By dogcatcher on February 25th, 2012
  Greek Orthodox Fundamentalism (“The Ephraimite Sect”) and Evangelicals: Threat to Orthodoxy/Christianity? There is a movement in the Greek Orthodox Church led by the monastic adherents of Elder Ephraim. The adherents of this movement are called “Ephraimites”. That descriptive term has now become universally used by Clergy, Laity and Theologians to describe the adherents to Elder Ephraim. Although, it is not the only Fundamentalist movement within Orthodoxy; it is by far the one generating the most schismatic polarization among the Greek Orthodox in North America. The Ephraimite movement (or cult, depending on your own observations) has been likened to Evangelical fundamentalism by many, with good reason. It is their (the Ephraimite), impression that the majority of the younger generation fail to observe the true form of our religious heritage. Therefore, under their belief system, a revival of faith has become necessary. The underlying premise for the need to have a religious reawakening and a sharp return to the religious practices of the past is at the root of both the Fundamentalist Evangelical movement and also of the Ephraimite movement. Their argument that we have lost our way from the religious tenets is maintained by the following statements. Some are only minimally observant of their faith, being referred to in some congregations as the “C and E people” or those who only come to church on Christmas and Easter. Others are accused of adhering to their faith in church, but not practicing true Christian beliefs when they go out into the world and take advantage of their fellow man. A general secular shift away from the old time religion has been well documented in the main line Protestant faiths. The Ephraimites see some Orthodox Christians as failing to uphold the “true” faith as practiced for almost two thousand years since Christ’s Crucifixion. This has been decried by other faith abiding Orthodox as a problem in the true Orthodox spiritual life of our contemporary parishioners, they feel that spirituality is lacking. Some make statements that parishioners are practicing “Orthodox faith lite” or even more Pharisaic that “they have a watered down version of Orthodoxy” in which the form of the traditions is observed in order to show to others that one is observant. Yet, we believe that no real care is taken to observe the full panoply of Orthodox traditions, or to follow the teachings of Christ. One Priest recently stated the following: “There are many Orthodox Christians who are highly secularized, so that they really are not in touch with the spiritual heritage of the Church.” The movement toward resurrection of the old time practices and the “true” religion that will give everlasting life to the fervent adherents is a common theme among those who use faith as a weapon. Enough similarities exist between the teachings and practices of the Ephraimite movement and the Fundamentalist Christian movement raising a reasonable inference that it is not coincidental. Both these strains of fundamentalist Christianity have sprung from the same roots and each derives from pursuit of a common goal. This goal, simply stated, is to reject modern thought and to bring back religion to its fundamental basis, a goal shared by most fundamentalist movements, whether they are Evangelical Christian, Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish Orthodox, Hindu or others. Moreover, as has been defined by John A. Coleman, a noted sociologist and student of religion in the context of Catholicism, fundamentalism is “an aggressive reassertion of elements of traditionalism in the fight against modernity”. Coleman, John A., S.J., Catholic Integralism as a Fundamentalism, p. 75). So pervasive are the similarities between the different strains of fundamentalism in the Evangelical and the Ephraimite movements that it is worthwhile to investigate the similarities and differences as to and draw parallels that may illuminate the strategy, reasons, tactics and objectives of each. The pressures of modern life, the secular nature of everyday existence, and especially the rampant consumerism of our generation, are always a temptation and a threat to the sanctity – perhaps the very existence – of a particular religion. The effect is even more pronounced on the young, where the impact of Hollywood types complete with different morals and a consumerism mentality have an impact. These trends undermine the tenets of any particular religion, since most religions are premised on a spiritual existence and everlasting life after death. A common reaction to the secular threat is to take refuge in the old certainties that religion offers. The return to the old time faith becomes a salvation and a bulwark to the pressures of modern capitalist life and the aspiration to a spiritual existence that transcends the capitalist plane and reaches for their just reward in the afterlife. To combat the erosion of religious influence, both Evangelical and Ephraimites try to take us all back in time. Why is it important to look at similarities between fundamentalist religions and the Ephraimite movement? In effect, the similarities in these religions belie a common trend and are a way to read the tea leaves so as to predict the progression of prior like movements. Following the historical trajectory of fundamentalism in America, it is possible that these prior Evangelical movements will give us insights into the ideas, ways and indeed the purposes of the Ephraimites. Unquestionably, following a clear fundamentalist doctrine produces a