A Call from the Holy Mountain

By dogcatcher on January 17th, 2013

Excerpts from, and Reflections on, Fr. Ephraim’s

“A Call from the Holy Mountain”

Editor’s Note: The following article is a collaboration of the Editors of We Are Orthodox (http://www.WeAreOrthodox.com) and Go Truth Reform (http://GoTruthReform.com). Through our due diligence we were able to obtain a copy of Elder Ephraim’s book “A Call From The Holy Mountain”. This is a must read for all of those interested in understanding the thinking of Elder Ephraim and his fundamentalist movement. His own words appear quite troubling. Introduction: The Elder Ephraim of Philotheou, also known as Elder Ephraim the Arizonite, wrote a small book that was published in 1991 by the New Sarov Press (Blanco, Texas 78606, ISBN 1-880364-05-0). It was printed with the blessings of His Grace Bishop Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (as mentioned in the book). The book is titled “A Call From The Holy Mountain” with a subtitle of “The Sacred Monastery of Philotheou”. At the outset it should be understood and known that Elder Ephraim has no known formal theological instruction or training. He was at one time the Abbot of the Monastery of Philotheou on Mount Athos. It is alleged by his legion of followers that he chose to leave that monastery and the Holy Mountain, because of his alleged self-professed vision of the Virgin Mary telling him “to go to America and make it return to pure Orthodoxy”. Remarkably, this conveniently corroborates the alleged teachings of his spiritual father, Joseph the Hesychast. It was Joseph the Hesychast who is reported to have also taught his followers to go into the world and make it return to pure “Athonite” Orthodoxy. Thus begins the travail of Elder Ephraim which hashed such an effect on Orthodox Christians in North America. After living temporarily in both Canada and Russia, Elder Ephraim came to the United States and founded St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence, Arizona, among many others. Elder Ephraim now has over 20 monasteries in North America, as well as others abroad. He is acknowledged as the “Spiritual Father” of these monasteries by the monks and those residing there. Elder Ephraim has become a lightning rod of controversy. His teachings and his movement have been characterized by Orthodox scholars as zealous and fundamentalist. The National Herald recently published that, “There is a huge difference, though, between healthy monasticism and the cultish mentality that the Ephraimite monasticism promotes.” (Theodore Kalmoukos, The National Herald, December 13th 2012). In order to promulgate his version of Orthodox Theology and worship, his followers have educated themselves on his various books and audio tapes. His first book, A Call From The Holy Mountain, has the distinction of being removed from print, and is very difficult to find anywhere. With diligent searching we’ve obtained a copy. In this book, the readers will clearly see the mindset of Elder Ephraim directly from his quotes and accurate paraphrases. At the end of this article there will be an appendix provided with the exact language directly from this book so our readers can verify the accuracy of our commentary. This is a unique opportunity to see and learn Elder Ephraim’s perspective on various issues. While there are many parts of this 50 page booklet that are edifying and inspiring, there are also powerfully disturbing comments and teachings still being taught today – as attested to by many former Monastics from his Monasteries. These are just of few of the highlights that we would like to share with you for your consideration. After the quotes and paraphrases from these select pages, we offer a brief commentary of our own that we feel reveal the more mainstream and accepted view upheld by the Orthodox Church universally. Our use of paraphrases itself might be viewed as suspicious by some, but they are true to the spirit and message of each passage quoted from his book. We invite the reader to look through the original to confirm our paraphrase. Again, we have included an appendix with full actual copies of the original text we referenced and paraphrased. This book does not talk about some heretical ideas that Elder Ephraim’s movement promotes, like Aerial Toll Houses, but it does show his suspicion of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, his anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, and anti-Protestant views (all of which religions he infers are spawned from the Devil himself). This is not an exhaustive list of all things a reasonable person would consider troubling or questionable, but it does highlight the most egregious statements, with particular emphasis on his suspicions of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Next to each page number we have added a brief synopsis to