NOTE: The following article is taken from the National Herald, January 21, 2016.
BOSTON – Former Archimandrite of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America John Heropoulos, who left the holy priesthood almost nine years ago, was married to a man on Saturday January 9. The civil ceremony took place at The Neighborhood Club of Quincy, MA with relatives and friends in attendance.
Heropoulos is very touched by the responses he has received from people.
Among the first who sent best wishes to the newlywed couple were some close friends of John Heropoulos who learned about the wedding on Facebook. Religious Education Director Tony Vrame congratulated them, as did Presbytera Cynthia Paleologos, the wife of Fr. Constantine Paleologos former priest of St. Spyridon parish in Worchester. She wrote “so happy for you John! Sending love and prayers for health and happiness together.”
Fr. Dean Panagos, the presiding priest of the St. Sophia parish in New London Connecticut who is also the president of the Clergy Association of the Metropolis of Boston wrote on Facebook, “congratulations John”.
Heropoulos was a charismatic and able clergyman with excellent administrative ability. He began his Church service as Deacon to the late Archbishop Iakovos. He then became assistant priest at St. Nicholas parish in Flushing NY, presiding priest at St. Paraskevi in Greenlawn, NY, and presiding priest at St. George in Hartford, CT. He also served as director of the office of Archbishop Spyridon and as chancellor of the Metropolis of Detroit.
He touched the heart of the Greek-American Community when in May of 2003 he donated one of his kidneys to a small boy.
While everything seemed to be going well he informed Archbishop Demetrios that he was leaving the holy priesthood and requested to be defrocked. He went to Boston and worked for six years for the Children’s Tumor Foundation. Today he is working in the development office of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral.
In an interview with The National Herald Heropoulos said that he met his partner Richard “six years ago at a social event in Boston.” Richard works at Harvard University.
When asked when he decided to get married he said ,“I am 52 years old. When I was raised all these things were impossible culturally and socially. I would say that we got to know each other like anyone would and as we became more and more committed to each other we thought that the good and loving and responsible thing to do would be to get married. The state of Massachusetts and the Supreme Court made their rulings and these things and became easier.”
Asked how he felt about this new aspect and dimension of his life and being married to a man, he said “I would say that it is another beautiful aspect of love and companionship that I was able to experience. I experienced love as a priest in human relationships in beautiful ways, but as a married man it is a new dimension of love and it drives away the loneliness.”
TNH asked whether he was attracted to men all of his life or discovered those feelings recently, Heropoulos said, “a gay person is born gay. It is not something that you chose. I was born gay and I was trying to be as good as I could be in my life. As a clergyman I became lonely and so I decided to seek companionship.”
He also said “I told my entire family and many friends years ago that I was gay and nobody was surprised. Everybody – my father, my mother, my dear friends, my family, were accepting and supportive,” and he added “everybody was thrilled that I found somebody to be in love with and to be married to.”
This far, nobody has sent him any negative messages or criticism for getting married to a man, he said.
TNH asked him how he reconciled his past self as a priest, as an Archimandrite, as a official of the Greek Orthodox Church having served in high positions in the Archdiocese, and being well respected, with the new aspect of his life which theologically, ecclesiastically, and spiritually is not an acceptable situation. Heropoulos said “For me, in my service as a priest the issue was to be a celibate priest that was the key issue, to be faithful to the calling to be a celibate priest and then to try to be the best priest that I could be.”
“Are you saying that when you were a celibate priest you didn’t engage in gay sexual activities,” TNH asked. “I was faithful to my vow of celibacy,” he replied.
“Did you experience constant pressure? Were you looking to escape, to liberate yourself from that situation,” he was asked.
“I don’t think it was a matter of escape or liberation. I think that I dearly loved the priesthood and so I became a priest, and I did my very best and I was very faithful to my vows. When I believed that it was the best thing for me personally, spiritually, then I decided it was time to leave,” he said.
Asked if he is concerned that some in the Greek-American Community would be scandalized, he said “I left the Church respectfully. Whether someone agrees or not that ultimately ones has the freedom to make that decision, there is nothing I can do about that.”
Heropoulos revealed to TNH that he goes on Sundays and worships in an Orthodox church and that he receives Holy Communion. He said, “yes of course I go to an Orthodox church and yes I receive Holy Communion.”
To the final question of whether he believed that marriage should be between a man and a woman, Heropoulos, said “I don’t have any comment on that.”
