or invaded by pirates—no matter what the case may be—it comes and slowly docks next to the spiritual father. It may have lost its mast and sails; possibly all that remains intact is the vessel’s framework. But when it enters the shipyard, all these components are repaired, and the ship becomes new again.
One day such a wounded soul came to me. A woman approached the Mystery of Confession. I, of course, felt extreme sympathy for this poor lady who confessed that she had fifty abortions! Now consider that this is brought to be assessed before the judgment of the spiritual father. Fifty infant homicides! Indeed, since God kept her alive all these years, it was a guarantee from Him that He was patiently waiting for her. In which case, what spiritual father would treat her any differently? I spoke to her with much compassion and love, I tried to put things in order for her, and I gave her the spiritual medicine she needed. [NOTE: It is said that this Illinois lady was forbidden communion until her death bed].
Think of how many years had passed. This sin was torturing her, but she did not have the courage to confess it! Glory to God: She left with the hope of salvation. God’s love is awesome! But so is the joy of the angels! “There is joy in Heaven on account of one sinful person who repents” (cf. Lk. 15:7). When a person repents and cries for his lamentable condition, not only does God save him, but also immediately there is great joy in Heaven. All of Heaven rejoices as the angels hymn and praise God for the salvation of an immortal soul!
“Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and they whose sins are covered” (Ps. 31:1). In other words, fortunate is the person who has been counted worthy of having his sins forgiven. What type of gratitude can one express to God? Consider this: I may have lived for a thousand years, I may have committed every type of sin imaginable, I may have been the world’s worst criminal; ultimately, however, God in His mercy may enlighten me. I can return to His loving embrace, and, within a couple of minutes, confess everything. In an instant, I can be justified, washed, cleansed, and find myself in Heaven! What happened to the thousand years of sin? They’re gone! Don’t even think about them! They no longer exist! They have vanished! You are no longer accountable! They were automatically deleted from the demonic memoirs. God has given an order! Every time you deposit a sin before the spiritual father, God presses the delete button on the keyboard, and “click,” the computer registers “forgiveness!” “Click”- “forgiveness and remission!” The grand total is zero. A clean record! How is it possible not to worship this merciful God? How is it possible not to fall down before Him and shed tears of divine love, adoration, and devotion?
For this reason, my children, we must pass from the darkness of sin that engulfs us into the light of repentance and hope. When we hope in God’s mercy, we glorify and honor the God of love and mercy. Let us pray with repentance, with confession, with love, and with hope in God in order to advance united, hand in hand, toward salvation. I pray that this small and insignificant offering you have received flourishes a hundred fold in your souls, that it remains deeply rooted within you, that you mark out a new spiritual road, and that repentance always accompanies you. Struggle as much as you possibly can to preserve the purity of your soul and body, because purity has enormous boldness before God.
I pray that the grace of the Holy Spirit overshadows and preserves all of us in Christ. Amen.
The Art of Salvation has been uploaded to Scribd. The typesetting and format used for the book is very jarring and makes it difficult to read:
Recently, after observing the moral decay in society (i.e., gender roles, sexual immorality) I could not help but notice a peculiar trend. Testosterone levels among men have dropped a statistically significant degree each decade following the 1950’s. A commensurate change in estrogen changes has also been observed among females since the same decade.
In short, men are losing their masculinity and becoming more effeminate whereas women are becoming more masculine. I asked Elder Ephraim of St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona about this during a recent conversation I had with him. He mentioned that this trend — men becoming more like women and women becoming more like men — is indeed real. For this reason, he is often misunderstood and cast as out of touch with respect to any advice he gives concerning marital relations. He is known to have said that men should not engage in oral sex with their wives. Moreover, he has said that some men and women should even live as brother and sister within the marital context.
