[tabs type=”horizontal”][tabs_head][tab_title]St Katherine’s Monastery of Sinai[/tab_title][/tabs_head][tab][/tab][/tabs]
Primordial wisdom holds sway under the desert night, while, drowsy and thirsty, one stumbles through pre-dawn darkness toward Liturgy in an ancient monastic cell. Tucked under a world that hasn’t changed for three thousand years, its chapel is so tiny that the ‘congregation’ reads over the celebrant’s shoulder from his own liturgy book – as luminescence gradually floods the surrounding granite world with palpable grace …
The Sinai monks continue to liturgize the ancient hermitages scattered throughout the desert, the same once inhabited by the great Saints of the Orthodox tradition, such as the cave where Saint John Klimakos spent 40 years in solitary asceticism, before being recalled as “the new Moses” to become abbot of the Sinai Monastery.
It was in response to a request from the abbot of the Sinai’s second major monastery, at the ancient Red Sea port of Raitho, that John wrote the famous “Ladder of Divine Ascent.”
“Love is essentially the banishment of every kind of contrary thought.”
– Saint John Klimakos
“We are created to love,” says Sinai Priestmonk, Father Pavlos. “Whoever wishes to produce this fruit however, must remain attached to Christ. Unless the branch is attached to the vine it cannot make fruit; neither can we, without Christ, live according to the truths He taught.”
With the incisive idiom typical of the desert, Elder Pavlos at once highlights both the essence of Christian life, and the contribution to society of the oldest monastic community in the world.
Tracing the roots of their timeline almost to the apostolic age, monks of the God-trodden Mountain of Sinai preserve not only the treasures of Christian antiquity, but the evangelical way of life that gave rise to such a legacy – as living tradition.
On the holy ground where God revealed His Name in the immaterial fire of the Burning Bush, the Greek Orthodox monks practice the ascetic of simplicity of soul. This is based on love for God first, in order to truly love others.
At the apex of revelation where Old and New Testaments converge in the glory of divine vision, fulfillment of the First Commandment goes hand in hand with the Second; love for God means love for one’s neighbor.
With over five decades’ service to the practical application of this tradition, Damianos I, Archbishop of Sinai, Pharan, and Raitho, calls Orthodox Christianity “the only chance for the salvation of a world gone astray.” Seventeen centuries of unbroken peace with the Monastery’s Bedouin neighbors would offer powerful support to his words.
“We show them love,” explains Elder Pavlos, “which God seeks from us. As Orthodox Christians, we do believe we have the truth as our Christ taught it. Christ proclaimed the truth, and then the Apostles and other Fathers of the Church lived it, preserving the integrity of His teaching in its original purity.
“The Church lives this truth until today, as did the Apostles and early Fathers, as βίωμα, daily life experience.
“God seeks this from us, because the love of Christ embraces all the world. This love however does not imply the sacrifice of what we received from the Fathers. For the truest love is to preserve the truth as we received it, so we may hand it on, unblemished, to those who come after us.”
Sinai’s soaring granite reaches host no refuge from the radiance of the Sun of Righteousness, and the pristine clarity of a soul loving God first hosts no prejudice, demystifying the tolerance constituent to the peace of so many centuries.
Unless love for others wells up from the living waters that truly quench thirst, the primordial springs of love for God within the heart, it is not really the authentic love that Christ taught – not as philosophy, stresses Father Pavlos, but through the sermon of His own life.
If imitating Christ’s authentic love is not quite so effortless as the elder’s uncomplicated phrases might indicate, Saint John Chrysostom explains why: Rather than instructing His followers to sacrifice an unblemished lamb according to Old Testament custom – Christ offers Himself as the unblemished lamb for the ineffable sacrifice of love that takes place upon the Cross.
It was his failure to love God, say the Fathers, that caused the first Adam’s fall from grace; It is the success of the second, the new and sinless Adam, that restores human beings to divine grace, and thus, unity with God, one another, and all creation.
“Not judging others is the prototypical Sinaite virtue,” says Father Pavlos. “As the accounts of the Sinai saints – Saint John the Sabaite, Saint John Klimakos and others – emphasize, when we condemn others the grace of God abandons us. Ultimately, that which separates us from God is the lack of this love – the love according to Christ – that God seeks from us.”
The oldest surviving fragments of the Ladder of Divine Ascent are at St. Catherine’s and date to the eighth century, within one century of Saint John Klimakos himself, says Monastery Librarian Father Justin. Besides the holy relics of the Great-martyr Saint Catherine of Alexandria, the Monastery safeguards illuminated manuscripts and the world’s greatest collection of Byzantine icons, including most of those that survived the ravages of iconoclasm. Many of these can be viewed in the Holy Monastery’s Treasury. Also on display are ancient embroideries, ecclesiastical vessels and other precious objects bestowed upon the Monastery by the kings, queens, and emperors of Byzantium, Europe and Russia.
Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest Bible in the world, the famed encaustic Pantocrator icon of Christ from the sixth century, and the golden mosaic of the Transfiguration of Christ filling the Monastery basilica’s great apse form but part of the heritage Sinai monks have labored to protect from the ages for the inspiration and enlightenment of future generations.
[tabs type=”horizontal”][tabs_head][tab_title]Supporting the Monastery[/tab_title][/tabs_head][tab][/tab][/tabs]
Due to the recent humanitarian crises of the wider region and the critically depressed Greek economy, St. Catherine’s has lost major sources of income elemental to sustaining its role as guardian of this sacred legacy. There is no local Orthodox community to support St. Catherine’s as it confronts unprecedented challenges in the 2st century.
In response, an IRS approved not-for-profit 501(c)(3) charity has been formed to provide a secure channel for general donations to St. Catherine’s Monastery: For more information, or to make a single or recurring donation, visit www.mountsinaimonastery.org
“Friends of Mount Sinai Monastery” is not associated with any other organization. Its sole mission is to assist St. Catherine’s continued expression of the timeless values of ancient Christian spirituality. Donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law and reach St. Catherine’s without diminution except for the small transaction fees charged by financial institutions. FMSM’s volunteer board includes respected and experienced leaders in business.
Contemplating the ageless vision of the desert’s massive beauty, one wonders if there can be a better way of counteracting the pervasive evil that threatens the hopes of today’s children in so many ways, than by supporting its exact opposite – the tradition of love, that is, of the Monastery which has proved itself the silent standard-bearer of this very tradition, simply by continuing to practice it, against all odds, since the third century …
“The great and difficult journey into the desert is something desired by all who value inner peace. Thus, the monks consider the continued operation of the monastery a duty not just to themselves, but to the visitors who reach this wilderness from all corners of the world, hoping to experience the stillness that exists between the soul and God amidst such beauty sanctified by the divine Presence – where the voice of God can still be heard.”
– His Eminence Archbishop Damianos *****************************************************************
Orthodox Christians feel monasteries their own homes, and rightly so. Inhabited throughout centuries by those devoted to living the words of Christ, their wisdom is handed down from generation to generation. This not true of St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai however. As the oldest continuously functioning Christian monastery of all, it belongs to the world.
The Greek Orthodox Monastery now needs the support of those it has labored so long to serve. Even small contributions go far in Egypt, so please share this posting on Facebook, or embed it on other websites.
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