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Not Athos in America

Since the clergy of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America have yet to step in and help the victims of the teachings of St. Anthony's Monastery in Florence, Arizona, I am providing my personal testimony of being a disciple at St. Anthony's so that anyone who wants can see what goes on there for real and that it is being allowed by the Orthodox Church to continue, despite many protests. The "Elder's" book is still being sold by Light and Life Publishing, who refuses to pull the book from circulation even though they have been repeatedly notified of the contents of the teachings and how they are applied by the monastery. Please join the victims of St. Anthony's in boycotting Light and Life for their support of these non-Orthodox heresies.

This is not an attack on monasticism itself, which has always been a part of the Eastern Orthodox Church. True Orthodox Christian monasticism does not teach what I was taught while going to St. Anthony's.


While a disciple of the Abbot of St. Anthony's:

I was taught that the re-Baptism of Catholics, rather than Chrismation, was necessary because you would be blind in heaven without it. I was re-Baptized by St. Anthony's after the Patriarch had ordered them to stop this.

I was taught to believe in conspiracy theories (some of which were that man never landed on the moon, that America is made up of a shadow government that is run by Masons and Jews) and that the Protocols of Zion are an authentic document rather than racist fiction.

I was told that unless you give up marital relations with your spouse, you cannot be holy in this life, while at the same time being taught that I should ceaselessly struggle to achieve holiness in this life no matter what the cost.

I was taught to flagellate myself with electrical cord when I had sinful thoughts and that this was normal behavior that Saints indulged in.

I was taught to be obedient to my spiritual father as if he were Jesus Christ and that without his prayers I would not make it through the toll-houses when I die. This was the justification used to get me to be obedient to the teachings I have related.

I attended Divine Liturgy at St. Anthony's Monastery in Florence, Arizona on a regular basis from 1998-2001, and have been a spiritual child of the Abbot since 1998 until recently.

My wife and I were baptized Roman Catholics at birth. We were re-baptized on January 31st, 1999 by Fr. Paisios in the back of a spa shop in Tempe, Arizona run by a disciple of “Elder” Ephraim. There was also another woman that I did not know and have not seen since who was baptized with us. Fr. Paisios offered to be my godfather, and so he is. Our baptism was done just a couple of hours prior to our official chrismation so that the priest doing our Chrismation would not be aware of it. My mother-in-law, also a baptized Roman Catholic, was also re-baptized at the main chapel of St. Anthony’s around 2000 or 2001. We were told that anyone who was chrismated and not baptized would be blind in heaven because baptism is the illumination of the nous which is the eye of the soul. So, we believed we had to be baptized or we would be blind in heaven. We were brand new to Orthodoxy. In my experience as a Catholic every convert at our parish regardless of denomination was always given the choice of being baptized or confirmed through the OCIA. So it seemed natural to need baptism. It’s in the New Testament.

Once I was a disciple at St. Anthony's, I started being taught things in confession that seemed very odd. I was told the Protocols of Zion is a historical document (rather than a work of racist fiction) and that it contained the secret plots of “the Jews” who wanted to kill "the Gentiles". I was told never to repeat this outside of the “inner circle” of the Monastery's “disciples” because other people who believe the “lies” that the Protocols are fake would not understand me. This seemed extremely racist to me. I shared this with a couple of people who kind of blew it off.

Later I was told of a “shadow government” that is supposedly in operation in the world that is made up of Masons (I was told the Patriarch of Constantinople is a 33rd degree Mason), the Illuminati (which is made up of a supposed select few from the high ranks of Masonry), and “the Jews”. This “shadow government” was said to control all of the governments of the world. I was told that part of their plan to do population control was to vaccinate the masses with immunizations that were deadly. Many of us were told never to immunize our children, that we should only use holistic remedies for our illnesses unless the doctor could be trusted, and avoid Jewish doctors whenever possible (because in the Protocols one of the plots to kill Gentiles was via Jewish doctors who killed Gentile babies and adults whenever possible).

Concerning marriage, I was told by my spiritual father in confession that the only way to achieve sanctity in this life, and the only way any married saint ever achieved it, was by ceasing all sexual relations with my wife, as long as we were both in agreement. We were taught that marriage was a result of the Fall and that sex was a luxury of the flesh to be used only sparingly for procreation, like eating was used only to keep the body alive. I asked about this several times because other disciples of Fr. Paisios said they weren’t told this, but I was told the same thing over and over again.

Fr. Paisios didn’t really push it directly, but reiterated to me constantly that the goal of this life was to become a saint and he was adamant that no saint ever had a sexual life. My wife and I discussed it and got the blessing and lived “as brother and sister” fervently for nearly a year, which ended up alienating us from one another, caused severe tensions between us, and affected every area of our lives negatively. After we got the blessing, we could not get out of it even though I requested to.

I was told that to drive away sinful thoughts I should get an electrical cord, make a whip out of it, and lash myself on the legs with it. Fr. Paisios held up his pinkie and said to make it that thick and about a foot long. This teaching can also be found in “Elder” Ephraim’s book “Counsels from the Holy Mountain” (see the quotes section below). I kept this practice for a while, but it never worked and was humiliating.

“Elder” Ephraim teaches in his book that elders are hierarchically the final successors of the Apostles through the Holy Spirit. Having been taught this, there was a while where in my mind he had Apostolic authority to teach that the demons will drag me to hell when I die because I won’t be able to ascend through the toll-houses without my spiritual father’s prayers if I disobey him. “Elder” Ephraim’s book also says that we should never tolerate anyone who speaks against an “elder” because such a person is an antichrist and we should oppose them immediately. I didn’t want to become an “antichrist”.

I was told that television, except for nature shows and things like that, were evil and that the best thing to do was to get rid of my TV. Up until recently I had not seen television for 7 years with the exception of rented movies (and even those I wasn’t supposed to have). I was told the same thing about literature and music. I was not allowed to read any secular literature and was told that the Bible and the Fathers were all I needed to read. They said all music except for classical music and Church music was a product of the Fall and not to listen to anything but that. Not having a television and not listening to the radio, my main source of cultural information was mainly through e-mail and the telephone, unless I was spending time with someone from the monastery.

We had to get a blessing from our spiritual father for everything. Whether it was dressing differently, changing jobs, selling our car, etc. I had to get a blessing even regarding what I could drink during the day and how many meals I could eat. All of this is called “voluntary” obedience by the way, except that you’ll go to hell if you’re not obedient because obedience fulfills all of the commandments of Christ. Again, I’ve heard of other people who were not taught this, and some who were allowed to get out of these teachings, but I was not and I have heard of others who were not.

I was refused a blessing to sell my car even though it kept breaking down on me and was the only means of transportation for my wife and I to get to work (we worked together at the time). We missed time from work because of all the break-downs, which meant we missed pay. This also caused us to nearly get fired, and put us so far behind in bills that we lost all of our savings. We eventually had to quit that job since they were going to fire us. Even though we finally decided to get a new vehicle just before that, it was repossessed later on due to our lack of ability to pay since we had lost our income.