Reprinted from the National Herald, Wednesday, April 17, 1991
[Boston] Following almost two years from the day that our newspaper uncovered (N.H. 6-5/6-89) the “extra ecclesiastical and improper” movements and activities of the Mt. Athos monk Ephraim to the Omogeneia* which, among others, include groups of extra-ecclesiastical organizations, purchase of property, in specific at the location “Poconos” of Pennsylvania with intent to establish monasteries, confessions at people’s homes, etc., we uncover today that the monk Ephraim resigned from the position of abbot in the Philotheou monastery of Mt. Athos and has united with the Russian “church” of America. This “church” is considered “non-existent” to the Ecumenical Orthodoxy, that is, it does not have any blessed society or any relation to the Orthodox Patriarchate and the self-sustained churches. That’s why nowhere is it referenced basically because it is considered divisive.
After communicating with the representative of the “church” in question, “bishop” Mr. Ilarion confirmed our information that monk Ephraim on March 4 signed the agreement with that church and now belongs to their “jurisdiction.” In addition, Ilarion stated that a few days ago he informed by letter the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The N.H. is in a position and knows that up to the point that this article is written, that is, Tuesday, April 18, that letter has not reached the Patriarchate, but the Patriarchate knows of the situation. In accordance always with the “bishop” Mr. Ilarion, the monk Ephraim at this moment is in Greece and is expected to return to America in the next few weeks. His purpose is to establish monasteries, something that Mr. Ilarion confirmed, and in addition, in cities with organized Greek communities, such as is in New York, Boston, Pittsburgh. With the excuse of confessions, he will create parishes, and other extra-ecclesiastical organizations which means breaking up the Omogenia. Ephraim is planning to expand his activities in Canada where he has already created a home base by forming extra-ecclesiastical organizations. The Russians wish to pay special attention to Astoria and for that fact, they are planning to establish “parishes” so that the followers of Ephraim can gather and reinforce the flock of the Cathedral of St. Demetrios.
We would like to remind you that Ephraim already, since 1984, has created in Astoria a home base since he is “the elder” of the extra-ecclesiastical organization “Panaghia Glykofilousa” which, as a matter of fact, maintains a store of religious items with the same name. According to a communication with today’s president of the above organization, Mr. Theodore Kalokathis confirmed that Ephraim is the spiritual father of the organization; however, he stated that he was not aware that Ephraim has united with the Russians although he knew that Ephraim resigned from the monastery Philotheou of Mt. Athos. Unfortunately, we were not able to communicate with Ephraim himself.
Break Up – Secret Meeting
According to information that our newspaper has obtained, Ephraim is planning to bring about 15 monks and some female novices who will become nuns. As a matter of fact, a few months ago, he has brought some of these “female novices” with him to visit a building in Pittsburgh, which the novices decided was not appropriate. We will take this opportunity to mention that Ephraim is always accompanied by his subservient monk Savvas, a medical doctor by profession.
The Ephraim Phenomenon
About 10 years ago the monk Ephraim started visiting the United States and Canada with the excuse at first of therapy for his leg and later to have confessions with those he has been “spiritually connected.” Most of the times, he came without the proper ecclesiastical permission from the Archdiocese using the sneaky way of the “stolen permit” as follows: He would come into Canada first and then he would enter the United States to Astoria by choice, and later he would appear at the Archdiocese, placing the Archbishop Mr. Iakovos in a difficult position who, however, showed him love and affection, but at the same time, always reminded him of his omission [of asking for a permit]. The proper thing for the Archbishop would have been to have rejected him, and this way he would have observed the penalties required by the rules of the Church. “For jumping in and performing inappropriate parish activities not in accordance with the regional bishop.” Fr. Ephraim whom some followers consider a “spiritual and proper person” had his long-term plans, as are now confirmed by his actions, and that’s why he made sure he obtained a green card of permanent residence (N.H. 6-5/6-89 interview) while he was still the abbot of Philotheou monastery at Mt. Athos. During the time he was “healing,” he promised to stay at the monastery until his last breath and not to end up staying in America nine months and only three months in the place of his tonsure.
When his plans were uncovered in June 1989, such as purchase of land for monasteries, extra-ecclesiastical organizations, unauthorized meetings, and barricades, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which is his religious authority since Mt. Athos reports to the Patriarchate, asked Ephraim to return immediately to Mt. Athos and provide the Patriarchate with the required explanations. Ephraim went to the Patriarchate and kneeling pleaded for forgiveness from the Patriarch and reported that everything has stopped, and that’s how he escaped a defrocking. During his interview on June 6, 1989, among other things, he mentioned “I made a mistake and I repent.” In answer to our question “Does the fact that you could have been the reason to break up the Church here scare you?” he answered in his own words: “No, I will never do this. Even if I lose my blood I will defend the Church. I respect the Archbishop, and I love him as well as all the clergy. I prefer to leave 1000 times and not have something like that happen which will not happen….”
