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Sinai Persian 2

The Sinai library contains two Persian manuscripts. The second is a copy of Tarīkh-i Jahān-gushā (‘The History of the World Conqueror’), the story of Genghis Khan. It was written by Atirta-Malik Juvayni in the thirteenth century. He writes from personal observation. He was with Ilkhan Hulagu in 1256 at the taking of Alamut, and was responsible for saving part of its celebrated library.

This is a tall manuscript, measuring 37 by 22.5 centimetres. It is 8 centimetres thick. The decoration of the title page is breathtaking in the precision of its pen and brush work, and in its palette of colours, with blue and gold predominating. The manuscript is written on thin sheets of glazed Oriental paper.

The inside front board is covered with tooled leather of different colours. The central panel depicts an idyllic garden, with deer beneath a flowering tree, and birds in its branches. One of the deer drinks from a stream. This is stamped on gilt leather, with gilt ornaments above and below.

Greek New Finds Majuscule 2

Sinai Greek New Finds Majuscule 2 is a manuscript of the Epistles of Saint Paul, in parallel Greek and Arabic. It has been dated to the latter ninth or early tenth century, and may have been written in Damascus. Folio 24 recto shows the beginning of the Epistle to the Ephesians. A rubric above specifies that this passage is to be read in the Synaxis on Palm Sunday.

In the sixth chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, Saint Paul wrote,

Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints. (Ephesians 6:13-18)

At the end of the epistle, the scribe has written two words, ὅπλον καλόν, ‘a good shield’. Each word has five letters, and they are written in cross form, sharing the central lambda.

At the conclusion of the Epistle to the Colossians, the scribe wrote, ἔρρει δὲ ἡ χείρ· ἡ γραφὴ δὲ προσμένει, ‘the hand has collapsed, but the writing endures’. This is the perpetual lament of scribes, who deal with difficult materials and suffer from writer’s cramp. But the manuscripts they produce live on.

Sinai Greek 36

Sinai Greek 36 is a Psalter written in parallel Greek and Arabic in the ninth century. The Greek is written in an inclined majuscule with no separation between the words. The Arabic is written in kufic script. The title of each psalm is written in vermilion in both languages. Beneath is the text of Psalm 39,

Ὑπομένων ὑπέμεινα τὸν Κύριον, καὶ προσέσχε μοι καὶ εἰσήκουσε τῆς δεήσεώς μου.

With patience I waited patiently for the Lord, and he was attentive unto me and hearkened to my supplication.

‘In the Christian Arabic manuscripts preserved in the monastery of Saint Catherine in Sinai we can listen to a Christianity of the Middle East that resolutely combined engagement with the Islamic present and loyalty to its own past. They show that Christianity found its own voice in the Arabic language, so as to contribute to the exuberant new Arabic culture.’

Peter Brown, ‘The Great Transition’, The New York Review of Books, May 10, 2012.

The Psalter of Cassiane

The famous Psalter of Cassiane has leaves that measure only 14 x 8.5 centimetres (5 1/2 by 3 3/8 inches). In the fourteenth century, the Nun Cassiane was able to write the entire 151 Psalms of the Septuagint text on only six leaves. She wrote two columns per page. Each column measures only 38 millimetres (1 1/2 inches) in width.

This photograph shows the entire Psalm 59 and the first verse of Psalm 60, ‘Hearken, O God, unto my supplication; attend unto my prayer.’ She took advantage of standard scribal abbreviations, but every accent and every iota subscript is in place. It is an astonishing feat of writing at the smallest possible size.

In the nineteenth century, the Psalter of Cassiane was kept in a side chapel of the monastery basilica and shown to visitors. In 1836, John Lloyd Stephens, from New York city, visited Sinai. He wrote, ‘In one of the chapels are a copy of the Evangelists, written in letters of gold by the Emperor Theodosius, and portraits of the four evangelists and the twelve apostles, and all the psalms of David, written in an inconceivably small space by a young virgin who came out and died in the desert.’

John Lloyd Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land, first published in 1837.

Liturgy at the Peak of Sinai

Every year, we celebrate the Divine Liturgy at the peak of Mount Sinai on the day after Pentecost, the Monday of the Holy Spirit. This year, we were joined by pilgrims from Greece and Russia. We made the ascent in the night, and began the Liturgy at 4:00 AM.

The Holy Table in the apse of the small chapel.

The lamp over the Holy Table, with frescoes on the wall depicting the Apostles.

The iconostasion of the chapel.

The Holy Table from the nave.

By the time we began our descent, the sun was rising into the sky.

The mountain peaks receding into the distance.

Icon by Candle Light

In the kelli at Saint Panteleimon’s, a candle shines before an icon print in the silence of the desert.

Saint Panteleimon’s in Spring

The Chapel of Saint Panteleimon in the springtime, with a small almond tree in bloom.

Distant Landscape

A photograph taken from much higher up in the mountains. The Chapel of Saint John the Forerunner is visible at the far left.

Weathered Granite Boulder

A granite boulder has been weathered by exposure to rain and winds and ice over the centuries.

View from Saint Anne’s

The view from the rock promontory at the Chapel of Saint Anne.