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.
Subject: David Niphon Smith
From: "Symeon -----" <----@inbox.com>
Date: Sat, October 8, 2005 10:58 am
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.
From: "Brotherhood of St. POIMEN" <---@mail.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
As before, we ancourage our readers to consider
voicing their views on this very critical issue. We
are forwarding below our own reply.
[Their response was eventually posted on the web by Pokrov.org.]
From: David M. Smith [----@yahoo.com]
Sent: Sunday, June 27, 2004 9:55 AM
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
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.
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.
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
Date sent: Wed, 19 Jan 2005 17:56:13 -0800 (PST)
From: Niphon Smith <-----@yahoo.com>
Subject: Elder Ephraim
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.
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
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
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
[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?
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.