A Hermit in New York

anthony rock
“My rock, my sacred place,
absorbs my prayer – my gift to life.
Rock too, as all creation does,
gifts back – opens, breaks –
and yielding itself broken and inwardly exposed,
offers its hidden treasure
as prayerful gift of beauty.”

Words and Image by Brother Anthony-Francis, Hermit

“Brother Anthony-Francis does not live under a rock, he just prays on one in Central Park.
He is a hermit, practicing a solitary life of prayer in the bustle of New York. His home is the Hermitage of St. John of the Cross, also known as Apartment 1C of a building on Haven Avenue in Washington Heights.

While most Christians were tuning in to the spirit of togetherness that blossoms around Christmas, Brother Anthony-Francis was making a promise to stand apart. Two weeks ago, he took final vows before the Episcopal bishop of New York, Mark S. Sisk, to be a celibate, solitary monk for the rest of his life. It was, he said, a ”complete holocaust of self, body and soul,” the transformation of his life into one long prayer. ”The Holy Spirit was absolutely pouring out of me,” he said.

To talk to Brother Anthony-Francis is to enter an unusual world. It is a world of mysticism, of the laying on of hands (he has a healing ministry), of communion with nature, but also of daily work at a Midtown office, of Jewish roots in New Jersey, of a turbulent relationship with institutional religion. ”A hermit doesn’t mean isolating yourself from the world,” he said in an interview in his hermitage, which evokes the cliff-dwelling hermits of old. His building is on a bluff overlooking ramps for the George Washington Bridge.

”I’m apart,” he said. ”I live here with nobody but God. It’s a bit like the Desert Fathers.” But like his forefathers in the early days of Christianity, Brother Anthony-Francis said, he does not shun all of human society. ”People would go to the Desert Fathers and stay there,” he said. ”I don’t want to hide under a rock. I am not called to do that. What makes you a hermit is how you relate to the world.”

He feels no alienation from the spirit of people coming together for Christmas. ”The ironic part is that in my solitude I have the ability to be with those people,” he said. ”It’s through prayer.”

An important part of this hermit’s life is a rocky outcrop in the southern part of Central Park. Every morning, weather permitting, Brother Anthony-Francis sits on the rock and prays. He contemplates, communes with the surroundings and draws inspiration for spiritual writings. He once built a meditation entirely from a piece of broken glass on the rock.

He attends Eucharistic service daily, often stops in a church for evening prayers, and prays at home in the evening. He holds evening prayers for others in the hermitage once a week and a healing service once a month at Holyrood Episcopal Church in Washington Heights.
Outside of his prayer life, Brother Anthony-Francis manages a publications database for a recruitment advertising agency, the Bernard Hodes Group.

He dresses in civilian clothes at work. He sees a movie and goes out to dinner perhaps once a month. He has few friends; most have fallen away over the years.

Then there is the past. Brother Anthony-Francis was born Jewish 65 years ago, grew up in Irvington, N.J., and Newark, and was known in the secular world as Don Davis. His parents divorced when he was 8, and he lived with his aunt for a while. As an adult, he studied how to make false teeth, took acting classes, sang in cafes and took restaurant orders in exchange for dinner. He has a daughter in Florida from a brief and early marriage, and three grandchildren. His first religious experience dates to when he was 7. He was flipping through a book called ”Heroes of the Bible.” He asked his mother who this Jesus was. She said, ”Never mind, just some illegitimate child,” Brother Anthony-Francis recounts. So he blocked out the name with a pencil. ”Suddenly I began feeling really funny inside,” he said. A silent voice told him to look at the title. ”I went back and erased all those block-outs. That was very powerful for me back then. Now as an adult, it is awesome,” he said. At the ceremony two weeks ago, he signed his final vow on top of the book.

Brother Anthony-Francis recounts another mystical experience, in 1962. He describes waking up and seeing a hooded figure seated on his bed. They spoke somehow. He saw himself sleeping, felt a hand pushing his head back on the pillow. ”If you put this out there, it sounds like this guy is wacko,” he says. So he usually does not talk about the vision. But now, ”I do feel the need to share this,” he said. People out there need to know that ”God is alive and well in the world.”

Brother Anthony-Francis took first vows as a monk in 1992. Conflicts among the members caused problems in his order, which eventually dissolved. He said he had to live down a certain amount of mistrust from the hierarchy for being in the middle of a nasty situation.
He now has the support of Bishop Sisk, who is his direct superior.
Bishop Sisk said there are several dozen Episcopal hermits in the country and acknowledged that plotting a hermit’s life amid the bustling modern world can be a work in progress.
”People living a solitary life within a city have to use the discipline of their prayer to see the world around them as populated by the spirit, if you will,” the bishop said. As Brother Anthony-Francis put it: ”My spiritual life filtrates into the secular. In doing that, you act as a magnet for people in need.””

“Hermit Finds Life of Quiet Prayer Amid City’s Roar”
By Daniel J. Wakin
Published: December 25, 2002 “The New York Times”
The Cross of Ubuntu – Digital Image
Ubuntu appears as a wonderful word, but I feel a bit cheated because I wasn’t raised from childhood hearing that word. Only in that wise can we really come to know the vast spiritual and physical complexity that is Ubuntu; I believe it has its root in Nature.
If, while driving down a country road, we see a field of various types of flowers in full bloom, we might stop the car, get out, and take a picture and marvel in its beauty. But when those flowers are people, we become crippled in our appreciation of them—we seem to separate ourselves from Nature—as if Nature is not a part of us.
In the context of prayer, I see Ubuntu as a communicative essence, forming itself into an angular and cross-cut structure coming into us invisibly and flowing out from us visibly in all directions at once, to spread itself out as Love enmeshed and inscribed upon the face of Creation. And when we yell our agony to God from our prayerful place, Heaven and Nature rush to embrace and comfort us, and we hear it and feel it and it is unbearably beautiful.
It is in this “embracing” that the spiritual weds with the physical, and we can then ask and “feel” in a more “full” way: “dear Lord, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose …”

Paraphrased from: “Between a Rock and a Beautiful Place” (by Br. Anthony-Francis) and “A Collect for Grace” (Book of Common Prayer, page 100)


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