These indications are not intended to destroy the ability of a man to enjoy his wife as God originally intended — that is to say that a man cannot enjoy sexual relations with his wife but for procreation. Rather, Elder Ephraim wants to help us, God’s children, understand that God is trying to protect men from further emasculation because of the current ethos which allows for men to explore their “femininity” and women to explore “more masculine roles.” Elder Ephraim’s suggestions, if not followed by many of those who come to him for help, would redound in a further decay of the gender identity of both the man and the woman and further collapse the strength of the marriage.
Elder Ephraim, is, in effect, trying to stem the gender role reversals perpetuated by the devil in today’s society. God loves us, His children. We should aim to do that which we can so that Christ can restore us men to the image he intended for men and women to the image he intended for women — free of the ugly demonic imprint of the past 60 years.
After this post, someone replies, “I did not about the testosterone thing. There was an ancient tradition in the Church that the second coming is near when women become like men and men like women.” Then many replies follow which drift into social commentary and science around estrogen, birth control pills and the feminization of men. Then the original poster, Anthony T., posts the following plea to have his thread deleted as he posted it without a blessing:
Posted 11 February 2015 – 05:38 AM
Hello, I am the author of this thread.
Can you please delete this post as I did not have Geronda Ephraim’s blessing to post it.
As you might imagine I am terribly embarrassed and ashamed that I proceeded to post the thread without receiving a blessing. I didn’t think twice about it. It was my fault. Forgive me. Please delete the thread, nonetheless.
I apologize if my actions have caused any one of you, my brothers and/or sisters to be upset. Again, forgive me. I made a mistake.
Poster Name: Anthony T.
Then Michael asks a question that is never answered: “Why would you need a blessing?” The thread turns into a heated debate about the role of women in the Orthodox Church and the thread is closed.
NOTE: Anthony T. does not retract what Geronda Ephraim says, nor states that he made a mistake about what Geronda Ephraim said, he simply did not have a blessing to repeat what Geronda Ephraim said and was censured for it.
So, why does one need a blessing to repeat things that are told them at one of Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries?
In the monasteries, it is taught that Confession is a Mystery and it is also confidential and private. Just as a priest cannot repeat what he has heard from the individual’s confession, so too the penitent cannot repeat what they heard in Confession. An analogy is also given that what is medicine for one can be harmful for another, thus advice shouldn’t be circulated as it is tailored to the individual to whom it was given.
This is also a way to keep busy bodies and gossips in check. Certain things that are said should not be made public knowledge “because the enemies of the monasteries can try and use it against them.”
But one of the main reasons for blessings needed to repeat things said by Geronda and his monastics: the monasteries are very private. They enjoy their privacy. They do not like outsiders prying into their business, nor knowing about their business. They do not like the happenings in the monasteries to become common knowledge—which also takes away from the illusion of the mystique and unearthly side of things. This also extends to the monastics—generally when monastics visit other monasteries for feast days, they are not really allowed to divulge the things that go on in their own monastery other than the basics: the schedule, what the monastery does for income, new projects, etc. However, because some of the monastics were friends before the monastic life, or they were in the same monastery before being transferred elsewhere, then these reunions many times evolve into conversations and idle talk which are not blessed—though this is more an issue with the monks than the nuns.
The biggest fear for the monasteries is for certain things to get back to priests or bishops—the perpetual “accusers and attackers of the monasteries”—which may incite temptations or problems for the monasteries. It’s not uncommon for spiritual children to call the monastery they go to and inform the abbess or abbot that a certain lay person is telling other lay people about something in the monastery that he/she shouldn’t be repeating. It’s also not uncommon for the abbot or abbess to call that person directly—or have one of their subordinates call—and ask them, or command them, to stop repeating what they have been saying. It’s also not uncommon for that individual to receive a penance, depending on the severity or sensitivity of the information that was leaked—this could be anything from an extra 33-knot prayer rope each night, or 50 extra prostrations or no communion the following Sunday or up to a month. This is to teach the individual to be more careful with their tongue the next time.