Fr. Paisios and I would talk a lot about the end of the world. He would mention it in confession often. He said all the monks would be martyred at St. Anthony’s by being hung from the telephone poles. He also told me one year that by the summertime Turkey would invade Greece over a dispute about the island of Cyprus and there would be a great war that Greece would win (I was given copies of these prophecies that the monastery had translated from the Greek text of St. Kosmas Aitolos’s book to put on a website I used to run with Geronda Paisios’s “blessing”) and the city of Constantinople would be liberated and returned to the Greeks. When it didn’t happen I went to Geronda Paisios and asked him why, and he said he told me that just to be cautious. He had seemed pretty serious at the time he told me, however. He also told me on one occasion that I would most likely be “martyred”, which stayed with me for a long time. I really believed that I should prepare to die.

When my mother was homeless and destitute I was refused a blessing to go and help her over and over again. I finally decided to just go. My wife spoke to Fr. Paisios about it in confession and he gave his “blessing” grudgingly. This type of bizarre coldness toward family was common and I could never understand why.

There was talk of “spies” sent to the monastery from the Archdiocese to keep an eye on things and report to Bishop Anthony. If you were suspected then usually a lay pilgrim who was loyal to the monastery would talk to you in the men’s guesthouse or whenever there was an opportunity to see what your purpose was there. This would happen usually without express orders from anyone at the monastery, but they would find out later that it had been done. We were all told, of course, to deny that the monastery re-baptized people to anyone who inquired until they were found to be trustworthy by Geronda Paisios or “Elder” Ephraim. It was very important to them to keep this a secret. I was told to take it with me to my grave.

There are tapes by a man named Constantine Zalalas that the monastery distributes that are approved by “Elder” Ephraim and Geronda Paisios that contain teachings such as the need to cover oneself with a towel when you defecate so that your guardian angel doesn’t have to watch you poop. I asked Geronda Paisios about a lot of the teachings on those tapes in confession and was told they were correct. These tapes are sold in the monastery’s bookstore. Some of these tapes also say things like rock bands such as KISS are satanic (because he says their name means Knights In Satan’s Service) and state that young men and women shouldn’t date at all. Another strange thing was that some of the marriages of the “disciples” of “Elder” Ephraim were arranged. Never by force, but always with strong insistence. To listen to the tapes for yourself, click here and you can purchase them. The tape that tells you how to poop is #T-15 "Refinement-Social Discipline/Education - Appreciation of Music". One of the interesting tapes is "On Rock Music/On Dating - Boy/Girl Relations", specifically the Boy/Girl relations part where he implies that men and women shouldn't date and seems to be alluding to arranged marriages.

My wife and I had to confess all of our sexual activity including what went on, where we touched, and so forth. We had to confess any secular music we listened to, any TV shows or movies we watched, and anywhere that we went that wasn’t “approved”. I was even told once that I should never laugh because Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain always kept a straight face and never laughed, so anytime I found something funny I had to confess that I had "laughed frivolously".

I was required to confess all of my thoughts, both good and bad, in confession. If I couldn’t confess directly, it had to be over the phone (which was nearly impossible because Geronda Paisios never returned any of my calls except for two or three occasions), and if you couldn’t confess by phone you had to write everything down and mail it to your spiritual father. It’s very humiliating sending your private thoughts through the mail, but with everything they teach about obedience the rationale was that it was a small price to pay for absolution and eternal life. In the case that Geronda Paisios was not available there were only certain “approved” priests I could confess to.

I tried several times to get Fr. Paisios to call or write so I could express my concerns about these issues but got no response.

These teachings have been going on for several years. No "God-enlightened Elder" would endorse these grotesque heresies. Complaints have been raised to the Bishops for the past 7 years and nothing has been done. The hierarchy has known about, and refused to act on, these teachings. Something needs to be done!


E-mails from various sources

E-mail I received from Father Anthony Coniaris of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in response to my request for their removal of “Elder” Ephraim’s book “Counsels from the Holy Mountain” with reasons for justifying the request:


Dear Mr. Smith,

Please share the information you sent us with the new Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco. We will remove the book from our catalog if he requests it.

We are aware of the fact that Elder Ephraim's teachings regarding marriage denigrate the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. They do not represent Orthodox Christian truth and have served to break up marriages blessed by the Church.

The best way to heal this sickness is not by removing a book from a catalog but by alerting the hierarchy to the damage being done to the faith and many parishioners.

The Metropolitans need to alert all bookstores and Orthodox Christians regarding what is being passed off as Orthodox teachings!

Prayerfully,

Fr. Anthony M. Coniaris

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E-mail from the webmaster of Athos in America, Chris Robaidek:

Date: Wed, 31 Aug 2005 11:03:27 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Chris Robaidek"
Subject: Re: Fr. Theologos
To: "David Smith"

Niphon,

It sounds like you have had some contact with St Anthony's Monastery in AZ. You know monastics can't do anything without a blessing from their spiritual Father. I believe that Father Theologos received the blessing to put up this site from Father Paisios of St Anthony's. Maybe you could discuss it with him.

Chris


Posts from the Orthodox Indiana List corroborating what I have stated

General Observation about St. Anthony's

General Observation about the environment at St. Anthony's

Another post from the Orthodox Indiana List

The "Elder" endorses the Protocols of Zion

“New to me was the Greek promotion of the Protocols of the Learned Elders. I made a phone call after reading this, and my contact confirmed that this literature is promoted to a degree at St. Anthony's. I didn't perform a scientific survey; I'm just saying the very first person I called, said, "O yes, they tried to get us to read that."
More confirmation of the Protocols

Some of my responses to questions on the Orthodox Indiana List:

About the Protocols

General questions addressed

A response to Bishop Tikhon, who suggested that everyone ignore me when I said that St. Anthony's endorses the Protocols of Zion

A response to a question about the environment at St. Anthony's

General response

Final post to the Orthodox Indiana List


Quotes from Counsels from the Holy Mountain

“Although struggling to live the Christian life in the world is a godly pursuit, it does not even come close to monasticism in its yield of spiritual wealth and it its closeness to God. “A tree is known by its fruit.” An entire army of monastics has filled heaven. How many Righteous* saints do we have? You can count them on your fingers.”

