ЕФРЕМ АРИЗОНСКИЙ. Старцы – Ephraim of Arizona. Starets

St. Anthony Monastery in ArizonaMonomakhos has been going on now for about –what–four, five years?  We’ve covered a lot of topics, stirred up the occasional hornet’s nest or two, raised a little ire, but also injected some jocularity into the proceedings.

I imagine that this posting on the Athonite monasteries will open up a can of worms as well.  We have recently witnessed an increase in criticism about the Elder Ephraim and his monastic movement from serious commentators.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have over the years found myself increasingly in sympathy with the Athonite movement.  Perhaps I am wrong but my guess is that this is because of the spiritual impoverishment that obtains in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. We all have tales to tell of excesses, abuses and malaise.  The GOA’s own documents record a stunning atrophy:  according to one study, 90 percent of Americans with Greek roots have no connection with any parish.  Many parishes are withering on the vine.

On the other hand, the monasteries founded by Elder Ephraim are bursting at the seems.  On any given Sunday, laymen who should be going to their local parish are driving two or three hours for the pleasure of attending long services without the benefit of pews.  Even on weekdays one can find entire families scooting merrily about.  Surely, if these were cultic fringe-groups, we would not be seeing these things, would we?

Therefore in the interest of fairness, Monomakhos would like to present the other side of the story.  Please take the time to watch this excellent video which was produced in Russia. 








  1. Simply put, this kind of monasticism is not for everyone. But there are other monasteries. People who revile what they don’t understand are not worth listening to.

    • No, it isn’t for everyone. I went on at some length on an earlier thread about my reservations about the Ephremite monasteries, and won’t repeat myself. But one should always have ones antennae up for things that don’t seem right, no matter where one goes for spiritual direction.

      • Mikail02 says

        One should also have ones antennae up when they hear these holy monasteries being referred to using the derogatory term, “Ephremite.”

        • Yianni Pappas says

          Why is it derogatory? To me it simply is a term of convenience referring the spiritual head of a particular Monastery, in this case, Elder Ephraim. People do the same thing with the Greek Orthodox Church, and routinely refer to it as the Greek Church. I would prefer they use the entire expression, but I understand they do not mean it in an insulting way. If they do, shame on them. I am proud to be Greek Orthodox, or, as some would say, a member of the Greek Church. There are bigger fish to fry.

          • “Ephraimite” is a sectarian term. It is used by those who do not understand Orthodox tradition, the Fathers, or traditional monasticism, who then see the monasteries established by Elder Ephraim and think that Elder Ephraim invented Athonite monasticism. It is a term of ignorance.

            • If Ephremite is derogatory and ignorant, then so is Athonite. It’s just a shorthand descriptor and identifier.

              • Mikail02 says

                Nonsense. The term, “Athonite” depicts the character of the holy monasteries of the holy mountain, Mt Athos. Conversely, the term “Ephremite,” gives a connotation of a cult-like term being attributed to the founder (Geronda Ephraim) of the Athonite -style monasteries in America. I can assure you that this humble man would never condone such an arrogant and provocative term. I have spoken to monastics who dwell at these monasteries and they are not fond of such a label.

                You are very aware of this fact…..and yet you continue to use this term. For shame!!!

            • Mikail02 says

              You are correct, Jason.

      • Sigh. Giving a moniker like “Ephremite” …definitely angling. So sad. It is not “this kind of monasticism” – this IS monasticism!

  2. Mikail02 says

    Thank God for Geronda Ephraim and his monasteries!!!

  3. Gregory Manning says

    You’re right, George. I’ve never kept up with the goings-on of these communities but what apparent scandals that have arisen have been enough to bring all sorts of folks with very strong feelings out of the wood work over the years. It’s difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. My hope is that enough time has passed that individuals who are generally recognized for their equanimity and have knowledge of these communities, will speak up, both pro and con. I look forward to the discussion, mindful that there will probably be a lot of detritus to step over along the way. Frankly, one of these monasteries is just up the road from me here in central Texas but I’ve never been because I don’t know anybody whom I trust who’s been there either. As a convert I was taught to be cautious when something or someone appears to be too good to be true. I hope that this discussion will provide reliable perspective.

    • Is that the Kendalia monastery, Gregory? I’ve been a few times. Very welcoming, beautiful services. Nobody tried to induct me into a cult.

      • Yianni Pappas says

        We evaluate things based on their totality, not just individual experience.

    • What are the apparent scandals? Shall I google it?

      • Gregory why don’t you look at their website? You can glean a lot from there. I have been visiting Greek and Russian Orthodox Monasteries across the US and Canada for 20 years now just like thousands of other people.

        The monasteries are for the Monks and Nuns – although they open their doors in kindness and Christlike love to pilgrims. You can attend Church services but you have to get permission to stay or visit for an extended period of time.


        Whenever i read blog posts or opinions that use terms like “Athonite Movement” and “Ephrimites”, “crazy internet zealots” etc.. I become very wary. Because I have known a ton of people including Bishops, Priests, Deacons and families from all over the world who go to monasteries and go on other pilgrimages to Holy Places and I have never, ever once thought of those individuals as a crazy group or cultish… This definitely makes me wonder about these internet comments.

        I think everyone is better off these days – if they are so inclined – to reading the lives of the Saints and Holy Fathers and making their own decisions about the monasteries after visiting them firsthand – because something is definitely up and i can tell you it doesn’t have to do with the monasteries being a “bad” place to be. At least not the 30 or so i have had the privilege of visiting over the last two decades. But I guess that is evident from the fact that more and more people are going and continue to go … to the Monasteries.

    • I strongly encorage you to visit Holy Archangels monastery in Texas. The monks there are nothing short of wonderful. Down to earth, full of joy and hospitality, and the Love of Christ. Nothing odd or weird about it. Part of the Christian life is to not believe slander or gossip, but to see for yourself, right? Forgive me, may the Lord guide us all

  4. Carl Kraeff says

    Thanks for posting this most impressive documentary.

  5. Monk James says

    Very inspiring. Thank you!

  6. Stephanie Petersen says

    Thank you for posting this wonderful video.

  7. The video was very interesting. Obviously some people are searching for more than is found in their local church. On the other hand, often local churches are so busy trying to serve their communities in some way, that the spiritual aspect of Christianity gets lost. The main goal of the Church, after the worship of God, is to make disciples. How many churches offer rigorous discipleship training classes? I visited a Baptist church, in another country, that demanded that each member take several courses and pass a test for each one. It was a lively prayerful place. And growing. Secular businesses demand in service training. Why not the Church?

    Also, mountain top experiences are great. But in order for visitors to reap the benefits of a monastery visit, hours and hours of prayer and hard work are done by the monks. And this is done in the valley, so to speak.
    We need to learn to live in the valley, instead of leaping from peak to peak. Which takes us back to discipleship training.

    • “The main goal of the Church, after the worship of God, is to make disciples.”

      If I may add something to this Lina; the purpose of the Church is to produce saints.

      • You sure can. I am reading a book by C. S Lewis,” Reflections on the Psalms.” In it he writes, ” It is very possible that when God began to reveal Himself to men, to show them that He and nothing else is their true goal and the satisfaction of their needs, and that He has a claim upon them simply by being what He is, quite apart from anything He can bestow or deny…” For me, the saints have learned to live this. The monks and nuns are learning to live this way. And we are all supposed to learn to live like this.

        I once visited a Mennonite home, in another country. As I approached the door I felt the presence of God. He was palpable in the house. As I write this, I am castigating myself because I have not replicated this atmosphere in my own home. And I ask myself, Why not? If we could all turn our homes into out posts for God, what a difference the world would be.

    • Lina:

      I visited a Baptist church, in another country, that demanded that each member take several courses and pass a test for each one. It was a lively prayerful place.

      Despite the persecution of the Putin regime in connivance with +Kyrill, the Baptists are quietly attracting thousands in Russia…. Some are making their way to the U.S. Just sayin’.

  8. Popping in, just for a second:

    This is part of a series on “startsy”, which means, more or less, “elders”. In Russian, and probably in Greek, the term carries a bit more weight than the English “elder”. A “starets” is a trustworthy, experienced spiritual guide – even a living saint. There is another video in the “Startsy” series on St. John of Shanghai, for example.

    Very edifying. I hope all the rumors about o. Efrem are the false protestations of the secular minded. Time will tell.

  9. Father Edward Pehanich says

    Thank you for the wonderful video! Yes, I’ve heard about the many controversies surrounding Geronda’s monasteries. As a parish priest of 30+ years and a cradle born Orthodox….I’d love to have my parish full of controversies like that! Send me some of those people “brainwashed” by the Elder. It would be a nice change from the lukewarm, casual Orthodoxy that overflows many of our parishes.

    Father Edward Pehanich

  10. Archpriest Alexander F. C. Webster says

    Good of you, Misha, to pop in, as you say. I hope you’ll get all the way back into the fray here. SCOTUS is, as POTUS has endeavored methodically, likely to “fundamentally transform” (please pardon the split infinitive) American jurisprudence by the end of June, and the usual anti-Russian misanthropes have continued, in your absence, to misrepresent the religious mission of the Russian Orthodox Church and, of course, the Russian Federation’s domestic and foreign policies.

    • Carl Kraeff says

      I wonder if the sentiments you express in your last sentence will become more common. It is in the same line of thought as Metropolitan Jonah’s recent essay, The Resurrection of Holy Russia, at http://juicyecumenism.com/2014/04/19/metropolitan-jonah-the-resurrection-of-holy-russia/

      “Russia is on a path to the rebuilding and reintegration of its culture by Orthodox Christianity. It took the total collapse of the secular materialist Soviet system to prepare the ground for the new Christian re-structuring of society. This process, begun just 20 years ago, will take generations. It is not a return to the Soviet Union with its communist ideology. Rather, it is the return of Holy Russia, a society that derives its identity and way of life from the Orthodox Church. Reintegration means that every aspect of life derives its meaning from the Faith. Russia is not seeking political domination; rather, it sees itself now as the great bastion of Christendom. Orthodox Russia is again the defender of persecuted Christians, as it was historically, especially those being oppressed and butchered by Islamic regimes. Hence, its involvement in Syria. The resurrection of Holy Russia does not mean the subjection of all the people to the Church by force; but rather the gradual re-Christianization of the culture.

