Years ago, I visited my first monastery. It was Saint Anthony Greek Orthodox Monastery in Arizona. The monastery was literally located in the desert in the middle of nowhere, hours away from anything and everybody. I remember the first time I entered the gates of the monastery, it was like I was in a completely different world. The first thing I noticed was an amazing sweet smell that was in the air, it brought such sweetness and warmth to my soul. Another thing I noticed was beautiful butterflies flying everywhere! This was in the middle of the desert! What were butterflies doing there?! Really, this was a different world, a heavenly world!
I stayed at the monastery with my godfather for ten days, and this was a period in my life where I was thinking about leaving the world and becoming a monk. For ten days, I lived with the monks in the monastery, going to church services for eight hours a day, and doing chores such as sweeping, folding laundry, cleaning tables, watering the plants, etc. And while working and doing chores, I was constantly reciting the Jesus Prayer over and over again: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. This prayer is everything to a monk, it can even be to a lay person as well.
During my stay, I did confession and received spiritual counsel with a couple of very holy monks, including Father Chrysostom and Elder Paisios. I also had a few very wonderful encounters with Elder Ephraim (of blessed memory), which were so brief yet wonderful and lovely! The experiences with these holy monks had a profound impact on me that I will never forget. They are truly holy people of God!
At the end of the ten days, I literally did not want to leave. I wanted to stay and become a monk. But alas it was not the life that I was to have. I still had a desire to get married, so I returned to the world and years later, I met my beloved wife!
Both my wife and I visited Saint Anthony Monastery together years later, and being there for only a few days had a wonderful impact on my wife as it did me years earlier. Glory to God!
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