NOTE: The following article is taken from The Lincoln Journal Star, March 7th, 2015:
Florence, Arizona, an Old West desert town is an unlikely location for Greek monks, but there it is, a little oasis among the sagebrush and cactus about halfway between Tucson and Phoenix, just off Route 79 that connects the two cities.
Six Greek monks from the Holy Mountain, Athos, in Greece came to this Sonoran desert location in 1995 and began work on a monastery consisting of chapels, gardens, gazebos, walkways, fountains, citrus orchards, olive gardens and even guest quarters.
Visitors are welcomed inside the main gate by monks and volunteers, and are encouraged, of course, to visit the gift shop filled with Greek-themed icons and locally made jams and jellies. Before you make your way around the beautifully attended grounds and enter the various chapels, men must be clothed in long pants and long-sleeved shirts, and women with a head scarf and long skirt. Some are available to borrow for those who didn’t visit the website, stanthonysmonastery.org , ahead of time to learn about the dress code.
About 40 monks and novices populate the grounds, praying, tending the orchards and vineyards and doing tasks, such as woodworking, construction, publishing and kitchen work. Greek Orthodoxy is a Christian religion, tracing its history back thousands of years, and the monastery is named after St. Anthony the Great, an Egyptian ascetic who is known as “the father of monasticism.”
As my wife, Jane and I, and visiting friends Connie and Ken Keith, from cold and snowy Omaha, strolled the grounds on a warm and sunny February day, we marveled at the intricately detailed altars, the religious artwork and other colorful attractions on the monastery grounds. There is no tour guide, so if you pick up the literature at the entrance, each suggested stop is explained and numbered on a colorful map that will help you hit all the high points.
Especially striking, but not on the main grounds, is St. Elijah Chapel, which sits on a hill about a mile away. A short climb takes you to a gleaming white building, and as you walk around it, the view of the mountains and desert is breathtaking.
Following our two-hour visit, we drove to nearby Florence and had a wonderful lunch at the Mount Athos Restaurant and Cafe, not connected to the monastery, but opened by a Greek family as a way to help continue your Hellenic adventure in this most unlikely of locations.
Randy Moody is a retired lawyer and lobbyist who lives in Lincoln and near Tucson and enjoys travel, photography and Greek food.