      Russia has, for the past thousand years, had a single strong leader, whether Czar, Commissar or President. It has no real tradition of democracy. It has no tradition of religious pluralism. It has always tolerated other religions, not without issues; but the essential world view that is at the heart and soul of Holy Russia is Orthodox Christianity. This has not yet been achieved, but is rather, a goal, a process that has begun and will take generations to fulfill. But the course is set.

      This means a definitive rejection of Western political values and social liberalism, democratic egalitarianism and moral relativism. It does not mean, however, the Russia is an enemy. Rather, if the West in its liberalism can tolerate that Russia and other countries have the freedom to determine their own life and culture, Russia can be a great friend. But not subservient. Russia is and will be subject to the political and economic vagaries that will inevitably bring it into conflict with other countries and its neighbors. However, that is simply the real politik of life in a broken world. When its reintegration is mature enough, Russia will likely enthrone a new Czar, an autocrat consecrated by the Church as an icon of Christ’s reign on earth. However, there are years to go, decades perhaps, even before they are finished cleaning up the mess that is left by the old regime.”

      • Archpriest Alexander F. C. Webster says

        Thanks for the excerpt, Carl. As our Jewish friends like to say, “From His Beatitude’s lips to God’s ears!”

      • Yianni Pappas says

        I am curious why the Russians are so eager to support the Monasteries of Elder Ephraim. What is the bigger picture here? Please don’t bother telling me that it is because the Greek Orthodox Church has fallen. Can forces that seek to divide the Greek Orthodox Church be from God?

        • George Michalopulos says

          Good question. My guess is that in the interminable chess-match between Moscow and the Phanar, Moscow sees an opening. As Greek-Americans we may not like it but parish life can be –not that it shouldn’t be or can’t be, but usually is–stultifying.

        • Mikail02 says

          Uhhh….because these monasteries are holy….and in the Athonite style.

      • Carl, quoting +Jonah:

        “Russia is on a path to the rebuilding and reintegration of its culture by Orthodox Christianity. It took the total collapse of the secular materialist Soviet system to prepare the ground for the new Christian re-structuring of society. This process, begun just 20 years ago, will take generations. It is not a return to the Soviet Union with its communist ideology. Rather, it is the return of Holy Russia, a society that derives its identity and way of life from the Orthodox Church…”

        Hey +Jonah. If Russia is so great, and if the task of rebuilding its Orthodox culture so important, WHY DON’T YOU GO BACK and take part in this grand enterprise?

        • Hey OOM, I’m sure Metropolitan Jonah would love to go back to Russia, if only the OCA Synod would FINISH HIS RELEASE.

          • Carl Kraeff says

            There is only one person holding back the official release; +Jonah who has not satisfied the conditions for his release, at least as of this moment.

          • Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) says

            Just so they agree he doesn’t have to eat like Russian monks do: He always had a Special Table when he stayed at Valaam so he wouldn’t have to eat according to any monastic standard!

            • Better he eats the flesh of animals than the flesh of brother bishops.

              • Carl Kraeff says

                Helga–For once I agree with you. Perhaps he is immune to the deleterious effects of eating rich food. Good for him! I also know that it is hard to keep to a meatless diet when one has certain physical ailments. That may be a reason for his special dietary needs.

          • ReaderEmanuel says

            They announced his official release to ROCOR today.

    • Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald says

      It’s now ILLEGAL in Russia to report on the death of members of Russia’s military. Can’t have people finding out that Russian soldiers fell in battle in Ukraine! What would the people think? Another Afghanistan They couldn’t hide those casualties either!
      (Just saying—going totally off-topic as doesFather Webster!)

      • Carl Kraeff says

        There is only one person holding back the official release; +Jonah who has not satisfied the conditions for his release, at least as of this moment.

  11. ReaderEmanuel says

    Most of us are not monastics, nor should we be expected to act like them, or for our parishes to be like monasteries. If you want to go to a monastery to learn from an elder, fine. That’s very commendable. But to expect a change in a normal parish to reflect monastic life is just unreasonable.

    But that brings up an interesting question: Why are our people flocking to monks like Fr. Ephraim and others? IMHO, it’s because of the total lack of education (and I’m talking about adults here) of the average Orthodox Christian. Part of that is, unfortunately, our clergy’s fault, but part of it is the lack of willingness to learn on the part of the people. I’m in a position where I do teach, in a way, about the faith all the time. You’d be surprised at the amount of people who just have no interest about learning more about their faith. The sad part is, it’s very easy through just cursory reading and this Internet age to find out about just about any aspect of the faith that you could want. The amount of committment I see has been on a downward trend for the last 30 to 40 years. WHY? Because people want to hear the truth, not Truth Lite. If we are going to mix truth with modernism, guess what? The people aren’t going to go to the church to get either one. If they want modernism, they will go to today’s secular society, and the people who are searching for TRUTH do not want a watered down version of it, so they’ll seek their goal elsewhere, too.

    • You are spot on!

    • Yianni Pappas says

      Right on Emmanuel. True Athonite Monasteries do not compete nor seek to undermine the local Parish. Holiness can be found in both.

      • George Michalopulos says

        Of course. In my opinion, it’s not either/or but both/and. To my experience those parishes which are more rigorous in their praxis tend to produce the more pilgrims to authentic monasteries where they are emboldened in the Faith.

        Speaking for myself, as much as I enjoy visiting Holy Archangels I can hardly wait to get back to my parish. Maybe I’m an outlier. I dunno.

        Any thoughts?

        • My experience was that there was a sizable contingent of “monastery people” who rarely went to their local parishes (and even more rarely communed there) and spent all their free time at the monasteries, often making long journeys together to distant Ephremite monasteries for special feasts, etc. It was encouraged by the monks. And those who couldn’t keep it up and went back to being “parish people” were unofficially excommunicated from the club and made to feel unwelcome. This may have been a highly localized phenomenon in one part of the country, I don’t know. But it didn’t seem healthy to me. Keep in mind George that you are at a relatively traditional OCA parish, so your experience may be different from that of GOA members. Coming from my ROCOR background, I totally understood why people would choose the monasteries over their often secularization parishes. What didn’t sit well with me was the way the monastics quietly encouraged the separateness and seemed to want to function as alternative parishes more than as occasional places of pilgrimage. Very different from the relationship between parishes and monasteries in the ROCOR world (or in Greece itself, from what I can tell).

          • Edward:

            What didn’t sit well with me was the way the monastics quietly encouraged the separateness and seemed to want to function as alternative parishes more than as occasional places of pilgrimage.

            The Ephraimite monasteries attract holier-than-thou Orthodox like dung attracts flies. Orthodox who choose that type of monastery over their local parish are usually into rigorous fasting, over-the-top ostentatious prostrations, podvigs, constantly seeking out blessings, fawning over the monks etc. These are spiritually insecure infantile Orthodox who make up a tiny percentage of the Church. They think they can work their way to heaven.

          • Mikail02 says

            Is this first hand experience you have? The monks or nuns told this to you themselves?

            I have first hand experience. I was told to stay in my home parish……. and visit the monastery at times for refreshment.

            • Arron Little says

              I was told the exact same thing (which is a shame because the monastery is only a 20 minute drive while my parish is slightly over an hour drive).

        • ReaderEmanuel says

          I live not too far from the St. Gregory Palamas monastery in Hayesville, OH. Maybe an hour’s drive. In fact, I was invited to bring my choir there and chant when the monastery was opened and consecrated by Archbishop Iakovos several years ago. It was quite an experience. I’ve been there more than once. I’ve known a few monks; Fr. Seraphim Dedes and I are friends. But never, ever have I seen any case where the monastics “pushed” their way of life on regular faithful and parishes like this man has. The purpose of a monastery is not to act as an alternative to a regular parish, unless one is out in the boonies where there isn’t one available. It is for the monks. People, if they are so inclined, can go there and benefit greatly, but expecting those of us in the outside world to live like them and follow their ways is preposterous. I agree with you, George, in that the parishes that are more rigorous in their orthopraxia will have people drawn to the monasteries. That’s fine if you want to learn something, as I said before.

  12. Charles P. says

    My husband and I visited this monestary. The people were open-armed and non-judgemental. Praise be to Christ Jesus!

    • Well this is curious, I mean what did you expect? No one is turned away from worship-unless you are saying you were clear to them you have a boyfriend you are sexually active with and they communed you??

      • Charles P. says

        We told the monks we were legally married. We were allowed to receive the Eucharist. Our visit to this monestary was an edifying pilgrimage for us.

        • I don’t believe it. There is a worldwide effort to push Gay Marriage everywhere, global liberal foundations and intelligence agencies are spending millions to push this in the media and in the courts, and much money is used to fund people posting points of view sympathetic to the cause on line on Christian websites and forums. Traditional Christianity is officially under attack, but most are too Naive to see the real threat. We have enemies. They are in high places. This is a top-down effort to destroy the power of the Christian churches from within and it is working. The Christian Church(s) represents one of the power blocks in the way of the global elite. It must be destroyed and discredited for them to increase their power. Gay Marriage is a masterstroke of strategy. Don’t be fooled by these posts. They are lies. May God have Mercy on us all.

          • Dan Fall says

            No, Gene. This is one person’s effort to make people look foolish for reacting by saying silly things like the Clinton foundation is behind the gay marriage movement.

            Come on man.

            • So what about Caitlyn Jenner? It fits into the agenda being pushed on us. There is big money behind it. Believe it.

        • Estonian Slovak says

          I can only answer you this way. Either you aren’t telling the truth or else the monk or monks misguided you. If you and others like you could name at least one Church Father who supports your position, I would be much obliged.
          Sadly, I suspect all you can do is label people like myself as “fundamentalists” , in other words, “bigots”. I suppose we would be classed together with some snake-handling hillbilly sectarians from the Ozarks. I guess if you can smear someone with the “bigot” label, then you need not listen to anything he has to say, even if he MIGHT be telling the truth!

        • And they understood you meant to each other??

        • I do believe Charles P. is also playing with the like/dislike buttons . . . .