However, what we see with the development of things today Mr. Ephraim simply was playing games with us; he pretended to have repented while at the same time he was making agreements with the Russians. As a matter of fact, some followers of his offered to defend him with paid advertisements. Here I shall mention Mr. George Dimopoulos (N.H. June 19, 1989) who at the time was the president of the “Astoria Brotherhood of Panaghia Glykofilousa” and who was also threatening “further actions,” and also mention the names of Demetrios and Angeliki Voutsouri (N.H. June 23). Just symptomatically, let’s ask what happened between Mr. Dimopoulos and Panaghia Glykofilousa?
The ever memorable Metropolitan of Stavroupolis Maximos mediated by letter with Archbishop Mr. Iakovos to have him accept the monk Ephraim and tell him to establish a monastery for the Archdiocese. The Archbishop, again responding with superiority and forebearance, accepted him (monk Ephraim) in his office; as a matter of fact, he took him to the St. Basil Academy where he showed him the location for a monastery and told him he has his complete cooperation, to the point that he asked Ephraim to make the plan and present it to him. All financial expenses would have been assumed in whole by the Archdiocese; however, no such thing happened because Ephraim had his own direction already planned which finally led him to the Russian extremists.
Repentance or Defrocking
To the point that this monk Ephraim has led this situation, there are only two solutions: first, to declare repentance and no association with the Russians and remain within the Mt. Athos practicing obedience with some penalty that the Patriarchate will specify (as an example not to leave the place where he belongs for 10 years), and second, defrocking him and returning him to the laity so that others can use this example and all those that carry the same mind as Ephraim who with their actions become the reason for break-up of truth and the unity of the Church. The Omogenia is not a vineyard without a fence. It has some ecclesiastical and some “national” boundaries which Ephraim did not respect, and that is why he became one with the rest of the high-handed gang of all types of “magicians” and those who meet in secrecy. That’s all for today, and we will be back.
Reprinted from the National Herald, Monday, June 5, 1989
“Not in accord with the Church and inappropriate. The presence of monk Ephraim from Mt. Athos in New York. The Patriarch advised him to get to his senses, otherwise, he will be defrocked. The role of Panaghia Glykofilousa.”
[Boston] A serious clerical problem has been created in our community and really with possible division in the Church because of activities of the monk Ephraim, the abbot of the Philotheou monastery at Mt. Athos together with the Christian brotherhood under the name “Panaghia Glykofilousa.” The above referenced individuals operated “not in accordance with the Church and inappropriately,” to a point that the Ecumenical Patriarchate would punish the monk Ephraim with defrocking. The situation is as follows:
How the Monk Ephraim First Appeared in the U.S.A.
About ten years ago the monk Ephraim started visiting the U.S.A. and Canada with the excuse, in the beginning of getting therapy on his leg, and later, to hear confessions from people with whom “he had a spiritual union.” Most of the time, he was using the trick of receiving “permission after the fact” from Archbishop Iakovos, who as a matter of fact, even under these circumstances showed understanding and love and offered him the permission.
The following actually happened: The monk Ephraim would go first to Canada after having received “permission” of Bishop Sotirios and then he would come to the U.S.A. in the Astoria, New York area, by preference. He would then appear at the Archdiocese asking a blessing to stay from the Archbishop and finally, [Archbishop Iakovos] would act as a father and give him permission, but at the same time, making sure to tell Fr. Ephraim he omitted asking for permission ahead of time. Fr. Ephraim, who is considered by some who know him as a spiritual leader, started handling confessions at their homes and many times even performed liturgy, something that would reach the level of “outside the Church activities,” although he [Fr. Ephraim] would insist that this was done “for practical reasons.”
Around the year 1984 in Astoria, NY, a “Christian brotherhood” under the name “Panaghia Glykofilousa” was created with Mr. George Dimopoulos as the head of the organization which was established in the most part by “followers” of Fr. Ephraim. This brotherhood opened a store in Astoria selling religious items and, in a way, became the home base for Fr. Ephraim. Please note that similar situations have been established in other cities in the U.S.A. and Canada.
Fr. Ephraim’s visits started becoming more frequent to a point that he would spend more time here [U.S.A.] than in his monastery at Mt. Athos. Circumstantially, we say that he avoided performing the liturgy together with other clerics of the Archdiocese, sometimes offering excuses that would reach the limits of jokes, that is, that he does not like high profiled churches and big crowds, when in reality, he was trying to avoid including the Archdiocese in his universal movement. In spite of this, the Archdiocese faced him with love and tolerance. As a matter of fact, several discussions took place between bishops, Mr. Sotirios of Toronto, Mr. Iakovos of Chicago, and Mr. Maximos of Pittsburgh to use the monastic experience of Fr. Ephraim and start monasticism in the above referenced areas, which shows that the bishops embraced this with a spirit of love.
