Mainstream Orthodoxy vs. Ephraimite Fundamentalism

By dogcatcher on October 21st, 2012
  A Synoptical Overview Introduction Several editors of both and websites recognized the need to “package” the issue of the “Ephraimite” movement in an easy to read format. With consultation of Orthodox Clergy and Laity alike, the task was set in motion and resulted in this article. The following is a comparison of main-line Orthodox Christian beliefs and practices as compared to what is being referred to as “Ephraimite” beliefs and practices. Another term for “Ephraimite” that is used synonymously is “fundamentalist”. In the following article, the reader will see how various issues are seen from two different sets of viewpoints. Yet both perspectives claim to be “Athonite” Orthodox Christianity. In other words, both views claim to be representative of the norms and standards of what is seen at monasteries at Mount Athos. Clearly the issues discussed in this article establish to the reader that this is not at all the case. Ephraimite Fundamentalist beliefs and practices are not an accurate representation of all monasteries on Mount Athos. The opinions, representations and statements of fact reflected in this article have been extrapolated from statements and incidents reported to editors of both websites. The issues contained in this one article are not an exhaustive list. Although it is not comprehensive, it presents a wide spectrum of issues and concerns that one must look at. It does in fact raise some very significant concerns with the broad (but powerful) issues brought forth. One can intuitively conclude that monks live a more ascetic and austere life than the average parishioner of a typical Parish in America. The “Ephraimite” brand is now touted as the litmus test to what is pure and true Orthodoxy. The suggestion that parish life is inferior to the fundamentalist perspectives set forth is a grave concern that should prompt one to look at this issue a bit more intensely. People are leaving the Greek Orthodox Church because of this fundamentalism. People are also being very hurt. It is hoped that this simple comparison will bring about a better understanding of the problem in a more reader-friendly version. It is also hoped that this will be addressed by our Church leaders, something which apparently they have yet to do seriously. 1. Athonite Monasticism Mainstream Orthodox Christianity “Athonite” Monasticism has no one particular universal form per se. There are many similarities amongst the 20 different monasteries, and the 12 Sketes on Mount Athos. But they are not carbon copies of one another. The Philotheou Monastery (where Ephraim hails from) is uniquely known to have a more austere and harsh form (e.g. harsher disciplined asceticism to the point of even advocating self-flagellation), and different nuances of beliefs (e.g. Aerial Tollhouses) than the mainstream. Athonite Monasteries typically adhere to what is universally believed in the Orthodox Church. Ephraimite Fundamentalist View Their claim is that their beliefs and practices represent all Athonite Monasteries. Monks and pilgrims of the Holy Mountain have clearly said that this is not the case. Ephraimite Fundamentalists feel that all of the GOA is guilty of the heretical sin of “ecumenism” and that they are here to “restore us” to “pure Athonite Orthodoxy”. It has become an active campaign of proliferation underpinned by the reported fact that they feel the GOA Hierarchy is corrupt. Particularly, they suggest that the GOA Hierarchs are merely administrators, they lack spirituality, and that they have no jurisdiction over what the Ephraimites say or do. In a word, they hold the GOA Hierarch’s authority in contempt. 2. Influencing Visitors Mainstream Orthodox Christianity There are an estimated total of 14,000 visitors per year to the 20 Monasteries and 12 Sketes on the Holy Mountain. This number is from men all over the world that come to visit. The influence made to these pilgrims is one of inspiration and motivation to grow in Christ. Ephraimite Fundamentalist View According to the Ephraimite’s own numbers, St. Anthony’s alone receives about 50,000 visitors per year (St. Anthony’s is only one of the 20 Ephraimite Monasteries in the USA. Total number of visitors to all of Ephraim’s Monasteries is unknown). This number is from men, women, and children from the USA and Canada. On the one hand, these visitors are being influenced to grow in Christ, but on the other hand the problem is that these visitors are being solicited for membership and are being told that their Hierarchs are not teaching the faith properly. Motivating factors such as a fear of Hell and being targets of the Antichrist are typically used to further draw them into the fundamentalist Monasteries. This is coupled with statements of a corrupt Hierarchy in the GOA and that the Monastery alone is the true bastion of pure Orthodoxy. In addition, imprudent marriage counseling and non-universally accepted teachings are being promoted thereby undermining the ministry of the local Parish instead of complementing it. Clearly, these strategically placed monasteries are influencing the many visitors with their brand of Orthodoxy at the expense of the GOA. 3. Burials, Sponsoring Weddings, Exploiting Opportunities Mainstream Orthodox Christianity Athonite Monasteries do not encourage weddings, baptisms and funerals to take place at their respective monasteries. Nor do they pressure people (through fear, intimidation, or pseudo agape) to bury people there. Thus there is no adverse effect upon local Parish communities. Ephraimite Fundamentalist View Baptisms and burials frequently take