Elder Ephraim, the Monk Who Established 19 Monasteries in North America, Dies at 91

Elder Ephraim, also known as Ioannis Moraitis, the spiritual head of the Greek Orthodox St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona passed away on Sunday. He was 91.

Ephraim, born in Volos, Greece, established 19 monasteries in North America, 17 in the US and 2 in Canada, both for men and women, which are subject to the Greek Orthodox Archdioceses of America and Canada.

He lived in the monastery, established in 1995, situated in the middle of the harsh Arizona desert not too far away from Phoenix and the town of Florence.

He spent his childhood in poverty helping his father with his work, but he always followed the example of his mother (who later became a nun and bore the name “Theophano”).

At the age of 14, he decided to follow a monastic path, but his spiritual father did not give him the blessing to go to Mount Athos until he was 19 years old. Upon his arrival at Mount Athos on September 26, 1947, he went straight to Elder Joseph the Hesychast in the Monastery of Timios Prodromos (Saint John the Forerunner), who accepted him into his brotherhood. Nine months later, in 1948, he received the name “Ephraim”.

In 1973, the brotherhood moved to the Holy Monastery of Philotheou where Elder Ephraim became abbot. Thanks to his good reputation, the monastic brotherhood grew rapidly.

In 1979, he went to Canada due to health issues. Along with his medical examinations, he was preaching the Greek population and hearing their confessions. Then, he proceeded in establishing 19 monasteries in North America, so that the Greek population would have their own spiritual place.

Saint Anthony’s Monastery

Saint Anthony’s Monastery is situated, is the ideal backdrop for worshipers and the grounds attract many out-of-state visitors as well.

The monastery was first established in the summer of 1995, when six Athonite monks arrived in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona carrying with them the sacred, millennial heritage of the Holy Mountain, Athos in Greece.

They created much of what is found on the extensive grounds that the monastery is known for today, complete with building the first main church, living quarters for the monks, the dining hall, and guest facilities. Eventually a lovely vegetable garden, a small vineyard, citrus orchards, fountains and an olive grove were added as well.

Leading a life of celibacy and fasting, Orthodox monks at the St. Anthony’s Monastery say “their job is to repent and save their souls.”

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