In Search of the Desert Saints

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Having recently departed the land of Moses and the wandering Jews, it came to mind that I should document some of my thoughts and the feelings from this incredibly desolate place.  Reading the Bible and the daily lives of the Saints, you really can’t appreciate the unbelievable hardships that must inevitably have been faced daily, until you have been there.

Coming down from Mt Sinai, or as they also call it in Egypt, Moses mountain, I struggled with my body simply to walk.  Every part of my legs hurt.  It is a very very steep descent, taking the 3000+ steps instead of the round-about camel route.  I have hiked from the south rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado river and back, twice in the same week, and the  vertical movement is approximately 4000 plus feet.  The descent from the top of Mt Sinai, the steep route to St Catherine’s Monastery is about 3000 feet.  However, there is no comparison.

It is a very dramatic place.  It is truly hard to fathom, not only Moses and the Jews trying to survive in this harsh place for a few days, let alone 40 years.  It is also incredibly hard to fathom the desert fathers of the early Christian church fleeing from their homes in Cairo and Alexandria to live in caves in the desert.  (Read about St Catherine here)

Read the Old Testament and parts of the New, and then the daily lives of the Saints, like Anthony, Catherine and many countless others, and you simply cannot understand their lives, unless you go to this desert and experience it for yourself.

We went in late August.  The sun, long days and dryness are overwhelming.  However, seeing pictures of the monastery in December and you realize the extremes of winter as well –  temperatures often dipping into the freezing and even snow.  And yet, somehow, this emboldened their very faith.  It did not diminish it.

Maybe, just maybe, we need to experience more of these hardships in our lives to really live and appreciate our Christian faith.  However, (remind yourself), know when you visit, you are going to return to your soft bed, running water, internet, cell phones and TV.  So, as a result, you can only get the barest taste of what some of these great pillars of men and women endured to strengthen our very special Christian (Orthodox) religion.

Icon is of St Catherine of Egypt…  Her relics are at the Monastery bearing her name.  This Monastery was originally called The Monastery of the Burning Bush and has variously known other names.

An excerpt from the Monastery website:  “More than one hundred and seventy Sinai saints are honoured by the Church. In addition to Saint Catherine, these include Saint John Climacus, abbot of Sinai and author of The Ladder of Divine Ascent. They also include the ascetic fathers Hesychios and Philotheus, two saints with the name of Anastasius, Gregory of Sinai (who transplanted the Hesychast traditions to the Slavic peoples), and Symeon Pentaglossos (who translated relics of Saint Catherine to Rouen, and thereby helped establish the veneration of Saint Catherine in the West).”

Hiking down from the top of Mt Sinai, you can see the Monastery below and behind me here:

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Dormition Fast

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Today marks the first day of the Fast in Rememberance of the Theotokos, the Holy Virgin. The Orthodox Church has four great fasts during the year. The current fast begins today and culminates in the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos on August 15. It is a fixed fast, it occurs during the same dates each year, as opposed to Pascha, which is moveable.

During fasting seasons I am asked by close friends or colleagues why I am fasting, since it is not common for our Protestant friends to have structured fasts. We are appointed to fast for four major feasts in the Orthodox Tradition: Great Lent, Advent, Apostles Fast, and Dormition Fast. The first two festal fasting periods last forty days, while the next two are for two weeks. We are currently in preparation for this last feast, the Dormition of the Theotokos (mother of God) –the Church…

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