  13. I found this on the webpage of St. Nektarios in Roscoe, NY. It’s the story of King David and Nathan. How appropriate for us to reflect on this story and its interpretation. If the Ephraimites practice what they preach, good for them!

    There was a rich man and a poor man. The rich man had many sheep and calves. The poor man had nothing other than a small lamb. Some day, a visitor came to the rich man; but instead of slaughtering one of his own animals, he slaughtered the poor man’s lamb in order to provide hospitality to his guest” (2nd Kings 12:1-4). What was the king’s reaction? Assuming that it was someone else, he became enraged and said to Nathan: “This person must be put to death! “(2nd Kings 12:5-6). What a harsh ruling! This is how people are. They easily condemn others exceedingly strictly and harshly.

  14. specialoperations92 says

    “… laymen who should be going to their local parish are driving two or three hours for the pleasure of attending long services without the benefit of pews.” Hahaha I mean this guy is definitely a fool but after reading the above I was convinced that this guy is a stupid retard, a fool standing above all other fools. Well haha I guess he’s at the top of something, being the number 1 fool! “…without the benefit of the pews.” Haha can’t help myslelf. Dude. You’re such an idiot. Anyway, bye crazy fool…oh and this could open a can of worms, literally, all you rubbish up there is exactly that, a can of worms. Poor fool.

  15. I support this move of traditional monasticism in America, wholeheartedly. I also hope that Elder Ephraim is a genuine holy man. I’ve heard some of the pros and cons expressed in the public arena. I tend to believe in the man, more importantly Christ in the man, more so than the detractors, for a couple of reasons. First, I can see the fruits of their labors. The other is that his detractors seem to focus on personal aspects of Fr. Ephraim and what kind of person they think he ought to be. That’s the wrong focus, the wrong judgment, I think.

    George, you’ve spent time at Holy Archangels monastery. From what I can see online it seems to be growing and becoming a spiritual oasis in itself. What is your impression of it?

    • I know people who have met Elder Ephraim (ordinary people, not crazed Internet disciple types), and they have said his holiness is palpable. So to speak, his presence sparks a spiritual reaction.

      I think the same could be said of St. John Maximovich, who was also controversial in his day, and similarly had a clear holy presence about him.

  16. Maybe many of us are to secular to understand Ephraim/Athonite monasticism, but I do know that the Great Commission is central to the life and ministry of an obedient Church. All Orthodox Christians, monks included, are called to live and preach the Gospel. We are called upon to bring people to the saving knowledge of faith in Christ.

    Yet the Ephraim monasteries worship in a foreign language to Americans-Greek. How can the broader public hear the Word of God, which I believe is expressed through the hymns and readings of the Church, if the Word can not be understood. St Paul stated that it is better to speak 10 words in a known language rather than 10,000 words in an unknown language. Furthermore, I do not believe that one can worship in an unknown language. Many of the monastics at the Ephraim monasteries do not know any Greek and are forced to pray, if that is what it is, in the Greek language. I was brought up in a Greek home, learned Greek as my first language, and still can not pray the Lord’s prayer in Greek. Maybe it is because I am to secular that I cannot understand Greek and its use in the Church in America. Some how I can not understand how Greek serves God’s purposes.

    • ReaderEmanuel says

      Johnkal, I don’t think God cares one iota what language we decide to pray to Him in. And I’m a second generation Greek American who understands and reads both languages.

      But you bring up an interesting point: The monastics are FORCED to pray in Greek, even if they don’t know it? You know what that reminds me of? Muslims. They are compelled to read and learn the Quran and pray in Arabic, whether that is their native tongue or not. Muslims practice bibliolatreia (book worship) if you study their faith closely. Are we to become like the Muslims and the pre-Vatican II Latins, who insist on one tongue above all others? That’s NOT Orthodoxy and never has been. We do not practice language worship or book worship, we worship the One True God and His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. We worship Christ, not the Greek language!!

      • Ioannis M. says

        The monasteries do not practice book worship (nor name worship as some accusers have tried to equate the monks who say the Jesus prayer with the Name-Worshiper Heresy)

        Years ago, when Fr. Raphael (Micah Andrews) was still a novice at St. Anthony’s Monastery, I asked him why he said the prayer out loud in Greek, though he didn’t know Greek. He told me that he had asked Geronda Ephraim if he could say it in English because it didn’t make sense to him in Greek and he didn’t understand the word. Geronda Ephraim responded, “The name of Christ is more powerful when said in Greek. You may not understand the words but the demons do, and the name of Christ terrifies and burns them. Besides, I want the pilgrims to hear the prayer being yelled in Greek, just like on Mount Athos.” On a pilgrimage to St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, I once asked Fr. Epifanios how the converts or non-Greeks adjusted to the services and readings being done in Greek since they didn’t understand the language. He responded, “Actually, even many Greeks do not understand the services as they are read and chanted in an older Greek much different from the modern Greek in use today. However, it’s almost a blessing that they do not understand the services because they can focus more on the Jesus prayer during the services which is the essence.” I then asked if they would ever have church services in English, since Father Ephraim (the younger one) at St. Anthony’s Monastery designed a Byzantine music book for English speaking chanters in Western notation. He responded, “Probably not but anything is possible. The monastery is a Greek Orthodox monastery and therefore the language spoken is Greek. However, out of economia, Geronda Joseph sometimes allows English books to be read during the trapeza meals.”

        In some of the nunneries, it is even more strict. Non-Greek nuns may not have a blessing to speak in English to the other nuns and the Greek nuns are given an obedience to only speak Greek to them. Thus by always communicating in Greek, they learn the language faster.

        It makes sense since Geronda Ephraim is considered the new St. Kosmas Aitolos. Through the secret schools and preaching, it is said St. Kosmas saved the Greek language from extinction during the Ottoman occupation of Greece. Here in America, most of the young Greeks do not understand Greek. In many cases, those who do understand the language do not know how to read or write Greek, only speak it. Thus, the monasteries can also be seen somewhat as secret schools, preserving the Byzantine ecclesiastical culture, the Greek language, Greek literacy and by example, encouraging Greeks to learn their own language so as to understand the services and patristic texts. Thus, one could say years from now, as they did with St. Kosmas, “If it wasn’t for Geronda Ephraim building the monasteries in America, the Greek language may have been lost and forgotten amongst the Greeks here.” Thus, I think Geronda Ephraim is doing the Greeks in America a favor by remaining steadfast in his only Greeks.

        As well, one should also remember that a large number of pilgrims who visit the monastery do not understand English or if they do, it’s a minimal conversational knowledge, not a theological or ecclesiological knowledge.

        • George Michalopulos says

          Ioannis, although I have become increasingly sympathetic to Elder Ephraim, I would have to part ways with him on the issue of the language. I for one don’t understand how the word “Christ” is more powerful when spoken in Greek than it is in English. (I am glad however to see that it “burns demons” when they hear it.)

          On this point at least, the Elder and I will have to agree to disagree. I am however intrigued by the possibility that in preserving the Greek language there may be an eschatological –so to speak–purpose which I, in my weakness and spiritual immaturity cannot discern. As such, it would behoove us to refrain from arguments regarding the language, especially when we remember that Ephraim is in a line of prophets such as the Elders Paissius and Joseph.

          • Nonsense. A reason to not argue about it is that these are Fr. Ephraim’s monasteries, and he can run them however he thinks best when it comes to language. One doesn’t need to make him a prophet. They should leave off giving nonsensical and scattershot reasons for doing everything in Greek. It would honestly be better for them to just say, “because Fr Ephraim says so,” and leave it at that.

            And are we to turn off the brains God gave us when confronted with such patent nonsense as “it’s more powerful in Greek?” Everyone knows that Slavonic is more powerful than Greek and that the devil speaks Latin. (That is tongue in cheek, for the more concrete minded who may be inclined to argue with me on those points.)

            I will stop there, as I expounded in the subject below.

          • Tim R. Mortiss says

            I figure the Aramaic form of the Hebrew “messiah” probably has power, too.

            I know nothing of monasteries, but assume they can use any language they want.

          • George, are you suggesting that the Elder Ephraim speaks infallibly.

            • George Michalopulos says

              Not at all! Far from it. In fact, I think that in our universal brokenness as human beings a necessary dialectic is taking place regarding the language issue –and that Elder Ephraim may quite possibly be wrong. (I shudder to even think this.) Regardless, it is possible that the Lord is using broken shards such as myself to present the other side of this argument.

          • M. Stankovich says

            Mr. Michaloupulos,

            I believe I share with you a natural progression of acceptance of the favourable role of these monasteries in the US, and somehow I cannot resist noting that the Elder Ephraim tapped into what seems to be an inherent suspicion of Orthodox in America for anyone who appears to be pious, traditional, and draws “followers” who recognize genuine piety. Whatever… It is also my experience that the demons are especially fluent in the English language; both conversant and instructive. Back to the point.

            I attended an OCA parish in NY founded by a handful of Greek Orthodox individuals unhappy with the GOA parishes locally, and in particular were sensitive to the issue of language. One man in particular – a true cornerstone & founder of the parish in every sense of the word – nevertheless always made the point that, “At home, we speak Greek.” This man was a lifelong engineer for the City of NY, made an excellent living, and stood to receive an excellent pension, all of which was thrown into chaos when his wife died of cancer soon before he was to officially retire. In this point in his life, I started to occasionally drop by to see him, keep him company for an hour or so, as he was in a state of being inconsolable over the loss of his wife. Any mention of her sent him into tears. I know that the priest of the parish spent many hours with him, as a pastor and a friend. As his mood changed, it was not simply “time,” that healed him, but a relationship he had started with a monk who, as it turned out, was “scouting” properties for monastic communities as an assistant to the Elder Ephraim, who had come to the US for medical treatment. I will openly confess when he told me he was donating money to this “elder,” I said to myself, “a group of Orthodox fanatics have found a vulnerable, grieving man, and are going to rob him him blind.” Then the man’s daughter met the Elder and chose to become a monastic. How to explain this? I was sure this would explode into an epic scandal of madness, at which point I would join many others who “do not speak peace, But they devise deceitful words against those who are quiet in the land… [and say], “Aha, aha, our eyes have seen it!” (Ps. 35:20-21) It has not happened.

