St. George's Monastery

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St. George’s Monastery

 

Location

 

1. St. George’s Monastery is located about 2.5 miles (4 km.) west of Jericho in a deep and breathtaking gorge called, “Wadi Qelt.”

 

2. It’s just a stone’s throw from the ancient road connecting the Jordan Valley to Jerusalem and beyond. This well-traveled road was used by Jesus on a regular basis.

 

3. The story of the Good Samaritan took place on this road. For more on this story and event, please see the Inn of the Good Samaritan.

 

Historical Background

 

1. St. George’s Monastery is a Greek Orthodox cliff-hanging complex carved into a sheer rock wall in the Judaean Desert and is one of the most breathtaking sights in the Holy Land.

 

2. Starting in the 4th century, monks began to live in the many caves of Wadi Qelt.

 

3. The monastery of St. George was founded in the 5th century by John of Thebes, an Egyptian. He gathered a small band of five Syrian hermits who had settled around the cave where they believed the prophet Elijah was fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:1–7).

 

4. Tradition also holds that Elijah visited the cave by the monastery while traveling to the Sinai Peninsula as he fled the threats of Jezebel after he had killed the false prophets of Baal and Asherah (1 Kings 19:1–3).

 

5. However, it was named after its most famous monk, St George of Koziba, who came as a teenager from Cyprus in the 6th century after his parents died, to follow the ascetic life in the Holy Land.

 

6. The monastery was destroyed in 614 AD by the Persians and was more or less abandoned after the Persians swept through the valley and massacred the fourteen monks who dwelt there. The bones and skulls of the martyred monks can still be seen today in the monastery chapel.

 

7. The Crusaders made some attempts at restoration of the monastery in 1179. However, it was abandoned after Muslims regained control of the Holy Land and drove out the Crusaders. 

 

8. In 1878, a Greek monk, Kalinikos, settled here and restored the monastery, finishing it in 1901.

 

History of Christian Monasticism

 

1. Today, in Israel, there are 33 functioning monasteries. During the 4th century, there were hundreds of monasteries built as almost every holy site had a monastery on it.

 

2. Because Christianity was prohibited in the Roman Empire before Constantine embraced Christianity, no monasteries were permitted until 313 AD. After this point, monasteries sprung up everywhere throughout the empire.

 

3. The idea of a monastic lifestyle was taken from both the Old and New Testaments.

 

  • The Nazarite Vow

 

  • The prophets (Elijah being fed by ravens in the desert)

 

  • John the Baptist living in the desert

 

  • Christ fasting for 40 days in the desert

 

4. There were also the Essenes who lived in the desert by the Dead Sea at Qumran during the time of John the Baptist and Jesus.

 

5. Monasticism took on different forms and meanings throughout its history.

 

  • Some lived like hermits all alone.

 

  • Later, many lived in monasteries in communal groups.

 

  • They withdrew from society to live a separated life fully devoted to seeking the Lord and becoming godly.

 

  • Over the years, monasticism changed so that many monasteries prepared men and women for a life of service to God. They would live in the monastery for a few years then go out to serve the Lord.

 

  • Monasteries were not always Catholic. There were many monasteries before Catholicism became what it is today, and there were different kinds of monasteries from different religious orientations, i.e., Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Armenian, etc.

 

6. In general, monasticism is a religious way of life wherein a person denounces worldly pursuits and fully devotes themselves to seeking the Lord through religious vows and disciplines. 

 

7. The word monk, or monastery, originates from Greek and means to “dwell alone” (monos). 

 

8. In different periods of monasticism, some chose lives of celibacy as well.

 

Places of Interest

 

1. St. George’s Monastery
It is quite a hike down into the gorge to see the monastery, so only those in good physical shape should attempt it. It can also be extremely hot through the Spring to Fall seasons as well.

 

2. Lookout – Just to the west of the parking area is a trail that leads to a beautiful lookout area over the monastery for those just wanting to see the site without hiking down to it.

 

3. Monastery Upper Level – Elijah’s Cave 

 

4. Monastery Middle Level – Main Church

 

5. Monastery Lower Level – Storehouses and vault where the remains of the early monks are kept.

 

6. Stairs from the inner court of the monastery lead to the cave-church of St. Elijah. From this cave, a narrow tunnel provides an escape route to the top of the mountain.

 

7. Wadi Qelt – Fertile ravine where small-scale farming and irrigation takes place.

 

8. Caves where monks lived.

 

9. Small Chapel

 

St. George’s Monastery In the Bible

 

1. It seems very unlikely that St. George’s Monastery is the location where God supernaturally fed Elijah by ravens. The Bible says the place was east of the Jordan River, and St. George’s Monastery is west of the Jordan River.
1 Kings 17:1–7: Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” 2 And the word of the Lord came to him: 3 “Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 4 You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” 5 So he went and did according to the word of the Lord. He went and lived by the brook Cherith that is east of the Jordan. 6 And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. 7 And after a while the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land.

2. It is possible Elijah stayed in the cave at St. George’s Monastery when he fled after being threatened by Jezebel, but it’s not certain. 
1 Kings 19:3: Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.
 

Faith Lesson from St. George’s Monastery

 

1. We can certainly admire those who took God so seriously that they often sold their possessions and chose a life of solitude and strict discipline to seek the Lord. Do we love the Lord to such a degree we are willing to give up whatever God might ask us so we can be more devoted followers of Him? 

 

2. Do we set time aside to remove the distractions of life and just seek God?

 

3. While it’s good to set time apart for solitude and seeking the Lord, we are also called to be in the world but not of it. Are we doing a good job of being in the world but not a part of its values and philosophies?

 

4. Are we disciplined in our Christian lives?

 

5. While monasticism has many admirable qualities, it does have some unbiblical concepts. For some, it was a withdrawal and escape from society. Like Christ, we are called to influence society and be lights to the world. Are we influencing those around us with the light of God’s Word and His love? And are we fulfilling the Great Commission in one way or another?

 

6. Are we part of a Bible-believing church community where we can grow and serve others?
 

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St. George's Monastery (Wadi Qelt)

 

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