Sunlight from the east windows creates patterns on the north wall
Crosses etched on the granite stones behind the chapel of Saint Panteleimon
Services at Sinai begin at four o’clock in the morning, when the stars are still bright in the clear desert sky. The sun rises during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy some three hours later, filling the bema with light.
The basilica at Sinai faces exactly east. In the winter, the sun rises far to the south. The rays of sunlight do not enter the eastern windows, which are deeply set into the thick stone walls. Around February, as the sun rises farther to the north each day, the first ray of sunlight will enter, slanting to the left. By about the third week in April, the sunlight enters straight into the centre of the church. As spring gives way to summer, the sun rises more to the north, and the sun’s rays enter into the church slanted to the right.
By September, the sun is again rising farther to the south each day, and the sun’s rays are again slanted to the left. With the coming of winter, the sun’s beams will again cease to enter the eastern windows.
August 31 is the feast of the deposition of the precious cincture (ἡ τιμία ζώνη) of the All-holy Theotokos in her church at Blachernae in Constantinople. The most remote of all the chapels on the high Sinai plateau is dedicated to this feast day. Father Nikodemos, Father Akakios, and I went there the previous evening to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. It is a three hour climb from the monastery to the chapel.
Proskomede at three o’clock in the morning
The small chapel and iconostasion
The chapel and surrounding mountains
Other mountains visible in the distance
Hawthorn trees grow in the Sinai mountains
The berries are edible
Beginning the long trek back to the monastery. The peak of Sinai is visible in the distance.
Following the trail through the mountains
Dried seed pods on a desert plant
Ἐν τῇ κοιμήσει τὸν κόσμον οὐ κατέλιπες Θεοτόκε
In thy dormition thou didst not forsake the world, O Theotokos
Then stretching out her hands, as we may believe, she blessed all those present, and then she heard the words, ‘Come, my beloved Mother, to thy rest. Arise and come, most dear amongst women, the winter is past and gone, the harvest time is at hand. Thou art fair, my beloved, and there is no stain in thee. Thy fragrance is sweeter than all ointments’. With these words in her ear, that holy one gave up her spirit into the hands of her Son. What happens? Nature, I conjecture, is stirred to its depths, strange sounds and voices are heard, and the swelling hymns of angels who precede, accompany, and follow her. Some constitute the guard of honour to that undefiled and immaculate soul on its way to heaven until the queen reaches the divine throne. Others surrounding the sacred and divine body proclaim God’s Mother in angelic harmony.
From the Second Homily on the Dormition of the Virgin Mary by Saint John Damascene
A ripidion depicting the Holy Transfiguration
Καὶ ἰδοὺ ἄνδρες δύο συνελάλουν αὐτῷ, οἵτινες ἦσαν Μωϋσῆς καὶ Ἠλίας, οἳ ὀφθέντες ἐν δόξῃ ἔλεγον τὴν ἔξοδον αὐτοῦ, ἣν ἤμελλεν πληροῦν ἐν Ἰερουσαλήμ.
And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. (Luke 9:30-31)
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