July 14, 2010

A Greek Pilgrim Visits St. Anthony's Monastery in Arizona

Nikolaos Tsapakis

This past summer, due to the fact that my son John received the degree of Doctor of Civil Engineering at the University of Akron in Ohio of the USA, I had the opportunity and joy to visit with my wife the United States and Canada from June 18, 2009 until August 18, 2009.

Along with this, as I desired much to do so, I visited some Greek Orthodox monasteries as a pilgrim, which were founded by Elder Fr. Ephraim, who is 83 years old these days, the former abbot of the Holy Monastery of Philotheou on the Holy Mountain.

First I visited the Monastery of Saint Anthony which he established first in Arizona in the town of Florence, between the cities of Phoenix and Tuscon, within the desert, in which this ever-venerable and beloved throughout the world Elder Ephraim lives.

As a visiting pilgrim I was amazed and marveled at his divine works, but in particular their deep spiritual life and the numerous miracles they accomplish.

His perpetual smiling face, his child-like purity, his radiant eyes, radiate and strike one with love, boundless goodness and holiness!

His good reputation has spread throughout all of America and Canada and everybody travels to him for confession, to receive advice, and to tell them their problems so that they will be released of them. He is another Paisios and Porphyrios!

This Monastery of Saint Anthony and Saint Nektarios is found in the middle of the Arizona desert with temperatures which can reach 40-45 degrees celsius in the summer, where only cacti can survive among the different species, which are being preserved and protected as a state tree.

Within this desert there now stands this wondrous Monastery of Saint Antony, a virtual oasis which shades, cools, refreshes, relaxes, decorates and fragrances the surrounding region with its 2,000 species of flowers and trees, but is first and foremost a SPIRITUAL OASIS with Elder Ephraim to refresh and bring peace, calm, rest, and healing to the sick, broken, and suffering hearts of our fellow-men.

Everyday there is a line of people which anxiously waits to see him, to talk with him, and to receive his blessing and a prayer.

The desert has truly transformed into a "Hospital" for the suffering hearts of our fellow-men and he leads them to the Divine and to salvation.

In 1995 Elder Ephraim miraculously began the foundation and building of the Monastery of Saint Anthony, despite the uninhabitable environment, with no water, no roads and electricity, and especially with the presence of wild animals of prey and poisonous snakes. Many wondered and told the Elder what he was doing there.

The place where the monastery was founded in the middle of the wild and inhospitable desert, however, was revealed from on high in a miraculous manner by Saint Anthony.

In truth, many people of the area would hear bells ringing every evening at that place, which was confirmed by the Elder, though there is no reasonable explanation for something like that to happen in the area.

Furthermore, in a miraculous manner, St. Anthony, the teacher of the desert, showed him the spot where there was precious water in the desert at a depth of 980 meters and now produces about 300 liters of drinkable water per second.

With this large amount of water they planted 3,000 olive trees, vine gardens, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, fruit-bearing trees, figs, palm trees, a greenhouse with all the vegetables, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, pumpkins, etc., pine trees, cypress trees, and many other multi-colored flowers which altogether are fragrant throughout the area. Everything is of course irrigated twice a day during the summer months, due to the heat.

The monastery is now run with 45 monks, who work hard and tirelessly taking care of the gardens, the thousands of trees, and the multitude of visitors with hospitality, and the abbot is Fr. Paisios who came from Mount Athos.

The monks are of various nationalities and races who have received our Orthodoxy, they were baptized Christians, and now serve the Church with zeal. They are from different parts of America, with one of African descent and a Japanese monk. Out in the desert there are wild animals like snakes, vipers, deer, lions, hares, partridge, and squirrels.

At the beginning of the building activities the vipers and other snakes and animals presented a great danger to the workers, to clean the area and build the churches and plant the gardens and flowers, but Fr. Ephraim in a miraculous manner dispersed them from the area of the monastery and in this way they continued their wondrous work.

The monastery has 2,000 stremma [a ¼ acre or 1,000 square meters is 1 stremma] and is visited by many pilgrims daily, where they can be accommodated in separate building complexes for women and for men, with very clean and comfortable rooms.

The monks follow and apply the Byzantine traditions, sacred services, vigils, prayers and life with the horos of the Holy Mountain, naturally in the Greek language.

The Monastery of Saint Antony is a coenobium with five churches: Sts. Anthony and Nektarios and St. Nicholas which are built of stone and are exquisite, and St. Demetrios, St. Seraphim of Sarov in the Russian style and St. George which amaze the visitors with their architecture.

Also, near the monastery, up on a hill, there is the very beautiful Church of the Prophet Elijah, of the same type found in Santorini with blue and white colors, which oversees the desert with a wonderful view.

Many sick and suffering people run to Elder Ephraim, who with the help of the Elder, their faith and the grace of God, are healed. People receive courage, peace, calm and hope in God and a joy that is indescribable. Indeed, many contemporary miracles occur!

There are innumerable stories of sick people becoming perfectly well and are grateful to the Elder and take him to be their spiritual father, and he advises them and leads them along the heavenly road of salvation and theosis.

Furthermore, Fr. Ephraim has founded 19 operating monasteries which he oversees and guides, 17 of which are in the United States and 2 are in Canada, with the goal of establishing 20 like on the Holy Mountain.

He has also begun to establish an old age home which will very soon take in many needy and poor elderly.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.