What is the Mona Lisa worth?
At the time of their destruction by the Taliban, what were the Buddhas of Bamiyam worth, in terms of culture, history and money?
With that in mind, let me ask this simple question: What is the Christ of Sinai icon worth? Yes, it is priceless. Yes, for Orthodox believers it is the icon from which all other icons flowed, like the ripples emerging after one stone as been thrown into a still pond. Yes, it is irreplaceable.
Is this a relevant question? Please know that — with the potential chaos in Egypt, with the persecution of Orthodox believers and other religious minorities — many Christians are concerned about the future of the world-famous St. Catherine’s Monastery and the treasures contained inside.
Thus, I was glad to see that Washington Post story that ran the other day on the monastery and the Bedouin tribes that help protect it. It was good to see this story before the monastery was attacked, should that come to pass. It would have been even better to have seen the story on A1, instead of tucked inside. But let’s be thankful for some coverage.
So what is the news? Here is a crucial chunk of background material:
In August, the Egyptian government closed St. Catherine’s Monastery to visitors as a precaution. It was only the third closure in 50 years. While the monastery reopened its doors again after three weeks, Egyptian security forces are now everywhere, shepherding the handful of foreigners into the area in armed convoys.
The monks at the monastery, and the Bedouin who make their living as guides here, stress that the violence is taking place 300 miles to the north. In the northern Sinai, the restive tribes have been sabotaging natural gas pipelines, and smuggling weapons, drugs and gasoline through their network of tunnels with the Gaza Strip. In the power vacuum created by Egypt’s upheaval, the Bedouin there have raised the black flag for militant jihad, and are waging a guerrilla campaign of extortion, kidnapping and targeted assassination against the powers of the state. …
But in the south, the Bedouin tell their children the story of how the Roman emperor Justinian brought their tribe of mason-warriors to the Sinai in the sixth century to build the walled monastery here, and protect the monks with their lives.
So why is this monastery so important? What are the key elements of this story?