Concerning Elder Ephraim's book, Counsels from the Holy Mountain
, in Nephon Smith's web site
, along with the POKROV
site and the POEM
site, there is no mention of the Prologue, which is written by a very prominent theologian and hierarch of the church of Greece, His Eminence Hierotheos Vlachos, Metropolitan of Nafpaktos and St. Vlasios
, who says the following about Geronda Ephraim and his book:
"Fr. Ephraim, as I remember him very well from my youth and as one encounters him in this book, is a genuine teacher of the spiritual life and a reliable guide for the Christian's journey towards rebirth, since he himself has experienced and learned the divine, which is why his words are "full of grace and truth" (Jn. 1:14)."
"I am in a position to know that the following chapters are an outcome and a fruit of obedience and noetic hesychia, a result of divine ascents, and they are certainly words coming from a paternal heart, words that help a person be healed in the atmosphere of spiritual love."
"[W]hoever denies Orthodox hesychasm is excommunicated by this Council (of St. Gregory Palamas), and whoever cannot understand the hesychastic life shows that he does not have the mind-set of the Church."
"I have met Fr. Ephraim in the past and I am able to appreciate his words."
"His words were very compunctious, sweet, penetrating, revealing, clairvoyant, renewing, healing, and extracted from patristic wisdom."
And so, it is with deep conviction that this response is written to Nephon (David) Smith's posting of "Not Athos in America" along with other comments he has posted on his website: gerondaephraim.tripod.com along with comments posted on POKROV and POEM as well. It is a conviction that comes from a desire to live according to the traditions of our Church, to not let it be watered down or altered in any way. It is a conviction that gives me a great desire to defend both Geronda Ephraim and Geronda Paisios since they are two hieromonks who are passing onto us the richness of the Orthodox Church, in its fullness and rightness, so that we can be cured of our passions and find salvation. They don't proclaim to do anything of themselves; everything is given to us as it has been given them by the Holy Fathers of our Church. David's reply to a certain Symeon who asks of him why his attitude has changed toward St. Anthony's Monastery: "Symeon asks, "David, what happened?" and claims to be "confused" that my letter a year ago is positive and, since getting away from these disgusting teachings, I now feel negatively about the teachings at St. Anthony's. What happened is obvious. I recognized the teachings for what they are: FALSE
." Therefore, it is the intent of this reply to show the truth according to the Holy Canons and the teachings of the saints which prove that the teachings that come from Geronda Ephraim and Geronda Paisios are in fact not false but the teachings of the Orthodox Church.Marital Relations and Fasting
The complaint of David Smith's, against what Geronda Paisios has told him the teaching of the church on marital relations is, is as follows: "Oh yes, and never on a Fast day which included Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays (to prepare for Communion), and Sundays (because you've had Communion), and of course 40 days before Nativity, 40 days before Pascha, don't forget the Apostle's Fast, and the 15-day Fast for the Dormition. And not on a Feast Day (because we don't celebrate heavenly feasts by indulging in the flesh)...If you add up all those Fast days, not including the Apostle's Fast and Feast days mind you, you get 46 days of allowable procreation time.
" Also, taken from David's web site is a partial quote from a certain Fr. Anthony M. Coniaris that states this: "We are aware of the fact that Elder Ephraim's teachings regarding marriage denigrate the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. They do not represent Orthodox Christian truth...
" It is preferred to draw attention to this particular issue first also because Geronda Ephraim has been slandered for this teaching on marriage before and not just within this particular context. May it be shown that what Geronda Ephraim and Geronda Paisios are teaching on marital relations is not a "teaching of St. Anthony's Monastery" but the teaching of the Orthodox Church as it has been from the beginning.
Taken from the Rudder are the following canons:
St. Dionysius, the Archbishop of Alexandria and Confessor states in his third canon: "For we are told in writing by St. Paul that it is fitting that they should abstain from each other by agreement for a time, in order that they may indulge in prayer, and again come together
." The footnote here, according to St. Nicodemos, is stated most clearly and verbatim as "Hence, this Canon of Dionysius gives every sensible person to understand that it is immediately addressed to Basilides, who has asked whether married people are to abstain from each other whenever they have to commune. For it answers that on this point the married people themselves are sufficient judges - meaning, that is to say, that they ought to remain continent during time of Communion...the Apostle [Paul] adds that aside from prayer married people ought to remain continent during the time of fasting, which is prescribed by the Church.