place at Ephraimite Monasteries. Ephraimite Monasteries seek “membership supporters” from Parishioners of established Parishes, thus giving the laity the sense that they do not have to be members at their Parish, but can be members of the Monastery instead. GOA Parishioners have also been told by leaders of the Ephraimite Monasteries that the Monastery will sponsor the cost of their weddings if the couple becomes a member of the Monastery for life. When burials take place on the Monastery grounds, they are typical done at 2-3 times the costs of burials at a typical cemetery – suggesting that they are using burials for membership drive opportunities and to generate revenue. The families of the deceased are told that this is in the best interest of their departed loved one because the monks will pray for them every day. People should ask, aren’t the monks supposed to do that anyway, regardless of where the deceased are buried? 4. Monastery Revenue Generation Mainstream Orthodox Christianity Athonite Monasteries do not operate mail order businesses. They do not have their monastics cook pastries to be sold at businesses or festivals by the monks themselves. Ephraimite Fundamentalist View Ephraimite Fundamentalist Monasteries have engaged in internet businesses and other businesses to generate revenue. The fundamentalist Ephraimite Monasteries appear to have no problem collecting money, while our local Parishes by and large are struggling. Some of the monasteries of Ephraim have industrial sized kitchen facilities wherein the monks engage in the production of pastries that are sold in businesses, Parish festivals, or other public venues. In some cases, the monks are selling their items themselves. Not only do they sell pastries and other things, but they put monastics in public venues to solicit and erode financial support that compromises the financial revenues of the Parish. Additionally, monastics and their supporters place donation boxes at Orthodox Christian businesses. If the business owner refuses, he/she is diminished and even labeled as “anti-monastic” and “unspiritual”. This is atypical of Athonite Monasticism. If this were the extent of the differences, we wouldn’t be as concerned. Unfortunately, the differences extend to the following: 5. Teachings and Doctrines Mainstream Orthodox Christianity Most Athonite Monasteries do not have teachings that are contrary to what local Parishes and Bishops teach. Those that do have these contrary teachings, they are procedural or innocuous differences that are not dogmatic, and they do not systematically export these beliefs to affect and influence the local Parish. Ephraimite Fundamentalist View Ephraimite Fundamentalist Monasteries teach a number of distorted doctrines. These include teaching that everyone who is not an Orthodox Christian is going to Hell. For that matter, they also believe that not everyone who is Orthodox is going to Heaven either. Who is left to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven? Only they are. Next, there is the false (heretical and gnostic-type) teaching of Aerial Toll Houses (where allegedly the soul must successfully pass through 20 (+/-) Aerial Toll Houses where they are tested by demons. If they fail any test, they are taken to Hell). This is a heresy. It is also a form of Gnosticism because it seduces those who think they are elite or knowledgeable about the faith, by the idea that this is special knowledge that only a select group can fathom and understand. It is a heresy. Some are trying to back-pedal by labeling it as a “metaphor”. But there is still a big problem with that inasmuch as it still places our salvation in the hands of demons, and de-emphasizes the grace of our Lord and the power of the Life-giving Cross. Aside from being an insult to the salvific sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, it is a fear based manipulator. A convenient follow up teaching is that Parishioners should have absolute obedience to their spiritual father (or elder) as this will give them a free pass through all of the Toll Houses, and be “guaranteed” salvation. This smacks of the formula for exploitation and manipulation, not unlike strategies utilized in many cults. Other differences include that married people should only have sex in marriage for the procreation of children, and that other than this, they should live as brother and sister – even to the point of having separate beds. Confessions are typically handled by a Father Confessor asking a laundry list of questions of the entire sexual history of the Confessant, and then unusually harsh penances are given. Some have been told that the only way they can escape Hell is if they become a monastic. Nuns and Abbesses have also been reported to hear Confessions and grant forgiveness or penances. Other differences include that only full immersion submersion baptism is adequate for entry into the Orthodox Christian Church (for infants too), and not only by Chrismation (in the case of converts). People that have converted to Orthodox Christianity via Chrismation only are held at a distance as untouchables of sorts. Some have even suggested that they will go into the Kingdom of Heaven somehow “handicapped” because they are not fully Orthodox. By emphasizing “form” over “content and spirit” one wonders if they are turning liturgics into magic hocus pocus. Priests that were converts via Chrismation are also diminished as not fully Orthodox, and the validity of the sacraments they have celebrated are all questioned. These teachings illustrate some of the fundamentalist beliefs that are now being promoted by Ephraimite Monks, but also promoted in the local Parishes of the GOA by Priests and laymen that are adherents of this “Ephraimite theology”. 