By dogcatcher on February 25th, 2012
  Ephraimite or Faith Abiding Priest? The Greek Orthodox Christians of Chicago for Truth and Reform’s (“GOCCTR”) website receives a myriad of emails in support of and opposition to our mission. All emails received by GOCCTR are reviewed by the Editors of GOCCTR and in our duty to inform the readers, the Editors have determined to address the issues posed in relevant specific email messages. We chose this email because it reflects typical arguments made by those who do not support our mission. The following email is authored by a Priest from the Metropolis of Pittsburgh. The italicized text is the email in full followed by categorical responses by the Editors to the issues posed. To Whom It May Concern, It seems that your email is sent to avoid Schism in the church concerning Elder Ephraim. Avoiding schism in the church is always a good thing and should be encouraged because where there is division, normally the evil is at the root of it. But how am I to understand your claim as to be AGAINST schism when your mission statement and coup against Hierarchs and Monastic Elders is in DIRECT SUPPORT of it? You want spies in the church to report monastic activity regarding Elder Ephraim? Are you kidding me? We are the CHURCH, not the CIA… You want me to believe that you are against schism… How can this type of extra-ecclesial action be considered anything but in support of schism? True Christians don’t take these measures against each other. Why can’t people let progress breathe? Can I remind you what existed in this country in our sanctuaries before there was monasticism? Announcements about Gambling (in the form in Fund-raising events like bingo and raffles, encouraging taking chances with God-given monies)… AHEPA was able to make incredible and offensive remarks during funerals about events that are CLEARLY and 100% in support of paganism. There was almost no fasting, and no confession and infrequent communion. Our Philoptochos Chapters were paying off mortgages and building improvements (and some still are) instead of helping “the poor” as they were commissioned to. So monasticism comes and challenges our way of existing as parishes. SO WHAT? It NEEDS to be challenged! Or are we too perfect – too prideful – to admit that we must improve spiritually? Is there not ALWAYS room to become better? More Christ-centered? More Christ-like? That’s all these monastics and supporters want… for our parishes to start finally living up to being THE CHURCH – something that we have not done perfectly yet, I don’t care which parish or metropolis you are in. Anytime there is something that God inspires for us, He always gives us a challenge and a check along with that. He gave the Israelites a King and a Kingdom, and then He gave the kings prophets to watch and correct them. He gave us the church and then he gave us clergy and bishops to govern the church. He gave us monasticism, and then he gave us Elders and Abbesses to help guide them. In all cases throughout history, there have been those who have mishandled the authority that God gave them. King David used his authority and took Bathsheba by killing Ur, her husband, in war. But we got Psalm 50 (one of the greatest and most used Psalms of the church) because of it. Arius used his God-given ordination to deface Christ’s Divinity, but we got the Ecumenical Council and the Creed because of it. In all cases where there were mistakes and heresy in the Church, we resolved the issues through prayer, fasting and mostly council. We don’t have spies doing nasty and underhanded things. You may not want to hear what I have to say about this, but you have pasted your PERSONAL opinions and beliefs in my inbox, so here goes… Here is my advice to you: Slow down… Monasticism hasn’t been in this country for more than 40 years. Do you honestly think that in that short period of time that we would somehow get this thing right the first time? We didn’t get our parishes right the first time. How are we going to fair with our spiritual and peaceful havens called monasteries? There are going to be mistakes made as people get used to living an Orthodox life with monasteries. Why is this so hard for people to understand? Some will become too attached, and others will become too paranoid. Still others will accept the good that monasticism offers and pray for peace as it settles here in this country. Ask yourself which side of the fence you are on. Your website is in direct opposition to the love and peacefulness that the Church is supposed to stand for. You want JUSTICE, not truth. You want ACTION, not prayer. There is a direct line of thinking in your website that mimicks – not Christ – but the Sanhedrin and Pharisees who put Christ on Trial. BE CAREFUL… Justice only means that YOU will be judged. Action only means that Christ will come sooner, and I think we ALL need more time to repent. Another thing… Suppose a person was looking for a religion in Chicago and was studying up on Orthodoxy and stumbled upon your site. Are you willing to take the responsibility that you turned someone away from the TRUE Church in your zeal to take a responsibility and authority that was never yours in the first place? Also are you willing to take responsibility that you are causing others to treat their Orthodox “neighbors” as enemies, instead of recipients of the Lord’s love and FORGIVENESS. And very often it is your type of Orthodox Christian that desires Orthodox unity in this country and that we receive more converts. FOR WHAT? So everyone can be as paranoid and treat others like objects of suspicion instead of objects of God’s blessings? If you are still reading this, then I have your attention and if you are not already making your list of ways to argue against this email, please hear one more thing: My goal in sending this email is not to support Father Ephraim or condemn him. He will answer to Christ (as we all will) for the things he has done against Him and His Church. My goal in sending this is to clearly show you (as I am someone that is not on either side of this argument) how paranoid, vengeful, hateful and down right dangerous your schismatic movement WILL become if it is allowed to grow and prosper in this country. And just as you assume the worst of those who support Father Ephraim, I will say that if your movement remains unchecked, yours will be worse than the Inquisition was. They thought that they were working for the good of Christ and the Church as well. Please forgive me, [Name redacted}] P.S. St. Paul says: “Love does not keep a record of wrongs.” 