And Wealth Resulting from Property
Recently, though, the brotherhood “Panaghia Glykofilousa” of New York was not satisfied with just a bookstore and its “Christian activity” but bought a piece of property in the Poconos of Pennsylvania for $150,000 with future plans to establish a monastery, putting in charge Fr. Ephraim. We must underline, however, that construction-wise and administration-wise, it would belong to the brotherhood who then would only make a “typical report” to the Archdiocese. This way they would be appropriate and they would be fulfilling an obligation to the Church.
And a Green Card
Consequently, the brotherhood was able to provide Fr. Ephraim with a green card of permanent residence in the U.S.A., a fact that reveals many intentions and presents a lot of doubts. Without any doubt, this has legal implications because the questions as to why and under what occupation was he given a permanent residence, especially to an abbot of a monastery who promised at the time of his “tonsure” to remain in the monastery. Naturally, in this case, there are many serious theological reasons which we will cover in the future.
A Proper Stand of the Archbishop
As soon as Archbishop Iakovos was informed of the events, he informed by telegraph Mt. Athos (Holy Mountain) and ordered Fr. Ephraim to return there. As a matter of fact, at a meeting of the two at the Archdiocese, Archbishop Iakovos made clear the slip to Fr. Ephraim and called him to face his responsibilities before this case reached a level of no return for the Church and Fr. Ephraim personally. In the meantime, the other Brotherhood of Chicago “Panaghia Glykofilousa” had placed an agreement to purchase a piece of land with intent to build a monastery there, at the cost of $450,000. They had already paid a $20,000 deposit. Information has it that the contract was cancelled after the way things turned out.
Patriarchate: Pay Attention
Last week a committee of the brotherhoods of Fr. Ephraim, there exists 10 such brotherhoods, with George Dimopoulos in charge wanting to bypass Archbishop Iakovos, went to the Ecumenical Patriarchate hoping they will receive the blessing [of the Patriarchate] so they can proceed. However, the position of the heirarchy of the Church was ecclesiastically proper offering a serious order to Fr. Ephraim “to return immediately to the monastery where he was tonsured.”
In case he refused to obey, the Patriarchate is determined to proceed with defrocking him, a fact that the Patriarch mentioned in a conversation with the committee. The Patriarch Mr. Demetrios is commonly known as a man of God, filled with forgiveness and truth, simple, wise and with a lot of love for everyone. For such a man to reach that point and speak about defrocking Fr. Ephraim means that he wanted to maintain the unity of the Omogenia # and not allow any type of “extra-religious activities.”
The Omogenia is not a Vineyard Without a Fence
Something that Fr. Ephraim and his followers did not take into account is that the Church and the Omogenia* has ecclesiastical limits. They are not a vineyard without a fence “activities exceeding the limits” unless they want to be equated with Peters, Paissiuses, Pangratioses, Panteleimones, and all the remaining “high-handed” bandits of the purely non-existent….
* Omogenia=native-born or fellow Greeks
NOTE: The Panagia Glykofilousa Brotherhood shut down in the early-2000s. Mr. Photios “the Cretan” rented a Uhaul truck, loaded it with all the bookstore’s books, and drove them up to St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY, where he donated them. The Abbot, Geronda Joseph, let his monks have first pick, then he took some to sell in the bookstore, and donated the rest of them to the Apostle Paul Bookstore in Toronto, Canada (via Mr. Tzimi).
Several months ago, the Greek-American newspaper, The National Herald, reported that the Synod of American Greek Orthodox bishops had expressed concern about Father Ephraim, and his followers. This former Athonite (Mt. Athos) monk has established some 16 monasteries in the United States since about 1989.
He is also known as Elder Ephraim. The news article stated in part : “It has been said that some sort of fundamentalist movement with a cult philosophy has been advocated by the followers of Ephraim, and is having an impact among the clergy and theology students at Holy Cross School of Theology.” After that article, I urged, in a letter-to-the-editor, that there be an investigation. To my knowledge, there has not been any inquiry, nor has been any further news reporting on the subject.
When the new Metropolitan (Bishop) of the New Jersey diocese took office this spring, it was reported reliably that at his first meeting with the clergy, he announced that Ephraim and his followers were not welcome in the diocese and that the faithful should go to their own priests for confession. This diocese includes some 50 churches in five states. There has been no further confirmation or a denial of the Metropolitan’s statement. In the absence of any denials, one can assume there is some validity to the reports about the Synod’s concern and about the Metropolitan’s directive.
There was also the warning earlier this year from another bishop, Metropolitan Methodios of Boston. He was quoted by the Herald as saying: “Neither is there a place in Orthodoxy for radical fundamentalism, religious fanaticism or cult leaders disguised as Orthodox sages.” “Was he talking about the Ephraim situation? If not, who was he referring to?
Are these accidental words: fundamentalist and cult? Did the bishops wake up one fine day and decide to use them?
