Remember History

By dogcatcher on January 4th, 2016

Editor’s Notes:

The long unaddressed Ephraimite issue, the unilateral removal of George Karcazes from the Stewardship Committee of the Saints Peter and Paul Parish, the continued gross mismanagement of Greek Orthodox Church in the Metropolis of Chicago, a propensity for vindictiveness by those who are ordained to lead their flock, as well as a number of egregious actions and inactions has caused one of our Editors to take pen in hand to write this article. The author, generally a very thoughtful and reflective individual, has seen enough!

We asked one of our Clergy editors to review the article. Instead of placing his thoughts here, they will appear at the end. Therefore, here is yet another Greek Orthodox Christian’s view of the current conditions of our beloved, but disintegrating Church:

Priests going off the reservation!
(REPEATING HISTORY)

The philosopher George Santayana is often quoted in his famous aphorism “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This should be remembered by those in the Greek Orthodox Church, and especially those in the Archdiocese of America, who think the Ephraimite problem is something new.

The American author and teacher Joseph Campbell has written many books on myths, the power of symbolism, and the power of myths to give meaning to events in our lives. In a posthumously published work (“Romance of the Grail”, J. Campbell, New World Library, Novato CA, (2015), about the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, pages 24-25, reproduced below as Appendix 1), Campbell provides a two-minute history of the early Church, the suppression of the Pelagian and Donatist heresies and sets forth the historical state of the Christian Church, still unified, in the third to eleventh centuries. His take on the Priests of the late Middle ages was not very complimentary:

“So here we have as the official doctrine the absolute necessity of the sacraments for salvation, since man cannot save himself, because we have inherited original sin and that is only overcome by Christ and Christ’s virtue, which is communicated to man only through the sacraments. This doctrine stipulates the absolute necessity of man accepting the sacraments from the Church, which is the only authorized organization to administer them, and stipulates as well the absolute freedom of the clergy to behave any way it wanted in administering the sacraments. That may have been all right in the fifth century and sixth centuries, but by the twelfth century the clergy had become notoriously immoral. Pope Innocent III himself called his clergy a sty of swine. Their behavior was disgraceful, and yet these men held the keys to heaven, and everyone had to submit to them.” “Romance of the Grail”, J. Campbell, New World Library, Novato, CA, p. 25 (2015).

It can only be a recipe for disaster when Priests are the interpreters of the extent of their own power over people in spiritual matters, and when they are beholden neither to normal scriptural and ethical bounds nor to hierarchical commands from Church leaders. This recipe for disaster has been cooked in Florence Arizona, and in many other places in the US and Canada. Some modern Priests and Monks who follow the Elder Ephraim are repeating the history of apparently unbridled power over unsuspecting young people and the elderly to their own ends.

The recent Ephraimite problem is a direct reflection of that historical problem. The extent of the problem and the real detrimental effect on the GOA community was noted by others many years ago, and has been the subject of many articles and discussions. For example, Fr. Evagoras Constantinides of blessed memory (see his bio at: http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/affiliates/rca/biography/constantides_evagoras) published a very insightful and prescient article in 2004. In it, he questioned the function and effect of the Ephraimite monasteries on the Greek Orthodox community, especially the teens, and the role that Monks and monasteries historically served to that community. It is reproduced as completely as it is available below as Appendix 2, (it is not available on-line digitally), and the most telling excerpts are quoted here:

What is “the reason why the famous monasteries on Mt. Athos and the rest of the world were established? The reason Monks went there is to get away from the world, not to attract the world to them. This may be the case with the Ephraimite monasteries in America, but this was not, and is not, the purpose of the monasteries.
Monasticism, much as the Priesthood, is a calling, a spontaneous longing to devote one’s self completely to God through abstinence, prayer, fasting, renunciation of the world, poverty, profound humility and service, not the result of recruiting impressionable and unsuspecting teenagers or disillusioned life sojourners, as the Ephraim monasteries are doing in America, in order to man their monasteries. Nor should the Monks and nuns lose their individual will and freedom upon entering. Obedience yes, slavery, no! Nor should they go to the monasteries to become recluses or incommunicado and to sever all relations with the outside world.” (Emphasis added by previous editors.)

He goes on to deride the “palaces in the desert (Florence, AZ) or in the prairie (Pleasant Prairie, WI)” and asks the pertinent question of what exactly is the purpose of these monasteries built by the cult movement of Elder Ephraim. The interested reader is invited to read the complete text of the article as it appeared in the Orthodox Christian News Service (USA) in 2004 (see Appendix 2 below).

