Sunday, January 20, 2008

Life in general, Saint Anthony's in particular

It has been a long time since I posted anything on this blog other than the Saint or Feast of the day so I would like to take a little time to to so now.

Without getting into any great detail, I needed to pull back from many things, including blogging and this for many reasons. Among the reasons is that I, by nature and by habit, am one who feels uncomfortable unless I am doing something, anything. I am physically constructed in such a way that I have for a long time been able to push myself to a degree that others, when they saw the fatigue in me, would admonish me often to stop and slow down. I, hard headed as I am, have rarely heeded advice until I needed to.(This is changing by the grace of God). As a result of pushing past my limits and sustaining this push in this zone, I honestly knew myself to be at a place of needing immediate change and more importantly, coupled with this needing of change was also the willingness to undergo the change, taking concrete steps to effect the change.

Especially in the last seven and one half years of my life, I have been on a non-stop course of great activity and effort. This segment of my life integrates the whole of my person as the whole person breaks off into parts the whole of his life, meaning that my spiritual life, my vocation, my romantic longings, my dreams and aspirations have been melded over time into one, my brokenness being healed in Him, by Him and through Him.

Again, though, I do not wish to bore the reader with details which nonetheless are discreet and so I will briefly speak of my time from about the time of the Nativity Fast at which time I broke away from blogging and other activities.

As I posted about that time, I visited Saint Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery with a group, including myself, of seven. Three of us are Orthodox Catholic Christians and four of us are not.

I had been asked by Byzantine Dixie to share my experience at St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery in Florence, Arizona.

I must first express my deep love for this place, its Geronta(Spiritual Father) Ephraim, its Abbott Paisius, its monks and its pilgrims which even today, several weeks after returning to everyday life, is imprinted in me and leaves a beautiful memory.I wish every Orthodox Christian (and non-Orthodox) could visit this monastery and "get it".

The monastery has miraculous origins which I encourage the reader to read but which I will not recount here as this recounting falls outside the scope of this post. The monastery was founded by Geronta Ephraim, an Athonite monk who imported the ways of Mount Athos to this monastery and the other 19 he has founded in various places in the United States and Canada. The significant exception to one of Mount Athos' cardinal rules is that Saint Anthony does not prohibit women from coming as does the Republic of Mount Athos.

I first called the Monastery and told them of my plans to attend and also stated how many would be in my party, which day we would arrive and which day we would leave. Which leads into a recommendation: please, if you wish to maximize your experience, plan on staying several days on the grounds and staying overnight while doing so. Stay as long as possible within the Monastery rules' of the length of stays. There is no charge, incidentally, to stay as the taking care of guests is part of the monks' practice of hospitality.

This particular trip was my second time here and the reason I mention this is that for me, the layout was a bit confusing the first time here but it got better this trip. They hand out maps at the bookstore. The bookstore is the place where guests are received. To quickly mention about the dress code. Men are to wear long sleeved shirts and pants, not shorts. Women are prohibited on the grounds unless in a skirt(not mini) and with a scarf head covering. This all makes more sense if one remembers the purpose of the monastery for those that live there and those attending to be renewed spiritually in a holy atmosphere.

The Divine Liturgy takes place at 2:30 in the a.m., with the monks making the rounds to the dorms(which houses men in one set and women in a separate living area) beforehand to wake up everyone to be present. What an experience, being in the Church at this time in the morning. Very dark in there but you can make out the layout within as the red lampadas hanging around the Church illumine the Sacred Space just enough. Women are on the left side, men on the right. Non-Orthodox are not permitted in here during the service unless, I am led to believe, one is a catacumen. If a non-Orthodox wishes to be in the Church during the Liturgy, you must remain in the narthex(the outer part in the Church). Even this lends itself to a very pungent spiritual atmosphere.

Its totally ok not to know whats going on, not only here, but during the whole stay. More will be revealed as you just be here. Nothing more is required. After the Liturgy, we head back to the Trapeza(the mess hall) where the monks have prepared coffee, sweets and other foods for anyone who wishes to partake. The foods at this time as well as all the foods depend on the time in the Liturgical Calendar we happen to be in whether there will be dairy products present(cheese, etc.) or not.

After breakfast is another "quiet time" for the monks. The monks do not eat breakfast but return to their cells for prayer. This quiet time remains until about 8 a.m. The monks then begin their work day.

The grounds are quite extensive and still being developed. All this requires much care from the monks who can be seen working(while reciting the Jesus Prayer). The bookstore also opens at this time.

At about 10 a.m. all the churches are opened and pilgrims are free to walk inside and spend all the time they wish there. I cannot remember, but I believe there are about 12 Churches on the grounds, each dedicated to different Saints and built in different styles. They are all absolutely beautiful.

Lunch is served at 12:30 p.m. The pilgrims eat with the monks. Once again, non-Orthodox are not permitted to eat during this time. The reason for this is that, I believe, this is technically a Service during which prayers are said.

Women and men also are seated separately. The food, as can be expected, is wonderful and fresh. On non fast days, olive oil is set on the tables and on fast days it is absent. Spiritual reading is read by one of the monks while the pilgrims eat in silence. Oh, I almost forgot. Everything is in Greek. All the services, and even this reading will be in Greek. Many of the monks(if not most) are not Greek but nonetheless they conduct all the services in Greek.

