Nuns at Greek Orthodox Monastery in Reddick prepare for celebration (Marian Rizzo, 2002)

NOTE: The following newspaper article is taken from Ocala Star-Banner, March 23, 2002, pp. 1C & 6C.

Ocala Star Banner 2002 (March 23) 1C
Sister Pahomia (she was sent back to Serres a number of years ago).

Monday will begin another workweek for most people. But, for nuns at the Annunciation of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Monastery in Reddick, Monday is a day to celebrate.

It is the Feast of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel announced to the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary) that she would bear a child who would be the Son of God and that his name should be Jesus.

Sister Chrysovalandou, a resident nun, said the feast marks an important period for believers.

Ocala Star Banner 2002 1C Photo
Sister Chrysovalandou closes the doors to the altar.

“It’s a very, very special day, because after this, everything happened—Jesus was born, he was crucified, he was risen, and we can win paradise again,” she said. “As Orthodox Christians, we love Virgin Mary, we love her so much, any feast that has to do with the Theotokos is special to us, especially this one. It’s the beginning for our soul’s freedom.”

Greek monastery open to visitors (continued from 1C)

“The door of paradise is open to us again. We can choose if we want to go paradise or to hell. everybody’s free to choose what kind of life they want to live. Do they want to be followers of Christ or follow everybody else? All we have to do is follow his commands, whatever has been told from him.”

FL ANNUNCIATION 2
Annunciation Feast Day Procession.

This weekend, about 25 nuns and monks from 15 North American Greek Orthodox monasteries will visit the Reddick monastery. The visiting monks will stay at Panagia Vlahernon Greek Orthodox Monastery, a men’s facility in northwest Marion County. They will join the nuns at the Reddick chapel for special services led by the North American monasteries’ spiritual head, the Very Rev. Elder Ephraim of Phoenix. The visiting monks and nuns also will share a private dinner Sunday and Monday, served by resident nuns and volunteers from a nearby Greek community.

geronda-ephraim-and-ladies-early-2000s

The monastery will be open for visitors on both days from 8 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. On Monday, a free lunch will be available and there will be Greek sweets for sale. Because the monastery is considered a sacred place, the nuns ask that visitors be modestly dressed. Only Orthodox believers are permitted in the chapel during services, however, visitors may enter at other times.

The Annunciation of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Monastery is an outreach of a larger monastery in Greece. A curving drive leads past rows of oaks through 74 lush acres to a complex that includes a 9,500-square-foot main building and a large pavilion. The main building opens to the parking area through a long flagstone courtyard, a serene area bathed in ethereal light, with large archways, wooden benches, pots of white flowering camellias and smaller pots bursting with pink and red blossoms.

FL entrance to women's monastery
Entrance to the Annunciation Monastery.

Inside are two dining halls, a chapel and several dorm rooms that normally contain a single bed, an icon and a candle, but for the weekend have been converted with extra beds for the visiting nuns. The walls display photos of Greek monasteries and the group’s spiritual fathers, as well as icons and prints reminiscent of 14th century religious art.

A focal point is a surreal painting of Mary with the Christ child. In front of it hang gold and silver chains, hung there by people who come to petition healing or prayers for specific needs.

FL Icon of the Annunciation
Annunciation Icon with tamata.

The monastery was founded here after a community of Greeks in Tarpon Springs sent a request to their homeland. Michael Saroukos, a craftsman who lives in Tarpon Springs, said he was happy when the Reddick property was purchased about four years ago. A former boat builder in Greece, Saroukos now volunteers his skills at the monastery.

“When I was in Greece and I was going to the monastery there, I felt very warm,” Saroukos said. “When I came here, it wasn’t warm, so that’s why I wanted a monastery.”

Boat builder George Saroukos http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/workinglife/boatbuilder-george-saroukos-keeps-sponge-diving-traditions-afloat-in/1004633
Boat builder George Saroukos http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/workinglife/boatbuilder-george-saroukos-keeps-sponge-diving-traditions-afloat-in/1004633

The men’s facility in Ocala houses four monks and the Reddick monastery houses three nuns, Chrysovalandou, Sister Efpraxia, the abbess, and Sister Pahomia, vice president of the monastery.

