NOTE: The following is an excerpt on monasticism from the final Christmas Encyclical (The Mantle of Elijah) of Metropolitan Anthony of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco, dated 3 days prior to His Eminence’s repose and written with the knowledge that he would soon meet with his Lord. The full text is at:
Metropolitan Anthony loved and revered Geronda Ephraim and helped him in many ways. He also made his last confession to Geronda Ephraim before he died.
Interestingly, when this Encyclical was first published in the Orthodox Observer, it was passed around with jokes and mockery among the older monastics who had a blessing to read such things.
THE FLOWERING OF MONASTICISM
Abba Anthony said, “Let us eat at the ninth hour, and then let us go out for a walk and explore the country.” So they went out into the desert and they walked until sunset. Then Abba Anthony said, “Let us pray and plant the cross here, so that those who wish to build a new monastery may do so here.”
– From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers
I gravitate to the above story of St. Anthony, my namesake, because it offers us a glimpse of a side of his personality that is not often recognized or appreciated. We are accustomed to associate St. Anthony, the “Father of Monasticism,” with solitude and silence. But here we see a man with his eyes on the horizon, slightly restless, St. Anthony the explorer, the founder of monasteries. And this makes me identify all the more with my patron saint, knowing him to have been not only a man of prayer, but a man of action.
The great revival of Greek Orthodox monasticism in America may be said to have begun in the Metropolis of San Francisco with the coming of Geronta Ephraim to this Metropolis by my invitation in 1989. At that time, I shared with Fr. Ephraim my vision of a monastic center at St. Nicholas Ranch. For years, ever since the youth of our Metropolis planted the cross on a hilltop overlooking the Ranch (in an action reminiscent of St. Anthony’s), we had prayed for the emergence of a monastic community on the premises, in order to enhance and deepen the spiritual foundations of the Ranch environment and experience. Fr. Ephraim subsequently arranged for the coming of two wonderful nuns from Greece, Sister Markella and Sister Fevronia, in 1993, and thus originated the Monastery of the Theotokos the Life-Giving Spring. From this small beginning, the monastic community has grown to fifteen nuns. In 1995, we broke ground for the Katholikon, the monastic church edifice, our “jewel of the mountains.” With its exquisite marble floor, intricate woodcarving, and stunningly beautiful iconography, the Katholikon is without a doubt the most breathtaking Greek Orthodox church to be found anywhere in America. In 2000, we began work on the Kellia or monastic residences, and in 2003 we held the Thyranoixia service, dedicating both these magnificent structures to the glory of God, and officially installing Sister Markella as the first Abbess of the Monastery.
The establishment of the Monastery of the Life-Giving Spring was followed within a few years by the founding of St. Anthony Monastery in Florence, Arizona, in 1995, by Abbot Paisios and five other brothers from Mount Athos in Greece [NOTE: After 20+ years of the monastic life, Fr. Silouanos left the monastery, returned to the world, and is now happily married.]
With the explosive growth of its monastic community, which has now grown to over forty monks, and the extraordinarily rapid expansion of its facilities, St. Anthony became the great “miracle in the desert,” the flagship, so to speak, of all the other Greek Orthodox monasteries in America. The Monastery of St. John the Forerunner in Goldendale, Washington, also began in 1995 with a generous donation of property by Dr. Gerald Timmer, and the subsequent coming of Abbess Efpraxia, Sister Parthenia, and Sister Agne from Greece. In just a few short years, this monastery has grown to sixteen sisters, becoming one of the largest women’s monastic foundations in the Archdiocese. The monasteries hold fast to traditional practice, thus fulfilling their mandate to be the “conscience of the Church.” And the amazing growth of these monastic communities offers a compelling witness to the tremendous vitality of monasticism in this country.