St. Timothy of Alexandria in his fifth canon: "If a woman has coition with her husband during the night, or, as likely as not, a man with his wife, and a church meeting ensues, ought they to partake of communion, or not?" "They ought not to do so, because the Apostle says emphatically: "Deprive yourselves not of each other, unless it be for a time of agreement, that ye may give yourselves leisure to pray; and then come ye again together, to avoid having Satan tempt you on account of your failure to mingle
." The interpretation found here in the Rudder and therefore repeated here verbatim is: "To one who had asked whether a married couple ought to partake of the divine Mysteries, when a liturgy is held in the morning, and they have had sexual intercourse with each other during the night immediately preceding, the Saint replied in the present Canon that they ought not to commune; (the footnote here states that "Lawfully married couples ought, therefore, to abstain from sexual intercourse at least for three days, and then come to church for communion
.") and in witness thereof he cites the words of the Apostle, who orders married couples not to deprive one party or the other of sexual intercourse, save by agreement of both parties; and only then not to have sexual intercourse when a sacred liturgy is being celebrated, on Saturday and Sunday, and in general on all feast days, so that they may partake of communion.
Again St. Timothy of Alexandria in his thirteenth canon: "What days of the week ought to be assigned to those who are conjoined in marriage for them to abstain from communion with each other? And on what days ought they to have it?" "Though I have already answered this question, I will answer now once more. The Apostles says "Deprive ye not yourselves of each other, unless it be for a time by agreement, in order that ye may have leisure to pray"..."But one must necessarily abstain on Saturday and Sunday, on account of the fact that on these days the spiritual sacrifice is being offered to the Lord.
" The interpretation is the same as the above interpretation on the canon of St. Timothy.
And the 69th Apostolic Canon states: "If any Bishop, or Presbyter, or Deacon, or Subdeacon, or Anagnost, or Psalt fails to fast throughout the forty days of Holy Lent, or on Wednesday or on Friday, let him be deposed from office. Unless he has been prevented from doing so by reason of bodily illness. If, on the other hand, a layman fail to do so, let him be excommunicated.
" The footnote here by St. Nicodemos states verbatim: "But if the fast of Wednesday and Friday is on a par with that of Lent, it is plain that just as marriage cannot be celebrated on either Wednesday or Friday. But if this again is true, it is equally plain that neither ought a married couple to have intercourse carnally on any Wednesday or Friday, on account of the decency and respectability which these two days command in every week of the year, but neither ought they to have any such intercourse in time of Lent. For it is absurd on the one hand for them to avoid abolishing these fasts by eating foods, when on the other hand they abolish them by indulging in carnal intercourse and the enjoyment of sensual pleasure of a carnal nature
. Hence we ought to fast at these times both by abstaining from foods prohibited therein and by abstaining from the temptations of carnal intercourse."
From the Prophet Joel, in hinting that during a fast every married couple ought to behave soberly and sanely, said: "Sanctify fasting, preach continence...let the bridegroom come out of his chamber, and let the bride come out of her closet
" (Joel 2:16). Divine St. Paul says plainly that married couples ought to abstain by agreement from carnal intercourse in order to be at leisure while fasting and praying" (1 Cor. 7:5); (continuing from the footnote to the Apostolic Canon 69) "this means that they should abstain both when there is, as we have said, a fast, and when they are praying and preparing to partake of communion in the divine mysteries both on Saturday and on Sunday, according to c. XIII of Timothy, and in general during all feast days in which spiritual sacrifice is being offered to God."
St. John Chrysostom (in his Discourse concerning Virginity) where he talks on the above quoted passage of Joel and goes on to say: "For if the newly married, who have a robust desire and a lusty youthfulness and an unbridled concupiscence, ought not to have intercourse in time of fast and prayer, how much more is it not a fact that other married couples who are less violently swayed by the cravings of the flesh ought to refrain from sexual intercourse.
From Exodus 19: 15: "And he said to the people, 'Be ready for the third day; do not come near your wives.
'" This was the time when Moses was telling the people what the Lord said, in preparation for the receiving of the ten commandments.Marital Relations for Procreation
David Smith also says this in regard to marital relations: "We were taught that marriage was a result of the Fall and that sex was a luxury of the flesh to be used only sparingly for procreation, like eating was used only to keep the body alive.
" And again in David's reply to Rostislav: "[T]he theology that sexual intercourse is a direct result of the Fall and therefore something to be given up by those who want to live as Adam did before the Fall, is what is non-Orthodox and even Puritan.
To quote St. John Chrysostom: "There are two reasons marriage is introduced - on the one hand, that we might be chaste, and on the other, that we might become fathers. Of these two, the excuse of chastity takes precedence...especially now, when the whole world is filled with people.
And again St. John Chrysostom: "'And Adam knew his wife Eve'. Mind you, when did this take place? After disobedience, after the exile from Paradise; then intercourse began; before disobedience, they lived like Angels, and nowhere is there any mention of intercourse. Because previously we were not subject to physical needs, therefore from the beginning virginity was preeminent.