            One last point, however. The man who only spoke Greek at home ironically did not understand the Greek of the New Testament or of the Liturgy. The monk told him to “Start slowly. Just recite the words of the Psalter as prescribed for each day, and in a week you’ll have read the entire Psalter. Slowly it will come to you; it will begin to make sense to you.” It did not, and this native speaker of modern Greek bagged it after a month. While he faithfully visited the monastery and his daughter, he never pursued “learning” Greek again. He settled on waging war with the English-speaking demons like the rest of us.

            • George Michalopulos says


            • Two things to remember:

              1. Understanding the texts matter. That is why the Prophets, Evangelists, Apostles, and Holy Father’s wrote them and passed them down to us.

              2. As my one-time spiritual father of blessed memory pointed out to me, somewhat sternly, not everyone is a polyglot, and there is no point in pretending that everyone can learn another language anymore than every one can learn to hit a golf ball consistently down the middle of a fairway. He had been a monk on Athos and in the Holy Land before returning to the US for health reasons to pastor a ROCOR parish. Slavonic was his first language of prayer. I can bear witness that he served in traditional BCP/KJV English more beautifully than most Anglican clergy, and a Greek parishioner told me he served in and spoke Greek like a native.

              I had made some ungenerous comment to him about converts not learning Greek or Slavonic, and Russians and Greeks not learning English. But the good father set me straight, reminding me that my relative facility with languages was at least partly a gift.

              That said, I doubt that a reasonably intelligent and pious native Greek speaker can’t learn to read and understand the Psalms in LXX Greek. But I could have told you before reading the rest of the story that what the monk recommended wouldn’t work. It would be just as effective as someone sitting and reading Beowulf to a modern American really slowly and expecting that they would understand it by the end.

              Most people need assistance and actual teaching, or other aids. I can learn a lot of Greek and Slavonic because I already know what the texts say in good English, and know how to find my way around grammars and lexicons, and because I’ve never been shy abut askin questions. I own a number of Slavonic liturgical books recently published in Russia that have didactic material in the back of each volume (Psalter, Kannonik, Chasoslov, etc ) — alphabet, numbering system, extensive Slavonic-Russian glossaries, etc. I have seen a Slavonic-Russian Psalter with parallel texts on facing pages. This is the sort of thing that is necessary — and even more is needed. It doesn’t take long to learn to “read” liturgical Greek and Slavonic out loud, but without a whit of comprehension ever taking place. To actually understand what one is reading (and can listeners understand very well if the person reading doesn’t understand) takes concerted effort and the right kind of learning aids.

              Then the question is whether it is worth it. For me, absolutely — it is a window into new worlds. But for many, it would be like beating ones head against the wall and would be an impediment to worship rather than an enhancement.

              Someone who was a fan of these monasteries (but not incapable of insight ) said it well to me once. Fr Ephraim is a Greek peasant — this is both his strength and his weakness. It is not for me to say whether the Greek only thing is good or bad in general. But I see no way that it can be good for monastics and parishioners who have little or no facility for languages.

              • Tim R. Mortiss says

                This issue is very fascinating to me personally, having joined the GOC just in the last couple of years at age 65, from an Anglo-Scots Presbyterian background. I know a little French, a little German, but only a little and have no especial talent with languages, alas.

                Our priest, who has no Greek ethnicity at all (he was raised a Hindu, of native-Indian parents, but in the US) has great facility in languages, and learned fluent Greek, after his ordination in Jerusalem, as a pastor in a Cyprus parish. The Greeks in our parish are more than impressed with his command of Greek.

                What really interests me is that the Greek-speakers don’t seem to understand the Greek of the services, though sometimes this admission only comes a bit reluctantly, and I can’t make any generalizations, except that the small number I’ve talked to in any detail about it don’t understand a large part of it, but “understand some”.

                I understand it’s not modern Greek, but I had assumed that if one was a modern Greek-speaker, that a lifetime of hearing services, psalms, Gospel readings, and reading service books would have taught one Biblical Greek.

                Of course, a lot of these folks may now have less than great command of modern Greek, as well.

                Here’s a question: how different is LXX Greek from the NT Greek of a few centuries later? I.e., how divergent is the LXX from the NT?

                Anyhow, I find it of great interest.

                As for myself, I know the letters and can sound out most of the Greek, though not at speed; i.e., I can transliterate to a certain degree. I confess to lacking both the motivation and the interest in undertaking to actually learn Biblical Greek, though that may change someday.

                • You put your finger on a major hurdle when you say that having them admit that they don’t understand the texts of the services very well “comes a bit reluctantly.”

                  This reluctance to admit that one doesn’t understand is a major obstacle to keeping the language alive as something that actually has meaning. These are NOT dead languages — they are living liturgical languages — but they can’t live if they aren’t understood. And a related obstacle is the idea that simple repeated exposure to it will somehow produce understanding (as in the example of the Ephremite monk who advised the man to just read the Psalms slowly, and that he would eventually understand what he was reading).

                  As I have noted before, I challenge the idea that anyone can learn a language simply by hearing it read and sung — even if it is closely related to one’s own spoken language (like modern Greek and Biblical/liturgical Greek). People like clergy, choir directors, and Greek psaltis generally have very good levels of Greek and Slavonic comprehension, but this is because they actively engage with the texts on a regular basis and have often had some degree of formal or at least informal instruction. It doesn’t take a lot of instruction, and then simply using it makes understanding grow. But some is needed.

                  The level of comprehension someone has depends on the level of exposure and the type of teaching that one receives. I remember a ROCOR priest telling me about when he was learning to read Slavonic out loud as a young boy. His father, also a priest, would hear him make a mistake in the psalm, and then, from across the room, interrupt him and repeat the phrase properly — and then finish the entire Psalm from memory, then going back to explain particular words, etc. If someone never reads their prayer book and Bible at home in Slavonic or the original Greek — and don’t have some guidance — they aren’t going to understand it no matter how many times they listen to it in church.

                  I would add that the level of comprehension that the laity can ever hope to achieve is very dependent on the quality of chanting and singing. Generally, in my experience, priests are pretty clear in their pronunciations in both Greek and Slavonic worshipping parishes. Choirs and chanters/readers? Not always so much. Many Greek chanters seem to love to warble and wail and ornament their way into incomprehension, and the corresponding sin among the Slavs is having readers and choirs read and sing so fast that I challenge the ability of anyone to understand what they are saying. Part of this, frankly, comes as a result of a certain unspoken nihilism: “since the people aren’t going to be able to understand what they are hearing anyway, why bother, and why not either show off/get done faster?”

                  To be fair, I have heard more than my share of incomprehensible English choirs and readers — so it isn’t even remotely accurate to say that switching to English somehow fixes things. I remember being in one Russian parish where I was struggling to make out the Slavonic words being sung indistinctly and way too fast… only to figure out a few minutes later that they were actually singing in English! And the first language of most of the singers was English, no less…

                  With regard to your questions, from what I can tell, there is no fundamental difference between LXX Greek, NT Greek, patristic Greek, and liturgical Greek — it’s all Koine Greek (as opposed to ancient classical Attic Greek or modern Greek). Peter Papoutsis could, I am sure, point out things that distinguish different time periods and places in the composition of koine Greek — there is variety to be sure. There are differences in vocabulary because of subject matter, and the LXX is packed full of Hebraisms since the translators were wanting to be as faithful as possible to the Hebrew original. (Just as many things in the KJV that are thought to be English archaisms actually are phrases and sentence constructions that are deliberately following Greek idioms and sentence structure.)

                  When you think about it, this should make sense, since the Psalter is the long-time prayer book and hymnal of the Church. I recall overhearing a priest telling a young deacon once that he needed to immerse himself in the Psalter every day, because once he knew the Psalter backwards and forwards, he would find he would be able to read and understand virtually any prayer in any other service book. The Fathers who wrote the hymnography (just like the Apostles who wrote the New Testament) were immersed in the LXX, and especially the Psalter — it was their Bible. Much of it directly quotes the Psalter. (And really, this is true in any traditional liturgical language — learn the Psalter and you are much of the way to mastering it.)

                  • ReaderEmanuel says

                    Edward, you are spot on! I’ve been directing Orthodox choirs for almost 39 years…reading for much longer than that…you hit it right on the head! One of the most important things for the reader or the choir is to use good, clear ecphonesis, no matter what language is being used. Sometimes, however, the church itself can either aid or hinder this, depending on the acoustics. I’ve been in some churches where no matter how hard you work on diction, the words sometimes will still tend to get muddied and lost. (It also pains me when I hear some chanters, especially older ones, who were taught to sound nasal.) You are correct in that our knowledge and comprehension increases with exposure and engagement with the texts. But here is where you contradict yourself (and is the one item I disagree with you about). You said that you challenge the idea that anyone can learn a language simply by hearing it read or sung, but before you said as I mentioned above, about increasing comprehension by increased exposure. How do you think we learned the language we speak when we were all young toddlers? By hearing it from our parents and others, before we learned to read or received any formal instruction in school. I was extremely fortunate; I was formally taught Greek not only in Greek School as a youth, but also by a wonderful priest who was a Fulbright scholar, a very, very, very smart man, who also taught me much as far as chanting is concerned (I already had much formal training in Western music). He was a fabulous teacher!

                    However, there are two sides to this language issue as discussed. Certainly we don’t want to totally do away with Greek or Slavonic or Arabic or Romanian or whatever language you want to mention. But we also need to remember two things: First, it is most important for ordinary people who do not understand those languages to be able to comprehend the Liturgy and what is being spoken and sung; and second, we need to be extremely careful that we do not make the same mistake as the Roman Catholic Church did when they dropped Latin and went to a vernacular liturgy, and that is, using that as an excuse or a stepping-stone (by some priests and bishops) to do away with or modernize many of the other traditions as well.

