Posted by Achilles on July 27, 2001 at 05:03:13:
I recently had a discussion with a colleague of mine regarding a very controversial monk located in Arizona by the name of Father Ephraim.
It seems that hundreds of Orthodox Christians are following this man as some type of Spiritual Guru.
In the past years his monasteries have sprung up throughout the United States and Canada providing some form of "divine" sanctuary for people.
In response to an earlier thread which Themistocles suggested that "anti-Christians" like myself know nothing of Orthodoxy.
I decided to contribute my lack of knowledge.
Please read the following article:
"He is Suffering from the Tragic Loss of his Son to a Monastery Where he Became Ill"
The National Herald, Oct 27, 1998
By Theodore Kalmoukos
The family of John Pantanizopoulos from Knoxville, Tennessee, is determined to do "all that is possible and necessary to extricate our son from an unhealthy environment," quoted in an interview to the National Herald for his son Niko, who interrupted his university studies and entered as a novice in the monastery of St. Anthony in Florence, Arizona, The monastery is under the direction of Fr. Ephraim, who was previously from the monastery of Filotheou of the Holy Mountain in Greece. One should be reminded that in the past Fr. Ephraim has troubled the Greek Orthodox Church of America including the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the formation of religious organizations with his devotion to the Russian monks of the diaspora, according to the information he received as he claims from God. Later, he left the Russians and placed himself under the Greek Orthodox American Archdiocese. Nikos Pantanizopoulos, according to the interview with his father John, met Fr. Ephraim through their parish priest in Knoxville, Tennessee, a Fr. Carellas, who presently is in a convent in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania. When Niko's parents advised him to enter the Holy Cross Theological Seminary and then to decide if he wants to become a priest, he answered them, "Fr. Carellas and Fr. Ephraim told him that the Holy Cross is inhabited by the devil" and they [Carellas and Ephraim] advised him to go to the St. Tikon Theological Seminary [Russian], as stated by Mr. Pantanizopoulos.
The latter disclosed to the National Herald that his son got sick and that the monks are giving him the herb St. John's Wort. "This is something people use when they suffer from melancholy [depression]," said characteristically the father of Nikos, whom they visited with his wife on Sept. 26, 27, and 28. "We thought we were seeing an old man at 20 years," stated Mr. Pantanizopoulos.
We (The National Herald) left a message at the monastery's telephone with Fr. Arsenios who said that Mr. Niko Pantanizopoulos was not in his cell at the time. However, we received no response from him later either. Also, the Bishop Anthony of San Francisco never returned our phone calls as late as Friday evening.
NH: Where, how and when did your son meet Ephraim?
P: Our son Niko met him at the Saxonburg, Pennsylvania convent in April 1996. He met him through Fr. Carellas who is now at the Saxonburg convent. During the time Fr. Carellas was a parish priest here in Knoxville, Tennessee, he always spoke of the monastic life and of his spiritual father, Ephraim. Fr. Carellas used to say that Fr. Ephraim had the power of discernment, he was a saint. From time to time, several people from our church visited the convent in Saxonburg and spoke highly of Fr. Ephraim. Our Niko refused to have Easter with us with the excuse that he was having Easter with his spiritual father, Fr. Carellas. Niko told us that we were his parents in flesh; Carellas was his spiritual father. It was Nikos intent to ask Ephraim, the holy man, if Niko should be a monk. Ephraim would have the answer he thought.
NH: How old was he when he first met Ephraim and how old was he when he left your house to follow Ephraim?
P: Our Niko, born July 26, 1977, was 18 when he first met Ephraim, and he left our house in May 1996 at the age of 18 to spend a few weeks at the Saxonburg convent before he left for Arizona in July directly from there. He turned 19 inside the St. Anthony monastery in Florence, Arizona.
NH: When did he tell you that he decided to become a monk?
P. Upon his return from the convent in April 1996 when he spoke with Ephraim, Niko gathered his two sisters and us at the kitchen table to tell us of his decision to quit college and become a monk at St. Anthonys. At that time, Niko told us he had a calling because Ephraim answered his question Should I become a monk? with You wont know unless you try it. Ephraims answer became Nikos callingfrom God.
NH: What was your first reaction?
P: We told him he was too young, he should get his education first, he should perhaps go to Holy Cross seminary to see if he wanted the priesthood. He said that because Carellas and Ephraim told him that the Holy Cross was full of Satan, he couldnt go there. Carellas and Ephraim suggested he look into a Russian Orthodox seminary, St. Tikons, in New York even though all courses were taught in Russian. Niko felt he might be able to learn Russian over the summer in order to attend that seminary! But he soon put that aside and chose monasticism.