1 Corinthians 13:5 RESPONSE 1. The Question of Schism Schism is perhaps the most tragic event to occur within the Church. Since the Church is the living Body of Christ, schism within the church is a division of His Body and therefore should be avoided. A cult operating within the Church has been described as a cancer of the Body of Christ. The editors at GOCCTR believe that our beloved Church is infected with such a cancer. Historically, this is not the first, nor the last time the Church will face an attack from within. In the early centuries of the Church a similar presence infected our Church by groups who practiced Gnosticism. As a result of the false theology they espoused, we now affirm the true beliefs of Orthodoxy when we recite the Anathemas every year on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Yet, reports suggest that the methods and practices conducted at the monasteries under Elder Ephraim display numerous similarities with these early groups (For a more detailed explanation, read the article on the Aerial Tollhouse Myth located in the Article Archive Section of this website). We are also concerned because there is a striking similarity between the followers of Elder Ephraim’s form of Orthodoxy and the Donatists of the 4th and 5th centuries. [For a very basic understanding of this historical heresy, please read the following source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donatists]. In some of the parishes in the Metropolis of Chicago, parishioners are subjected to Ephraimite Clergy who strive for spiritual control of the laity. They use their knowledge of the faith to enslave. The Church does not just belong to the clergy but also to the laity, who give their gifts to God’s church. If the Priest who has authored this email believes that God’s people should remain silent in the face of a cult operating within God’s church and the many reported allegations of spiritual abuse, then it is no wonder that we Greek Orthodox Christians find ourselves facing “wolves in Sheep’s clothing”. Ask yourselves who the real destructive element is within our faith; is it those that cause injury and harm to parishioners by using their positions to manipulate the laity or those who try to educate and warn others. The email also comments that true Christians taking actions against each other. Elder Ephraim’s followers have spoken against the Patriarch and have promoted a critical platform against the institution of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. His followers use heretical teachings to solidify their control over the laity. Suddenly, faith abiding priests are “not spiritual enough” or are not qualified to hear confession. His followers use heretical teachings to solidify their control over the laity. The followers have also been critical of other faiths. People have reported hearing sermons from Priests and lectures from recent graduates of Holy Cross criticizing other religions. The GOCCTR has been forced to defend the Patriarchate, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and the faith abiding priests from constant attacks emanating from the camps of Elder Ephraim. 2. Orthodox Monasticism in America Ephraimites continuously and falsely claim that Orthodox Monasticism in America started with the monasteries established under the Elder Ephraim. Yet, Saint Tikkhon’s Monastery for Men was established under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church in America as early as 1905. In addition, there have been multiple Orthodox Monasteries (other than those under the Elder Ephraim) established since. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Eastern_Orthodox_monasteries_in_the_United_States) Elder Ephraim’s followers apparently cannot recognize that Monasticism exists outside of the realm of their own Monasteries. They also falsely assume that those who criticize Elder Ephraim’s monasteries are against Orthodox monasteries. There are two principal kinds of monastic tradition. Some mandate isolationism in order to remain focused on praying. Others provide a service to the community. The editors have been unable to find any evidence of service by the members of Elder Ephraim’s monasteries. (The editors further addressed some of these issues in a companion article entitled “Ephraimite Fallacies Part One” in the Article Archive section of this website.) In this Priest’s understanding of Monasticism he addresses God’s role and states the following: ”He gave us the church and then he gave us clergy and Bishops to govern the church. He gave us Monasticism, and then he gave us Elders and Abbesses to help guide them.” We ask this Priest and all followers of Elders that espouse Ephraimite theology, who then guides your spiritual elder. Is he infallible? Is he or are his followers above the Bishops of our faith. Do you, Father, and all others who claim to have an Ephraimite Spiritual Father see the damage incurred by the laity as a result of spiritual misguidance? In your own Metropolis of Pittsburgh, your Metropolitan has established several Monasteries free from any Ephraimite influence. Yet, we have been unable to identify any questionable theology or issues emanating from those monasteries. 3. Accountability This leads us to the Priest’s suggestion that we should not be so hard on the Ephraimites monasteries because of the institution’s recent founding. Even though the fallacy of the recent establishment of monasticism in this country was earlier dispelled, it is still not a worthy excuse for a lack of accountability. Lack of accountability to recognized authority is the means by which all forms of abuse are allowed to exist and spread. This is true of governments, corporations and especially religious institutions. A great example is the case of the Christ of the Hills Monastery under the former Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) where sexual abuse and drug use ran rampant. (http://www.religionnewsblog.com/15391) A call for accountability is not asking for “spies” in the Church, rather, it is asking Orthodox Christians to assume responsibility and understand in that in the United States where these monasteries are existing, persons, governments and institutions can be exposed to liability and therefore have an expectation of account-giving for their actions and decisions. We ask the author of this email to consider this question: if you took a youth group from your parish to a swimming pool, would it be acceptable for the life guard to, as you put it, not get things right? Would you accept a life guard that makes mistakes and fails to save a drowning child or person because he was new to his or her job or because he was following an incorrect protocol for resuscitating a drowning person? In the critical area of our salvation, why are you so keen to accept problematic and incorrect theological teachings propounded by the followers of Elder Ephraim? 