Interview - Former Monk Benjamin

The following is an interview by Father Spyridon Schneider, of St. John the Russian Orthodox Church in Ipswich, Massachusetts, with Father Benjamin, a former monk of Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Fr. Spyridon - Father, could you state your name for identification purposes and permission to record?

Fr. Benjamin - My name is G.E., formerly Father Benjamin, a monk of Holy Transfiguration Monastery. You have my permission to use this tape as you deem fit.

F.S. - Thank you. How old are you?

F.B. - I am thirty-four, born on January 31st.

F.S. - You converted to Orthodoxy?

F.B. - Actually, yes. My grandfather was from Lebanon, and he was a priest in the Syrian Archdiocese. In 1973 my aunt introduced me into the Syrian Archdiocese Church, and I fell in love with it.

F.S. - How old were you then?

F.B. - Fifteen.

F.S. - When did you go to the monastery?

F.B. - Let's see. 1980. But first I went to St. Tikhon's Monastery in South Canon, Pennsylvania. And I had a friend who was baptized in Cleveland who was formerly of the Greek Archdiocese. Father Theodore Juverietz baptized him. Anyway, he was an old Army buddy. His name was Henry DiCarlos. His baptismal name is Leonidas. He spent a week at Holy Transfiguration Monastery, and telephoned me at St. Tikhon's and told me that this is the place to be. They have a real staretz, they have obedience, they have all the appearances of being a very good Orthodox monastery. He was readily impressed, and at that time I was not impressed with St. Tikhon's Monastery because of the idiorithmia (monasteries without obedience to an abbot), and I longed to be in obedience to a bona-fide elder, a spiritual master, you would say? So the first chance I got, I went to Holy Transfiguration Monastery.

F.S. - That was in '80?

F.B. - That was in August of 1980.

F.S. - How did that experience go?

F.B. - Well, I was impressed, you know, seeing all the monks in rassa, and the rule of prayer, the confession of thoughts every day, well just the whole thing. You yourself know, there is an atmosphere there. You know, the icons, the vigil lamps... I thought it was very conducive to the spiritual life. And at the time I thought it was in accordance with Optina and Sarov. You know, when you are young, you have a lot of high ideals, which I did, and, ah, I thought this would be the best place to work out my salvation. So I asked Fr. Isaac and the Elder if they would take me on.

The Elder was a little reluctant. He said that, ah, "One should go and search all the monasteries before he decides to take refuge in one certain monastery." And he gave his example of how he traveled all around Mount Athos when he was at St. Panteliemon's. Of course, I was impressed. I was so much in love with Staretz Silouan, and I thought, "Well, here is an Athonite brother of the same caliber!" Well, oh my youthful delusions! Well, he sent me to Jordanville for the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the monastery. Of course I didn't like it there, and went back to the monastery, and the Elder received me as a novice two weeks after that.

He also baptized me a week prior to going to Jordanville. I had been baptized in the Syrian Archdiocese by "baptism of the head." They dipped my head three times in the baby font. So they called Met. Vitaly, and he says, "Well! There's a question there! So, baptize him." So the Elder baptized me sometime at the end of August. So eventually I was received as a novice.

F.S. - So how did things progress?

F.B. - Very good. Actually my first six years there I was very enthusiastic. I was reading my manuscripts of St. Isaac the Syrian, which were roughly translated throughout the years by Father Mamas. They were in a book-binder form. I loved it very much. And the Philokalia, just the spiritual radiance... I was ridiculed for this. Nightly, I would do three hundred, four hundred, five hundred prostrations, and at least thirty-three prayer ropes.

F.S. - Thirty-three of the three hundred knots?

F.B. - Right. That was from around 7:30 at night all the way up to midnight liturgy I would be doing my prayer rule.

F.S. - How long did that go on?

F.B. - How many years?

F.S. - Yes?

F.B. - Till we left the Synod. You know, after we left the Synod, I could not ... somehow I lost the strength to do that. You know, I blamed myself, but now I'm thinking the grace of God departed.

F.S. - So you kept that rule from 1980 to 1986?

