Good evening from Palestine. Since today was a free day, Inger kindly invited me to go with her on a field trip. We drove through east Bethlehem and beyond it into the Judean wilderness to the ancient monastery of Mar Saba. Founded by St. Saba in the 400s, it is one of the oldest continuous monasteries in the world, housing 20 monks today. The famous iconodule (a person who loves and venerates Icons and teaches others to do so) John of Damascus was a monk here during the iconoclast controversies of the early church. Because women are not permitted inside the monastery, we hiked down deep into the valley of the Kidron stream which flows through here on its way to the Dead Sea. The Kidron, a rushing stream today about 1 and a half meters wide,is being used as a sewage conduit and is full of trash of every kind as it carries used water from the cities above. Nevertheless, near its edge there are grasses and trees growing green, the only sign of vegetation to be seen anywhere.
It was really quite amazing to see the ancient monastery, carved out of the rock, and the honeycomb network of natural caves all around where innumerable hermits seeking to leave the world retreated to pray and struggle with demons. St. Saba himself lived in a cave for 5 years, although before that long vigil he had been accustomed to come out to join the community worship one day a week.
Groups of Russian women came to pray at the door of the monastery and to receive the door keeper’s blessing, although they cannot come any nearer. Tourist groups came and the men were allowed to go on a brief tour with one of the monks.
Besides the despoiling of the Kidron, I was deeply saddened to see another thing. A boy came to see us and walked with us for a while. My host spoke with him in Arabic. He is 10 years old, a Bedouin, and lives near the monastery with his father. He has no brothers or sisters, and his mother has died. He has never attended a school and can neither read nor write. He posed for me for 5 shekels. If he had asked for 20 I would have paid him. Or 30… I could publish all sorts of charming and amazing digital photos from today. But look at this boy and pray for him.