May 12, 2011 • Campus Event • By Deborah (Malacky) Belonick
When our campus guest, Fr. Pavlos, a monk of the famed St. Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai, spoke last evening, his words evoked the collective wisdom of dozens of spiritual fathers across the ages. Radiantly humorous and joyfully somber, Fr. Pavlos—a graduate of the School of Theology of the University of Athens, and a Sinai ascetic for four decades—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.
Peppered throughout his talk were the sayings of the fathers (apophthegmata patrum)— pithy stories and phrases by spiritual sages within the centuries-old Orthodox Christian tradition, which proffer ethical, moral, and religious advice. 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'!"
Our Dean, Fr. John Behr, in welcoming Fr. Pavlos, remarked, "In the midst of this very busy time on campus, as we near final exams and Commencement, in the midst of all this 'chaos,' we are deeply blessed to have with us someone from a monastery that has cultivated the 'heartbeat' of hesychastic spirituality—someone who can teach us how to encounter God in the midst of silence."