6. Other Effects on Local Parish Mainstream Orthodox Christianity Athonite Monasteries do not flagrantly and routinely undermine the local Parish Priest’s ministries. Ephraimite Fundamentalist View Ephraimite Fundamentalist Monasteries and their supporters routinely undermine the local Parish Priest’s ministry by doing the following without his knowledge or blessings: (a) advising the faithful contrary to what their Pastor has advised them (for example, in regards to relationship counseling). (b) Soliciting funds. (c) Having meetings in people’s home to “educate” them on proper Orthodox spirituality. (d) Directing people to have confession with them instead of their Parish Priest. (e)Teaching that “real” Orthodox Priests must have a beard and do the services in Greek. (f)Telling people that their priest is not spiritual. 7. Promoting Monasticism Mainstream Orthodox Christianity Athonite Monasteries do not ,“tell” adults to become monastics. As a matter of fact, they are known to tell someone interested to go back home for a year and test their calling. If they still want to become a monk after this, then they can return and go from there. In that same vein, Athonite Monasteries do not tell parents to direct at least one of their children to become monastics either. For someone to become a monastic there is usually a calling they have for this life, which is tested and scrutinized by the Abbot of the Monastery. At no time do Athonite Monasteries teach that if someone becomes a monk or a nun, they will save 7 generations of their families before them, and after them. These things have been reported at the Ephraimite Fundamentalist Monasteries. Finally, there is no desirable demographic, like “Accountants,” targeted for solicitation to become a monk by Athonite Monasteries. Athonite Monasteries recognize that “the calling” to become a monk comes to different people of different stations in life, indiscriminate of their profession or work. Ephraimite Fundamentalist View It has been reported by many former monastics (and/or families of monks) that Ephraimite Fundamentalist Monasteries place undue pressure and influence to entice people to become a monastic. Interestingly, there have been many “accountants” and other financial professionals that have so been influenced. While this was not a scientific analysis of the professional demographics of those brought into an Ephraimite Monastery, there still stands out these particularly targeted professions. Another interesting fact is that it seems (more often than not) that people in transitional stages in life, primarily those young adults between the ages of 19 – 25, have had undue and great pressure exerted on them to become a monk. (We must highlight that this age group is where the suicide rate is highest, as we saw gravely illustrated with the late former novice monk Scott Nevins suicide at Ephraim’s Arizona Monastery gates on 6/11/12.) When we say “monk” we also include nuns, in that they are monastics also. There have been blatant statements reportedly made to these young adults, such as “your sins are so great, that the only way you can escape Hell is if you become a monk”. Finally, many parents of Monastics have told us that they are afraid to speak out about the Ephraimite Monasteries because they fear their child will be transferred to a monastery far away. 8. Promoting Pre-eminence of Priests and Elders Mainstream Orthodox Christianity Athonite Monasteries do not teach Parishioners that the Priest is higher than the angels and therefore should never be questioned. They do not teach that every endeavor, including where to have a business, or when to have sex must first have the Priest’s (or Elder’s) blessing. Athonite Monasteries accept the validity of the Chrismation of a convert – including converts that subsequently became Priests. They accept the validity of sacraments celebrated by convert Priests (duly received) and do not insist on the use of the Greek language. Athonite Monasteries have more of a harmonious coexistence with the local Parish and do not seek to usurp the local pastor’s ministry. Ephraimite Fundamentalist View Ephraimite Fundamentalists teach that the Priest should never be questioned because he is higher than the angels, and that personal or business decisions should have the Priest’s or Elder’s blessing (including where to locate a business or when married people should have sexual relations). This is carried over and promoted in the local Parishes by Priests who subscribe to the ways of the Ephraimite Fundamentalists. Parish Councils are diminished by the influences of the Ephraimite disposed Priest. Eventually, entire Parish Councils become filled with “yes-men”. Unnecessary over-spending at the behest of the Priest for unnecessary religious items occurs unchallenged, while the financial base of the Parish withers away because of the dwindling number of members. In addition, Ephraimite Fundamentalists teach that a Priest must have a beard and use the Greek language in celebrating the sacraments, otherwise the legitimacy of his Priesthood and the sacraments he performs are both held suspect, and he is accused of “not being spiritual”. Ephraimite Fundamentalist Clergy have actually placed in their Parish Bulletins and Newsletters, articles and teachings that promote Ephraimite Fundamentalism. An example of which is the Ephraimite Priest that published that people should have blind and absolute obedience to the Elder, Abbot, or Priest even if he is caught fornicating, drunk, or if he beats you. This is a proven incident in one of our parishes that we know of. Finally, Ephraimite Fundamentalist clergy have been reported to have gone swimming in their cassocks. As rare as this is, it is still a testament to the extreme nature of this fundamentalism. 