describe what is contained. This convention illustrates the recurring messages contained therein. Excerpts by Page Number: A. Page 11 – On the Inability for Western Churches to Achieve Salvation The third paragraph on this page states that “with its confused and false precepts on highly significant questions, the Western Church (i.e. Catholic and Protestant), to say the least, deprives its faithful of the possibility of salvation.” Comments: We feel it unnecessary to have to explain the obvious problems in this statement. Clearly evident, however, is the denial of salvation to billions. This speaks to the fundamentalist’s arrogance of an unbending attitude. We added the “Catholic and Protestant” proper nouns within the parentheses to describe what is meant by “the Western Church”. Emphasis was added to indicate surprising statements. B. Page 12 – Just as a matter of interest The last paragraph of this page refers to the “Holy Mountain Tome” that monks sign. Basically it is a vow each monk signs to adhere to a set of higher standards. Comments: The fact that monks are required to sign a vow pledging to abide by higher standards is all well and good. Initially it appears to be similar to government workers in the United States taking an oath to uphold the Constitution. However a complete text of this Tome would give a clearer understanding of what they perceive their mission to be, and the intentions of the drafters. C. Page 37 – On the Antichrist Infiltrating the Church The second paragraph on this page announces that the Antichrist will try to infiltrate the Church so as to annihilate it. The third paragraph states that the human element might prevail against the Divine. Comments: We can agree that there is evil and that Scripture clearly states the emergence of “an Antichrist” (even though there have been many such “antichrists”, like Nero, Hitler or Stalin). The reader is then surprised by the possibility that a “human element” may prevail over the Divine. The natural questions would be “what, where, or who, is this ‘human element’?” Later quotes will lead to the conclusion that this might be the Ecumenical Patriarch himself. D. Page 38 – On Excessive Zeal and Staging the Patriarch The first paragraph on page 38 states that the Devil’s craftiness may lead the elect astray – in particular, by forging devoutness and excessive zeal, which will make the believer reach decisions and perform actions that will remove him from the Church. The second paragraph states that falsehood that looks like truth will lead the faithful to error. Comments: Some Monastics and pilgrims to Elder Ephraim’s Monasteries have alleged that they have been forced to adopt a spirituality that is marked by mandating excessive amounts of Jesus Prayers. Others report intensely detailed and voyeuristic arbitrary questions during confessions regarding the entire sexual history of the person confessing, and excessively harsh penances for sins that some may consider insignificant. See pages 24 and 31 for this (Appendix 2). Former monks have even shared that self-flagellation was taught. Some former monks have left the Orthodox Christian Faith. One allegedly committed suicide near the Monastery gates at St. Anthony in Arizona. He died of a gunshot wound to the head. St. Anthony is considered to be the “headquarters” of the Ephraimite movement, and both Elder Ephraim and Elder Paisios, the second in command, live behind the gates near the place where the former monks body was found. The second paragraph teachers that “falsehood will look like truth and thereby lead the faithful to error”. It is our opinion that these comments set the stage for undermining the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and will only get clearer as you continue to read this article. E. Page 39 – Church Leaders Will Betray the Faith The second paragraph on page 39 states that whoever does not believe in the traditions of the Church is “an infidel”. It is then suggested that even Church leaders who appear firm in the faith will betray the Orthodox and lead the faithful to the heresies of Papism or Protestantism; or even to what is referred to as the “sum of all heresies”: Ecumenism. “We already know that although the Church is represented by a number of its members assigned to important posts, it does not spread its universal conscience by means of the actions or decisions of these representatives…” In other words, the actions of these Church Leaders are NOT representative of the Church. It then states that only the Ecumenical Councils are authoritative. Comments: Well then, who is it that interprets the Canons of the Ecumenical Councils? Is it the Patriarch and the Holy Synod, or, the monks of Philotheou Monastery? The positioning of these arguments subtly influences the readers to view the Patriarch and other leaders, with suspicion. F. Page 40 – On Public