In a similar vein, in 1998, Metropolitan Isaiah of the Denver diocese issued a protocol to his priests titled: “The Lord Does Not Want Slaves in His Kingdom”. He wrote in part:
“This spirit of blind obedience with the deadening of the free will is unfortunately being practiced among some of our people and even by some of our clergy. They will not do anything without first receiving a ‘blessing’ from their ‘spiritual father’. And if they have been convinced that the spiritual father is a walking saint, they will eat his unfinished food after the common meal and even consume other things which may have touched the spiritual father in some particular way. This is nothing more than idolatry. It puts God aside and constitutes the worship of His creature.”
He went on to say that: “It may be that some of our people, by following the monastic rule in the outside world, feel convinced that they are becoming more spiritual. However, they are sadly mistaken: for the monastic, as a novice, is willingly obedient in order to determine if he wishes to live the life of a monastic. Once he is accepted as a monk, he must resume the use of his free will in conforming to the way of life which he has chosen. The laity, on the other hand, cannot use the monastery or the spiritual elder as one uses a horoscope, not functioning unless they receive permission.”
He concluded with: “If there are members of the Diocese who have fallen into the error of negating their free will and being totally dependent on what their spiritual mentor instructs them to do, let them know that God does not want slaves in His Kingdom, but obedient children who constantly exercise their free will as sons and daughters of our Father in heaven.”
Apparently he received some criticism, for he later wrote wrote: “I am totally surprised that certain persons misinterpreted the encyclical and thought that I was criticizing our Orthodox monastics and specifically one or two of our Orthodox elders…I was clearly referring only to those followers who relax or negate their free wills.”
During the administration of Archbishop Spyridon, in a November 1998 article in the Herald, the well-known reporter-commentator, Theodore Kalmoukos, wrote:
“Fr. Ephraim who came to America under nefarious circumstances in the early 90’s first joined the Russian synod in exile after receiving a ‘directive’ from God as he proclaimed at the time. However, when he was threatened by the Ecumenical Patriarchate that he would be defrocked, he received another ‘directive’ from God and abandoned the Russians. Ephraim has established a string of monasteries in America and, through intense confessional activity, has created many personal loyalties.”
“Fr. Ephraim has significant influence in the administration of the Archdiocese. The current Chancellor, Fr. George Passias, happens to be one of Ephraim’s most loyal followers. Ephraim is also admired by the new President of the Theological School, Archimandrite Damaskinos Ganas, who, according to sources, wants to invite Fr. Ephraim to hear confessions from students.”
Do the bishops define the situation as being an issue between them and the Ephraimites only? It would appear so based on a decision at the September 2002 meeting of the Synod. According to the press release from the Archdiocese, it was decided that the committees of the Synod would be combined with the committees of the Archdiocesan Council, “to provide for more input by members of the Council as well as to facilitate the implementation of decisions that are made in basic areas of the life of the Church.” But, the release went on to say that this would not apply to the committee on Monasticism. That apparently would be the bishop’s domain. It can also be noted that the currently disputed charter of the Archdiocese, “granted” by the Patriarch in 2003, includes authority for the supervision of the monasteries by the bishops.
One of the complaints voiced by some clergy and laity is that the Ephraimite confessors have focused on sexual matters. A member of a group visiting an Ephraimite monastery reported that the monk-confessor had a lengthy list of questions, most of them of a sexual nature, and gave severe penances even to married couples, with the penances being longer for the wives. In the evening, the men and women were separated to hear different speakers. The one who addressed the women berated them about being sinful, as women, and that their only virtue was in bearing children. If true, is this an example of the “fundamentalism” that has been referred to? In view of what has been learned these past two years about the clergy abuse problem , particularly in the Catholic church, the monks’ pre-occupation with sexual matters could indeed be seen as a form of sexual misconduct.
Is the concern about Ephraim and his monasteries a territorial or “turf” battle, as well as one of sacramental rights? Do the parish clergy and bishops feel that the monks are developing a following among the faithful and that a kind of encroachment is taking place? If the New Jersey announcement is accurate, it would appear so. It is also ironic that the Ephraim monasteries do not appear to have money problems, while the Greek archdiocese does, and at any given time, parishes are without priests.
At the 2000 Clergy-Laity Congress, Metropolitan Anthony of the San Francisco diocese responded to concerns expressed about Ephraim by saying he was chairing a committee of the synod that was looking into the matter. If there has been a report by this committee, it has not been shared with the faithful.