NH: Have you tried to talk with him and convince him to return to your house to continue his studies? And if so, what was his reaction?
P: We have pleaded, cried, and begged him to come home and re-think. We begged him to come home in October for his older sisterVera's wedding; he refused saying that there would be too much idle talk surrounding him. We told him that even Jesus lived among the people. Couldnt he work with people and still be a part of the Church? Niko replied that Jesus had his calling and Niko had his own.
NH: Has his behavior towards you and in general his personality changed?
P: Yes, he considers us his parents in flesh only. He must obey his spiritual fathers. He talks to us as if we do not exist and are of no importance to him. He does not ask about us or our activities or about his grandmothers, cousins, aunt or uncles, or even his sisters because he considers anything outside of his monastic life as idle talk and idle subjects. He sends no birthday, Christmas, or Easter greetings to anyone in the family.
Niko used to be so funny. He could impersonate just about anyone. He would make everyone in our family laugh. But during the last two years when we were together, the conversations somehow always turned to religion, to Orthodoxy, and to what some esoteric monk said. I remember one day at the dinner table, we were discussing the Ecumenical talks between the Patriarch and the Catholic Pope. Niko actually began to cry that our Patriarch was wrong and that the Orthodox Church was being led astray. There should be no talks, Niko said. When we asked Niko where he got these ideas, he told us Fr. Carellas believes this and since Fr. Carellas is Nikos spiritual father, his ideas are Nikos.
NH: We have information that your son became ill and the monks are giving him herbs to treat his illness. What do you know about that?
P: First of all, Niko has always been healthy and has never had an ongoing illness. Niko wrote and told us, almost from the beginning of his stay there, that he was not well. He complained of an ongoing cough, then of pain in his stomach and an abdominal pain when he walked. Although the monks took him to a doctor and Niko was given prescription medication for an ulcer and for GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease), he later told us that the monks were giving him St. Johns wort, an herb. We researched the herb and discovered that it is one used to treat depression. And we ask, 'If a monastery is supposed to be a healthy environment, then why is our son sick'?
NH When did you last come in contact with your son?
P: We came in contact with his son when we recently visited him on Sept. 26, 27, and 28 at the St. Anthony monastery in Arizona.
NH: How did your son receive you at the monastery and what did you discuss?
P: He was calm, his movements were slow and slumped over. He hardly ever smiled and we felt like we saw an old man in a 20 year old boy. We discussed with him about the life at the monastery, the pros and cons of monastic living, our family news, and his health. Finally, we asked him, since he did not feel well, to return home with us. His answer was an emphatic, 'No.'
NH: Did you inform your son and the monastery beforehand about your visit or was it a surprise?
P: One month prior to our trip to Arizona we informed our son and Bishop Anthony of San Francisco. We specifically asked the Bishop to meet us there and discuss with us our son's ill health. Bishop Anthony did not answer us and did not come to the monastery during the time we visited. In a previous letter to us the Bishop informed us that he worries about our son's health and that he would find out details from the Abbot.
NH: We've been informed that Archbishop Spyridon, Bishop Anthony, Fr. Passias, Fr. Ephraim, Fr. Paissios, and your son Niko met at the St. Anthony monastery and especially Fr. Passias, the Archdiocese Chancellor sent you a letter. Would you like to talk about it?
P: Yes, it is true. Please bear in mind that we visited our son Sept. 26, 27, 28 after asking Bishop Anthony to meet us there. However, on October 1 again, they decided to see our son alone. In the letter, referenced above, concerning their visit, Fr. Passias (acting for Archbishop Spyridon) wrote and told us that our son is under a doctor's observation and he feels better than before.
And we ask, 'How is it possible for Fr. Passias who met our son for the first time at the monastery to know how Niko felt before and, second, if our son feels so well, why is he under a doctor's observation'? At the end of his letter, Fr. Passias wrote that we must pray for the will of God and not our's or our son's. We answered him in a letter that we would pray for the will of God and not his, meaning Fr. Passias or Fr. Ephraim.
In addition, Fr. Passias wrote that we must be happy that we can see our son. If he had been at the Holy Mountain (Athos in Greece), we would have never been able to see him. We answered him that those who have children will cross mountains to see their child.
NH: What measures are you willing to take and is one of them legal action against the Archdiocese, Archbishop Spyridon, Diocese of San Francisco and Bishop Anthony under whose jurisdiction is Ephraim?
P: We want to hear our son laugh and to see him dance again. We will do everything possible to extricate our child from an unhealthy environment and at the same time make it known to other families that there are people in the Orthodox Church who follow blindly charismatic leaders. Please note our telephone number, and we invite anyone who is in the same family situation to feel free to come in contact with us.
Collected by: Achilles
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