Watch a case study regarding the death of Father Efrem Atwood who was executed a few days ago on June 8, 2022, the 2nd capital punishment after a hiatus of 8 years.
Listen to his story and an answer to the question: Was he guilty or not?
Glory to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages! Amen!
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us! Amen!
Today I will speak a little about the story of Father Efrem. And not only will I tell you a little about Father Efrem’s story, but I will also do a little analysis of what happened to Father Efrem and why God allowed this.
Father Efrem, known in the world as Frank Atwood or Anthony Atwood (after his Christian baptism) was born in Los Angeles in 1956. After a promising career at school and in sports at the Military Academy, he was molested, he was sexually abused.
This event destroyed him, it had devastating consequences for young Frank, who, after this, got together with all kinds of young people from the underworld and was kept under sight and pursued by the police. He was even arrested for certain smaller crimes, and at some point he was even released on bail, I think, or something like that.
Anyhow, in 1984, being in the sights of police, he was caught, he was acused of kidnapping and killing of an 8-year-old girl, Vicki Lynne Hoskinson, deeds that Frank (Anthony) did not do, you should know.
He proves this very well, with very clear evidence, in his book “Injustice for all”, or “Light behind bars” in the Romanian edition, and these proofs were also presented by his lawyers in court. But, despite the fact that the man declared himself innocent for 38 years, despite all this, the jurors… You must know that in the United States the judicial system is somehow very… there are some people who give a verdict according to their own judgment, as they see fit.
Well, part of the jurors, the majority, declared him guilty of killing that little girl for one piece of evidence, namely: that there was a small trace of paint, from the girl’s bicycle, presumably, on the bumper of Frank’s car.
Now, you must know that this is not an evidence to sentence a man to death and to keep him in prison for 38 years while the real evidence was not even taken into account, although very serious, including witnesses claiming to have seen the girl after the alleged moment of the crime.
Well, why all this? Because the police of that locality, Tucson, wanted to close the case after they caught him. And then they kept him there. From there on… you see, if God allows, the man remains in prison continuously and unjustly, in fact.
You must know that there are many such cases, many such great injustices. I don’t want to give other details and other evidence, I personally know such big cases, but I do not want to give rise to all kinds of other problems. Still, because this case became public and became a very famous case, we can say that a great injustice was done from a human point of view.
But let’s return to Frank’s story. A protestant, Rachel, who followed the case, realized Frank was innocent and contacted him and tried to help him and to lead him to the path of Christ.
The two started to love each other and finally got married in 1991, in prison. So think about this, brothers! They never had a house, a home. So Frank had been in prison the whole time and the marriage initiative was Rachel’s, not Frank’s.
In 1998, with the help of a book called “The mountain of silence”, written by Kyriacos Markides… which in Romanian appeared at Herald Publishing House, Frank finds the Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol, who appears in the book under the name of Father Maximos.
The book is actually a narrative of Kyriacos, who meets Father Maximos, who is actually the Metropolitan Athanasius of Limassol, and there are some spiritual dialogues. It is a very good book that actually describes the spirituality of the Holy Mountain, The Mount of Silence refers to the Holy Mountain.
Frank is impressed by this book and finds the Metropolitan Athanasios. You realize it, from the prison in Arizona. And he starts the correspondence with the metropolitan who sends him several books about Orthodoxy and puts him in contact with the Monastery of Father Ephrem in Arizona, the Monastery of Saint Anthony.
So, since then, Father Paisios, the abbot of that monastery, visited him regularly and helped him to follow the life of a locked ascetic. So effectively, the man ends up being a monk, if you want, in a totally extraordinary way. And especially an ascetic, as I said, locked in his cell. Because, let’s not forget, he was sentenced to death, brothers. Yes? So for 38 years he expected his death every day. So we, if we stay locked, not for 38 years, brothers…
During the pandemic we stayed locked up a little, and not in prison but on sofas, we watched TV and so on… and we were on our nerves. So you realize that this man was in prison for 38 years and therefore he needed a very serious support of grace to be able to resist. And of course this support of grace came in 2000 when he was baptized and he was given the name Anthony. He was baptized by the abbot, Father Paisios. Later, in 2007, Rachel was also baptized, taking the name of Sarah.
Anthony had frequent correspondence with the Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol and the Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos, who is known in Romania for several books, but mainly for his book “Orthodox Psychotherapy”, which Anthony also read and which impressed him, of course, and because of this he wanted to also get in contact with Metropolitan Hierotheos.
