Monasteries manipulating young men to become monks

Author: Elias Hazou
Date Published: 11/27/2010

THREE high-ranking clerics in Cyprus and Greece are being sued for deceiving and manipulating young men into becoming monks.

The lawsuits, filed by parents of sons who became monks, have been filed against abbot Epifanios of Maheras Monastery, Limassol bishop Athanasios and chief monk Efraim of the Vatopedi Monastery in Greece.

They stand accused of running an operation aimed at brainwashing young men, isolating them from their families and secular way of life and finally recruiting them at monasteries.

The first hearing in one of the lawsuits takes place next month, and more court cases are in the pipeline.

Meanwhile, five families have jointly filed a group recourse with the European Court of Human Rights in which they make similar allegations against the priests but also accuse the Republic for failing to take action to stop this “brazen recruitment.”

Earlier this week, a group of concerned parents spoke to MPs during a behind-closed-doors session in parliament. The parents demanded the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry to investigate their claims of “illegal recruitment,” intellectual terror and “enslavement” of their children.

The parents accuse the three clerics in question of running a recruitment operation, where young men – usually students in Cyprus and Greek universities – are approached. The “targets” are preferably young men studying for a degree in economics.

According to the parents, men with degrees in economics are a prime target, because upon being converted they will be more than capable of running the monasteries’ financial affairs – and for free.

Moreover, the recruiters prefer men who are financially well-off, in the hopes that the prospective monks will bequeath all their possessions to the monasteries, which then get to increase their holdings. In one case, the parents said, a monastery went to court to contest the will of a monk who had bequeathed all his possessions to his siblings.

The parents went on to recount the monasteries’ manipulation techniques. More often than not, the recruiters target young students when they are vulnerable, for example right after they have failed an exam or are experiencing some problem in their personal life.

After the initial contact, the young men are introduced to an “elder”, who is presented as a “mentor” or “prophet” who then proceeds to extol the virtues of monastic life. The “mentor’s” job is also to introduce the young men to Church writings.

Gradually, the prospective monks are invited to spend a few days at a monastery. The candidates are encouraged to fast and to keep vigils – although the parents prefer the term “sleep deprivation.” Through these methods, the parents say, the young men are weakened both physically and emotionally. In time, the candidates’ indoctrination is complete.

The prospective monks sever all family and social ties, often on the advice of their elders.

The parents have procured the personal diaries of young men, in which the latter describe such-and-such priest as telling them to resist contact with the outside world because it is a “distraction” and a “temptation.”

The young men are also encouraged to lie if necessary. In one diary, a young man described how a priest told him to lie to his parents if necessary so as to conceal his monastic activities.

“Just tell them that you are going to study with a friend. It is not a sin, because it is not acted upon.”

In another diary, as quoted by Politis, an elder monk advises a candidate: “You should spend more time studying the books of the Fathers. So what if your [school] grades drop a little? Afterward God will help you, my son, do not worry…”

And elsewhere: “Parents usually react. But this does not last long and can be handled. Don’t tell them everything. This is not a sin.”

To prove the extent of the recruitment operation, the parents cite especially the case of Vatopedi Monastery, which started out as a small outfit with just a handful of elders but today numbers around 80 monks.

The monasteries in question are said to espouse the more fundamentalist tendencies of the Christian faith, with a heavy emphasis on mysticism.

Asked to comment on the allegations, Archbishop Chrysostomos told Politis he did not see how a 25-year-old could be “misled” in this way, arguing that adults are free and capable to choose their way of life.

The parents say that although in private the Archbishop acknowledges a problem does exist with the recruitment methods of certain monasteries, he does not repeat these views in public.