We traveled today to the Monastery of St. Saba, in the Judean desert. Founded in the 5th century, it is the longest continually functioning monastery in the Orthodox world. There are 15 monks there today, though during its height, there were as many as 5,000 in the cliffs surrounding the monastery and the monastery itself. In the 7th century, the Persians invaded and martyred a number of monks, but the monastery survived, and monks returned. It is said by the monks that the Theotokos promised that St. Saba’s would remain a living monastery until Christ returned.
As we have found all over the Holy Land, the hospitality was overwhelming. I sat in the cave that was the cell of St. John of Damascus and prayed – venerated the incorrupt relics of St. Saba (and those of the many martyrs of the monastery).
The monk who was guiding us through the monastery was asked the question about the difficulties the monastery encountered with the political situation in the area (it is situated in the Palestian Authority area). He said, “We have been here since the 5th century and have seen many political situations. We are monks. We have no enemies.”
I immediately grabbed his hand and kissed it and told him, “You’re the first man I’ve met in the holy land who proclaimed that he had no enemies. You are a blessing.”
I realized that the great peace of the monastery came not only from the holy relics and the many prayers offered in that place through the centuries, but that the monks who are there now have found paradise. For to live in the midst of so much strife but to have no enemies is indeed paradise itself!
Leaving that place has been one of the hardest things I’ve had to do since coming here.