Opinion, and Suspicion of the Patriarch The first paragraph introduces the idea of “sound public opinion” as being the herald of what is actually true. It (public opinion) abandons those who have made a shipwreck of the faith. The third paragraph then overtly points a veiled finger at the Patriarch with this example: In 1973 an Exarchy of the Holy Ecumenical See came to the Holy Mountain. The Exarchy was headed by the Most Reverend Metropolitan Maximos of Stavroupolis. He asked them if they will continue to commemorate the Ecumenical Patriarch. The answer was surprising in that it suggests astonishing ramifications and innuendos, aside from the obvious. Elder Ephraim stated that “we answered that we would as long as he would follow the path of Orthodoxy. If he strayed, we would discontinue doing so. The Metropolitan then asked how is it possible for the Patriarch to stray from the faith? Comments: See comments after the Page 41 references below. G. Page 41- On Suspicion of the Patriarch The first paragraph answers by saying “If His Holiness cannot possibly stray, then we may not possibly cease his Commemoration.” The second paragraph states the following, “That is what we said at the time. At present we are praying all the more fervently, for clouds are again gathering on the horizon of the Fanari and we do not know what the weather will be like tomorrow.” The third paragraph states as to why they hold the Patriarch in suspicion – because they do not like the talk of “union”. It is stated in this paragraph that the Devil is using the leaven of “love” as a formula to hurt the faith by sowing the seeds of distortion. Comments: These pages (40 and 41) are very disturbing, in addition to sounding sarcastic and condescending. Who is leading here? Is the tail wagging the dog? Are these veiled threats (to stop praying for the Patriarch), or erroneous presuppositions that the monks of Philotheou are actually the judges of the “Orthodoxy” of the Patriarch? This is a clear statement of how Elder Ephraim and the monks of Philotheou hold the Patriarch in sheer suspicion for being guilty of their interpretation of Ecumenism. For all their talk of obedience, it seems clear that they will not adhere to the Patriarchs every word, but will challenge it if “they” see fit to do so. H. Page 42 – On Suspicion of the Patriarch & the Demonic Origins of the Western Church The first paragraph of page 42 states the following quote: “And many false prophets shall abound…” The third paragraph states that “those who talk profusely about love tamper with its contents, that they may embrace heretics of all textures. This love is as false as false flowers are.” The rest of the page powerfully states that Catholics, Protestants, and all other heresies are all conceived by the Devil. Elder Ephraim states that “They say we should unite with (them)…”. Then Elder Ephraim further uses the fear tactic by stating that “after all Christians… unite, they should then unite with the Mohammedans, the Jews, and in extension with the Buddhists, Brahmins, Shintoists, and with all the religions of the universe in general.” Comments: Although not clearly identified, the “they” that are accused of allegedly making a shipwreck out of the faith, is none other than the Patriarch and the Holy Synod. The last paragraph on this page suggests that this “pan heretical alchemy is being inspired through the so-called World Council of Churches”. The Patriarchate is a member of the WCC. False prophets? Who else can one conclude is the “false prophet” here, other than the Patriarch? This observation is harmoniously and contextually consonant. These comments then move to reiterate Elder Ephraim’s belief that the Catholic and Protestant Churches are all “conceived by the Devil”, as also are all other religions. I. Page 43 – On Suspicion of the Patriarch, Anti-Semitism, and Anti-Western The first paragraph on page 43 states that “in Ecumenism, there is no personal God; for consistent ecumenists, the doctrine of the Trinitarian God is utterly rejectable.” The second paragraph states that “it is well known that the devil-instigated Zionism is coordinating two insidious operations both within and without the Church, aspiring to one and the same end; to destroy the fortress known as Orthodoxy.” The third paragraph states that “Papists, Protestants, Jehovah Witnesses, Freemasons, Unionists, Ecumenists, and any other “root of bitterness” – all of these have one mind, and shall give power to the beast. These shall make war with the Lamb….” The fourth paragraph states “We believe that Orthodoxy has no place amongst the conglomeration of errors and heresies. This insidious ‘ecumenical fabrication does not wish to seek out the truth but’, according to Fr. Haralambos Vasilopoulos, ‘is a mixture aimed at exterminating the Truth’.” Comments: Implicit here in the first paragraph is that the