Archbishop Spyridon apparently tried to define the respective roles at a retreat for clergy in March of 1998, held at the Ephraimite monastery in Florence, Arizona. It was for the clergy of the San Francisco diocese, according to the archdiocese press release, and Metropolitan Anthony and 58 priests were present. The theme was the “relationship of monasteries to the local bishop and to the local parish”. The release said that the priests had “lengthy open dialogues” with the Archbishop, and that he stressed the value of all three orders in the Church, clergy, laity and monasticism. He was quoted as saying:
“Spiritual therapy is indeed the primary role of Monasticism. It is precisely this role that renders Monasticism friendly and, so to say, popular, at certain levels of the Church, because it does not elevate Monasticism above the other orders in the Church.” Just what was meant by spiritual therapy was not explained. One can hope that confession-by-list and the group sessions mentioned above would not be examples of such “therapy”. In any case, the current atmosphere would suggest that perhaps, in some circles, monasticism is being elevated above the other orders of the church. Have the Ephraimites not “kept their proper place”?
A message that appeared on the Internet in 1999 may provide a clue or two. It was apparently from an Orthodox priest in Arizona, and said, in part:
“My situation has progressed with the mission group here and there is new pressure on me to be in a more ‘regular’ situation. Let me explain. There are about a dozen convert families here who float between all the ‘ethnic’ churches because they are zealous for traditional spirituality and get impatient with either the closed minded ethnic dominance or a ‘modernized’ and enemic version of Orthodoxy. So these people spend a lot of time at Fr. Ephraim’s monastery in Florence and take seriously the advice of their spiritual fathers there. They have committed themselves to starting a new mission parish that is traditional, not dominated by one ‘ethnic’ flavor, doesn’t have the old world parish politics, has services every day, does outreach to young people, helps bring new converts deeper into the church, etc., etc. They are withdrawing from the Greek, Antiochian, OCA and ROCOR churches to begin this new mission, and are doing it under the guidance of the monks at the monastery.”
(Note: OCA is the Orthodox Church in America, and ROCOR stands for Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, two other Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States).
While the charter mentioned above calls for monastery oversight by the respective diocesan bishops, Ephraim’s accountability is not clear. Who is his superior? Does he report to another elder on Mt. Athos? To Patriarch Bartholomew? To Archbishop Demetrios? Or to one of the American Metropolitans, depending on which monastery he’s visiting? Does he have any accountability to the Greek-American Orthodox faithful, as he moves about the country “in this world, but not of this world”, as the definition of a monastic goes?
There is a wide spectrum of feelings about Ephraim, among both clergy and laity. On the extremes, some view him as God’s gift to Orthodox spirituality in America, while others see him as a cult leader who should return to Mt. Athos.
One thing is apparent: an explanation from the American bishops about the Ephraim situation is long overdue. It should not be treated as a taboo subject any longer.
Note: This article is taken from The National Herald, November 21, 1998.
BOSTON. – The Clergy Brotherhoods of the Detroit and Chicago Dioceses refused to throw their support behind Archbishop Spyridon in his effort to fight off open defiance by the five Metropolitans of the Eparchial Synod of America, by a significant part of the clergy and wide segments of the laity. In particular, the two regional clergy organizations refused to endorse a letter put forth by the National Presbyters Council in opposition to previous statement signed by 73 priests which contained a scathing condemnation of the Archbishop’s policies (The National Herald, Nov. 7-8,1998).
At a Tuesday meeting of the Clergy Brotherhood meeting of the Detroit Diocese, 16 out of the 42 diocesan priests present also questioned the tactics of their Brotherhood’s president Fr. George Matsis, of Toledo, Ohio, who tried to promote the letter supporting the Archbishop. Sources told The National Herald that Fr. Matsis was unable to overcome the opposition and that, after a motion by one of the objecting priests, the proposal was tabled. A telephone message by the Herald to Fr. Matsis has not returned.
In private conversations some priests expressed fears about the climate of divisiveness among the clergy which is fostered by the Archdiocese. Just last weekend the Archbishop visited Detroit and had spoken against the Eparchial Synod of the Metropolitans in front of both the clergy as well as the lay Parish officers (see article, page 3).
In Chicago, where Fr. Chris Kerhulas, the President of the National Presbyters’ Council serves as priest at the Parish of St. Basil, the local Clergy Brotherhood was called to a meeting on Friday, November 13. The meeting was attended by only eight outof the 55 diocesan priests. Fr. Kerhulas raised the issue of his letter in response to the statement by his 73 colleagues against Archbishop Spyridon. Participants in the meeting vehemently rejected Fr. Kerhulas proposal– Fr. Kerhulas was unable even to read his letter. (Fr. Kerhulas discusses this issue extensively in an interview published in this issue of the National Herald).
The influential Fr. Ephraim
Other sources told the National Herald that at a meeting of the National Presbyters Council Fr. Kerhulas proposed to invite the controversial priest-monk Ephraim, a former abbot from the Athos, the monastic enclave in northern Greece, as speaker at a retreat of the Clergy of the Archdiocese but was forced to abandon the plan when some of the members of the Council opposed it. Fr. Ephraim who came to America under nefarious circumstances in the early 90’s first joined the Russian synod in exile after receiving a “directive” from God as he proclaimed at the time. However, when he was threatened by the Ecumenical Patriarchate that he would be defrocked, he received another “directive” from God and abandoned the Russians.