                    I also think many chanters, choral arrangers, etc. go off the track and go into long, melismatic passages, forgetting one very important aspect of Orthodox music: that it is the TEXT that is all-important. The melody is secondary and is only a vehicle for the text. That is why I don’t comprehend some arrangers who absolutely insist upon pigeon-holing an English translation (either a printed one or one of their own) into an existing Byzantine melody. Many times they make incomprehensible or awkward translations in order to do this. And, BTW, many of the musical arrangements that come out of monasteries are especially guilty of this. They don’t realize that it is the melody that has to fit the text, not vice-versa…it’s rather difficult for those of us who translate hymns into English, as we have to concentrate on being linguistically and theologically accurate as well as being poetic and musical, all at the same time. I wish more musicians would realize this…many of the translations I see are absolutely horrible… But translations used by church musicians is another issue that I could go on and on about…

                    • Lots of good comments and we are in agreement on almost everything. When you think about it, I didn’t contradict myself, though. Of course we learned to speak our native tongues by being immersed in them, without formal instruction. But we do receive informal instruction. Your mother points at a chair and says “chair.” You move from baby talk to toddler talk to small child talk, and one day you are in a college classroom discussing Kafka. You know the drill.

                      This isn’t remotely how exposure to liturgical languages work for the vast majority of those who attend church. There is no equivalent to “see Spot, see Spot run” with a picture of Spot running on the page. This is why many Greeks and Russians who have attended Liturgy every Sunday and Feast day of their lives have such poor levels of comprehension, even if they speak modern Russian and Greek fluently. How well would a child learn English if the only exposure to the language was passively listening to someone read the text of the Liturgy over and over again in English? There is no point of reference, no stepping stones.

                      Now if your pious mother and father teach you your prayers at home in Greek or Slavonic and explain what they mean, and answer your questions, different story. Or if your Greek or Russian school includes the vocabulary used in the liturgical services and specifically teaches the liturgical texts and what they mean. Or if you do what I did with both Greek and Slavonic, and spend countless hours with with books with the same texts in English sitting side by side, and glossaries/dictionaries/grammars — that is different. That is is the active engagement I am talking about, and without some form of it, I challenge the idea that anyone is going to learn liturgical Greek or Church Slavonic by simply standing in services repeatedly, passively listening, or by sitting and trying to read it cold, with no aids to learning.

                      You make a vital point, one I have made here before. Namely that we must keep the RC example in front of us as a cautionary tale of how real theological changes can be introduced under the guise of translations in the vernacular. To this day, I doubt many Catholics realize that the Novus Ordo isn’t a translation of the old Latin mass, but was a completely rewritten Latin mass, which was changed even more when translated.

                      The ROCOR’s body of translations is complete and very well done. I would be very content with worshipping for the rest of my life with those texts. But I see great value, as long as we have recent immigrants and communities that have maintained vernacular Russian (i.e. people who are perfectly capable of learning Slavonic with modest effort and proper teaching), to maintaining Slavonic as a living liturgical language that keeps translators and would-be translators honest. I think there are enough pious laymen and ordinary parish clergy who understand Greek and Slavonic extremely well, such that not liturgical innovators would be able to pull the wool over their eyes. And that is a good thing.

                    • M. Stankovich says

                      It seems to me you have framed the matter rather succinctly: native speakers of the modern Slavic languages & Greek do not understand the versions of liturgical languages being maintained in the ethnic churches they attend. What logical sense does it make to provide a systematic approach to teaching them the liturgical languages – and to say they are “living” languages is absurd as nothing is to evolve or append ever – rather than to translate the texts into colloquial Russian or Greek as the Serbs and some Ukrainians have done? The church versions of the languages serve as checks against colloquial “intrusions” & misrepresentations/mistranslations, but it would certainly prevent the necessity of instructing every succeeding generation in languages that are now academic.

                    • Michael, I would have to disagree with you about whether Slavonic and liturgical Greek are living languages. I was careful to say that I consider them to be living liturgical languages. There is nothing new about liturgical languages in the Christian tradition — as nearly as we can tell, the Hebrew read in synagogues at the time of Christ was not the same as the Aramaic spoken on the street (by those who didn’t speak Greek).

                      There were surely differences between the Greek of the Septuagint and the Greek spoken on the street in, say, the year 500 — and yet we have no evidence that the Old Testament texts and Psalter were being rewritten into the vernacular, and one can’t argue that this was because the Byzantine Church had no capability of doing so, or was under oppression, or whatever.

                      As long as languages are being prayed with and can be understood with modest efforts, they are living liturgical languages, as far as I am concerned. I suspect that, for instance, Latin was a very living liturgical language for pious Italians and Spaniards well up into the 20th century. It was certainly a living language among the learned of Europe for perhaps a millennium or more after it had died out as a spoken vernacular living language.

                      I am a native Anglophone, so where I weigh in with the most passion is on liturgical English (and I am in the old-fashioned camp on that subject). What the Greeks and Slavs do is something I can only comment on from the outside. My point remains that I think there are only two choices that make sense from a standpoint of spiritual health: 1. Translate into a form of the vernacular that has a higher level of being understood (it can even be consciously archaic, as was the KJV in its day). 2. Admit that your people don’t understand the texts of the services to an adequate degree, and engage in an active program of teaching the liturgical language in your churches. Since I am not a native speaker of a Slavic language, I have no idea how much effort learning Slavonic entails for someone who speaks Russian or Bulgarian or whatever.

                      But the worst choice of all is to engage in a farce of pretending that people understand more than they do, and have a “culture of silence” on the subject. I would also hasten to add that comprehension is always going to be lower for the Bible and our liturgical texts than for the newspaper. These texts are simply chock-full of words and concepts that are alien to the modern mind. I think I’ve linked to this before, but Fr. Florovsky had a wonderful essay that contains this quotation: The modern man often complains that the truth of God is offered to him in an “archaic idiom” — i.e., in the language of the Bible — which is no more his own and cannot be used spontaneously.

                      Needless to say, he strongly took issue with this idea, pointing out that is we who must conform to the idiom of Scripture and not the reverse. No amount of modernizing of the language can avoid this process (and I would submit can actually in many ways hinder the process by creating an illusion that one understands more than one actually does) — and as I have pointed out, sometimes changes in meaning are introduced in the guise of “making it understandable.” I always note with humor that there are those who think that a text is rendered modern and “understandable” simply by changing thee/thou to you/you. Something as simple as “Blessed art Thou” is hardly rendered “understandable” to an unchurched man off the street by making it “Blessed are You.” I’m still grappling with what the depths of what it really means after decades of reading and singing it.

          • George, if a proponent of gay marriage posted something with that kind of nonsensical argumentation and reasoning, you would rightly have them for lunch.

          • George, if a proponent of gay marriage posted something with the kind of nonsensical argumentation and silly reasoning that Ioannis exhibited, you would rightly have them for lunch. Put down the Kool-aid and step back slowly. There are good things to say about these monasteries — and there are things that devout and traditional Orthodox Christians can legitimately be concerned about. Prophet? That is something for the Church to decide after he is gone, not a tool for stopping debate in the here and now.

            • George Michalopulos says

              I don’t remember using the word “prophet” per se only that he stood in the line of modern-day prophets. If anything, in another post I said something along the lines of in our (Ephraim’s and mine own) broken humanity, we may be part of a dialectic regarding the proper use of language in the liturgy. To my mind, that’s a charitable way of saying that both of are sinners and neither one of us is perfect.

              Having met the man, I am impressed with his deep humility and child-like faith. I’m sure he prays like all of us should for “a Christian ending to our lives, full of repentance and giving a good account before the awesome judgment seat of Christ.”

        • Ioannis,

          I mean no disrespect, but how about Syriac-does it have even more power since that is the language Jesus spoke?

          • Everyone knows that Christ speaks Slavonic and that Latin is the devil’s language of choice. Do I have to explain everything? 🙂

        • ReaderEmanuel says

          Don’t get me wrong, Ioannis, I am all for preserving the Greek language in our services. You are correct in that it is different than modern Greek. But I take strong issue with the statement that “it’s a blessing that they don’t understand the services because they can focus more on the Jesus Prayer…” I’m sorry, but when we are taking part in the Liturgy, aren’t we supposed to be focused on it? There is so much meaning, teaching, praise, preaching, etc. during the Liturgy that I can’t imagine anyone actually saying that someone is better off focusing on something else…maybe I’m all wet. But the point is, Orthodoxy has always used a language the native peoples can understand. And BTW, I use St. Anthony’s English music books and hymns all the time. But having Greek prayers being “yelled in Greek, just like on Mt. Athos” is just plain silly. We’re not on Mt. Athos. We’re not in Greece. We’re Americans and the language here is English. Say the prayers in Greek if you want, that’s fine and I encourage people to learn them in Greek…but as I said earlier, does God really care? I kinda don’t think so. He cares about what is in our hearts, not so much about how we express it.

          • George Michalopulos says

            I very much agree that corporate prayer is vitally important in a parish setting. So much so that I have a rather fervent belief that if the congregation is not singing in unison, then (forgive me for saying this) there’s very little real prayer going on.

            • George, this is just as much poppycock as the assertion that people are better off not understanding the services. By that logic, we should be reciting every prayer the priest prays along with him. The truth is that there are many ways to pray with understanding — the most common and powerful one in the Orthodox tradition is that of listening intently and joining oneself to the prayer of the Church. As any choir member or reader can tell you, it is easy to sing loudly any text, only to realize at the end that you can’t remember a word of what you just sang. It is at least as easy to have one’s mind wander when ones mouth is moving as when one is listening to someone else read.

              • George Michalopulos says

                Duly chastened. Regarding corporate praise and worship I over-generalized. Of course it’s impossible for everyone to know and recite/chant the occasional prayers of the day –that’s why we have cantors, choirs and readers. And of course it’s equally likely that a person may forget the words of the hymn he sung 5 minutes ago. Mea culpa.

      • Yianni Pappas says

        I agree. There does seem to be a militant spirit in Ephraim’s followers.

        • Mikail02 says

          Correction: Those who attend these monasteries are devout and humble followers of Christ who are grateful for a chance to pray with the holy monks and possibly seek spiritual direction.

          If you are looking for militant, perhaps you should introduce yourself to the local LGBT group.

        • There was a militant spirit in the Apostles and Christ himself. Your point?

    • George Michalopulos says

      Johnkal, I don’t disagree with you at all in your particulars. I too believe that the people should worship in the language in which they speak (albeit a higher, more elevated form of said language). I also fervently believe in the Great Commission.