Beyond that, during many years in prison he has also done advanced studies in art, in English language, in law, and of course in theology. After almost 40 years in prison, 38 years to be exact, the court in Arizona issued an execution order on his name on June 8, 2022, that is very few days ago, an order which was executed, as many of you know.
Before doing a little analysis of this case, I would like to give thanks to Metropolitan Athanasios for everything, and also to His Eminence Hierotheos Vlachos, for the fact that they managed to keep this man on the spiritual path and, above all, for bringing this case to our knowledge. Of course, I want to thank also to Father Paisios, and first of all to Father Pimen, my abbot, and to the whole community of our cell, and also first to my spiritual father, who was telling me about this case: “You see, the man is close to death, take care of him!”
I knew about…, I was corresponding with the lady, with Sarah, but my spiritual father, I will not tell his name because he is still living, told me: “you see that…, take care…!”
I would also like to thank to the website team. About 10 people collaborated in this, you should know. I thank everyone for helping us make materials, distribute them, and everything else. Even if there were certain temptations with some people, especially with those whom the devil fought very hard (well, it was one case) and from there on, all the others were very very nice, good Lord protected us all and we did, with God’s help, a very good work, I consider with great humility, because a lot of people prayed for Anthony, for Father Efrem.
Because he became Efrem the day before he was killed. One day before he was killed, he was tonsured a hermit and was named Efrem. He was tonsured in the Great Schema, by his spiritual father, Father Paisios.
So, because of this, we thank everyone for helping us to make people pray for the soul of Father Efrem. We think, and know, that at this time he is very good in Heaven. And I am speaking very concretely and very seriously. This is one thing. Second, we want to bring back…, based on the death of this man, to bring back, as much as possible, the life of unity in the Church.
Now, what attracted us? You must know that his repentance attracted us a lot. So this is what God is looking for. Of course, we do not validate and promote all the sentenced to death. Let’s understand each other! Of course, we must love everyone, but we cannot agree with the [bad] deeds of some, who don’t even have repentance for their bad actions. So we cannot validate a murderer. Yes?
Well, Anthony (father Efrem) was not a murderer. But people in general did not know this. Why? Because they did not have the Holy Spirit. But we will talk about this a bit later.
Returning to repentance. The power of repentance is so great that it can transform a criminal into a saint and can keep an innocent man under all the reproach, under all the slander of the accusation of criminality. Because he, in fact, was accused of having killed a little girl. You realize, he always had this stain on him.
This is why repentance is very important and the support of grace is very important. I know cases of people who were ready to kill themselves for much smaller things, for which they had not been slandered but appeared in the press they had an extra-marital relationship, let’s say, and [for this] a man threw himself from the balcony. So do not think that it is very easy to be continuously, for 38 years, with a stain on yourself for having killed an 8-year-old girl, which in fact you did not do. It’s very tough. You should know, brethren. Let’s think a little!
So that’s why we promoted him: for his repentance and for the measure, let’s say, of holiness that this man had reached.
And above all, brethren, you should know that Heaven, as Father Ephrem from Arizona says, Heaven is not for people without sin. It is for sinful people who have repented. And we have great examples in the Church, starting with the Holy Apostle Paul, who is the main author, as weight, in the New Testament, in the Holy Scriptures.
The Holy Apostle Paul was not unjustly suspected, but he was indeed, with proper documents, chasing Christians and took them to torture, to kill them and so on. So he was a serial killer, brothers. And with all that, Saint Paul the Apostle repented. And who received him? The Christians received him, so those whom the Apostle Paul had caught and killed before.
So all these spirits who don’t want to forgive Father Efrem because 38 years ago, supposedly, did something, even though he didn’t, these spirits are not Christian, you should know. You understand?
Similarly, Saint Mary of Egypt, you know very well her repentance, Saint Moses the Arab who was again a robber and a serial killer, Saint Cyprian the sorcerer, yes. You know very well that Saint Cyprian was a great sorcerer and not only did he kill and harm, but also sent to hell. God forbid!
And not to mention other great saints from the past who had an extraordinary repentance and who went from bad to good, we have the Romanian saints of the [communist] prisons who did not go from bad to good, but did good and were slandered, like Father Efrem, as doing evil. And until today, the Romanian saints of the prisons have this stain on them that they were… that and that…, they are accused of many… but let’s not get into details because there are too many and then, again, we enter into some endless discussions.
So, brethren, we should be very careful not to… by believing all kinds of atheistic sources from the United States, not to go outside the Church with our thought such that, even though baptized, to become in fact atheists in thought.
Father Efrem’s repentance, this is to be praised, his holiness, and this can be seen in his behavior. Do you understand? So someone with such a loving and spiritual behavior, which can be seen from his writings, could not have done something like that.