Ephraim has established a string of monasteries in America and, under through intense confessional activity, has created many personal loyalties. Typical of his activity the case of 16-year-old Angelo Lenekakis who acknowledges Fr. Ephraim is his “role model” as published the “Orthodox Observer,” the official newspaper of the Archdiocese (October 20,1998). Fr. Ephraim and his followers try to attract youths in order to fill his Monasteries.
Fr. Ephraim has significant influence in the administration of the Archdiocese. The current Chancellor, Fr. George Passias, happens to be one of the Ephraim’s most loyal followers. Ephraim is also admired by the new President of the Theological School, Archimandrite Damaskinos Ganas, who, according to sources, wants to invite Fr. Ephraim to hear confessions from students. Fr. Ganas did not respond to the Herald’s offer for an interview.
The National Herald, Oct 27, 1998 By Theodore Kalmoukos
The family of John Pantanizopoulos from Knoxville, Tennessee, is determined to do “all that is possible and necessary to extricate our son from an unhealthy environment,” quoted in an interview to the National Herald for his son Niko, who interrupted his university studies and entered as a novice in the monastery of St. Anthony in Florence, Arizona, The monastery is under the direction of Fr. Ephraim, who was previously from the monastery of Filotheou of the Holy Mountain in Greece. One should be reminded that in the past Fr. Ephraim has troubled the Greek Orthodox Church of America including the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the formation of religious organizations with his devotion to the Russian monks of the diaspora, according to the information he received as he claims from God. Later, he left the Russians and placed himself under the Greek Orthodox American Archdiocese. Nikos Pantanizopoulos, according to the interview with his father John, met Fr. Ephraim through their parish priest in Knoxville, Tennessee, a Fr. Carellas, who presently is in a convent in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania. When Niko’s parents advised him to enter the Holy Cross Theological Seminary and then to decide if he wants to become a priest, he answered them, “Fr. Carellas and Fr. Ephraim told him that the Holy Cross is inhabited by the devil” and they [Carellas and Ephraim] advised him to go to the St. Tikon Theological Seminary [Russian], as stated by Mr. Pantanizopoulos.
The latter disclosed to the National Herald that his son got sick and that the monks are giving him the herb St. John’s Wort. “This is something people use when they suffer from melancholy [depression],” said characteristically the father of Nikos, whom they visited with his wife on Sept. 26, 27, and 28. “We thought we were seeing an old man at 20 years,” stated Mr. Pantanizopoulos.
We (The National Herald) left a message at the monastery’s telephone with Fr. Arsenios who said that Mr. Niko Pantanizopoulos was not in his cell at the time. However, we received no response from him later either. Also, the Bishop Anthony of San Francisco never returned our phone calls as late as Friday evening.
NH: Where, how and when did your son meet Ephraim? P: Our son Niko met him at the Saxonburg, Pennsylvania convent in April 1996. He met him through Fr. Carellas who is now at the Saxonburg convent. During the time Fr. Carellas was a parish priest here in Knoxville, Tennessee, he always spoke of the monastic life and of his spiritual father, Ephraim. Fr. Carellas used to say that Fr. Ephraim had the power of discernment, he was a saint. From time to time, several people from our church visited the convent in Saxonburg and spoke highly of Fr. Ephraim. Our Niko refused to have Easter with us with the excuse that he was having Easter with his spiritual father, Fr. Carellas. Niko told us that we were his parents in flesh; Carellas was his spiritual father. It was Nikos intent to ask Ephraim, the holy man, if Niko should be a monk. Ephraim would have the answer he thought. NH: How old was he when he first met Ephraim and how old was he when he left your house to follow Ephraim? P: Our Niko, born July 26, 1977, was 18 when he first met Ephraim, and he left our house in May 1996 at the age of 18 to spend a few weeks at the Saxonburg convent before he left for Arizona in July directly from there. He turned 19 inside the St. Anthony monastery in Florence, Arizona. NH: When did he tell you that he decided to become a monk? P. Upon his return from the convent in April 1996 when he spoke with Ephraim, Niko gathered his two sisters and us at the kitchen table to tell us of his decision to quit college and become a monk at St. Anthonys. At that time, Niko told us he had a calling because Ephraim answered his question Should I become a monk? with You wont know unless you try it. Ephraims answer became Nikos callingfrom God. NH: What was your first reaction? P: We told him he was too young, he should get his education first, he should perhaps go to Holy Cross seminary to see if he wanted the priesthood. He said that because Carellas and Ephraim told him that the Holy Cross was full of Satan, he couldnt go there. Carellas and Ephraim suggested he look into a Russian Orthodox seminary, St. Tikons, in New York even though all courses were taught in Russian. Niko felt he might be able to learn Russian over the summer in order to attend that seminary! But he soon put that aside and chose monasticism. NH: Have you tried to talk with him and convince him to return to your house to continue his