Kalmoukos on Monasteries

August 20, 2012 ~ 

UPDATE:  When I wrote this essay some time back I was not in full command of the facts.  I had a wonderful conversation today with Mr. Kalmoukos and I would like to revise my remarks concerning his personal integrity.  I was not very kind in my words about him, not even knowing him before today, and I am indeed sorry for those remarks now.  I am leaving my comments so the story line will make sense but I will say this, Mr. Kalmoukos is after the truth in this situation with the monastery mentioned in this essay and others.  He is a faithful son of the Church and only seeks truth, truth no matter where it leads.  I mentioned to him in my conversation today that I am a convert to Orthodoxy from the Roman Catholic Church and I started seminary the time the clergy sex abuse scandal was breaking.  I have seen first-hand what silence can do to a church and we need to learn from those mistakes.  It may not always be pleasant to read about our human errors but I believe that the truth needs to be revealed so we all know what is going on in our Holy Church.  We all need to understand what is happening and we need to take appropriate measures to insure that it does not happen again.

I do not usually comment on the inner workings of another Orthodox Diocese and I also do not comment on the media, mainly because they are the media and they do not need my help to get them into trouble.  However, I find Theodore Kalmoukos’ latest screed in the National Herald too much to not comment on.

Mr. Kalmoukos is no friend of the Church, in fact one wonders why he continues to remain Orthodox and has not left the church for a far better option, and then I remember why, it’s because he makes quite a living sniping at bishops and others clergy in the Church.  If Mr. Kalmoukos had his way we would be a Presbyterian form of government here in the Orthodox Church in the USA and not what the traditional church has been for more than 2,000 years, hierarchical.

In his most recent rant, I have posted the entire article at the end of this post, he takes on the tragic case of a very troubled soul that has taken his own life at a monastery in Arizona.  Although he wants answers, it is not, in my opinion, for the family that he seeks these answers but in another attempt to smear the church that he claims to belong too.

The case involves a novice at a Greek monastery run by Elder Ephraim in the Arizona desert.  A few weeks back, in the early hours of the morning, Scott Nevins came to the monastery and took his own life.  As Mr. Kalmoukos points out the reports of his death have not been released.  I am not sure it is any of his, or anyone else’s business what happened, but these things take time.  He is pining away for more information in that case and says, “On the other hand, there is a barrage of electronic messages, comments, and opinions being exchanged, which can be classified more as gossip then legitimate information.”  I would add this recent article as well as the others to that list.

However, he does raise some important points about Spiritual Fathers and monasteries.  First and foremost monasteries are not parish churches and should not be treated as such.  What do I mean by that?  They should not be performing sacraments, baptisms, weddings, funerals etc. except for their own members.  A monastery exists for the salvation of those who are part of the monastery.  If one would like to seek out a spiritual father, and I think this is important as I have written about before, then one needs the blessing of their priest to seek a spiritual father or confessor at a monastery or anywhere else for that matter.

I have never been to a so called “Ephramite” monastery but I have heard tales.  Not wanting to contribute to the gossip I will refrain from telling those stories here as I have no first-hand knowledge of the goings on.  I have heard that people, unhappy with their parish, will attend services at a monastery.  It is fine if you are unhappy with your parish, maybe the problem is you and not the church, but if you drive past other Orthodox Churches on your way to the monastery, then I would suggest you attend a parish Church.  The fullness of the church exists in the local parish.  Monasteries, as I have already said, are not parish churches!

As I have written about in the past, I believe in the spiritual father, spiritual child relationship, but I can see, as Mr. Kalmoukos points out, where is can get out of control.  I would also suggest that he is right when he points out the silliness of having ones spiritual father in another country.  There needs to be a face to face relationship with your spiritual father.

The main point of my objection with the article comes in the last paragraph.  Mr. Kalmoukos states that “Methodios Tournas, Bishop of Boston” should be prevented from forming a monastery at the camp run by the Metropolis of Boston in New Hampshire.  First off, Methodios is not Bishop of Boston but Metropolitan, a fact that Mr. Kalmoukos should be aware of as it is written in all official documents and website, but let us not let the facts get in the way of a good rant!

Secondly the reason he believes this should happen is to protect children, actually “children of the Greek-American Community of New England free from any influence of monasteries and monks.”  I find this accusation to be heartless and well uninformed.  Do we have bad monks, yes, just like we have bad journalists, but to lump all monasteries and monastics in the same boat is done for no other reason than to sell newspapers and Mr. Kalmoukos should be called to account for this comment.