It should be noted that every wise Abbot and Abbess have trusted “ears and eyes” planted in the community who report back to them the things they see and hear in the Greek parishes. These confidants also have the obedience not to tell even their friends about this work they do for the monastery. As the Abbots and Abbesses don’t reveal where the information was leaked from when confronting individuals, it sometimes plays into the illusion that “they’re readers of hearts,” “they know hidden things,” “they see everything,” etc.
It should also be noted that the bind on the priest’s lips in the monasteries is almost non-existent. Anyone who has been a monk or nun in one of Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries know quite well that an abbess or abbot will freely reveal things as he or she chooses: in the case of revealing a monastic’s secrets in front of others as a “therapeutic method” to help humble the individual and instill fear not to repeat the actions, or at the very least, to instill fear in the others. When an abbess or abbot reveals to their monastics the sins or things told them in confidentiality by lay people, this is usually for their “edification” or to “help” them realize how grateful they should be that they’re not in the “hell” which is the outside world. Other times, in special cases, the monastics could be called together and informed, “So and so is coming to our monastery today.” And then their personal problems will be revealed. “So, show this person love, don’t scandalize them, etc.” If they’re going to be sent to a diakonimata to help, the individual monastics in charge will also be advised to give the lay person extra special attention, etc. Many times, in these situations, the lay person will start conversing with the monastic who may or may not have a blessing to talk about the individual’s life nor give them counsel. As the monastic knows very private and intimate details about the lay person’s life—which only the abbess, abbot or priestmonk should know—they cannot reveal to the individual that they know all about their secrets. In some cases, the abbot or abbess may have revealed to their monastics in the homily what they plan to advise the lay person. So now, in the conversation, the monastic is armed with knowing the individual’s secrets, plus knowing the superior’s fronima in how to deal with their problems. So in the conversation, the monastic can hint at many things without letting the lay person know that everyone in the monastery knows about them, and thus give the illusion that they have discernment and a deep spiritual understanding of things. It’s a classic tactic, though some monastics have been given big canonas for doing this when it stems from vainglory and they’re trying to pass themselves off as “readers of hearts and secret thoughts.”
At the end of the day, after a large group leaves, many times the superior, second-in-command and sometimes some of the trusted monastics get together and rehash about the day, share information that they heard (personal stories, sins, incomes, what’s going on in the parish that these people were from-priests, parish council, bishops, individuals, etc.)
The process of radicalization, including social, ideological and purpose conversion, is something that is of great concern in times when radicals take extreme action. Here are some notes on how a person may become radicalized.
The process of radicalization often starts with some form of transgression by the other side, breaking rules that the person’s side holds as very important.
A common transgressing action is mistreatment, typically by the authorities or military personnel using methods that cause extreme physical pain or mental distress. The mistreatment may be of the person who hence becomes radicalized, but often it is other people who are lionized as heroes or martyrs.
For example, extreme methods of interrogation of suspects in Northern Ireland in the 1970s led to them becoming radicalized and their story leading to many others taking a strong position. More recently Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay are clear candidates.
Mistreatment can be historical and reasons for radicalization can go back generations. Past wars, massacres, persecutions and so on can fester for hundreds of years.
Mistreatments today such as rape and child abuse are also extreme transgressions that effectively radicalize those who would severely punish the perpetrators. Many of us who think we would never be radicalized still hold extreme views on such topics.
If there is no direct mistreatment then the inherent badness of the other side may be inferred from their transgression of an inviolable law or value.
They may say things or take actions which are shocking and unthinkable, thereby proving their unworthiness. They may have betrayed a trust, defiled a holy object, conducted black rituals, blasphemed or otherwise shown a terrible lack of respect for people or social rules.
Religion has been a source of radicalized conflict for many centuries.
A radical needs a movement, a cause. At some point, the outrage at the transgression is converted into organization for consequent action.
A critical response to transgression is that some people at least are outraged or feel such a strong sense of betrayal to the extent that they seek justice, typically the extreme vengeance of retributive justice that lies outside national laws. This may be because the laws are seen as inadequate or because they represent governments who are the target of the outrage.
