June 7, 2022

A Final Correspondence Between Anthony (Frank) Atwood and Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos Before His Execution

 By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

In a previous text I announced that Anthony, Frank Atwood, had been scheduled to be executed in Arizona in the United States in early June. His lawyers did some work to turn the death sentence into a life sentence, to postpone the execution, due to a problem with the poisons, but in the end everything was rejected.

For so many years he has been declaring that even though he made many mistakes in his life, he did not commit the murder for which he was sentenced to death. And I personally believe in his innocence.

Thus, Anthony will be executed on Wednesday, June 8, at 10 a.m. in Arizona of America, that is at 8 p.m. in Greece.

In a letter he sent me on Saturday, June 4th, that is, three days ago he wrote to me, among other things:

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My dear Theological Master

Metropolitan (Elder) Hierotheos,

Good Paradise!!!

About the court. We had the hearing to ask for the pardon (requesting life imprisonment) on May 24th. With optimism, I thought that the probability of success was 1%! Of course, they refused this mercy. In regards to this, the glory of God is victorious!!! Beloved Elder Paisios brought about two dozen monks and nuns, along with over 150 believers who live around the Monastery. Some monks testified to the great inner transfiguration that God has done in me, so the more the "mercy council" and the government tried to make me look bad, the greater my miraculous transfiguration seemed! God has decisively been victorious! ...

Metropolitan Athanasios told me that if God permits my execution, He has accepted my repentance, and I am ready to leave for Paradise. Sarah and I rely on this wise word. For me, I am saddened by my negligence in prayer, and, of course, for Sarah it would be shocking to be alone without me. Please pray for our strength in Christ!

I continue my vigils, 2 hours, but I am still negligent and I do not continue the Hours (the Services of the Hours) and I do not always say the Prayer. I had tried "hesychastic" methods for the Prayer (breathing, etc.) and once I was experiencing something that I think had the Prayer in my heart. When I concentrate properly now, it seems that the Prayer knows the way to my heart, but is soon driven away by worldly thoughts (logismoi). I feel that I am such a failure!

That you thought of advising me during the Vespers of the Ascension of Christ is wonderful and encourages me. Glory to God! Your teaching is a spiritual oxygen, and I pray that my soul will continue to breathe deeply this soul-saving fragrance!

Sometimes I find solace in the advice of deeply spiritual monks and, tragically, many times I lose my focus and become upset because of the events. It seems to me a very ugly experience that the government will tie me up and give me deadly drugs. It is, however, the vehicle that will take me on the journey to Paradise! The conflict! To follow the advice of Metropolitan Athanasios seems to me like a spiritual lifeline in this sea of extreme secular madness. The same applies to Your advice and references to the words of the Saints ...

Well, above all, I humbly ask Your prayers for my Ascension with Christ, if I am killed on June 8th. You are a spiritual light. Thank you very much!!! If you can send an email again by June 7, I will humbly be grateful. Please!

I pray that you will be saved through the intercessions of the Most Holy Theotokos.

With much love in Christ,

Anthony (a sinner)

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I replied to him immediately and he wrote me back on June 6th, that is, yesterday.

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Dear Metropolitan Hierotheos,

I want you to know that I am very happy to send you an email, and am ecstatic to get your answer! It cheers me up! Thank you!...

Elder, you see my "good attitude" in emails, and you do not see the many times I fight terribly with God. May God forgive me, but it is towards both the Lord Jesus Christ and the Theotokos. Yes, I have confessed, and even the demons are whispering that I cannot go through the tollhouses and they are waiting for me. Everyone sees my good side, but I'm afraid of my bad side. And now I dare to take the Great Schema ... I am scared of demons!

I'm the most hated prisoner in Arizona. The journey was very long and difficult. Through this, God has carried me with love, and now I approach the door of death with hope, with the hope of the tonsure, of martyrdom and of Paradise. It seems arrogant to say that! But I am beginning to understand and embrace the Grace of God. Yes, may it be blessed!

Your efforts for me unbelievably humble me. To have the chain of prayer to keep me alive even after my execution (at least for the 40 days). This comforts me terribly.

I love the passage from the Epistle to the Romans 8:35-39. Even as a Protestant it made a lot of sense, and even more so now.

I have the 5th volume of the Philokalia now to accompany me until my death on Wednesday. Glory to God!

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And after this he writes an amazing thing, which are his last words:
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Finally, let me share with you a recent experience: After my deliberation hearing on May 24, the victim's family passed by my cage and the girl's uncle smiled and said: "Now you will finally get the needle in your arm." I bent down and smiled. For 40 years this man despised me, and now he has the opportunity to curse me face to face. How good it must have felt! I was happy! I do not agree with his hatred, but I think I understand, and I'm sorry that he needs to do this to feel better.

It was an interesting and encouraging moment.

I love you Elder. Thank you so much!

With much love in Christ,


* * *

I replied to him about it to encourage him in this journey.

What to say about my beloved Anthony!

One day I will publish our long correspondence which extends over a hundred pages, and is basically the pastoral theology of a Bishop to a death row inmate and will show his whole inner world of the soul.

I pray that he will have strength in this path, that he will overcome all his fears by the power of Christ and that he will meet Christ, whom he loved so much in prison, with the significant help of his amazing wife Sarah.

We must pray for this difficult time that my beloved Anthony is facing, so that he can pass on with courage and with the "Prayer of Jesus", as I advised him, the difficult passage from biological life to the eternal Light.

Source: Translation by John Sanidopoulos. 
Note: I received information that Anthony received the Great Schema today and took the name Ephraim, after his late spiritual father and founder of Saint Anthony's Monastery in Arizona.