Elder Ephraim of Arizona
The whole Orthodox world is aware of the repose of the Elder Ephraim of St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona. Having been acquainted with the Geronda, I would like to offer a few words in remembrance of him.
In his youth the elder went to the Holy Mountain with the intention of putting himself in subjection to St. Joseph the Hesychast. St. Joseph was a great elder and a strict ascetic, and there were few who could endure his regime. He did, however, produce several Athonite abbots from his small community: Joseph the Younger of Vatopedi Monastery, Haralambos of Dionisiou and Ephraim of Philotheou. Several other Athointe monasteries were later renewed by groups of monks who had been under Elder Ephraim at Philotheou; and, eventually, the Great Elder, himself, came to America. St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona was the first men’s monastery he established; and it is the place where he lived and reposed. The monastery was founded in July of 1995 when one of the fathers from Philotheou and several laymen arrived on the grounds. Two months later, the present abbot, Geronda Paisius, arrived with another four monks from the Holy Mountain—three from Philotheou and one from Xeropotamou – another monastery which had been renewed by monks from Philotheou.
When I first met Geronda Ephraim in 1984, I was already acquainted with his work in America. We saw what his efforts had led to—the establishment of seventeen monasteries here. This was far from easy. There were numerous stumbling blocks along the way. There had been a lot of suffering. The Elder was first asked to visit North America by spiritual children who went to see him. He once read a letter to his monks at Philotheou from some lay people in America begging him to come here, and so he asked his monks to pray along with him about this. In 1978 while I was still a novice at St. Tikhon’s Monastery, I was informed by a clergyman who visited the Holy Mountain that Elder Ephraim of Philotheou would be visiting America in the fall. I believe this was his first visit to this county. This visit eventually led to the establishment of a number of monasteries here in North America and then his own move here. One of the fathers who came to America from Philotheou has said, “Geronda Ephraim prayed – not for days or months – but for years before deciding that he would himself move to America.” Geronda Ephraim commented that it would have been easier for him to stay at Philotheou, and so this was a great sacrifice on his part. Personally, I knew him as a loving, sacrificial father. I will give an example of this: In 1986 I spent eight days at Philotheou. One of the things that struck me then about Geronda Ephraim is that he was always at the services and always availed himself to others. In some of the other monasteries I visited, which also had renowned elders, this was not always the case —the elders were often in reclusion. While I was there at Philotheou, I had an extraordinary experience of his fatherly love. One morning during Matins I dozed off sitting in my stasidia (a particular wooden chair in churches with a seat that folds up for standing within it). Someone knocked me on the head waking me up. I sprang up, looked, and saw Geronda’s back as he passed by. What would a normal reaction be? Maybe fear – for the abbot had just wakened me. On the contrary however, a feeling of compassion flowed through my heart. This was not a rebuke, but the encouragement of a loving father.
I do not want to immortalize the Elder, no one is infallible and mistakes may have been made along the way but there is also much fruit. It is quite remarkable that although his monasteries only use Greek as a liturgical language they still attract many faithful on a regular basis who do not understand the language. Why is this? They answer, “We do not understand, but we are edified but the faith of the monks.” “There is much grace here,” they say. These are comments I, myself, have heard. And this is a fruit of holding on to the ascetic tradition of the Church. This is significant for us in America because Orthodoxy is something foreign to this land. Many of our converts have an intellectual acceptance of faith, yet they bring with them the baggage of a distorted or non-ascetic approach towards life in Christ. This is what Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries have to offer us: Faith and life in Christ which they were taught by their Geronda.
May his memory be eternal!