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Mar Sabas Monastery

Lying nine miles east of Bethlehem in the dramatic Judean desert is one of the world’s oldest monasteries. A devoted Christian called Sabas left for Palestine when he was 18 and joined the monks. He soon decided to fast each Lent in the Judean Desert. Carrying just bread and wine of the Eucharist, he would head out across the gorges and dry barren valleys to meditate on Jesus Christ and pray.

In 478, Sabas became a hermit and went to live in a cave in Wadi Kidron. Eventually, 70 other monks joined him, living in caves amidst the cliffs. And in 483, Sabas founded and built his own monastery.

Sabas established Great Lauren at the monastery, a practice where monks live alone in meditation and prayer for the week. On weekends, they join together for communal prayer and mass and collect supplies needed for the next week spent in seclusion. Sabas died in 532 at the age of 93. He was given the name Mar Sabas, which means Saint Sabas in Aramaic.

During Byzantine times, the Judean Desert was a popular destination for monks who were seeking seclusion. In the sixth century, 65 monasteries were built, some only two to three miles apart and connected by trails that snaked through the rocky desert.

Following the Muslim Conquest, most of these monasteries were abandoned. Mar Sabas, however, continued to survive. Unfortunately, an earthquake struck in 1834, destroying much of the monastery. It was later reconstructed.

Christian pilgrims can visit Mar Sabas today, although the monks are sometimes known to ignore the doorbell in the afternoon. Women cannot visit and can view the monastery from a tower nearby.

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