F.B. - Yes. And I would tell the Elder, and of course he gave me a blessing; thinking of course that I couldn't possibly keep this. And when I told him that I was succeeding at keeping this, just as a confession, he would abuse me. He said, "You are doing this out of pride. And you know, this is not pleasing to God." Then I would stop, and I would feel empty, and I would go to Fr. Isaac, and he would tell me, "Oh, continue it." Then I would go to the Elder, and say, "Well, you know, Fr. Isaac said that I could continue." And then the Elder would say, "Ok, that's good. Go ahead and continue it." And you know, a month later I would tell him I am still doing it, and he would abuse me again! And I thought, of course, that this was for humility, because elders have been known to do that. And I thought for sure it would please him for he was always boasting that he was a direct disciple of the great ascetic and hesychast Elder Joseph of Mount Athos.

So later on in years I understood that he really didn't practice that much. I understood that other fathers who were trying to practice austerity to please the Saviour ... they confided in me, and they just plainly put it that since he is so ill in health, he is, to put it nicely, grumpy out of jealousy. I thought that was absurd because I always trusted his judgment, and I always assumed that yes, I was full of pride, and subject to prelest, and this, that and the other.

Then there was one time that I confessed carnal warfare to him. And he opened up my zestico and he reached in. And I kind of had on these baggy pants that Father Seraphim made. He called them "Hungarian dance pants." Real baggy, and the fly was opened.

Well, Fr. Spyridon, if I am going to say anything that you really don't want to hear...

F.S. - No, go ahead.

F.B. - So he reaches in and places his hand on my penis ... and he is making the sign of the cross over it consistently. I wasn't shocked, really. I thought that this was the blessing that is going to take away, that is going to make me dispassionate.

F.S. - You thought this was the healing hand?

F.B. - I thought it was the healing hand of the great Staretz Panteliemon. Ok? You know, we were affectionate. He would give me a hug and kiss on the cheek. You know, being Lebanese and around these people, I didn't think anything of it. You know, Mediterraneans are that way.

Well anyway, after three or four confessions of this nature, I think that since I allowed him to go in and bless, you know, my privates, he started taking ... you know, like no longer making the sign of the cross ... but fondling. You know. That's when I said, "Woe, wait a minute! Something's wrong here!" But I didn't want to admit it. And I kind of quit going to him.

From that time on... You know I still wanted to see him. I begged to see him for confession because he would tell the wonderful stories of Athos. You know his charisma. And if you were in a slump, he could inspire you. I would go and knock on the door, and he would say, "Who is it?" I would say, "It's Father Benjamin." He would say, "Go away and go to Father Isaac." And I thought, "Ok, well ..." This happened for about a year and a half. And I would go to Father Isaac, and he would say, "Well, you know the Elder is just testing your humility." But other people, of whom I know, had been abused by him in sodomy - they would go in any time they wanted. That's the thing. Now I understood. I did not give him what he wanted. That was, whatever ... oral sex, or let him give it to me ... and the door was shut against me.

I don't know what to think of it, but it saddens me that it had to be that way. One thing I have to say about the Elder and Father Isaac - no one is wanting there. Every time I go and say, "I need a pair of shoes, or underwear... I need a watch, or a doctor..." they provided. I have to say they provided with love. As far as making points in obedience, so to speak, it never worked with me.

F.S. - Now, did you bring these earlier incidents to the attention of Father Isaac?

F.B. - No. Not really, because at the time I didn't want to admit anything to myself about it. It was only in 1993 that I kind of understood that all of the other monks that were accusing him of molesting them... well, when I reflected back on it, I thought maybe... maybe there is a possibility. But I always dismissed it, because he had told me at one time that he was so pure that he only had a nocturnal emission once. He was a little boy, and he didn't know what to make of it. He said that's how pure he was. He confided that to me. And I believed it! And I wanted to see him as pure as St. Seraphim of Sarov, who is, of course, my favorite patron saint.

Well, anyway, to get down to the brass tacks about recent events... It was 1989. I was working up at the skete. I was doing carpentry work with Father Barsanuphias and Father Barnabas. Father Barnabas has a room up there. Of course, he is the right-hand man. He is the archdeacon of the Elder. Wherever the Elder goes, the archdeacon is sure to follow. Anyway, up there they have "Time" magazine, and we were permitted to read those magazines, along with "National Geographic" and the "Smithsonian". "Time" magazine was always a temptation for me, you know. It was like "paper television". Well, they were reading them, and I said, "I'm a big boy. I could take a peek at current events in the world." Anyway, any time I went up to Maine, there was always a big pile of "Time" magazines. So I was going through them.

