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A Word About 'Monastery Icons'

by Fr. Anthony Nelson

The following comments concern a business called Monastery Icons (http://www.monasteryicons.com). This company offers "icons" and other religious content that has a veneer of Orthdooxy, but which in fact is associated with Hinduism. Their products are spirituallly dangerous, and so Fr. Anthony Nelson, a Priest in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, sent me these remarks.

The “Light of Christ Monastery” and the Convent of the Virgin Mary in Borrego Springs, CA., formerly the “Gnostic Orthodox” in Geneva, Nebraska (Holy Protection Gnostic Orthodox Monastery and the St. John of Kronstadt Gnostic Orthodox Convent) are “monastic communities” of self-styled monks and nuns. They began in Oklahoma City in the 70’s, when their current “Patriarch”—Abbot Bishop George Burke—showed up in town (newly run away in the dead of night from the Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Monastery in Boston, where he had attached himself) calling himself “Swami” something-or-other (I can’t begin to spell it).

He had been raised Church of God-Anderson, near Bloomington, Illinois, gravitated to Chicago and loosely affiliated himself with Roman Catholicism. After a while he began attending the Levitt Street OCA Cathedral, and later the Synod Cathedral, where he got himself baptized by Bishop Seraphim. He then migrated to California, where he joined with Yogananda, and worked P.R. for him. Then he went to Boston to Holy Transfiguration Monastery “to learn Orthodox monasticism”—according to him. In Oklahoma City he started a Hindu community that grew to about nine monks and three nuns. One day, in the late 70’s, he announced to the brethren that they had “outgrown” the spiritual possibilities of Hinduism, and were going to become Christian. They then constituted themselves as the “Holy Protection Old Catholic Benedictine Monastery of the Primitive Observance.” The Swami got himself consecrated a bishop by the self-styled “Old Catholic” bishop at St. Hilarion’s Center in Austin, Texas (although he—the former “Swami”—stated categorically that it was unnecessary, because he had been a Roman Catholic bishop during the Middle Ages in a previous life!).

Many may remember this group as having been featured on various prime-time news shows (P.M. Magazine and Real People) in the late 70’s/early 80’s as constituting the volunteer Fire Department in the little town of Forest Park, Oklahoma, and also as raising ostriches on the grounds of their property. I remember seeing them on television one night while I was living at St. Tikhon’s Seminary in Pennsylvania in about 1980, and wondering just what kind of “order” or “religion” they were. Little did I dream that I would come into intimate contact with them only a year or two later when I was assigned to Oklahoma City by the Antiochian Archdiocese.

In about 1981 “Bishop George” decided that they had outgrown Old Catholicism, and they became “Holy Protection Orthodox Monastery.” They dressed as Orthodox monks and did the services impeccably well, as George had learned in Boston. Then, in 1985 or so, they remodeled their chapel again and became “Coptic”—serving their own version of the Liturgy of St. James and dressing in a form of Coptic monastic garb. They even succeeded in having Indian and Egyptian Coptic Christian clergy concelebrate with them, falsely claiming various kinds of non-Chalcedonian “Apostolic Succession”—claims which those Coptic Christians accepted without investigation.

I walked in on them one day and found them doing a curious service modeled after Hindu worship, in which they were offering fruit and flowers to the icons of Christ and the Theotokos in their chapel. The prayers were an interesting (although sacrilegious and blasphemous) blend of the Trisagion prayers and Hindu worship. During all of this, they maintained a second, secret chapel on the premises. Here they practiced magical evocation and demonolatry. I received into Orthodoxy several lay persons who were a part of their “secret Order”—coming from various Protestant backgrounds. These particular individuals finally began to wonder if they were really “Orthodox” and “Christian” when, on a trip to Texas with the monks, they saw the monks and nuns bow down before the idol in the Hare Krishna temple in Dallas, and Abbot Bishop George refused to bless the food served in the Krishna restaurant because “it was already blessed, having been offered to the idol.” These former members of their cult and one former monk brought to me all of their secret rituals,vestments, history, and associated blasphemous and really frightening materials. It took me well over a year of working with these individuals to get them over their fear of the psychic and spiritual retaliation with which the Abbot had threatened them if they ever revealed the group’s secrets. I still have these materials, and they would be laughable in their sophomoric secret-society silliness if they were not so seriously believed and practiced.