      Where I disagree with you is in the implication that the Great Commission is not being propagated at these monasteries. Far from it. I for one didn’t know that St Antony’s was a such a huge tourist destination in Arizona (second only o the Grand Canyon). That’s a remarkable witness to the faith.

      As for the language, you certainly have a point. My hunch is that because there is no consistent English Liturgikon put out by the GOA Elder Ephraim made the decision to stick with what is tried and true. That’s speculation on my part and nothing more. Regardless, it hasn’t hurt (what I perceive to be) the witness and evangelism.

      • George, I suspect you are right — namely that they went with what was tried and true (and unassailable). The main translations in use in the GOA that I have seen are gawd-awful. I heard a probably apocryphal story that the Greeks intentionally used bad English so the people would prefer Greek. I know that when I was member of a GOA parish for a couple of years, I breathed a sigh of relief every time we went back to Greek after a spate of painful-to-listen-to English.

        The clue that the Ephremites might use more English if it were traditional liturgical English is that they have done a tremendous job of producing a massive amount of outstanding and beautifully produced Byzantine chant materials in English (made freely available on the internet). They have taken the highly unusual tack of producing all of these materials in both traditional liturgical English and its modernized cousin. Since traditional liturgical English is nowhere in use in the GOA that I have seen, the only reason I can think of to do this is if they have a long-term strategy to transform the GOA’s English usage into something more traditionally liturgical (and to blessedly return the music to traditional Byzantine chant, rather than the Americanized, electric organ driven, versions that one so often encounters).

        And I completely disagree that it is impossible to learn to pray in something other than ones native tongue. When I lived in Germany as a college student, I went to mass nearly every day, and those masses in German spoke deeply to my searching soul as as a then Anglican who knew my journey would end somewhere other than Canterbury. All of those repetitions of “Herr, erbarme dich” in the Kyrie probably softened me up for becoming Orthodox…

        When I attended that Greek parish, that language went from one that I had studied only to allow myself insights into Biblical and patristic literature into a real language of prayer for me — albeit at the level of a spiritual “toddler.” The same has happened to me — to an even greater degree and to a deeper level — with Slavonic. One huge advantage to Greek and Slavonic is that they are pretty much set in stone everywhere those languages are used. One really feels it is worth memorizing things. I can go to a Greek church anywhere in the world and sing the troparion of the Cross, “Soson kyrie…” or read the Trisagion prayers and fit right in. I could go to any Slavonic-worshipping kliros anywhere in the world and open the parish Chasoslov and take off reading the Hours with exactly the same text I use at home or my parish here — no matter which publishing company’s Chasoslov it was, and in whatever country that publisher were to be found. I own Slavonic liturgical books that were published in the US at Jordanville, in Russia from a variety of publishers, and in the Ukraine — the texts vary not a whit. Not remotely true in English.

        I will hasten to add, however, that what I am talking about is taking the time actually to learn the prayers and hymns and working toward learning the language. The very process of engaging with an ancient liturgical language is an act of prayer, even if one only comes to understand it in bits and pieces. There is a serious hole, though, in the idea that one can stand, uncomprehending, through years of services in Greek or Slavonic, and get the same benefit that one gets from services in a language one actually understands or a liturgical language that one is seriously engaged in learning.

        I do not advocate stopping the use of those languages — quite the opposite, but I think that churches that use those languages need to acknowledge the obvious and have strategies for helping their parishioners use those languages with understanding.

        In my fairly extensive exposure to the Ephremite world, this is not what happens. I had a monk tell me that he thought that all of the laity and monks who stood through services they couldn’t understand often got more benefit than those Greeks who could understand the services because they could just stand and pray the Jesus Prayer — which is a real perversion of what the practice of the Church has been (the great ascetics who ended up praying nothing but the prayer of the heart had first been schooled for decades of praying the prayers of the Church in languages they could understand), and reminded me of the old Roman Catholic practice of many parishioners just kneeling and saying the Rosary (“telling their beads”) while the priest and sacristans were up on stage doing a private magic show.

        I’m sure there are some who attend Ephremite monasteries who are seriously learning Greek, but I didn’t encounter any, nor did I encounter any emphasis from the monks on having their “regulars” learn Greek. I gathered that people were just supposed to soak up the holy atmosphere and learn about the faith through ways other than the liturgical texts being prayed. I think this is perhaps part of the reason why one encounters such a heavy emphasis (especially among convert “monastery people”) on externals and rules and regulations regarding fasting and sex and headcoverings and what-not. (I hasten to add that while I find some of the details and attitudes in Ephremite teachings as I was exposed to them to be concerning, I am in basic sympathy with their belief that ascetic discipline is essential to the Christian life — and at a level that we modern Americans, schooled in gratifying our passions, find incomprehensible.)

        People need something to hold on to, and if you can’t understand the services, the accoutrements will be more vivid and alive to you that the meat that is to be found in the texts the Fathers handed down to us.

        To me, the “soak up the atmosphere” approach is great for the occasional visit, but for the “monastery people” who drive to the monastery every week and basically make it their parish church, I am more skeptical. There is no substitute for active engagement with a healthy parish, and much of the energy expended in being “monastery people” would be better spent driving that same distance (or even across town) to find a healthier parish if one’s home parish is not meeting ones spiritual needs. And make no mistake about it, that is why people drive to these monasteries. The reason why I and other close family members started going to Ephremite monasteries was that we were in Greek parishes where, literally, the sacrament of confession was simply unavailable. We later learned that this was the last thing you want to go to an Ephremite monastery for, but that is another story, and can be found in earlier threads…

      • James F. says

        I visited St. Anthony’s about 5 years ago, and I asked about the exclusive use of Greek in the liturgy. I was told by my priest that there is an ongoing effort to translate the entire liturgikon into English at the monastery. That being five year ago, I imagine there’s been considerable progress, but I haven’t heard any updates since then. If I hear anything, I’ll be sure to pass it on.

    • johnkal,

      “Many of the monastics at the Ephraim monasteries do not know any Greek and are forced to pray, if that is what it is, in the Greek language”

      I think that will eventually change. Those monasteries are too vibrant and filled with young people to not have the language develop within the next generation or so-don’t you think?

      I’ve only visited 2 in very different parts of the country. I heard good and bad, but I think because they are so obscure to the American that there is bound to be complaints. Non-the-less they are thriving. With some of the troubles they’ve had I would have expected the place to be closed down, but it seems after investigation-they are without charge. Has anyone heard differently??

    • Let’s not forget that monasteries are first and foremost for those who dwell in them. In the battle for the souls of the nations, the primary front lines are the parishes, while the monasteries are the spiritual fortresses that provide invaluable support.

      Those who join Greek-speaking monasteries do so with full knowledge of this, just as some English-speaking people go to Athos or Sinai. And really, the services in monasteries are not as much for instruction as they are a catalyst for interior prayer, so not being able to understand is not as important in that sense.

      Of course, people are capable of learning foreign languages too, and I’m sure most monks pick up Greek over the years. They wouldn’t be permitted to join the monastery if the language barrier was too much of an obstacle.

      • There is definitely a didactic character to Orthodox hymnology. To say that worship services are for the cultivation of interior prayer, eliminates the need for communal prayer. One can cultivate inner prayer before an icon by themselves. Services are for prayer but also for proclamation of truth. Is the creed meant to be understood-yes.

        I again quote St Paul who said it is better to speak 10 words in a known language that 10,000 words in an unknown language. St Paul was referring to corporate prayer. Ages, I assume you believe in speaking in tongues because what you suggest above is what the Christians in Corinth would have used as a rational for public speaking in tongues. I believe it is God’s will for services to be understood–yes God’s will.

        One of the great challenges for worship is that the congregation be engaged. Using a foreign language disengages the congregation as well as communicating that this church/monastery is for Greeks. God’s will should be primary in the function of the Church.

        • Orthodox hymnody certainly is didactic. I mean that in the monastery that is not a primary focus of the divine services, as it would be in a parish.

          • Why. Are we to assume all monks are theologians. Some of the greatest heretics were monastics.

            • Not theologians, but they know more than the average person in the pew. Interior prayer has been a hallmark of Orthodox monasticism from the beginning. In fact, most of the early fathers were opposed to the introduction of hymnology into monastic worship for that reason.

          • I don’t agree that the emphasis of services in a monastery is any different.

            It is certainly true that it is traditional for monks, as they gain in maturity, to move beyond the services and enter into a continuous prayer of the heart — often rarely even attending the public services later in life. But from what I can tell, they get to that point, traditionally, by having heard the services so many times that they basically know them by heart — and yes, understand every word. To the public services is added their continuous reading of the Psalter, Gospel and Apostol in kellia to the point where they know them by heart as well.

            This is where the tradition probably arose of a qualification for being a bishop including that he know the entire the Psalter and Gospel by heart. In practice, only an experienced monk would reach that attainment.

            Skipping the first stages of knowing the texts of the services inside and out — and going straight to the Jesus Prayer — strikes me as a potentially dangerous oddity.

            • M. Stankovich says

              There are many reasons to pursue an article by Fr. Georges Florovosky entitled, “Antinomies of Christian History: Empire and Desert,” found in his Collected Works, Volume II, Christianity and Culture, the most important being a very succinct statement of the dangers of establishing dichotomy in Christian life:

              The Church, which establishes herself in the world, is always exposed to the temptation of an excessive adjustment to the environment, to what is usually described as “worldliness.” The Church which separates herself from the world, in feeling her own radical “otherworldliness,” is exposed to an opposite danger, to the danger of excessive detachment. But there is also a third danger, which was probably the major danger of Christian history. It is the danger of double standards. This danger has been precipitated by the rise of Monasticism. Monasticism was not meant originally to be just a way for the few. It was conceived rather as a consequent application of common and general Christian vows. It served as a powerful challenge and reminder in the midst of all historical compromises. Yet a worse compromise has been invented, when Monasticism had been reinterpreted as an exceptional way. Not only was the Christian Society sorely rent asunder and split into the groups of “religious” and “secular,” but the Christian ideal itself was split in twain and, as it were, “polarized,” by a subtle distinction between “essential” and “secondary,” between “binding” and “optional,” between “precept” and “advice.” In fact, all Christian “precepts” are but calls and advices, to be embraced in free obedience, and all “advices” are binding. The spirit of compromise creeps into Christian action when the “second best” is formally permitted and even encouraged. This “compromise” may be practically unavoidable, but it should be frankly acknowledged as a compromise. A multiplicity of the manners of Christian living, of course, should be admitted. What should not be admitted is their grading in the scale of “perfection.” Indeed, “perfection” is not an advice, but a precept, which can never be dispensed with. One of the greatest merits of Byzantium was that it could never admit in principle the duality of standards in Christian life.

