The Blog of Ruth – Entry #4 – Blind Obedience
March 7, 2011
In our continuing series on Ruth and her experience with some of the monasteries supported by the cult of Ephraim of Arizona, the editors introduce Joshua, Ruth’s husband, who was emboldened by his faith in God to write the following account of his experience upon leaving one of these Monasteries. We thank him for contributing to the mission of this website. As we reported earlier, as a result of Ruth’s blog, we are receiving reports from families whose lives have been significantly and negatively impacted by some of Elder Ephraim’s monasteries. Joshua’s altruistic goal is the same as Ruth’s, which is to warn others by educating them of the dangers that lie in the monastic world when blind obedience results in unintended consequences. Joshua eloquently conveys his experience and pain to all of us. The editors feel that the best answer to lies is to bring the truth fully out in the open and to allow those who have been most severely affected to tell their story without prior editorial constraints. Again, we are indebted to you, Joshua for writing this account in you own words.
Dangers of Blind Obedience and Breaking the Bond of Marriage
Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men, in whom there is no salvation.
Traditionally, the monk submits to his elder as if he were submitting to Christ, and that is the model handed down through the ages. In this way, every decision, whether it seems right or not, is given over to the one in charge. This ideal striving, however, can be horribly abused as it was in my case. When a person is airtight convinced of someone’s benevolence, that person is entirely blind to anything to the contrary. When all of the externals appear above reproach, there is left no room for a trace of suspicion.
In the monastery where I lived for nine months, the abbot repeatedly preached blind obedience. After a visit to the main monastery, he related that on at least half a dozen occasions, his Elder Ephraim had reiterated, “Blind obedience! Blind obedience is what is needed!” The following describes how I carried out blind obedience, how it affected my mental state, and where it led.
After my wife Ruth was forced out of her monastery, I had no way of finding out what had led her to leave, since my only source of information was what the abbot told me, which was riddled with lies, as I will subsequently prove. By submitting myself and every aspect of my life to this abbot, I became totally isolated from my wife, as I was forbidden to have any communication with her.
Originally, my wife and I had agreed with one mind and one spirit to live apart in separate monasteries, following in the path of certain other married couples who had historically made this decision. While we can never know how these couples fared in perhaps genuine monasteries under truly dispassionate elders, we can certainly state categorically how this dreadful decision impacted our own lives in modern times, with the hope of warning couples, or in fact anyone else who may have the inclination toward monasticism, of the following:
1. It is very dangerous to base a decision for monastic life on what is only visible on the surface.
2. It is impossible to perceive important contradictions from the vantage point of merely observing a group from the outside.
3. It is inexpressible:
• how powerful is the bond of marriage;
(they are no more two, but one flesh [Matt. 19:6]);
• how right marriage is in God’s eyes (Eph 5:21-32);
• how much God hates divorce, (Mal 2:16) whether it be a legal divorce or a breach in the marriage for other reasons;
• and above all, that marriage is indisputably recognized by the Church as one of the seven great sacraments, whereas a monastic vow is not and has never been.
To continue, now that my wife was out of the monastery, I was prevented not only from learning what had happened to her, but from exercising my power in Christian freedom to choose the course we would take, now that our original plan no longer existed. The abbot assumed ownership of me to the extent that I no longer had the right to act on my own conscience or integrity, but rather was bound as a slave to the dictates of a person I had in fact only known for a short time.
When I asked him if he thought I should go to be with her, his answer was that I shouldn’t even consider it. He told me that she was happy to leave the monastery, which proved she had no true calling to monastic life according to him. This, of course, was in direct contradiction to the repeated insistence of Fr. Paisios that she was indeed called and in fact, should make no other plans for her life. I, on the other hand and according to the abbot, loved being at the monastery, which authenticated my calling.
Whereas I was assured that my wife was very happy out of the monastery, nothing could possibly express how far that was from the truth, as her life was completely shattered and she was in a state of total personal devastation. And whereas I was assured that I would be miserable if I left the monastery, in fact, the moment I left, I felt an incredible weight lifted from me, which came in successive waves of relief over a period of many days. Does this mean that I was not called to the monastic life? Certainly I can say without a doubt that I was not called to this form of so-called monastic life, and neither was my wife.