We must return to our topic here where we left off with the following two main arguments:

1. It is easy for a religious follower who has devoted his life to the faith to believe as result of their faith and their devotion that he or she has a “hot line” to God superior in authenticity to those who are in material world (and perhaps those in the material world who are not fundamentalist in their practice of the faith through the parish life that has ‘lost its way in the decadent society of Western values’).
2. It is also possible — as it has happened in the past during the late middle ages — for Priests who are schooled in the art of persuasion and who hold the power of dispensing salvation to only those adherents of the cultic worship of Elder Ephraim, to achieve a status in their own estimation that they are infallible and can control their followers’ lives, without needing to answer to anyone else, including God.

The question begs itself as to how can faithful Christians defend themselves against these repeated transgressions of their faith? It is the contention of this writer that we are at the same cross-roads as those people who strained to find some guidance in the romantic tales of the 1100’s when faced with Priestly arrogance. When the accepted theology was the “absolute necessity of [believers] accepting the sacraments from the Church, which is the only authorized organization to administer them, and stipulates as well the absolute freedom of the clergy to behave any way it wanted in administering the sacraments,” conflict can only ensue when those Priests (or Monks) go on a wayward path, removed from the scriptures and any hierarchical wisdom or accountability. When the communities of the Western Christian nations found themselves bedeviled by a clergy who took advantage of, and indeed preyed on, the people who trusted them, they acted in one of the only ways permitted consistent with retaining their head and remaining within the faith. Their solution was to create a seemingly fictional allegorical tale, the quest for the Grail.

According to Campbell, the Grail can be interpreted by the reader in various ways. One interpretation is that the Grail was a quest for certainty in the word of God that was true to the word of the Lord and independent of the influence of the wayward Priests of the era. Although a fictional tale, the many different versions and the widespread popularity of the tale for quest for the Grail indicates the resonance it had with the elites of the era (few people could read and those who could were usually limited to the Priests and the nobility). The resonance is more than a mere fad. It reflects more the deep faith of the people who wanted to believe in a kind and loving God, but were prevented from doing so by the corrupt religious system of the times.

How the Christian Church survived these practices in the Middle Ages should be instructive to us now. The lay members of the community resisted the corruption in the Western Catholic Church with ideas about education and the true meaning of what it is to be a Christian. Out of those battles, and sometimes they were literally battles, the West attained the Enlightenment, the Reformation, freedom of religious thought and a new spiritualism that was centered on an individual search for salvation. More to the point, the spiritual journey is to be guided by spiritual guides who are only conduits of God’s word, rather than the final word, as to what one must do to attain salvation. The guide is there to only point out the path to the ultimate goal; it is up to the follower to proceed in that direction.

Where are modern Greek Orthodox today and what are they to do when faced with religious zealots who have attained their own truth of the Lord’s word and preach that their way (however misguided) is the “true and only” path to salvation? What can we learn from the battles fought in the last millennium by the Western Church when faced with new heresies? These include among others: the veneration of the Elder Ephraim as if he were more important than the Christ (to the extent of being an Elder Ephraim- and not Christ- centered faith), “toll houses” where the demons extract their selections leaving the ‘leftovers’ for Christ and Salvation, acquisitive Monks who see deeply religious and spiritual youth as pawns to be used to add riches to their coffers, attempts to wrest control of the Church by division and conflict in the parishes, use of the elderly only as a monetary resource for their ends, etc. A reading of selected articles on this website will remind discerning readers of the different heretical streams of thought.

How do we, as thinking Christians, thwart the desires of a Monk class who consider themselves and their movement “holy” and “outside” the material world, but who profit from extensive proceeds derived from their manipulations of observant people within the material world? Fr. Evagoras claimed in 2004 that these monasterial institutions have become “big businesses manufacturing everything you can possibly imagine, and endlessly asking the people to give in order to build unneeded expensive buildings, and cemeteries to impress the visitors and satisfy their ego.” What have they become now, when we hear accusations of high speed stock trading manipulations by a company that was funded by the monasteries? See:

http://www.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303563304579445381552266144?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052702303563304579445381552266144.html
Where do we stand now and what can we do about this burgeoning problem now that the information regarding their practices and methods are in the news?