group of adherents that is ready for battle against the strains of modernism, the forces of the mass media, consumerism and against evil. The similarities in their goals and purposes, and indeed, the following of these tactics cause trouble and severe divisions in the unity of the church. It has become both obvious and unfortunate that while not specifically designed for the purpose, the actions of the Ephraimites ultimately result in a religious schism, or worse, rendering the tenets of Orthodoxy itself increasingly irrelevant in the lives of most modern and rational people. Clearly, the peace of the Church is at stake. One only needs to look at our beloved Divine Liturgy for answers. The Ephraimite movement is damaging the fabric of the Church. It has taken an anti-unity position among the faithful and they have even taken an aggressive position against the Patriarch criticizing him for being seen next to the Pope in photographs and for any discussion aimed at unity of the Faith. A simple understanding of our Orthodox faith is really all one needs to understand the Ephraimite argument against our Patriarch. They have created a “straw man” argument. The Ephraimites have accused the Patriarch of inaccurate and imagined acts. A simple meeting or conversation between the leaders of each Church is now elevated to complete union with Rome. They convince their followers that they have inside information and that the Patriarch is moments away from giving up the historical position of Orthodoxy and entering into communion with and submitting to Papal domination. The fabric of our Faith and of our Patriarchate is being undermined. Who is teaching them this? Just prior to reciting the Lord’s Prayer during our Divine Liturgy the following words are spoken by Orthodox Clergymen in celebration “Priest: Having prayed for the unity of the faith and for the communion of the Holy Spirit, let us commit ourselves, and one another, and our whole life to Christ our God” (The Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom copyright 1985 Holy Cross Orthodox Press, page 26, Third Edition, ISBN 0-917651-17-0). The similarities between the Ephraimites and the Evangelicals are so striking even though they began at different points in time and under different social and economic conditions. Many of the fundamentalist Evangelical movements started in the 1920’s. The origins of the Ephraimite movement are more contemporary; we will examine the origins in future articles. What is clear is that the Ephraimites essentially follow the same game plan and use as a guide some of the tenets and features of the Evangelical movement to guide Elder Ephraim’s movement. At the heart of any fundamentalist thought is the idea of submission of the individual’s conscience and will to a “higher authority.” That submission can take on any number of forms, and higher authority may be the Word of God, as literally found in the Bible, or as strictly interpreted by a preacher, holy man, priest, imam or other leader. In the context of a cult, the extreme interpretations of the Word of God is emitted out the mouth of a “prophet” or even the reincarnation of the founder of a religion, for example, not only emulating Jesus, but holding that they are infused with Jesus’ spirit. A short list of the similarities between Evangelical and Ephraimites is most informative. 1. Charismatic Leadership – The leader of the Ephraimite movement, Elder Ephraim, is necessary to bring people to their idea of Christianity; Charismatic leaders in the Evangelical movement are legion, just turn on the television and watch almost any religious program. 2. Anti-science; anti-intellectual; anti-rational thought. Following Christ and the scriptures leaves no room for free thinking or seeing any contradictory evidence in both Evangelical and Ephraimite movements. 3. Both Fundamentalist Protestants and Ephraimites are rabidly Anti-Catholic, Anti-Semitic and Anti-Islamic. They are dismissive of other religions and are intolerant of any who do not totally agree with them or their own traditions. The Ecumenical movement is rejected and violently attacked. See Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, Patriarchal and Synodal Encyclical on Sunday of Orthodoxy (February 19, 2010) Retrieved from: . 4. Accepting the leadership of their cultic leaders blindly, they either launch concerted attempts to maintain cult loyalty or shun those who have strayed. 5. Both movements have an inner core group of insiders (the saved) versus outsiders (the damned) comprising those who reject their fanatical interpretation of the Faith and cultic leadership. This is reminiscent of the Gnostic heresy in the early church. 6. Both movements operate on the emotional level, emphasizing the need to do what feels right (“do what your heart tells you”) rather than any rational thought about and critical understanding of the evidence at hand. 7. How easy is to become saved. For Protestant fundamentalists, one must accept Jesus in their heart according to the definition of their leaders. For the Ephraimites, one must totally submit to the will and direction of their designated spiritual father or elders. Any notion of free will and the use of reason are eliminated. They treat all as if they were in a monastery and demand absolute obedience. In their use of confession, they even delve into normal marital relations and virtually place themselves in their spiritual children’s bedrooms. The Evangelicals want you to accept Jesus in your heart. 