NOTE: A couple new articles on the Friends of St Nektarios Monastery Tumblr page sheds some light on the methodology used by Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries to “invalidate” a story; i.e. to render a historical event and reality non-existent, as if it never happened.http://friendsofstnektariosmonastery.tumblr.com/
A few months ago, a story from the Lehman’s Country Store Blog about Geronda Ephraim’s nuns travelling 10 hours from Quebec to a small Ohio town to fill two vans with thousands of dollars worth of merchandise was circulating around the web. At the time of the nuns’ shopping spree, the Canadian dollar was very low (1 CAD = 0.72453 USD, thus 1,000.00 USD = 1,380.21 CAD; 1,000.00 CAD = 724.53 USD) The Loonie lost 17% of its value in 2015, the second-worst year it’s ever had. Also, most of the products purchased were readily available in stores close to the monastery and/or generally within the Quebec borders. Furthermore, the nuns bought a large amount of canned meat (designed for survivalist situations). However, monastics are forbidden to eat meat by the ecclesiastical canons, at these products are not fit to feed farm animals.
Less than 3 months after this shopping extravaganza, the monastery in Quebec held an annual fundraiser dinner to raise more money for the monastery. In the past, the monasteries have not participated in policies of financial transparency. The amount of money they raised that night is not available to the public.
Someone identifying himself as a “concerned pilgrim” contacted the Metropolis in Canada and asked the Metropolitan about the nuns’ excessive spending, especially when the exchange rate was so low. The following is a brief synopsis of these events, followed by the entire email exchange at the end of the article.
December 16, 2015, The day Lehman’s published the story a concerned pilgrim wrote their bishop, Metropolitan Sotirios and asked about this peculiar incident. The entire email exchange, spanning over 2 months and producing no answers or explanation, can be read at the end of this article.
December/January, Lehman’s social media sites start deleting the post about the nuns’ shopping spree.
January 10, 2015, a priest from Montreal responded to the pilgrim and essentially said, “You’re wrong, it is not true.” By this time, all the social media platforms belonging to Lehman’s had deleted the story, though their digital footprints still remain on the web.
January 17, 2016, the pilgrim responds to this priest and writes the bishop again concerning the unsatisfactory and offensive answer he received.
January 20, 2016, the Metropolitan responds, claiming “regarding the purchases of the nuns of Panagia the Comforter Monastery from the Lehman’s Hardware and Appliances Inc. I do not know anything about this. I have asked Abbess Thekla for an explanation and then I will write to you.”
February 19, 2016, the concerned pilgrim writes another inquiry due to having heard nothing in a month
February 23, 2016, Basil Roccas answers on behalf of the bishop, stating “Gerondissa Thekla fell sick with pneumonia while on a pilgrimage to Arizona recently, and as of last week was still in Arizona. She presumably has not had the opportunity to reply to His Eminence’s letter, and this is why His Eminence has not replied to you.”
March 6, 2016, The Quebec Monastery has their annual fundraiser.
May 15, 2016, As of this date there has been no further response from the Metropolis. Ignoring people does not make them go away… lack of transparency does not inspire people to donate money, either.
Queen Creek Olive Mill owners Perry and Brenda Rea left the chilly suburbs of Detroit in 1997 with their four children (and one on the way) for Phoenix, Arizona to pursue their dream of making Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The family dream quickly turned into a thriving family business. The couple, along with help from their five children, have put Arizona on the Extra Virgin Olive Oil map, supplying the Valley with local, high quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Operating for more than a decade, the Queen Creek Olive Mill is the home to more than 16 varieties of olives used for their extra virgin olive oil, the only olive oil that is produced in Arizona. http://www.queencreekolivemill.com/
Queen Creek is home to Arizona’s first working olive farm and mill. At Queen Creek Olive Mill, a grove with thousands of trees is the source for gourmet extra virgin olive oils. Stuffed olives, tapenades, bath and body products, local vendor and artisan wares, and those oils line the aisles of the mill’s gourmet marketplace. Owners Perry and Brenda Rea cordially invite groups to tour, taste, and discover why their exceptionally high quality extra virgin olive oil (EVOO for short) is sought after by some of the area’s top restaurants and most discriminating palates. http://www.experiencescottsdale.com/listings/queen-creek-olive-mill/
St. Anthony’s Monastery A vegetable garden, a small vineyard, citrus orchards, and an olive grove dot the landscape of St. Anthony’s Monastery. The monks not only keep the daily schedule of prayer, but among many physical tasks, care for 4,000 olive trees from which they make olive oil. In 2008, the Monastery purchased machinery for Olive Oil from Toscana Enologica Mori, Italy. http://www.tem.it/en/
PRESSING YOUR OWN OLIVES In addition to its own olive oil, Queen Creek Olive Mill produces olive oil for St. Anthony’s monastery, Agritopia and Arcosanti.
