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 and Regina Orthodox Press, both of whom refuse to pull the book from circulation even though they have been repeatedly notified of the teachings it contains and how they are applied by the monastery.
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 directly push this too often. Instead, he 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!
Posts from the Orthodox Indiana List
corroborating my statements