[Editor's Note: The story of Manton has now taken on additional dimensions with the outbreak of the recent wildfires. The following story however has nothing to do with the recent tragedy. Please keep the monastery and its brotherhood in your prayers as they struggle to contain the damage.]
Several weeks ago, a young Orthodox pilgrim sent me the following report of his recent stay in Manton and what he witnessed there. Please note that this is not an anonymous posting. I have contacted the correspondant and have asked him several questions over several weeks regarding what he witnessed. He sounded credible and I found no hint of prevarication in his responses. Because of his honesty, I have decided to post his “Open Letter to the OCA” regarding what he witnessed while spending several weeks there. In addition, the majority of his allegations have been corroborated by Fr Martin, one of the leaders of the group that left Manton because of similar concerns.
I contacted the Diocese of the West this morning to ask them for their side of the story. As is known, they conducted an investigation and Fr Meletios Webber put out a response. In any event, I decided to go ahead and publish this man’s first-hand account even as I await a resonse from the DOW. As soon as I get a reply, I will post it. (As for myself, let it be noted that I was one of Fr Meletios’ chief supporters for the South’s vacant episcopal seat. It is partially for this reason that I have withheld publishing this report even though it’s been in my possession for several weeks now.)
P.S. For what it’s worth, the picture of monastic corruption painted by this correspondent is far more troubling than what has been described at The Entrance of the Theotokos Monstery which was recently released by ROCOR.
An Open Letter to the Orthodox Church in America:
Monday, August 20, 2012
In light of recent evidence concerning Archbishop Benjamin’s apparent “cover-up” pertaining to allegations surrounding the actions committed by Father Meletios Webber, the current abbot and archimandrite of the Monastery of Saint John of San Francisco located in Manton, California, I fear that the serious and necessary action needed will not be undertaken. For this reason, I feel it is necessary to release this information to the general Orthodox public immediately; particularly to tithing members of the Orthodox Church in America.
I first arrived at the monastery on June 9, 2012, as a “summer novice” (meaning I took an active role of participating in the brotherhood during my stay) and departed on July 9, 2012. During my visit (and during counsel with Fr. Meletios), it became my intention to re-join the brotherhood of St. John on August 20, 2012 as a worker, then novice, and then monk. However, after confirming several accusations that have been made after an extensive personal investigation before my departure (I wanted to know whether or not to continue my monastic life there), I now believe that the former members of the brotherhood acted in the correct manner when they left. It is my intention to also make you aware of my personal experiences as well as other allegations that have been confirmed by multiple members of the brotherhood (some have departed and others are still left behind).
- During my stay, a total of 6 members of the brotherhood departed; three fathers and one worker on June 29th, then one father and one brother on July 7th. Before I left on July 9th, Others told me their intention to leave, but it is not clear at this time whether they have or not.
- The brotherhood and I were told spin stories by Fr. Meletios. I confronted one of the monks (known hereafter as Fr. X) that was involved in the story Fr. Mel was using as the “real reason” why the monks had left. Up until the time that I questioned Fr. X, I believed Fr. Meletios’ story one hundred percent.
- Essentially, Fr. Meletios said that the monks had left as a result of a confrontation between Fr. Martin and Fr. X that resulted in Fr. Martin’s removal as blagochinie. Then Fr. Meletios claimed that Fr. Martin had decided to take “as many monks with him as possible” in an act of revenge. However, when I questioned Fr. X about it, I was told flat-out that Fr. Meletios was spinning stories to cover up certain histories and there was much more to the story of what was happening than what was being revealed – mainly that Fr. Meletios was at fault for the cause of the confrontation and the reason the monks departed had nothing at all to do with the confrontation since Fr. X was also among those beginning to make plans for departure.
- This behavior of spinning the truth was personally confirmed to me when I saw stories turn from fact to fiction. At one point, Fr. Meletios was telling some of the brotherhood that he never gave his blessing to release any of the monks that left, and then he admitted to me privately that he had released Fr. Martin, and then he later said privately that he didn’t specify what he had released Fr. Martin from.
