By dogcatcher on February 25th, 2012


Personal Reflections on my Experience with Ephraimites and My Fortunate Encounter with the book Orthodox Fundamentalists: A Critical View by John W. Morris

If you asked me a couple years ago if I thought a schism would occur in our Greek Orthodox Church, I would have called you crazy. Now, unfortunately, that seems to be the path we are on due to a fundamentalist movement which is occurring within our Archdiocese, in our Metropolises and especially on the local Parish level.
There was a time when the laity would faithfully resort to their clergy for guidance and help. Times have changed and now the laity must be very careful about whom they confide in or to whom they make their confession. Their decision will depend on whether they are aware of the real agenda of what now seems to be half of the priests in the Chicagoland area. These priests direct their laity to teachings from a monk who goes by the name of Elder Ephraim in Arizona. He persuades his followers to live a monastic lifestyle. While monasticism is an integral part of our faith, instructing the laity to live this lifestyle is not only detrimental to them but also to our Church. His teachings specifically include but are not limited to the following practices: self-flagellation, blind obedience, aerial toll houses, and instructing spouses to live together as siblings.

This situation has hit home for me because I personally have seen what damage can be done by these fundamentalists blindly following the teachings of Elder Ephraim. No names are mentioned here, but the facts of one such instance must be made clear. A once flourishing parish in Chicago has been torn apart, making once close friends act like strangers towards one another. The new Ephraimite Priest came into that Parish, turned everything upside down and started to distance himself from the longtime Parish members that were trying to “show him the ropes” at that Parish and help him succeed. He clearly did not want nor like the help offered him. In fact, he openly stated during one of his sermons that there are some people at the parish being led by Satan and that we should let them go. Is this what a parishioner should hear from his or her parish priest, or any priest for that matter? Orthodox fundamentalists use, among other tactics, the fear of Satan to complete their agenda when in fact our Orthodox religion is based on the love and life of our savior Jesus Christ and trust and faith in God. The Ephraimite teachings show little resemblance to the Orthodox faith I and I am sure most other Greek Orthodox believers were raised with in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. According to these fundamentalists, the Elder and his priests are the necessary causeway that will bring a person to his or her salvation.

After researching and thinking about this fundamentalist movement, I discovered a book written by Archpriest John Morris called Orthodox Fundamentalists: A Critical View. Morris, John W. Orthodox Fundamentalists: A Critical View. Minnesota: Light & Life Publishing, 1997. Print. I found his book to be very eye-opening and it hit very close to home. In it, Archpriest John Morris touches on a number of topics, which include why fundamentalism is a problem in Orthodoxy, Ecumenism, the very real and ongoing controversies regarding baptism, the Julian vs. Gregorian Calendar argument, and how “modernism” plays a role. It is important to point out that when this book was written in 1997, Morris identified three fundamentalist movements that were currently operating within the Orthodox faith. The fundamentalist movement that is the subject of this articIe is:
“Well meaning sincere Orthodox Christians searching for a deeper relationship with God (who) sometimes fall under the influence of Orthodox fundamentalism because they lack sufficient maturity in the Faith to distinguish between customs which have changed through the centuries and the unchanging Holy Tradition of the Church.” (Morris 10-11).

We currently call these people Ephraimites.
As I previously stated, Orthodoxy focuses on the love of Jesus Christ. Archpriest John states that the fundamentalists have rejected the modern world and they concern themselves with “externals such as beards, nineteenth century clerical attire, or adherence to specific calendar” (Morris 4-5) and if someone strays from this “norm” the fundamentalists believe that he/she is being led by Satan. They refuse to recognize that other Christians teach at least part of the truth and the unfortunate consequence is that they have turned their brand of religion into a sect/cult of Orthodoxy. Archpriest John states:
“They see threats to Orthodoxy everywhere in even the most innocent changes. Thus if an Orthodox priest shaves, or wears a Western clerical collar on the street, they consider him a modernist. If an Orthodox bishop believes that the Church should enter into dialogue with non-Orthodox, they call him an ecumenist… [t]hey accuse those who make even the slightest changes in these customs of betraying the Faith of the Fathers.” (Morris 4-5).

Much like Archpriest John’s experiences with Orthodox fundamentalists, many Chicagoans have found it nearly impossible to have discussions with these fundamentalists. When someone disagrees with an Orthodox fundamentalist, the fundamentalist becomes mean-spirited, very judgmental, and accuses the person of being led by Satan.