If you have an olive tree or two in your neighborhood you might have considered making your own olive oil. Queen Creek Olive Mill would be happy to press the olives for you—if you happen to have a quarter ton of olives, the output of at least five or six heavily laden olive trees, or 20 five-gallon pails.
St. Anthony’s Monastery & QCOM Tours As with many of the famous and popular monasteries in Greece, St. Anthony’s has also been bit by the “Monastery Tourism” bug.
$105:St. Anthony’s Monastery & Queen Creek Olive Mill (April 23, 2014) • Destination: Arizona, Florence, Queen Creek • Duration: 1 day • Departs: 04/23/2014 • Price: $105 Tour Includes: – Deluxe Motorcoach Transportation – PCT Tours Travel Coordinator – Driver/Coordinator Gratuities – St. Anthony’s Monastery Tour – Olive Creek Tour and Lunch “In the summer of 1995 six monks arrived in the southern Arizona desert to establish St. Anthony’s Monastery, carrying with them the sacred, millenial heritage of the Holy Mountain, Athos. The monastery is dedicated to St. Anthony the Great, the father of monasticism, the renowned 3rd century anchorite. Visitors must be properly attired to enter the Monastery grounds. In general, clothing should be modest and loose-fitting, and include the following: ◾Men must wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts ◾Women must wear long skirts, long-sleeved blouses, and scarves. (Please, no pants/slacks (unless worn under skirt), no tight-fitting clothing, no skirts with slits, hats, low-cut blouses, or sheer or small scarves) Due to the sanctity of this Holy place we kindly ask that you respect the quiet and solitude of the Monastery while on the grounds. After the Monastery we will meet at Queen Creek and the Olive Mill. At the base of the San Tan Mountains in Queen Creek’s storied farm community the Queen Creek Olive Mill is Arizona’s only working olive farm & mill. While we produce a boutique hand-crafted extra virgin olive oil using 9 varieties of olives, our passion is creating a great experience for our guests. Enjoy lunch at the Olive Mill! Choose one of the following when booking: Sevi Sandwich (Chicken) Lucca (Turkey) Grappolo (Mozzarella & Tomatoes) Kalamata(Salami, Capicola and roasted veggies) Belice (Italian BLT) Florentine Salad Chicken Caesar Salad (Sandwiches served with gourmet potato chips and del Piero country)”
$65: Next stop will be Saint Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery and Gardens.The brotherhood of monks who inhabit St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery has created an oasis in the desert. Spread over 12 lush acres (all open to the self-guided tour,) the monastery takes in Palm-shaded walkways, Spanish fountains, orchards, and bougainvillea. But the real pleasures can be found at the monastery store – a trove of kalamata olives, (cured on site), powdery kourabiedes cookies and artisanal bread, as well as coffee-table tomes on Orthodox Christianity.
This article is taken from Sam Lowe, Arizona Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities & Other Offbeat Stuff, Rowman & Littlefield, 2012, pp. 130-132.
The Desert Blooms Florence
St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery is an oasis in an otherwise flat piece of desert. In less than a decade, the monks who live there built two churches, five chapels, housing, maintenance facilities, rotundas, fountains, and sandstone walkways. They also planted thousands of trees, shrubs, and cactuses, literally covering the once-barren desert into one of the most beautiful spots in Arizona.
Construction began in 1995; the first church was completed within a year. It is one of ten monasteries started in North America by Father Ephraim, a spiritual leader from the Greek Orthodox homeland at Mount Athos in Greece.
Surrounded by foliage and spires, visitors might easily envision themselves in a foreign country. The roofs and columns on the places of worship vary from copper domes to bell towers, and the architecture ranges from brick to stone to lumber.
Visitors are asked to check in at the bookstore directly inside the entryway, where they are welcomed with pitchers of ice water and sweet cakes. They may attend services, walk through the grounds, take photographs, and enter the churches.
But there are some restrictions. Men are asked to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Women should wear skirts below the knees, long-sleeved shirts or blouses, and have their heads covered with a veil or scarf. No hats, caps, sheer scarves, shorts, pant-skirts, miniskirts, or sleeveless blouses. Everyone is asked to wear socks, especially when wearing sandals. A limited supply of proper attire is available in the bookstore for improperly clad guests. Smoking and conversation with the monks are not allowed.
To reach the monastery, take Paisano Road east off Route 79 about twelve miles south of Florence. Stay on the paved road; it’ll lead you directly to the entry.
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.”