Florence, AZ

Monastery in Florence, Arizona raises funds to honor Arizona religious leader

Jeff Kronenfeld

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One of the many buildings at St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery.(Jeff Kronenfeld)

Jeff Kronenfeld / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ


(Florence, AZ) The late Arizona religious leader who founded St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery in Florence, Arizona, the largest monastery of its kind in the U.S., will be the subject of five books.

St. Anthony’s has started a campaign to raise funds to support the publication of the tomes to celebrate Geronda Ephraim. Before his death in 2019, he helped establish more than a dozen other monasteries throughout North America.

The campaign aims to raise $292,000 over 30 days to cover design, printing, and binding costs. The monastery is working with Walsworth Publishing Company and had already raised $178,600 to cover paper costs before the fundraiser's launch. At the time of this article's publication, they have raised $55.993, roughly 19 percent of their goal.

The collection — "Sent by God: The Life of Geronda Ephraim” — explores the religious leader’s teachings, practices, and biography. The source materials for the collection include Ephraim's writing, hundreds of interviews, and photographs, according to Fr. Symeon, one of the collection's compilers.

The first book will cover Ephraim’s life in Greece, where he was born in 1928. Back then, his name was Ioannis Moraitis. Geronda means elder in Greek, and in the Greek Orthodox Church, the term refers to a religious leader, usually a monk.

Ephraim grew up in Volos, a port city on the Greek mainland about 200 miles north of Athens. Religion played a prominent role in his life from the start, largely thanks to Gerontissa Theophano, his mother.

“His mother is also a tremendous saint,” said Fr. Symeon. “She was a very ascetic, very pious, religious woman who raised him right from the beginning to become a monk because she had a vision when he was born.”

When the devastation of World War II came to Greece, Ephraim helped provide for his family despite his youth. Then, in 1947, he became a monk at the Holy Mountain, also called Mount Athos, a peninsula in northwest Greece that has been a center of monastic life since 963. The area is home to 20 monasteries and their dependencies, called skítes.

There, Ephraim became a disciple of Saint Joseph the Hesychast, whose teachings about noetic prayer — the repetition orally or mentally of the Jesus Prayer — greatly influenced the younger man. Ephraim became the abbot of Philotheou Monastery in 1973, also located on Mount Athos.

The collection’s second volume will cover Ephraim's work and time in North America, which began with a visit to Canada in 1979. He would make many more trips there and to the U.S. over the next decade before founding his first North American monastery in 1989, located in Pennsylvania. That volume will also cover Ephraim's involvement in establishing St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery in Arizona.

Next, volume three explores the purported miracles and spiritual states of Ephraim. The first three volumes will also be published together in a single book.

The collection’s fourth volume is titled “Spirit and Truth: On Prayer and Watchfulness.” It includes information on Ephraim’s approach to and beliefs about the importance of prayer. The fifth and final volume, called "Images and Likeness," consists of hundreds of pages of color photographs.

“The hope is that enough people will be able to learn from who Geronda is and what his teachings were about prayer, and especially at the end of the book, it talks very much about the need for prayer and the need for these communities of love that will keep the world from collapsing,” Fr. Symeon said.

Donors will receive books from the collection based on how much they give and what parts of the project they choose to support. To place donations or learn more, visit the campaign's IndieGoGo page.

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Jeff is an award-winning freelance journalist covering news, business, science and the arts. His work has been published in Discover Magazine, Vice, the Phoenix New Times and other outlets.

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