Patriarch is leading the Church into “their perception and understanding” of Ecumenism, suggesting that the Patriarch is utterly making a shipwreck of our Church and leading the faithful astray. On this page there are more anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic and anti-Protestant comments, coupled with the inference that the Patriarch is making a shipwreck of our Faith. It is clear that Elder Ephraim appears to have a fanatical and distorted perception of the Patriarch, if not the world. He clearly appears to be a fanatic who has been reported to teach that “he will be persecuted” as a martyr espousing this version of the truth, to those who are not following him without question. Of course an added benefit to the Elder is that such a belief in a “martyrdom” inoculates him from being questioned from those within, or outside of his circle. J. Page 48 – On Suspicions of the Patriarch, and Monasteries are Church’s Watchdogs The ending of the first paragraph of page 48 states “If, sometimes, the Christian East appears to be forgetful of this significant element of its spirituality, Orthodox Monasticism always finds ways of reminding it of the fact, gently and affectionately.” The last paragraph states how Elder Ephraim sees Monasticism in relation to the rest of the world – a superior way of life. Comments: This is a clear illustration of the self-perception that Elder Ephraim feels monasteries should have – they are the watchdogs of Orthodoxy – even appearing to put themselves above the Ecumenical Patriarchate. While we honor and respect true and healthy monasticism, it is not the only place to find holiness. We Orthodox Christians throughout the world find it in our parishes and in our homes, under the wise tutelage of our Patriarch and Clergy. We (the Laity) are also a legitimate and significant part of the Church even though we are not monastics. Conclusion & Advocacy: The illustrations above are true paraphrases or direct quotes from Elder Ephraim’s short 50 page booklet “A Call From the Holy Mountain”. The cited pages are copied as an appendix so you can read the exact text for yourself . While there are many edifying portions of this book that we did not reference, it is clear that Elder Ephraim is sowing seeds of suspicion and discord by undermining the role and authority of the Patriarch. This is why we are beating the drum to warn of the impending pain that will only get worse if the “Ephraimite” fundamentalist issue is left unaddressed. In Elder Ephraim’s book, the message clearly appears that the Patriarch is subordinate and subject to the watchdog eyes of the Monastics and even, as stated in the text, his authority may be trumped by public opinion. Elder Ephraim’s views appear quite distorted and fanatical and one wonders why this man is allowed to have such a leadership position influencing the lives of so many believers. Elder Ephraim appears to be quite adept at influencing public opinion. It appears Elder Ephraim has tremendous influence and operates with impunity within the Metropolises of Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, and San Francisco., The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (GOA) has requested an investigation by a Monastery Review Committee (MRC) which has now been appointed for a few years. One wonders why new Monastery Review Committees have been formed within the Metropolises of Atlanta and San Francisco? Do they not support the Archdiocesan efforts that have been going on now for a few years? Do they not realize that while they can set up their own MRC, it gives the appearance that they are trying to subvert, undermine, or diminish the efforts of the GOA? Are these Metropolises deaf to the cries of the many that have already given their passionate testimonies to the Archdiocese? Elder Ephraim indeed appears to be a master of public opinion; divide and conquer appear to be on top of his list methods. At one point in his ministry, Elder Ephraim appears to have renounced the Greek Orthodox Church and joined the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. He returned. Is anyone now really paying attention to him? He appears to operate well-funded, and with his own set of rules in an unfettered manner, erecting opulent monasteries while our local parishes are struggling. As stated in the December 13th 2012 article in The National Herald “…the monastery of St. Anthony of Arizona, …. appears to be less a monastery than a resort in the Arizona Desert.” The fact is, most of the Laity does not have the proper knowledge and understanding to realize the extent of the basic violations of the law and spirit, as embodied in the canons, scripture, tradition and ethos of the Orthodox Church. How can our Hierarchs – men who are supposed to have discernment and be the guardians of the faith – allow this man and his movement to continue