NOTE: In 2005, Mauricio Herreros published Spiritual Florida: A Guide to Retreat Centers and Religious Sites in Florida and Nearby. This book contains two entries on Geronda Ephraim’s Monasteries in Ocala, Florida: Panagia Vlahernon (monks) and Annunciation of the Theotokos (nuns). Though the author states that he interviewed Fr. Joseph of Panagia Vlahernon for over two hours, there is unfortunately not much content from the conversation recorded in the book. Below are the two entries:
PANAGIA VLAHERNON MONASTERY
Panagia Vlahernon is a Greek Orthodox Monastery located on 140 acres off Highway 318 in Levy County, just south of Gainesville and north of Ocala. The monastery was founded in early 1999 by a group of monks from the Saint Anthony Monastery in Arizona, which in turn had come from the monastery of Philotheou on Mount Athos in Greece. The small monastic community came to Florida with the mission of bringing the pure tradition and uncompromised teachings of the Holy Orthodox Faith to the faithful.
Panagia Vlahernon Monastery is dedicated to the Mother of God and was named after the famous fifth-century Church of Panagia of Blachernae (Vlahernes) in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul). The original church is now destroyed, but several miracles were attributed to it, including the Deposition of the robe of the Most Holy Mother of God. This is when the robe of Mary was brought from Nazareth in the fifth century and placed in the Church of Panagia of Blachernae. This event is commemorated at Panagia Vlahernon Monastery every July. Other important Orthodox feasts are celebrated throughout the year at the monastery. The monks live a simple life dedicated to prayer, work, and service. In the Orthodox monastic tradition daily liturgies and vesper services are very important, as are fasting, confession, and communion.
The first thing that caught my attention when I arrived at the Panagia Vlahernon Monastery was the sight of two monks working outside in the midday summer heat. Dressed in a black tunic and wearing a straw hat, one of them approached. Father Joseph greeted me and went out of his way to make me feel at home. Although I explained to him that I am not an Orthodox Christian, he showed me around and spent almost two hours describing the Orthodox monastic life and answering my questions. He was most friendly and invited me to return for a longer visit. Talking with Father Joseph helped me realize how valuable monasteries are in keeping alive the spirituality of the faith.
The area surrounding the monastery is very rural, with gentle slopes and farms. The monastery church and buildings are not visible from the outside road. As you turn into the main entrance you will pass the monastery sign. The narrow road winds around for about a quarter of a mile before you see the monastic buildings. There is a pond on the left and a big two-story house ahead. This is the monks’ residence. The church and other buildings are located further up past the house. The grounds are very picturesque with live oaks, benches, and open meadows giving a welcoming park like atmosphere. The monastery church is small but very beautiful with a great aura of peace, a true spiritual treasure. Next to the church are the refectory (dining area) and the bookstore. The bookstore has a large selection of religious icons, articles, and books in both Greel and English. The overnight guesthouse is situated to the right of the church. It has a small living room, bathroom with shower, and several single beds. It is air-conditioned and comfortable. There is no TV. There is no fee for overnight stays, which include room and board. Donations are accepted but not required. Overnight retreats are primarily for men and families. Because space is limited, pre-arrangements are required. Contact the monastery with plenty of advance time if interested in staying overnight.
During services in the monastery church, men sit on the right side and women sit on the left side of the church. When visiting the monastery you are asked to adhere to the dress code. All guests should be modestly dressed. Men should wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, no shorts or T-shirts. Women should wear a head scarf and a dress that covers the knees, no shorts, mini-skirts, or low-necked blouses. Ask the monks when in doubt.
Panagia Vlahernon Monastery is opened daily for visits.
DIRECTIONS AND INFORMATION
Panagia Vlahernon Monastery’s address is 12600 W. Highway 318, Williston, Florida 32696. The monastery is located on Highway 318 about 5 miles west of the I-75 exit. The entrance is on the south side of Highway 318.
For information call (352) 591-1716 or visit their website http://www.panagiavlahernon.org The website offers information in both English and Greek.
SOURCE: Mauricio Herreros, Spiritual Florida: A Guide to Retreat Centers and Religious Sites in Florida and Nearby, Pineapple Press Inc, 2005, pp. 17-20
ANNUNCIATION OF THE THEOTOKOS MONASTERY
Annunciation of the Theotokos is a Greek Orthodox monastery for women located off Highway 225 in Reddick (Marion County). The Annunciation of Theotokos Monastery was established in 1998 by a group of nuns under the auspices of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. The sisters trace their spiritual roots to the Holy Monastery of St. John the Forerunner in Serres, Greece. This historic thirteenth-century monastery became a convent in 1986 and is a very popular pilgrimage site.
The Annunciation of Theotokos Monastery is situated in an area of much natural charm with green fields and horse farms nearby. The monastery church and buildings are set far away from the main entrance. Follow the signs along the peaceful road to the monastery. The guesthouse is located on the right about halfway between the entrance and the monastery. The grounds are well kept with flowers and many trees. The monastery building is at the end of the paved road. The icons in the small chapel are very beautiful. There is a bookstore that sells religious articles, music, books, and high quality incense made by the sisters.
The Greek word Theotokos means “Mother of God,” and the monastery is dedicated to her. Every year in March the Annunciation of Theotokos feast is celebrated at the monastery. Many monks and nuns from other monasteries, as well as lay people, come to this event. The nuns follow a strict schedule of daily of daily prayers, liturgy, and services. Overnight stays are available but are limited to women. These must be prearranged. The monastery is open daily to visitors.
When visiting the monastery proper attire is required. Women should wear a head scarf and a dress that covers the knees; no shorts, mini-skirts, or low-necked blouses are permitted. Men should wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants; no shorts or T-shirts are allowed. When in doubt, ask the nuns.
DIRECTIONS AND INFORMATION
Annunciation of the Theotokos Monastery’s address is 13486 N.W. Highway 225, Reddick, Florida 32686. The monastery is located a few miles west of I-75, between Gainesville and Ocala. The entrance is on the north side of Highway 225.
For information call (352) 591-1803 or visit their website http://www.holyannunciation.org The website offers information in both English and Greek.
SOURCE: Mauricio Herreros, Spiritual Florida: A Guide to Retreat Centers and Religious Sites in Florida and Nearby, Pineapple Press Inc, 2005, pp. 2-4