Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Oasis


I wasn’t sure what to expect on our recent visit to the St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure that I cared to visit the monastery. Well? How exciting could this be?! I take it all back! The monastery is well worth a trip to the desert near Florence, AZ. 


The monastery was begun by 6 monks from the Philotheou Monastery on Mt. Athos in Greece in 1995. The monastery has expanded from the original church, living quarters and a dining hall they constructed to include 5 more chapels, guest quarters and additional homes, fountains, gazebos and beautiful gardens, citrus and olive orchards and a vineyard. There are over 50 monks in residence, as well as other guests and pilgrims.


Visitors are welcomed, but must follow basic rules of decorum in their manner and dress. Women must cover their hair and wear long skirts and long sleeves. Men must wear long pants and long sleeves. Luckily, since Dreaming doesn’t have a long skirt, the monastery has a number of ‘one-size-fits-almost-all’ skirts. 


A monk met us at the entrance and gave us a brief history of the monastery. He took us into St. Anthony’s Church, a traditional Byzantine-style, domed basilica church. He provided a lot of information about Greek Orthodox practices and life in the monastery. 


All of the churches and chapels have an open central area. Some have elaborate candelabra hanging above, and all use beeswax candles for lights, except for two lamps hanging over special daises used for readings and for leading chants. Limited candles are used for daily services, reserving them for special holy days when the church is filled with light. There are no pews or chairs in the central area. Instead, church goers stand in tall ‘seats’ that form the perimeter of the space. These tall ‘seats’, called stasidia, allow the monks to stand during the church service. If they should tire, or if they are old and weak, or injured, there is a hinged seat they can pull down to sit on for a rest. 


The layout of each chapel and church is standard. The right side of the building is dedicated to images of Jesus, and paintings of the Virgin Mary are found on the left. There are small metal plates under most of the icons that people have placed as a prayer request for health. The altar is in the front, behind curtained openings. Visitors may attend a service, but if they are not familiar with the Greek Orthodox service they are asked to stand in the narthex and observe the service through windows or through the door. 


Each of the chapels is of a different style of architecture, reminiscent of one area or another in the old world. Most of the carvings and furnishings were imported from Greece.


After walking the beautiful pathways through gardens, around fountains, over foot bridges leading to gazebos, I was beginning to think a monk’s life was idyllic. The lands of the monastery are imbued with beauty and peace. Why, if I wasn’t a woman... I was beginning to think.... but no, life in the monastery isn’t that easy I found out! The monks follow a daily schedule of prayer and work. Their day begins an hour or two before midnight with personal prayer time and spiritual reading. They attend a church service comprised of morning prayers and the Divine Liturgy from 1:00 AM - 4:00 AM. Yes, you read those times correctly! The monks have a light breakfast and rest period before beginning their daily tasks which might include gardening, baking, construction, woodworking or providing hospitality to guests. The day ends with Vespers from 3:30 - 4:30 PM followed by dinner and Compline at 5:00 PM, a series of evening prayers.

I am in awe of the monk's dedication, of their devotion to this life style. I am amazed at the beauty found on the grounds, all constructed within the last 20 years. These dedicated men have created a true oasis in the desert, and a sanctuary for the spirit.








7 comments:

  1. How fascinating. We have a Greek Monastery near Fresno to which we traveled last spring and of which I wrote about on my blog. http://dkzody.wordpress.com/2013/04/09/field-trip-with-seniors/

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    1. It was interesting to see the similarities between the two monasteries. Thanks for sharing your link.

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  2. Thanks for this tour; I learned a lot, and their worship and architecture are beautiful. It sounds like a peaceful sanctuary that would be nice to visit or even stay there for a few days.

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    1. It would be the perfect place to take time and reflect.

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  3. They must be tired all the time. That is some schedule:(

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    1. I would not be able to do it. I fear I'd be asleep on my feet at the 'morning' services!

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  4. What an interesting post, Dreaming! I admire the monks spiritual dedication and the beauty they create. I'd never make it as a monk though! Safe travels!

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