abasing the Patriarch and Hierarchy with impunity? If these comments appear too sensationalized, please allow us to remind you of the text of what Elder Ephraim has written to bring you back to the perspective of his very own stated beliefs. Elder Ephraim’s actions are consonant with what he himself has written. Yet he continues without challenge. It’s difficult to fathom why the Hierarchy appears to be impotent in the face of this unhealthy situation. It’s difficult to fathom why the Hierarchy appears to be impotent to those whose attitude undermines the Patriarchate. With the uncanonical teachings of Aerial Tollhouses, one might call this movement not just an imminent schismatic group in gestation, but also a heretical group sowing seeds of discord against our Patriarch and against who we are as Greek Orthodox Christians in America. The longer this movement thrives in our midst, the greater portion of people of sound mind and knowledge leave the Greek Orthodox Faith. Already clergy and laity across North America have been reported to state that this is not the Church we grew up in. Here is a brief example of what has been reported to us. Keep in mind that another reason for this problem will be told by those responsible for it. However we have spoken to some of those involved and believe that the following is accurate and is a foreshadowing of what is certain to happen in the environment that the Church finds itself in. Those who lead should not deflect, deny or even attempt to defend these breaches of fidelity to the Faithful. They are the guardians of our inheritance. A fundamentalist Priest was once assigned to Pensacola, Florida. He began promoting fundamentalist ideals to the point that the congregation protested to the Metropolitan. But their voices fell on deaf ears. The Spiritual Father of the Metropolis did not appear to have time, or be concerned with their pleas. The people of Pensacola then petitioned and succeeded in establishing an Orthodox Church in Pensacola that was under the jurisdiction of the Antiochian Orthodox Church. The Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Atlanta at that time decided to visit Pensacola with the people who protested, but it was too late. They respectfully told him that they tried communicating with him, but they were ignored. We feel that we will be seeing much more of these scenarios. We hope we are wrong. While this scenario was a larger group that left en masse, most of the time people are leaving the GOA one person, or one family, at a time. The Hierarchy has moved from being perceived as “tolerating” Elder Ephraim, to now being viewed as being “complicit” with Elder Ephraim and his movement. One wonders why. Perhaps this is unintentional, but that appears to be difficult to believe. It has been reported to us that one Metropolitan of the GOA hosted a small reception for Elder Ephraim of Vatopedi (the “Spiritual brother” of Elder Ephraim the Arizonite) in his Metropolis. This happened after Elder Ephraim of Vatopedi was convicted of the equivalent of “obstruction of justice” by a Greek court, regarding the irregular land transactions involving the Vatopedi Monastery. This is the same Elder Ephraim of Vatopedi that is at the heart of the largest alleged land scandal in the history of Greece. He and 32 others are awaiting trial for their alleged crimes. Elder Ephraim of Vatopedi was accompanied by a small group of monks, a few Greek businessmen from northern Greece, and a Russian businessman who lives in Italy. The Metropolitan was a former monk of the Vatopedi Monastery. This Metropolitan allegedly flew on a private jet with this group to visit Elder Ephraim at St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona. This does not appear to be an example of “tolerance” but certainly appears more of complicity and/or support. (for more information regarding these allegations concerning the activities of Elder Ephraim of Vatopedi, please consider reading the articles on on http://GoTruthReform.org, “Money, Money, Money”(http://gotruthreform.org/money-part-one-continued ),as well as “Pandora’s Box Exposé – part 1”(http://gotruthreform.org/pandoras-box-vatopedi-in-numbers-part-one ) & “Pandora’s Box Exposé – part 2” (http://gotruthreform.org/pandoras-box-vatopedi-scandal-part-2 ). The videos for both parts of the Pandora’s Box investigative report are available (in Greek, as this show is from Greece) at the following links that are found at http://weareorthodox.com/ourblog/articles/vatopedi-ephraim-expose-greek-news-video/ . In our opinion, it shows a complete lack of respect for the office that this particular Metropolitan holds. What does it say about this Metropolitan that he gives Elder Ephraim of Vatopedi a convicted criminal a luncheon on Metropolis owned property presumably at the expense of the laity? It is one thing to take him to a restaurant. But