I must confess that I initially dreaded the thought of leaving the monastery, since I completely trusted the abbot, and was convinced that being a monk was how I would find salvation and save my family. My wife and I had been told early on by Elder Paisios at St. Anthony’s, that the way to really help our children was to join the monastery. On the strength of that saying, we had sold or given away everything in order to clear the path into this new way of life. Like so many other men and women who have a heart for the monastic life, we wanted to give ourselves totally to Christ, and so we innocently took an enormous leap of faith which ultimately had huge, unforeseen ramifications on all levels.
Shortly after my wife left, I learned in a phone call from my daughter that her husband had left her, and that my daughter, my wife, and my three small grandchildren, would likely soon have little means of support and no place to live. (Prior to that, my wife had made desperate attempts to have me informed of their plight, but I was never told.) I again asked if perhaps I should go to help them. The abbot’s initial response was that I wouldn’t be much help anyway, just another dependent person looking for work. In retrospect, this was a clear method of diminishing my worth as a person able to operate effectively outside the abbot’s domain, despite the fact that I had always been capable of supporting my family, having owned and operated my own business for many years.
He also added that if I left, it would be very wrong, since I had desired monastic life for so many years. In other words, feeling a desire constitutes not only a calling, but God’s will for me, and to turn away from that life meant a turning away from God. In fact, the elite status of monastics was proved by frequently reiterating the notion that “only one in a thousand is called to monastic life, and of that, only one in a thousand respond.”
The abbot predicted at that time that if I left, I would end my life, “crying in a corner” and that those tears would have “no redeeming value”. This, in effect, was damning me to hell if I left. He also said that if I were to even think about leaving, this thought should be understood as coming from the devil.
Going against the abbot’s will was the unforgivable sin. In my state of mind, his answer thoroughly settled the question on two counts. First, it was unthinkable not to follow his counsel, as those who are recognized as elders are considered to have the gift of prophecy. Second, I was convinced his dreadful prediction would come true if I ever left. All of this despite the fact that I was under no vow whatsoever, and had only been clothed as a novice two weeks before, which coincidentally occurred immediately after my wife left her monastery. It is well understood, that the novitiate is only a trial period. The implication here is that every person who begins even as a novitiate is condemned to loss of salvation if he or she for any reason leaves without the elder’s blessing. In other words, the elder was laying a curse of damnation on me because I would be acting without his blessing. To this, I have this to say in the Name of Jesus:
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: And I
give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither
shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave
them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of
my Father’s hand. (John 10:27-29)
The blessing of the elder is seen to constitute the will and word of God. However, there were many instances in my own experience in which the word of the elder overrode Scripture as well as my own conscience. The following verses are clear examples of how man’s pharisaic traditions were given more weight than God’s Word:
“But if any provide not for his own, especially for his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Tim 5:8)
One Scripture that was quoted to me on more than one occasion and by more than one person was:
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.” (Lu 14:26)
If we are to understand by this verse that my returning to my responsibilities to my family as stated in First Timothy constituted loving my family more than Christ, then the Bible contradicts itself, which we know is not possible since scripture cannot be broken. John 10:35. In fact, I committed spiritual adultery by listening to this false and unbiblical counsel and by remaining in the monastery when my wife was about to become destitute with no one to help, support, or protect her.
The Priest there to whom I confided everything, repeatedly assured me that my place was in the monastery. He said that I should forget my wife and family, that I should place them in God’s hands and let Him take care of them. He and other fathers assured me that an angel had been assigned to take care of them in my place and that my family was in better hands that way. This is an example of a man-made tradition which has been written about in various books, but which in truth has no basis in Scripture, and which counsels cruelty and negligence. Now, to my shame and sorrow, I understand how much pain I inflicted on my wife.
No one has the right to break up a marriage, which was what was happening as long as I went along with their distortion of the truth. The moment that by the grace of God I became aware of how my wife was treated at the women’s monastery, the lie became evident and I was set free. I knew all at once that all I really wanted was to get out of there and be with my wife. No spiritual authority can legitimately justify causing the abandoning of one’s spouse, but they took that on themselves, boldly inserting themselves between my wife and me, and I participated in the crime until the moment I penetrated, by the grace of God, that false mental state. By God’s grace there came a moment of truth at once encompassing the entire picture of what I had accepted as truth, but which was in reality a house of cards waiting to fall.
