Elder Ephraim of Arizona

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!

Developing a Relationship with God

Developing a Relationship with God

In this post I will continue sharing some of the viewpoints of Fr. Zacharias
which I, myself, have found uplifting. So, let’s consider the following: developing a relationship with God. On this topic, Father Zacharias writes:

When we follow the Lord, we have only one care: to please Him and thank Him in all we do. But we must first establish a true relationship. We must cultivate the humility of the Publican and the determined repentance of the Prodigal Son. Each man’s relationship with God is unique. For God has created each in such a way that his particular relationship to his creator will fulfill and perfect him. He must therefore make it his only mission and purpose to build a strong relationship with Christ and to be in constant dialogue with Him. All our human relationships will derive strength from this relationship with God, and we will begin to see everything, every element of the created world in the light of this relationship. If we make it our concern to improve our relationship with Christ, deep repentance will spring forth within us. The more we grow in Christ, the more clearly we will know our poverty, and our inspiration will always be renewed. We will fear nothing because nothing will be able to separate us from His love.

In the world to come, we will continue this relationship with our Saviour which we have built up in this life. We will be judged according to our love, according to each word of Christ contained in the Gospel. Just as He asked Peter after His Resurrection, ‘Lovest thou me?’ so in the age to come He will ask each one of us the same question, and we too will reply, ‘Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee.’ But the strength and boldness of our reply will depend entirely on the depth of our relationship with the Person of Christ. Whatever attitude we adopt in this life will continue with us beyond the grave. This is clear from the Gospel account of the judgment of the righteous, who utter the same humble thought which nourished their repentance: ‘Lord, when did we anything good upon earth? To Thee be glory, to us the shame.’ We must learn this humble attitude now, and then we will be able to live eternally with the Lord. Arrogance and self-justification have no place in Him, but they accompany us into eternity, and lead towards eternal separation from Him. (The Engraving of Christ in Man’s Heart, Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex 2017, pp.18-9)

So now the question for us to ponder is: how do we put this into action? How do we work to develop our relationship with God? I believe prayer of repentance is of prime importance in achieving this. Let me begin to explain by first offering a definition of prayer. One way we could define prayer is the expression of a relationship between two reason-endowed personal beings. By two reason-endowed personal beings, we mean God and man.

Prayer has a connection with theology because theology describes the relationship between God and man. Man was made “in the image and after the likeness of God” (Gen. 1:26); yet this was distorted by the sin of our first-parents, Adam and Eve. In listening to the serpent,
they were deceived and disobeyed the commandment of God. So they offended God and fell away from the life they knew in paradise. They distorted the original beauty of their resemblance to God and fragmented their relationship with Him. As time progressed and generations of men have come and gone, sin has multiplied, the distortion of our original beauty has been augmented, and the same is true for our relationship with God.

So, then, there are several questions that can be raised: How should this relationship between God and man be expressed? Who is God? And how do we approach Him? What is God’s attitude towards His fallen creature—man? And of what should man’s response consist? St. John the Theologian tells us who God is. He writes: “God is love” (I John 4:8). We know that with God there is “no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17). He has not changed His attitude towards us; but we have sinned and have disfigured both our being and our relationship
with God. God continues to be Who He is—Love. His attitude towards us can be briefly expressed in the following words of St. John the Theologian: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (IJohn 4:10).

So, now, how do we respond to this? How do we approach God? If it were another human being we had offended we would approach with shame, a humble attitude, a desire for reconciliation, and a readiness to make some recompense. And if someone we may have happened to offend would continue to love us and do good to us, we would feel all the more embarrassed and humbled. If we now apply this to our relationship with God – Who is not our equal, but infinitely transcends our being and has done so much good for us – what can we say? Is it possible to express in words what shame and humility, what longing for reconciliation and readiness to make recompense should we approach Him with? As Fr. Zacharias said, “We must cultivate the humility of the Publican and the determined repentance of the Prodigal Son.” Then, “deep repentance will spring forth within us.”

So we need to struggle for this and as an example for such all we need to do is turn to the prayers of the Church. What we hear in the services and what we see in our traditional Prayer Book is “the humility of the Publican and the determined repentance of the Prodigal Son” and “deep repentance”. It is in the prayers of our Church that we learn, so-to-speak, the language of prayer – the language with which we approach God, and develop a relationship with Him. In this manner we hope to acquire the attitude of the righteous, “who utter the humble thought which nourished their repentance: ‘Lord, when did we anything good upon earth? To Thee be glory, to us the shame.’ We must learn the humility of this attitude now, and then we will be able to live eternally with the Lord.” Amen.