Climbing Holy Mount Sinai

Mount Sinai is a special place for Christians. Here God appeared to Moses, spoke with him and gave him ten commandments; here St. John the Climacus, Abbot of Mount Sinai, lived at the Monastery of St. Catherine, at the foot of the mountain. And the mount itself with its steep steps is a visible symbol of asceticism.

Unfortunately, nowadays the word “Sinai” more and more often sounds in military communiques and tragic news reports: the Sinai Peninsula more than once has been a scene of military clashes with radical Islamists, and its northern part is currently controlled by the IS militants. For Russian people Sinai now is also the site where a Russian airplane crashed in October 2015, killing all of its 224 passengers.

But the holy site will always attract pilgrims, because the Liturgy at the Holy Trinity Church on the top of Mount Sinai is always filled with the sense of presence of God.

Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev together with other pilgrims of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem made a pilgrimage to Mount Sinai. Here is his photo-report made during this trip.

A journey to Sinai

It was my first trip to Mt. Sinai and Egypt. The journey here was quite long. At 4:30 we departed from Tel Aviv.

There are 220 kilometers (c.136.7 miles) between the Israeli border and Mount Sinai. High-speed Egyptian fixed-run taxis for tourists cover this distance in two hours, but now there are 12 checkpoints for 200 kilometers (124.27 miles). Sometimes they inspect documents and sometimes just look and sign some papers, like trip sheets, to drivers. This is because of IS. There was a fighting not far from there the other day, when up to fifty IS militants were killed at the Israeli border. It is usually quiet in the tourist areas, while there is a tension in North Sinai (this trip took place before the terrible tragedy with the Russian plane in North Sinai).

The journey to Sinai

The journey to Sinai

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

One of checkpoints

One of checkpoints

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Bedouins’ residential settlements

Bedouins’ residential settlements

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Deserts of Sinai

Deserts of Sinai

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Deserts of Sinai

Deserts of Sinai

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The desert’s “ships”, that is, camels

The desert’s “ships”, that is, camels

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The closer to St. Catherine’s, the more austere it becomes

The closer to St. Catherine’s, the more austere it becomes

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The turn to the monastery and village

The turn to the monastery and village

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The bedouins’ market not far from St. Catherine’s

The bedouins’ market not far from St. Catherine’s

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The next to last checkpoint before the monastery

The next to last checkpoint before the monastery

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Bedouin children

Bedouin children

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

At St. Catherine’s Monastery

We arrived at St. Catherine’s Monastery just ahead of the evening service. We put up at the hotel and went to the Vespers. The service was not long. It was celebrated by a hieromonk who did not enter the sanctuary and read or proclaimed all that was needed either in front of the royal doors in the middle of the temple or from his place on the left choir. One hieromonk and one layman performed antiphonal singing, standing in the stasidia in front of each other. Another hieromonk censed during the service.

After the service, the relics of Greatmartyr Catherine were brought out for veneration and the saint’s inscribed small rings were distributed to the faithful as a blessing. Some got one ring or two rings, I personally was given three rings of different size.

Then all went to the Burning Bush. We venerated the place under the altar of another aisle – exactly where Prophet Moses had stood. At the entrance all of us took off our shoes – in memory of the Biblical words. The Burning Bush itself is situated behind the high altar of the main monastery basilica – the Church of Holy Transfiguration. The Bush is now not available for veneration, because earlier pilgrims would try to snap its twigs.

Any photographing inside the main monastery church is prohibited, so there will be no photos from that church.

By the way, from its foundation in the fourth century and beautification by the Holy Emperor Justinian in the sixth century, the monastery was dedicated to the Transfiguration of the Lord, but by the eleventh century it derived its present name – in honor of Great Martyr Catherine.

After the service and veneration of its shrines everybody went to a small monastery museum with icons, ancient manuscripts, church vessels – the historic heritage. Most of all I wanted to see the “Savior of Sinai” icon “face to face” – this is my most favorite icon of the Lord. And we did see it! It is only a pity that the museum shop had no good quality reproduction of this icon (only distorted colors or poor quality of print). And I wanted to have it at home so much…

After the evening service and a frugal dinner we had a short rest, read the rule for the Liturgy and left St. Catherine’s Monastery at about 11 PM.

It should be said that our group, thanks to negotiations of Fr. Leonty who knows Greek, managed to receive a blessing to celebrate a Liturgy right on the summit of the mountain.

According to the monastery’s assistant abbot, who gave us the church keys in exchange for our (with Fr. Leonty) passports and permits for conducting services (issued by Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem), it was an exception to the the rule. Besides, the repair in the church was not completed yet and we were to serve in not very good conditions. But we were prepared for anything; glory be to God that we received a blessing to celebrate this Liturgy. All that we needed after this was to climb the mountain…

The Burning Bush

The Burning Bush

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The guest cells

The guest cells

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The monastery gardens

The monastery gardens

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Olive trees – the monastery’s wealth

Olive trees – the monastery’s wealth

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Monastery cats

Monastery cats

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

A hand pump near an ancient well

A hand pump near an ancient well

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The monastery’s ossuary

The monastery’s ossuary

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The monastery’s ossuary

The monastery’s ossuary

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The Basilica of the Holy Transfiguration and a belltower

The Basilica of the Holy Transfiguration and a belltower

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The fresco of the Transfiguration of the Lord at the church entrance

The fresco of the Transfiguration of the Lord at the church entrance

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The entrance to the Church of Holy Transfiguration

The entrance to the Church of Holy Transfiguration

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

A canopy above the altar in the sanctuary of the main church. Everything inside the church is lit by a single light bulb; otherwise there are only candles and icon lamps in the temple

A canopy above the altar in the sanctuary of the main church. Everything inside the church is lit by a single light bulb; otherwise there are only candles and icon lamps in the temple

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The incorrupt relics of St. Stephen

The incorrupt relics of St. Stephen

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Moses and Aaron

Moses and Aaron

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The Burning Bush as a symbol of Holy Theotokos. Below are Moses and St. Catherine

The Burning Bush as a symbol of Holy Theotokos. Below are Moses and St. Catherine

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Sakkos (a bishop’s robe) of the Archbishop of Sinai

Sakkos (a bishop’s robe) of the Archbishop of Sinai

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The Ladder of Paradise in Arabic (c. 10th cent.)

