Greek Monastery an unlikely Arizona desert attraction (Randy Moody, 2015)

NOTE: The following article is taken from The Lincoln Journal Star, March 7th, 2015:

Beyond this entrance is a veritable desert oasis housing palm-lined walkways, chapels and citrus orchards as part of St. Anthony's Orthodox Green Monastery near Florence, Arizona.

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.

A carved archway frames the Fountain of the Cross

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.

Palm trees line the pathways among the chapels and fountains on the monastery grounds

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, , ahead of time to learn about the dress code.

The ''Last Supper'' rests high on the chapel wall

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.”

the intricate wood carvings and painted icons are features of beauty set back in the church's alcoves

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.

Shadows and light on a chapel curtain partially hiding the greenery outside provide space for prayer and reflection

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.

Green icons, polished wood and an intricate chandelier provide a feast for the visitor's eye inside this chapel

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.

One of several fountains that decorate and delight on the walking tour of the monastery grounds

Randy Moody is a retired lawyer and lobbyist who lives in Lincoln and near Tucson and enjoys travel, photography and Greek food.

Most of the exquisite interiors of the church and chapels were created in Greece and brought to the monastery
Most of the exquisite interiors of the church and chapels were created in Greece and brought to the monastery


 15 St. Elijah Chapel overlooks the monastery grounds and serves as a platform for viewing the surrounding Sonoran Desert and mountain ranges