The group left Oklahoma under difficult circumstances in regard to legal problems concerning the estate of a novice (son of a powerful state politician) who died in India. All novices were required to make a pilgrimage to India to interview with, and receive the blessing of, one “Mother Anandamoy”—a Hindu holy woman—who must approve them for membership in the Community.

One of their former monks who had left the group and took a job in Oklahoma City (and personally continued their occult practices privately) once made the statement: “Orthodox Priests are like camels. They carry a cargo of immeasurable worth, with no comprehension of its value.” The Daily Oklahoman, the largest circulation newspaper in the state, once carried a color picture on the front page of one of it’s secondary sections depicting one of their “priests.” He was shown sitting at a table during a regional “Psychic Fair” doing a Tarot Card reading.

On another occasion, after I had learned their secrets and forbade my parishioners to have anything to do with them, Abbot George announced during one of his sermons that he, in a previous life, had been one of the Christian Martyrs who suffered under Diocletian, and I (Fr. Anthony) was the Roman who led him to his martyrdom. He also claims that, during a pilgrimage to visit Mother Anandamoy in India, he was killed in a car accident in New Delhi, but because his “work” here was incomplete, was immediately reincarnated in his body and survived.

“Patriarch George” of the “Gnostic Orthodox Church” admitted in an interview in the Omaha World Herald that his “Patriarchate” covered only 5 or 6 acres. By the way, why they chose Nebraska is a mystery: Abbot Bishop George announced, following a visit to Hawaii for an international peace conference in approximately 1985, that the Goddess of one of the volcanos appeared to him and promised to give him the island if he would relocate his community there.

Apparently that offer was not good enough because, after first relocating in Nebraska, today they are the “Light of Christ Monastery” in California. They claim to be the exclusive remnant of a spurious so-called “Western Orthodox Church” descended from, the Syrian Jacobite (Monophysite) Church of the East.

They have one “iconographer” there who paints all their pictures (please, not icons). All are “blessed” with one of their occult rituals before being shipped, and they support themselves to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars per year selling the demonic things. Many Roman Catholic bookstores sell them but, happily, most Orthodox sellers of religious items have discovered who and what they are and no longer do business with them.

Please don’t buy their pictures—they are spiritually very dangerous.

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The following additional information was found on the Catholic Answers forum. Links are omitted because they would improve Google search engine rankings.

“Some books by the abbot of Light of Christ Monastery.

  • Magnetic Therapy: Healing in Your Hands
  • An Eagle’s Flight: Autobiography of a Gnostic Orthodox Christian
  • An excerpt from the above book can be read here: http://www.kalimandir.org/library/l...em=07_imeet.xml
  • There is a conversation with the Abbot (audio) available here: http://www.aaple.com/bookstore/

“A quote from this conversation:

“Abbot George is the founder and guiding spiritual source for the Light of Christ Monastery in Borrego Springs, Ca. He and Dr. Netherton sat together to discuss the Abbot’s views and beliefs with regards to the many faiths and religions that exist on the planet today. Abbot George is widely held to be one of the leading authorities on theology, philosophy, and spiritual constructs in today’s spiritual community. Among other dynamics, he discusses reincarnation as an established fact within the Christian faith and the presence of spiritual guidance as defined by the teachings of St. Thomas, one of the founders of the eastern Christian churches. His knowledge is extensive and deep and his presentation is inspiring.”

Another person sent me the following information about the alleged connection with ashram:

“My guess is that the folks selling the so-called “icons” don’t really want to advertise the connection between that and the ashram, for understandable business reasons. When I posted about the group at http://catholiclight.org, a reader explained that the “icon” biz had been taken over by a supporter in Ohio.

“At a Hindu forum, a member says he found out about the sect’s name change from “Abbot” Burke himself: http://p203.ezboard.com/fsrfwalrusfrm33.showMessageRange?topicid=50.topic&start=21&stop=40 (see bottom of page, a post dated 4/9/04).”