NOTE: None of the monks mentioned in this article are at the Florida Monastery anymore. Geronda Ephraim brought Father Modestos to America from Mount Athos (originally to try finding a Monastery in upstate New York closer to the border, i.e. Albany but that fell through). Geronda sent Fr. Modestos to Florida. Fr. Modestos and Chrysostomos had a serious character conflict, as well there was communication breakdowns on who actually was the Geronda of the monastery. Eventually, Fr. Chrysostomos was sent elsewhere. Fr. Philotheos returned to the world, He is now a married priest in a parish in Canada. Yiannis left the Florida Monastery as well.
ARISE AND PRAY (Ocala Star-Banner – Jan 26, 2002, 1C)
Liturgy, labor fill the hours for local monks
By Ferdie De Vega
Long before the rooster crows, they pray.
At Panagia Vlahernon Greek Orthodox Monastery, the monks begin their daily routines with private prayers at 2a.m.
In near silence four hours later, they prepare for the Divine Liturgy in a domed chapel lit by candles around the altar and a small lamp hanging above the podium.
Amid horse farms in rural northwest Marion County, the monks carry on a centuries-old tradition of prayer, spiritual counseling and labor.
On a recent weekday morning, in the fog-shrouded chapel, two monks began the prayers in Greek while Father Chrysostomos, who leads the monastery and serves as priest of a nearby convent, prepared incense behind the icon screen in front of the altar.
As the monks quietly prayed aloud, a family of seven from Ocala slipped into the chapel and knelt before a painting of the Virgin Mary and the Christ child. They kissed it before taking their seats, the mother on the left, father and boys on the right.
A smoky haze of incense filled the chapel as the prayers continued.
By 7:30, the family had taken Communion, the solemn morning liturgy had ended, and it was time for breakfast.
Robert and Saundra Adamiak and their five children shared a meal of scrambled eggs, cinnamon buns and raisin bran with the monks in the monastery’s small dining hall.
“We try to come at least once during the week,” said Robert Adamiak, “and for Saturday night Vespers and on Sunday morning.”
They’ve lived in Ocala for about seven years and have become regulars at the monastery, he said. “As soon as they came here, we were one of the first families to show up.”
PLEASE SEE DAY OF PRAYER ON 5C
Day of prayer begins at 2 a.m. (Ocala Star-Banner – Jan 26, 2002, 5C)
“It’s part of our religion,” Adamiak said. “We’re actually Ukrainian Orthodox.”
He said church members are encouraged to visit Orthodox monasteries “for spiritual enlightenment from monastics.”
“We like it because here, where the monks are, they and the nuns at the convent are good examples and role models for our children. The monks and nuns lead moral lives dedicated to God.”
Four monks, including Chrysostomos, live at the monastery on County Road 318 west of Interstate 75. In addition to the chapel and dining hall, the site has three other buildings built by the previous owner. Three nuns live at the Annunciation of the Theotokos Convent on 80 acres in nearby Fairfield.
In 1999, soon after moving to the property, the monks asked the Marion County Commission to approve zoning for the monastery.
At the time, several neighbors voiced concerns about possible traffic congestion from visitors and other changes in their horse-farming community. Nearly three years later, Chrysostomos says the monastery has quelled concerns by being a good neighbor.
After breakfast, the monks rested briefly and then performed their chores.
“They’re all chores of maintaining the monastery, the house, church and 140-acre property,” Chrysostomos said. “It was a real mess when we got here. It’s been a long three-year process.”
His personal chores include spending time with occasional visitors, who come from throughout the country, and counseling church members and guests, both in person and by telephone.
The monks typically go to sleep between 9 and 9:30p.m., he said. “If we get that much sleep, it’s a blessing because there’s usually a lot of work.”
Chrysostomos, who grew up in northern Ohio, came to Marion County from St. Anthony’s Monastery, which the Greek Archdiocese founded in 1995 in the Arizona desert, south of Phoenix.
He was raised a Christian, though not Orthodox.
“I always did want to serve God,” he said, adding that he’s always been inclined to lead a solitary, monastic life. “It was sort of always there.”
In 1991, Chrysostomos went to Mount Athos, a peninsula in northern Greece dedicated to monasticism—“treasure houses of tradition and spirituality,” he said. He spent four years there studying to become a monk.
“With the foundation of monasticism, people are seeing more the sincerity of Orthodoxy and are able to receive the uncompromised spiritual tradition of the church,” Chrysostomos said. “And that is bringing a lot of people to Orthodoxy.”
Visitors to the monastery won’t see many crops growing or farm animals roaming the site. A dog, a formerly wild goat and retired race horse are the only animals around.
“We’ve just been so overwhelmed getting the monastery started,” Chrysostomos said. “By the grace of some of the farmers here, we’ve planted watermelons and peas in front. We have hay fields in the back.”
They also make beeswax and paraffin candles, he said. “We’re in no way self-sufficient right now, but maybe someday.”
The monks, who draw no salary, rely on the generosity of benefactors throughout the country and monastery guests.
“It’s considered a place for private, spiritual retreat,” Chrysostomos said. “It’s beautiful, and it’s an ideal setting.”
Note: This article also appeared in the Lakeland Ledger – Feb 2, 2002 (D1, D5) and The Dispatch – Feb 2, 2002 (p. 7a, 8)