During the meal you will notice that the water cups are turned upside down and we are not to drink until after a bell is rung at which time the cups are turned over and we pour water into our cups.

Following this is free time. I would encourage you to help the monks. My own personal help was rendered after the meals as I would help clean the hall and the tables under the supervision of the monks. There are many things one can do to help, ranging from helping as I do to cleaning in the dorms or even at the winery. Yes, the monastery has a wonderful winery as well as other produce crops, especially olive groves.

The next service is Vespers at I think? 4:30 p.m. This is about a 45minute service. I forgot to mention the Liturgy is about 3 hours long.

After this service, we have our evening communal meal. Also, I forgot to mention that the non-Orthodox are not forgotten for food but are well fed and graciously by the monks who attend to their needs. No one is made to feel unwelcome, Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike. Following this meal is the service of Matins.


Quiet time begins again at 7:30 p.m. until the Divine Liturgy the next morning at about 3:00 a.m. Technically, according to the Church, the day begins at sundown so this Matins service is the first service of the day.

Also very important to mention is that the dorms are equipped with well stocked kitchens which are maintained by the monks. Coffee(Greek and American), fresh made pies, juices, bread, cheese and the like are all here. The rooms and the bathrooms are very clean. I remember that when I help clean in the kitchen, I have been asked to make sure to wash my hands beforehand.

I would like to conclude this with the hope that you would visit this place, or others like it and keep yourself open to why it is the way it is and to, if possible, shut off any criticisms. I hope to meet you here as I plan to make regular visits here throughout the year.

The Lord bless us.

Sophocles

8 comments:

Maxim said...

Dear Sophocles:

Is St. Anthony's now on the Old Calendar? Last time I was there, they were still forbidden by their bishop to be on the Old Calendar. How did this come about?

By the way, I wondered if you yourself speak Greek? It is very nice to stand in the services, but it would be even better if they were at least partly comprehensible. Also, since I came into the Church in a Russian setting, the music is completely different from what I am used to, so I really have no idea where I am in the service; I do know enough to recognize "Kyrie Eleison" (sp?), and I learned to recognize "Christ is risen..." when I was there over Bright Week. Even if one speaks Modern Greek, of course Church Greek is different, but it might still give one at least partial comprehension.

Sophocles said...

Maxim,

You know, I had just assumed they were on the Old Calendar because they are based off of Mt. Athos and all. I saw the literature about the place in the dorms and all and again this added to my notion that they are on the Old Calendar. During the Nativity Season when I visited, it was in a period when both Old and New Calendars were overlapping in their prescriptions for the fasting "rules" so this too did not clue me in.

I now must re-check my facts and edit the post if necessary. Thank you for pointing out my error.

Yes, I do speak Greek and it definatelhy helps. The Greek spoken here and the way it is utilized in the services makes it sound so beautiful to me. Quite differnt intonations and there is a sadness and somberness about the whole place but in a good way if that makes sense.

One of the fellows who went with me is of African American descent and this was his 5th or 6th trip here and he just gets alot of just being there, imbibed in the spiritual atmosphere of the place.

I attend an OCA parish and I enjoy the music of the Church. I have found myself increasingly drawn towards the Byzantine style over time. It has been with me since I was a lad.

Evangelia said...

Thank you Soph for posting on your pilgrimage to St. Anthony's. I agree with you about the somberness. That is what makes it so beautiful, it's out of respect for our Lord. Wouldn't you agree? Looking forward to hearing more when we see each other next. My first and only time (so far) to St. Anthony's was incredible, beyond words. Glory to Him for leading us there altogether (Yianni, Irene, Damion, and myself). For me, it put everything in perspective, daily "worldly" worries seem so petty compared to the true purpose of our existence brought to life through the monks and their lifestyle. The monastic way of life is truly a light for us!

Sophocles said...

Evangelia

Nice to have you post here. Welcome!

And yes, the monstic life is a light for us and to God is due all worship, honor and glory.

Looking forward to our next Orthodox Connection event.

Maxim said...

The monks hate being on the New Calendar, but the EP would not allow them to come to this country unless they changed to the New Calendar.

Sophocles said...

Maxim(and everyone who has already read this):

I called the monastery and inquired which Calendar the monastery uses and it is indeed the New Calendar. I am surprised but not when taking into account what Maxim cites in the above comments are the reasons for the monks using the "New" Calendar.

Please forgive my unsupported assumption and note the appropriate material has bee excised from the post.

justin said...

Thank you Sophocles for your vivid account of our trip. I am very blessed and honored to have been with you and the others for this adventure. The vespers was at 3:30 and there was a compline service at some time.
Upon arrival. I noticed myself treading lightly so to speak. Feeling an impulsive urge to pray constantly I made my way to the main cathedral. Being in great fear and overwhelmed of the awsome power of the grounds and the spiritual energy.
It feels at any moment God might appear and this would not surprise anyone.
When we spoke with the Elder his talk was so easy to understand. His humanness was so unflattering, that I felt trapped in my sinfull bondage of this world. My existance out of that place seems neccesary though not purposefull.

Sophocles said...

Justin,

Thank you as well for your wonderful (and vivid) recollections.

Let's do it again soon!