Brothers & Sisters,
I wrote in another area of the esteemed “Orthodox Christian Laity” website, http://ocl.org in a section entitled “Tradition Without Fundamentalism“, concerning the deleterious effects that the “Ephraimite” style of Monasteries are having upon the cross-jurisdictional parish communities in the United States. In the section “Resolutions Relating to Monasteries Adopted by the OCL” I spoke to one item in particular, the Aerial Toll House heresy, that the Ephraimite Monasteries are actively promoting. They even just published a 1000 page book teaching this heresy. I am reprinting this here on We Are Orthodox.
In a nutshell, the false teaching alleges that upon death, the soul undergoes a journey through a number of “Toll Houses” where the demons of Hell examine particular sins of the person at each toll house. If the person can successfully give an account , then he/she can pass through and go to the next Toll House. If a person can pass through each Toll House, THEN they can proceed to Paradise. Ephraimites teach that “Blind obedience” to your priest, abbot, spiritual father, will give you a free pass through these Toll-houses. One can easily imagine how that could be exploited by self-aggrandizing ilks of base character.
This falsehood, indeed this heresy, this lie, completely insults Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross for us. This falsehood, this heresy, this lie, puts the demons as our judge, and not the Lord. This falsehood, this heresy, this lie, dismisses the incredible phenomenon known as “grace”. Each liturgy we pray for a good account before the awesome judgment seat of Christ – not the demons. Christ is our judge. And when we all face Him (indeed an intense event) our only defense, our only hope, is being released on a technicality – for what excuse can we give for sinning? Adam tried blaming Eve as his excuse. Didn’t work for him. It won’t work for us. Our only hope then is the technicality known as Divine Grace, through which (as scripture clearly states) we are saved. Indeed, as Orthodox Christians, this should not be news to us. There is no teaching of Aerial Toll Houses in Scripture, in Canons, in the Funeral Service, etcetera.
The proponents of this heresy clearly show their ego by:
1. Distorting Scripture to suggest that this teaching is there.
2. Using vague and ambiguous statements from certain saints to suggest “the Fathers and Saints teach this”
In some sense, they use this as a type of secret knowledge of what awaits us. This is a modern-day form of the Gnostic heresy.
I could go on. But let me only highlight on last item. The Monastery in Florence, AZ just published a book that is over 1000 pages long, alleging that Aerial Toll Houses are true and part of Orthodox beliefs. I don’t think doctoral dissertations are that long. To make matters worse, there are Orthodox Hierarchs that have foolishly given their endorsement of the book – as printed therein. This does not represent the dogma of the Orthodox Christian Church.
Let me predict something: The Protestant Church leadership (or some other Christian denomination) will get a hold of that book, and there will begin a campaign alleging that Orthodox Christians believe salvation is in the hands of demons. If you think people have left our Church now – “you aint seen nuthin’ yet!” There will be a profound exodus of people that is beyond what is already happening. Even those who think that this is merely a metaphor, or “theologoumenon” should re-evaluate and not give such credit to this profound insult and distortion. This heresy should not be given a foolish “de facto” endorsement either.
Here is a scholarly document refuting this teaching. There are 3 links, the last being for commercial purposes if it is being read by more than 1 person (as in a classroom setting):
or for commercial use: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1291814?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
The Dumbarton Oaks Papers are held in very high esteem amongst scholarly circles. While profane people like me point to simple and obvious truths, this scholarly approach by Dr. Nicholas Constas (now known as the Priest-Monk Maximos from Mount Athos) examines every minutia of detail and presents his conclusion that this is a false teaching.
I honor and respect the Parish Community as a place and source of holiness. I also honor and respect the same in unadulterated and healthy Monasticism (as is the case with the deeply respected Priest-Monk Maximos, and others). That is why I will speak out on anything that is of concern. I believe it is my responsibility as a human to speak the truth. Otherwise I would feel guilty of passively allowing a falsehood to continue. Please join me in addressing this. Do not be afraid to speak the Truth, even when it is uncomfortable. I read somewhere that: “Truth plus one person equals the majority”. That may take time, but that is the side I choose to be on. Ultimately the masses will discover that. The Lord knows. May He send us the Grace we need to overcome this evil challenge as we have historically overcome other ones. I believe the Lord does that through people like you and me.
Because of the numerous sick examples of unhealthy clergymen, The National Herald (TNH) published a Viewpoint that challenges the status quo in the Church to return to a more healthy practice of married bishops. This was the original practice of the Orthodox Christian Church.
Here is a quote:
“Personally I respect and honor the true, authentic, and healthy monasticism because it is the joyful sadness of the Church. But when I see career celibates who live in the world lavishly, two things come to my mind (when I see celibates): they are saints, or they are sick. I don’t believe there is a middle ground.”
