Supplemental notes about St. Catherine monastery and Mount Sinai – 29 October

Ha, as soon as you think a post is finished and that you’ve recorded everything, you realize there are a couple more interesting bits that you had forgotten!

At the end of the late supper at the St. Catherine monastery (see picture in previous post), as our folks were clearing out to go back to their rooms, a short portly fellow behind me with a thick accent (Italian?) asked me whether we were there together as a faith group or as a group of (secular / non-religious) tourists.  I replied that we were mostly one faith group, from Canada.  He asked if we were Roman Catholic or Orthodox Christians, in a manner which implied that there weren’t any others (hey I wasn’t offended, more amused than anything – reminded me of the wonderful nuns who taught us at St. Charles Academy many years ago).  So I told him that we were neither, that we were Protestants.  Well, this must have thrown him for a loop, because he was most astonished.  “But we have the church, in church we have icons, you do not believe in these icons,” he exclaimed.  He went on to make it clear that they were Orthodox and that the monastery was Orthodox.  [ this was very obvious the next day, when we saw the church itself – from the style, the icons, and the writing style on the items in the church (sorry don’t know what lettering it is, but imagine it is Greek?), it was clear that it was Orthodox ]

Well, I explained, we were there to climb the mountain and to tour the monastery.  He was still unbelieving.  So, I tried to tell him that there would be two types of Christian visitors:
1. those who had the religious fervour to visit and to pray because it was Orthodox and an important blessed location – these would be the aforesaid Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians, and
2. those who came because it was an important historical location and liked to see the Christian history of those that came before – other Christians and those from other religions.

Well, that didn’t placate him.  “But, you don’t celebrate the Eucharist!”

“Well, actually we do,” I advised, “we just don’t do it at every service.”

“But we invoke the Holy Spirit to change the elements into ze body and ze blood of our Saviour!”

“Well, we actually do the same thing.  Just not as often.”

There was an Orthodox priest right beside him who apparently was rather amused by the exchange.  Another woman from the table asked me, in perfect English, where I was from, and I of course told her.

At this point, we were obviously suffering from a disconnect.  So I changed tacts.

“We need to know and understand each other, Muslim and Jew, Orthodox and Catholic and Protestant, so we can learn from each other,” I advised my new friend.

“But these people, Muslim and Jews (with a pause that made it clear that others, implies us) are all different from us.  We have our Saviour Jesus Christ, ze one true path, ze only way to the Father, to God!   …and they do not.”

“My friend,” I replied, “it is not through conflict that we successfully convert others to our beliefs.  It is only through dialogue.  This dialogue is the only way to understand each other, to convince each other, to convert one another.  I choose to listen to many points of view, and it deepens my understanding and my faith.”

Then I bid him adieu and turned to leave.  I noticed that George was the only one behind me at our table, as if to be watching my back.  He also got up and left.  I was thinking about whether I did the right thing, said the right thing.  In my limited way, I think maybe I did.  Hmm, just read that passage this morning that might apply to this, Matthew 10:19&20, excerpted NIV: “…do not worry about what to say or how to say it.  At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”  Hmm, not sure of the divinity of the words, but maybe something I can lean on, myself.

The other “missed item” that occurred to me was not nearly as important.  But, as we were climbing to the summit, we were gawking around from time to time to see what was out there.  This was dangerous; you could lose your footing, or in my case, crank out an ankle, in one step.  And at the coffee shacks, there were lights that blotted out your night vision, so sad.  So, once in a while, we did sneak a peak up.  The stars lit up the sky!  Well, then, let me tell you, once I reached the summit, I found an unoccupied space and gazed up.  Oh the magnificent stars up there!  Clear and beautiful.  Now I’m not an astronomer by any means, but it sure was a wonderful sight, a vision to behold.

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