- During my daily sessions with Fr. Mel, he told me that Fr. Martin left because he was: “insane,” “Protestant,” “power-hungry,” “evil,” “anti-Semitic,” “vengeful,” and “intent on destroying the brotherhood.” None of these accusations ever struck me as being accurate in my interactions with Fr. Martin or ANY members of the brotherhood that departed or even stayed behind. But because Fr. Mel was bringing these accusations up along with his spun story at almost every opportunity. I only believed him at the time out of my own ignorance.
- On July 2, 2012, Fr. Martin’s email address attached to the monastery was deleted and emails that were intended for Fr. Martin were now being received by Fr. Meletios. Certain confidential information within those emails were disclosed to myself and other members of the brotherhood on the morning of July 7th by Fr. Meletios.
- During my visit, Fr. Meletios violated confidences given in confessions concerning several of the monks during the time that I received confession with him. He also alluded to personal sins, etc. regarding the monks that had left during private daily meetings for the last week and a half that I was staying at the monastery.
- During one of our early meetings before the monks’ departure and Fr. Meletios’ two-week trip to Greece, he told me that he does in fact use hypnotherapy when he deems it “beneficial.” Aside from the strangeness of an abbot hypnotizing his monks, I also found the way that he hypnotized to be extremely disturbing. According to the monks that I talked to when this disturbing information came out, they confirmed that he uses a form of hypnotherapy that attempts to create an entity within the person being hypnotized; an “inner child.” The subject then communicates with this entity like one would converse with another human being while the entity converses in return. These created entities were then telling the monks to do certain things or to partake in certain sexually perverse practices in which Fr. Meletios approved of and even gave these as obediences (or monastic duties) to the monks including masturbation and homosexual behaviors.
- With regard to hesychasm, Fr. Meletios told me that I should remain aware and mindful at all times. With the exception of the Jesus Prayer, there was hardly anything Christian in what was being taught. This was especially apparent when Fr. Meletios informed me that he often finds it difficult to pray during meditation and that rather than struggling to pray, he simply just remains mindful and meditative instead. He instructed me to do the same and not to struggle if saying the Jesus prayer during these meditations was too difficult.
- Fr. Meletios told me not to read anything by St. John Chrystosom because St. John was an anti-Semite. The context was in respect to Fr. Meletios’ guidance regarding hesychasm and that, as an Orthodox Christian, there was no problem continuing to practice Rabbinic Judaism.
- I was counseled by Fr. Meletios that I should quit reading prayer books and pre-communion prayers because, he said, “They are for the laymen and not for monastics.”
- Fr. Meletios has been accused for giving a blessing for at least one of the monks to partake in a homosexual relationship while he was residing at the monastery.
- Fr. Meletios received a novice into the monastery who was born a woman and underwent surgery to become a man. S/He was in love with Fr. Meletios, and Fr. Mel even tonsured him a rassaphore. While I am assured by most of the monks that the two were not involved in a romantic relationship, I was told by them (as well as Fr. Meletios) that this transgendered monk was spending an exclusive amount of time with Fr. Meletios which rendered him “incapable” of guiding other members in the brotherhood.
- Fr. Meletios’ spiritual father is Fr. Michael Rymer – a GOA defrocked priest despite an ample amount of leaders close by who could officiate confession. Fr. Michael Rymer was also elevated to the position of second-in-command (or blagochinie) in spite of the allegations that have been alleged in the public court documents and during a spiritual tribunal in 2006.
- Fr. Meletios and I, during our daily meetings, set a timeline for me after I would return to the monastery. Upon returning in August, I was told that I would be tonsured in approximately six months to a year and then he even told me that I would be able to accompany him on a trip to Valaam. I should note that I have only been a baptized Orthodox Christian for a little over a year now. Lord have mercy.