              As I read the comments in this thread, it is very obvious that some are preaching a very dangerous dichotomy that would even extend to the very liturgical & sacramental life of the Church: e.g. confession in a monastery is somehow fundamentally “better,” wiser, and ultimately more efficacious than with “just a parish priest”; or that “monastic” services – even when rendered in an unintelligible language – are superior and more “transcendent” than “just liturgy in a parish.” This is neither a Patristic concept, nor is it consistent with our Orthodox Tradition. The Holy Spirit, after all, “goes where He wishes.” I strongly suspect that those who are most guilty of this error were marginal members of “just a parish,” and having experienced a disciplined life of piety, now confuse zeal with arrogance. I would be truly shocked if Elder Ephraim agreed with this preposterous dichotomy of “parish v monastery.”

              • Christopher says

                Thanks for that quote Mr. Stakovich!

                It helps put into context some thoughts I have been having about how certain Fathers denigrate sacramental marriage (and thus sexuality) in an attempt to prop up monasticism (cf St. Gregory’s “On Virginity”), and thus end up creating a dichotomy.

  17. Yianni Pappas says

    I like the dialogue and the openness of your website. But I must respectfully take issue with your comments about the Monasteries of Elder Ephraim. While I love Monasticism as a bona fide Orthodox Christian lifestyle, I also love parish life. Holiness can be found in both. They are not competitors. This being said, I object to the reference of the Monasteries of Ephraim as “Athonite”. The Monasteries of Ephraim do not represent all Monasteries of Mount Athos, and in fact are somewhat marginalized by the other Monasteries of the Holy Mountain.

    The Monasteries of Elder Ephraim emanate from Philotheou Monastery of Mount Athos. This is the one Monastery out of around 20 that uniquely advocate self-flagellation in order to keep oneself in check from their carnal drives. This is more of a Catholic phenomenon than Orthodox. There are former monks of Ephraim’s Monastery that have shared similar stories of the Monasteries of Ephraim in regards to this wrongful behavior.

    True Athonite Monasteries do not “compete” with the local parish. Yet the Monasteries of Ephraim still have sacraments and funerals there for parishioners of regular parishes. Additionally, it is no secret that the Monasteries and followers of Ephraim routinely dismiss and hold the Hierarchy of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA) in utter contempt. The video itself has a follower of Ephraim categorically state that GOA has fallen and become more like the Protestant or Catholic Church. Why would a wholesome Monastery undermine the credibility of the GOA like this?

    I could go on, but I made my point. In a word, the Monasteries of Ephraim have shown to me to be an arrogant force that is dividing the Church by misrepresenting the good name of Orthodox Monasticism.

    May the Holy Spirit resolve this issue and heal our Church.

    Yianni Pappas

    • Mikail02 says

      The only arrogant force here…..is the one which compelled you to write that post.

      Lord have mercy!

    • Yianni, I feel the need to respond to some of your misleading statements.

      1. “The Monasteries of Ephraim do not represent all Monasteries of Mount Athos, and in fact are somewhat marginalized by the other Monasteries of the Holy Mountain.”

      I’m curious as to why you think that. A disciple of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, Elder Ephraim was asked by the Governing Council of the Holy Mountain to repopulate and re-establish five Athonite monasteries. He also served as the spiritual father for a number of Athonite sketes. I should also point out his brotherly bond with great grace-filled monastics such as the Elders Aimilianos, Haralambos, Ephraim of Katounakia, etc. Let’s examine ourselves to see if we rather than they are at the margins of the Church.

      2. “True Athonite Monasteries do not “compete” with the local parish. Yet the Monasteries of Ephraim still have sacraments and funerals there for parishioners of regular parishes.”

      Of course Mount Athos cannot be a wedding/baptism factory, it is an avaton. How are they supposed to marry couples when women can’t go there? With that said many adult converts do get baptised there. They’re not told to go to their parish. And in fact, those living in the world can sometimes be buried on Mount Athos if they have some connection to it.

      3. “Additionally, it is no secret that the Monasteries and followers of Ephraim routinely dismiss and hold the Hierarchy of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA) in utter contempt.”

      The posters here including the moderator routinely hold the GOA hierarchy in utter contempt. Why do you ignore the divisive criticism of the GOA here (even praising this site for its “dialogue of openess”) but take issue when others do it?

      4. “This is the one Monastery out of around 20 that uniquely advocate self-flagellation in order to keep oneself in check from their carnal drives. This is more of a Catholic phenomenon than Orthodox.”

      You forgot that Elder Ephraim was the spiritual father of more than one Monastery. Anyway, St. Paisios, one of the most beloved of our contemporary saints, did the same to combat sexual passion. Its not for me but I am inspired by the zero tolerance for sin on the part of the saints.

      And this the key point. Any bearer of the Patristic tradition will be attacked. Had St. Paisios come here instead, things would be the same. The representatives of the Patristic tradition are interchangeable, it’s the tradition that is under attack.

      May the Lord enlighten you.

    • “…I object to the reference of the Monasteries of Ephraim as “Athonite”. The Monasteries of Ephraim do not represent all Monasteries of Mount Athos…”

      When our family had some bad experiences with these monasteries, my wife talked to our former ROCOR priest, who had been a monk on Mt. Athos and in Jerusalem before moving back here for health reasons. He took the time to explain about the different strains of Athonite monasticism, and emphasized that Fr. Ephraim represents only one particular strain — a particularly legalistic and often harsh one. He talked, in a contrasting fashion, about the tradition of the Kollyvades and their spiritual descendents on Athos (and in Russia) who were much less austere and severe. (Which makes the reference on this thread to Ephraim as a second St. Cosmas Aitolos interesting)

      I don’t pretend to understand the intricacies and variations of Athonite monasticism, but I join you in refusing to refer to these monasteries as “Athonite,” not because there isn’t an Athonite root to their practices, but because the Holy Mountain, rightly, has such a reverential awe around it that just the mention of “Athos” is enough to make many people accept uncritically what is being taught. People need to understand that the approach taken by Fr. Ephraim’s monasteries should only be taken as one strain of Athonite monasticism — and one monk’s interpretation of that strain of monasticism. To give them the entire mantle of authority of the Holy Mountain is neither accurate nor wise.

      I recall a Romanian priest’s wife telling me about her experience at one of these monasteries, where she was scolded by a young monk because her headcovering was slightly sheer and he could make out her hair underneath it. Apparently the young man’s passions were inflamed by the sight of a 60ish year old woman’s hair. She had some choice things to say about his manners. But in any event, one somehow doubts that the young man had ever been anywhere near Mt. Athos in his life, and yet he was making bold to lecture a pious Matushka of 40 years, presumably with the mantle of “I’m an Athonite monk.”

      • I can’t even begin to understand what the Kollyvades fathers have to do with this. They were considered the extremists and fanatics of their time and were expelled from Mount Athos. Settling throughout Greece, they led the renewal that took place across the country at the end of the Ottoman period. That is why some of these saints were called Makarios of Corinth, Athanasios of Paros, or Nicephoros of Chios. The Kollyvades don’t represent a discernible monastic tradition particular to the Holy Mountain today and so the opposition you intend to make seems misplaced.

        As to the views of your former ROCOR priest they are not representative of that group and the story about the Matushka doesn’t even deserve a response for obvious reasons. But at the end of the day if what you see at the Athonite…err Ephraimite monasteries is “harshness” and “legalism” – while many others return again and again for confession – then they’re just not for you.

        • The Kollyvades fathers, among other things, believed that the laity should commune frequently, and accordingly relaxed the fasting requirements that were then in common usage. As I understand it, they required the laity to keep the fasting days specified by the Church (Wed, Fri, the 4 fasting seasons and the odd fasting days here and there that are on the calendar. And the Eucharistic fast from midnight, of course. This is still common pious Russian practice — with Russian practice generally also requiring a very recent confession and strongly ecouraging attendance at the prior evening service and reading the appointed prayers the night before and the morning of.

          The priest at the Ephremite monasteries I visited (he said it was standard at all their monasteries) required fasting on Monday (a monastic fast day), Thursday and Saturday (part of fasting for three days prior), and required that one fast on the day of communing. This means that to commune weekly, there would be exactly one day a week — Tuesday — on which one could eat meat and have marital relations. A true obstacle to communing frequently. This was the specific context of our priest bringing up the Kollyvades in response to our questions about fasting requirements we had never heard of in our Russian church background.

          As to attitudes toward these monasteries, for the record, that ROCOR priest was overall favorable toward them — he just was pointing out that there are many strains of Athonite monasticism, of which this is one. An unremarkable observation, it seems to me. He didn’t agree with the fasting regimen, knowing that it is quite an ascetic struggle enough as it is to keep the appointed fasts — and he advocated frequent prepared communion as outlined above.

          As to your last paragraph, you are simply wrong on several counts, but since you don’t elaborate, neither will I. And not only are these monasteries not for me, they should be approached with caution. One pious priest I know encourages his people to go visit occasionally, with two rules: don’t go to confession or establish a spiritual father relationship, don’t have any conversations with anyone about sexual issues.

  18. Kate Hartounian says

    So “no thanks” to going to confession again at one of these monasteries (at least not as a married person). But on the language issue, the operations in monasteries are for the monastics, not for the pilgrims. That is just a simple fact. Ask any monk or nun. It should not really be surprising that a strand of custom that spoke liturgical Greek in every place of its establishment despite the local language should not change its mind when it comes to America. When you are I go to a monastery, it is as a guest, not as if it is our “extended parish.” Our parish is our parish. We here in American think that everywhere is a public place where our voice should be heard. But a monastery is not the town square. That being said, I personally agree that is should be in the local language, but that is not our call with regard to monasteries.

