Friday, July 9, 2010

My Story by David Smith

Note: Videos of David's story and others can be viewed at the end of this post.

I was born into a Catholic family, the son of a mother from the Caribbean island of Trinidad who was raised Catholic, and a father who was brought up Methodist and converted to Catholicism when he married my mother.

There was really nothing out of the ordinary about my religious development at home, except that looking back I could point out that I was definitely taught about the importance of “The Church” as opposed to the importance of Jesus Christ.

I was placed in Sunday School as a child, made my First Confession, then my First Communion, and later was part of the Catholic Life Teen Program in High School. I made my Confirmation my senior year, a little later than usual, but I took the initiative to have it done because I felt it was something important enough to me to pursue.

I eventually left the Catholic Church in pursuit of an Eastern expression of Christianity. I was once again focusing on joining the right Church rather than knowing Christ personally. After some time at my local Greek Orthodox parish I was introduced to St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence, AZ. I eventually became a disciple of the Abbot.

After an initial period of a month or so, I began to be indoctrinated with teachings I was told not to reveal to anyone outside of the monastery’s inner circle. I was taught to believe in conspiracy theories (some of which were that man never landed on the moon, that America is made up of a shadow government that is run by Masons and Jews) and that the Protocols of Zion are an authentic document rather than a work of racist fiction.

I was told that unless you give up sexual relations with your spouse, you cannot be holy in this life, while at the same time being taught that I should ceaselessly struggle to achieve holiness in this life no matter what the cost.

I was taught to flagellate myself with electrical cord when I had sinful thoughts and that this was normal behavior that Saints indulged in.

I was taught to be obedient to my spiritual father as if he were Jesus Christ and that without his prayers I would not make it through the toll-houses when I die (the toll-houses are demonic checkpoints after you die where demons assess your life and try to hold you from getting to Heaven because of your sins). This was the justification used to get me to be obedient to the teachings I have related.

I was taught to believe that there is a “shadow government” that is supposedly in operation in the world that is made up of Masons, the Illuminati, and “the Jews”. This “shadow government” was said to control all of the governments of the world. I was told that part of their plan to do population control was to vaccinate the masses with immunizations that were deadly. Many of us were told never to immunize our children, that we should only use holistic remedies for our illnesses unless the doctor could be trusted, and avoid Jewish doctors whenever possible (because in the Protocols one of the plots to kill Gentiles was via Jewish doctors who killed Gentile babies and adults whenever possible).

Elder Ephraim, the founder of St. Anthony’s, teaches in his book that elders are hierarchically the final successors of the Apostles through the Holy Spirit. Having been taught this, there was a while where in my mind he had Apostolic authority to teach that the demons will drag me to hell when I die because I won’t be able to ascend through the toll-houses without my spiritual father’s prayers if I disobey him. “Elder” Ephraim’s book also says that we should never tolerate anyone who speaks against an “elder” because such a person is an antichrist and we should oppose them immediately. I didn’t want to become an “antichrist”.

I was told that television, except for nature shows and things like that, were evil and that the best thing to do was to get rid of my TV. I was told the same thing about literature and music. I was taught not to read any secular literature and was told that the Bible and the Fathers of the Church were all I needed to read. They said all music except for classical music and Orthodox Church music was a product of the Fall and not to listen to anything but that. Not having a television and not being able to listen to the radio, my main source of cultural information became e-mail and the telephone, or spending time with someone from the monastery.

We had to get a blessing from our spiritual father for everything, whether it was dressing differently, changing jobs, selling our car, etc. I had to get a blessing even regarding what I could drink during the day and how many meals I could eat. All of this is called “voluntary” obedience by the way, except that you’ll go to hell if you’re not obedient because obedience fulfills all of the commandments of Christ.

I was refused a blessing to sell my car even though it kept breaking down on me and was the only means of transportation for my wife and I to get to work. We missed time from work because of all the break-downs, which meant we missed pay. This also caused us to nearly get fired, and put us so far behind in bills that we lost all of our savings. We eventually had to quit that job since they were going to fire us. Even though we finally decided to get a new vehicle just before that, it was repossessed later on due to our lack of ability to pay since we had lost our income.