And you can see very clearly the difference between those who recognize his correct repentance from how he writes, from whom gives guarantees for him and so on, and the others who are outside the Church who say: „let him pay, let him die!…” after, you realize, he has spent his whole life in prison.
The case of Father Efrem is capital. Why? Because you can see, you can distinguish between spirits, between those who love and those who say “Let him die!”. Brothers, once again, after 38 years, yes…?
Now, I don’t know whether you were paying attention. I will repeat myself a little. See who guarantees for Father Efrem: first of all the Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol whom I have known for maybe 15-17 years, something like that. Of course, I am a nobody, but with great humility I could dare say that I know him quite well, brethren, to be able to say: Brethren, the Metropolitan [Athanasios] does not play with such things!
So if His Eminence Athanasios says something in the spiritual field, it means that it is so! And let’s not forget that His Eminence Athanasios confessed Father Efrem, who said in his confession that he did not do such a thing. And after that, of course, Father Efrem took the Holy Communion.
Brothers, let’s understand each other: confession and communion are not scripts, they are not plays! If someone lies about such serious matters during such big Sacraments… The fact that you killed an 8-year-old girl does not mean that you stole a plum from the neighbor’s tree. It is something very serious. So if someone lies in confession and takes the Holy Communion like this, the person becomes super-demonized. And not only that. Saint Paul the Apostle says that many of those who do such things get sick and even die. So in no way they could reach such spiritual measures as Anthony reached.
So who testify of his innocence and validate him in front of the Church are the Sacraments of the Church themselves. It is the grace of the Holy Spirit through the Sacraments of the Church. That is capital. Because of this we know that the man is innocent.
Of course, those who are not in the Church judge logically and say: “but what if… and so on…” And beyond that, those who are outside the Church, of course… if they do not have the Holy Spirit, do not have humility, as even we do not we have humility, let alone someone outside the Church. So they get stuck in their position.
Beyond His Eminence Athanasios of Limassol there is also His Eminence Hierotheos Vlachos (Metropolitan of Nafpaktos) with whom I also had the honor to speak many times. And of course no man is perfect, no man is without sin, but, believe me brothers, that Metropolitan Hierotheos is one of the most distinguished hierarchs of the Orthodox Church. Neither he, nor Metropolitan Athanasius, nor Father Paisios would have ever messed with this man if he was the sinner he was slandered to be. You understand?
So let’s be very clear: there is no question of any kind regarding the innocence of Father Efrem. And apart from that, a lot of miracles have happened, including the fact that Orthodoxy reached him. Let’s face it! He was sentenced to death and not even a fly gets there, brothers.
So Orthodoxy reaches him, he is baptized, he gets in contact with the most titled bishops in the Church, he confesses to the most famous spiritual father in the United States. And his case becomes so public. Brothers, God does not do these things randomly! Let’s understand each other! God is perfect! Father Efrem could have reached Orthodoxy through anyone else, a pious priest whom no one knows and so on… Well then, isn’t this the work of God? Doesn’t that mean that God validates him as an example? It is not possible, brethren. We must be careful! We should not take these things superficially! Do you understand?
Furthermore, as you may know, something completely out of the ordinary: for the first time in history, his spiritual father was with him in the death chamber and put the epitrachilus on his head and read the prayer for the exit of the soul and the prayer for forgiveness at the moment when the others were killing him by injection with a lethal serum. So if this is not a great blessing from God, what else is?
And of course, the day before, he was tonsured into the Great Schema. And I don’t know if you know: the Great Schema forgives all sins and it is the perfection of the grace of the Holy Spirit that a man can receive.
Maybe here I should make a small comment, so that misunderstandings do not arise. You should know that the bishop gift sanctifies others, not oneself. Of course, the bishops themselves, by the fact that they sanctify others, they receive reward from God and so on… But the grace of the Schema is sanctifying for the person who wears it. It is like the grace of baptism, therefore the Schema is the second baptism.
And, of course, there were fathers who saw these… Read in the lives of the saints: St. John and St. Simeon the crazy for Christ and many other fathers. I myself know fathers who have seen the grace of the Schema and how people’s sins are forgiven.
So Father Ephrem was richly blessed by God, in an extraordinary way. We cannot say that this man was abandoned by God. On the contrary, God gave him a glory greater than any human glory, a spiritual glory, a glory like that of the saints, a glory on the path of Christ. Do you understand?