At some point, a core organization is set up to drive the ideals and action. This typically happens in two ways. One is where an individual leader starts alone. Secondly, the core may arise more spontaneously as concerned individuals find one another.
People in the core (often a single leader) may write or use a critical text or otherwise use charismatic oration to establish the central message.
Cores can also be diffused, for example where they are based on central texts which are interpreted and acted upon in localized core organizations.
After initial development of the core message and core group, the organization starts to develop. This may be done formally or remain relatively informal. Key parts of this are in promoting the message, recruiting new people and driving action.
This focus leads to a need for more people to spread the message and take action. The purpose of the core is then to sustain the focus and drive the rest of the organization.
The organization may be strictly hierarchical, but it may also be very diffuse, with independent cells adopting the ideals and acting on their own.
When the transgression leads to some people seeking revenge then they may seek to organize in some way, recruiting and converting others to the cause.
The call to arms goes through many channels, typically targeting groups where members may already feel the sense of injustice, such as minority religions, the unemployed, low-status women and so on. Other vulnerable people may well also be targeted.
Communication may include preaching, emails posters, one-to-one calls and so on. While these do not radicalize alone, they often take the first step in communicating urgency or outrage. Later, the volume and intensity of messages create enough tension to trigger action.
Initial communication may be subtle and seemingly about other subjects. Religions can be like this, first creating a desirable place, selling friendship and salvation before radical action.
Sooner or later, the subject of discussion turns to the basic transgression, including the mistreatment or immorality and the consequent sense of outrage. This creates anger and a desire for action.
A key part of the message is to demonize the other side, objectifying the people as subhuman, using amplification, negative stereotypes and simplified schema.
In doing so, the argument is polarized. By showing that the other side is so extreme, the simple conclusion is reached that extreme action is the only possible route forward. The arguments used may well be full of fallacies but the passion and underlying messages are clear.
A critical part of radicalization is often in the way the message is socialized, becoming a central part of everyday conversation outside of the rallying hall.
For socialization to work best, this conversation should be contained, with any contrary messages being kept at bay. Where possible, the people will be isolated to insulate them from external dissuasion. Where this is not possible, inoculation may be used to help them ward off other views.
Groupthink and other social means of ensuring conformance may also be used to keep people on track.
At some point, the need for action is raised and the radicalized person moved towards proving their passion.
The need to act and the required action may appear through the direction of a group leader, though it may also emerge via less structured groups talking about what they might do. Action can range from protest to acts of terrorism and may start small and escalate either with success or frustration at limited success.
A way that commitment is built is with sequential requests, such as Foot In The Door (FITD), where small initial requests that are easy to comply with are later followed up with larger requests.
Fulfilling the requirement is often linked to a promise of glory, from the admiration of peers to a guaranteed place in heaven.
People who have already taken such action are held up as heroes. They and their actions are glorified and the radicalized people made to feel almost in that state of being deeply admired by many. All that is needed is heroic action.
This in par
Confession may seem like an odd part of conversion, but it is particularly effective at enabling people to put an undesirable past behind them. As well as a conversion technique, it is also useful for retention.
It is very widespread method. Some religions make use of it. But so also do parents when converting unruly children into functional adults. Machiavellian people and groups, where the end justifies the means, may well use it to extremes.
Agreeing the rules
The basic idea behind confession is that there are some things which are bad, and which contravene defined rules and values. The stage before actual confession thus involves reaching a point where agreement is reached about what is good and what is bad.
Agreement over rules typically starts with generalized rules with which it is hard to disagree, for example ‘people should help one another’. There are many such common human values that provide an easy starting place.
Tightening the rules
These rules may then be gradually tightened over time. As people accept the basic premise, additional judgment criteria are added. Thus, for example, ‘people should help one another’ becomes ‘people should help one another at every opportunity’ to ‘you must always put the interests of other people before your own interests’ to ‘you are inferior to everyone’.