St. Athanasius the Great says this: "God's original intention was that we give birth not through marriage and corruption; the violation of the commandment introduced marriage as a result of Adam's transgression, i.e., as a result of falling away from the commandment given to him by God.
St. John Damascene explains: "...the commandment go forth and multiply does not necessarily mean through conjugal union. For God could increase the human race by another means, if people had preserved the commandment inviolate to the end.
St. Maximos the Confessor states very plainly this: "Indeed being in Himself the universal union of all, He has started with our division and become the perfect human being, having from us, on our account, and in accordance with our nature, everything that we are and lacking nothing, apart from sin (Heb. 4:15), and having no need of the natural intercourse of marriage. In this way He showed, I think, that there was perhaps another way, foreknown by God, for human beings to increase, if the first human being had kept the commandments and not cast himself down to an animal state by abusing his own proper powers. Thus God-made-man has done away with the difference and division of nature into male and female, which human nature in no way needed for generation, as some hold, and without which it would perhaps have been possible. There was no necessity for these things to have lasted forever."
St. Gregory the Dialogist writes to St. Augustine: "...when lust takes the place of desire for children, the mere act of union becomes something that the pair have cause to regret;...this carries a warning with it. For when the Apostle Paul said, 'If they cannot contain themselves, let them marry,' he at once added, 'I speak this by permission and not of commandment.' This concession makes it lawful, yet not good; so when he spoke of permission, he indicated that it was not blameless.
St. John Chrysostom writes on Genesis and the time of Noah. "Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, and they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose. And the Lord said, "My spirit will not remain in these people forever because they are carnal.
" St. John Chrysostom says plainly that men chose women because of their beauty out of their passions for lust. They did not see women in a lawful way, but in a way to fulfill their carnal desires and that was a sin. It was not until this time that men saw women carnally and it greatly displeased God, enough to say "My spirit will not remain with these people because they are carnal.
" Therefore, God numbered their days to 120 years, the time needed to build the Ark.
The following three quotes are taken from St. Maximos the Confessor (from the Philokalia): "Again, vice is the wrong use of our conceptual images of things, which leads us to misuse the things themselves. In relation to women, for example, sexual intercourse, rightly used, has as its purpose the begetting of children. He, therefore, who seeks in it only sensual pleasure uses it wrongly, for he reckons as good what is not good. When such a man has intercourse with a woman, he misuses her.
" and also "Passions impel us when, for example, we desire something beyond what is reasonable, such as....a woman who is not our wife or for a purpose other than procreation...
" and also "Scripture does not forbid anything which God has given us for our use; but it condemns immoderation and thoughtless behavior. For instance, it does not forbid us to eat, or to beget children, or to possess material things and to administer them properly. But it does forbid us to be gluttonous, to fornicate and so on. It does not forbid us to think of these things - they were made to be thought of - but it forbids us to think of them with passions.
St. Justin the Martyr: "But either we marry, in the first place, in order to raise children, or, refusing to marry, we live in continence for the rest of our lives
St. Synglitiki: "For those who live in modesty he gave marriage for the purpose of childbearing.
St. Athanatius the Great: "Fortunate is he who having married freely at a young age has used marital relations for childbearing. But if he has used it for debauchery then the punishment that the Apostle had talked about for fornicators and adulterers awaits him
Also, in regard to the this statement of David's: "and he was adamant that no saint ever had a sexual life.
