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E-mail I Sent in Response to the Request of The Brotherhood of St. Poimen in 2004

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 Question¯

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

[Their response was eventually posted on the web by Pokrov.org.]


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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