The assumptions of guilt and atonement
A basic assumption (and by implication a rule) that is often unspoken is that the person in question is already guilty. Guilt is an effective lever that casts the person as imperfect and inferior. The associated assumption is that guilt may be assuaged by atonement of some kind, whereby the person may be forgiven for the bad things they have done. This creates a two-sided force by which hurt and rescue may be applied.
Having agreed what the rules are, individuals are encouraged to confess past ‘sins’. Again, this may start easily with trivial sins such as ‘Not helping John carry his bags’ and then progress to more significant ‘failures’.
The tension of guilt
This creates a tension between the person’s actions and their stated belief that the action is bad. The consistency principle thus leads the person to fully adopt the belief that the sin is bad and to distance themselves from repeating it. The situation is also encouraged by making non-confession to be a sin itself.
Release and atonement
Confessing thus leads to a blessed relief, especially when the tension has been exacerbated by declarations of how terrible sins are and how the person is understood to be basically good.
Confession under pressure can thus appear as a sudden breakdown, where a previous resistance suddenly collapses. This can lead to a sudden outpouring of information.
Confession provides an initial release, but further atonement may be demanded. This may start with simple chores or repeating of meaningful texts, but may also be escalated. Punishments may be meted out or may even be applied by the person themselves (thus further hammering home their guilt).
The subtle lever of authority
A subtle implication of all this is to position the sinner as inferior and the person to whom they are confessing as superior. This provides a lever of authority that the sinner cedes to the person receiving the confession, which then allows this superior person to control the person further. This control may range from defining new sins to giving direct commands outside of the confessional domain.
The building of trust
Confessing sins is to expose vulnerability, which requires trust. Confession thus acts to increase the bonding of the individual to those hearing the confession, as consistency principle provides the argument that if I am confessing, then those listening must be trustworthy. When we bond with others, they become our friends, and we will tend to adopt their beliefs more easily.
The whole effect may be intensified by making the confession public. It both increases the hurt of discomfort and also enables a greater rescue effects and consequent relief. The higher levels of emotion involved have a much greater effect in creating bonds with the listening group.
Conversion to a different way of thinking and different beliefs appears in many different situations. Although the techniques here are drawn from studies of brainwashing and cult conversion, they are surprisingly common, at least in more acceptable forms, in many other groups and organizations.
One way that cults and coercive groups work is to give those in charge a position of absolute authority, and then ensure those who are beneath them always obey.
One of the reason people join cults and authoritarian groups is because they have uncertainty in their lives. We all seek a sense of control and one way of gaining this is to cede control to somebody else, perhaps in the way a child allows a parent to make choices for them.
At some times in their lives, many people feeling lost and unsure about themselves and their futures. To such people that authoritarian groups offer certainty and consequent comfort. Young people who are still making the transition to responsible and self-assured adulthood are particular susceptible to such appeals. Other people may also be attracted by assertions of certainty, including those in a mid-life crisis where the dreams of youth are fading. Older people too may seek solace when faced with their own mortality.
The way such groups create certainty is with strong, regular and consistent assertions. When something is pronounced, then it is deemed to be not just true, but absolutely true. This is delivered through some some unchallengeable authority.
A common form of authority is the group leader who is increasingly painted as something akin to a god, who cannot be wrong even if they contradict themselves. The person may start out well-intentioned, but if power goes to their head, before long they can easily turn from a kind leader to a cruel dictator. The principle of ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ can effectively come true.
Although the leader is often the driving force, sometimes other people in the organization can become the authority figures, leaving the leader to be the benevolent figurehead. This can happen with second-in-commands and inner-circle members or even lower-level leaders.
As well as people, written books and documents can be held as unquestionable sources of authority. This is common in religions and can also appear in cults. People become involved when they take the role of authoritative interpreters of these works. In this way, an original peaceful work can be reinterpreted as requiring aggressive force.
When there is absolute authority, then there is an absolute requirement that ‘followers’ comply with commands without question.
