Friday, May 22, 2009

St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery, Florence, AZ

An absolute must for all Orthodox Christians or for those fascinated by monastic life. This is the only Greek Orthodox monastery in North America and founded by a living saint, Father Ephraim. I drove from Los Angeles, but people come from all over the world to stay as a pilgrim at this monastery. The 45 or so monks living here run a tight ship keeping the holly grounds in tip top shape. It's immaculate, with lush gardens, fountains, and gazebos. They've turned the place into an oasis in the middle of a hot, dry cacti ridden desert.

There are several chapels within the monastery and one major church where most of the magic takes place. Most of the furniture and icons are brought in from Mt. Athos, considered one of the most holly places for Greek Orthodoxies. Sadly, no women are allowed on Mt. Athos. But that's besides the point. Women must wear long skirts and wear a mandili or scarf to cover their hair, basically do not show any skin. Men must wear long sleeve shirts and pants.

You can visit for the day or stay overnight as a pilgrim. If you are a pilgrim you can stay from 1 -10 days. As a pilgrim, you are expected to attend all services, which means the big one from 1:45 AM to 4:00 AM every night. The first night I went at 1 AM and was able to kiss Father Ephraim's hand. I almost passed out from 1) not eating anything since lunch the day before and 2) standing up straight in a confused state in the middle of the night for over an hour causing all the blood to leave my brain and pool at my feet and ankles. But I pushed through this state of delirium because Jesus obviously loves me.

After the night morning service, there is a breakfast of freshly baked bread (the monks bake like crazy), large and small bitter green olives from the olive orchards grown on the grounds, 2 types of halva, jam, nuts, fresh fruit from their orchards and coffee. This is a typical fasting breakfast (no animal products). After breakfast you go back to bed for another 3 hours of quiet time.

Walking back to my room at 5 AM was beautiful. The desert stars and moon are bright, casting shadows on the cacti and the air is cool and fresh.

In the day you are pretty much free to roam. A lot of people stay in their room and read. Some Greek women pilgrims are whipping up batches of koulouri and baklava for the monks and to sell at the bookstore. They give all visitors a map to make touring easy.

Below is the women's guest house I stayed in.

Ladies and metro-sexual men, please note there are no mirrors on the grounds because Jesus loves you no matter how you look. There are just reminders about pilgrim life in Greek and English (as seen where a mirror is typically placed).

Lunch is served at 11:30 AM and there is no talking aloud, except for a monk reading a chosen bible passage in Greek. When they ring the bell, you are allowed to pour water. A typical fasting lunch that I had consisted of braised green beans with calamari, fresh bread, olives, salad, and Greek macaroni. After lunch you can try to get a blessing from Father Ephraim, go to the book store, talk to some monks or other pilgrims. Another mandatory service is Vespers at 3:30 PM - 4:30 PM and afterward dinner is served. After dinner is the last mandatory service. And then you are ready to go to bed at 7:30. No joke. I fell asleep before quiet hours even - I was feeling extremely peaceful and happy, yet exhausted.

Whether leaving or coming to the monastery, these are the first sites you see. To the left, is the new Greek Island-esque chapel, St. Elias. The pine tree laden road leading the way to the monastery lets you know you are leaving entering the desert. It smells like Greece with the pine trees, olive groves, and citrus trees everywhere! I will be back, hopefully with my dad. I want to get Father Ephraim's blessing. Also I promised this guy below more petting.

St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery
4784 North St. Joseph's Way, Florence, AZ 85232
Phone: 520.863.3188


Diana said...

I think I might enjoy being a monk - no mirrors and I get to bake? Score!

DrThunder said...

Sounds like a blast to wear long sleeves and pants on a hot June day in Florence! But then again, Jesus loves them. Neat review Anna, I had no idea such a site like this existed in the US, let alone in Arizona!

Banana Wonder said...

Diana the monk-ess, this could be your new zen center. Especially after being initiated by Greek night :)

Banana Wonder said...

DrThunder, oh yeah all the extra gear makes for super sweaty pits! Good thing the monks wear deo.