In preparation for the feast, the nuns began fasting last Monday, denying themselves oil, meat and dairy products and eating only fruit, vegetables, olives and bread. On Monday, they will be able to eat fish.

It’s an ascetic life, with long hours spent in prayer and meditation, plus manual labor to maintain the monastery and the grounds. Occasionally, people from the Greek community in Tarpon Springs volunteer to help with chores. In return, the nuns pray for them and give them counsel.

For fun, they play with their two dogs. There is little time for any other activities, Pahomia said.

The nuns’ attire is modest—a long, black dress worn to the ankles and covered by a black vest and a veil wrapped tightly about the head. When they go to town to shop for groceries, they attract long stares. Sometimes, people ask if they are Muslims. Pahomia said they explain that they are not Muslims but Greek orthodox nuns. On one occasion, when young boys shouted hateful things at them, they simply ignored the comments.

FL Holy Annunciation Church
Main chapel at Holy Annunciation Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. (FL).

“We love America,” Pahomia said. “We’re very sad about the situations.”

Pahomia joined the monastery in Greece 10 years ago when she was 16 years old. She said her family objected to her decision, at first, because they feared they would never see her again.

Such a life requires a personal commitment, not a binding contract, Pahomia said. A nun can leave the order at any time.

“The only contract we have is in our heart,” Pahomia said. “Our spiritual father never pushes us to stay forever. He explains the roles, but we are responsible to stay. The best goal is to stay and serve God forever. Nothing can hold you here. It’s something that comes by the grace of God.”

FL Holy Annunciation

NOTE

Annunciation of The Theotokos Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. filed as a Domestic Non Profit Corporation in the State of Florida on Monday, August 3, 1998 and is approximately seventeen years old, as recorded in documents filed with Florida Department of State.

Constantina Nestoras serves as the President

Konstantina Vassilopoulos is the Vice President of Annunciation of The Theotokos Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc..

Constantina Nestoras is also the registered agent for the company. Also known as a statutory or resident agent, the registered agent is responsible for receiving legal notifications regarding court summons, lawsuits, and other legal actions involving the corporate entity.

Vasiliki Panagiotidis (Sister Efpraxia) is no longer active for Annunciation of The Theotokos Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. She fell asleep in the Lord in 2010 and was buried at St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence, AZ.

gerontissa efpraxia

Sister Pahomia returned to her monastery in Greece a number of years ago.

The nuns in it trace their spiritual heritage to the ancient monastery of the Honorable John Forerunner in Serres. About 35 years ago, Elder Ephraim of Philotheou reestablished it as a women’s monastery, and it now has 29 nuns and several novices.

AZ Sister Efpraxia Grave
Sister Efpraxia’s Grave.
Advertisements

Excerpts from “Spiritual Florida: A Guide to Retreat Centers & Religious Sites in Florida and Nearby” (Mauricio Herreros, 2005)

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:

Book cover of Spiritual Florida.
Book cover of Spiritual Florida.

PANAGIA VLAHERNON MONASTERY
Williston

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.

FL Main entrance to Panagia Vlahernon Monastery, Williston

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.

Panagia Vlahernon
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.

FL The Monastery church at Panagia Vlahernon
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.

Stavros the Goat.
Stavros the Goat.

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
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/spiritual-florida-mauricio-herreros/1007186281?ean=9781561643318

ANNUNCIATION OF THE THEOTOKOS MONASTERY
Reddick

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.

FL Annunciation of the Theotokos Monastery, Reddick

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.

Detail of the bishop's chair in the chapel of Annunciation Monastery.
Detail of the bishop’s chair in the chapel of Annunciation Monastery.

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.

Geronda Joseph (MI) holding the Annunciation icon. Hieromonk Pavlos (IL) to the right. Fr. Theophanis (NC) in the background.
Geronda Joseph (MI) holding the Annunciation icon. Hieromonk Pavlos (IL) to the right. Fr. Theophanis (NC) in the background.

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.

The bells at Annunciation Monastery, Reddick, FL.
The bells at Annunciation Monastery, Reddick, FL.

DIRECTIONS AND INFORMATION

Bell (Detail).
Bell (Detail).

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

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/spiritual-florida-mauricio-herreros/1007186281?ean=9781561643318

Annunciation Monastery from the road.
Annunciation Monastery from the road.

