A Hermit in Jerusalem
JERUSALEM – On June 15, 2014, the Church of the Holy Land celebrated the great feast of the mystery of the Holy Trinity, but it was also the occasion of a rare event in the Church of Jerusalem, the perpetual profession a young Italian in the presence of Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal.
The young Italian is Filippo Rossi, a balanced and gentle man of about forty years, from a wealthy family. In a word, someone who has it all! Yet, as a seminarian, Filippo felt that God was calling him to a more “radical” religious life. He chose to dive into the adventure of the eremitical life here in the Holy Land, surrounded by fields of the Trappist Abbey of Latrun, a place that has hosted the eremitical life since the beginnings of Christianity. A local tradition tells how Saint Saba lived in a cave. Archaeologists have also recently found mosaics that show a small church or chapel existed on the site.
The moving celebration took place in the Basilica of Nations, Gethsemane, and was presided over by His Beatitude the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, and concelebrated by the Abbot of the Abbey of Latrun, Dom René Hascoët and the abbot of the French Trappist Abbey of Sept-Fons, Dom Patrick Olive, and 22 priests. Many religious and lay friends of the young hermit participated in the celebration. The Magnificat Choir of the Custody of the Holy Land provided the sacred music for the celebration.
The call to the eremitical life is closely linked to the Holy Land, and in particular to the area around the Holy City, located near the Judean desert. This way of life was born in Egypt, but soon arrived in the Holy Land with the hermits who wanted to be closer to the same places that reflect the mysteries of the life of Christ, and the place where the early church, called as the Mother Church, the Church of Jerusalem, was born.
Needless to say, Filippo did not invent a new style of life, but he has embraced a lifestyle that the Church has known from the beginning, putting his trust in God first, but in the knowledge and experience of the first hermits, the Desert Fathers, whose tradition has left an entire spiritual wisdom.
During his homily, His Beatitude began with a meditation on the mystery of the Holy Trinity “which is an experience that precedes theory,” and he then expressed his joy and great excitement saying, “With your solemn profession you make a great gift to the Church, the Mother Church, and that keeps alive a tradition that has witnessed major figures such as Saint Hilarion of Gaza and Saint Anthony Abbot, monk of Egypt, who left his native country at a young age to live as a hermit in the desert, along the banks of the Red Sea.”
What prompted this radical desire of Filippo is probably this “experience”, an experience of God that precedes theory, to paraphrase the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Only this experience together with the Gospel can explain the authenticity of this call, and why it does not contradict human nature which has a thirst for infinite love, that is to say, for God Himself.
“Your profession today, dear hermit Filippo, is a fine example of Christian coherence and unity between your faith and life,” said the Patriarch. Still addressing himself to the newly professed, he said: “Dear Filippo, ‘man does not live by bread alone’, we read in Deuteronomy. Having the awareness that there are other needs that go beyond material bread opens a space of freedom, beyond the inevitable suggestions of life.”
According to the Patriarch of the Holy City, the monastic life finds its model in the experience that Jesus made for forty days in the desert. Recalling that the desert “is the place where a person can assert the truth of oneself and understand the relativity of rights and the absoluteness of God (…) the desert experience obliges man to release, to strip unnecessary things and vanity. The desert reduces man to the essential, fundamental things (…) the hermitage reminds us of our hunger and thirst for God.”
Finally, the Patriarch concluded his homily, moved, saying: “Thank you Philip! We will accompany you with our affection, our support and our prayers. The Mother Church will always be close to you. Our Lady Queen of Palestine will protect you. “
After the ceremony, all were invited to a simple but festive buffet, which the hermit and his family planned to celebrate his commitment on the paths of the absolute search for God.