to have a special luncheon where Ephraim of Vatopedi is the honored guest is another thing. Is this the most prudent use of our Stewardship dollars? What does it say for our institution that we hold receptions for individuals like this? This is a stark contrast to the proactive leadership of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese (AOA) did. Metropolitan Philip, the leader of the Antiochian Orthodox Christians in America, addressed this situation head-on. This appears to be a targeted response to the problems they have experienced with the fundamentalist activities of the Ephraimites and their monasteries: Here is an excerpt of Metropolitan +Philip’s Archpastoral Directives of August 6, 1997: The Question of “FundamentalismIt appears that the root of this attitude among a few of our priests and deacons is the interference of persons from without our Archdiocese in matters where the canonical spiritual authority properly belongs only to the Church’s hierarchy. It is being aggravated by “spiritual fathers” or “father confessors” who are not in our Archdiocese and who deliberately counsel our clergy, and in some instances our laity, to act contrariwise (even surreptitiously) to the clearly stated positions, counsels, missives and directives of our Patriarch, Holy Synod and/or Metropolitan. To root out this attitude, drastic measures are necessary. Therefore all priests and deacons of the Archdiocese are to be instructed to refrain from placing themselves under obedience to or the influence of any spiritual father, father confessor or spiritual director who himself is not a member of the Archdiocese of North America. Orthodox “fundamentalism” has no place whatsoever in the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. Theological and liturgical books, pamphlets, etc. must not be printed nor circulated within the Archdiocese without the approval of the Metropolitan. Any priest or deacon who deviates from the mainstream of Orthodox theology, will have no future in this Archdiocese.” – Metropolitan +Philip It is interesting that this was a directive issued back in 1997. We applaud his pro-active leadership. While our own GOA Hierarchs do not have to imitate or adhere to any directive issued from another well-known and very respected canonical jurisdiction, this does not mean that ignoring an issue is the proper thing to do. According to sources within the AOA, there have been multiple priests that have since been removed from within the jurisdiction of the AOA because of their activities with Elder Ephraim. Would anyone like to speculate where these clergy adherents of Ephraim that were removed from the Antiochian Archdiocese will wind up? Where will they land? Quite possibly the GOA. We have shown you the mind of Elder Ephraim, and what he is teaching, as tangibly illustrated by his own words. We have highlighted for you that Elder Ephraim teaches that all other religious groups are spawned from the Devil, and that they cannot be saved. But he also infers that not all Orthodox will be saved either. Who is then left to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven? It appears only they are. Reports from around North America are illustrating that Elder Ephraim is living up to his beliefs and propagating them. There are seeds of suspicion and discord that are replete in his booklet “A Call From The Holy Mountain”. These seeds are now starting to come to fruition in North America. In the apparent absence of pro-active leadership, Elder Ephraim and his fundamentalist movement seem to be drastically affecting the Greek Orthodox Church of America and Canada. Because Elder Ephraim’s book was ignored, Elder Ephraim was ignored and it is no wonder our Church is reported to be undergoing such suffering. We have the naturally occurring challenges of the world to contend with, and now we appear to have an unhealthy tumor within that is growing and metastasizing into various ministries and parishes throughout. “The monasteries, about 21 of them, which priest-monk Ephraim, former Abbot of the Philotheou Monastery of Mount Athos has established throughout the United States, are emerging as the Archdiocese’s most dangerous disease. It is already visible in so many parishes, which tend to become centers of a dangerous fundamentalism and distortion of our Orthodox Faith once they are infected. Unfortunately, we have the phenomenon of priests of the Archdiocese who become militant members of the fundamentalist movement of “Ephraimism.”’ – The National Herald, 12/13/12 The fundamentalist ideas promoted in the little book appear to be having a huge devastating effect on the faithful in North America, if not beyond. Click here to view Appendix.(http://weareorthodox.com/usersubmissions/Appendix1and2.pdf ) For more information, please visit http://WeAreOrthodox.com and http://GoTruthReform.org . Thank you.