- Archbishop Benjamin gave his blessing for the Orthodox Church in America to receive at least one transgendered couple at the cathedral in San Francisco. They were refused communion at the monastery by the substitute blagochinie during Fr. Meletios’ and Fr. Nektarios’ trip to Greece because they were continuing to participate in an unrepentant transsexual delusion despite the position of Moscow Patriarchate’s 2005 Encyclical on receiving homosexuals and transgenders into the Orthodox Church
- Coming from an Antiochian background, I usually try to confess every 3-4 weeks, otherwise I will stop taking communion. After 3 weeks since my last confession, I stopped communing for fear of doing so unworthily and without proper preparation. This was my second week at the monastery. At this point, I was labeled as a “catechumen” by one of the other monks. When I corrected him that I was baptized Orthodox, the monk informed me that everyone is supposed to take communion and that worthiness was not supposed to be an issue unless I had done something catastrophic like killed someone, etc. I was led to believe that this was a practice taught by the Greek fathers. When I received confession from Fr. Meletios upon his return from Greece, I confessed sins that I felt would require additional repentance. This was when it was confirmed to me that communing was done as a community and was not an issue of individual worthiness or preparation. I participated in this practice for the remainder of my stay. Lord have mercy.
- Fr. Meletios instructed me to stay away from my parish priest because my priest was not my spiritual father and that getting his blessing to join the brotherhood in Manton or even discussing it with him would be dangerous.
- In further counsel about whether I should pursue the monastic life or not, he warned me about getting any kind of guidance or blessing from my own archbishop (Joseph) because his guidance would be an obstacle in submitting to the OCA and Fr. Mel.
- I also experienced some Antiochian bashing while I was there by one of the monks. While Fr. Meletios was calm in his criticisms, one monk was extremely aggressive and belligerent towards my parish priest. This was a result of my parish priest teaching me about miracles such as self-renewing icons and refusing birth control as part of the Orthodox belief system. At the time, I thought it was only an isolated incident. I was informed later that this was commonplace at the monastery.
In addition to these allegations, I also observed an obvious attempt to cover up what had occurred.
- I was told that Fr. Meletios did not know the reason why the monks had left. This was incorrect as he was told by each of them before they departed and when the last 2 monks departed, it was given to him in writing. In addition, several times during my visit, I was told “this counsel was why they left.” This left me confused since he told me previously that none of the monks had told him why they were leaving. (I will refer the reader again to points made in #2, #3, and #4.) At the time, I chose not to question him and simply ignored the statements since these were told to me when I was receiving confession from him and also a violation of confidence.
- Archbishop Benjamin told me on July 2, 2012, that he also had no idea why the monks had left and that they had never contacted him to tell him why. This grieves me and deeply troubles me because this was a direct lie. It was discussed with him in detail the Wednesday before the departure had occurred. It appears that he had lied directly to me in an effort to cover up what was happening.
- On the morning of July 2, 2012, I told Archbishop Benjamin before Divine Liturgy (it was the feast day of St. John) that I intended to become a monk. “There is no better place to do it than here,” he said. In spite of the concerns that Fr. Martin and others raised that had led to their departure, Archbishop Benjamin has either chosen to ignore or disbelieve the testimony of 6 former members of the brotherhood.
- Following my departure, I learned of Archbishop Benjamin’s attempt to cover up what had happened by taking an investigative committee of three priests to Manton, but refused to contact the other monks with this committee in order that any record may show the allegations surrounding Fr. Meletios’ non-Orthodox and non-Christian practices.
In conclusion, I humbly pray for the spiritual well-being for the Monastery of St. John of San Francisco and the Orthodox Church in America and that action, repentance, and forgiveness will come swiftly to all those who are involved and to those in the positions of leadership. Lord have mercy!
I also humbly ask your prayers and your forgiveness. Forgive me, the sinner.
“Orthodox Novitiate” &
Former Summer Novice