In our lives busy with people, it’s tough to appreciate the value of solitude with God. But Saint George’s Monastery in the Wilderness of Judea gives us reason to pause and ponder the priority of time with God.
As I scanned the monastery’s blue domes and white arches that dot the colorless canvas of the wilderness, I marveled at the time and ingenuity it would have taken to build and rebuild these structures.
I found myself wondering, Why would ANYONE want to live way out there? A friend of mine wondered if the monks in the monastery thought the same thing about us.
Sometimes in our hurry, it does us good to contemplate the value of solitude.
The Perfect Place No One Wants
The Wilderness of Judea was so arid and uninviting, most people only passed through it on their way to somewhere else. Because nobody wanted to go there, often only the “nobodies” of society did.
The wilderness attracted those on the fringes—outcasts, shepherds, fugitives, hermits, and even fearful rulers.
The paranoid Herod the Great built fortifications in this general area at Cypros, Dok, Herodium, Hyrcania, Masada, and Machaerus.
Here John the Baptist announced the coming of the Lord in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of a “voice crying in the wilderness” (Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:1).
Jesus retreated to this wilderness to fast and to face temptation for more than forty days (Matthew 4:1).
After the death of their brother, Judas Maccabeus, Jonathan and Simon centered their insurgency near Tekoa in the Wilderness of Judea (1 Maccabees 9:33).
Saint George’s Monastery—a Place of Seclusion
Undoubtedly the most unique inhabitants of this land were the thousands of Christian monks who flooded the area and formed monasteries—the ultimate getaway.
Today Saint George’s Monastery clings like a barnacle to the northern face of the Wadi Qilt’s cliffs. Housing one of the oldest monastic communities in Israel, the monastery has been inhabited since the fifth century and gives a vivid illustration of the ascetic lifestyle the wilderness has supported for thousands of years. In the Byzantine period between the sixth- and fifth-centuries, the Wilderness of Judea hosted more than sixty-five monasteries all connected by a network of trails.
It makes sense that throughout the Scriptures, this wilderness is often described as a place both of escape and of spiritual solitude. No one would want to follow!