*The Righteous are the saints who attained sanctity while living in the world and were not clergy, monastics, or martyrs.
Counsels from the Holy Mountain, page 92

“Force yourself to be humble, and when you see thoughts of pride, lay hold of a whip and start lashing yourself.”
†The Elder is not referring to masochism, but suggests counteracting sinful inclinations with physical pain. Similar techniques were used by Sts. Benedict, Epiphanios, Nephon, and many other saints.
Counsels from the Holy Mountain, page 231

“Never examine what your Elder does or why he does this or that. Do not judge him, for you will become an antichrist! Never in your life tolerate others who speak against your Elder, but oppose them immediately; shield him; defend him. Christ makes straight the “crookedness” of the Elder's human shortcomings and mistakes, on account of uncritical and guileless obedience.”
Counsels from the Holy Mountain, page 139

“Do not contradict the Elder; reflect that he represents the divine will.”
Counsels from the Holy Mountain, page 105

“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.”
Counsels from the Holy Mountain, page 143

“There was a disciple who had such unquestioning obedience that his elder would tell him to go steal various things from the brethren's cells, and he would go and do so! The elder would then take them and give them back to the brethren. He was never bothered when thoughts told him, “Hey, what is the elder doing to me? Is he inciting me, is he teaching me how to steal? And later I'll have the habit of stealing!” Instead, he thought about it and said, “I am being obedient. Now, what it is that I am doing, I don't know. I know only one thing – that I am being obedient.””
Counsels from the Holy Mountain, pages 125-126

“You will find great grace when you obey your Elder for God’s sake. Do not grieve him in order not to grieve the Holy Spirit, Who anointed him a successor to the Apostles. Elders are their final successors and occupy this position hierarchically through the Holy Spirit. Consequently, those who grieve them grieve the Holy Spirit.”
Counsels from the Holy Mountain, page 107

Quotes from the Bible and the Fathers of the Orthodox Church

Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.
1 Timothy 4:1-3

And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.
Mark 7:9-13

If, under the pretence of piety, any children shall forsake their parents, particularly [if the parents are] believers, and shall withhold becoming reverence from their parents, on the plea that they honour piety more than them, let them be anathema.
CANON XVI of the Council of Gangra

If any of those who are living a virgin life for the Lord's sake shall treat arrogantly the married, let him be anathema.
CANON X of the Council of Gangra

If any one shall condemn marriage, or abominate and condemn a woman who is a believer and devout, and sleeps with her own husband, as though she could not enter the Kingdom [of heaven] let him be anathema.
CANON I of the Council of Gangra

Ques. What is the First Commandment of the Decalogue?
Ans. "I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods but Me."
.....
Ques. Who else sin against the First Commandment?
Ans. All who set all their hopes on anyone but God. Such as these are all who deify men or material objects.
Ques. Who are these?
Ans. All who devote themselves body and soul to one man or to many men, because they have authority and power, or wealth, or some other advantage.
Sacred Catechism Of The Orthodox Church, Constantine N. Vernardakis, pages 66-71

The law of the Spirit is with reason a law of friendship and consequently trains us in gratitude. There is no toil involved in applying ourselves to this law, neither is it necessary to suffer hardship or to spend money, nor is there dishonour or shame, nor shall we be worse off in any other respect. It makes it no less possible to exercise our skills and it places no obstacle in the way of any occupation. The general may remain in command, the farmer may till the soil, the artisan may exercise his craft, and no one will have to desist from his usual employment because of it. One need not betake oneself to a remote spot, nor eat unaccustomed food, nor even dress differently, nor ruin one's health nor venture on any reckless act. It is possible for one who stays at home and loses none of his possessions constantly to be engaged in the law of the Spirit.
The Life in Christ, St. Nicholas Cabasilas, SVS Press, pages 173-174

1998 Statement of the Diocese of Denver Regarding Cultish Devotion to an "Elder"

28 October 1998

Protocol 98-21

The Pious Pastors of the Holy Diocese of Denver

Beloved in the Lord,

The Lord does not want slaves in His Kingdom.

We are living at a time in which most people stress their total independence of all things or they prefer to come under the shelter and obedience of a charismatic leader. Few are they who follow the Christian principle of adoption as God's children.

Nowhere in the oral and written testimony of the Church does one read that a person should be totally independent of all influence which is an impossibility, nor does one find that a person should practice blind obedience to any other person.

Our Lord says, "Whoever wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me." (Matthew 16:24 and Mark 8:34)

Having been created in God's image, we have intellect, cognition, freedom of choice, and understanding. When the Lord invites us to deny ourselves, He does so in order for us to realize that we must first make the decision that we are not who we think we are, but that we are to seek and find Christ within us as our real selves. Once we find Christ within us and we understand and accept that we are created in His image, He then adopts us, not as slaves, but as free and loving sons and daughters (cf. Galatians 4:1-7)

For one to have a blind obedience to another, whether a lover, or a master, or a religious guru, means that such a person no longer has a free will but has turned it over to another creature.

When a Christian turns his free will over to Christ, the Lord purifies it and returns it to him so that his obedience thereafter is based only on love exercised through that free will.

When our Lord expressed His obedience to the Father by emptying Himself of His glory and becoming one of us, He did so with the exercise of His free will. Otherwise He could never have said on the Cross, "Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." It was His free will in obedient love to the Father that effected the Supreme Sacrifice.

Today it seems that some people will not make a move unless they check with their spiritual father in virtually everything. This phenomenon happened with certain converts to Orthodoxy some years ago when they were told where to live and where to work and how much money to contribute to the Church.

They thought that they were imitating the first Christians in the Book of Acts who held everything in common. But they did realize that the first Christians lived this way because they believed that the Lord was to return during their lifetime. Consequently these new Orthodox converts exercised a blind obedience to their religious leaders, relinquishing their free wills and their responsibility for making their own decisions regarding their families, their livelihood, and their welfare.

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.

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.

Actually, such an attitude betrays the fact that these people do not wish to accept the responsibility of directing their own lives, and prefer to pass this responsibility on to another.

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.

With Paternal Blessings,

Metropolitan Isaiah
Presiding Hierarch of the Diocese of Denver

Taken from: The Orthodox Indiana List

Response From Someone Who Knows Me

Those of you who monitor the Indiana List may have noticed this link in discussion of Elder Ephraim and the Monastery of St. Antony in AZ:

http://gerondaephraim.tripod.com

While I am by no means an "ephraimite," ie one who follows the Elder blindly and worships him as a living saint, a major part of my Orthodox formation was received at St. Antony's and was thoroughly patristic and not tainted at all by the conspiracy theories and baiting that this fellow has brought up.

I would begin by saying that Mr. Smith has devoted his life to the study of Scripture and has made his decisions based on how he has understood it, some good, some bad. His approach has been diverse, based on RC bible study, friendships and contacts with Orthodox Jews and Rabbis, and a diverse association with Orthodox of all stripes. This is something for which he should be commended.

Now, I was there at St. Antony's during the period in question and am well aware of Mr. Smith's situation, as he was a friend of mine and a confidant. To begin with, Fr. Paisios told Mr. Smith to refrain from sexual relations after his CIVIL MARRIAGE at the Mesa Wedding Chapel UNTIL he was married in the Church. Fr. Paisios does not dissuade sex in marriage in regard to procreation, and his point of view mirrors that of St. Maximos the Confessor, the Kollyvades Fathers, and the best thought of Patristic Scholars of our day. I never witnessed not one baptism at St. Antony's. Mr. Smith kept on requesting to have his rule increased, not decreased. He frequently did things without the "blessings" he says he needed to obtain, such as getting married outside of the Church, quitting his job because he didn't feel like working anymore and forcing his wife to do so, moving in with his mother in law, abandoning his apartment, abandoning his vocational training in carpentry and tile laying on the verge of making a career for himself, etc. These were all decisions Mr. Smith made AGAINST the Elder's advice and were quite the product of his own self-will. When his finances collapsed and his living situation worsened, HE SPECIFICALLY requested the aid of the monastery in Florence for himself and his wife, where they could "get things together living as BROTHER AND SISTER and UNTONSURED MONASTICS IN SEPARATE QUARTERS." That didn't seem to satisfy him, and he decided to move himself and his wife to FL to "avoid having his Nissan Pick Up repossessed, so that he could get some help from social services without having to work, and enjoy an occasional toke of marijuana." Thereafter Mr. Smith disappeared.

