The following is an excerpt from Hartford Institute for Religious Research, An Atlas of American Orthodox Churches, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2011, pp. 121, 123-4.
Orthodox Monastic Communities in the United States: Introduction
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. (Matthew 3:1-6)
John the Baptist is a Scriptural model of monasticism, from the Greek word “monachos” which means “solitary.” In the early days of the Church, everyone was “monastic” in that becoming a Christian was tantamount to a death sentence; at best it meant a life of persecution by both the Jewish leadership of the day and the Roman Empire. However, once serious persecution of the Church ended in the fourth century under the Emperor Constantine, life as a Christian became easier. Some people felt it necessary to live a more difficult life of asceticism, rather than accept the relatively easy life around them. Monastic life is bound by ascetic practices expressed in the vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience, called the evangelical counsels.
There is a growing interest in monasticism in today’s America. As many people become disenchanted with the materialism of modern life, monasteries provide an alternative. Monasteries are spiritual oases in the desert that is post-Christian America. They are a clarion call to re-examine our own lives and priorities and question what is really important. Monasticism is not a different kind of spirituality, it is merely a more intense spirituality that all Christians are called to, not just monks.
More than 80 Orthodox monasteries function presently in the United States. Of particular note are the relatively recent efforts of Elder Ephraim, a disciple of Elder Joseph the Hesychast. Having already restored and repopulated four monasteries on Mt. Athos and established several men’s and women’s monastic communities throughout Greece, he has worked to transplant the ethos of Mt. Athos – a key center of Orthodox monastic tradition in Greece – into the heart of America. In the period between 1995 and 2005, Elder Ephraim established sixteen new monasteries around the US following the Athonite traditions under the auspices of the Greek Archdiocese.
The first monastery on the North American continent was formed by monastics from Russia on Kodiak Island, Alaska in 1794 while it was still part of the Russian Empire. St. Herman established his hermitage on Spruce Island in 1808.
Uninhabited for many decades, today St. Herman’s original dwelling is preserved by the monastics of St. Archangel Michael Skete, located in Sunny Cove on Spruce Island, under the Serbian Archdiocese. There is also a convent of nuns, St. Nilus Skete, nearby on Nelson Island. Overnight accommodations are available at both locations but pilgrims need to write far enough in advance to account for regular postal mail, since the sketes have no Internet or phone service. Weather is a big factor, since storms are frequent and often make travel from Kodiak to Spruce Island difficult or impossible.
St. Anthony Monastery under the Greek Archdiocese is a true oasis in the Sonoran desert south of Phoenix, Arizona. The extensive facilities include an elaborate system of gardens, pathways, and gazebos with Spanish fountains. A vegetable garden, small vineyard, citrus orchards, and an olive grove dot the 100-acre landscape. There are accommodations for over fifty monastics. Three guesthouses can accommodate up to 50 overnight guests at one time, and there is a separate clergy guesthouse.
Holy Archangels Monastery is located on a beautiful 155-acre site in the hill country of central Texas, between Austin and San Antonio. A century-old Texas ranch house built of field stone serves as one monastic residence, while other monks are housed in a contemporary structure that includes a large Trapeza for the monastics and guests. A vast complex currently under renovation and construction includes a Katholikon and many cells. The monastery does not have overnight accommodations for pilgrims but there are several motels nearby.
Located on a beautiful and secluded 180-acre property with rolling green hills, St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, New York offers a guest house, refectory, chapel, and monastic cells. Several buildings on the property are being renovated. The monks follow the Athonite Typicon.
At Holy Annunciation Monastery in Reddick Florida, founded in 1998, the nuns trace their spiritual heritage to the ancient monastery of the Honorable John Forerunner in Serres, Greece. The nuns make incense using ancient recipes received from Mt. Athos.
Guests are welcome, and even encouraged, at most Orthodox monasteries. Many observe the ancient practice of offering three days of hospitality, and longer stays can be arranged. Some monasteries have elaborate guest houses, some are relatively simple, and some merely offer empty monastic cells. One must be aware that a monastery is primarily a place of prayer. Monastics are people who have been called from the world by God to lead the angelic life. It is for this reason that the Church encourages the faithful to regularly visit monasteries so that they may find the help they need to develop their own spiritual life. Visitors need to be sensitive to this and help maintain an atmosphere and environment that is conducive to sanctity and prayer. One should always call ahead before visiting a monastery, especially if planning to stay overnight. Guests are generally expected to clean up after themselves, and participate in the life of the monastery, attending all the services and working around the monastery itself, in the kitchen, or cleaning the grounds.
SOURCE: Hartford Institute for Religious Research, An Atlas of American Orthodox Churches, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2011, pp. 121, 123-4.