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December 8, 2019

Elder Ephraim of Arizona Has Reposed

Yesterday, December 7th 2019, the much-beloved Elder Ephraim of Arizona reposed in the Lord after being ill for many years. According to reports, Elder Ephraim was aware of his impending death some days before, and despite this he would still daily go out and give his blessing to the people. His personal doctor told him to not go out Saturday evening, the day of his repose, to bless the people. Elder Ephraim was lucid on the day of his repose and partook of the Immaculate Mysteries. Then at 9:00pm (Mountain Standard Time), as he was upright occupied with something, he suddenly tilted slightly to the side and died. Nurses found him practically upright, having delivered his spirit to the Lord.

Short Biography

Elder Ephraim (Moraitis) was born on June 24, 1927 in Volos, Greece. Having been born on the feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Forerunner and Baptist, he was given the name John. He grew up in poverty and helped his father at work, but always tried to emulate the pious life of his mother Victoria (whom he later tonsured a nun with the name of Theophano). Desiring the monastic life around 14 years of age, he did not get a blessing from his spiritual father to leave and become a monk until he was 19.

Once, just a month before he left the world, his friends decided to visit Elder Joseph the Hesychast. John did not have any valuable gift to send with them, so he sent a small pouch of vermicelli and wrote a note. When unpacking gifts, Elder Joseph said: "This child will become a monk here." When the friends of John returned and told him these words, he just forgot about it - he had no idea about his future monastic life and had no blessing from the spiritual father.

When John was a little baby, his mother had a vision and understood that he will become a monk at Mount Athos. So she was preparing him all his life, having this vision in her mind, and when he was 19, she finally decided to send him to Elder Joseph. And now his spiritual father did not object as well.

On September 26, 1947, John arrived at Mount Athos to the Saint Anna's Skete. Elder Joseph got to know about his arrival from the patron saint of both John and of the cells of Elder Joseph - Saint John the Baptist. As Elder Ephraim recalls in his book, at the pier he met Elder Arsenios who said: "Are you Yannakis from Volos?" - "Yes, how do you know me?" - "Elder Joseph knows that from the Fair Forerunner. He appeared to him today and said: 'I brought to you a sheep. Place it in your fence.'"

So John became a disciple of Elder Joseph the Hesychast who tonsure him in 1948 and gave him the name Ephraim. Ephraim was subsequently ordained a deacon, and then a priest. The life in the brotherhood under Elder Joseph was very austere and ascetical, and Ephraim made great spiritual progress under his holy Elder. Particular focus was paid to noetic prayer and the practice of hesychasm.

In his book, Elder Ephraim thanks Elder Joseph for his severe but very proficient teaching. Only after leaving the world, Ephraim understood his very strong pride. In the world, he lived a chaste and pious life and was thinking high of himself. Only with Elder Joseph he began to see it, especially when the Elder made comments about his behavior. During 12 years, Ephraim heard his name from the Elder only twice - all other times he used only abusive nicknames. But behind his back, the Elder constantly blessed him - Ephraim got to know this later from other people. Also during confession of thoughts, Elder Joseph never spoke sharply. He described in detail the origin of thoughts and mistakes, so Ephraim thought that the Elder knows him better than he knows himself.

After Elder Joseph's repose in 1959, Elder Ephraim continued to live in asceticism for many years until he became the abbot of the Holy Monastery of Philotheou in 1973, where he was able to revive the spiritual life in a short time. Due to the reputation of Elder Ephraim, the monastery's brotherhood grew rapidly. Elder Ephraim was asked by the sacred synod of Mount Athos to revive and expand several other monasteries on Mount Athos which had a dwindling number of monks. These monasteries were Xeropotamou, Konstamonitou, and Karakallou. He was also asked to repopulate the Great Lavra but declined. These monasteries would remain under his spiritual guidance. Along with the monasteries on Mount Athos, there were several other monasteries in Greece under Elder Ephraim's spiritual guidance, including the Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner in Serres, that of Panagia the Directress in Portaria (Volos), and that of the Archangel Michael, a formal Metochion of Philotheou on the island of Thasos.

