This year marks the 30th anniversary of Geronda Ephraim Koutsibou’s repose. Before the advent of the Internet, there was literally no information in existence about this hieromonk other than a few articles in Greek periodicals (which were limited prints), a few blurbs on some of Geronda Ephraim Filotheitis homilies to his monks, a few recorded chants and homilies. The late Geronda Epraim also wrote a book on noetic prayer which has been out of print for years. The majority of information that exists in circulation is oral tradition and hearsay. The majority of information about his death comes from two sources: the eyewitness accounts/newspaper articles of the time (which are non-existent now) and the driver of the vehicle, Ioannis Voutsas (now Geronda Joseph, Abbot of the St. Nekatrios Greek Orthodox Monastery in Roscoe, NY).
Now with the advent of the Internet, the few things of the Geronda Ephraim have been uploaded and circulated (but certainly not all the chants, homilies, photographs, etc.). Again, this is all in the Greek language, and is meant for a very niche audience; people who are unaware of the circumstances behind his death will look, read, and move on to the next article. Despite the fact that there are photographs countless photographs of the late Elder in existence (including his skull which is missing a large portion of the cranium), there are dozens of chanting recordings and even more spiritual homilies, there are literally less than photos online, only a few chants, and two homilies in print, as well as one interview that one can find with a cursory Google search. It is almost as if he never existed…
If one reads the various articles in circulation at the time of his death (1984-1985, all in Greek, of course), it becomes apparent that there are really no details about his untimely death. They all generically state: “He was killed in a car crash.” Moreover, nothing is mentioned about the driver of the vehicle, who was also a close spiritual child, Ioannis Voutsas. Nor are there any details about the “accident,” as it is always referred as: How did it happen? Where did it happen exactly? Were other people involved? Were there any other casualties?, etc. Though these things seem superfluous, they are quite important due to the position Ioannis finds himself in today, an ordained priest and Abbot of a monastery.
Various Stories in Circulation
Now if one combs the information contained in published periodicals, the 1st Series Homilies of Metropolitan Athansios Lemesou, the homilies of Geronda Ephraim Filotheitis, and the internet chatter on various forums, one comes upon some conflicting information concerning the death of Geronda Ephraim Xeropotamou.
The inner circles of Geronda Ephraim of Arizona (monastics and lay disciples) maintain that the late Elder was murdered and died a martyric death. This is a very important distinction because if it was a simple car accident then the driver of the vehicle, Ioannis Voutsas, would not have been canonically permitted to be ordained a priest due to the sin of involuntary murder (homicide). Though, this matter was taken into consideration and Ioannis went to Fr. Epifanios Theodropoulos, who wrote him a letter certifying there were no canonical impediments preventing an ordination).
So, as the story goes, Geronda Ephraim of Xeropotamou had made some enemies in Greece. He had baptized some Muslims into Orthodoxy. He also had helped some very high ranking Freemasons leave their organization [Gnostic religion] and return to Orthodoxy. Apparently he was receiving death threats on Mount Athos shortly before his death. He is said to have spoken enigmatically about his upcoming death as if he foresaw what was going to happen. Some fathers have stated the Muslims retaliated, others have stated the Freemasons got revenge. The fathers agree that both groups are very spiteful people.
Now on November 21, 1984, Ioannis was driving the late Elder to Athens so he could give a homily; it was the Feast Day of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. The accident occurred in Schimatari; about 60km northwest of Athens. It is not specified whether it occurred on Greek National Road 1 (Athens-Lamia-Thessalonik) or on some other road. There were apparently eye-witnesses who stated the blood was flowing like a river from the late Elder. However, it doesn’t state whether these witnesses saw the accident or arrived later. Was it a car crash? Was the car tampered with? Or, as stated in other accounts, were they ambushed and attacked? If ambushed, pulled out of the car and beaten, who were the assailants?
The Car Crash
The driver, Ioannis Voutsas (now Geronda Joseph) has an obedience from Geronda Ephraim to respond, “I don’t really remember what happened,” when asked about the “accident.” However, when Geronda Joseph ran the St. John the Theologian Monastery in Picton, ON, he told his closer lay disciples some of the details of the accident. As well, the late Geronda Ephraim had a very close spiritual child who lived in Toronto who knew details, as well as knew Geronda Joseph as a lay person. The details, combined with testimonies from various monks and nuns, paint a vague picture of the day’s events.
Somewhat consistent testimonies are:
a) The incident is always referred to as a “car accident” or “terrible accident.” Never an attack or ambush, or car tampering, etc.
b) The late Elder’s death is also referred to as “he was killed in a car crash,” never he died in a car crash.
c) Geronda Ephraim’s skull is missing a large portion which points to a severe head injury. Though is this from the impact of the crash or, as in some testimonies, being pulled out of the car and beaten to death?
d) The car was apparently demolished and unrecognizable after the accident.
e) Ioannis Voutsas broke every bone in his body from “being thrown off,” “falling off,” or “dropping off” a very high cliff. The meters of the drop vary from story-teller.
f) Geronda Ephraim was at a house in Montreal, Canada when he received the news by telephone and flew back to Greece immediately.
g) Ioannis Voutsas was in a coma for a long time afterwards; faithfully and lovingly looked after by his wife Athina Voutsa (now Gerondissa Olympiada of Holy Protection Monastery in Whitehaven, PA). The Geronda would later relate, “She served me like an angel.”
h) The doctors told Ioannis he would never walk again. Geronda Ephraim Filotheitis (now of Arizona) blessed him, did the sign of the cross over him, and told him not to worry. Today, Ioannis (Geronda Joseph) walks.
i) Ioannis walked with a cane for years afterwards. When he became a monk at Filotheou Monastery on Mount Athos (1992 or 1993), Geronda Ephraim told him to get rid of the cane, which he did out of blind obedience, and he has not needed it ever since.
j) Dr. Jim Telonis, the family doctor of St. Nektarios Monastery, verifies that Geronda Joseph still has a broken pelvis (according to his X-Rays and scans) and scientifically should not be able to walk. He verifies that it is a miracle that Geronda Joseph is walking.