Now, on the other hand, we should mention that a sinful man (and I know a little) is terrified, he tries to escape, he is troubled, he screams that it is injustice and so on. I even know a case, please forgive me, in which a man peed himself at the moment when he was going to be killed. Yes, it’s no joke. Brothers, it’s about death! You understand? And not to send spiritual messages, as Father Efrem sent to thank his spiritual father and Christ, or to make sure that his spiritual father was there, or to send messages of love to his wife and so on… You understand? So it is really tough.
On the other hand, a lot of miraculous help has already started to appear. Even we were helped in some quite serious problems, I can’t give details… And even a lady told me that, while reading the Oratory of the Mother of God, she felt in her heart, in the moment when he died, to pray for Father Efrem without knowing what was happening then. Well, she had read a few days before that he was going to die, she forgot, and, after that, she saw our post that Father Efrem died at that exact moment.
On the other hand, you see, I don’t want to say it, but the girl’s mother is happy, after so many years, that he was killed. So she couldn’t get over this thing for 38 years. She made her life an ordeal. But brethren, you should know that even now she won’t get over it. She cannot, because the problem is inside her, not outside.
Of course, as I said and I proved to you, Father Efrem was not guilty. But beyond that, there are many cases in which people forgive. And we must all forgive – that’s what good Lord said. Do you understand?
And even the lady in question, the girl’s mother, says in a clip that she once hit someone on the head with her shoe because he said that it is not a Christian thing the fact that she keeps hating. Well, I don’t think that this is a Christian behavior. Please forgive me! We must…
Sure, it is a big pain. But after 38 years… Glory be to God! You understand? Beyond that, many commandments are broken. The Lord said: do not kill, forgive seventy times seven,… These are commands, they are not options. You understand?
We must forgive everyone. Sure, yes, we have to be understanding, but we can’t help but compare. And why do I make this comparison? Not to judge the woman in question. Poor woman. She is a Protestant, [maybe] she doesn’t know. But I say this so that we don’t take her as an example.
On the other hand, if we have to forgive everyone – to clarify this as well – why do we have to lock someone up? Why do some people have to be punished? Why? Well, so that they don’t do it again and to induce a pain analogous to the pleasure felt when committing the sin. And for them not to be keep slaves, it should be possible to release them. Because of this, people can be punished or put in prison… Of course, this should also be an expression of love because if a person hurts another, you put him in prison for his sake and for the sake of the others in the community.
So I don’t put someone in prison because I want to take revenge on him or because I don’t want to be disturbed or not to appear before the world that I made a mistake in my judgment, because then I will have to give a very big answer to God, how was it fact the case of Father Efrem.
Now think what a great pain Father Efrem mush have had when he was unfairly judged. And all his life he carried this stigma, this cross, without being guilty. It is very difficult, you understand?
You must know that this sin of slander, of unjust condemnation, which many saints have suffered, including our Lord Jesus Christ, is so great that the man can hardly keep the Lord’s commandments. And in fact, only Grace is needed, because it cannot be done otherwise. Even in the Psalms it is said: “Save me from the slander of men and I will keep your commandments!”
If we are slandered, it is very difficult to resist to this unfair judgment. Do you understand? It is very difficult.
And of course, on the other hand, those who accuse him are firmly convinced and are stuck in their positions. As I said: one thing is the corrective measure by law, which never means death, and another is the love of man that must always be there. We must always help the person to repent. You understand?
Now, as a conclusion, you see that only in the Church we have this certainty of the truth and the illumination of the Holy Spirit. And certainty in the Church comes from the Sacraments of the Church, it comes from the spiritual people in the Church, it comes from the communion between us. Only in the True Church man is enlightened in the light of this peace, in this balance of the community. Otherwise, man lives in continuous insecurity and only listens to his mind.
And you see, people in the Church are always loving, they are peaceful. And even the officials, if you watched live, declared that it was by far the most peaceful execution they had ever seen. Yes? And this comes from the grace that Father Efrem had, who helped the people in question, yes…, sure… and so on… It was as if he was going to a wedding. And this is exactly what I discussed with him in our correspondence, that death is only a passage to the heavenly Bridegroom. You see?
God always shows the truth eventually because God is the light that comes into the world. You understand? Christ is the Truth. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth And then the man calms down. For those who are open to God, He made it so that they know the truth. So those in the Church, who are open to God, they know the truth. If not, whatever he does, the man remains stuck in his opinion and in his revenge.
God does not aim for us to live a life that is happy from a human point of view here on Earth. God’s purpose is to maximize human happiness in eternity. This is why we have the cross here on Earth. May good Lord help us carry it, with joy, until our bright end! Amen!
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us! Amen!
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