Do we have problems, big problems, in the Church?  Yes we do, but rather than try and be part of the solution Mr. Kalmoukos and his ilk are doing nothing but causing confusion and trying to stir up problems where none exists.  Do we need more schools are Mr. Kalmoukos suggests, yes we do.  Do we need more monasteries, faithful, stable monasteries, yes we do.  What we do not need is someone whose only goal is to sell newspapers and stir up trouble.

Mr. Kalmoukos, as you are so fond of making suggestions for people and their spiritual lives, perhaps it would suit you well to take your own advice and head to a monastery either here in the United States, or maybe the one you suggest that Metropolitan Methodios attends on Mount Athos.  You might be a happier person if spent more time in prayer and fasting and less time sniping at the church.

Below is the Article from the National Herald.  It was sent to me as an email.  I paste it below for perspective.  I would have commented along with the article but one must subscribe and pay a fee in order to comment.

In the Shadow of the Monk’s Suicide: The Clergy Laity Congress in Arizona

Theodore Kalmoukos

Under the shadow of the alleged suicide of Scott (Ioannis) Nevins at St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence, AZ, the 41st Clergy Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America convened in nearby Phoenix.

Things are becoming increasingly vague and awkward because more than three weeks after the unfortunate incident, there is virtual silence about it. Neither the police report or autopsy report has been released. The Archdiocese has not said a word yet, except for the letter of Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco informing the faithful of the incident and assuring everyone that he is praying for the repose of the late monk’s soul. The only one who has spoken publicly, through TNH, is Monastery Abbot Archimandrite Paisios.

On the other hand, there is a barrage of electronic messages, comments, and opinions being exchanged, which can be classified more as gossip than legitimate information.

In addition to the investigations underway by law enforcement authorities, the Archdiocese itself should begin an in-depth probe not only about the suicide incident, but also about the monasteries in general. Quite literally, the Archdiocese now has to deal with blood on its hands, and blood does not easily go away.

Moreover, the Archdiocese should investigate the finances of Elder Ephraim’s monasteries from the day he put his foot on Canadian soil to the day he came to the United States, in order to discover where in the world all that money that was used to erect 21 monasteries came from.

The Archbishop and hierarchs alike should be held accountable for Ephraim’s and the monasteries’ activities. Essentially, they have become a “parallel church” with a strange fundamentalist mentality that smells a lot like a cult: a movement that can be called “Ephraimism,” that has instilled in many clergy and laity a kind of fundamentalist pseudo-piety. The cultivation of the “elderism” (from elder) in America today has assumed the form of an Orthodox “guruism” (from guru) with everything that it entails.

The elders have become a religio-social phenomenon in America. They acquire total control on the mind and soul of people, especially of those who are afraid to come of age. The elders assume responsibility for everything – even for family, spousal, and personal matters.

The Christ of the Church has been replaced by the “elders,” who supposedly speak wisely; they appear to be omniscient, prophesizing with authority on imminent wars and economic catastrophes.

We have come to the point today in America where there are priests in the Archdiocese who call their elders – not only Ephraim here in the United States but also in various monasteries in Greece, for example on Mount Athos, in Chalkidiki, in Peloponnesus, and elsewhere – in order to ask them how to go about things that concern them when they create rifts and divisions in their parishes or about ecclesial and community matters in general. There are tragi-comedic situations.

The Archdiocese should depart from Archbishop Demetrios’ ostrich head-in-the-sand tactics of covering up predator clergy, such as in cases of pederasty, and most recently the sexual misconduct at the School of Theology involving a grown up married student and a teenage girl on campus.

The recent revelations about the new Dean of Demetrios Archdiocesan Cathedral of New York, Anastasios Gounaris, should have alarmed His Eminence to make the right decision. Instead, the archbishop and the hierarchs remain speechless, and the attempts of beatification of everything – even the most “dark” situations – cannot continue any longer because they will destroy the Church. The faithful, including the youth, understand that quite well.

Finally, the archbishop and the Archdiocesan Council should stop Methodios Tournas, the Bishop of Boston, from establishing a monastery at the camp in Contoocook, NH, close to small and innocent children. If Methodios wants to repent for his actions against entire parishes in New England, he should go to one of Ephraim’s monasteries or to the Monastery of Simonopetra on Mt. Athos, and leave alone the small children of the Greek-American Community of New England free from any influence of monasteries and monks. New England needs more schools, not more monasteries.

