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The Nativity of Christ

‘And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger’ (Luke 2:16). Detail of a Sinai icon dated to the eighth or ninth century.

Two passages from On the Nativity of Christ, by Saint Gregory the Theologian:

Χριστὸς γεννᾶται, δοξάσατε· Χριστὸς ἐξ οὐρανῶν, ἀπαντήσατε· Χριστὸς ἐπὶ γῆς, ὑψώθητε. Ἄσατε τῷ Κυρίῳ, πᾶσα ἡ γῆ· καὶ, ἵν᾿ ἀμφότερα συνελὼν εἴπω, Εὐφραινέσθωσαν οἱ οὐρανοὶ, καὶ ἀγαλλιάσθω ἡ γῆ, διὰ τὸν ἐπουράνιον, εἶτα ἐπίγειον.

Ὢ τῆς καινῆς μίξεως· ὢ τῆς παραδόξου κράσεως· ὁ ὢν γίνεται, καὶ ὁ ἄκτιστος κτίζεται, καὶ ὁ ἀχώρητος χωρεῖται, διὰ μέσης ψυχῆς νοερᾶς μεσιτευούσης θεότητι, καὶ σαρκὸς παχύτητι. Καὶ ὁ πλουτίζων, πτωχεύει· πτωχεύει γὰρ τὴν ἐμὴν σάρκα, ἵν᾿ ἐγὼ πλουτήσω τὴν αὐτοῦ θεότητα. Καὶ ὁ πλήρης, κενοῦται· κενοῦται γὰρ τῆς ἑαυτοῦ δόξης ἐπὶ μικρὸν, ἵν᾿ ἐγὼ τῆς ἐκείνου μεταλάβω πληρώσεως.

Christ is born, glorify Him. Christ from heaven, go out to meet Him. Christ on earth; be exalted. Sing unto the Lord all the whole earth; and that I may join both in one word, Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad, for Him Who is of heaven and then of earth.

O new commingling; O strange conjunction; the Self-Existent comes into being, the Uncreate is created, That which cannot be contained is contained, by the intervention of an intellectual soul, mediating between the Deity and the corporeity of the flesh. And He Who gives riches becomes poor, for He assumes the poverty of my flesh, that I may assume the richness of His Godhead. He that is full empties Himself, for He empties Himself of His glory for a short while, that I may have a share in His Fulness.

Archetypal Sinai Kelli

An archetypal Sinai kelli facing one of the inner courtyards within the monastery

Making Prosphora

Ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν ζύμῃ, ἣν λαβοῦσα γυνὴ ἐνέκρυψεν εἰς ἀλεύρου σάτα τρία ἕως οὗ ἐζυμώθη ὅλον.

The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened. (Matthew 13:33)

Making prosphora from natural yeast (‘sourdough’) starter is a challenge. There are many variables. After many trials, and errors, the variables slowly become a coordinated whole, and the process becomes a joy. But always there is more to learn.

Pilgrims from Greece bring us κίτρινο αλεύρι από σκληρό σιτάρι, ‘yellow flour from durum wheat’, the best flour for making prosphora.

Chapel of the Prophet Aaron

The Chapel of the Prophet Aaron in the last moments of sunlight

The Topmost Kelli

The topmost kelli along the east wall

The Feast of Saint Catherine 2017

This year, many pilgrims came for the feast of Saint Catherine, from Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Romania, and Russia.

Early morning with all the lamps lit, as pilgrims begin to fill the church.

Bishop Theodoros of Babylon represented the Patriarch of Alexandria, while Archbishop Theophylaktos of Jordan represented the Patriarch of Jerusalem. One hierodeacon and twelve priests concelebrated with them for the Divine Liturgy. Archbishop Damianos was present, but remained at the choir.

Beams of sunlight shine on newly polished lamps.

Sunlight illuminates the menologion icon showing the saints for the first days of June.

At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, we carry the relics of Saint Catherine in a procession around the church, saying prayers for the members of the community and the pilgrims who have come for the feast, and commemorating those fathers of Sinai who have gone to their rest.

Birds on the Bell Tower

The bell tower in the early morning, with grackles and pigeons absorbing the first warmth of the sun.

Bell Tower in the Morning Light

The top of the bell tower, photographed from the south side of the monastery, across a tile roof. The crosses are favourite perches for grackles and doves and pigeons in the early morning.

Winter Sun

The first rays of sun strike the parapet along the north wall.

The Inscription on the Box

The wooden box given by Agnes Smith Lewis in 1893 for the protection of Sinai Syriac 30 has a silver plate set into the centre of the lid. The inscription, engraved in Greek majuscule, was composed by Charles Walter Moule, who succeeded Agnes’s husband Samuel Savage Lewis as librarian of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

She herself provided a translation of the inscription in her book, In the Shadow of Sinai:

The four Holy Gospels in Syriac

Agnes, the foreigner, has given this casket for the Sacred Scriptures, not without gratitude, to the famous monks

Agnes Smith Lewis

The silver hallmarks. The first bears the initials of the silversmiths, Richard Martin and Ebenezer Hall. The second, a crown, is the symbol for Sheffield. The third, a lion passant guardant, attests to the purity of the silver. The fourth, the letter Z, is the date stamp for 1892.