" To this I would humbly like to say only a few things. I have read many lives of the saints, married, monastic, martyred, etc. and have never read any married saints stories where it was hailed that they had a sexual life. Not one. In fact, I have read the opposite: that they were hailed for their virginity. I would like to include a small list of some of the married saints who decided to live in virginity, in order to follow the admonition of St. Paul (which I have listed earlier.) St. Melania
begged her husband to live as brother and sister. He did not want to and in obedience to him she did not refuse. However, after her children died, she became so ill and her husband went to the church to pray for her health. She sent a message to him there saying that she would become well if he agreed to live in virginity. He agreed, she recovered and they dedicated their lives to prayer and fasting and almsgiving. St. Julian
persuaded his wife Basilissa
that they should live an ascetic and virginal life. When sick and near death, St. Xenophon
says this to his children: "I have never desired the beauty of any other woman than your mother, who after your birth agreed with me to embrace virginity for Christ's sake." His wife's name was Maria
and they had two children. St. Symeon the Myrrhgusher
and his wife separated to become monastics. Sts. Marcian and Pulcheria
preserved voluntarily virginity in their marriage. St. Gorgonia
is praised at her funeral by her brother St. Gregory the Theologian in this way: "Although she was married, she succeeded in surpassing all of the women of her own day in wise prudence, thereby joining marriage with virginity." St. Conan
agreed to live in virginity with his wife, Anna, who was persuaded through a vision of the Archangel Michael that they should live a virginal life. St. Laurence of Megara
became the abbot of a monastery after a vision of the Theotokos and tonsured his wife and one of his sons. St. Theophanes the Confessor of Sigriane
lived in virginity with his wife for eight years until they agreed to leave one another and become monastics. The holy martyrs Sts. Chrysanthus and Daria
lived as brother and sister rather than as man and wife. St. John Vladimir and his wife agreed to live in virginity. Sts Basil the Elder and Emmilia
lived in virginity after the birth of their 9 children. St. Etheldreda
was blessed to live in virginity by her husband the King of Northumbria after pleading with him to live as brother and sister. St. Olympias the Deaconess
died a virgin though she had been married. St. Dalmatus
and his wife agreed to pursue monasticism while married. St. Cuthberga the Queen
lived in a virginal marriage with her husband King Alfred
. St. Ammon the Egyptian
and his wife lived in virginity for the love of Christ. Sts. Andronicus and Athaniasia
lived in virginity and then departed from each other to live as monastics. St. Theosevius of Arsinoe
lived in virginity with his wife. Sts. Galaction and Episteme
agreed to live in virginity immediately after marriage. Sts. Valerian and Cecilia
lived as brother and sister in their marriage and were later martyred. St. Kyril Phileotes
agreed with his wife to live in virginity and prayer and fasting after their two children were born. St. John of Kronstadt
convinced his wife to live in virginity from their wedding night. St. Joseph the betrothed
, of course, lived in virginity with the Most Holy Theotokos
. This is not unlike many other married saint stories. I must say that if one really wants to see how to live, married or monastic, we must look at the life of Christ and His holy mother. Every aspect of Christ's life is meant for us to imitate. Surely, no one can argue with that. Everything He did was for our benefit. He lived as a virgin as did His most holy mother.
It is evident by the way married saints chose to live in virginity that it was not just necessary for the monastics to do so. St. Basil the Great
says this (taken from his Ascetical Works): "Does it not seem to you, then, that the Gospel applies to married persons also? Surely, it has been made clear that obedience to the Gospel is required of all of us, both married and celibate
St. Basil goes on to say this: "Do not relax your efforts, therefore, you who have chosen the companionship of a wife, as if you were at liberty to embrace worldliness. Indeed, you have a need of greater labors and vigilance for the gaining of your salvation, inasmuch as you have elected to dwell in the midst of the toils and in the very stronghold of rebellious powers, and night and day all your senses are impelled toward desire of the allurements to sin which are before your eyes
St. John Chrysostom says this: "Those who live in the world, even though they are married ought to resemble the monks is all ways. You are greatly deceived if you think there are things that are required of laymen and other things of monks...All are equally accountable."
St. Theognostos writes this (also taken from the Philokalia): "Watch out for any unnecessary demands coming from the body and ignore them, lest they should lead you to relax your efforts before you have attained dispassion. Regard as loss, not the privation of sensual pleasure, but the failure to attain higher things as a result of having indulged in such pleasure
."Renunciation of the World and Family
Here is a separate Canon that David posts on his web site. It seems to be placed there in reference to a certain monk, Fr. Theologos, as well as to certain letters found on the POKROV site, along with the POEM web site, whose acronym stands for Parents of Ephraim Monastics. A lot has been said regarding Fr. Theologos and that his parents, as well as other parents of monastic children who are under Geronda Ephraim, consider him there by force or trickery and would like to have him come home, at least to visit. Again, it is said that our Geronda Ephraim is a cult leader or guru who tells his monastics not to talk to their parents and won't allow them to visit their parents and other relatives and that this is not the Orthodox way and is not conducive to love. I have included the interpretation of the canon David posts
along with a number of paragraphs straight from the Ladder of Divine Ascent, a book written expressly for monastics, and other quotes from the Holy Fathers of our church. Below is the canon David has on his site:If, under the pretence of piety, any children shall forsake their parents, particularly [if the parents are] believers, and shall withhold becoming reverence from their parents, on the plea that they honour piety more than them, let them be anathema
.CANON XVI of the Council of Gangra
The interpretation, which anyone can read in the Rudder, says this: "If parents, however, who are infidels or heretics incite their children to unbelief and heresy, or, even though they are believers they nevertheless are preventing them or prohibiting them from living according to Christ and from being virtuous, and are inciting them to acts that are harmful to the soul and improper, then and in that case children ought to prefer godliness and virtue to carnal parents, which amounts to saying that they ought to leave them without hating them, and take their departure." And the footnote according to St. Nicodemos states this: "That is why divine Chrysostom says for parents not to forbid or prevent their children if they (i.e., the children) want to become monastics (that is what he says to a believing father on page 170 of the sixth volume, and he expatiates against those who endeavour to injure those parents who happen to have incited their children to a monastic life, and especially when the latter are capable of perfect discrimination of what is logical and reasonable, and, in addition to this, are also masters of their own conduct.