This writer’s answer is to be guided by ideas of freedom of thought, individual exploration of one’s spirituality, and the ability to debate and disagree, if needed, with those who “have all the answers” or offer guaranteed salvation. This means that one can take a position different from that of the local parish Priest, and different from the church hierarchy, without fearing removal from positions within the church organizations, without becoming a target of vindictive retaliation by hierarchs that would be actionable in a court of law if these same acts were performed by a lay employer.

Educate the young about their own faith, about what we do and do not believe, rather than regurgitate parables. Show them that religious belief is in the way of spirituality as a quest, much as King Arthur’s knights sought to find the Grail. Teach them that they cannot receive “wisdom” (or guaranteed salvation) from an Elder in Arizona who has little if any knowledge of how things operate in today’s world. That, as well as the ability to share information with others not associated with Ephraim’s monasteries are all crucial to avoiding sins perpetrated on the faithful in the past. Most important is the exposure to information and ideas of others beyond the Monkish class and to test those ideas against each other to find their own truth, not the truth that is handed down from Elders of questionable authority.

These are one writer’s suggestion as to how our Orthodox Church can be brought forward to the 21st Century. Be open to others’ ideas, be truthful, follow the scriptures and church canons, encourage debate and information to be disseminated to ALL, including the education of the faithful in the concrete doctrines of our faith.
If we do not act, what are the consequences? Many stewards of local parishes are telling us that the churches are already losing members who have been stalwart supporters over many decades. Those leaving the church to go where their devotion is met with understanding, those so discouraged by the inability of leadership to act to save what remains of the church faithful, those who are so disgusted by the corruption and cronyism rampant in some jurisdictions (Chicago comes to mind), all those who are turning away form the faith of their parents are crying out for some solace, some indication from the hierarchy that these problems are being addressed. Until the leaders of our faith in positions of authority within the church, in the US, in Constantinople and throughout the world stand up and openly address these issues, the church as we now know it will continue to shrink in stewardship until the remaining locations of worship are limited to the cultic centers loyal to Elder Ephraim.

[Our Clergyman’s view of this article:

“Whatever happened to the paradigm of Priests being loving shepherds that gently guide the faithful toward Christ? Whatever happened to the idea that the Priest should have so much love for his flock that he would leave the 99 and seek out the one that was lost? Too often today we hear of Priests being the ones that banished those who do not see things his way (This same scenario seems to be playing out in Tucson, Arizona). Instead of hearing tales of deeds noble and right, we hear tales of Priests that are either indiscreet, or tales where Priests appear more like a frustrated Perry Mason instead of a selfless loving father. Whatever happened to a Priest just loving his people? For that matter, the same can be said for our hierarchs.”]

Appendix 1

“Constantine became emperor in the early fourth century, he recognized Christianity as one of the religions of the Roman world, but then shortly thereafter Theodosius I declared that Christianity was the only religion permitted. The great classical temples were torn down. These vestiges of pagan temples that we see all over the Near East and Europe did not come to be ruins by accident. The burning of the library in Alexandria, the closing of the classical philosophical schools in Athens: all these things followed.

“Meanwhile, Christian doctrine presented great theological problems, and these were resolved ·in that series of fourth-, fifth-, and early sixth- century councils of Chalcedon, Ephesus, Constantinople, and so on. I am referring to the problems of the relationship of the Son to the Father, and the Holy Ghost to his Father and Son, the problem of the birth of God-was Mary the Mother of God, or was she the mother merely of Jesus? Did Jesus become the vehicle at the time of baptism or at conception?-and whatnot. All these difficult and intricate problems were decided by councils of Levantine bishops. There were hardly any European participants in these debates.

“The center of gravity of the Roman Empire shifted to Constantinople. Constantinople was an Asian city, not a European one, and the European world fell into a very miserable second place. Of course, the European Roman Empire fell only a generation and a half after its conversion to Christianity, and it was Augustine’s problem in The City of God to rationalize this disaster. Augustine was a North African, so again we have a non-European perspective.

“Meanwhile, a number of heresies were flourishing, two of which
are most important for our present point. One is the Pelagian heresy. Pelagius was an Irish Monk (here we are in Europe), and the crux of the Pelagian heresy was this: that no one can inherit the sin of another. Consequently, humankind had not inherited the sin of Adam, there is therefore no value in the doctrine of original sin, and therefore man does not have to be saved from original sin. Man can save himself; he does not need the sacraments.

“Pelagius believed that having Christ as a model was of great benefit to the Christian world because through that model, the individual could be inspired to that act of will that enables one to release oneself from the darkness of ignorance. But it is not through vicarious grace gained by the Crucifixion of Christ that the individual is to be saved: it is through that person’s own will.

