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Desert Monks: The Orthodox Brotherhood of Saint Anthony in Arizona

Desert Monks of Arizona Saint Anthony
Credit: Greek Reporter

In 1995, six Orthodox monks left Mount Athos in Greece to establish Saint Anthony, an Orthodox Monastery in the middle of the Arizona desert, in the US.

They carried with them the sacred heritage of the Holy Mountain, Athos. For over a thousand years, this steep and rocky peninsula in northern Greece has maintained the traditions of the greatest monastic establishments of ancient Christianity.

Upon their arrival, the fathers began the necessary construction, building the main church, the monks’ living quarters, a dining hall, and guest quarters.

As the monastery expanded, more chapels were built; a vegetable garden, a small vineyard, citrus orchards, and an olive grove were soon planted. An elaborate system of gardens, pathways, gazebos, and Spanish fountains make the monastery and its extensive grounds a true oasis in the desert.

St. Anthony’s Monastery is a Greek—and English-speaking—monastery in the Metropolis of San Francisco of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

Desert Monks of Arizona Saint Anthony
Credit: St. Anthony’s Monastery

The monastery is named after St. Anthony the Great (ca. 251–356), the renowned Egyptian ascetic, known as “the father of monasticism.”

Saint Anthony’s monastic life in Arizona

The monastery follows the cenobitic rule of monastic life; in other words, the brotherhood of over 50 monks and novices holds all things in common and follows a daily schedule of prayer and work under obedience to the abbot, their spiritual father.

We visited Saint Anthony, the monastery built a few miles outside of the town of Florence. There, in the harsh Arizona desert, the monks have established a brotherhood of 56 monks.

Leading a life of celibacy and fasting, Orthodox monks say “their job is to repent and save their souls.”

The monks’ daily program begins two hours before midnight with personal prayer time and spiritual reading, followed by the cycle of morning prayers and the Divine Liturgy.

After a light breakfast and a rest period, the monks begin their work day, attending to prayer and their tasks until evening. Tasks include construction, woodworking, publishing, food preparation, offering hospitality, grounds keeping, and tending the vineyard and the various gardens and orchards.

To support themselves, the monks translate and publish books, sell their agricultural products, and rely on donations from the thousands of pilgrims and tourists visiting the monastery every year. The day ends with evening Vespers followed by dinner and Compline.

Monks almost never speak on cameras so watch our short documentary, a unique opportunity to learn more about the world of monasticism and the story of one of the first Orthodox monasteries in America.


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