8. Submission to higher authority by the member is an absolute requirement of membership in Fundamentalism and Ephraimite movements. Any deviation from the strict interpretation of the tenets of the fundamentalist faith is met with an immediate attempt to restore the deviants’ submission, and failing that requires the expulsion of the errant follower or “non-believer.” This is not spiritual guidance, it is mind control of the most insidious and vulgar form. Only blind submission is acceptable. The phenomenon of different interpretations of the traditions of the church in Greek Orthodox history is not new. As recently as the 1920’s, there was a schism in the church between those who saw that modernization was necessary to make the religion relevant and those who insisted that every tradition, custom belief must be uncritically preserved in a strict, to-the-letter, interpretation of the canon law, even when that interpretation was contrary to the gospels. The views of the breakaway sects, known to us as the “Old Calendarists” were extreme to the point of denying salvation in new Calendar churches. To take the instance of the belief that gave them their name, this schismatic group held to the “old” Julian calendar because that was the calendar that the church had always used. This belief was maintained even in the face of evidence that the calendar did not match the true seasonal cycle because a year is not exactly 365.25 days, but is just slightly under that period. Over the centuries, the Julian calendar had shifted the date of the vernal equinox, a date crucial to the calculation of Holy Pascha. It was the unquestioning desire to preserve the old traditions that ultimately led to the schism that exists today. The Old Calendarist schism reflects a traumatic recent experience in the Greek Orthodox Church which is a direct result of inflexibility to adapt the religion with modern realities. Ephraimites rise to the definition of fundamentalists when they insist that their belief is the only “true” interpretation of the basic Faith of the Orthodox Church. Their brazen arrogance, often totally uninformed and unenlightened, leads them to criticize and reject any of our contemporary hierarchs who reject their fundamentalist notions. The Ephraimite accusations that the recognized leadership of the Greek Orthodox Church in North America is steering the flock away from the true Faith is abound. This perceived veering from the path of righteousness becomes the basis for any actions that will preserve their idea of the “pure faith.” In certain Parishes where the Ephraimites are vying for power within the organization of a particular Parish, factional strife in the Parish may seem as if political parties are campaigning for a high national office. The environment in these parishes becomes toxic and parishioners start verbally attacking each other. The head of the fish or the Ephraimite Parish Priests promotes the toxicity. Without question these accusations tend to undermine the authority of the Church and all Hierarchy leadership. But more insidiously, the damage done to the fabric of the church and its internal unity and cohesion is incalculable. There are two roads to take in a schism occurring for any parishioner, either you join the Ephraimites that are taking over the Parish, or you leave. There is no middle ground. We have received reports of hundreds of parishioners leaving these infected churches. Similarly, fundamentalist Evangelical movements in the United States are notorious for their schisms. The Methodist Church in the United States is considered a mainstream Protestant denomination. However, even it has experienced the rise of fundamentalist Evangelical Christians within its ranks. Many consider the growth of fundamentalists among its ranks to have caused over forty different denominations. Doctrinal issues are the usual stated reason for a split, but the ostensible reason can also be an excuse or a way to hide political and personality issues. The many schisms may or may not relate to an underlying accusation of heresy, but they more or less become permanent and break communion so that a myriad number of Churches, each one self governing, result all claiming to have a hot line to God. The vehement arguments leading to a schism often leave a lasting bad feeling, and the schism becomes deep and lasting. Where there is extreme evangelical movements, for example the Branch Davidians or Jim Jones, blind submission and unquestioning belief in the of the word of God has led to the deaths not only of the “true believers” but also of innocent children. Thus, there are some who consider that in order to save the faith, in both the Evangelical, as well as the Orthodox Christian traditions, several centuries of liberal thought need to be eradicated and the religion needs to revert to their own interpretation of its roots. This is the very definition of fundamentalism in its most basic form. It is becoming clear that, like the fundamentalist Christians and some Muslims, these schismatic believe they must preserve and follow traditions that have not been followed in many years or even centuries in their mainline Churches or divisions of Islam. The coming schism in the Greek Orthodox faith in North America is a foregone conclusion. The Ephraimite movement must be seen for what it is and taken very seriously. It should be combated by talking to all who care about the real traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church in North America, which brings people together and does not drive them apart. It is this Church and the faithful that has maintained the Greek spirit in a congenial and community way. Where do you stand?