  19. Daniel E Fall says

    One of the textbook definitions of a cult (here you go) is when a small group engage in practices which are foreign to others. Of course, this is not the doctoral thesis, and general. But, if they only allow a certain style of Greek…it seems to fall close.

    I have always been put off by those churches that refuse the language change. My dad’s sister helped a priest in Wisconsin learn English. Later she still enjoyed some Slavonic, and has only been upset at the avoidance of Slavonic. The problem for me is you can utter the Slav phrases, but rarely understand the meaning. The funeral verses get sung for the old folks and I can’t tell you the meaning. Empty shells are still empty. But the words were not for me.

    My thoughts…

    • That standard Orthodox monasticism can be seen as cultic by other Orthodox says more about the sad lack of real monasticism in this country and poor education than anything else. Was St. Anthony a cult leader too?

      Monasticism is a life of total obedience to one’s spiritual father. It’s in the Desert Fathers and countless other sources, if anyone wants to click “Dislike.”

  20. Francis Frost says

    I briefly visited the St Anthony’s Monastery with my family several years ago. The monks were cordial and friendly. They even managed to find a Georgian language text of patristic teaching for my mother in law.

    That being said, I have to admit that I find the ‘Orthodox theme-park ‘ atmosphere a little odd. There is a story, possibly apocryphal, that His Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew chided the monks for their lavish constructions and well watered gardens in the desert when he visited the monastery after its opening.

    It is clear that the desert landscaping on the 5 -6 acres of the monastery compound comprises a nearly 1 million dollar investment. In Arizona, there are very strict laws governing the transplanting of native cacti even on private land. For this reason, desert plants and cacti can be extremely expensive. A single Saguaro specimen can cost $100,000, or more. The beautiful landscaping, plus the irrigated citrus orchards and olive groves seem extravagant, especially since the local farms have largely been driven out of business due to the condemnation of their ground water rights by the State of Arizona, in favor of the Central Arizona Project and the burgeoning Tucson metroplex.

    Due to its location downstream from the White Mountain Apache reservation with its lakes and water resources, St. Anthony’s is able to purchase irrigation water from the Apaches, albeit at an exorbitant rate unaffordable to the ordinary local farmers and ranchers.

    CAVEAT LECTOR (bias alert). My brother, among other ventures, own farmland about 25 miles southwest of St Anthony’s near Picacho Peak and further south near Marana.

    Extravagant building projects are out of sync with the ancient monastic tradition, and are unseemly, especially since Athonite monastics are implicated in the onset of the Greek financial crisis. For more on that see the Vanity Fair Article “Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds” at:


    We ought to remember that St Antony the Great, this monastery’s patron, lived in absolute seclusion in an abandoned Roman fort in the desert, receiving no-one for most of a century. Those who came to him for guidance passed notes over the wall. When even that became too much, he fled even further into the desert, a three day walk over waterless land.

    Why then do our modern day monastics build “Worlds of Shrines” and all but beg for visitors with bookshops and business ventures?

    If the monastics view themselves as missionaries, well then ,the language barrier does become a problem.

    Honestly the whole set up seems just a little schizophrenic and odd to me.

    • Doubly Annoyed says

      You obviously do not live in Arizona (and apparently your brother needs to get out more) because nearly everything you’ve written is in error.

      For example: The water used at the monastery draws from a deep on-site well – not from the White Mountain Apache and their non-existent “irrigation water”. The WMA reside, what, at least a good 100 miles away as the crow flies in the White MOUNTAINS (i.e. the amount of acreage under cultivation on the WMA Res could likely be counted on one hand).

      Additionally: “Saguaro specimen can cost $100,000, or more” – a gross exaggeration (try in the $1,000-$3,000 range on average) but nonetheless, your point? All the cacti on the monastery property was already growing there when they bought it; they certainly did not buy it off-site but rather simply transplanted those that originally grew in the present palm gardens & orchards. The monastery is part of an area between Florence and Tucson that is heavily ‘forested’ with saguaro, ocotillo, and cholla cactus and thus from the get-go their land had more than enough cacti to spare for landscaping purposes.

      And lastly: The numerous farmers (and the several thousand illegal aliens they employ) presently flourishing just a few miles west of the monastery in the Coolidge, Eloy, and Casa Grande farming communities will be sorry to hear that they “have largely been driven out of business…” No doubt this will come as a great shock to them as they go about harvesting their cotton, hay, melon, citrus and pecan crops.

    • Christopher says

      Mr. Frost,

      You speak to something important I think. When I moved into the area (I am about 3 hours drive from this monastery) I looked up the monasteries in my area on the web. I was immediately struck by those palms. I live in a neighborhood with with houses that cost between 1 and 2 million dollars (mine is not worth that, but I am comfortably “upper middle class”). These homes have at most 3 or 4 palms of that size. That is an indication of just how expensive they are. I wondered which Greek shipping magnate was behind this project. The money on display is truly in-your-face. I also wrote it off as a place to visit (I would have overlooked the language issue).

      I think your “It is clear that the desert landscaping on the 5 -6 acres of the monastery compound comprises a nearly 1 million dollar investment” might be just a wee bit conservative. All this is before you even get to the stone work of the churches themselves.

      Thank you George for posting this video, it gives me another angle to view this monastery. However, I still can’t see the forest through those very very expensive $trees$ 🙂

      • Clearly you have never seen any pictures of Mount Athos and the architectural wonders therein—far more impressive than any monastery in the Western Hemisphere.

        Orthodox churches should be made of cardboard boxes and landscaped with weeds, am I right?

        • Christopher says

          Well, those “architectural wonders” are not without some controversy. They are a result of a period of history that saw real “Orthodox empire” and thus were funded by kings, queens, princes, nobleman, and other elites who literally sent significant portions of their peoples wealth (through taxation – which is of course enforced through the power of the sword Romans 13) for the, ostensibly, the “Glory of God”. Now, we all know in our hearts there is no small component of “glorifying” (i.e. pride) of human persons in these sorts of actions.

          In contrast to this is the very foundation/self understanding/purpose/meaning of monasticism itself – St. Anthony leaving “the world” behind (i.e. attachments, wealth, human entanglements, etc.) and going into the desert. This contrast of the monastic vocation with what in the world is very expensive and lavish accommodations, grounds, etc. is a tension that we have lived with for a very long time, and even have biblical precedents (John 12).

          So no, there need not be “weeds”. However, let no one doubt the magnitude of $trees$ at this monastery…

    • Ioannis M. says

      Francis, it is not “apocryphal.” The Patriarch prepared a 13-page speech for his visit. He used St. Symeon the New Theologian’s teachings on monastic poverty and compared them to the opulence of the monastery grounds (though in the Fall of ’97, there was only the front gate, bookstore, main church, trapeza, monks’ quarters and guest quarters with some landscaping. The fathers felt his speech to be a direct insult to Geronda Ephraim and his work.

      The palm trees alone that were past the one million dollar point by the mid-2000s. As of that time, the monastery had spent well over 20 million on construction/contractors, engineers, architects, lawyers, landscaping, building materials, irrigation systems, as well as monthly bills, food shopping, supplies for the guest quarters, etc. All the monasteries have lots of expenses, from the day to day life of the monks and giving hospitality to the pilgrims who visit or stay overnight, to the maintaining of the grounds and construction. The bigger monasteries are all multi-million dollar “investments” as you call them. However, these “investments” are intended to be here until the days of the antichrist when, as Geronda Ephraim foresees, the monasteries will become like small cities, giving shelter to those who remain Christian as they can no longer remain in the cities, or participate in the monetary system since they did not receive the Mark.

      Vatopaidi Monastery is under the direction of a different Geronda Ephraim (though it is also of the lineage of Elder Joseph the Hesychast). Though he did admit to giving large donations to Arizona.

      Geronda Ephraim’s vision for his monasteries here is of a missionary nature (not reclusive hermitages that turn people away). The monastics have business ventures because a) the USA has separation of Church and State and thus the government gives no financial support as is the case in some orthodox countries, b) the Archdiocese does not give money to the monasteries, nor are there Emperors and other royalties financing the monasteries like in days of old, and c) the monasteries cannot survive on donations alone, thus the monastics have to do other things to earn money.

      • Christopher says

        The palm trees alone that were past the one million dollar point by the mid-2000s.

        In what way is a multi-million dollar “investment” (this is an abuse of the English language – the trees are an expense, not an “investment”) in palm trees and other landscaping (that carries with it an ongoing and very expensive maintenance bill) a contributing factor to either a “missionary nature” of a monastery (or any type of monastic self understanding), or a future “Benedict option” type of stronghold against an hostile culture/government?

        I am very very sympathetic to these justifications, I just am not seeing the way a grotesque in-your-face display of wealth is related or contributes to these two justifications for existence, or any of the more traditional monastic self justifications…

        p.s. I am not anti-monastic. Indeed, I contribute monthly to a monastery that is less than an hours drive from this one but is not part of the same administrative/founder history.

  21. Michael Woerl says

    I read, a few years back, some very disturbing comments about the Elder Ephraim and his monasteries on the Orthodox Christian Laity website. Elder Ephraim was accused of practicing “black monasticism” – which was not referring to the Russian distinction between monastic (black) and non-monastic (white) clergy, but seemingly referencing “black arts,” “black magic,” etc. The article went on to state that people going to a monastery for confession, or to see a Spiritual Father was “not Orthodox.”
    That was my first visit to the OCL website … that same visit, I read an article about how the OCL wanted to “reform” the Greek Archdiocese by making it a corporate-like entity, with the Bishops overseen by, and answerable to, in all things, by a Lay Board of Directors.
    Which brought the comments about Elder Ephraim and his monasteries into focus; it’s not that going to a monastery for confession, or seeking a Spiritual Father or Elder at a monastery is “not Orthodox.” It is that the OCL, and others of their ilk, have absolutely no understanding whatsoever of Orthodoxy. Apparently, ignorance is bliss, and a “permission” for “authoritative pronouncements.”
    “Orthodoxy in America!”