By Timothy Rawles / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ
Travelers visit destinations for a variety of reasons. Some love to discover unique and interesting landmarks that are specific to the regions they explore. These sites create indelible memories.
There might not be a better example of this than the St. Anthony’s Monastery located in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, about 80 miles Southeast of Phoenix, in Florence.
This beguiling site is probably one of the most intriguing travel stops in Arizona. The story of how it got there is just as unique.
In 1995 Elder Ephraim sent six monks, including Geronda Ephraim, to the Sonoran Desert in hopes of finding a suitable spot to build a monastery. This divine hermitage was to be established in the name of Saint Anthony the Great, the father of monasticism. According to the church, as the group searched within the scorching desert heat, they all heard bells ringing seemingly from heaven. Ephraim took it as a sign and decided to raise the cross on the spot.
Building began in the scorching summer of July 1995. A part of the desert was cleared away and two trailers were placed on the property. These would be the first structures on the holy grounds, one would become a temporary chapel and dining room, the other a guesthouse.
In the fall more monks would arrive as did aspiring ones who wanted to help build the isolated monastery. By 1996, the main church was still not complete, however, the Feast of St. Anthony the Great was still celebrated and Priest-monk Paisios was enthroned as the first abbot, or leader, of St. Anthony’s.
Eventually, two more trailers were added opposite the others, forming a makeshift courtyard in the middle where the church was being built. Next to that, they constructed a refectory.
Along with its beautiful architecture, St. Anthony’s has some of the most magnificently landscaped gardens in the state. Along with native plants, there is also a selection of citrus and olive trees. A vineyard was also planted. The monastery’s elaborate gardens and serene pathways are gorgeous during the day, but at night they become seemingly magical with dramatic up lighting and luminous walkways.
Eight chapels were constructed to honor the saints and their relics. According to the website, a ninth chapel is forthcoming. These quiet places are for honoring past monks and serving as private prayer havens. St. Anthony’s has become the largest Orthodox monetary in the Western Hemisphere.
Today, the monastery is used by the Greek Orthodox community in central Arizona and sanctuary to more than 40 monks. Visitors are welcome and can even attend services and tour the gardens. But since it is an active place of worship, respect must be given. That includes wearing the appropriate clothing.
The guidelines according to the website are as follows:
Women are kindly asked to wear long-sleeved, loose-fitting shirts that fully cover the chest up to the neck; long skirts (or dresses) without deep slits; scarves that cover the head and wrap under the chin and around the neck, so that the neck is also covered. Please refrain from wearing lipstick when venerating icons and receiving Holy Communion. Please remove any visible face or body piercing jewelry.
Men are kindly asked to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Please, no baseball caps or clothing with inappropriate words or images. Inside, especially in church, men are asked to keep their heads uncovered. Please remove any visible face or body piercing jewelry.
For both men and women, socks (at least ankle-high) with shoes or sandals are to be worn at all times. Please do not wear sheer stockings. Please wear practical and comfortable flat shoes while at the monastery since it is desert terrain and the pathways are of rough flagstone. Please do not wear high heels, platform shoes, or open-toed sandals.
If you are not prepared and in need of appropriate clothing, you can visit the bookstore which has a limited supply of temporary attire.
Located on North St. Joseph’s Way in Florence, the St. Anthony’s Monastery is a beautiful oasis that should not be missed by locals and tourists alike.
For more information go to St. Anthony's website.