Newspaper Artciles on Geronda Ephraim’s 2 Monasteries in Florida Part 1 (1998-1999)

Below is a series of newspaper articles concerning the first years of the 2 Ocala monasteries: Panagia Vlahernon (monks) and Annunciation of the Theotokos (nuns). The male monastery has had a lot of difficulties and changeovers since its start. Originally, Deacon Chrysostomos was sent with two other monks from Arizona. Due to heavy humidity and other unbearable conditions of Florida State, novices kept being sent back and forth from Arizona because it was unendurable. Fr. Joseph, one of the original monks, also had a very serious accident with a table saw (he was talking with someone while cutting and his rassa, which wasn’t rolled up, got caught in the saw and pulled him in, slicing up a large part of his arm). These articles cover the time when Fr. Chrysostomos was the abbot, and Fr. Philotheos and Novice Yianni were sent from Arizona. This is shortly before Geronda Ephraim sent Fr. Modestos to Florida which created a period of tension and arguments on who actually was the Geronda of the monastery, etc. Anyways, Fr. Modestos stayed on as the abbot, and Fr. Chrysostomos went back to Arizona for a brief period before until Geronda Ephraim could find a place for him. He was eventually sent up to the Chicago monastery to help Gerondissa Melanie with services.

ARTICLES

Monastery Gets Zoning Approval (Lakeland Ledger, December 10, 1998, p. B1)
By Tom Palmer
A 100-seat sanctuary and dormitory for 50 monks will be built near Alturas.

Bartow—Florida’s second Greek Orthodox monastery was approved Wednesday for a 120-acre site in a rural area near Alturas.

FL MAPThe facility approved unanimously by the Polk County Zoning Advisory Board will include a building complex that will contain a 100-seat sanctuary and dormitory for 50 monks.

Father Chrysostomos, the project’s representative, said this is one of five monasteries proposed in the United States to expand the denomination’s St. Anthony’s Monastery in the Sonora Desert, south of Phoenix. The only other Greek Orthodox monastery is near Fort Myers, he said.

The site is on Alturas-Babson Park Cutoff Road, overlooking Gator Lake.
Chrysostomos said the monastery buildings would be constructed in typical Byzantine style of traditional monasteries in Greece.

He presented a video at the hearing showing some of those monasteries.
He said the monks would produce candles, incense and other religious items.
No construction date has been set, but Chrysostomos said the complex would overlook the lake. Engineering is under way, he said. The church and dining hall would be the first phase.

Lakeland Ledger - Dec 10, 1998 (B1)
Lakeland Ledger – Dec 10, 1998 (B1)

The same article, with a different title, Greek Monastery gets Approval, appeared in the Lakeland Ledger, December 10, 1998, p. F1

FL - Fr. Chrysostomos 2Seeking a home (Ocala Star-Banner, June 10th, 1999 p. B1)
By Joe Byrnes
Many residents protest monastery in horse country

REDDICK—New Greek Orthodox communities—a convent for women and a monastery for men—have found little welcome in the heart of horse country.
Three monks and three nuns have asked the Marion County Commission for zoning permits to build their new communities in northwest Marion County.
Many of the horse-farming neighbors, however, have risen in protest. Traffic impacts and the housing required for as many as 50 occupants at each facility are two of their main concerns.

“We think that this is a use that is simply not appropriate for the area,” said John P. McKeever, attorney for a landowner near the convent.

Those against the permits are not opposed to Greek Orthodoxy, which is one of the oldest branches of Christianity, nor to the nuns themselves, he said. “We simply think they’ve chosen the wrong piece of property.”

Fr. George Konstantopoulos, pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Tampa, helped choose the two sites for the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Atlanta. The Ocala area was picked because of its central location, he said. The nuns have been here since August, and the monks since March. The Panagia Vlahernon Monastery, named for a former monastery in ancient Constantinople, is the old Sugarbrook Farm on Country Road 318, seven miles west of Interstate 75.

Fr. George Konstantopoulos, pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Tampa, helped choose the two sites for the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Atlanta.
Fr. George Konstantopoulos, pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Tampa, helped choose the two sites for the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Atlanta.

