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The Ephraim Question (Paul Cromides)

The Ephraim Question (Paul Cromides)

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Published by John Moiratas
Several months ago, the Greek-American newspaper, The National Herald, reported that the Synod of American Greek Orthodox bishops had expressed concern about Father Ephraim, and his followers. This former Athonite (Mt. Athos) monk has established some 16 monasteries in the United States since about 1989.

He is also known as Elder Ephraim. The news article stated in part : ”It has been said that some sort of fundamentalist movement with a cult philosophy has been advocated by the followers of Ephraim, and is having an impact among the clergy and theology students at Holy Cross School of Theology.” After that article, I urged, in a letter-to-the-editor, that there be an investigation. To my knowledge, there has not been any inquiry, nor has been any further news reporting on the subject.
Several months ago, the Greek-American newspaper, The National Herald, reported that the Synod of American Greek Orthodox bishops had expressed concern about Father Ephraim, and his followers. This former Athonite (Mt. Athos) monk has established some 16 monasteries in the United States since about 1989.

He is also known as Elder Ephraim. The news article stated in part : ”It has been said that some sort of fundamentalist movement with a cult philosophy has been advocated by the followers of Ephraim, and is having an impact among the clergy and theology students at Holy Cross School of Theology.” After that article, I urged, in a letter-to-the-editor, that there be an investigation. To my knowledge, there has not been any inquiry, nor has been any further news reporting on the subject.

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The Ephraim Question
Author: Paul CromidasDate Published: 10/10/2003Publication: Orthodox Christian News Service (USA)  Several months ago, the Greek-American newspaper, The National Herald, reported that the Synod of American Greek Orthodox bishops had expressed concern about Father Ephraim, and his followers. Thisformer Athonite (Mt. Athos) monk has established some 16 monasteries in the United States since about1989.
He is also known as Elder Ephraim. The news article stated in part : ”It has been said that some sort of 
fundamentalist movement with a cult philosophy has been advocated by the followers of Ephraim, and is
having an impact among the clergy and theology students at Holy Cross School of Theology.” After that
article, I urged, in a letter-to-the-editor, that there be an investigation. To my knowledge, there has notbeen any inquiry, nor has been any further news reporting on the subject.When the new Metropolitan (Bishop) of the New Jersey diocese took office this spring, it was reportedreliably that at his first meeting with the clergy, he announced that Ephraim and his followers were notwelcome in the diocese and that the faithful should go to their own priests for confession. This dioceseincludes some 50 churches in five states. There has been no further confirmation or a denial of theMetropolitan's statement. In the absence of any denials, one can assume there is some validity to thereports about the Synod's concern and about the Metropolitan's directive.There was also the warning earlier this year from another bishop, Metropolitan Methodios of Boston. He
was quoted by the Herald as saying: ”Neither 
is there a place in Orthodoxy for radical fundamentalism,
religious fanaticism or cult leaders disguised as Orthodox sages.” ”Was he talking about the Ephraim
situation? If not, who was he referring to?Are these accidental words: fundamentalist and cult? Did the bishops wake up one fine day and decide touse them?In a similar vein, in 1998, Metropolitan Isaiah of the Denver diocese issued a protocol to his priests titled:
”The Lord Does Not Want Slaves in His Kingdom”. He wrote in part:
 
”This spirit of 
blind obedience with the deadening of the free will is unfortunately being practiced amongsome of our people and even by some of our clergy. They will not do anything without first receiving a'blessing' from their 'spiritual father'. And if they have been convinced that the spiritual father is a walkingsaint, they will eat his unfinished food after the common meal and even consume other things which mayhave touched the spiritual father in some particular way. This is nothing more than idolatry. It puts God
aside and constitutes the worship of His creature.”
 
He went on to say that: ”It may be that some of our people, by following the monastic rule in the outside
 
world, feel convinced that they are becoming more spiritual. However, they are sadly mistaken: for themonastic, as a novice, is willingly obedient in order to determine if he wishes to live the life of amonastic. Once he is accepted as a monk, he must resume the use of his free will in conforming to theway of life which he has chosen. The laity, on the other hand, cannot use the monastery or the spiritual
elder as one uses a horoscope, not functioning unless they receive permission.”
 
He concluded with: ”If there are members of the Diocese who have fallen into the error of negating their 
free will and being totally dependent on what their spiritual mentor instructs them to do, let them knowthat God does not want slaves in His Kingdom, but obedient children who constantly exercise their free
will as sons and daughters of our Father in heaven.”
 
