As is typical with former monks who speak about their experiences with Geronda Ephraim, an underlying fear factor always intimidates them into complimenting the elder as a holy man in an attempt to verify or legitimize him. This is partly due to the fact that all novices and monastics in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries are exposed to stories of “divine retribution” meted out to those who criticize, oppose or try to hinder Geronda Ephraim in any way, shape, or form. As the years go by, this continual inundation of cautionary tales takes root in the individual’s psyche and creates a “holy terror” and phobia about judging or speaking against Geronda Ephraim.
If one looks at Mark’s statement, the first few lines are the typical “empathy” or “sympathy” a monastic is trained to exhibit, especially if they’re dealing with pilgrims. The fake it until you make it scheme is quite common in monastic acting. For some individual monastics it does take root and become genuine, for others, it is just a practiced affectation that becomes second nature over time, however, it is not genuine.
The majority of Mark’s comment is an attempt to "validate" Geronda Ephraim, justifying him and the monastery, and trying to divert any notions of wrong-doing. It’s as though this event triggered him (most monastics experience suicidal thoughts and are instructed by their elders that this is a normal course in spiritual warfare) and brought him right back to the monastery. It is as though he is defending and justifying his former elder as though he were still under his direction as a monk. Despite the fact that Mark was one of the African-American monks who was made fun of behind his back with the derogatory term “arapi”, he still feels a comradery with these people.
Sam’s comment is like the pot calling the kettle black, considering the mental (and physical) state he was in during his life as a monk and when he left the monastery. Interestingly, Sam does not accuse himself of having an intellectual approach to the church. Those who were there in the late 90’s remember Sam walking from his cell to the gatehouse for his diakonima, with a mountain stack of books everyday. With these books and his studies, he approached the church intellectually even as a monastic. He went to St. Nektarios Monastery when it first opened and the Abbot sent him back for not doing obedience and always trying to stay in his cell instead of doing his diakonima. He had the same issues when he returned to Arizona. After Sam went home, homilies were given in some of the monasteries about his plight: it is said that Geronda Ephraim prayed to the Panagia to enlighten Sam to leave the monastery since his presence and actions scandalized most of the brotherhood. Geronda Ephraim is said to have done this because he didn’t want the burden of responsibility by kicking Sam out.
Sam's first statement agreeing with Mark is essentially covering himself, lest he seem to be critical of Geronda Ephraim. The rest of the comment seems to try to put a humanity on the experience before Scott left (i.e. he was allowed human contact with the outside world, he was in a good mindset, etc. Though why Scott would be given a blessing to talk to a monk who left after 10+ years seems odd considering Fr. Seraphim didn’t leave in good standing and he was essentially criticized in all the monasteries as being a bad example of monasticism and constantly saddening big Geronda through his disobediences. Not to mention in other monasteries and convents under Geronda Ephraim, former monastics are asked politely not to return because it creates stumbling blocks for monastics to see their former brothers/sisters as laymen).
Again, it is not uncommon for former monastics under Geronda Ephraim to continue to promote him as a saint and holy man and “validate” his monasteries and brand of monasticism. One example can be found with the youtube pages of Greg P.:
Greg P., son of an OCA priest, was a novice at St. Nektarios Monastery in the late 90’s - early 2000s. He eventually returned to the world. Despite all the scandals he witnessed, and in some cases was a part of, as well as all the things he vocally spoke out against while at the monastery (daily eating of desserts, the worldly atmosphere of the monastery, the lack of asceticism, indifference to the principles of fasting, etc.) he still promotes Geronda Ephraim in every forum he comments on. Despite leaving St. Nektarios Monastery on not so good terms (though he did visit a few times afterwards until the abbot suggested it’d be better if he didn’t return) he still stands by Geronda Joseph, “validating” him as a saintly elder in the comments he writes.
This is a common theme with almost all the former monastics under Geronda Ephraim: fear to speak the truth about what really goes on behind closed doors, or, justifying the most horrible things with circular reasoning, thus rendering them okay.
This is also a common pattern with ex-members of destructive cults, especially those led by “charismatic” and “charming” sociopaths.