One day I was working, and I look into Father Barnabas' cell, and I see a magazine like sticking out from the mattress. And I say to myself, "Ah ha! Another 'Time' magazine!" Well, I went over there and I reached under the mattress, and there was a pile. There were five magazines. So I pulled them out, and I almost threw up on the floor when I saw it. They were all homosexual pornographic magazines. The prices on these magazines varied from like thirty to fifty dollars. Ok ... high rate pornography! Well, I was shaking. I was trembling. I couldn't believe the man whom I'd worked for all these years, Father Barnabas, could have anything like this.

Right then, something flashed in my mind. One time I was reading "Time" magazine, and Father Barnabas was there, and I said, "You're not going to tell the Elder, are you, that I'm reading 'Time'?" And Father Barnabas said, "Oh, you have your magazines; but the Elder has his magazines." Like you know, outside of "Time" magazines. That flashed in my mind. I went into the bathroom then, and I started sobbing, because I realized in me the things that Father Mamas was saying, you know he was resident up there as translator, and that's where he said all the acts of sodomy occurred up there. And I went in there and I sobbed and I sobbed, and I knew that it was all true. And I put the magazines back and Father Barnabas, a couple of minutes later said, "What are you doing? What's the matter with you?" I told him that I just threw up. I feel really sick. And I can't work anymore. And he's like, "No! We've got to get this done! The Elder will be upset! Come on! Hurry up! We have to be back for Vespers." I said, "I'm sorry. I can't do it." So, Father Barsanuphias, you know he is so pure in heart, he is just a real good guy, he kind of chuckled and said, "Ah. Let him go. We'll finish. We'll finish." So I spent the rest of that day in some spare cell there, lying down in shock. I just couldn't believe it.

F.S. - That was in '89?

F.B. - Yeah, that was in '89. Well, I just thought about it, and thought about it, and I said, "Well, I've just got to leave." I think it was July of '90, I said, "Look, I'm leaving." And they wanted to know why. And I confidentially confided in some of the fathers what I saw up there. And I left. I wasn't going to do anything. I wasn't going to say anything. And I guess some of the fathers found out why I had left, and they told the Elder, and I don't think he even really cared. So in 1990, I came back and tried to start my life, and much to my fault I got involved with a girl that I was engaged to before I went to the monastery in 1980. Anyway, we were rather happy.

But I felt rather heavy, and I said to myself, "No. I have to keep my vows. And I had no proof. And if Father Barnabas has a particular problem, that is his fault. I can't judge the Elder and I can't judge anybody because I really don't have any proof. And I've got to keep my vows." And so, I petitioned to come back to the monastery. The monastery had to vote. Many of the fathers were divided. Some said, "He's not a good monk. If he was a good monk, he would never have left." And many voted against me because, as later I found out, they knew the truth of the place and they did not want me back. So, by means and ways, I made it back to the monastery. And I left off with the girl that I had been seeing, and screwed up her life totally. But I don't want to get into that...

When I got back in October of 1991, I was given the obedience of working with Father Lazarus up in the computer room, taking care of stock, and what not. Eventually we got close, and started talking about things, and he said to me, "Why did you come back?" And I told him why. And he said, "I know why you left, and about the pornography." And he said, "I have indissoluble proof that the Elder is the biggest homosexual in the universe." I said, "Oh come on. Give me proof." He said, "Later. Maybe. We'll see."

So, eventually, over the months, he began telling me about his experience, and how he was blackmailed by the Elder because his sister is a nun and his mother is a big parish member ... how this would have destroyed their lives if Father Lazarus went out and blabbed it. Father said how during his first year there, the Elder tricked him into this abominable activity, and how he hated himself. And I said to him, "You've been here twenty years, and you've been hating yourself and been hating this way of life?" And he said to me, "Yes." He said to me, "I'm stuck in a rut." And he said to me, "You know, Father Benjamin, you should never have come back here." And several of the other fathers came up to me confidentially and said, "You were gone. How did you come back? Why did you come back? You know what's going on here." And I said, "Well, I'm not even sure exactly what is going on here." So Father Lazarus told me something about what happened to Father Elias.

