The Almond Tree at Saint Stephen’s

There is one almond tree growing inside the monastery, next to the Chapel of Saint Stephen. Its subtle fragrance fills the air in the early morning.

Almond Blossoms

Almond blossoms are the heralds of spring.

Almond Trees in Bloom

The almond trees are again in bloom, their fragrant pink blossoms in stark contrast to the bare granite mountains that surround the monastery.

Chapel of Saint Theodore

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.

Morning Haze

A rare morning haze at sunrise

Trapeza Storeroom Wall

Weathered beams project through the wall of the trapeza storeroom.

The Cross of Saint Stephen’s Chapel

The cross on top of Saint Stephen’s Chapel in the morning sunlight

Inscription of the Forty Martyrs

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.

Chapel of the Forty Martyrs of Sinai and Raithou

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.

Theophany 2017

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.