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  • Christos
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 4, 2009


      Gregorian (4-8-2009) / Julian (22-7-2009)

      ‘As 21st century war jets fly over the
      monastery of Mar Sabbas nestled in the cliff face of the Kidron Valley
      in the Judean wilderness little has been altered in the daily life of the monks
      here over the past 1500 years. I was given the distinct privilege to abide with
      them in almost every way for three days and three nights, for no Protestants
      are normally permitted to lodge or worship with them. The foundations of the
      original ascetic lifestyle remain in tact in this cradle of monasticism; no
      women, no electricity, no running water, no communication with the outside
      world; the same liturgy, icons and apophatic theology. Since Constantine made
      Christianity the official Roman religion in the 4th century the
      anchorities have been regarded by the church as "taking the place" of the
      martyrs, as they daily die to self, guarding their free will against falling
      prey to the passions and vices of the soul. Their aim is to be found in John
      17:21, to be like Christ who is one in the Father, in the wilderness overcoming
      temptations with the wild beasts and the Spirit ministering to them. Their
      central idea is the pillar of Orthodoxy, a theosis, a deification of self, the
      transformation of man into the image of God. The monks preserve and spread the
      apostolic faith through worship, liturgy, monasticism, and missions.

      As I arrived from Jerusalem on January 1, 2009 I was greeted at
      the heavily fortified entrance and given a brief tour of the complex by a
      Russian monk in broken English, viewing the tomb of the desert fathers Sabba
      and John of Damascus. St. Sabba founded the site in the late 5th century while living in a cave opposite the existing monastery when in a vision
      seeing a pillar of fire found a cave behind it oriented to the east which would
      become the main sanctuary, today it is called the chapel of Saint Nicholas. The
      entire site is extraordinarily clean and well maintained with remains visible
      from the Byzantine period to today. The monks do not use standard Greenwich
      time but ancient Roman/Byzantine time as in Scripture (....in the 6th hour he was
      crucified...Luke 23:44...aka noon). The food served to me was to be eaten apart
      from the 30 monks because I am a Protestant. The food served was a hearty portion
      of cold stew consisting of no meat but potatoes and vegetables, with bread, salad,
      fruit and wine. Their daily life consists as follows. The day begins at 2:00
      a.m. with a three hour service in the chapel of St. Nicholas. I was permitted
      to partake in the entire service save the sacraments. The large cave is
      shrouded in darkness being only lit by candles with 800 year old icons and the
      bones of desert martyrs decorating its walls. While at Mar Sabba I finished
      memorizing the book of Revelation and it was in this service that I was first
      able to tell the entire book to myself from heart. The monks are awaken one
      hour prior to the service by a loud bell ringing 33 times, then again moments
      before the service starts they are summoned by the sound of a hammer knocking
      on wood, reminding them of Noah calling the beasts into the ark to save them
      from doom. As the monks enter the ark of the church their procedure is to
      individually venerate various icons by bowing to them and kissing them as well
      as the 136 skulls of the martyrs. They believe the bones not only retain their
      story but the Holy Spirit. The service is conducted entirely in Greek with
      reading from the Septuagint and their liturgy, culminating with the sacraments.
      From 5:00 to 8:00 a.m. is a time of
      prayer and rest save for those who prepare the main and only meal of the day
      served at 9:00 a.m., save for the weekend when there are two meals served
      daily. From 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 pm is a time of work and study. From 3:00 to
      4:00 p.m. is the evening vespers service which is a time of prayer, singing and
      reading that begins in the narthex of the other main chapel the Church of the
      Annunciation. The monks would not permit me to venerate the icons and during
      the service I first had to stand out of the chapel in the entrance way, out of
      paradise, but on the second day I was kindly invited into the chapel with them.
      Following vespers there is a one hour break till the 30 minute evening prayer
      service starting at 5:00 p.m. which is followed by a time of devotions by the
      Abbot to his flock of which I was excluded. From 6:00 p.m. until 2:00 a.m. is a
      time of prayer, meditation and rest.

      The three days and three
      nights I stayed with the monks was everything I imagined but nothing I
      expected, for seeing something is different than being told about it. The
      living conditions would be considered good for desert anchorites. The 110 rooms
      in thelavra are small 11
      feet by 11
      feet but warm and decorated. Each room has one bed,
      desk, and lamp with three blankets and a tub of well water to wash their hands
      and their feet. After the first day I felt very welcome by most the monks,
      especially the five who spoke some English and developed a real affinity with
      them. The monks were very curious about America and its new president and
      considered these days the birth pangs. I was scheduled to stay seven days but only
      stayed three, for I based my decision on the unwritten rules of hospitality,
      not wanting to wear out my welcome and the fact that I did not want to invade
      their high holy Christmas services. This was advantageous as they asked me to
      return to them and next time to bring some maps of the Holy

      This text is reproduced with the kind
      permission of Mr. Tom Meyer, the author.

      Statement issued from the Chief Secretary's Office

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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