Interview - Former Hierodeacon Lazarus

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

Father Spyridon - Ok, here we go. Um, it would be helpful to me if you could state your name and former identity and permission to record.

Father Lazarus - My name is D.C. I am formerly Father Lazarus, Holy Transfiguration Monastery, and I give Father Spyridon permission to use this tape in any way he wishes.

F.S. - Thank you, D. So, maybe we should start with your conversion to Orthodoxy.

F.L. - Alright. Um, my piano teacher was a man named S.C., a very pious member of the Russian Synod Abroad, Epiphany parish in Rosendale. Many, many people know him and considered him a very spiritual man. And at a time in my life when I had a tumultuous youth, he told me about Orthodoxy, and at that time, I believed and became Orthodox. And I eventually moved in with him, and during the time I was living with him he told me that the monastic path was the better way. And finally, since I had been attending services at the monastery, I became filled with the desire for monasticism.

F.S. - How old were you then, D.?

F.L. - Uh, I must have been twenty.

F.S. - About twenty years old. Were you in college at the time, studying piano?

F.L. - I had been at the New England Conservatory of Music. I dropped out of that, and I sort of did nothing for about a year.

F.S. - Did you continue studying with S.?

F.L. - Yeah. Eventually, when I moved back in with him, part of the reason was to continue studying with him. I considered him to be better than any of the teachers that I had at the conservatory.

F.S. - Ok. So then you say that you were attending services at the monastery, and he had been encouraging you to go into monasticism?

F.L. - That's correct.

F.S. - How many years ago was that?

F.L. - That was when I was twenty - and began the monastic life there. And I was very zealous, and I had a great love for monasticism at that time; and also, I was very happy to be freed from the hassles of life, which, at that time, I felt I failed at anyways. So, I became a novice, and I revered Father Panteliemon very much. He was my spiritual father. I was determined to be a model disciple, and anybody who has read any of the spiritual writings of the fathers know that some of the requirements of a novice, a spiritual son, is complete submission to his will, and a vow of obedience - not only to your spiritual father, but to the whole community. And, so that's what I set out to do. And I was determined to follow the book. And very shortly after I'd been to the monastery, I started having a very sad relationship with Father Panteliemon. It is customary for all of the novices to go and tell their thoughts every night at the monastery.

F.S. - Right.

F.L. - And during this, they sit on the edge of his bed. And he began to put his hand on my leg and move it towards my private parts, and asked me if it made me nervous. And I didn't say anything. It is very difficult to say something in that circumstance. He told me that if it did make me so nervous, it was proof that I didn't have... that the Holy Spirit was not present... that there was something wrong... I didn't trust my father. And...

F.S. - He meant spiritual father?

F.L. - Yes. Yes, Father. Him, that is. And so I just endured. Alright? Um. It is necessary to state that I am a heterosexual person. And there is nothing worse for a heterosexual person than to be forced to do homosexual deeds.

F.S. - Ok.

F.L. - It did not stop at just touching me. He would remove my clothes and engage in oral sex. And this is just the sad fact of what happened, because he told me never to tell Father Isaac, who was like the second spiritual father, because he wouldn't understand. And, I didn't. This weighed very heavily on me for about three or four years, and I tried to avoid contacts, as much as possible, but it's very difficult in a community like that.

F.S. - Right.

F.L. - I had many questions about this, and I prayed constantly for some kind of resolution to why this was going on. I didn't know if it was going on with anybody else in the house, or not.

F.S. - Now, did he make you perform oral sex on him?

F.L. - Yes.

F.S. - And he performed oral sex on yourself?

F.L. - Yes.

F.S. - How long did this -- were you in the monastery before this began to progress?

F.L. - A matter of months.

F.S. - Just a matter of months.

F.L. - And he always had a great affection for me at the beginning. He told me that I was a gift from God to him. (laugh)

F.S. - Ah ha.

F.L. - Um. Shortly after I'd joined the monastery, my sister joined the convent, and my mother converted - became Orthodox. Somehow I was coward enough that I couldn't find it in me to admit it to myself that this was wrong. I thought it was part of the deal. Part of the package. Part of the calling. It took about three or four years for me to finally get fed up with it and vow to myself that I would never step foot in the man's room again. And this happened - my final decision about that was when I came back from the Holy Land, um, back in '77, I believe. Since then I'd tried to have no relationship at all with Father Panteleimon. And he would never stop making approaches towards me - even to the very last days I was at the monastery.

F.S. - Really?

F.L. - Um, during the years after I'd decided that I would just avoid the man, um, I didn't tell my thoughts to anybody, and this was a cause of concern for them, and they finally made me go and tell my thoughts to Father Isaac. I never really felt that I could communicate with Father Isaac, and I didn't tell him any of these things - until 1986, when this - um, accusations came out from Father Eugene.

F.S. - I see.

F.L. - And that was another difficult time for me because I could not bring myself, at that time, to stand up and say that everything that Father Eugene spoke about was exactly the truth. Um, I didn't consider it, at that time, even an option to leave the monastery.

F.S. - Now what is it that bound you?

F.L. - The vows that I'd made.

F.S. - Monastic vows?

F.L. - Yes. And the harm that I knew that could come to the faithful, I believe would - that the monastery had at least been on a straight course, as far as the Faith was concerned. And that perhaps the salvation of souls was at stake. I fully realized that this could scandalize many, many people, not only from the following of the monastery, but Orthodoxy, itself. So I kept quiet, and I just became very alienated from the community, and stopped living the life, it really meant nothing to me. I couldn't find any spiritual consolation anywhere. When the monastery split from the Synod, my godfather, S., stayed with the Synod. I'm not really sure what he thought at that time. I didn't get to see him very much. So, finally, they knew that I was living a different life at the monastery, and I was under very close scrutiny, and it was just a matter of time before I could get myself straightened out enough to walk out, and leave.