To read this article by Editor Theodore Kalmoukos (February 28, 2017) please Click Here.
In order to be directed to the article as found on TNH, please click here.
For many years now we have been doing our best to raise the awareness of the faithful in America about the “cultish-like” phenomenon that seems to follow and even blindly obey Elder Ephraim of Arizona, Abbott Paisios of Arizona, and the like.
The January 31st edition of The National Herald has an article that raises these exact observations and questions. As a matter of fact, he references it as quite a lucrative industry as well. While the local parishes struggle to pay their assessments and meet their recurring bills, the dozens of multi-million dollar Monasteries of Ephraim in the United States (and also those abroad not included in this tally) have spawned unabashed.
Monasteries are not assessed like parishes are from the Archdiocese/Metropolis. Yet Parishes are also “guilted” to help the monastery raise money by activities such as selling higher-than-market-prices for candles, icons, and other items. Also many Parishes have reported to have monastics selling their wares at the local parish Greek Festival. In fact, Ephraimite Monasteries have industrial type kitchens (that are the envy of many restaurants) where they prepare their baked goods and delicacies, that are also sold at the local parish, and other venues too. Any revenues from oversees (maybe from the coffers of Vatopedi?) are not included in this tally.
Yes Mr. Kalmoukos is right – again. It is a lucrative industry. Add to the mix alleged prophecies, miracles, blind obedience, while also disparaging the Hierarchs of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (GOA) it’s no wonder that the financial outlook looks pretty good. Too bad many souls (and communities) may be destroyed in the process.
Mr. Kalmoukos is right – again. This phenomenon is unhealthy.
Thank you Mr. Kamoukos for having the courage of your convictions to stand up and say things that are not comfortable, but nevertheless are true.
Read the full article by clicking the title following this sentence:
By Theodoros Kalmoukos – January 31, 2017
During the last few decades in the America, there has been a significant change in the religious landscape. The numbers indicate people are leaving the Church, but the numbers appear to be higher within the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (GOA).
What does it tell you when an educated, dynamic pastor (who thought he had found a treasure in Orthodox Christianity) decides to leave it because of fundamentalist thought that is rendering us rancid?
Monastic Contrasts in America
In one of the notoriously renowned fundamentalist monasteries in the USA, one of the highest ranked monastic leaders of that brotherhood immediately asked a visiting Orthodox Priest if he and his wife engaged in oral sex. Not the usual salutation one might expect. Unfortunately, this abusive and distorted voyeurism masked under monasticism has been reported before here. It is also reported concerning those clergy and laity that follow this unhealthy ilk.
This distortion of monasticism stands in remarkable contrast with healthy, wholesome and normal monasticism. Monasticism is a vital part of Orthodox Spirituality and deserves to be monitored properly by the hierarch to ensure it is best represented. Not only to protect the faithful from this, but also other actions and heretical teachings (like aerial tollhouses).
There are good examples of wholesome and healthy monastic communities. One of these is located in Washington state, specifically on the Vashon island in Puget Sound. https://vashonmonks.com/wp/
The monks at the All-Merciful Saviour Monastery seem to represent one of the better examples of the monastic life. The monastery is headed by Abbot Tryphon, who publishes an almost daily blog at the Ancient Faith website. Blogs.ancientfaith.com To get a sense of the wholesomeness of Abbott Tryphon, please visit https://youtu.be/pgyhIkcHLZA?list=PLVt2095LEkjhuAH9Tavd5EoY98Fa3w-eQ for a very touching interview.
In is refutation of purgatory entitled “The Heresy of Penal Substitution”, Abbott Tryphon’s July 6th 2016 commentary (http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/morningoffering/2016/07/heresy-penal-substitution/) can also be seen to dismiss the idea of Aerial Tollhouses, which leave the saving grace of God in the hands of demons who test the soul upon a person’s death, thus making a complete mockery of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.
Monasteries like this one will make a positive difference in America’s landscape, and hopefully bring more people to Christ. As it stands now, the fundamentalist monasteries in America are chasing people away.
The popularity of political “outsiders” for the presidential election of the USA gives us insight on what is happening within the Church too. People are flocking to the “outsiders”. Please click to see article. http://ocl.org/not-just-politics-thats-haywire-look-todays-greek-orthodox-church-us/
One of the Priests in the Metropolis of Atlanta has published open criticisms of the Ecumenical Patriarch. His website is filled with questionable fundamentalist-type topics. No one appears to be too concerned – even if the Patriarch is called a “betrayer” of the faith by one of the Greek Orthodox Priests in the Metropolis of Atlanta. Did Metropolitan Alexios respond? We have not been made aware of it. Click to read.
