Today, the predominant religion in the Middle East is Islam. Christianity, however, has also played an important role in the history of the Middle East and at one point was the largest religion in the Eastern Mediterranean. The deserts of Palestine, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq all contain ancient monasteries and churches hearkening back to that time. Unfortunately for archaeologists and historians, some of them have been destroyed by recent insurgents, namely ISIS. One monastery that still survives and is for the moment not in danger of destruction is the Mar Saba monastery along the Kidron Valley between the Old City of Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. It was founded around 483 AD by the Syrian-Cappadocian monk Saint Sabbas the Sanctified. It is one of the oldest active monasteries and has also had a major influence on the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition.
Medieval icon of Saint Sabbas the Sanctified. (Public Domain)
The Eastern Orthodox Churches claim to be closest in their traditions and practices to early Christianity as it was taught by the Apostles and Early Church Fathers. Whether this is the case is beyond the scope of this article, but considering that the oldest churches and Christian monasteries in the world are mostly Eastern Orthodox, the claim is certainly not unreasonable. The Mar Saba monastery is not the oldest Christian monastery, but it is one of the oldest.
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