Someone walked into, - I know the person ... I don't want to mention any names - this person walked into the Elder's cell while he was giving confession, and he was giving oral sex to Father Elias. Ok. Well, that devastated me, because if there was anyone that was my buddy, it was Father Elias. And I thought he was a good American California kid.

So, one night, I think it was nine o'clock, and I saw Father Elias. I said to him, "You know, I know what the Elder has been doing over the years, how he's been manipulating people. You know, he's a Greek, and he does that, and I also know some of the bad things he's done." And I said, "You know, the accusations of Father Mamas and Father Eugene, you know, I think they may be true." And Father Elias looked at me and said, "I know." And I said to him, "I know you know." So from nine o'clock till three o'clock in the morning he told me the whole, gory detail ... how he'd been tricked into ... you know how the Elder uses this story of the swearing the oath on the thigh of Abraham. Well, it all starts with that. Well, the thing is that Father Elias was abused for an entire ten ... well, from 1975 to 1986 ... I believe. I told him, you know, "Look, you've got to make this known to the bishops." And he said, "I will." And so he wrote a ten page letter. And he gave a copy to the Elder, and I think he gave a copy to Father Isaac, and he was going to give a copy to the bishops. But he was afraid that the bishops would freak out and defrock the Elder immediately. And then I said, "No. I'm sure they wouldn't. They know the Elder quite well." And, I suggested to him, that they might be in cahoots with all this.

F.S. - The bishops ... meaning who?

F.B. - Makarios and Ephraim. Anyway, he gave me a copy of the letter, and then he fled the monastery. And I had a copy of the letter, and I gave a copy to Father Savvas to read, and to Father Joseph. By that time, Father Lazarus had already left.

After evening Vespers, I was walking out by the back pond, and Father Savvas came up to me and he had tears in his eyes. And he said to me, "Father Benjamin, I know you know what's going on. Why did Father Lazarus and Father Elias leave?" I said, "I don't want to tell you." He said, "Please, tell me." He was just fed up with everything. So again, I spoke with him for five hours, and I said to him, "Father Savvas, I don't care if you go and tell them I'm telling you this." And I also gave Father Savvas the ten page letter to read which Father Elias had written about the Elder's activities. And I also gave Father Joseph the letter to read, and it was handed back to me ...

Well, I think Father Isaac told Father Elias that I had given this letter to Father Savvas and Father Joseph to read; and Father Elias, according to Father Isaac, Father Elias was screaming that Father Benjamin should be thrown out of the monastery immediately, he should be punished, he should be this, he should be that ... he was ranting and raving. And Father Isaac was smiling a little while he was telling me all this. "Oh, see, you thought he was your friend, yeah right." Anyway, Father Elias came back a week or two later, and I confronted him, and I said, "Did you say these things to Father Isaac - that I should be expelled from the monastery, that I should be punished, and blah, blah?" And Father Elias said, "No. I never said anything like that." Well, that was the first time I realized that Father Isaac was lying. Ok? Because I was trying to convince Father Isaac to have the Elder go into seclusion in Maine. Do it now. Get out of the system. Go say the Jesus Prayer. Meditate. Pray like you wanted to all these years. Because, you know, the stuff was hitting the fan! Unfortunately, Father Isaac was just lauding the Elder up and down. He's going to be an incorrupt elder. He is the glory of God. Agh!

The funny thing is, that Father Lazarus told me his story, and Father Elias told me his story, and they are almost the same, identical story. Well, which is proof enough for me that it's all true. And Father Eugene called me while I was in San Diego two months ago, and he gave the same story! Ok? And I spoke separate times to all three of them, and I said, "Fathers, how can you be so stupid?" And they said, "Well, you don't know." Father Eugene said, "You don't know the situation." And I said, "Well, I know the Epistles of St. Paul - that homosexuality is an abomination. I know the curse of Sodom and Gomorrah." And he said, "Well, you know the Elder." And I said, "Yes, unfortunately, I know the Elder. He could have you eat his stool, if you were rightly prepared, and call it 'holy bread'."