Annunciation of the Theotokos Convent is nearby, on County Road 225. Its name refers to the New Testament story in which the angel Gabriel tells Mary she will have a son and give him the name Jesus.
Konstantopoulos said he is shocked by the opposition.
Greek Orthodox monasteries, with their focus on prayer and quiet, make good neighbors, he said. “And we also saw so many Christian churches in the area. We felt that this was a religious community and it was a Christian community and the presence of the monastery would be considered as a blessing and not as a threat.”
The County Commission is scheduled to consider the two special use permits at a public hearing at 2 p.m. next Tuesday.
PLEASE SEE MONKS ON 3B
Monks, nuns seeking zoning change (Ocala Star-Banner, June 10th, 1999 p. B3)
The Planning Department and Zoning Commission have recommended approval of the permits, with certain conditions. The monastic communities must follow their site plans, access must be limited to existing entrances and exits, trees along the property line must be maintained, and the number of residents and overnight guests may not exceed 50.

Ocala Star-Banner - Jun 10, 1999 (B3)
Ocala Star-Banner – Jun 10, 1999 (B3)

The 80-acre convent and 141-acre monastery would remain agricultural, with hay farming and, perhaps, horses as well.
County staff determined that the monastery and convent were “compatible with the general character of the area” and would not hurt the neighborhood.
The Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association, however, argued against the permits in a letter to Commission Chairman Parnell Townley.
“The association normally does not, as a matter of policy, take sides in a specific planning or zoning controversy, and does not intend to do so by this letter,” wrote executive vice president Richard E. Hancock.
“At the same time, the association is deeply concerned that the ‘preservation of the equine industry’…be weighed carefully in evaluating land use changes sought in the heart of Marion County’s horse farm district. This situation appears to be vastly different than those caused by natural growth patterns.”
One landowner in opposition, Linda Harlow, summoned neighbors to a community meeting with McKeever Tuesday night. Estimates of attendance range from 60 to 90 people.
Harlow pointed out that the area around the convent is generally zoned for agriculture and single-family homes. She compared the convent, with its potential for 50 occupants, to a hotel. She expressed concern about the issues of water, sewer, traffic, and building size.
“We strongly feel that the proposed complex would forever affect the character and beauty of the rural horse farm community that we all love,” Harlow wrote in a letter to neighbors. “This complex (the convent) is designed to house transient individuals on a daily basis.”
“Should they sell the property at a later time, they could sell to any organization, even a CULT!” Harlow wrote.

FL Fr ChrysostomosThe monks and nuns showed up Tuesday evening in their long black tunics but were blocked from entering the Fairfield Community Center.
Fr. Chrysostomos—the priest in charge of the monastery—said they wanted to dispel misconceptions about their group and their plans. He added that some neighbors are supportive. Both sides, he said, have been collecting signatures.
Christina Burton-Rodriguez, a charter school principal in Orlando, went to the meeting with the nuns. She and her two daughters had been visiting—praying and helping make incense—at the convent. Burton-Rodriguez was angry at how they were treated.
“Standing beside these gentle Greek nuns, I was embarrassed by the rudeness and close-mindedness of the Americans in the meeting,” she stated in a letter to the Star-Banner. She is an example of the guests the monastic communities expect. Fr. Chrysostomos said they range from college students to Greek abbots.
“And we have here, on a daily basis, everyday folks, a cross-section of society,” he said. They join the monks or nuns in prayer for about six hours a day, starting at 3 a.m.—and may participate in their duties.
“What we have here are living examples of individuals who have committed their life to a spiritual life,” Burton-Rodriguez said by phone Wednesday. “That’s very inspirational.”
The new Greek Orthodox communities have close ties with 15 other traditional monastic communities that have sprung up in the United States since 1989. They come, ultimately, from centuries’ old monasteries on Mount Athos in Greece. Fr. Chrysostomos described his brotherhood of monks as “a extended but very close spiritually-tied family.”
He and Sister Efraimia, who heads the convent, detailed three phases of gradual development depending on financial support:
• Phase I would involve using the current buildings. The artists’ studio on Sugarbrook, for example, would serve as a monastery chapel. Fencing would be repaired and the paddocks harvested for hay.
• Phase II would involve adding onto existing buildings, to create dining halls at both facilities.
• Phase III would include new houses, Byzantine churches at each site, formal dining halls, small private chapels in the woods, and cemeteries for monastics and the pious supporters.

