Letter to the Friends of the Monastery of Saint Moses, 1998.

Letter to the Friends of the Monastery of Saint Moses, 1998 

We have some good news that we would like to share with you.

In April 1997 Father Paulo was received back into the Society of Jesus. The community of the monastery has been through a period of uncertainty but this has also been a time of openness to the Lord, through dialogue with the Bishop and the Society of Jesus. For some months Paolo has divided his time between the community of the monastery, some Maronite parishes and constructing a house for spiritual exercises as the assistant to an elderly Jesuit. Finally in October he returned to Deir Mar Musa full-time. He is now working to the foundation of the monastery, for which he received a mission by the Society of Jesus, as requested by the local Bishop. This was good news for everybody. It was a strong experience of discernment in the Church and was a great consolation for many Friends of Mar Musa, Paolo and the Jesuits. It also was a cause of edification for the faithful, who always find it difficult to accept the tensions between personal calls and institutions. So give thanks to the Lord!

DMM Angel
Spring 1997 saw an exhausting success with the digging of the well east of the monastery (350 metres deep!) This now enables water to be pumped directly to the monastery to fill the cisterns and reservoirs, for both domestic and irrigational purposes. This system feeds more than 1,000 newly planted trees in a large enclosure in the valley. This is an experiment to assess the compatibility of goats with thorny trees, in particular the wild almonds.

After the unsuccessful last attempt to save our ill-fated and expensive west well project, located in the agricultural compound of the monastery, we finally had to accept defeat. Then we started all over again and this was the fourth try on this site in ten years. It was six months of difficult and dangerous hard work. The workers were almost drowned during a flash flood and the digging was badly blocked twice, and at the end the drill-head was buried at a depth of 460 metres. All that was left was to try the well and we did this on a March night in the midst of an electric storm and driving rain. After hours of anguish and frustration a spasmodic supply of warm and muddy water was pumped up with a cry of joy and tears of happiness from the saturated monks, nuns, workers and friends. A ram was immediately sacrificed on the site of the well and as it was roasted the water flowed freely and cleared. The well now works perfectly and supplies Domenico's hermitage, the wheat-fields and the fruit trees. In an emergency it can also be used to supply the monastery. The relevance of this story will be questioned until you reflect upon the fact that the lack of water has made life impossible at this monastery. Nevertheless it is still expensive to bring up water from such a deep level and we try to economise by using rainwater wherever possible.

On March 31st 1998 we held a seminar about the possibility of the area being designated by the state as a experimental protected area. This was attended by the local authorities and the representatives of various ministries, including the ministry of the environment. A two year project funded primarily by the Swiss Government assisted by the participation of the Church in France has now ended and we are now looking for new institutions to help.

So now for the most important piece of good news, the monastic consecration of sister Elena Bologenesi. Elena is studying theology in Milan, having ended her noviciate in the monastery. In April 1998 she was back in Deir Mar Musa. During the Syriac celebration of the Eucharist, although it was conducted in Arabic, on the Tuesday after Easter she expressed her will to be consecrated to the Lord in this form of monastic life centred in prayer, hospitality, manual work and a special love for men and women meeting God in the Islamic religion. Then the responsible for the community cut her hair and washed her feet and Elena dressed in the monastic habit and veil. She then prostrated herself in the four directions of the universe and she received the Cross. At this point all present congratulated her, this included the community and a small number of close friends. Elena was the first sister to take her vows, although we are still far from receiving formal ecclesiastical approval for our way of life. However intensive dialogue is being undertaken, especially with our beloved Bishop Musa, on the basis for another draft of our monastic charter (the Typicon).

 Huda and Renata will take their vows, God willing, during the second half of this year. 

 In this context we can see that it is necessary to build a women's wing for the monastery. Because of the continuous growth of both hospitality and other services, such as the library, we are already obliged to undertake the enlargement of the buildings used by the monks. We are looking forward now to building for the nuns. In fact this work has already started by gathering a large amount of reclaimed building material from old houses in Nebek, including some beautifully decorated old stones. The aerial cable is backwards and forwards bringing the monastery stones and gravel and at the moment we are preparing ourselves for living on a building site. If as we wish the project to restart the school of restoration in the church of the monastery is realised we shall be obliged to return to live in the caves.

 In the next few years with European help we will develop more programmes for inter-religious dialogue and cultural and theological training, both for members of the community and other interested people, particularly from the Syrian Church. In the meantime Father Jack will remain in Lebanon continuing his liturgical studies until summer 1999. Boutros has now ended his months of spiritual exercise and is now a good goatherd and is going to be a good monk. Jens is carrying the weight of the impact of information technology on monastic life.

 After milking and sunset we gather in the church and dress in white habits for prayer. We cover our heads as all the Semitic do. The hymn to Light, the prostration of the Trisagion, Lord have mercy...in the rhythm of the heart till the Lord's Prayer and hail Mary. The breathing of the community brings rhythm to each one breathing, because everybody is engaged in breathing according to the Spirit. Then we sit down and naturally, quite quickly visualise the steps of the day. In the morning the goats and other small tasks, then at seven in the morning prayer, the psalms, one verse stays imprinted in the mind will accompany work throughout the day. A biblical reading, a reading from the Church Fathers or another text important to us, at the end is the prayer of Intercession, central to our life. Most days there is a catechise or a contribution from a guest...it is already nine o'clock and breakfast. Time flies as you work. Lunch time is at three. The afternoon is calmer... a rest, reading, conversation with guests. Did I pause and remember the Lord during my day? Tomorrow will be my turn for a retreat, enabling me to organise my days. Now I am here sitting in silence at last, offering the day, the community, the Word, open hands, prayer of silence. This is the centre of our vocation. In this silence the Lord created and made us, it is here that we and He chose each other. Jens's flute surprises us, the hour was not long. Then the Eucharist comes out of the silence powerfully. Once again during the prayer of intercession the community, the family, the friends, those who help us, those who are in need, the dead and again our Islamic world and the Church of this country are brought to mind.

 It is close to ten, quickly have dinner if you like, goodnight. Monks and guests close the ancient door of the monastery behind them and they go up to their rooms. Some more minutes under the stars. A swell of gratitude overcomes us.


With much love in Jesus,


The Community of Deir Mar Musa.