Anyway, um, Father Joseph left, I departed, Father Lazarus left, and Father Elias left - all because there is not bearable way to exist in that monastic system knowing that your elders are liars, they are abominations to the tradition they are professing. They show favoritism to people that show them favors. Whatever.

So, therefore, I left. That's the basic story, but there are a lot more details to it. Unfortunately, I'm not a good orator.

F.S. - Because I knew and loved Father Barsanuphias very much ... does he have any idea of what's going on, or do you think that he... ?

F.B. - No. There are several there who don't have a clue. Ok? They do not have a clue.

F.S. - They think it's all fabrication?

F.B. - Absolutely. Father Pachomios, a week before I left, he kind of looked at me inquisitively and said, "Do you really think that these people who left really believe that the Elder is a homosexual?" And I said to him, "Yes, Father, I think there are people who really, truly believe that, Father Pachomios." And he looked at me like, "Could it be true?" I could have had an opportunity there to tell him what I knew, but ... but I wouldn't. Father Justin knows what's going on. Father Gabriel knows what's going on...

F.S. - Father Justin knows, then?

F.B. - Yeah! I believe Father Joseph gave him the letter to read. Father Elias' letter. And also to Father Gabriel. At least, I know that Father Joseph was handed over to Father Justin.

Ok. Father Isaac and the Elder said that Father Joseph is a very sick and paranoid boy. They always called him a boy. Ok? Because Father Joseph has been lied to over the years, and he knew that they were just liars. He caught them in so many lies. So they gave him over to Father Justin to be his father confessor. So, naturally, he confessed everything to Father Justin. And Father Justin was very grieved at what was going on. Father Justin had proclaimed to Father Joseph that he didn't get into the Anglican Church because of the homosexuality with regards to the Anglican Church. And now it grieves him to know that this was happening in the monastery...

There were just certain people that the Elder had chosen to be his "beloved disciples", as Father Menas used to say.

Ok. Before I left, I had a big argument with the Elder. We were screaming and yelling at each other. It started in his cell, and ended up down by the front door... I started telling the Elder... and I said, "Look, the only reason the Fathers told me this is because they love me, and they love you. You've just done some very wicked things. You should confess your sins. You should find help." And he started yelling at me, saying, "You don't know anything. What business is it of yours? Who do you think you are?" I said, "Look, I'm your son. I'm your spiritual son! I love you!" And I was crying at the time. That's why I came into this room. And then Father Isaac came in, and the Elder started saying, you know, and he told Father Isaac, "Look, he's trying to destroy the monastery." I said, "Look, I'm not making accusations. They were just told to me. I'm just investigating. I'm asking questions." And he said to me, "You're the devil," and this and that... And he said, "What did the Saviour say to the sinful woman?" And I said, "Oh." I knew what he wanted to hear. He wanted to hear, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." Ok? I knew he wanted to hear that. And I said, "The Saviour said, 'Your sins are forgiven. Sin no more.'" And he just... you know him... he just exploded! And he said, "No. No. Pedi Mou. You have no brains." And then he quoted what he wanted to hear about casting the stone.

Then he told me I was cursed, and that I had the curse of Ham on me. You know, Shem, Ham, and Jasaph. And, you know, Ham revealed Noah's nakedness, his sins, right? He said, "I curse you. You've got the curse of Ham on you!" Blah, blah, blah, blah. And just abuses and abuses. And I was just thinking, "You have the curse of Sodom and Gomorrah on you. How can you curse me?"

And I just kept saying, "Look, you need help. You need to confess." And he just started screaming at me some more. And he directly told me, "Father Benjamin, I have never done anything to harm you." And I said, "No. But you have harmed my brothers." And he looked at me... and he looked at me like... this is what I was reading in his face, alright? This is just speculation, but it was like a look that said, "Your brothers; they're MY PROPERTY." You know what I mean?

Anyway, we went downstairs, and I was saying, "Your sons are seeing you go to hell, and you don't care." And he said to me, "This is between me and God, and no one else." And I said, "How can you say that?" You know.