I worked planting trees at the monastery for the year in question. I worked almost daily with Elder Ephraim and had hours of contact with him. Fr. Paisios was at one time a spiritual director for me. What I was told to read by Elder Ephraim was St. John Cassian. He never spoke of "conspiracies": his talks were wrote memory recitations on prayer, perseverence, love straight out of a Gerontikon. Yes, he did advise obedience, but he was quick to understand human failings and provide a word of love. His writings clearly reflect that, and what Mr. Smith has decontextualized is a travesty, for he is indicting Elder Ephraim for paraphrasing such luminaries as Pakhomios, St. John Klimakos, Abba Dorotheos, et al. Moreover, I NEVER, NOT ONCE, saw Mr. Smith pick up a shovel to help planting a tree. He NEVER had contact with the Elder. All of his "knowledge" of the Elder is SECOND HAND and STYLIZED. Fr. Paisios never spoke politically with me. He advised reading of the Philokalia, especially St. Hesychios the Presbyter. The rule he customarily gives I received 3 ropes, not necessarily 300 knot--my rope was 150, to our Lord and one to the Panaghia. He adjusted prostrations accordingly and was flexible as far as the rule was concerned in regard to Holy Communion. Fr. Paisios was LENIENT in regard to attendance of church services and undrstood our human failings, eg allowing me to get to Matins by the Gospel, take rests during an Agripnia, etc. Nephon RECEIVED SUCH DISPENSATIONS. And this is TYPICAL OF HIS METHODOLOGY. The commentary about the services and their length is quite interesting, as established Orthodox monasteries from Valaam to Trinity-St. Sergius to the Holy Mountain to St. Katherine's to St. Savas to Jordanville, etc. FOLLOW THE SAME AND/OR SIMILAR oder.

I NEVER encountered ANY monk speaking of "murdering for the Elder," but I did encounter how certain converts like Mr. Smith let themselves get carried away ON THEIR OWN. Likewise, the odious and obvious baiting here used to slander the Elder by mentioning the "Protocols," the "Serbs and other jurisdictions," "other secret monasteries," the "Birchers," etc. is nothing but innuendo. Now, there are people who visit the monastery who mention these things just as there are in MOST Orthodox Monasteries. The rumor mill they propagate is NOT the orientation of the monastery just as a "gay Orthodox activist" or "matthewite" attending say the OCA Washington DC Cathedral and involving himself in their community is NOT the orientation of the Cathedral. Neither Elder Ephraim, nor Elder Paisios EVER talked about politics. They felt it was something profane. Elder Ephraim was even troubled by greetings and communiques by the deposed king of Greece and current Greek politicians FOR HE DID NOT WANT TO GET INVOLVED. The "Protocols" were NEVER mentioned. As a matter of fact, a close supporter of the monastery, A. LIKOS, routinely denounced them as "forgeries, not worth talking about" when VISITORS brought them up. He is a spiritual son of the Elder and extremely close to him. Lastly, I have witnessed Fr. Paisios and Elder Ephraim address their Bishops on bended knee and in full humility and obedience. They are Constantinople loyalists, and it is here where I have found an issue on my own.

Mr. Smith had no access to the book keepers of the monastery and his knowledge of budgets, etc. is dubious at best. The monastery and Fr. Paisios provided them with the support they could. St. Antony's is our American Optina and must treasured as such.

In closing, Mr. Smith has issues, and I hope for him and his family he resolves them. He is gifted and could add to Orthodox learning. His biblical research into the Nazorite Vow, for instance, is astoundingly brilliant. He simply needs a rudder. Orthodoxy is not about joining civil rights movements and the like and their secular concerns. He needs to decide who he is once and for all and grow in that direction. Is he an Old Calendarist, an Antiochian, a Byzantine Catholic, a Hassidim wannabe, a Black Muslim sympathizer, a member of ROCOR , the Serbs, or the GOA?! "Yes" to the above question simply will not do. Such dissonant views definitely drive one to psychotropic drugs as mentioned when they are not reconciled. He is in need of our prayers, for he bears a heavy cross. I ask the forgiveness of all for bringing these things up and that people discount who am I in homage to the truth.

Pray for me, the unworthy sinner...
Rostislav Mikhailovich Malleev-Pokrovsky

PS Fr. Theologos is a friend of mine, and he is one of the most happy and ardent Orthodox Christians I have ever met. His ardour amongst Protestants would be seen AS LIVING A GODLY LIFE, but certain Orthodox and others use him to advance an agenda. At 18, he chose to become a monk. I wonder if certain people would be so alarmed at his ADULT life decision if he chose to be gay, become an atheist, or join a rock band. It is shameful what they are putting him through.

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My Response

With regard to Rostislav's post, there are many things to be said. Number one, although he put great effort into trying to destroy my personal credibility, he has still failed, along with the other "Ephraimites" who have spoken out against me, to address the issue of what was taught at St. Anthony's.

The second issue is, what is Rostislav's real name? Having known Rostislav personally, although he was NOT a confidant of mine as he claims to have been since I didn't trust him, I know for myself that he claims his real name was Rostislav Mikhailovich Zkarchuk, but his many aliases, including his most infamous one where he posed as a priest under the name Fr. Peter Mendicant, can be found all over the Web.

Rostislav (or Rosty, or Rusty, or Fr. Peter, or whatever he wants his name to be) writes:

"Now, I was there at St. Antony's during the period in question and am well aware of Mr. Smith's situation, as he was a friend of mine and a confidant."
Rostislav was there for SOME of the period in question, not all of it. In fact, his very next comment shows him to be totally ignorant of the details of my life, which is strange for someone who was a confidant.

"To begin with, Fr. Paisios told Mr. Smith to refrain from sexual relations after his CIVIL MARRIAGE at the Mesa Wedding Chapel UNTIL he was married in the Church."
I guess someone should call the Mesa Wedding Chapel and tell them I was married there. I'm sure they would be shocked. So would the restaurant where we ACTUALLY got married during our "civil" ceremony. And Fr. Paisios DID say to abstain from sexual relations around the time of my wedding, but once again Rostislav doesn't have his facts right. Fr. Paisios said to abstain from relations during the week between my Baptism and my Orthodox wedding. We were Baptized on January 31st and married one week later on February 6th. During that time Fr. Paisios stressed that any sexual activity after our "re-birth" in Baptism would be fornication until we were married in the Church. Our "civil" ceremony was considered to be illegitimate in the eyes of God since it wasn't done by the Church. The abstinence that I am referring to in my open letter came later.