“This, then, was the first great heresy that Augustine launched himself against. Without original sin, without the inheritance of original sin, the whole doctrine of the necessity for the incarnation is in trouble. But from that individualistic standpoint, with which I have identified Europe, it’s impossible to think of this racial heritage of sin, and so we’re in a situation there. That’s the first point.

“The second great heresy was known as the Donatist heresy, which, although it accepted the necessity of the sacraments, argued that sacraments administrated by an unworthy Priest do not work. This brought up a terribly difficult problem because it rendered the administration of sacraments questionable all the time: Who knew what the moral condition of the Priest was? And again Augustine let go at Donatist heresy with the doctrine of the incorruptibility of the sacraments: that regardless of the Priest’s character, the sacrament works.

“So here we have as the official doctrine the absolute necessity of the sacraments for salvation, since man cannot save himself, because we have inherited original sin and that is only overcome by Christ and Christ’s virtue, which is communicated to man only through the sacraments. This doctrine stipulates the absolute necessity of man accepting the sacraments from the Church, which is the only authorized organization to administer them, and stipulates as well the absolute freedom of the clergy to behave any way it wanted in administering the sacraments. That may have been all right in the fifth century and sixth centuries, but by the twelfth century the clergy had become notoriously immoral. Pope Innocent III himself called his clergy a sty of swine. Their behavior was disgraceful, and yet these men held the keys to heaven, and everyone had to submit to them.

“Now, this question of a clergy misbehaving and forcing beliefs on people brought about a condition that was spiritually terrible, . . . .”

“Romance of the Grail”, J. Campbell, New World Library, Novato, CA, pp. 24-5 (2015).

Appendix 2

“Author: Fr. Evagoras Constantinides
Date Published: 02/04/2004
Publication: Orthodox Christian News Service (USA)

A letter was received by Mrs. Fanny Pappas from a lady who follows the Ephraimite monasteries but does not understand Monasticism, in answer to the letter which Mrs. Fanny Pappas sent to His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios and their Eminences, all the Metropolitans of our Church in America. It was published in the Greek Star on October 30, 2003, about her plight with her daughter and the monastery of St. John Chrysostom in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin.
I find most of the statements in this letter ludicrous, naive, even insulting to the clergy. She states: “Why should we pour millions of dollars into these monasteries? Because they are there to serve me, and the rest of the people. I have spent days in various monasteries when I needed the solitude to reflect and ‘recharge’ which is something I could not do in a regular parish community.”
How sad that the lady cannot find a parish community church, or any church for that matter, in which to pray and “recharge” and she needs a 10 million dollar monastery to do it! Perhaps reading Matthew 5, 6 might give her a better solution. Also, is that really the reason why the famous monasteries on Mt. Athos and the rest of the world were established? The reason Monks went there is to get away from the world, not to attract the world to them. This may be the case with the Ephraimite monasteries in America, but this was not, and is not, the purpose of the monasteries.

Monasticism, much as the Priesthood, is a calling, a spontaneous longing to devote one’s self completely to God through abstinence, prayer, fasting, renunciation of the world, poverty, profound humility and service, not the result of recruiting impressionable and unsuspecting teenagers or disillusioned life sojourners, as the Ephraim monasteries are doing in America, in order to man their monasteries. Nor should the Monks and nuns lose their individual will and freedom upon entering. Obedience yes, slavery, no! Nor should they go to the monasteries to become recluses or incommunicado and to sever all relations with the outside world.

And the lady goes on to insult the clergy by stating, “some clergy are openly critical of our monasteries, and it mystifies me. As a teacher I can only explain it to the fact that their training was inadequate or maybe they skipped class and didn’t study church history.”

Actually, not “some clergy” but most clergy are openly critical of the Ephraim monasteries. Not because they didn’t study Church history or don’t believe in monasticism, but because they see true monasticism flagrantly trampled on in the luxurious and auspicious “palace in the desert” and the “palace in the prairie”.

