The chapel on top of the mountain to the east of the monastery is dedicated to Saint Theodore. On February 8, the feast day of the saint, we climbed to the chapel for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. We set out when it was still dark, and reached the summit just as the first light of a new day was appearing on the horizon.
By the time of the Liturgy, the sun was shining through the high east window, made in the form of a cross.
The painted icons have been moved to the monastery for safekeeping. In their place are paper prints. The walls were decorated in a secco technique by Father Pachomius, a monk of Sinai who died in 1958.
Geckoes were hibernating on the cold wall.
A view of the small chapel in the morning sunlight, as we began our descent back to the monastery.
A rare morning haze at sunrise
Weathered beams project through the wall of the trapeza storeroom.
The cross on top of Saint Stephen’s Chapel in the morning sunlight
There is an ancient marble inscription mounted on the south wall of the Chapel of the Forty Martyrs of Sinai and Raithou.
+ Τῆς δ΄ δεκάδος τὴν διὰ τοῦ αἵματος κολυμβήθραν ζηλώσαντες οἱ ἰσάριθμοι ὅσιοι π(ατέ)ρ(ε)ς / ἐνθάδε κατάκεινται, ὧν ἡ εὐφροσύνη ἡ βάτος ἡ ἀληθινὴ ὑπάρχει· δι᾿ ὧν ὁ θ(εὸ)ς σῶσον ἡμᾶς +
+ Having emulated the baptism by blood of the 4 ten, the righteous fathers equal-in-number / lie in this place. Theirs is the joyous and true Burning Bush. Through them, O God, save us +
Scholars have had different opinions about the best way to understand and translate δ΄ δεκάδος. The simplest explanation is that it refers to the ‘four [ranks of] ten’ who were martyred at Raithou, with an equal number at Sinai.
The Burning Bush is an emblem for being in the very presence of God.
On January 14, we celebrate the feast day of the Forty Martyrs of Sinai and Raithou. In the year 373, forty monks were martyred at Raithou, on the coast of the Red Sea. Another forty monks were martyred at Sinai.
The chapel to the south of the Chapel of the Burning Bush is dedicated to their memory.
In 1885, the monastery sponsored the construction of a church and school for the Greek community at Raithou, on the coast of the Red Sea. The church was constructed opposite the traditional site of the fourth century monastery where forty monks were martyred in the year 373.
The icons and the iconostasion were brought from Russia. Father Arsenios has done much to adorn the church in recent years.
Many faithful gather for the celebration of Theophany, the Baptism of Christ. Following the Divine Liturgy, we read the Prayers for the Great Blessing of the Waters at a domed shrine in the middle of the courtyard.
From there, we go to the shores of the Red Sea just across the street, where we read the Gospel for the feast, and throw the cross into the water three times. It is retrieved by young men of the parish.
The passage of the Children of Israel through the Red Sea is a type of baptism (I Corinthians 10:2). It seems significant to return to the Red Sea on the feast of the Baptism of Christ.
Μυστήριον ξένον, ὁρῶ καὶ παράδοξον· οὐρανὸν τὸ Σπήλαιον· θρόνον Χερουβικὸν, τὴν Παρθένον· τὴν φάτνην χωρίον· ἐν ᾧ ἀνεκλίθη ὁ ἀχώρητος, Χριστὸς ὁ Θεός· ὃν ἀνυμνοῦντες μεγαλύνομεν.
A strange and wondrous mystery do I behold: the Cave is a heaven, the Virgin a throne of the Cherubim, the manger a place wherein is contained the Uncontainable, Christ God, whom do we magnify in hymns.
(Heirmos of the Ninth Ode of the Canon for the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, by Saint John Damascene)
A Sinai ripidion depicts the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child in the centre, surrounded by four medallions depicting the six winged Seraphim (Isaiah 6:2), and another four depicting the four Living Creatures that accompany the throne of God (Ezekiel 1:26). It seems especially appropriate at the Nativity of Christ, when we praise the Virgin Mary as a throne of the Cherubim.
And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11)
And Matthew again saith, that the Wise men coming from the east said, We have seen His Star in the East, and are come to worship Him (Matthew 2:2): and that being brought safe by a Star into the House of Jacob to Emmanuel, did by the gifts which they offered shew, Who He was, Who received their adoration: by the Myrrh first, because it was He, who should die and be buried for the perishable race of man: Gold again, because He is a King, of Whose Kingdom there is no end (Luke 1:33): and Frankincense because He is God, Who was both made known in Judea (Psalm 76:1), and displayed unto those who sought Him not (Isaiah 65:1).
Saint Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.9.2, translated by John Keble and published in Oxford in 1872
Using one of our own prosphora for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the Chapel of the All-holy Theotokos of the Life-giving Spring, τῆς Ὑπεραγίας Θεοτόκου τῆς Ζωοδόχου Πηγῆς.