"Fr. Paisios does not dissuade sex in marriage in regard to procreation, and his point of view mirrors that of St. Maximos the Confessor, the Kollyvades Fathers, and the best thought of Patristic Scholars of our day."
Apparently Rostislav didn't read my post where I explained that Fr. Paisios never directly pushed total abstinence but instead constantly reiterated that the goal of this life is to become a Saint and that no married Saint indulged in sexual relations. Either way, the theology that sexual intercourse is a direct result of the Fall and therefore something to be given up by those who want to live as Adam did before the Fall, is what is non-Orthodox and even Puritan. This teaching was given to the monks to encourage them to remain "chaste" and was usually also told to married disciples, but with the additional phrase that went something like, "Don't worry, God is merciful and gives economia to husbands and wives who want to live that way but can't."

"I never witnessed not one baptism at St. Antony's."
Whether Rostislav ever saw one or not, I did. And I have two witnesses who are willing to speak to the Bishops about their Baptisms, one of which occurred in the main Church, St. Nektarios Chapel, at St. Anthony's.

"Mr. Smith kept on requesting to have his rule increased, not decreased."
Explain that to the disciple of Fr. Paisios's who felt bad for me and tried to get my rule decreased and was ALSO not able to.

"He frequently did things without the "blessings" he says he needed to obtain, such as getting married outside of the Church, quitting his job because he didn't feel like working anymore and forcing his wife to do so, moving in with his mother in law, abandoning his apartment, abandoning his vocational training in carpentry and tile laying on the verge of making a career for himself, etc. These were all decisions Mr. Smith made AGAINST the Elder's advice and were quite the product of his own self-will."
It's interesting that I got married outside of the Church without a blessing from Fr. Paisios. I would ask Rostislav how I would get a blessing from Fr. Paisios to get married outside of the Church when I didn't know him them. Interesting. My wife was happy to find out that I forced her to quit her job. She didn't know that. And we had to move in with my mother-in-law when we got evicted from our apartment after our Checking and Savings was exhuausted on bills after having to quit the job that was kind enough to give us that option since they were going to fire us. While I had vocational training in carpentry, the "vocational training" in tile setting was simply the favor of a friend who paid me to help him while HE set tile. While I was in school full time it was my wife's job at Motorola that kept us going, until she got laid off when they moved many of their operations overseas. When she couldn't find a job after that, I had to get one. And since full time was the only option, school had to go. It was either eat and have a job, or go to school and starve. And for the record, I hate carpentry. That was yet another disastrous choice based on the Monastery's theology that a trade where you used your hands was more "blessed" than so-called women's work like being a secretary.

"When his finances collapsed and his living situation worsened, HE SPECIFICALLY requested the aid of the monastery in Florence for himself and his wife, where they could "get things together living as BROTHER AND SISTER and UNTONSURED MONASTICS IN SEPARATE QUARTERS." That didn't seem to satisfy him, and he decided to move himself and his wife to FL to "avoid having his Nissan Pick Up repossessed, so that he could get some help from social services without having to work, and enjoy an occasional toke of marijuana." Thereafter Mr. Smith disappeared.
Funny how Rostislav claims I SPECIFICALLY requested the aid of the monastery and then doesn't state SPECIFICALLY what they did as a result of that request. Probably because the answer is NOTHING. He's referring to the time during our abstinence when I DID request to live at or near the monastery (which a lot of people do), but that never came about. Mostly because there were no jobs for my wife and I in Florence at the time and we would have had no way of supporting ourselves. Unlike Rostislav and his former cronies, I can't call mommy and daddy to wire me money when I'm in trouble because as I stated in previous posts, my mother was HOMELESS at the time. As far as why I moved to Florida, Fr. Paisios himself knows what happened with that. He was there when he said no all those times and finally conceded to my wife saying that I just needed to get it off my chest and go. And the Florida welfare system I'm sure would be surprised to find out that I collected welfare and smoked marijuana all day. I think the people who would be most surprised would be the people at the job I had in North Florida. I know how upset they were when I'd come to work stoned every day and sitting at my desk counting all my welfare money instead of working. Lastly, it's hard to "disappear" when you leave a forwarding address with the post office and give your friends and your spiritual father your new address and telephone number. I disappeared to Rostislav because he had secluded himself in Mesa with his new wife after a falling out with just about everyone he used to speak with, including me.

"Fr. Paisios was at one time a spiritual director for me."
I wonder what he's referring to here. Does he mean when he was still a disciple of Fr. Gregory and Fr. Paisios occasionally gave him advice, or does he mean after he caused so much trouble that Fr. Gregory was ordered to drop him as a spiritual child? I can't be sure. Maybe Rostislav's friend J. Gabriel Haake can help us out. Gabriel Haake is the alias of one of Rostislav's former friends, by the way.
Gabriel Haake's post on the identity of Rostislav's spiritual father

"What I was told to read by Elder Ephraim was St. John Cassian. He never spoke of "conspiracies": his talks were wrote memory recitations on prayer, perseverence, love straight out of a Gerontikon."
"Likewise, the odious and obvious baiting here used to slander the Elder by mentioning the "Protocols," the "Serbs and other jurisdictions," "other secret monasteries," the "Birchers," etc. is nothing but innuendo."
Perhaps Rostislav was unaware that as he was writing these lines, someone on the Indiana List who supports St. Anthony's was writing something different. Here is a link to two of the posts:
The "Elder" writes about the Protocols

Exact quote from the "Elder's" book
"It is well known that the devil-instigated Zionism is coordinating two insidious operations both within and without the Church aspiring to one and the same end; to destroy the fortress known as Orthodoxy [p.43].... One Sunday, a preacher delivered a sermon on 'love your enemies.' On the Sunday after, he spoke against alcohol addiction - about the havoc it wrought among the Christian peoples. Incidentally, the infamous Zionists greatly boast about this in their notorious 'Protocols.' When the preacher, then, referred to drinking and described its effects as mortal foes, one of the 'smart' listeners who, by the way, are never missing, stopped him short and said: 'Father, didn't you say last Sunday to love your enemies?' The preacher calmly answered, 'I told you to love them. I didn't say you should swallow them.'"
A Call from the Holy Mountain, New Sarov Press, pages 45-46

"Moreover, I NEVER, NOT ONCE, saw Mr. Smith pick up a shovel to help planting a tree."
He probably never saw me help out in the kitchen either.

The list goes on. Rostislav's "rebuttal" or whatever you want to call it is fraught with lies and the inablility to address the problem at hand, which is the teachings that St. Anthony's calls "Orthodox" and the way those teachings have been used to break up marriages, as Fr. Anthony Coniaris put it, and break up families, as the grieving parents of some of the monks can tell you. If St. Anthony's is such a righteous and holy haven for "living Saints" then why don't they have the decency to comfort the parents who they say "can't accept" their child's decision to become a monk? And why is it that they keep insisting that the parents have a problem with their child becoming a monk, when the parents have insisted from the beginning that it is their children's strange behavior in light of the bizarre teachings they are receiving that concerns them, and NOT their desire to become a monk or a nun? After ten years, they STILL don't seem to understand that it is their teachings and their claims that are coming into question, not monastic life in general.