"Canon XLIII in the 102 Canons of the Holy and Ecumenical Sixth Council states this
: "It is permissible for a Christian to choose the ascetic mode of life and abandoning the turbulent whirl of ordinary life to enter a Monastery, and to take a tonsure in accordance with monkish habit, even though he should have been found guilty of any offense whatsoever. For our Savior God said: "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37). As therefore monachal life represents to us a state of repentance as though engraved upon a pillar, we join in sympathizing with anyone that genuinely adopts it, and no manner of means shall prevent him from accomplishing his aim."
The interpretation of this canon is as follows: "Hence the present Canon decrees that every Christian (who is under his own control, that is to say, and not under authority of another person) is permitted to renounce and abjure the world, and to go to a monastery and get tonsured, even though he may have committed the greatest sin, seeing that the Lord said, 'I won't chase away anyone that comes to me.' So, then, inasmuch as the life of monks is the picture of repentance, just as a pillar is a picture of what is engraved upon it, therefore and on this account we too are pleased to congratulate those persons who prefer it, and no cause shall prevent such persons from carrying out their avowed aim.
"St. John Climacus, in the Ladder of Divine Ascent
, on his chapter on exile or pilgrimage says much regarding a man who leaves the world in order to become a monastic. Each of these is taken from Step 3.#12
: "It is better to grieve our parents than the Lord. For He has created and saved us, but they have often ruined their loved ones and delivered them up to their doom."#14
: "It is not from hatred that we separate ourselves from our own people or places (God forbid!), but to avoid the harm which might come to us from them. In this, as in everything else, it is Christ who teaches us what is good for us. For it is clear that He often left His parents according to the flesh. And when He was told, 'Thy Mother and Thy brethren are seeking for Thee,' our good Lord and Master at once showed us an example of dispassionate hatred when He said "My mother and My brethren are they who do the will of My Father who is in Heaven."#16
: "Longing for God extinguishes longing for our parents. And so anyone who says he has both is deceiving himself. He should listen to Him who says, 'No one can serve two lords.' 'I have not come,' says the Lord, 'to bring peace on earth (that is, love of parents for sons, and love of brothers for brothers who have resolved to serve Me), but war and a sword' in order to separate lovers of God from lovers of the world, the lovers of material things from lovers of spiritual things, the lovers of fame from the humble-minded. For strife and separation delight the Lord when they spring from love for Himself.#17
: "Look, beware, lest you who cherish attachment to kinsmen be exposed to the all-engulfing deluge, and you be swept away by the cataclysm of love for the world. Do not be moved by the tears of parents or friends; otherwise you will be weeping eternally. When they surround you like bees, or rather wasps, and shed tears over you, do not for one moment hesitate, but sternly fix the eye of your soul on your past actions and your death, that you may ward off one sorrow by another. Our own, or more correctly, those who are not our own, flatteringly promise to do everything to please us. But their aim is to hinder our splendid course, and then in this way drag us to their own goal."#20
: "No one has surrendered himself to exile to such an extent as that great man (Abraham) who heard: 'Go forth out of thy land, and out of thy kindred, and out of the house of thy father.' And then he was called into a barbarous land that spake another tongue.#23
: "Attachment either to some particular relative or to strangers is dangerous. Little by little it can entice us back to the world, and completely quench the fire of our compunction. It is impossible to look at the sky with one eye and at the earth with the other, and it is equally impossible for anyone not to expose his soul to danger who has not separated himself completely, both in thought and body, from his own relatives and from others."#24
: "By much labour and effort a good and stable character is developed in us. But what can be achieved with great labour can be lost in a single moment, for 'Evil conversation corrupteth good habits,' being at once worldly and disorderly. The man who associates with people of the world or approaches them after his renunciation will certainly either fall into their traps or will defile his heart by thinking about them; or if he is not defiled himself, yet by condemning those who are defiled, he himself will be defiled."St. Basil
(from his Ascetical Works): "Even in the beginning of your renunciation of the world show yourself a man, and, that you may not be dragged down by attachments to your blood relatives, strengthen yourself by exchanging mortal for immortal aspirations."
Again St. Basil
: "Above all, we renounce the Devil and carnal affections, in having given up the things of our secret shame, ties of physical relationship, human friendships, and a mode of life that is inimical to the perfection of the Gospel of salvation...[s]uch a one, moreover, regards as his true parents those who have brought him forth by the Gospel and looks upon as his brethren those who have received the same spirit of adoption..
