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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Monastery of St. Catherine, Mount Sinai, A Model of Christian & Muslim Peace & Fraternity

The Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. Catherine, founded by Emporer Justinian in the mid 5th century

Where God walked on Earth; The Monastery of Mount Sinai is the world's greatest example of centuries of uninterupted peace, contemplation, monastic asceticism and unbroaken fraternity between Christians and Muslims

There is one place on Earth where according to all the "peoples of the Book", Jews, Christians, and Muslims, God spoke to man. It is the Jebel Mousa, Mount Moses or as it is known in  Greek texts, "The God Trodden Mountain". Theobadiston Oros. It forms part of a barren, granite mountain range in the lower Sinai Peninsula.

The Bible relates how in the wilderness and solitude of this landscape God revealed his will to Moses first through the Burning Nush, latter through the Yen Commandments. Centuries latter, in a cave on this same mountain, God spoke once more to the prophet Elijah.

These events were to be landmarks in human history. They shaped the historical destiny of the Jews. Christianity saw in them a key point in the development of God's relationship with man. The Koran dwells on them time and again.

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The Holy Monastery of St. Catherne at the foot of Mount Siani has been characterized by scholars, clergymen of the Easttern Orthodox and Latin Churches and historiians as the most celebrated of the world's Christian monasteries and one of the most ancient and long enduring; And even surviving the various ravages of wars and conflicts down through the ages.

In the course of the Monastery's 15 centuries of uninterupted life, and despte the great difficulties faced in the mdst of alien peoples, not only has St. Catherne's managed to maintain the Orthodox faith intact and provde the Church and the Ecumenical Patrarchate with pre-eminent figures of sanctity and monastic and ermitical asceticism such as St. Gregory and St. John Climacus etc.but it also secured special privileges from the great Prophet Mohammed and, at a latter date, from Popes of Rome and leaders of both the Byzantine East and the Latn West.

The Monastery thus proved itself a great spiritual hearth of Hellensm and saintly mysticism, rendering the most distinguished service to Christian monasticism in general and to Orthodox monasticism in particular, the Orthodox faith, the Church and the Greek people and their great timeless heritage and long legacy of philosophy, democracy, social equality and theology.

At the same time, the monastery acquired international fame as a unique center of Byzantine icon painting. At this monastery, the iconography specialist may study the uninterrupted development of this art from the 6th century up till the present day.

St. Catherine's Monastery also developed its own Sinaitic school of icon painting wiith its own stylistic techniques and "Sinaitic" subject matter. Examples of ths school's work are encountered not only in icons but also in illuminated manuscripts of the calligraphic and chrysographic workshops of the Monastery's world famous Lbrary where very rare, early Bible texts have been preserved

The Monastery of Sinai, protected and surrounded as it is down through the ages by the high native stone fortification walls built by its royal founder, the Emperor Justinian, and isolated in the inhosptable, almost barren desert, was through the centuries a secure haven for invaluable works of art, beautifully embroidered liturgical vestments and many other priceless artifacts sent from all corners of the Earth as devout offerings of the fathful of the Church to the Monastery. These great and generous donations of priceless treasures of art were given to the Monastery, for the most part before the Church unfortunatly, due to geo-political and military upheavals split into the two major divisions of Orthodox East and Latin West, increasingly since the Council of Lyons (France) in the 12 century.

And this Great but unfortunate Schism culminated in the final split at the Council of Florance in the 14 century. This was when the Pope in Rome and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantnopal each sent seperate emissaries to one another to deliver letters of excommunication; Then the excommunication was finally, mutually lifted in 1968 by Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athanogorius

Byzantine, Post-Byzantine and modern Greek works representing all types of ecclesiastical art make up the artstic treasures of the Monastery.

The greatest and most priceless treasures of the Monastery have always been not the material, corporal treasure house but the priceless spiritual treasures of the great Orthodox faith and monastic life and priceless spiritual examples of the many monks, canonized sants, hermits and other ascetics who have lived in and around this great Monastery for centuries in the desert; This Monastery and its humble and holy monks have shown and continue to show the rest of our war torn and violent, hate-filled, racist world how to live in peace and harmany with their surrounding Muslim neighbors and to offer up unceasing prayers, Liturgy, universal fraternity, silence, solitude and contemplation up to Christ the High Priest-and to the Holy Theotokos, the Mother of God-before the Ideal High Altar which is in heaven.
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