July 02, 2012


  1. Well said, Father. Your point about Kalmoukos’ extra-curricular ecclesiology is spot-on: presbyterian, if that, maybe even congregational.

    I confess that I share some of his anxieties about the growing influence of eldership in the Orthodox ethos. There is, in general, too much esoteric hemi-gnosticism, too much disruption of taxis and koinonia, too much pride in being associated with the secret and higher centers rather than with the pedestrian parish.

    But the fact remains that monasticism, including eldership, is a necessary correction — almost in a dialectical manner — of the apparent weakness of Orthodoxy in the West. Whatever we call the condition — perhaps “secularization” — is lapping at the walls of the church, and to date, there is little in the way of robust response.

    That said, I’m with you about the simplistic and inane spouting of ultimatums that finish Kalmoukos’ piece. His is like so much rhetoric these days: passionate complaint, a few data to give the appearance of the informed, and concluded with a series of denunciations to entertain the fans.

    1. very well-said, Fr. Honestly, I don’t know what the answer is but I know what it is not: the present multi-jurisdictionalism will continue to foster a go-it-alone spirituality. Where Kalmoukos is right is to take on the bishops, probably not for the reasons he ascribes. It is the bishops in the GOA who have created a spiritual vacuum in the US which has made inevitable the Athonite movement.

      1. I don’t think we should “take on” the bishops but support them and let them know what we need and want from the church. The bishops need to be held accountable but it needs to be in Christian love and charity.

  2. Father, but headlines such as …..trying make a difference in the world..” got me thinking that I was taken to the Protestant Church website. Sorry, no offense

  3. I believe St, Anthony’s monastery is under attack by the modernists who hate monasticism and tradition. They want to “protestantize” Orthodoxy. There is no proof that the monastery is at fault for Scott’s death. He was a mental patient, and the medication[s] he was on might have influenced him to kill. I don’t know for certain that he was medicated, but this should be looked into. I also believe that some mental patients are being manipulated to open fire on people in order to inflame the anti-gun lobby. Bill Cooper, who worked in naval intelligence for seventeen years and read classified government documents, said this is occurring. But people today don’t like to believe governments can be corrupt. Lastly, Scott had denied the deity of Christ and criticized various elements of Orthodoxy (like prayers ropes and the Jesus prayer) soon before his suicide. His own comments are a matter of public record online.

    1. Father Bless: Thank you for this blog entry and for having a balanced outlook put out there. I’ve tried to get “official” news stories on this sad story, but so far I’m only running across websites and blogs that not only appear gossipy, but that are clearly sensationalistic and who have an agenda to push.

      Mind, I’m neither pro nor anti Elder Ephraim or his monasteries, but quite frankly, I’m not fully convinced that the monastery is entirely to blame for that young man’s mental breakdown and suicide. It sounds to me like he may have had some “pre-existing” mental health issues that may or may not have been exacerbated by the stress brought out from monasticism. Another thought: Maybe he couldn’t take the conflict between feeling like he has to choose between monastery and parents, and that sort of cognitive dissonace may have factored into his decision to take his own life? I’m not trying to be mean or insensitive but history will demonstrate that such things are not uncommon.

      These days, there are a lot of “helicopter” parents out there who try to exert control over their adult children’s lives long after they should’ve cut the apron strings. I’m sure they love and want to protect their offspring, but they are doing them a disservice. 30 years ago, 18 was full on adult with all the rights and responsibilities that entailed, but now you have nearly helpless and dependent ‘adultolescents” who are as old as 3o. Way I see it, those parents failed at their core job…training their children to be fully functioning adults who can make their own intelligents decisions, but their pride won’t let them admit it.

      At any rate, one can see the same sort of conflicts/power struggles with those young people who join the military against the wishes of their parents, and even with adult children who attend a college/university not of the parent’s choosing or if they marry despite not having parental blessing. Also, I’m question why the “cult hunter” Rick Ross is inserting himself into this as he is NOT an Orthodox Christian and has no clue about our beliefs or practises. He goes in with a clear Protestant bias which is unhelpful to anyone. If you ask me, those people who are putting up all the anti-monastery websites and blogs and doing the speculating need to make the time to study more on Eastern Orthodoxy, particularly on monasticism and what is expected. They’ll find it’s not unlike being in the military or training to be a professional athlete. I wonder would they object to those other things so quickly? It sounds to me like

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