This priest also said that in reality my wife was not really my wife, but that she belonged to God. In this way, not only was I being told that my marriage was invalid and not as pleasing to God as being a monk, it was a way of invalidating the sacrament of marriage itself, and spurning the teaching of our Lord that, “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” (Mark 10:9)
My wife and I were consistently taught over a period of seven years that it was entirely appropriate to abandon our marriage in favor of living the monastic life, and we believed that we had the right to do this, even to the point of living for seven years as brother and sister. Our experience has proven to be entirely different, in that we both felt an overwhelming sense of being brutally torn in half, and we realized too late that “let no man put asunder” means not only by others, but by ourselves. We had no right to attempt to dissolve the bond of marriage which God Himself had formed thirty-one years ago. Neither do persons posing as spiritual leaders have the right to insert their man-made opinions into the bond of marriage, which happened at both monasteries.
I also would like to state how the Jesus prayer was used improperly. My primary obedience was to attempt to pray the Jesus prayer either orally or mentally continuously. I was told that that was my number one obedience. I conscientiously attempted to do this. The result was that any critical thinking was interpreted by me as an interruption thrown at me by the devil. The effect was that my conscience was overridden so that what I needed to hear I was screening out. In fact, repetition of the Jesus Prayer under circumstances such as these rubs out your ability to think critically, to follow a logical train of thought, or to profoundly question things that under any other circumstances would be absurd. Even when I would have fears about my wife or children, I instructed myself that this was coming from the devil and that in reality they were doing fine.
When I left the monastery, I walked away with nothing but the clothes on my back. When I later called to ask that my identifications be sent to me, I was told that both the abbot and abbess involved sent the message to me they were “very embittered” by my leaving, and the abbot predicted that I would end my life, “shedding black tears.” That means in a state of hopeless despair which would ultimately consign me to hell. This is the “blessing” that followed me. Can this be the word of a godly priest?
More importantly, I would like to end by posing these questions:
• To whom are these “elders” accountable?
• How is it that strangers are allowed to exercise such spiritual atrocities on unsuspecting American citizens?
• Why was there no response to my wife’s desperate appeal to Archbishop Demetrios for help?
• Who is at the helm of the Greek Orthodox Church of America?
Both Joshua and Ruth were conflicted about whether to end Joshua’s account with the above mentioned questions. They did not want to offend any of our Hierarchs. The Editors at gotruthreform.org believe it is imperative to pose these questions. Not once, through our due diligence, have we heard any of our Hierarchs consoling the victims who have experienced abuse, suffering or even financial loss in their encounters with Elder Ephraim’s Monasteries. In addition to receiving reports about couples whose marriages ended after turning to a monastery for counsel, we have also received reports from several parents whose children left their families to join the monasteries. These parents tell us that their children never had plans or spoke of a calling to join a monastery before they left. When asked whether they have reached out to their local Hierarchs for guidance or help, their responses have been shockingly similar. Instead of receiving guidance or insight, their parenting skills were called into question by their local Metropolitan. We have yet to hear any accounts of family members being consoled rather than criticized.
Recently, Bishop Elias of Philomelion, Interim Abbot at the St. Irene Chrysovalantou Monastery in Astoria, N.Y. was quoted by The National Herald, a weekly Greek American Publication as follows: “There are victims and when someone is a victim, he suffers, and on that pain we as clergy and spiritual fathers should show the necessary sensitivity.” Kalmoukos, Theodore. “Bishop Elias Met Alleged Sex Abuse Victim” The National Herald [New York] February 26-March 4, 2011, Vol.14, Issue 698, pp. 1+4. We ask our readers to please send us reports of our Hierarchs showing such sensitivity for a victim or a victim’s family as a result of any actions by Elder Ephraim’s monks or Priests who follow the Elder. Thank you again Joshua for your courage and forthright statement of what has occurred to your family and the pain that it caused.