Again St. Basil
: "Thus, a man who is strongly seized with the desire of following Christ can no longer be concerned with anything pertaining to this life, not even with the love of parents or other relatives...
, from his Ascetical Discourses (the short rules) states: "We should not seek to converse with our relatives or to care about their personal business. Truly, our true Father is first the Father of all, and second, the Abbot of the spiritual brotherhood. For the monastic has died to the world and for all that is in the world, whether it is parents, siblings, or relatives."St. Basil
(from the same): "We should totally rid ourselves of the thoughts and the concerns of relatives...[because] he who has become a member of the spiritual brotherhood cannot after that separate from them because he's bound to that brotherhood with the spiritual cohabitation which is indissolvable and eternal."St. Gregory Palamas
also says this: "But let us also, especially the monks, flee from association and life with the swine in the wilds." And he goes on to say: "What is the use of your fleeing the world once and for all and seeking out the institutes of God as your refuge and then going out of them, back and forth into the world every day? How, tell me, when you go around in the market places will you escape the fomentings of passions through which comes the death of the soul that separates man from God?"St. Theodoros the Great Ascetic and Bishop of Edessa (Volume 2 of the Philokalia) - #52
: "Since you are a friend of Christ, let me give you this further piece of advice. You must aspire to live in exile, free from the conditions and ways of your own country. Do not be caught up by anxiety for your parents or by ties of affection to your relatives. Do not stay in a town but persevere in the wilderness, saying like the prophet: 'Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness'." And #54
: "If you are a friend of Christ you should have as friends persons who are of benefit to you and contribute to your way of life. Let your friends be men of peace, spiritual brethren, holy fathers. It is of such that our Lord was speaking when He said: 'My mother and brethren are those who do the will of My Father who is in heaven'."
And the words of our Lord Jesus Christ
in the Holy Gospels: "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me." And again: "Whoever does not hate his father and mother and wife and children, yea, and his own life, also, he cannot be my disciple."
And finally St. Paul
: "We ought to obey God rather than men."Monastic Obedience
As for this comment by David Smith, referring to this quote by Fr. John Whiteford: "In a monastic context, a monk is obliged to be obedient" and David's reply: "So you would think, but not on Mount Athos and not traditionally. On Mt. Athos, and thus St. Anthony's, it has its monks under what is called 'voluntary obedience.' They don't have to do anything they don't want to, especially if it doesn't make sense.
This is not true. The monks at St. Anthony's have placed themselves under Geronda Ephraim, a holy elder, and are under 100 percent obedience to him. This is true for monks on Mount Athos as well. They do not possess wills of their own. They abandon their wills when they place themselves under obedience to their holy elder. And this placing of themselves under the Elder is what is voluntary. True obedience and its meaning are found in many of the writings of the Holy Fathers and this is the obedience that the monks of St. Anthony's adhere to.
This section is also here to contradict the "dangerous quotes" section from David's web page, where he lists quotes from Elder Ephraim's book on obedience. Here are two of the quotes that David says are "dangerous" : “Do not contradict the Elder; reflect that he represents the divine will.
” (Counsels from the Holy Mountain, page 105) and “Never examine what your Elder does or why he does this or that. Do not judge him, for you will become an antichrist! Never in your life tolerate others who speak against your Elder, but oppose them immediately; shield him; defend him. Christ makes straight the “crookedness” of the Elder's human shortcomings and mistakes, on account of uncritical and guileless obedience.
” (Counsels from the Holy Mountain, page 139). David goes on to say: "That's another reason why the disciple of the Geronda, lay or monastic, has to "voluntarily" submit. If they don't, they're contradicting God Almighty (Papacy, anyone?)
" The most holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church say very plainly what true obedience is when you are a monastic. I have included many of their illumined sayings.