What follows will tell you what true monasticism is.
Here is what the Orthodox Ethical and Religious Encyclopedia writes: “The first form of the monastic life was that of the anchorite, born in Egypt during the persecution of Decius (249-251 AD). During the days of St. Anthony five thousand anchorites flooded the desert of Nitria and surroundings who, despising the harshness of the desert and the penance, and life of the burning sand with just water and dry bread, became the propagators of this practice of the Church. They live in isolation, and only on Sundays or other great holidays, did they go to the nearest church to pray with others and receive communion. And when they were in need of counsel, they visited St. Anthony or any other Elder. They managed by themselves for prayer, shelter, raiment, food and work. They submitted themselves to all kinds of hardships and deprivations and gave themselves to uninterrupted prayer and the strictest of fasts; they truly lived an angelic life. But it was impossible for these extremes not to end in superstitions, falsehoods and spiritual ailments. We find many examples of anchorites who, in their effort to attain the ultimate Christian perfection, many times arrived at entirely opposite results. St. John Chrysostom mentions in his books to Stageirios, a Monk who, thinking that he was motivated by the devil, committed suicide. Other anchorites went insane, and others went into lengthy periods of sleep in order to combat their carnal desires. In the life of St. Pachomios, and St. Neilos, among other aberrations of the monastic life are mentioned cases where Monks threw themselves on the rocks while in ecstasy or, driven by internal temptations and unable to overcome them, stabbed themselves in the chest or in the abdomen or, threw themselves down from the high rocks, convinced that, in this way, they were dying the death of martyrdom.

This form of the hermetic life was not destined to last for long, as long as it was not under the strict control of the Church. The anchorite life should be replaced as soon as possible because, not only did it not cover all the demands of the Christian message, but was also hard, since it demanded from the very beginning that the Monk (or the nun nowadays) arrives at the ideal of monastic perfection, without any previous training. “Thus came about the cenobitic life for all Monks or nuns to live together in one building, introduced by St. Pachomios in Egypt, in the 4th century AD and fully developed by St. Basil, 378 AD.
“The deeper purpose of the development of the cenobitic life was to bring the Monk in contact with his fellow Monks, and his fellow man, so that he might become a factor in philanthropic activity. This initiated the understanding that ‘neighbor’, one’s fellow man, constitutes the foundation of the salvation of the Monk…..
“Characteristic was the philanthropic activity of the Monks in the ancient Church. The Monks contributed greatly to the social action of the ancient Church, especially from the 4th century AD, onwards when, through the massive conversions to Christianity, the needs of the Christians increased greatly. All the monastic centers constituted hearths of philanthropic radiance, and the local monasteries were oases of hospitality and assistance to the poor and weak…..
“In accordance with the teaching of St. Basil the Great, the Monks should come down from the mountains and out of the deserts to the cities, in order to set up philanthropic centers there. The direction of these establishments would be in the hands of the Monks who were called, “fathers of the orphans”. St. John Chrysostom also mentions that in every monastery there were poor and sick people who received brotherly affection and care from the Monks…
“Without overlooking the theoria (intellectual apprehension) to which the Christian philology and piety owes so much, it is important to stress the element of social activity. Indeed, the Monks are occupied with theoria and struggle for the redemption of their souls but, in parallel, they seek the spiritual and physical salvation of the neighbor. As St. Anthony writes in The Life of St. Athanasios, the Monks must constitute not only the “scene which is filled with divine choruses of those chanting, fasting, praying and rejoicing in the hope of future blessings”, but also “the scene of the scholarly, those working works of charity, with love, understanding and mutual agreement”.

“Ascetic writings should be produced. By this term we mean the writings in which the ascetic life is praised, defined and regulated, or those containing biographies and collections of the sayings of great ascetics”.
How much of the above do you see in the 16 Ephraimite monasteries? Instead of being centers of monastic devotion, help and assistance to their fellow man, “in the world, but out of the world”, they have become big businesses manufacturing everything you can possibly imagine, and endlessly asking the people to give in order to build unneeded expensive buildings, and cemeteries to impress the visitors and satisfy their ego.
And what can one say about the cultic teachings of Elder Ephraim and his followers about marriage, the afterlife, confession, etc.

Should people donate to these monasteries? It is their individual right, and it should depend on the purpose for which these monasteries exist. What service do they render? How do they effect their lives? Should Miss Pappas have taken all her furniture, belongings and money to the monastery with her? That’s her right, but we must remember that the great ascetics and hermits and Fathers who went to the desert gave everything to the poor first, before doing so, they took nothing with them. And that’s exactly what our Lord always told His followers, “give everything to the poor and follow me”.
To donate money to the Ephraim monasteries so that he can build “palaces in the desert or in the prairie”, and not donate to one’s own church, or the IOCC or the OCMC or any other charity with established record of philanthropy, is nothing short of scandalous. Yet, the choice is up to each and every one of us.” (Emphasis added by Editors).