Survival of the Fittest
Among the hundreds of monasteries that were emerged in the Judean desert of Bethlehem during the 4th-6th century, the Mar Saba Monastery was one of them. The monks, who used to live in those monasteries, adopted a new way of living life devoid of any luxury or aristocracy. They were not even concerned about enjoying the minimal facilities rather dedicated their lives for spirituality. Over the centuries, this specific lifestyle went out of fashion and most of the monasteries got destroyed but the Mar Saba Monastery survived wars, raids and natural calamities. In today’s date, it is the most venerable monastery in the world. It still stands on the desert as a proud cenotaph of that glorious time.
A Look back over the Past
The term “Mar Saba” has come from Aramaic words, “Mar” (saint) and “Saba” (old man). The Mar Saba monastery, an Eastern Orthodox Christian monastery, is known as the promenade of “Saint Sabba” or Saba who is the founder of the monastery. Saint Saba came to Palestine in 478 and lived in a cave for 4 years. It is said that one day he had a dream of colonizing the Judean desert. Noticing a spring in a certain location of the desert, he was mesmerized and decided to build the monastery there. The first monk came to live with him in 483 and later others joined them. The monks in that monastery were called Sabates. At present 20 monks are following the footprints of Saint Saba.
Sticking to the Roots
Even in this 21st century, the Mar Saba Monastery holds on to its traditions. According to the rules, the female pilgrims are not allowed to go inside the monastery but can enter the Women’s tower in the South. Except Wednesdays and Fridays, men can enter the main compound and bring holy relics for women to venerate. There is a tomb with golden dome of Saint Saba inside the monastery where he was buried. It is surrounded by lofty security walls and has two towers.
The monastery also has its own church with the most attractive interior. A glass cabinet inside the hall contains Saint Saba’s bones. The monks of the monastery believe that Saint Saba’s soul always remains in that church and watches over his monastery and the monks like a guardian angel. The walls and ceilings of the church are adorned with beautiful paintings that depict various biblical events and Greek-Orthodox arts.
The spring that enticed Saint Saba, lies at the bottom of the monastery. Outside of the monastery, there are caves which used to be the dwelling place of Saint Saba’s followers before the monastery was built. From the 5th century, many hermits started living in caves near the monastery which were known as the hermit caves. Since the hermits preferred a solitary life, they used to visit the monastery only on events.
The Mar Saba Monastery is an amalgamation of simplicity, beauty and calmness. Far from the mechanical city life, it feels like a breeze of fresh air. And that is why one of the top attractive places for tourists there.
So, are you ready to go?