St. John Climacus says a lot on monastic obedience in Step number 4:#3
: "Obedience is absolute renunciation of our own life, clearly expressed in our bodily actions. Or, conversely, obedience is the mortification of the limbs while the mind remains alive. Obedience is unquestioning movement, voluntary death, a life free of curiosity, carefree danger, unprepared defence before God, fearlessness of death, a safe voyage, a sleeper's progress. Obedience is the tomb of the will and the resurrection of humility. A corpse does not argue or reason as to what is good or what seems to be bad. For he who has devoutly put the soul of the novice to death will answer for everything. Obedience is an abandonment of discernment in a wealth of discernment."#5
: "You who have decided to strip for the arena of this spiritual confession, you who wish to take on your neck the yoke of Christ, you who are therefore trying to lay your own burden on another's shoulders, you who are hastening to sign a pledge that you are voluntarily surrendering yourself to slavery, and in return want freedom written to your account, you who are being supported by the hands of others as you swim across this great sea - you should know that you have decided to travel by a short but rough way from which there is only one erring path, and it is called self-rule. But he who has renounced this entirely, even in things that seem to be good and spiritual and pleasing to God, has reached the end before setting out on his journey. For obedience is distrust of oneself in everything, however good it may be, right to the end of one's life."#9
: "He who submits himself, passed sentence on himself. If his obedience for the Lord's sake is perfect, even if it does not seem perfect, he will escape judgment. But if he does his own will in some things, then although he considers himself obedient, he lays the burden on his own shoulders. It is good if the superior does not cease reproving him; but if he is silent, then I do not know what to say. Those who submit themselves in the Lord in simplicity run the good race without provoking the cunning of the demons against themselves by their exacting investigations."St. Basil the Great, from his Ascetical Works says this about obedience
: "If, then, with the grace of God, you find a teacher of good works (for if you really seek, you will find) keep a watch over yourself so as to do nothing against his will; for whatever is done without his consent is, as it were, a piece of thievery and a sacrilege leading not to your profit but to your ruin, however good it may seem to you.
"And again St. Basil the Great in reference to sisters in a monastery
: "She should not dispute the orders given her (for such a practice becomes habitual and leads to rebellion), but as we receive the commands of the Lord without question, knowing that all of the Scripture is divinely inspired and of benefit to us, so also the members of the sisterhood should accept without distinction the commands of the superior."
Again St. Basil: "Consequently, when a superior has been chosen, all private volition will give place and all, without exception, will follow the example of their head in obedience to the apostolic precept bidding every soul to be subject to higher powers and warning that 'they that resist purchase to themselves damnation.' True and perfect obedience of subjects to their superior is shown not only by their refraining from every untoward action in accordance with his advice, but also by their not doing even what is approved without his consent."
St. Basil, from Ascetical Discourses (the short rules) says this on obedience: "If those who govern the world have received their authority through civil law and we have to be obedient to them, how much more obedience does the ascetic have to show to him who has received his authority from God and from His laws. And how is it not possible to go against the commandments of God when one opposes the abbot. For the abbot is none other than the one who holds the place of the Savior and intercedes between God and man and he offers to God the salvation of those obedient to him (i.e. his monks)."
St. Symeon the New Theologian, taken from the Discourses, Chapter 20, paragraph 2 titled The guidance of a Spiritual Father: "So brother do as we have said and go to the man whom God chose you, either mystically in person or externally through his servant. you should look on him and speak to him as to Christ Himself and so revere him and be taught by him what is profitable."
St. Theodoros the Great Ascetic and Bishop of Edessa (Volume 2 of the Philokalia) - #41: "The struggle to achieve obedience is won by means of renunciation, as we have learned." And #42: "Do not judge the actions of your spiritual father, but obey his commands. For the demons are in the habit of showing you his defects, so that your ears may be deaf to what he tells you. They aim either to drive you from the arena as a feeble and cowardly fighter, or simply to terrify you with thoughts that undermine your faith, and so to make you sluggish about every form of virtue." And #43: "A monk who disobeys the commands of his spiritual father transgresses the special vows of his profession. But he who has embraced obedience and slain his own will with the sword of humility has indeed fulfilled the promise that he made to Christ in the presence of many witnesses." And #44: "From our own observations we have clearly perceived that the enemies of our life, the demons, are exceedingly jealous of those pursuing the ascetic way under obedience to a spiritual father. Gnashing their teeth at them and devising all sorts of schemes, they do and suggest everything possible so as to separate a monk from his spiritual father's care. They propose plausible excuses, they contrive irritations, they arouse hatred against the father, they represent his admonitions and rebukes, they make his words of correction seem like sharpened arrows. Why, they ask, since you are free, have you become a slave - a slave to a merciless master? How long will you wear yourself out under the yoke of servitude and not see the light of freedom? Then they make suggestions about giving hospitatlity, visiting the sick and caring for the poor. Next they extol above measure the rewards of extreme stillness and solitude, and sow all sorts of evil weeds in the heart of the devout warrior, simply to cast him out of the fold of his spiritual father; and having unmoored him from the untroubled haven they drive him out to sea, into the fierce and soul-destroying tempest. Finally, when they have enslaved him to their own authority, they use him according to their own evil desires." And #45: "You who are under obedience to a spiritual father must be alert to the cunning of your enemies and adversaries. Do not forget your profession and promise to God...[i]nstead, rooting in your heart the Lord's words, 'He who endures to the end will be saved'."
