Saturday, January 23, 2016

Greek monastery is an oasis in the Arizona desert

St. Anthony's Church
Words like “awesome” and “fantastic” are not adequate to describe the beauty and serenity of St. Anthony’s Monastery in rural southern Arizona.  Not only is it an oasis in the desert, but, in these troubled times, it is an oasis for the soul. From the carefully landscaped gardens to the exquisite detail in the church and chapels, visitors can clearly see God’s artistic hands at work.

What the Greek Orthodox monks have accomplished in just over 20 years is nothing short of amazing. It is a miracle. Beginning in 1995, six monks have totally transformed this patch of the Sonora Desert.  The monks did much of the work themselves, but used construction contractors for work on the buildings. By 2016, the order counted 54 monks, but the work still is not finished. . Besides the lush greenery and buildings, the monks have an extensive citrus fruit orchard, growing a variety of fruit. They also have an olive grove and sell olives and olive oil made on the grounds in the church bookstore.

Monastery grounds
The monastery is named for St. Anthony the Great, who founded monasticism in the third century. This order of monks is affiliated with Mount Athos, a sacred place in northern Greece where their main monastery is located. The main church is dedicated to him as well as to Nectarios the Wonderworker. The other five chapels also are dedicated to saints: Seraphim of Sarov, Demetrios of Thessalonica, John the Baptist, George the Great Martyr, Nicholas the Wonderworker, and Panteleimon the Healer. Another chapel, dedicated to the Prophet Elias, is the white chapel on the hill that visitors see as they drive to the monetary located at the end of Paisano Road.

Visitors will stand in awe of the sanctuaries in the church and the chapels. Paintings of saints hang from the walls. Each chapel has a dome; hanging down through the center are intricately designed chandeliers that gleam in the sunlight that streams down from the dome.  These buildings have no pews, since monks stand during daily services. There are, however, tall chairs lining the sides of the church and chapels that visitors and those too tired to stand may use.

Pictures may be taken inside the church and chapels, as well as anywhere else on the grounds. Visitors are not, however, allowed to take pictures of the monks in their long black robes or the bishop’s chair.

Monastery grounds
The monastery has a strict dress code for visitors. Men must wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Women must wear head scarves and long skirts; scarves and elastic-waist skirts to put on over pants are provided for women who need them. Both sexes must wear socks (nylons are not acceptable) and proper shoes. Visitors may want to use the bathrooms behind the bookstore before setting out, as they are the only public restrooms in the complex.

Rules are explained at the guest house, and then visitors are allowed to wander through the complex at their own pace. The monks say it takes about 45 minutes to tour the main monastery grounds, but visitors who want to sit and enjoy the serenity of the lovely gardens obviously will take longer.
The monastery is handicap accessible with paved walkways. The parking lot, however, is gravel and there are a few steps in some of the buildings. 

The monastery is open to the public daily from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The monastery is located on Paisano Drive, eight miles south of Florence. Visitors coming from Phoenix/Florence on Highway 79 should turn onto Paisano just past milepost 124. Visitors coming up Highway 79 from Tucson will turn right onto Paisano just after milepost 123.  

More pictures of the monastery can be found on my Youtube channel.



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