National Geographic : 1976 Jan
And so it came about that I spent a wind buffeted, soul-tossed night atop the Mount of God with Brother Jerry Kambites, a burly, black-bearded Canadian serving a six-month stint as a novice at the monastery. On the climb up, Brother Jerry described his 20 days and nights alone on the mountain. Moses, it will be remembered, spent 40. "It's the silence that gets to you most," Brother Jerry said, "the silence outside com pared to all the noise inside yourself. "After a time, if you pray hard enough, the inner noises quiet down a little. Then the outer silence flows right through you. "When I came down from the mountain," he continued, "the hardest thing at first was to speak again. My voice seemed to boom like a circus drum. Other people's voices echoed and grated inside my head. When Moses smashed the tablets of the Ten Command ments to the ground, it may have been not only because the Israelites were worshiping a golden calf but also because of the awful racket they were making. That alone would have been intolerable!" Mountaintop Covenant Molds the Future We reached the summit just as dusk wrapped the mountain in deep-blue dark ness. Taking a huge iron key from his black robe, Brother Jerry opened the creaking door of the little chapel of Moses that shares the topmost crag with a small white mosque. He began lighting candles until the chapel's in terior glowed. Next he lit a hand-held censer and began swinging it so that a sweetly acrid blue smoke wafted on the air. Then, in a sur prisingly beautiful tenor, he began chanting the Greek Orthodox vespers-a service at tended only by him, myself, and the wind. That night, while we slept, a cold front moved in. By the time I blinked my eyes open at dawn, a transformation had taken place under the mantle of darkness. After weeks of cloudless desert sky, great clouds thick as cot ton candy filled every valley, every depth. We stood above them, overpowered. The granite mountaintops around us rose out of Like Moses, a servant of God: A Greek Orthodox clergyman breakfasts on grape fruit grown outside his monastery just west of Feiran Oasis, one of many Sinai oases said to have sprung from a rock that Moses smote with his rod to bring forth water. the billowing cloud sea like an unearthly archipelago. We seemed afloat, completely detached from any world below (following pages). "You see?" Brother Jerry breathed. "This is the mountain." "And it came to pass... that there were thunders and lightnings.... And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire.... "And God spake all these words, saying, "I am the Lord thy God...." Thus begin the Ten Commandments.