9. Imposing Monastic Rules upon Laymen Mainstream Orthodox Christianity This section overlaps a bit with the previous, but has some distinctions. Athonite Monasteries understand that local Parishioners of churches are not monks and therefore logically should not be expected to live, look, and fast like monks. While they want people to grow in Christ, and to have higher standards for themselves, they do not insist on pressuring laymen to mimic the appearance or engage in all of the actions of a tonsured monk, nor to subscribe (as a mandate) to harsh fasting disciplines. While Athonite Monks may have their own views, they do not insist on mandating them to laymen (for example, how to dress, who to have as friends or when a married couple may have sexual relations). Ephraimite Fundamentalist View Ephraimite Fundamentalists impose the harshest of fasting rules and the harshest of penances upon local Parishioners (and their children too) as a mandate and litmus test of their Orthodoxy. If the local Parish Priest disagrees with these directions given by the Ephraimite proponents, then he is labeled as not spiritual enough and/or not a true Priest. Not only are Parishioners turned against their local Priest, but if one spouse wishes to adhere to the Ephraimite Fundamentalist beliefs, but the other does not, the spouse that adheres to Ephraimite teachings is advised to divorce the other spouse. Again, these statements are all made from actual reported incidents. Converts are taught that they must be completely re-baptized – even if they were formerly baptized and raised in a recognized related faith, for example, Catholicism. Formerly Catholic Laymen who were re-baptized have even been told by their GOA Priest who follows Ephraim to not tell anyone so that they do not get in trouble with their “unspiritual Metropolitan”. Parish Priests that are followers of Ephraim repeatedly impose harsh fasting rules and harsh penances to adults and children alike. Elderly adults, or those with serious illnesses, have been told by their GOA Priest who follows Ephraim that they are not allowed to take their doctor’s prescribed critical medication if they wish to have Holy Communion that day. Ephraimite Fundamentalists have even told children in their Parish’s parochial school to do prostrations daily so their parents will not go to Hell. Females of all ages are being taught to enter the church with a head-covering; otherwise it is deemed highly inappropriate. These are atypical of Athonite Monasticism (to impose on local parish life). 10. Exclusivity and non-exclusivity Mainstream Orthodox Christianity Athonite Monasteries believe in “seeking the sheep that was lost”. In other words, there is an emphasis placed on attempting to reach out to those outside the community to bring them back. It emphasizes love, but not at the expense of reducing the standards of the faith. People that disagree with them are not met with intensely fierce negative actions. Ephraimite Fundamentalist View Ephraimite Fundamentalists proclaim that “if you are not Orthodox enough, go away”. In other words, whoever does not live by the teachings and standards “they” abide by, will be rebuked, shunned and diminished. This is not only for those who live a wayward life, but also those who are truly serious about their faith, just not the way the Ephraimite Fundamentalists see it. Anyone outside their fold is seen to be doomed to Hell and thought of as corrupt and heretical, if not an agent of the Devil himself. As mentioned earlier, Ephraimite Fundamentalists believe that whoever is not involved in “the Ephraimite fundamentalist brand” of Orthodoxy is going to Hell. Those who attempt to reason with Ephraimite Fundamentalists are again thought to be agents of the Devil, who sent them to trick the faithful into giving up their souls. People who speak out against the Ephraimite Fundamentalist ways have become targets of intense slander and malignment, and in some cases, threats. 11. The Mental Health Profession. Mainstream Orthodox Christianity Athonite Monasteries do not typically disparage and dismiss recognized authorities of the Mental Health Profession. Rather, they recognize the value of the therapeutic advice and counseling as a God given therapy (which is not to say that all practitioners are perfect, any more than all Clergy and Laity are perfect). Ephraimite Fundamentalist View Ephraimite adherents believe that there is no need for the Mental Health profession. They absolutely dismiss any mental health issues (psychologically or biologically born). They teach that all you need to do is have absolute obedience to your spiritual father, or an elder, and you will be fine. This is a testament to the militancy and blind arrogance of the Ephraimite Fundamentalists. Conclusion These are just a few of the differences between the mainline Orthodox Christian Church as compared to the Ephraimite Fundamentalist adherents. This is not an exhaustive list, but it does provide a broad overview of the major differences – all of which have been based on actual reported incidents. There is overlap where both might see things the same. In some instances, we might see a mainline view as fundamental, but these are the exceptions. In the case of the Ephraimites, fundamentalism is the norm. Ephraimite Fundamentalism threatens the message and wellness of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Orthodox Church universally.