The following is taken from Kelly Ettenborough, Arizona’s Sanctuaries, Retreats, and Sacred Places, Big Earth Publishing, 2002, pp. 228-30:
Retreats 92: St. Anthony’s Monastery
The Orthodox Christian monks did not choose the property now home to St. Anthony’s Monastery—it chose them. When the fathers showed up with a real estate agent at the 106-acre parcel south of Florence, they heard bells ringing from the empty desert. They took it as a sign that God had brought them to the right place to create a sanctuary of peace and purpose.
That was in 1995. Today, two churches, four chapels, and guest houses are among the buildings at the monastery. The monks are starting to plant an olive grove and are planning other buildings as the community grows.
St. Anthony, born in the third century, denied everything to follow Christ. The modern monks do the same, praying and working together in the way of the early Christian church. Even in the Arizona desert, the monks wear traditional long, black robes. Solitude, prayer, fasting, exercise, work, and obedience mark the community’s life as it preserves the traditions of the church.
Location: South of Florence.
Description: A Greek Orthodox monastery open for one- to 10-day stays.
How to get there: From AZ 79, go east on Paisano Drive between mileposts 124 and 125. This will be 8 miles south of Florence. Follow Paisano Drive and go left when it dead-ends at unmarked St. Joseph’s Way, which leads to the monastery’s parking lot.
For more than 1,000 years, monasteries have existed at Holy Mount Athos in Greece, and Christians have sought blessings and guidance from such communities. In recent years, the Greek Orthodox Church has begun to establish monasteries in North America, noting that Christians here need the same examples of Christian life and devotion to God. In 1995, five monks [actually 6+: Frs. Paisios, Silouanos, Chrysostomos, Antonios, Ephraim, Arsenios] from Mount Athos’ Holy Monastery of Philotheou began building St. Anthony’s, now the largest Greek Orthodox monastery on the continent.
As a way to share the teachings of the Orthodox Christian Church with a world searching for peace, St. Anthony’s also welcomes visitors, from those who are simply curious to the serious retreatant, or pilgrim. With chapels, fountains, and beautiful grounds, the monastery provides a holy place to spend a day or longer in prayer and quiet, a respite from the world spent in God’s company.
Walkways wind throughout the property, taking you to lovely open-air chapel or past the tall bell tower. The churches have no electricity. Inside, icons and carvings tell the stories of the faith, and beeswax candles and incense scent the air. Along the walls, seats open to create kneeling benches for prayer. During services, you are expected to stand.
Visitors must stop at the bookstore upon arrival. Please respect these holy grounds by dressing modestly. Everyone should wear socks, even with sandals. Men should wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Women should wear long skirts that go well below the knees, long-sleeved blouses, and scarves covering their hair; they should avid wearing sheer stockings and skirts with slits. The bookstore has a limited supply of scarves, but visitors should be prepared and come dressed appropriately.
Smoking is strictly forbidden, and parents should closely supervise children at all times. Loud talking and laughing are out of place within the serenity of the grounds. You may take photographs of the grounds, the buildings, and church interiors (except during the services)*, but ask permission before photographing any of the monks or guests.
The best hours to visit the monastery are between 10 a.m. and 4:15 p.m. daily. A monk leads tours and answers questions about Orthodoxy. With advance permission, day visitors are free to attend daily services. The Midnight Hour, Orthros, and Divine Liturgy take place between 3:30 a.m. and 7 a.m. The ninth Hour and Vespers are from 5 p.m. to 6:15 p.m., and change with the celebration of Feast Days.
Only Orthodox Christians may enter the main area of the church during services, according to the Holy Canons of the Orthodox Church. All others may participate from the narthex, the first room upon entering the church. During services, men stand on the right and women on the left. Holy Communion is limited to Orthodox Christians who have prepared with confession and have permission from their spiritual father.
In the dining hall, called the Trapeza, only the monks, Orthodox Christians, and Catechumens (those studying the faith) may be seated during a formal meal. After the meal has ended, guests have a blessing to come in and eat. The monks do not charge for meals or to stay at the retreat houses, but a donation is customary. Orthodox Christians believe that supporting the monks is a virtue and a blessing.
Pilgrims may stay from one to 10 days. Reservations must be made in advance and longer stays can be specially arranged. Men and women stay in separate guest houses and they are not allowed to enter the guest house of the opposite sex. Each guest house has rooms with multiple twin beds and a common kitchen and living room. Pilgrims staying on the property are expected to attend all the scheduled services and to maintain the quiet hours, from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. and during the three hours following the morning service.
Most pilgrims are Orthodox, but a few non-Orthodox retreatants—especially those interested in becoming Orthodox—stay here. They are drawn to this spiritual and peaceful place where seven or more hours of the day are simply spent in prayer.
On November 10, 1997, His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew—the world’s leader of the Greek Orthodox Church—visited St. Anthony’s on the only Arizona stop he made during his U.S. tour.** Among Orthodox Christians, he is considered the first among equals and the 270th successor to the Apostle Andrew. The Orthodox Church does not teach the infallibility of its leader, as does the Roman Catholic Church.***
The Greek Orthodox Church is one of the four historic patriarchates that remain in communion from the time of Jesus. The church was unified until A.D. 1054, when the Roman Patriarch broke away to form the Roman Catholic Church. Today, more than 300 million Orthodox Christians live throughout the world.
NOTES (Not from book)
*During this time period, most of the Gerondissas had high end digital cameras with high end long lenses (200, 300, 400 and even larger lenses). It was quite the spectacle on a feast day, or a time period when one of the sisterhoods came down to St. Anthony’s Monastery for a visit. One would see one or more nuns clicking photos non-stop of Geronda Ephraim during the services, even the Liturgies, and in some cases, even when coming out with the gifts or other moments when everyone is suppose to be prostrate. Holy moments of the service, the entire church is prostrate, and one hears the continual click-click-click of rapid photography from the holy Gerondissa standing and taking photos of Geronda Ephraim. It was something akin to the paparazzi. (That’s quite a few thousand dollars in donated money that goes to cameras, lenses and other toys [the gerondissas and gerondas enjoy and collect gadgetry]; not to mention 2 or more vacations per year to Arizona for “spiritual recharging”).
** The author fails to mention that the Patriarchate’s visit was one of censure. He read from a 13 page speech in Greek essentially criticizing the monastery. He frequently talked about the monastic virtue of poverty and compared it with the opulent grounds of the monastery. The monks and nuns that could understand Greek held their heads down because the Patriarch was criticizing Geronda Ephraim, the monasteries, and Geronda Ephraim’s apostolic work. At the end of the speech, the Patriarch gave everyone a small golden cross as a blessing. The monastics were forbidden to wear them (a couple of novices were told directly by older monastics: “Take those off, they’re not a blessing!”). The monastics were not happy with the Patriarch’s visit, though they also accepted it as a blessing and validation.
***The Orthodox Church does not teach the infallibility of one leader, but rather the infallibility of many individual leaders: the Gerondas. An Orthodox Christian must accept whatever the spiritual father tells them as though Christ Himself told them. The first command is to be accepted as God’s will for them, if they protest, etc., the next words are not from God nor are they God’s will for them. Even if the command is wrong, God will bless the subordinate who blindly obeys. The more one is blindly obedient, the more God “makes straight the crookedness of the Elder.”