Newspaper Articles on Geronda Ephraim’s 2 Monasteries in Florida Part 2 (2002)

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.

A woman bows before an icon of Christ and the Virgin Mary.
A woman bows before an icon of Christ and the Virgin Mary.

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.”

Day of prayer begins at 2 a.m. (Ocala Star-Banner – Jan 26, 2002, 5C)

Father Chrysostomos dispenses incense Thursday at Panagia Vlahernon Greek orthodox Monastery in northwest Marion County.
Father Chrysostomos dispenses incense Thursday at Panagia Vlahernon Greek orthodox Monastery in northwest Marion County.

“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)

The Dispatch - Feb 2, 2002 (7a)
The Dispatch – Feb 2, 2002 (7a)
The Dispatch - Feb 2, 2002 (8)
The Dispatch – Feb 2, 2002 (8)
Lakeland Ledger - Feb 2, 2002 (D1)
Lakeland Ledger – Feb 2, 2002 (D1)
Lakeland Ledger - Feb 2, 2002 (D5)
Lakeland Ledger – Feb 2, 2002 (D5)
Panagia Vlahernon Monastery today.
Panagia Vlahernon Monastery today.
Panagia Vlahernon Monastery today.
Panagia Vlahernon Monastery today.

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.


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.
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.

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)

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
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