studies? And if so, what was his reaction? P: We have pleaded, cried, and begged him to come home and re-think. We begged him to come home in October for his older sisterVera’s wedding; he refused saying that there would be too much idle talk surrounding him. We told him that even Jesus lived among the people. Couldnt he work with people and still be a part of the Church? Niko replied that Jesus had his calling and Niko had his own. NH: Has his behavior towards you and in general his personality changed? P: Yes, he considers us his parents in flesh only. He must obey his spiritual fathers. He talks to us as if we do not exist and are of no importance to him. He does not ask about us or our activities or about his grandmothers, cousins, aunt or uncles, or even his sisters because he considers anything outside of his monastic life as idle talk and idle subjects. He sends no birthday, Christmas, or Easter greetings to anyone in the family. Niko used to be so funny. He could impersonate just about anyone. He would make everyone in our family laugh. But during the last two years when we were together, the conversations somehow always turned to religion, to Orthodoxy, and to what some esoteric monk said. I remember one day at the dinner table, we were discussing the Ecumenical talks between the Patriarch and the Catholic Pope. Niko actually began to cry that our Patriarch was wrong and that the Orthodox Church was being led astray. There should be no talks, Niko said. When we asked Niko where he got these ideas, he told us Fr. Carellas believes this and since Fr. Carellas is Nikos spiritual father, his ideas are Nikos. NH: We have information that your son became ill and the monks are giving him herbs to treat his illness. What do you know about that? P: First of all, Niko has always been healthy and has never had an ongoing illness. Niko wrote and told us, almost from the beginning of his stay there, that he was not well. He complained of an ongoing cough, then of pain in his stomach and an abdominal pain when he walked. Although the monks took him to a doctor and Niko was given prescription medication for an ulcer and for GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease), he later told us that the monks were giving him St. Johns wort, an herb. We researched the herb and discovered that it is one used to treat depression. And we ask, ‘If a monastery is supposed to be a healthy environment, then why is our son sick’? NH When did you last come in contact with your son? P: We came in contact with his son when we recently visited him on Sept. 26, 27, and 28 at the St. Anthony monastery in Arizona. NH: How did your son receive you at the monastery and what did you discuss? P: He was calm, his movements were slow and slumped over. He hardly ever smiled and we felt like we saw an old man in a 20 year old boy. We discussed with him about the life at the monastery, the pros and cons of monastic living, our family news, and his health. Finally, we asked him, since he did not feel well, to return home with us. His answer was an emphatic, ‘No.’ NH: Did you inform your son and the monastery beforehand about your visit or was it a surprise? P: One month prior to our trip to Arizona we informed our son and Bishop Anthony of San Francisco. We specifically asked the Bishop to meet us there and discuss with us our son’s ill health. Bishop Anthony did not answer us and did not come to the monastery during the time we visited. In a previous letter to us the Bishop informed us that he worries about our son’s health and that he would find out details from the Abbot. NH: We’ve been informed that Archbishop Spyridon, Bishop Anthony, Fr. Passias, Fr. Ephraim, Fr. Paissios, and your son Niko met at the St. Anthony monastery and especially Fr. Passias, the Archdiocese Chancellor sent you a letter. Would you like to talk about it? P: Yes, it is true. Please bear in mind that we visited our son Sept. 26, 27, 28 after asking Bishop Anthony to meet us there. However, on October 1 again, they decided to see our son alone. In the letter, referenced above, concerning their visit, Fr. Passias (acting for Archbishop Spyridon) wrote and told us that our son is under a doctor’s observation and he feels better than before. And we ask, ‘How is it possible for Fr. Passias who met our son for the first time at the monastery to know how Niko felt before and, second, if our son feels so well, why is he under a doctor’s observation’? At the end of his letter, Fr. Passias wrote that we must pray for the will of God and not our’s or our son’s. We answered him in a letter that we would pray for the will of God and not his, meaning Fr. Passias or Fr. Ephraim. In addition, Fr. Passias wrote that we must be happy that we can see our son. If he had been at the Holy Mountain (Athos in Greece), we would have never been able to see him. We answered him that those who have children will cross mountains to see their child. NH: What measures are you willing to take and is one of them legal action against the Archdiocese, Archbishop Spyridon, Diocese of San Francisco and Bishop Anthony under whose jurisdiction is Ephraim? P: We want to hear our son laugh and to see him dance again. We will do everything possible to extricate our child from an unhealthy environment and at the same time make it known to other families that there are people in the Orthodox Church who follow blindly charismatic leaders. Please note our telephone number, and we invite anyone who is in the same family situation to feel free to come in contact with us.