E-mail I Sent in Response to the Request of The Brotherhood of St. Poimen in 1994

This is being posted in response to the request of a "Symeon" who says that I mentioned him in my posts on the Indiana List. The only Symeon that I recall mentioning who is tied to St. Anthony's, is Father Symeon, a monk who reportedly left St. Anthony's recently. My question is, if he left, how does he still have access to their PRIVATE messages? In any case, presented here are his request, the e-mail that prompted the letter he forwarded, and the letter itself.

Please note that my letter was in direct response to the Brotherhood of St. Poimen's request for testimony against Pokrov. The Monastery, rather than addressing these things themselves, has others do it for them so they don't have to step forward. The e-mail I have from the "Brotherhood" is not the only evidence of this, as the post above from Rostislav Zachary shows, and as the e-mail from Symeon shows. Incidentally, the letter "somehow" got from Symeon to Rostislav who posted it on the Web. The Monastery has a network of people who do their "work", like attacking Pokrov, for them. The Brotherhood of St. Poimen, by the way, got their name from one of the monks at St. Anthony's.

Symeon asks, "David, what happened?" and claims to be "confused" that my letter a year ago is positive and, since getting away from these disgusting teachings, I now feel negatively about the teachings at St. Anthony's. What happened is obvious. I recognized the teachings for what they are: FALSE. I would ask Symeon, What happened to my phone call from Fr. Paisios that I CLEARLY request in my e-mail to him? I never got it. But, thank you Symeon for helping me establish in writing what I said: that Fr. Paisios would almost never contact me whether I asked him politely or tried to prompt him to call me with things like this.

I also have to add that posting this on the Indiana List under the alias of Michael Isenberg was very mature.
Click here to see the post

Why can't people from the Monastery simply address the issues under THEIR OWN names as I have done? Why all the secrecy if there is really nothing to hide?

Also, for those who want proof of the fact that I was gradually coming away from the mindset of the Monastery after the time referenced in the letter, I have posted an e-mail below the letter that I had sent to Pokrov in private. Due to the fact that it contains information that is sensitive to other people, I have presented it with some paragraphs removed. The pertinent parts of the e-mail remain.


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Subject: David Niphon Smith
From: "Symeon -----" <----@inbox.com>
Date: Sat, October 8, 2005 10:58 am
To: ----@concernedpoem.com

I have another letter written by David Smith which should also be made public. It is a letter written about the Monastery last year. Since he has seemed fit to mention my name in his post on the Indiana Listserv, I felt it was necessary to send this as it is confusing me as to his "two sides". The first letter is very positive while the second, which has been posted on the internet, is negative. David, what happened? Also attached is a letter from Rostislav in support of the monastery. I believe these letters should also be publlshed to give a fuller understanding of what is actually going on.

Thank you,
Symeon


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From: "Brotherhood of St. POIMEN" <---@mail.com>
To: ----@yahoo.com Date: Sat, 26 Jun 2004 20:11:23 -0800
Subject: Fw: LETTER TO THE POKROV.ORG EDITOR: On the [Elder] Ephraim Questionť

We wish to inform our readers that we have come across another website which has also been posting a great amount of anti-monasticism articles, in what we humbly consider a selective and prejudicial manner. The website is question is http://www.pokrov.org and the corresponding articles are listed within http://www.pokrov.org/controversial/ephraim.html.

As before, we ancourage our readers to consider voicing their views on this very critical issue. We are forwarding below our own reply.
In Christ,
G. Karras


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From: David M. Smith [----@yahoo.com]
Sent: Sunday, June 27, 2004 9:55 AM
To: -----@stanthonysmonastery.org
Subject: Letter for Father Paisios

Attachments: St. Anthony's Monastery.rtf

Dear St. Anthony's,

It's Niphon from FL. I hope you guys are doing well. I know it's probably a furnace in the desert right now due to the summer heat, so I hope you guys are staying cool. Along with a printout of the attached letter, please pass along to Fr. Paisios my request that he call me when he's done reading it. My phone number is 941--------. Stay well and don't forget me in your prayers.

In Christ,
Niphon

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St. Anthony's Monastery

In 1998, shortly before converting to Orthodoxy from Catholicism, I was first introduced to St. Anthony's Monastery in Florence, Arizona on the Eve of the Nativity. It was a very special night, one that I will never forget. I had never seen an Orthodox service chanted with such reverence. There were no lights, only candles, and the voice of the chanter filled the Narthex with the sounds of Heaven. I was instantly addicted.

Over the next couple of years, until 2001, my wife and I went to St. Anthony's as regularly as possible. We loved the parishes in Phoenix and attended Liturgies there whenever we could, but St. Anthony's felt like home. Whenever we went there the monks were always happy to see us and always very warm and welcoming. Even still today, after having moved to the other side of the United States, when we call from our home in Florida, they get excited and are always eager to find out how we're doing and when we're coming to visit. They always wish us well and tell us they're praying for us. This is very typical for them. I can't remember ever knowing a group of Christians who care so much for the people around them.

I remember once when I was helping clean up in the kitchen after trapeza, I saw a couple of monks filling a large cardboard box with food from their pantry. I asked them if they needed help and they said they were almost done. When I asked where it was going they said there was a lady near the monastery who was poor and didn't have much to eat, so they would take her a large box of food every week to help her feed herself and her family. I found out from another monk that she wasn't even Orthodox. They had found out about this woman somehow and were taking their own food from their own cabinets to her. And it was definitely not leftovers, there was good food in there! This was typical.

When my wife and I first converted, we were dead broke and without much Orthodox literature. They would just give us books in the bookstore without asking for any money from us. In fact, not just St. Anthony's but every one of the Elder's monasteries that we have visited has given us something. At the one in Florida, I tried to pay for some books once and the monk told me, "Don't even try. Just take it. If you get really rich one day, then you can pay us back, but for now save your money."

Some close friends of ours also told me about when their business wasn't doing well and they barely had enough money to pay the bills. On more than one occasion, they said, the monks at St. Anthony's gave them food boxes to help with their large family of seven. The husband of this same family loves to tell a certain story that I always tell to people who ask what kinds of things the monastery teaches. This man had converted to Orthodoxy from Protestantism and believed that tithing was obligatory and so he wanted to know what to do with his tithe now that he was Orthodox. Where should the money go? He went to the abbot of St. Anthony's and said, "Father, I know that it says in the Bible that you should give the firstfruits of what you earn for a living to the Church, but I'm not sure if I should give it to the parish in town or bring it here to the monastery. What do you think I should do?" The answer he got astounded him, and he still tells this story with amazement to this day. It astounds me too, every time I think about it. The abbot told him, "Find the poor and give your money to them."

I've heard it said that the monks at St. Anthony's are overworked and undernourished. Being someone that was around the monastery very, very often when this rumor first started being circulated, I have to laugh. First of all, the monks are allowed to stop working whenever they want to. This is a rule of Elder Ephraim's. Being that St. Anthony's is out in the middle of the Sonoran desert and it reaches temperatures that exceed 100 degrees Farenheit almost every day during the summer, Elder Ephraim doesn't let the monks (or anyone else) work too long in the sun. And when they do work, there is plenty of water that is given out. Nice, freezing, ice cold water, as a matter of fact. Whenever I worked outside we not only got water, but all kinds of stuff. There were ice cream bars once, frozen fruit, popsicles, and anything else they could find. The monks as well as the laymen got these "refreshers".