In 1979, Elder Ephraim became ill and needed a surgery. Then his spiritual children from Canada offered to do the surgery in Canada. The Elder agreed, and the operation was successful. For more than a month Elder Ephraim stayed in America and met representatives of the Greek community. He got to know that the spiritual life in the Greek circles had been disrupted, people stayed for a long time without confession with grave sins were partaking of Holy Communion totally unprepared, and did not keep the holy canons of the Church. They forget the pious Orthodox life, Greek national traditions and were accustomed to secular life.

Father Ephraim decided to go to America more and more often. He first visited Canada: Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, and then he was invited to the United States. In the end, the synod of the Holy Mountain warned him that he cannot continue this way and must choose: either the Holy Mountain or America. The Elder began to pray and it was revealed that his place is in America. He decided to move to the U.S. - for the spiritual care of his flock and the revival of spiritual life in the Greek communities of North America.

At first, the Synod of the Archdiocese of America resisted and Elder Ephraim had to seek help from ROCOR. As Elder Ephraim recalls: "I was received here with great love and genuine understanding." A year later, under personal patronage of the Patriarch of Constantinople, the problem of jurisdiction was resolved. Elder Ephraim honorably returned to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and was given the right to establish monasteries in Canada and the United States. He then proceeded to establish 17 monasteries throughout North America, always after receiving permission from each Greek bishop of the area.

The first monastery that was established by Elder Ephraim was that of Nativity of the Mother of God in Pennsylvania, near the city of Pittsburgh. His main monastery was dedicated to Saint Anthony the Great and is located in the middle of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. Here Archimandrite Ephraim resided most of the time. He arrived in this desert in 1995 with 5 monks. There was no electricity, no water, no building materials. But the Elder was not afraid of difficulties and urged the brethren not to despair and believe in God. He said: "We came to build the temple and the monastery and, for our diligence, God will bless our work." Soon people began to donate money and materials, and the main church was built in just 4 months. The whole territory was planted with olive and citrus gardens.

Elder Ephraim developed a reputation of being a grace-filled confessor, a true Athonite elder, and had thousands of spiritual children around the world: monastics, clergy, and laity. He is considered by many to be the first to establish an authentic Athonite monastery on American soil. In his life, Elder Ephraim founded seventeen monasteries in the United States and Canada for women and men alike, as well as a nursing home.

On December 7th, 2019 at 10pm (Mountain Standard Time), Elder Ephraim fell asleep in the Lord.

A Testimony

The greatly esteemed and eminent author Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, wrote the following in the English Prologue to Elder Ephraim’s book Counsels from the Holy Mountain:

"Father Ephraim, as I remember him very well from my youth and as one encounters him in this book, is a genuine teacher of the spiritual life and a reliable guide for the Christian’s journey towards rebirth, since he himself has experienced and learned the divine, which is why his words are ‘full of grace and truth.’ And in this case the saying of St. John of Sinai, the author of the Ladder, applies: ‘A genuine teacher is he who has received the spiritual tablet of knowledge from God inscribed by His finger – that is, by the operation of illumination – and who has no need of other books.’

It is significant that the spiritual words contained in this book, which emanate from the vigils and stillness of the Holy Mountain, are presented to America where, on the one hand, a great disillusionment with the rationalistic and sensualistic atmosphere prevails, and on the other hand, a search for authentic life is being observed – a search that extends beyond Vaticanized ecclesiology, academic and intellectualistic theology, Protestantizing sociology and ethicology, spiritually void and deluded meditation, atheistic social activism, etc. And I believe that this book will be of great help to those who seek to taste in their personal life – in proportion to their struggle, of course – the true scriptural and patristic food that gives meaning to the life of man and constitutes the true bread of life.

Papa-Ephraim (as we call him here in Greece), in the words of St. Symeon the New Theologian, ‘received fire,’ and he has imparted this fire to many monks of the Holy Mountain and in turn to the Church in America that has great need of it. Now, with the English edition of this book, he will spread this fire to all who seek genuine Orthodox life.”

Read also two posts translated by John Sanidopoulos:

A Conversation With Elder Ephraim of Arizona

Elder Ephraim of Arizona Exposes Old Calendarism

Elder Ephraim inspecting the place of his entombment.