Obedience is the fulfilment of commands, no matter how strange or difficult they may seem. Commands may be framed as tests of commitment and obedience as proof of faith. In this way, people may be tested every day and small rewards of approval given for obeying every command.
Beyond obedience, the follower is expected to be submissive in all things, from bowing the head when the leader passes to always putting themselves last. Insufficient submission is seen as vanity or arrogance, and is treated as such.
Non-compliance with requirements is seldom treated gently in coercive groups. Punishments, even from seemingly simple mistakes, may result in harsh treatment, from extended work hours to long contemplation of guilt and even forms of imprisonment and isolation.
In general, the principle of amplification is applied to the extreme in this and many other areas, and there is little moderation or human compassion.
Condemnation, which is sin, is one thing and discernment, which is a virtue, is another. Discernment is something that everyone should have and seek from God. Throughout the Bible, it tells how important it is for us to have judgement (in the sense of discernment and not of condemnation). Today, however, it is “fashionable” within the framework of Gerontism and Neo-Orthodoxy more generally, to confuse these two things. Discernment is presented as condemnation, i.e. as something reprehensible.
“Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the Lord God Almighty shall be with you, as ye have said, 15 We have hated evil, and loved good: and restore ye judgment in the gates; that the Lord God Almighty may have mercy on the remnant of Joseph” (Amos 5:14-15).
“Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, and between him that serves God, and him that serves [him] not” (Malachi 3:18).
“Jesus answered and said…‘Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment’ (John 7:21, 24).
Now let’s look at some things that St. John of the ‘Ladder’1 writes about obedience, an examination of which it becomes evident how all the things we saw at the beginning are vulgar misconceptions of ecclesiastical tradition.
“Obedience is necrosis of the members of the body, while the mind is alive” (St. John of Sinai, On Obedience, Step 4:3)
“In union with humility it is impossible that there should be any appearance of hatred, or any kind of dispute, or even a sniff of disobedience, unless perhaps faith is called in question” (St. John of Sinai, On Humility, Step 25:8)
It is a great irony that the Gerontistes claim that all their sick mental construction can be supported by the following statement made in the ‘Ladder’:
“But do not boast or rejoice when you bear insults and indignities courageously, but rather mourn that you have done something meriting your bad treatment and incensed the soul of your director against you. Do not be surprised at what I am going to say (for I have Moses to support me [cf. Ex. 32:11-14]). It is better to sin against God than against our father; for when we anger God, our director can reconcile us; but when he is incensed against us, there is no one to propitiate him for us. But it seems to me that both cases amount to the same thing” (St. John of Sinai, On Obedience, Step 4:121).
The gurus translate this as, “Better to disobey God, than to disobey the Geronda,” or, “Better to sadden God, than to sadden the Geronda.” St. John, however, does not tell the subordinate not to “disobey” the Geronda or not to “sadden” him, i.e. if his order is contrary to the will of God, but that would be an irreparable disaster for the subordinate if the sin was something that was directed not against God (namely, the one who in reality applies), but against the Geronda. The meaning of St. John’s words are very different than what they want to pass them as! So if a Geronda tells a monk to cooperate with him for something immoral and the monk says, “No,” then he disobeys the Geronda, he saddens him, but he doesn’t sin towards God! If he says “Yes,” then he doesn’t disobey the Geronda, nor sadden him, but yet sins against God!
Indiscriminate obedience requires the guidance someone receives to be in agreement with God’s will:
“Obedience is the tomb of the will and the resurrection of humility. A corpse does not argue or reason as to what is good or what seems to be bad. For he who has devoutly put the soul of the novice to death will answer for everything. Obedience is an abandonment of discernment in a wealth of discernment.” (St. John of Sinai, On Obedience, Step 4:3)
We read this the Bible: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17) The presupposition of complete obedience is the spiritual guidance we receive from the one we obey is correct, honest and responsible; namely, it is certainly in agreement with the Word of God. We know the will of God from the word of God.