And then he put on his rassa, his scufa, and his little cane, and ran out the door. And Father Isaac later on was even chastising me for even talking back to the Elder - telling me what a great man he is, and what a great saint he is - and I said, "He is a great man. Only great men can start monasteries like this. But," I said, "Father Isaac, he needs to go into seclusion. He's got to get away from this. He's got to work on his salvation." And he said, "Oh, yeah, yeah. In a month. You know, in a month or two he'll be in seclusion." Father Isaac was just lying and lying and lying. And after a while, I just understood, everything is like Father Elias said. Everyone there is expendable fodder. Ok? Except the Elder. And Father Isaac wouldn't care for anyone else, as long as the Elder was pleased.

F.S. - I just don't understand Father Isaac.

F.B. - Father Isaac is just a victim, just like everybody else. He's a victim like Father Elias and Father Lazarus; Father Mamas, Eugene, and Menas. And who else? Even lay people.

F.S. - Do you know of lay people who were victimized?

F.B. - I have heard that G.L. and B.B. (names omitted for the privacy of these individuals), at one time they had girlfriends, and the girlfriends were friends, and B.'s girlfriend said to G.'s girlfriend that the Elder, Panteliemon, tried to molest B. - and she answered and said, "My God! G. told me the same story!"

And I've heard of novices who did not become monks, like J.D., who ended up dying from AIDS because of homosexual activity. He did not become a monk because the Elder was abusing him.

Like I say, I can only go by what I am told. The only direct experience I had is what I told you.

F.S. - Well, Father, it's an unpleasant tale, but I think one that needs to be told.

F.B. - Father Lazarus distinctly pointed out that most of the Fathers that left the monastery left because of the Elder's sexual abuses; and that is the number one reason they left.

F.S. - You know what amazes me is that there has not been some concerted effort to deal with this situation. Well, I guess the one in '86 was a concerted effort.

F.B. - Sure. Sure. I remember the Synaxis he would give. We were so brainwashed. And we thought, "Oh my God! These people who were accusing the Elder... They were demonized, like the same fathers that were accusing Saint Benedict and Saint Symeon the New Theologian. They were going to kill their abba out of envy or jealousy... This and that." That's what we were led to believe.

I remember, Father Lazarus pointed out to me, and he said, you know, "Father Benjamin, where did you get all of your information from?" And I said, "Well..." And he said, "Well, just think about it." And I said, "Of course, from the Elder and Father Isaac. We weren't allowed to read anything else. The things that were sent to the monastery were doctored in such a way that they favored us, or the Elder."

It's just unfortunate this all had to happen.

F.S. - Ok. Is there anything else that you can think that would be relevant to all this?

F.B. - Well, I just don't want anybody to think that we don't have an Orthodox heart. Rumors are going around that we don't believe in the Resurrection, and that we believe in reincarnation, all sorts of crazy nonsense.

I just hope all this will help you. Like I say, you should get a hold of Father Lazarus. He knows a lot more details. He was a victim. I was just a witness.

One thing I want to add... one thing... Father Isaac, the entire week before I decided to leave, we were talking about all this. And he was admitting that the Elder is a homosexual, and that he has problems with that, and he said, "Father Benjamin, throughout all the Church, there have been many corrupt elders." And I said, "Well, our elder shouldn't be corrupt." And he said, "It doesn't matter. It doesn't effect the Mysteries." And he was saying that Patriarch Benedict, in the last century, had a wife. And he was pointing out all these corrupt elders. And I said, "Well, it's still ruining the monastery. And God is punishing the entire diocese for all this... it's schism, it's this..." And I said, "There're all sorts of personal tragedies going on."

Father Isaac did not care. He said, "It's alright if you're corrupt, as long as you're Orthodox." Father Joseph can quote the same thing to you. And also, Father Joseph just told me a few days ago that he was informed - he wouldn't tell me who informed him - that the bishops would not accept any of our testimonies because we are not under obedience.

F.S. -- That's exactly the deal.

F.B. -- And I said, "Under obedience to WHAT?"

I think there is a quote in the Arena by Bishop Ignatius Bratiminoff... There's a whole chapter there warning what elders to be aware of. He explicitly says that like if the elder is morally corrupt, the disciple should flee from him. You find it. You could quote it. Ok? I showed that to Father Joseph. I showed it to Father Lazarus. I showed that to Father Elias. I showed it to Father Savvas...

F.S. - Well, I think if there's nothing else, we're just going to terminate this interview and recording.

This concludes the interview of Father Benjamin, which was conducted by Father Spyridon Schneider.

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