Undernourishment, as I've heard it claimed that the monks suffer from, is no worry, either. I remember preparing the tables for trapeza one night and being directed to give all the monks a big slice of pizza each while the lay people got leftovers from earlier that day. It's also common knowledge to anyone who stays at St. Anthony's regularly that if the monks get hungry they are allowed to get something from the kitchen. I've stopped off plenty of times with the monks while they get a snack, usually a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a bowl of soup or something. One monk confessed to me once that he had tried to eat only once a day as an asceticism, so he had started skipping trapeza. Elder Ephraim found out and made him stop. The Elder told him that it was better to eat his meals at trapeza with thanks than to skip the meal.

During the time we went to St. Anthony's regularly, we had the pleasure of getting to know many, many Orthodox pilgrims from all different backgrounds.We met a Russian woman who gave us a piece of St. John Maximovitch's first coffin after telling her about a miracle that happened at St. Anthony's where St. John appeared to a teenage boy and healed him of pneumonia. We met two Greek brothers from Canada whose mother sent them to stay at the monastery for a little while because they were getting into a lot of dangerous trouble with drugs and other things. The older brother is now a shining example of Orthodoxy and is sober and holds a regular job. There was a man who used to be possessed by multiple demons. Some people I know actually witnessed the demonic activity that surrounded him before he was healed at the monastery. He is completely well now, and when I met him, he talked about his experience and admonished me to always be honest in confession, to be as humble as possible, and to pray without ceasing. He tells this to everyone he talks to about his experience. He says not hiding anything in confession is what has kept him free of the demons that once tormented him and is vitally important to Christian life.

I think the most memorable encounter though, was with a Canadian Catholic. We were assigned the same room together one weekend and being a former Catholic myself we hit it off pretty fast. We talked about Canada and Catholicism, and then the beauty of Orthodoxy. When I asked him how he liked the monastery he said he loved it. He kept saying, "Everyone's so nice to me here. They're all so friendly, I just can't believe it." He was so moved by the monks' kindness and so taken by Orthodoxy that he tried to fast from all food and drink, but he said the monks kept urging him to eat so he didn't get sick or faint. I remember this man saying that he had only come out of curiosity and didn't expect for it to affect him spiritually. He would sit in the narthex holding a prayer rope someone had given him and would weep while listening to the Services being chanted. Before he left he mentioned that he was at a crossroads. He was afraid to leave Catholicism because it was all he had ever known, but he didn't want to be without Orthodoxy. When I went back to the city I heard from him once or twice via e-mail and then we lost contact. About two years ago, while visiting Panagia Vlahernon in Florida, one of the monks and I were talking about how Orthodoxy transforms the heart and I related the story of this man. The monk knew exactly who I was talking about because apparently what had happened to him was after he returned to Canada he converted to Orthodoxy, quit his job, and then came back to the United States and was tonsured a monk at one of the Elder's monasteries.

Incidents like this go on forever at St. Anthony's. It changes people. Catholics, Protestants, even a Monophysite I know, all went to St. Anthony's to see the beauty and left transformed by the Truth and burning with the desire to become Orthodox. And all the monks do is show these people love. I myself was an overzealous convert who sometimes had fanatical views. The monks helped me change all of this. Without setting the Truth aside, they taught me to love Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike and not to spurn anyone, no matter who they were or what kind of lives they lived. They put a stop to my fault-finding, taught me the meaning of self-sacrifice, and gave me the ability to look at people with love instead of judgment. People always ask me, "What's it like there?" or, "What goes on behind the scenes?". I can only answer them by saying that it was exactly like what you'd expect a monastery to be like. Everyone would wake up at about 3am for Matins and Liturgy, which lasted until about 6:30am on the weekdays and until about 8am on Sundays. Then it was time for breakfast and then the monks went to rest for a couple of hours. The semantron would sound at about 1pm or so for lunch, and then Vespers began at 5pm followed by trapeza and Compline. Afterwards we would read, talk, or pray until it was time for bed.

That was pretty much it, day in and day out. There really wasn't anything special about the routine at all. What made it special was the monks themselves. Their kindness and their generosity never seemed to end. They were always talking about spiritually uplifting things and always encouraging everyone, whether monk or layman, to enter into the life of the Church through prayer and self- sacrifice. I guess this is why it disturbs me to see so many unfounded rumors being circulated about St. Anythony's. And from "Orthodox" Christians, no less. I've heard all kinds of wild things about the place. Somebody once called me an "Ephraimite" and said they heard that his disciples, monks and laymen, would mix the sweat from Elder Ephraim's feet with the Mysteries when we Commune.

Aside from being disgusting, this is totally untrue and I can't imagine what kind of mind would come up with such a thing. The Elder is quiet, loving, and doesn't like anyone treating him as if he were special. I've seen him refuse to see people whose only purpose for speaking with him is so they can deify him and say he's a saint. It upsets him very much when people treat him that way. He's happier when people just treat him like what he is, a normal human being. Elder Ephraim is a genuine Christian. I can't tell you how many times I've seen him working alone in the heat of the day digging holes to plant the monastery's trees and flowers. In 100 degree weather he labors all day to dig in the practically solid rock of Arizona's desert terrain. To give you an example of what kind of feat this is, let me relate the following. I'm from Florida, originally, and in Florida to dig a hole you simply put the shovel in the ground, step on the top of the head, and push. Within minutes you could dig yourelf halfway to China, so to speak. When I first went to Arizona, when I was in junior high, my dad told me how hard the earth was and how impossible it was to dig a hole. I gave it a try myself. I took the shovel and jammed it towards the ground to get a good firm start. The head of the shovel sparked and skidded across the ground not even making a dent, and Elder Ephraim plants tree after tree, and plant after plant, in this terrain. I've seen him send monks who were tired to go rest while he completes a task like this and he's in his 70's and has steel plates in each of his shins, causing him to walk in sort of a pigeon-toed fashion. He calls himself "bufo" (Greek for "idiot") in front of others all the time. He's one of the kindest people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting.

Most of the rumors I hear about the monastery come from people who have never even been there and have no intention of ever going. When I would suggest to these people that they go there and stay for a while, they always refused, so I can't imagine where they come up with this nonsense about what goes on at St. Anthony's. Yet if the monastery is so bad, it must be happening right under the noses of the hierarchs, clerics, and ascetics from the Holy Mountain who frequent St. Anthony's. Bishop Jovan, formerly the Bishop of Serbia's Western Diocese loves St. Anthony's and has been there more than once. The Serbian parish in Phoenix is always sending people there and I've seen one of their priests there visiting on his own before. The OCA parish in Phoenix as well as the Greek parishes take groups of Orthodox Christians there all the time. Bishop Anthony of the Greek Archdiocese in California goes there quite a bit when he visits Phoenix. Even a television crew came all the way from Hungary to film the monastery one time. I remember having to step over all the cords just to get to a stasidi in the narthex. Fr. Luke Dingman, the iconographer from Ben Lomond has been there, plenty of prominent chanters, Old Calendar clerics and New Calendar clerics, and all of them came happily and left happily. It's still that way today, from what I've heard from our friends who still go there on a regular basis.

