A week ago today I returned from perhaps the greatest pilgrimage I have ever taken (or maybe that is just how one feels directly after every pilgrimage…). I spent one week in the Holy Monastery of St. Anthony the Great in Florence, Arizona, a place I would describe as – if all monasteries are Paradise – the Third Heaven of monasteries!
My mum and I went together. I hadn’t been there in six years, she in seven. However, once I was walking through those beautiful familiar paths encroached by flowers, butterflies and palms it felt as though no time had passed since my last visit. We met many wonderful people full of love for Christ, watched gorgeous sunsets, enjoyed the hot sun, and prayed in all of the chapels.
Knowing Greek this time ’round helped because I could follow the services almost exactly. When I could I would lean over to my mother and whisper the first line of the prayer or hymn in English so she could also follow along. Since the services (at least Matins and Divine Liturgy) are held during the night by candlelight it was difficult for her to see her English prayer book, but she had the prayer rope and the monks’ beautiful Byzantine chant helped make her prayer soar I’m sure.
We were blessed to be there for the Feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos. The vigil that night consisted of Great Vespers, Matins, and Divine Liturgy. All I could think about was the hymn at the end of the Supplicatory Canon to the Theotokos: “O all ye Apostles from afar, being now gathered together…”
My mum and I had traveled many hours (we’re about a 7 hour direct flight to Phoenix, that’s how far away we are from Arizona), and yet here we found ourselves gathered together from afar to commemorate the day the Apostles gave burial to the All-holy one’s body. “O inexplicable wonder!” that we be found worthy to celebrate such a holy feast in such a holy place!
That day, in the afternoon, yet another huge blessing came our way: the memorial service the fathers held in memory of Elder Joseph the Hesychast! We were able to venerate his holy, fragrant skull and pray that with the righteous he may rest (not that there is any doubt he rests with the righteous!!!) But, this is the Orthodox custom: to pray for the soul of the departed loved one until God confirms him as a sanctified member of the choir of saints, at which point we will supplicate him (instead of for him) to intercede on our behalf. (Many already pray this way in private).
While at St. Anthony’s my mum and I prayed especially for my brother, (now) Priest Matthew, because his ordination to the Holy Priesthood was to take place (and has now taken place) on August 19, my mum’s birthday and the Feast of the Lord’s Transfiguration (Old Style) in Jordanville. We did not cease to thank God for His great blessings in both bringing us to St. Anthony’s and in making us worthy to have yet another priest in the family! (AXIOS!)
If you have visited St. Anthony’s Monastery in the past, I pray you find the opportunity to return. If you haven’t yet been, I encourage you to visit, and if you think it’s outside the realm of possibility to get there (on account of money or distance), pray and have patience and the Lord will grant your request!