Stephanie Gunter uses a photo enhanced image to show commssioners what the monastery would look like out the back door. The monastery property borders Gunter's property.
Stephanie Gunter uses a photo enhanced image to show commssioners what the monastery would look like out the back door. The monastery property borders Gunter’s property.

Room to grow (Ocala Star-Banner, June 16th, 1999 p. 1A)
Board clears way for convent, monastery
By Joe Byrnes

OCALA—A Greek Orthodox monastery and convent got the zoning changes they need to grow quietly in northwest Marion County, but not without vocal opposition from their neighbors.
The Marion County Commission heard perhaps six hours of public comment. Neighbors said they worry about resort-like development with tour buses, traffic, water and sewer impact, and changes in the character of their horse-farming community. Supporters of the monastery for monks and the convent for nuns described a quiet, prayerful place, a good neighbor misunderstood by the community.
In the end, commissioners approved the special use permits, but with some restrictions. The 141-acre Panagia Vlahernon Monastery on County Road 318 west of Interstate 75 must maintain a 25-foot buffer near a neighbor’s farm and a 150-foot setback around the property.
It’s limited to 23,000 square feet of monastery buildings.
And there are other restrictions, including a limit on the number of people who may spend the night there.
Overnight quests and residents may not exceed 50.
The 80-acre Annunciation of the Theotokos Convent on County Road 225 near Fairfield was subject to more strict limitations.
Covent buildings were held to 25 acres. The entrance, which is near a sharp curve in the road, must be moved.
PLEASE SEE COMMISSION ON 6A

Ocala Star-Banner - Jun 16, 1999 (p.1)
Ocala Star-Banner – Jun 16, 1999 (p.1)

Commission OKs monastery (Ocala Star-Banner, June 16th, 1999 p. 6A)
CONTINUED FROM 1A

Other restrictions included 19,500 square feet of convent buildings and the requirement that the nuns not ring the church bell except between 8a.m. and 8p.m.

Stephanie Gunter, who owns a strip of land surrounded by the monastery, was concerned that the monks’ plans seemed to change constantly.

She presented the commission with large pictures showing the pastoral view out her back door—and that view with a monastery church in the way.

“It’s not a religious issue,” she said. “It’s a land-use issue. It’s a water consumption issue and it’s a traffic issue.”

She said the monastery is inconsistent with the community of single-family homes.

She compared it to the smaller churches already in the Flemington area. It “doesn’t even come close to what those houses of worship look like,” Gunter said.

Jim Gladwell, who owns a 1,150-farm across CR 318, recalled remarks about the monastery lasting longer than the horse farms.

“We’re not talking about something for 10 years. We’re talking about 200 years,” Gladwell said. “This is a long-term huge impact on this community.”

He also called the monastery proposal too vague. “Before you would even consider this,” he said, “we would like to see a much more detailed proposal.”

Ron Love, a neighbor and nursery owner, also opposed the monastery. He cited environmental concerns, among other things, and the monks’ plans to build a dining hall and other large facilities.

“Now elbow room is elbow room,” Love said. “But we’re talking about feeding folks a lot of food, or a lot of folks a little food.”

The 50-person limit on overnight stays wouldn’t be enforceable, Love said. “I guarantee you a code enforcement officer will not sit out there on a Sunday night and say, ‘I’m sorry, you are the 50th guest, you’ve got to go away.’”

Supporters of the monastery and convent talked about their quiet, prayerful lives—and that they would be praying for the community and their neighbors.
The guests, they said, would not be vagrants but business people, professionals and students, people from all walks of life seeking spiritual enrichment.

Mary Nicholson, a member of the Orthodox Church in Silver Springs Shores, welcomed the monastery and convent.

“All of our people are very happy that the monastery and the convent have moved into our area,” she said. “It give us a place to go besides our own property for spiritual uplift.”

Russ Amerling of southeast Ocala urged opponents of the religious communities to consider the spiritual benefits of having them nearby.

“We believe in the power of prayer,” he said. “And we believe having this monastery in Marion County would be very good for the citizens of Marion County.”

Father Chrysostomos listens at Tuesday’s hearings.
Father Chrysostomos listens at Tuesday’s hearings.