The most prominent controversy surrounding the place comes from an Orthodox family that objects to their son's decision to become a monk, despite the fact that he was over 18 when he made his decision and is fully capable of thinking for himself. They've blamed his decision on just about everything but himself. The truth is, it's his decision to make. I've heard them say that the monastery is a cult and that the monks are held there against their will, but I've seen for myself that that's not true. Plus, I know two people personally who were tonsured monks there and then decided the monastic life wasn't for them. Both of them left on their own and one of them still visits from California whenever he can. In fact, his spiritual father is at St. Anthony's, the same one he had when he was a monk. Neither one of these young men (both of them were in their early twenties) was ostracized or condemned for their decision to leave.

I've never seen such a controversy over a group of people so caring and loving. The naysayers act like the monks are holed up in some remote location and force all of the monks to worship Elder Ephraim while forbidding anyone to come or go. My wife and I, along with another family, would go at least once a month (during Lent we went for services three times a week!). Many other people go as often as they can, some travelling all the way from Greece, others using every annual vacation from work to visit for Pascha or St. Anthony's feast day. These pilgrims, over the course of time, became like family to me and my wife. Every Pascha feels like a huge family reunion. I have never felt so at home anywhere else in my life. The atmosphere is one of true brotherly love and is one that I treasure more than anything else. Not just St. Anthony's in particular, but the monks at all of the Elder's monasteries as well. Every time we show up they load us with gifts, pray for us in their Liturgies, feed us for free, and never ask for a thing. They are a source of genuine Orthodox love and doctrine and I wouldn't trade them for the world. I would die for them and my only wish is that every Orthodox Christian has the same chance to experience this love, whether at St. Anthony's or elsewhere, at least once in their lifetime. I have witnessed it change countless souls, including my own, and I know that for as long as they live they will continue to exemplify the Gospel exactly as Christ commanded.

Niphon Smith

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Date sent: Wed, 19 Jan 2005 17:56:13 -0800 (PST)
From: Niphon Smith <-----@yahoo.com>
Subject: Elder Ephraim
To: ------@rlarson.com

Dear Pokrov,

Please do me the kindness of not printing this e-mail, posting it on your site, or displaying my contact information to anyone but yourselves. My spiritual father is Geronda Paisios of St. Anthony's Monastery in Florence, AZ where Elder Ephraim resides currently. My wife and I used to live in Phoenix and the monastery was our parish for at least two years. We went almost every week. I know the monks well, some of them on a personal level, and I know many of the pilgrims who vehemently defend the monastery. I myself spent a long time defending the monastery's actions and, to be frank, was upset with this website in particular for distributing what I considered to be slander about Elder Ephraim.

I am slowly beginning to think that I should change my mind, however. A friend of mine recently came back from Greece where he found out some facts from several people who were personally involved with monks from Elder Ephraim's monasteries or were the family of people who were.

[deleted]

I'll say frankly that those who don't understand Orthodox monasticism and its purpose shouldn't be attacking the monastery verbally and have no right attacking monastic practices. However, I have also noticed those so-called "defenders" of Elder Ephraim calling Pokrov and the parents of some of the monks and nuns "anti-monastic", which they have no right to do. The woman who asked why her daughter would need to take all of her worldly belongings with her to the monastery when monasticism preaches poverty has a valid point.

It's the teaching that's allowed to go on at the monastery in the confessionals and the actions that take place amongst the "in-crowd" at the monastery that is the problem. I was told specifically that if I were ever to achieve holiness I would have to abstain from sexual relations with my wife. My spiritual father would say, "Oh Niphon!" and shake his head when I confessed sins [deleted]. I was afraid to go to confession and only received Communion maybe three times in two years because I wasn't allowed to Commune if I missed my prayer rule which lasted an hour and twenty minutes every day.

[deleted]

There is a man there who is very, very close to Elder Ephraim (Elder Ephraim stayed at his house for months when the monastery in AZ was being built) [deleted] and even though the Abbot has been told, the man is allowed to continue to go there to the monastery. I have been told of at least two families who were leaving Orthodoxy because of this man, one family decided to stay in the end, the other is now non-Orthodox. It's now in fashion amongst my "brethren" to buy land near St. Anthony's and build a home there to be close to the monastery and Elder Ephraim. [deleted] A lot of these people were using their life savings to move there, reportedly, because they have been told that the monastery will be a "safe-haven" during the reign of the Antichrist who Elder Ephraim says is coming in my generation (I'm 27). I was told the same thing, and I used to believe it whole-heartedly. I can't tell you the personal nihilism this caused in me and I was repeatedly told to just accept the "prophecy".

If you "misbehave" and tell the inner workings of the monastery to the wrong people, you get blacklisted. [deleted]

I must say that I had plenty of positive experiences at the monastery and I will tell you that much of what is said about what goes on at the monastery is pure slander.
[editor's note: I later found out that there may be some truth to some of the things that I wholeheartedly believed to be slander at that time]
The sad part is, since people are wasting their time spreading idle lies, the truth of it all is left out and the bad conduct and teaching continues.

I guess in short, what I'm trying to say is that many of the people who have posted their objections on your site and other sites are barking up the wrong tree. If these parents want answers they need to stop asking why their monastic children don't "dance and laugh" anymore and start asking why [deleted] and teachings about "living like an angel" with your wife are allowed to continue at the monastery and why their children would choose to stay at such a place. Is it their own legitimate faith in these teachings that keep them there, or is it fear?

[deleted]

And also, just so you know, my friends and I have brought these matters to the attention of the abbot, my spiritual father, several times and to this day no action has been taken that we know of. The response is always the same. He says, "really? I didn't know", or something to that effect, and things remain the same. I really wish I would find out that I was wrong and that they did do something about these things and I just wasn't told. I don't wish any harm to the monastery, and I'm not writing to you to give you information to attack the monastery with, but I can't stand to see all of these things continue while lives are destroyed and people abandon their faith because their religion is stabbing them in the back.

If you want to, although I still ask that you keep this e-mail private in accord with what I said at the beginning of the e-mail, you can send this e-mail to the parents of the monks or nuns that have contacted you if you think it will help shed some light on what really goes on there. You can give them my e-mail address also if you want to. Thanks for listening, and for what it's worth, I have a lot of respect for your site even though I may not agree with some of those whose articles, or whatever, are posted on it, including the "supporters" of the monastery. Your integrity is shown in the fact that you have links to St. Anthony's website and to Fr. Theologos's side of the story. I hope this e-mail, as poorly written as it is, will help shed some light on things for someone.

In Christ,
Niphon





Mount Athos, Elder Ephraim, Athos in America, Theologos, St. Anthony's Monastery, Father Paisios, Eastern Orthodox