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May 16, 2011

Lecture of Fr. Pavlos of Mount Sinai At St. Vladimir's Seminary

On Thursday, 11 May 2011, Fr. Pavlos, a priest-monk from St. Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai, with over 40 years experience as a monastic, gave an informal talk at St. Vladimir's Seminary during Bright Season. Since Fr. Pavlos spoke in Greek, Fr. Nathanael Symeonides, from Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in New York City, served as translator for the evening.

The talk can be heard here.

"Father Pavlos is a graduate of the School of Theology of the University of Athens, with four decades now of immersion in the ascetic and hesychast tradition of Sinai, to which every branch of modern-day Christianity owes its enlightenment,” noted our Dean, Fr. John Behr.

“Father Pavlos conveys the revelations of the spiritual athletes of the Sinai from the early Byzantine period of the 4th through 8th centuries, not simply on the basis of their recorded experiences but also through the illumination of his personal experience of this unbroken tradition,” added Fr. John. “As the oldest continuously functioning monastery in the world, St. Catherine's lays claim to the interpretation of this body of wisdom, not as theoretical but as living tradition.”

Fr. Pavlos began his address to the community with an illuminating talk about the "grave" vice of being judgmental. He ended it with a Q&A session with the audience that covered everything from child rearing to the practice of the Jesus Prayer.

For example, said Fr. Pavlos:

"St. Isaac the Syrian said, 'On the day that you judge your brother, consider that a "lost day," even if you've done many other good deeds.'"

"St. John of the Ladder told the story of a monk who visited an unkempt cell of a brother monk, and he said to himself, 'My brother prays and fasts so much, he has no time to tidy his cell.' Then the same monk visited the spotless cell of another brother monk, and he said to himself, 'Just as my brother's soul is clean inside, so is his cell.' You see, in neither situation did the monk judge his brother."

Fr. Pavlos also gave some background to St. Catherine's Monastery, the oldest Orthodox Christian monastery in existence. The monastery was built by order of Emperor Justinian I (reigned AD 527–565), enclosing the Chapel of the Burning Bush ordered to be built by St. Helena, the mother of Constantine I, in the fourth century, at the site where Moses encountered the burning bush (Exodus 3.1–21). The monastery houses, said Fr. Pavlos, the second most treasured collection of ancient manuscripts in the world, and the first most treasured collection of icons in the world. It also "houses" the spiritual tradition of revered ascetics such as St. Gregory of Sinai and St. John of the Ladder, who, said Fr. Pavlos, "wrote the 'Gospel for monks,' that is, his work The Ladder of Divine Ascent.

The vibrant monk also described the liturgical rhythm of life at the monastery, the peaceful and mutually respectful relationship between the monks and their Bedouin neighbors—"Who are not Christians"—and the daily duties of the monks. "My favorite place to work is the garden," he mused. "Trees are 'man's best friend'!"