The Abbot and I would talk a lot about the end of the world. He would mention it in confession often. He said all the monks would be martyred at St. Anthony’s by being hung from the telephone poles. He also told me one year that by the summertime Turkey would invade Greece over a dispute about the island of Cyprus and there would be a great war that Greece would win (I was given copies of these prophecies that the monastery had translated from the Greek text of St. Kosmas Aitolos’s book to put on a website I used to run with the Abbot’s blessing) and the city of Constantinople would be liberated and returned to the Greeks. When it didn’t happen I went to the Abbot and asked him why, and he said he told me that just to be cautious. He had seemed pretty serious at the time he told me, however. He also told me on one occasion that I would most likely be “martyred”, which stayed with me for a long time. I really believed that I should prepare to die.

When my mother was homeless I was refused a blessing to go and help her over and over again. I finally decided to just go. My wife spoke to the Abbot about it in confession and he gave his blessing grudgingly.

My wife and I had to confess all of our sexual activity including what went on, where we touched, and so forth. We had to confess any secular music we listened to, any TV shows or movies we watched, and anywhere that we went that wasn’t “approved”. I was even told once that I should never laugh, so anytime I found something funny I had to confess that I had "laughed frivolously".

I was required to confess all of my thoughts, both good and bad, in confession. If I couldn’t confess directly, it had to be over the phone, and if I couldn’t confess by phone I had to write everything down and mail it to my spiritual father. It’s very humiliating sending your private thoughts through the mail, but with everything they teach about obedience the rationale was that it was a small price to pay for absolution and eternal life. In the case that my spiritual father was not available there were only certain “approved” priests I could confess to.

It was a nightmare once we were in the inner circle of the monastery. Our lives deteriorated rapidly, our health was affected, and we were slowly being isolated from family and friends. Eventually, I decided to get my family away from their influence. Having moved to Florida after 2 years of going to St. Anthony’s weekly, I was able to spend 5 more years under their influence but out of their immediate reach. I thought I would be able to leave quietly and not tell anyone that I was leaving. I thought I would just disappear and never go back.

It didn’t work. Because of some families whose children had been influenced by the monastery, I decided to speak out, even going on television in Tucson to talk on air about St. Anthony’s teachings. The backlash was very intense. I was called a liar, my life was threatened, and even Orthodox clergy who had never met me were calling me “demonic.”

At the time, I didn’t realize that St. Anthony’s was a cult. I simply thought it was an Eastern Orthodox group that was not a healthy place to be. It was when leaving began to take a very heavy toll on my wife and I that I realized it might have been worse than I thought. I was having nightmares regularly, panic attacks, severe depression set in, I was having suicidal thoughts, trouble controlling my anger, and I started drifting toward atheism.

It wasn’t until a parent who had lost their child to St. Anthony’s convinced me that it was a cult that I started to see any progress. He gave me literature showing what a cult is, pointed me in the direction of leading authors, and from there I found Combating Cult Mind Control by Dr. Steven Hassan.

The process for recovery was long and hard. My wife and I endured setback after setback, lots of periods of suicidal thoughts, and constant battles with depression and wrestling with the idea of God.

Through the contacts listed by Dr. Steven Hassan, I eventually reached out to the Watchman Fellowship. I’m very glad I did. I needed to know Christ; not a church, not religion, not the “right path”, but Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The Spiritual Abuse Recovery workbook allowed me to take what I had learned from Dr. Hassan’s material and face God again. It restored my faith in Christ’s message as good news, rather than a nightmare, and gave me the strength to help lift my family out of bondage to the cult once and for all. I feel like an empowered Christian again.

It’s been a long, hard road out of the cult, a journey that took over 3 years and carried with it a lot of tears, self-doubt, and setbacks. I truly felt while I was going through it as if I were literally in hell. But the good news is Christ is greater than hell, so it wasn’t a place my family and I had to stay. He brought us out safely and we’ve been able to grow stronger than we’ve ever been.

It’s not an easy path, but recovery is possible, and God is definitely with those who travel on it, always protecting, always guiding, and always loving.