During this sermon, St. John uses real examples to analyze how a monk must endure, without complaint if necessary, all the rigor of his Abbot (suffering, humiliation or punishment). This is what he speaks about here. He does not talk about participation in fornication, sodomy, greed, secular attitudes, heretical movements etc.
Also, it is worth noticing the following three statements, which hit all of this “Gerontolatry” in its heart:
“If you come to an unknown physician and hospital, behave as though you were passing by, and secretly test the life and spiritual experience of all those living there. And when you begin to feel benefit from the doctors and nurses and get relief from your sicknesses, and especially with regard to your special disease, namely, spiritual pride, then go to them and buy it with the gold of humility, and write the contract on the parchment of obedience with the letters of service and with the angels as witnesses.” (St. John of Sinai, On Obedience, Step 4:94)
“Do not be over-eager and do not be carried away when you hear tales of the silent1 and hermit fathers. For you are marching in the army of the First Martyr (Christ, that is, who ‘became obedient unto death’ [cf. Phil. 2:8])” (St. John of Sinai, On Obedience, Step 4:68)
“Let us judge the nature of our passions and of our obedience, and choose our spiritual father accordingly. If you are prone to lust, then do not select as your trainer a wonderworker who is ready for everyone with a welcome and a meal, but rather an ascetic who will hear of no consolation in food. If you are haughty, then let him be stern and unyielding, and not meek and kindly. Let us not seek those who have the gift of foreknowledge and foresight, but rather those who are unquestionably humble and whose character and place of residence correspond to our maladies.” (St. John of Sinai, On Obedience, Step 4:120)
NOTES 1)The Ladder of Divine Ascent was written in the 6th century by St. John of Sinai, who is celebrated in the Orthodox Church on March 30th and the 4th Sunday of Great Lent. In some monasteries, it is traditionally read in the trapeze during Great Lent, in other monasteries, it is usually read at some point throughout the year. At one time, it was considered the 2nd bible for monks.
In recent years, with the translations of Elder Joseph the Hesychast and Geronda Ephraim of Arizona’s books into English, these have become the new bibles after the Bible for monastics (at least within Geronda Ephraim’s North American monasteries). The reason for this is, “it is better to read Geronda’s books because they contain his pneuma and mindset, which is what you want to acquire. Also, some of the patristic books have a different spirit than Geronda, or some of their teachings contradict Geronda’s teachings and create confusion—especially in a new novice. Thus, it’s better to read your Geronda than other Gerondas or Fathers.” Along with these books, the biographies of Fr. Ephraim of Katounakia, Elder Arsenios the Cave-Dweller, and Papa Haralambos Dionysiatis are also recommended as they were part of Papou Joseph’s synodia. However, for some reason, Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi’s books are not really recommended (no real reason is given, though in some of Geronda Ephraim’s homilies to the monks, he mentions that Elder Joseph didn’t really have complete obedience to Papou Joseph).
Again, it differs from monastery to monastery. Along with these recommended books, the monks and nuns are allowed to have various homilies uploaded onto their ipods. (It used to be that one could borrow cassettes from the cases in the hallways, now most of the monastics have ipods and can have them filled up by one of the monastics who has blessing to work on computers). Again, though the monasteries have the complete series of Archimandrite Athanasios Mitilinaios, Demetrios Panagopoulos, Metropolitan Athansios Lemesou, Fr. Savvas Filotheitis, and numerous other contemporary monastic fathers and lay preachers, the monastics are usually given the advice that it’s better to listen to the Geronda Ephraim homily series; to better know what he expects, to understand his pneuma, and hopefully, over time and repeated listening, to begin to develop his mindset.
Thus, in a 24 hour period (minus the 6 ½ hours of sleep a monastic is allowed—sometimes more depending on the monastery), a monastic may hear Geronda Ephraim’s book read twice at meals, listen to his homilies as he/she tries to fall asleep, and read a little bit of his book during their vigil.