As if Orthodox fundamentalists weren’t causing enough problems, they also believe, contrary to what Orthodox authorities have ruled, that converts to the faith must be re-baptized even if they were baptized with water “in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” As stated in the canons, required baptism for converts is only for those “coming into the Church from heresies that reject the Orthodox doctrine of the Trinity” (Morris 40) and “those coming into the Church from groups who possess at least a proper form of baptism, and a Trinitarian theology that is, at best, basically Orthodox, may be received into the Church though Chrismation.” (Morris 40). The new converts must also renounce their former non-Orthodox teachings. Nowhere in official church doctrine does it say that the converts must be re-baptized if they haven’t met the criteria mentioned above.

Another problem the fundamentalists have with baptism is that they believe that if the person getting baptized has not been fully immersed, they have not been baptized correctly and must be re-baptized the “correct way.” This teaching is also wrong. One of the most ancient descriptions of baptism, found in The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, states that if immersion is not possible one may baptize by pouring (Morris 48).

Which calendar to use, the Julian or the Gregorian, has become a hot topic for Orthodox fundamentalists; they believe that the Julian Calendar is the only “correct” calendar and that the Gregorian Calendar “signifies an acceptance of Papal Authority and a heretical form of ecumenism” (Morris 57). They state that the acceptance of the New Calendar (Gregorian Calendar) “disrupts the liturgical life of the Church” (Morris 57). Julius Caesar set out to create a calendar but he required the help of his advisor, Sosigenes. Sosigenes, having incomplete information, miscalculated the true length of a solar year and created a calendar that over the centuries veered from the true solar year by 13 days. Julius Caesar introduced the calendar to the Roman Empire in 46 B.C., and it became known as the Julian Calendar (Morris 57). The only reason the early Church Fathers and the ancient Church used it was because they lived in the Roman Empire at the time. In 1582, Pope Gregory recalculated the solar year and devised a calendar to fix this problem which became the Gregorian Calendar. Some Orthodox churches began to adopt this calendar in the 1920’s, which is when the fundamentalists argue was the beginning of “the departure from ‘true Orthodoxy’”. (Morris 57). Orthodox canon law was not violated when Churches switched to the New Calendar (Gregorian) because the councils that had rejected the Gregorian Calendar were not Ecumenical Councils. “Since the last Ecumenical counsel met in 787, no Ecumenical Council ever ratified their decisions.”(Morris 59-60). Since they had last met in 787, “their authority was limited to that specific place and that specific time” (Morris 59-60).

The Orthodox fundamentalists are very quick to label someone as a “modernist,” but what they consider modernism is “any departure, no matter how small, from the customs of the past” (Morris 65). Archpriest John goes on to give an example of exactly how far the fundamentalists will go. He tells the story of a fundamentalist creating a “Modernism Test” to show how far the Ephraimites believe certain groups have fallen from true Orthodoxy. The test contained forty-four “characteristics” of modernism. For example:
“If a priest has short hair, he is a modernist. If a parish has pews, it is modernist. If the celebrant does not follow the Russian practice of opening and closing the Holy Doors and drawing the curtain during the Divine Liturgy, he is guilty of innovation. If a clergyman does not wear a cassock at all times even when shopping at the K Mart, he is not faithful to the Holy Tradition of the Church” (Morris 65).

As Morris points out, what the fundamentalists fail to realize is that there is a difference between Holy Tradition and the evolution of customs. (Morris 65). Take fasting as an example, fundamentalists are very strict when it comes to fasting and look down upon and judge those who they consider to be “laidback” in their fasting. The whole point of fasting is to grow spiritually and have humility, not to judge others. (Morris 70-71). Fundamentalists, along with anyone else, have no earthly or spiritual authority to judge others; only our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ can judge and save us.

This very well written book by Archpriest John Morris provides eye opening insights into the bizarre thought process of Orthodox fundamentalists, from their cult-like mindset to their obscene baptism rules and everything in-between. Anyone who is interested or concerned about what Orthodox fundamentalism is about should give this book a read. The mindsets of the people talked about in this book are eerily similar to what we are experiencing here in Chicago today. The first step is realizing there is a problem and this book does a great job of describing the warning signs to the readers.
Anyone interested in ordering the book Orthodox Fundamentalists: A Critical View by John W. Morris can contact the publisher Light and Life Publishing directly at:
Light & Life Publishing
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Minneapolis, MN. 55416

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