We have just received a request by the apparent owner of the video we featured here on multiple baptisms at St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence Arizona. This was from a public YouTube account that has since been marked private. We can only conclude that rather than allow you to judge for yourselves, the owner decided that information was “dangerous” to the reputation of the Ephraimite Monastic system. Why else would the request be made for it to be removed?
Strangely, while the owner professed “I’m not an Ephraimite, I bow to one King and accept guidance through obedience from my spiritual father who I do NOT consider a guru or divine guide”, he did not appear to be interested in transparency. If the Baptism was performed under the consent of the local Hierarch, then why ask us to take it down?
We were given notice of these multiple Baptisms a while ago, when a member of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America sent us the following email:
“The Monasteries under the “spiritual guidance” of Elder Ephraim are performing baptisms (again). Under the Uniform Monastery Regulation (Signed and attached below), a sacrament at the Monasteries may only occur under “compelling reasons deemed acceptable by the local Metropolitan”.” The link below (now marked private” showed the full immersion baptism of one infant, while clearly there are two others occurring at the same time as this one.
It is irregular for a monastery to replace the ministries of a local parish. This video foreshadows the “replacement” of the Parish in exchange for the Monastery becoming the preferred place of worship in seeking holiness, and it seems to be offering itself as the epicenter of Parish life, for at least some of the Laity of our faith.
Healthy Monasticism is part of the Orthodox Faith where it serves a separate purpose in conjunction with the parishes. The resulting destruction of the Parish Community, especially in Chicago, is evident in lower stewardship numbers and empty pews in our parishes. The many Monasteries of Elder Ephraim are quickly built with lavish opulence.
When Monasteries permit sacraments to occur such as weddings, baptisms and funerals, in addition to Sunday services with Sunday School and other community-geared events, then a parallel church is created that erodes and devastates the GOA local Parish life. It has been heard that the aim of these particular monasteries is that, “Someday all of our parishes will look like this.”
There is also the question of whether the baptisms are being recorded and where. If they are not being recorded anywhere in the GOA, then there is a much greater issue. Are the monasteries now establishing their own governance, rules and administration? That does not bode well for the GOA – as the very fabric of a single, centralized GOA is already under strain with various Metropolises creating their own strategic plans and fiefdoms. The parallel marches towards a Metropolis-based church in the US (without the GOA) seems to be in opposition to the work of the Synaxis of Primates leading towards the Holy and Great Council of the Church.
As we predicted, once word got out with another video that provided irrefutable evidence of what is ongoing at the Monasteries, it was removed from the public domain.
This email was sent to one of our editors around March 15th of 2016.
Once again truth is hidden and diminished from the Church.
EDITORS’ UPDATE as of 30 March 2016, 16:30 EST:
The owner(s) of the video graciously allowed the video to be viewed publicly on YouTube again, along with his commentary.
Thank you to the owner(s) of this video. Aside from the administrative and protocol issues, the baptisms of these several children are beautiful.
The video that we see here below was publicly posted on 10/10/2015 on YouTube for the general public to see. It illustrates that the Saint Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona has apparently violated the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese GENERAL REGULATIONS FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT AND OPERATION OF HOLY MONASTERIES IN THE GREEK ORTHODOX ARCHDIOCESE OF AMERICA. (click to view them)
While Monasticism is an important part of Orthodox Spirituality, it is not the only place where holiness is found. It is also found in the local parish. Therefore it is important to have Monasteries that serve in conjunction with the parameters that they have said they would obey. Monasteries are to supplement the efforts of the parish, but not to serve and compete as parishes. This appears to be quite a profound and blatant disregard of the Regulations that violates one of the basic tenets of Monasticism. The rules that govern our Monasteries require that baptisms only occur there when there is a COMPELLING REASON DEEMED ACCEPTABLE BY THE LOCAL METROPOLITAN. Is it even possible to think of a compelling reason for there to be three different families having their baptisms at the same time and place? Our editors doubt it. Perhaps we will witness a new round of “Deny, Defend and Deflect”(click that title to read strategy) at work by our “leadership”. It is more likely that the Metropolitan in question had no prior knowledge of the baptisms. Is a disobedient Monastery a good example of humility and obedience to the ruling Hierarch and the GOA itself?
The video itself is a simple baptism with a few beautiful babies and beautiful music in a beautiful church at a Monastery. One may ask “what is wrong with that?” In and of itself there is nothing wrong with that. The problem is that it seems that this violates the Monastery Regulations of the Archdiocese (The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA) which is based out of New York, and not referring to the confusion that some have by using this term to refer to a “Metropolis” (formerly known as a Diocese)).
This video suggests that the Monastery has violated their agreement and obedience to these Regulations and the Hierarchs of the GOA themselves. Obedience is said to be a big-deal for Monasteries. To have one apparently openly violate this with impunity is also a big deal. That may be why this video was pulled off YouTube.