January 7, 2019

John the Baptist Reveals the Cave of Sapsa, Where He Was Visited by the Lord

By St. John Moschos

(The Spiritual Meadow, Ch. 1)

The Life of John the Elder and the Cave of Sapsa

There was an elder called John in the monastery of Abba Eustorgios whom the holy Elias, Archbishop of Jerusalem, wanted to put in charge of all the monasteries in Jerusalem. John objected, saying that he was wanting to travel to Mount Sinai in order to pray there. The Archbishop urged him to be made an abbot first before going off to wherever he wanted. The elder still would not agree, but at last the bishop let him go on the strength of a promise that John would accept this responsibility on his return. He thanked the Archbishop and began his journey to Mount Sinai, taking his disciple with him.

They crossed the Jordan and had hardly taken one more step when the elder began to feel stiff and shortly afterwards became feverish. The fever increased to such an extent that he was unable to walk, so they went into a little cave that they found, in order to rest. The fever got so bad that after staying in the cave for three days he was still unable to move. The old man then had a dream in which he saw someone standing next to him saying: "Tell me, elder, where are you going?"

"To Mount Sinai," he replied.

"No, I beg you, don't go," came the answer.

The old man would not agree, and the vision faded, but his fever got even worse. The next night the same person appeared and said, "Why do you persist in being punished like this old man? Listen to me and stop trying to go anywhere."

"Who are you," said the old man.

"I am John the Baptist," came the reply, "and I warn you, don't go anywhere, for this narrow cave is greater than Mount Sinai. Quite often our Lord Jesus Christ used to come into this cave when he was visiting me. Promise me that you will stay here and I will restore your health."

Hearing this the elder freely promised that he would stay in that same cave. His health was immediately restored and there he spent the rest of his life. He made that cave into a church and gathered other brothers about him. The name of that place is Sapsa,* and it is watered by the nearby brook Cherith to which Elijah was sent in the time of drought from the other side of Jordan.


* This was at Sapsa/Sapsaphas, a 2 kilometer walk from the Jordan River, a location shown on the Madaba mosaic map (shown above), with the inscription “Ainon where now is Sapsaphas” (ainon means "spring"). Ancient Sapsaphas has been identified as Wadi el-Kharrar. John the Baptist's cave was probably located at the bottom of the mount of Elijah, thus identifying him as the new Elijah.