Self-flagellation | Top
David says this about self-flagellation: "I was taught to flagellate myself with electrical cord when I had sinful thoughts and that this was normal behavior that Saints indulged in...I was told that to drive away sinful thoughts I should get an electrical cord, make a whip out of it, and lash myself on the legs with it...This teaching can also be found in “Elder” Ephraim’s book “Counsels from the Holy Mountain."
It seems necessary here to point out that the use of self-flagellation is certainly not just found in Elder Ephraim's book. Countless saints have used various forms of self mortification. I have included a few examples below:
St. Nephon did this very thing, and specifically used it to war against carnal temptations. "...he dreamed that he had fallen into a shameful act. He flew out of bed then...and shouted to himself: "Woe to you, Nephon, who sleep too much! What happens now?...Now you will taste bitter affliction, instead of pleasure!" And immediately grabbing a long stick, he hit his feet so terribly, that they were black and blue for a long time." (St. Nephon, an Ascetic Bishop, p. 9) As for David Smith saying "I kept this practice for a while, but it never worked..." St. Nephon struggled with carnal temptations and would strike himself in this manner for 14 years. Certainly then it is not something that happens overnight.
Elder Joseph the Hesychast did this as well and battled carnal temptations for 8 years. The Orthodox Church is on the cusp of ordaining him a saint.
St. Basil the Great says "Now, continency and all corporal suffering (self-flagellation) are of some value, but if a man following his private caprice do what is pleasing to himself and heed not the advice of his superior, his fault will be greater than the good it does; 'for he that resisteth authority, resisteth the ordinance of God."
St. Theophano the Empress, who lived during the 8th century and is commemorated on December 16th wore a hairshirt beneath her clothing.
The Emperor Theodosius the Great wore a thick hairshirt underneath his clothing and underneath the hairshirt he wore chains wrapped tightly around his body.
St. Kyril Phileotes (who was married) would strike himself with a rope or a stick when he was troubled by passionate thoughts, desire, or anger.
St. Symeon the Stylite tied ropes so tightly around his flesh, underneath his clothing, that it cut into his flesh and the wounds festered with maggouts. He did this to fight against his flesh.
St. Martinianos, who is commemorated on February 13th lived as a desert dweller and a woman came to him with the purpose of tempting him into intercourse. She had the thought that if she came there attempting to seduce him she could get him to sin with her. So she dressed herself as a poor woman and came to the desert and when she approached him she asked him for shelter. He placed her within the hut where he lived while he went into a cave to pray. While he was praying, she took off her poor woman's clothing and put on makeup and beautiful bejeweled clothing and waited for him to return. When he returned, she attempted to seduce him. He gave himself over to thoughts and then ran outside of the hut, built a fire and walked through it. Then he did it again and it took more than 7 months for him to be healed from the wounds that were caused by the fire.
St. Leontios, Patriarch of Jerusalem, commemorated on May 14th "this saint made a belt with many nails through it because tears wouldn't come easily to him. Therefore, he would strike himself and it would cut into his flesh, deeply, so that he could have tears. At the end of his life and 4 days after his death, a fragrance came from his body. His body had been placed within two caskets, but fresh blood poured out from his body after 4 days and went through the caskets. From this we can conclude that even though he while he was alive, he was honored along with the martyrs because of his self-imposed martyrdom." (Taken from the Great Synaxarion)
An Anonymous Saint from the Gerontikon - a monk or a monastic from the Gerontikon, because he could not get himself to weep for his sins, would make a whip out of a rope and would beat himself so hard that he would weep from the pain. The brother who lived near him marveled at what this brother was doing and besought God to reveal to him whether the latter was doing right in tormenting himself. One night, he saw his brother wearing a crown and standing among the martyrs and someone came to him as he was dreaming: "Behold the good struggler who is tormenting himself for the sake of Christ, how he is crowned together with the martyrs." (Taken from Volume 3 of Evergetinos, p. 81)
There are numerous other saints who attempted to tame the flesh by means of flagellation, hair shirts, sleeping on bare floors, using bricks for pillows, allowing wounds to fester with maggots while standing on the foot infested, wearing chains beneath their clothing that both cut into their flesh and weighed down their bodies, etc. Countless numbers of saints did these things in order to gain the kingdom of heaven for "The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force." Therefore it is perfectly clear that this is not something invented by Elder Ephraim or Fr. Paisios, either.
That these things are debated make it obvious that the truth of our Orthodox Church needs to be emphatically stated. The monasteries are providing for us these truths in that they are living these truths themselves and telling them to us without alteration. The monasteries are like lighthouses on a stormy sea and without their help, we would surely shipwreck and drown. It seems that those who slander the monasteries and the elders therein, do not want the light.
+Michele Sparrow (this is my real name)