The Ladder of Paradise in Arabic (c. 10th cent.)

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Ancient crosses and copies of the Scriptures

Ancient crosses and copies of the Scriptures

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

A page of the famous Sinaitic Codex – one of the oldest copies of the New Testament

A page of the famous Sinaitic Codex – one of the oldest copies of the New Testament

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The “Jesus Christ of Sinai” icon

The “Jesus Christ of Sinai” icon

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The service at the Holy Trinity Church on Mt. Sinai

In total darkness under the starry sky we first reached the ground where guides ask people who is going to ride up on camel. Cameleers at once go out of the darkness, take pilgrims and lead them to the camels that are dozing among the stones.

From time to time the cameleer asked me in Russian: “How do you find the camel, father?”

We went a little way from the footpath. It was interesting to watch a string of people moving up the path and illuminating the way before them with their small lanterns. Silence and prayer. Thus we reached the height of 2000 meters (c. 6562 feet). We needed to walk the rest of our way on foot: the “steps” soon began. 3750 stone steps, and there is also half a kilometer (c. 0.31 mile) of walk on a path before them. As we prepared for the service, we drank neither tea nor water before our departure, and this did not make our ascent any easier.

We reached the Holy Trinity Church on the top at about 2:30.

After 2:30 all of us gathered together, prepared everything for the service and began it. Nearly all the members of our group along with the pilgrims from a Mount of Olives’ monastery took Holy Communion.

The Holy Trinity Church on the top of Mt. Sinai

The Holy Trinity Church on the top of Mt. Sinai

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The Mother of God and the Sinai ascetics

The Mother of God and the Sinai ascetics

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Fr. Leonty and the author

Fr. Leonty and the author

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Descent from the mountain

After the service we decided to wait for dawn. We climbed down on foot. A part of the group together with Fr. Leonty resolved to descend by the so-called “Monk’s Steps of Repentance” – 3750 steps of “the short way”, and we chose to use the same path by which we had reached the summit. As a result we reached the destination at the same time, though on the way we often stopped to take photographs and admire the astounding beauty of Mt. Sinai. The Earth here is without form and void; it has obviously kept its first-created form since the creation of the world.
Daybreak, 5 a.m.

Daybreak, 5 a.m.

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The awakening world, a permanent change of colors

The awakening world, a permanent change of colors

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Camps of the Israeli people may have been in the valleys beneath the mountain, as they waited for Prophet Moses who had climbed the mount to speak with God

Camps of the Israeli people may have been in the valleys beneath the mountain, as they waited for Prophet Moses who had climbed the mount to speak with God

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

A view of the dales beneath Mt. Sinai

A view of the dales beneath Mt. Sinai

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

There is a whole “market place” on the ground near the top

There is a whole “market place” on the ground near the top

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The Skete of St. Elijah. According to tradition, the Holy Prophet Elijah (Elias) for some time lived in this part of the Horeb Mountain

The Skete of St. Elijah. According to tradition, the Holy Prophet Elijah (Elias) for some time lived in this part of the Horeb Mountain

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The Skete of St. Elijah

The Skete of St. Elijah

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The skete

The skete

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The skete

The skete

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The first sunbeams are falling on the mountains of Sinai

The first sunbeams are falling on the mountains of Sinai

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The Skete of Prophet Elijah

The Skete of Prophet Elijah

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

A café shop

A café shop

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

A skete where there is a source of water

A skete where there is a source of water

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The end of “the Monk’s Walk of Repentance”. The path descends from the cleft in a dark stripe. The final section of its 3750 steps

The end of “the Monk’s Walk of Repentance”. The path descends from the cleft in a dark stripe. The final section of its 3750 steps

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The camels’ last stop

The camels’ last stop

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

A bedouin-cameleer’s hut

A bedouin-cameleer’s hut

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Pilgrims climbing the mountain at daytime

Pilgrims climbing the mountain at daytime

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Pilgrims climbing the mountain at daytime

Pilgrims climbing the mountain at daytime

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Pilgrims, led by a bedouin, are walking down the mountain

Pilgrims, led by a bedouin, are walking down the mountain

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

A tunnel hewn out of the rock

A tunnel hewn out of the rock

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

St. Catherine’s Monastery is seen between the mountains in the vale

St. Catherine’s Monastery is seen between the mountains in the vale

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The monastery is nearer, but it is more difficult to walk: there are many stones on the path

The monastery is nearer, but it is more difficult to walk: there are many stones on the path

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

The last stop of camels from the monastery’s side. Here they wait for their riders, resting among the stones

The last stop of camels from the monastery’s side. Here they wait for their riders, resting among the stones

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

St. Catherine’s Monastery

St. Catherine’s Monastery

Photo by Archpriest Igor Pchelintsev

Comments
Meri Arni10/3/2017 4:38 pm
Very high level of photod!
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