A few weeks ago, I traveled with seven women from my church to Safford, Arizona, 165 miles southeast of Phoenix. There we visited St. Paisius Serbian Orthodox Monastery (a women’s monastery).
I had never been to a monastery, and was so nervous about going. I had no idea what to expect or what would be expected of me. But, as soon as I arrived and was greeted by two of the nuns, I fell in love with it. I love it so much that I’d like to go back once a year if possible.
My husband, Michael, interviewed me about the experience in his Sunday school class. I thought I would share this interview with you. Just click on the play button. (It’s 29 minutes long):
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Here are a few snapshots of my visit. These, plus the interview, should give you a sense of how special my visit was.
We arrived at the monastery in the pitch-black of night. We entered through this gate, though it was too dark that night to see it.
We were taken to our guest house, a “hogan” built after a Navajo traditional home. It was one very large room, lined with nine beds all around the perimeter, a fireplace in the middle of the room, and a small kitchen and bathroom off the back.
“… She also rises while it is yet night…” Prov. 31:15
Every morning we walked in the pitch-black quietness of the morning to the church. We gathered silently for prayer and for worship. It was a tiny taste of heaven. Most church services I’ve been to are noisy, full of chatter and hustle-bustle. The services at St. Paisius were quiet. Serene. Focused on the One true God. Not on us, but on Him. It was the perfect environment to remember that He is God and we are not. I need that.
When it was time to call everyone to the church, one of the nuns would walk around the church, rhythmically striking the wooden Semantron. (The Semantron predates the bell. Some say it was introduced by Noah. It’s used to call people to prayer or to a procession.)
The interior of the church is simple and beautiful. The church is less than a year old, so there is still more to add, but the hand carved woodwork from Romania was stunning. The acoustics inside this stone church were amazing. I would love to come back someday and record the nuns singing. Their soft, angelic voices reverberated throughout the church and drew our hearts and minds to worship.
These are the benches I spoke about in the interview. The people stand for the majority of the services. Some of the services can be quite long, so it’s perfectly acceptable to sit or lean when one gets tired. (Standing is done out of respect for the King and in honor of the Resurrection.)
This building was directly across from the church and is where we had our meals. This is also where the nuns live. Notice the gorgeous mountains in the background. The monastery sits in a “bowl” surrounded by mountains on three sides. The desert has it’s own unique beauty and majesty.
Two of the afternoons we had the privilege of being instructed by Fr. Dorotheos. He is a monk and the spiritual father to the St. Paisius community. One of his joys is to meet the guests and make himself available for questions, instruction and even personal counseling. He wanted to make sure that when we left the monastery, we not only took with us our wonderful experiences, but also left with “tools” to help us fight the “unseen warfare” we encounter every day. His instructions were very practical and came from his heart and life experience.
Monasteries in the desert have a long and rich tradition in Christianity, dating back to the 3rd century. It’s quite sobering to think that we were participating in a tradition of worship and monasticism that is over eighteen centuries old! What a gift.
I hope you enjoy the interview. To God be the glory.
Question: Have you ever wanted to visit a monastery or a convent?