Apparently he received some criticism, for he later wrote wrote: ”I am totally surprised that certain
persons misinterpreted the encyclical and thought that I was criticizing our Orthodox monastics andspecifically one or two of our Orthodox elders...I was clearly referring only to those followers who relax
or negate their free wills.”
 During the administration of Archbishop Spyridon, in a November 1998 article in the Herald, the well-known reporter-commentator, Theodore Kalmoukos, wrote:
”Fr. Ephraim who
came to America under nefarious circumstances in the early 90's first joined theRussian synod in exile after receiving a 'directive' from God as he proclaimed at the time. However, whenhe was threatened by the Ecumenical Patriarchate that he would be defrocked, he received another'directive' from God and abandoned the Russians. Ephraim has established a string of monasteries in
America and, through intense confessional activity, has created many personal loyalties.”
 
”Fr. Ephraim has significant influen
ce in the administration of the Archdiocese. The current Chancellor,Fr. George Passias, happens to be one of Ephraim's most loyal followers. Ephraim is also admired by thenew President of the Theological School, Archimandrite Damaskinos Ganas, who, according to sources,
wants to invite Fr. Ephraim to hear confessions from students.”
 Do the bishops define the situation as being an issue between them and the Ephraimites only? It wouldappear so based on a decision at the September 2002 meeting of the Synod. According to the press releasefrom the Archdiocese, it was decided that the committees of the Synod would be combined with the
committees of the Archdiocesan Council, ”to provide for more input by members of the Council as well
as to facilitate the impl
ementation of decisions that are made in basic areas of the life of the Church.” But,
the release went on to say that this would not apply to the committee on Monasticism. That apparentlywould be the bishop's domain. It can also be noted that the currently disputed charter of the Archdiocese,
”granted” by the Patriarch in 2003, includes authority for the supervision of the monasteries by the
bishops.One of the complaints voiced by some clergy and laity is that the Ephraimite confessors have focused onsexual matters. A member of a group visiting an Ephraimite monastery reported that the monk-confessorhad a lengthy list of questions, most of them of a sexual nature, and gave severe penances even to marriedcouples, with the penances being longer for the wives. In the evening, the men and women were separated
 
to hear different speakers. The one who addressed the women berated them about being sinful, as women,
and that their only virtue was in bearing children. If true, is this an example of the ”fundamentalism” that
has been referred to? In view of what has been learned these past two years about the clergy abuseproblem , particularly in the Catholic church, the monks' pre-occupation with sexual matters could indeedbe seen as a form of sexual misconduct.
Is the concern about Ephraim and his monasteries a territorial or ”turf” battle, as well as one of 
sacramental rights? Do the parish clergy and bishops feel that the monks are developing a followingamong the faithful and that a kind of encroachment is taking place? If the New Jersey announcement isaccurate, it would appear so. It is also ironic that the Ephraim monasteries do not appear to have moneyproblems, while the Greek archdiocese does, and at any given time, parishes are without priests. At the2000 Clergy-Laity Congress, Metropolitan Anthony of the San Francisco diocese responded to concernsexpressed about Ephraim by saying he was chairing a committee of the synod that was looking into thematter. If there has been a report by this committee, it has not been shared with the faithful.Archbishop Spyridon apparently tried to define the respective roles at a retreat for clergy in March of 1998, held at the Ephraimite monastery in Florence, Arizona. It was for the clergy of the San Franciscodiocese, according to the archdiocese press release, and Metropolitan Anthony and 58 priests were
 present. The theme was the ”relationship of monasteries to the local bishop and to the local parish”. Therelease said that the priests had ”lengthy open dialogues”
with the Archbishop, and that he stressed thevalue of all three orders in the Church, clergy, laity and monasticism. He was quoted as saying:
”Spiritual therapy is indeed the primary role of Monasticism. It is precisely this role that renders
Monasticism friendly and, so to say, popular, at certain levels of the Church, because it does not elevate
Monasticism above the other orders in the Church.” Just what was meant by spiritual therapy was not
explained. One can hope that confession-by-list and the group sessions mentioned above would not be
examples of such ”therapy”. In any case, the current atmosphere would suggest that perhaps, in some
circles, monasticism is being elevated above the other orders of the church. Have the Ephraimites not
”kept their proper place”?
 A message that appeared on the Internet in 1999 may provide a clue or two. It was apparently from anOrthodox priest in Arizona, and said, in part:
”My situation has progressed with the mission group here and there is new pressure on me to b
e in a more'regular' situation. Let me explain. There are about a dozen convert families here who float between all the'ethnic' churches because they are zealous for traditional spirituality and get impatient with either theclosed minded ethnic dominance or a 'modernized' and enemic version of Orthodoxy. So these peoplespend a lot of time at Fr. Ephraim's monastery in Florence and take seriously the advice of their spiritualfathers there. They have committed themselves to starting a new mission parish that is traditional, notdominated by one 'ethnic' flavor, doesn't have the old world parish politics, has services every day, doesoutreach to young people, helps bring new converts deeper into the church, etc., etc. They arewithdrawing from the Greek, Antiochian, OCA and ROCOR churches to begin this new mission, and are
doing it under the guidance of the monks at the monastery.”
 

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