Matthew Milliner went to St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai not as a tourist, but as a pilgrim — and traces the difference in the experience. Excerpt:

At one of the services at St. Catherine’s sixth century Church of the Transfiguration, a cadre of Russian pilgrims piled in for the liturgy, just after all tourists uninterested in to participating were politely asked to leave. The service began with the veneration of the relics of St. Catherine, after which a ring was received, a ring that instantly distinguished the pilgrim from the casual visitor. Worship began, and hours later, when the elements suddenly emerged through the Royal Doors of the iconostasis, the reverent Russians collectively hit the deck. Would that more of us sinners would dive for cover like that. These were, after all, pilgrims. When, during the same service, one of them underestimated monastic vigilance and slipped out a forbidden video camera, one young monk noticed the disruption. With a disappointed smile, gave him a look that silently asked, “You’re not a tourist, are you?”

Because of the bond of pilgrimage, a visiting American Protestant, for example, will likely find more in common in conversation with a Bedouin Muslim or observant Jew than with a casual American tourist who is checking off one more exoticism on their “places to see before you die” list.

That last point is true about the pilgrimage through life as well, don’t you think?

Hey Matthew Milliner! Have you written elsewhere about your Sinai pilgrimage? Because I want to read it.