Father Justin Sinaites has 'rock star' status as overseer of a Byzantine exhibition at the Getty Museum. He's eager to return home to Egypt.
With his long black robes and salt-and-pepper beard and ponytail, Father Justin Sinaites hardly looks the part of rock star. But when the tall, lean monk walks through the exhibition of Byzantine icons and manuscripts on display through March 4 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, visitors descend on him like so many grown-up groupies.
"I recognized you from the video," said Heidi Singh, a Buddhist minister who rushed to Father Justin's side as he stood one recent morning before a 6th century icon of St. Peter. Later, a group of visitors crowded around him to ask about St. Catherine's Monastery in Sinai, Egypt, where he lives with 24 other Greek Orthodox monks and serves as librarian.
Call Father Justin the icon of the icons.
Because he speaks English and knows the exhibition's 43 icons, six manuscripts and four liturgical objects intimately, Father Justin was tapped as a "courier" to monitor their care on a rare trip outside their desert home, 8,000 miles away. So far, more than 171,000 people have toured the exhibition, "Holy Image, Hallowed Ground: Icons From Sinai."
It is an unlikely role for a man who grew up in a Baptist household in Texas and came to Greek Orthodoxy as a college student. Like the icons themselves, Father Justin's path to St. Catherine's, at the foot of the mountain where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments, speaks of faith, humility and love.
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