4. The Questions of Would-be Converts and Spiritual Abuse Another thing… Suppose a person was looking for a religion in Chicago and was studying up on Orthodoxy and stumbled upon your site. Are you willing to take the responsibility that you turned someone away from the TRUE Church in your zeal to take a responsibility and authority that was never yours in the first place? GOCCTR does not suggest that the Greek Orthodox Church is anything other than the true Church of Jesus Christ. If someone is considering converting to Orthodoxy, we expect them to take this decision seriously by researching and studying our great religion. The content found on our website provides one non-definitive source would of information. However, that information is necessary to increase awareness of a cancerous sect existing within our Archdiocese. This website resulted after the editors received numerous reports of Greek Orthodox Christians who were engaged to persons outside of the faith and who sadly chose to have the sacrament of marriage performed in the non-orthodox house of worship after meeting with Ephraimite clergy and sensing a critical intolerance of other religions. Moreover, many former converts did not have the opportunity to access this information before joining Orthodox Christianity under the monasteries of the Elder Ephraim and are now disenchanted with the true Church of Jesus Christ because of their experience. So, to answer the Priest’s question, GOCCTR believes that it is our responsibility to provide all people (Orthodox Christians, potential converts, and anyone else who is concerned) with this information so that they are empowered to make their informed decisions. Raising the right questions with qualified Orthodox clergy will provide the right perspective, but ignorance of the schism in our Church certainly will not lead to an informed decision. The Editors acknowledge that many people visiting monasteries, both Ephraimite and others, as tourists have had positive experiences. They have not been targeted by the Ephraimites to become one of their soldiers. These visitors have also been shielded from what goes on behind closed doors. By this website and its other efforts, GOCCTR is taking a stand against spiritual abuse. Spiritual abuse has been generally defined as “the maltreatment of a person in the name of God, faith, religion, or church,” either in a single instance or on a continuous basis. It includes any of the following: • Psychological and emotional abuse and the use of psychological and emotional insecurities to force beliefs on others; • Any act by deeds or words that demean, humiliate or shame the natural worth and dignity of a person as a human being • Requiring submission to spiritual authority without any right to disagree; intimidation • Unreasonable control of a person’s basic right to make a choice on spiritual matters • False accusation and repeated criticism by negatively labeling a person as disobedient, rebellious, lacking faith, demonized, apostate, enemy of the church or God • Prevention or prohibition of practicing faith • Isolation or separation from family and friends due to religious affiliation • Physical abuse that includes physical injury, deprivation of sustenance, and sexual abuse • Exclusivity; dismissal of an outsider’s questions or criticism and labeling an outsider as of the devil • Withholding information depending on one’s position and providing information only to a selected few • Requiring conformity to a dangerous or unnatural religious view and practice • Hostility that includes shunning, (relational aggression, parental alienation) and persecution. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritual_abuse. The Editors at GOCCTR have received countless complaints from: 1. Young adults who have been banished from taking communion (practicing their faith) for years sometimes decades after giving confession; 2. Parents who are experiencing parental alienation because their children were unduly influenced by Ephraimite priests to leave their families to become monks or nuns. Influencing young people to enter an Ephraimite monastery or convent can occur even though they never intended to pursue this vocation before disclosing sensitive information during confession to an Ephraimite priest; 3. Spouses whose marriages ended because of damaging advice given by monks and nuns untrained in marriage counseling. 4. Persons who experienced a tragedy such as a sudden illness or an unfortunate accident who then became victims of spiritual abuse who through humiliation and shame were made to feel responsible for the bad things occurring in their lives by Priests who follow Elder Ephraim; 5. Persons who have dedicated their lives for decades to their local churches who were referred to as “Satan” or “influenced by the evil one” when questioning the tactics or decisions of their Ephraimite Priests; and 6. Faithful who are taught that if a family member becomes monastic, then 7 generations of the family are guaranteed salvation. We have received reports from hundreds of parishioners who were turned away from their home Parish after an Ephraimite Priest was assigned there who then never found another spiritual home in the Greek Orthodox Church. Our point is we are losing hundreds of faith abiding Greek Orthodox Christians because of the schismatic strategies of the Ephraimite monasteries. Through our efforts, we are trying to conserve the “True Church”. Scores of persons including the laity, our faith abiding priests and our hierarchs have expressed their gratitude for our efforts. Only few have criticized.