F.S. - What do you mean by "a different life"?

F.L. - Uh, since I was not aligned with either Father Panteleimon or Father Isaac, and I was not interested in monasticism - it had somehow become something horrible for me - that I was more interested in listening to the radio and watching television.

F.S. - Ok.

F.L. - So I was - it came down - that I was the worst monk that was ever tonsured. There's no question about that. But I couldn't stand to be in the same room with the people who were supposed to be my spiritual leaders.

F.S. - So this revulsion started to build up within you?

F.L. - Yes. Continuously.

F.S. - And you just started to escape into - just withdrawing?

F.L. - Yes.

F.S. - How did Father Isaac handle your statements about these, you know, issues in 1986 when you came forward and told.

F.L. - Ok. His first statement when I came out and I told him that I knew that everything that Father Eugene said was exactly true because it happened to me, he at first acted surprised, and then said, well, it was my obedience, and I should have done it. He later retracted that statement, after about two weeks. That's when he told me that he was very sorry that I had to go through that. He, himself, never admitted to me whether or not he went through it, but I have been told from other sources - Father Eugene was one - claims that Father Isaac admitted to him that he had to go through it when he was a young novice. I know that other fathers have, also. In fact, many, many.

F.S. - Can you name any of them?

F.L. - Sure. Father Barnabas, for one. I'm sure about D.M., former Father Mamas. I have spoken to him and we've visited a couple of times. He has, to a lesser degree, touched such people as B.G., when he was a novice there; Father John, the mechanic.

F.S. - Father Benjamin mentioned Father Seraphim.

F.L. - Yes. Absolutely.

F.S. - So, this is kind of a disastrous experience for you?

F.L. -- Yeah, I would say so. I thought I was handling it, and maybe I did, but, um, it was really impossible for me to continue living there.

F.S. - Um. Hum. Well, it's a very, ah, it is an amazing story. It is a very sad story. Is there anything else that you - any other insights? I heard now that there's some kind of theory of spiritual sexuality. Did that ever get presented to you by Father Panteleimon?

F.L. - Absolutely. He loved to cited the, where in the gospel, St. John put his head on Christ's breast. He made me do that countless times. And, it seems to me, that he's convinced that Christ was gay. He claims that in the Old Testament, passages where it refers to putting your hand on someone's thigh, as a sign of loyalty, should be interpreted as putting your hand on somebody's nature - and that that's what they did in the Old Testament - to show loyalty. I don't know if he has any other source to back that up with, but um - so he, in his own mind, never thought of himself of doing anything wrong. He felt that either he was allowed to, because he was my spiritual father, or what? I don't know.

F.S. - Now did he begin to - when he first introduced you to these practices, did he talk to you about them, or was it - how - is there any more details you can give me on how he, you know, moved into this whole thing?

F.L. - Um. Well, he's always said that grace was present when he was doing it, and that he didn't feel any passion.

F.S. - I see. He was passionless then?

F.L. - Yes. And that he loved me very much.

F.S. - Uh huh. Well, I almost don't know how to, you know, what to say to terminate this, to bring it to a conclusion, because...

F.L. - Well, people who call me a liar have already done so, and this is something that cannot be proved by me. It cannot be disproved by the monastery.

F.S. - One of the ways that they attack people, you know, yourself and others who make these charges, is that they say that if these were true, you would have come forward before. What do you say to that?

F.L. - Well, like I mentioned. Uh, I was unable to. I simply did not have the courage.

F.S. - Didn't have the courage.

F.L. - I think it's definitely a question of brainwashing, and feeling that it would cause just too great a scandal.

F.S. - Um. Hum. I heard some people speak about a - there's just a kind of power that overtakes your will and your mind - you know, through Father Panteleimon. Do you have anything to say about that?

F.L. - Well, in the first place, that's exactly what's supposed to happen. You're supposed to consider your spiritual father as Christ, Himself. And, you're supposed to make great effort to renounce all of your own will, confess all your thoughts, and so a monastery is a perfect breeding ground for this kind of thing to happen. Even more so than in other cult environments, like the Mooney's, or whatever.

F.S. - Right. It has all the same components, and yet even more.

F.L. - Right.

F.S. - And if it's used correctly, then it can be a great benefit; but if it's used incorrectly, it can be a great devastation, I guess.

F.L. - Right...

F.S. - Ok, Father Lazarus, um, there's really, I suppose, no reason to go into more detail, and so on, and I really appreciate your telling me these things, and I hope and pray that somehow the people that hear these things are going to come to the realization that something has to be done. And there are many people who respected you, and continue to respect you, and love you; and let's just pray that God will bring all these things into the light so it can be dealt with, and we can somehow... 'cause I really believe that many people have been devastated by these things.

F.L. - I think very many. When I left, I couldn't say to myself that I was doing the right thing. But I really didn't have any choice - as far as - I couldn't breathe anymore... I couldn't live another day - I'd just gotten to such a point. And I was really totally against leaving the Synod, and I have never been able to justify the actions of the monastery, over the last five years. And I have, at many times, been disillusioned, in general, with the Faith, altogether, just because of my experience there. I know in my heart that I was, especially in the beginning, very straight, and very zealous, and faithful, to monasticism. I couldn't understand why this should have happened to me. You give your entire life - and I consider it to be worse than martyrdom - I would much rather have fingers cut off than to have to go through what I went through.

F.S. - Ok. Thank you very much, and I'll be in touch with you. We'll talk again soon.

This concludes the interview with Father Lazarus, which was conducted by Father Spyridon Schneider.

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