NOTE: The following newspaper article is taken from Ocala Star-Banner, March 23, 2002, pp. 1C & 6C.
Monday will begin another workweek for most people. But, for nuns at the Annunciation of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Monastery in Reddick, Monday is a day to celebrate.
It is the Feast of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel announced to the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary) that she would bear a child who would be the Son of God and that his name should be Jesus.
Sister Chrysovalandou, a resident nun, said the feast marks an important period for believers.
“It’s a very, very special day, because after this, everything happened—Jesus was born, he was crucified, he was risen, and we can win paradise again,” she said. “As Orthodox Christians, we love Virgin Mary, we love her so much, any feast that has to do with the Theotokos is special to us, especially this one. It’s the beginning for our soul’s freedom.”
Greek monastery open to visitors (continued from 1C)
“The door of paradise is open to us again. We can choose if we want to go paradise or to hell. everybody’s free to choose what kind of life they want to live. Do they want to be followers of Christ or follow everybody else? All we have to do is follow his commands, whatever has been told from him.”
This weekend, about 25 nuns and monks from 15 North American Greek Orthodox monasteries will visit the Reddick monastery. The visiting monks will stay at Panagia Vlahernon Greek Orthodox Monastery, a men’s facility in northwest Marion County. They will join the nuns at the Reddick chapel for special services led by the North American monasteries’ spiritual head, the Very Rev. Elder Ephraim of Phoenix. The visiting monks and nuns also will share a private dinner Sunday and Monday, served by resident nuns and volunteers from a nearby Greek community.
The monastery will be open for visitors on both days from 8 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. On Monday, a free lunch will be available and there will be Greek sweets for sale. Because the monastery is considered a sacred place, the nuns ask that visitors be modestly dressed. Only Orthodox believers are permitted in the chapel during services, however, visitors may enter at other times.
The Annunciation of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Monastery is an outreach of a larger monastery in Greece. A curving drive leads past rows of oaks through 74 lush acres to a complex that includes a 9,500-square-foot main building and a large pavilion. The main building opens to the parking area through a long flagstone courtyard, a serene area bathed in ethereal light, with large archways, wooden benches, pots of white flowering camellias and smaller pots bursting with pink and red blossoms.
Inside are two dining halls, a chapel and several dorm rooms that normally contain a single bed, an icon and a candle, but for the weekend have been converted with extra beds for the visiting nuns. The walls display photos of Greek monasteries and the group’s spiritual fathers, as well as icons and prints reminiscent of 14th century religious art.
A focal point is a surreal painting of Mary with the Christ child. In front of it hang gold and silver chains, hung there by people who come to petition healing or prayers for specific needs.
The monastery was founded here after a community of Greeks in Tarpon Springs sent a request to their homeland. Michael Saroukos, a craftsman who lives in Tarpon Springs, said he was happy when the Reddick property was purchased about four years ago. A former boat builder in Greece, Saroukos now volunteers his skills at the monastery.
“When I was in Greece and I was going to the monastery there, I felt very warm,” Saroukos said. “When I came here, it wasn’t warm, so that’s why I wanted a monastery.”
The men’s facility in Ocala houses four monks and the Reddick monastery houses three nuns, Chrysovalandou, Sister Efpraxia, the abbess, and Sister Pahomia, vice president of the monastery.
In preparation for the feast, the nuns began fasting last Monday, denying themselves oil, meat and dairy products and eating only fruit, vegetables, olives and bread. On Monday, they will be able to eat fish.
It’s an ascetic life, with long hours spent in prayer and meditation, plus manual labor to maintain the monastery and the grounds. Occasionally, people from the Greek community in Tarpon Springs volunteer to help with chores. In return, the nuns pray for them and give them counsel.
For fun, they play with their two dogs. There is little time for any other activities, Pahomia said.
The nuns’ attire is modest—a long, black dress worn to the ankles and covered by a black vest and a veil wrapped tightly about the head. When they go to town to shop for groceries, they attract long stares. Sometimes, people ask if they are Muslims. Pahomia said they explain that they are not Muslims but Greek orthodox nuns. On one occasion, when young boys shouted hateful things at them, they simply ignored the comments.
“We love America,” Pahomia said. “We’re very sad about the situations.”
Pahomia joined the monastery in Greece 10 years ago when she was 16 years old. She said her family objected to her decision, at first, because they feared they would never see her again.
Such a life requires a personal commitment, not a binding contract, Pahomia said. A nun can leave the order at any time.
“The only contract we have is in our heart,” Pahomia said. “Our spiritual father never pushes us to stay forever. He explains the roles, but we are responsible to stay. The best goal is to stay and serve God forever. Nothing can hold you here. It’s something that comes by the grace of God.”
Annunciation of The Theotokos Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. filed as a Domestic Non Profit Corporation in the State of Florida on Monday, August 3, 1998 and is approximately seventeen years old, as recorded in documents filed with Florida Department of State.
Constantina Nestoras serves as the President
Konstantina Vassilopoulos is the Vice President of Annunciation of The Theotokos Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc..
Constantina Nestoras is also the registered agent for the company. Also known as a statutory or resident agent, the registered agent is responsible for receiving legal notifications regarding court summons, lawsuits, and other legal actions involving the corporate entity.
Vasiliki Panagiotidis (Sister Efpraxia) is no longer active for Annunciation of The Theotokos Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. She fell asleep in the Lord in 2010 and was buried at St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence, AZ.
Sister Pahomia returned to her monastery in Greece a number of years ago.
The nuns in it trace their spiritual heritage to the ancient monastery of the Honorable John Forerunner in Serres. About 35 years ago, Elder Ephraim of Philotheou reestablished it as a women’s monastery, and it now has 29 nuns and several novices.