Father Chrysostomos, leader of the two communities, said an Orthodox monastery “is not a hotel for public housing.”

“We would not commercialize what we are doing,” he said. The monastery’s main focus is the spiritual life of its monks. Guests are not required to pay but give from their hearts, he said.

“As far as commercial endeavors and tourism, no we don’t do that.”

Ocala Star-Banner - Jun 16, 1999 (p.6)
Ocala Star-Banner – Jun 16, 1999 (p.6)

Letters to the Editor (Ocala Star-Banner – Jun 18, 1999, p. 6B)

FL Ocala Star-Banner - Jun 18, 1999 (6B)
FL Ocala Star-Banner – Jun 18, 1999 (6B)

An enrichment
I was deeply shocked to read of the opposition by certain groups to the establishing of a Greek Orthodox Monastery in our locality. I wonder if the opposition consider themselves to be “Good Christians”? If so, they need to acknowledge how extremely rude it was to bar representatives of the monastery from a behind-closed-doors meeting.
To suggest that “at a future date the property might be sold—even to a cult!” is inexcusable bigotry. Don’t these people realize the Orthodox Church is one of the oldest branches of Christianity in the world? Its members have built some of the most impressive churches to be found anywhere and their Church of St. Sophia in Los Angeles is one of, if not, the most beautiful buildings in this country.
With the erosion of morality and family values increasing steadily, we should be grateful for the establishment of a symbol of all that is good and wholesome.
I am not Orthodox, but I have lived where they were a sizable part of the local population and I am proud that some were, and still are, valued friends.
So, to all the small-minded people who oppose this godly group, I say, “Put aside your petty bigotry and open your hearts and your arms to these good people. They will enrich the community.”
Eleanor Hollahan, Ocala
Bigots? Not!
Your suggestions in Sunday’s editorial that those opposing the Orthodox convent proposed for County Road 225 are “bigots” was both personally offensive to me and just plain wrong about the people I represent.
Your suggestion that there was something bigoted about not inviting the proponents of the zoning change to participate in a meeting held by opponents of the change to organize and determine how to present their case to the County Commission was just plain silly. How often are those who from time to time sue the Star-Banner invited to attend the publisher’s meetings with your attorneys?
Had you taken the time to learn a little bit about the proposals for the monasteries on County Road 318 and the convent on County Road 225, such as the proposed limitation to “only” 100 overnight residents, and 7,000 square feet dining halls at each, you might have understood the opposition to the facilities in a supposed “low density” rural area. In short, the opposition has nothing to do with either religion or the particular denomination involved: It has everything to do with the density and intensity of the proposed uses in a rural area with insufficient infrastructure to support them.
John McKeever, Ocala
Peace and prayer
The Star-Banner is to be congratulated on its presentation on June 13, which reaches many readers. It dealt with the topic of ignorance and bigotry in the county, which is downright shameful.
It seems there is a group who were trying to deny the establishment of a monastery and convent for the Greek Orthodox at the Sugarbrook Farm. The religious group has no intention of destroying this area. They just want a place where they can pray in peace.
The editorial is correct and gives evidence of a courageous stance. What is to be feared by the establishment of a prayerful group of dedicated individuals? Those in opposition to this idea need to examine their motives for their position.
In these trying times, we all need to pray more for so many things. I pray that ignorance and bigotry, which is raising its ugly head, be stopped immediately and the establishment of the monastery and convent proceed immediately. There can be no animosity in this case.
Mary Ann Mellema, Marion Oaks
Offended
As a resident in the community of Fairfield, I strongly disagree and I am deeply offended by the remarks in the editorial on June 13, regarding the proposed convent on County Road 225.
As a community, we are not against the Greek Orthodox religion, the nuns, priests or their congregation. The issue is that they want to build an approximately 50,000 square feet of structures on this property. One of the buildings will be a dormitory for approximately 50 overnight guests per night. The traffic, water runoff, vendor deliveries on a daily basis going to the 6,500 square foot dining hall and the need for a sewage plant on the property are the community’s concerns.
The Greek Orthodox religion and their followers are not the issue. This newspaper needs to get the facts straight before calling people in our community “bigots.” The last meeting this congregation had on their property consisted of hundreds of people arriving in tour buses and that’s only the beginning.
Lloyd McCraney, Fairfield