On historic Mt. Sinai in Egypt, there has been a Greek Orthodox presence
since at least 381 A.D. We know this from an account written in Latin by Egeria,
a woman who travelled in the area. At the time of her visit, The Chapel of the Burning Bush would have been her destination, the purported site where Moses was ordered by God to approach the Pharaoh and ask to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt. Links here and here for more information regarding
the Burning Bush and St. Catherine’s.
Emperor Justinian I who reigned in the 6th century ordered the building of the
monastery which was built around The Chapel of the Burning Bush, and it has
been there ever since, in operation, servicing the spiritual needs of the small congregation, the smallest diocese in the world in the Greek Orthodox faith.
How has this little monastery managed to survive the Crusades, and the rise and fall of empires over the last 1,400 years? So many other Holy sites and others have fallen into decrepitude or no longer exist, or were put to the sword and the fire during this time period, how did the monks and their little diocese stay free, still worshiping their God?
It is said that the monastery sent a delegation to see the Prophet in Medina in the year 628 A.D. and that the Prophet had dictated a Covenant with the monastery that had his handprint affixed, this is also known as the Achtiname
of Muhammed to historians and scholars. Here is the promise made by the Prophet to the Christian monks, as translated into English:
“This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims' houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God's covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”
Above is a copy of the actual document, also called The Patent of Muhammed. The original was taken off to
the Ottoman Empire and has yet to be found in the archives.
Here is a video of the monastery and I strongly suggest you watch this.
Here is the link to a great New York Times article about Brother Justin and his work digitizing the extensive library of ancient and sacred texts, some almost a
thousand years old.
Another great link to a site, Islamic I believe, with awesome photographs of the monastery and the area.
A satellite view above of St. Catherine’s Monastery located at Mt. Sinai. Not many know this, there is a mosque on the grounds, but it was never used, as it doesn’t face Mecca.
So for over a millennium, the monastery has existing untouched and unmolested, free to do its’ good works, enjoying the protection of the Prophet,
whose Covenant has been honored by Muslims ever since. Mt. Sinai, a Holy
Place, sacred to Jews, Muslims, and Christians has been kept safe from the ravages of war and sectarianism since that time so many years ago.
Where else in the world can you find an example like this? Not here, that’s for sure. Ask the original inhabitants of this land whether the treaties issued and
signed by the Great White Father in Washington were honored, if they were worth the paper that they were written on. There is not a document today that hasn’t been vetted by the legal department somewhere, that isn’t chock full of “weasel words” all designed to get them out of their obligations, and to remove the money from your pocket.
There is a lesson in here somewhere for this modern day and age.
Here is to the monks at St. Catherine’s continuing their good works for the next 1,400 years and that their good example will continue reminding the rest of us
what the words, peaceful coexistence, really mean.
Here is to the Muslim faithful honoring the Prophet’s Covenant to the Monks
at St. Catherine’s Monastery, something that they have done all this time from then to now.
Why can’t Jews, Muslims, and Christians forget their differences and coexist
with each other one day, like the monks and their neighbors have for centuries?
One can dream, they can’t take your dreams from you, unless you allow them to do so.
Alas, it is not very likely to occur, with the way things are nowadays in this world.
But what if it did happen, what if?
Other online sources used in the writing of this post include the following links: