When we examine asceticism in Christianity, we see that in the early Christian communities virgins and unmarried males held an important position. The first Christian communities accepted only unmarried males as full members. In general, diet, fasting and midnight mass made their mark on early Christian lifestyle. During the early centuries, ascetics did not break away from the church communities they attended; they focused on the practices of asceticism, on death and chastity for religion’s sake. Toward the end of 3rd century, the monasterial movement gained ground in Mesopotamia and Egypt. When, in 392 CE, the Roman Empire had been formally converted to Christianity, the monasterial movement spread rapidly throughout the western world. Vast monastic orders were established in the Roman Catholic Church. The desire to avoid forming human relationships brought about the spread of the way of life hermits living in deserts or on mountain – tops or in inaccessible rocky regions. In the monasterial orders, great efforts were made to attain their ideal of renunciation by giving up all worldly benefits. Early Christian monks lived by begging alms, and they tried to avoid engendering material domination through the accumulation of these donations, as later the Franciscans and other orders did. A few orders are mixed but usually monks and nuns are separated in different houses. The pioneers of the Reformation, although opposed to asceticism, in Calvinism, Puritanism, Pietism, Methodism and in the Anglican movements did carry out certain ascetic practices.
THE MONASTERY OF ST. CATHERİNE is the oldest Christian monastery still in existence in the world. From the third century onwards, monks settled near sacred places around Mount Horeb (Mount Moses or Mount Sinai), such as the site of the Burning Bush. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great, in the year 330 ordered the construction of a small chapel on the site where the Burning Bush had been located. The chapel was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Emperor Justinian in 530 ordered the construction of a much larger basilica: the one which would be the Church of the Transfiguration and the building of the great walled monastery fortress to withstand the attacks of Bedouin. The holy remains of St. Catherine were found on the mountain bearing her name today. An aristocrat girl from Alexandria, confessed her faith in Jesus Christ, and publicly accused the Emperor Maximinus of sacrificing to idols. After her execution her body vanished. According to tradition, angels transported it to the peak of the mountain. The monks of the Monastery sent a delegation to Medina in 625 to ask for Mohammed’s patronage and protection. The request was granted, a copy of the original document in exibition in the Monastery’s Icon Gallery. Monks were also exempted from paying taxes. During the twelveth century a special Sinaite Order of the Crusaders took the protection of pilgrims to the Monastery. After a difficult period of Mamelukes came the Ottoman conquest of Egypt and Sinai. The Ottomans even accorded a special status to the Archbishop. When Napoleon conquered Egypt (1797-1804), financed the reconstruction of the north wing of the Monastery which had been damaged by a storm. About the end of the nineteenth century Monastery lost all its property in Russia, Rumania, Turkey and elsewhere, but continued to exist. A new wing was built in 1951. Today, there are twelve chapels inside the walls of the Monastery. Administratively, the Sinaite monastic order is independent. The countries that have supported the Monastery all recognized this independent status. In general, the Monastery observes the cannon law of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Monastery enjoys the support of all the Christian Churches and of the U. N. agencies.
There is a charnel/skull house in the Monastery, a repository of the bones of the monks who died at St. Catherine over the centuries. The remains of the archbishops are kept in special niches. The origin of this custom is probably both in the difficulty of digging graves in stony ground, and the spiritual goal of reminding their coming death to monks. Egypt – the Sinai Peninsula