Friday, February 02, 2024

Moldova Pilgrimage, Part 5

A statue of Mother Safta Brâncoveanu in front of the main Church in the Văratec women's monastery. 

Click here for Part 1.

Click here for Part 2.

Click here for Part 3.

Click here for Part 4.

On Thursday, August 18th, we packed all of our stuff back into the van, because we would be heading back to Moldova before the day was over, but we had two more stops planned in Romania first.

We went to the Văratec Monastery first. It was founded under the guidance St. Paisius Velichkovsky, and was associated with the Agapia women's monastery which is nearby. Agapia is much larger.

The interior of the main Church in the Văratec Monastery

One interesting icon I noticed was this one, which was on the western wall, and part of the icons depicting the last judgment:


I can't make out the inscription, which was small, not clear, and probably in Romanian, but it was very similar to an icon I saw at the Old Rite parish in Erie, Pennsylvania, which had an English inscription. Assuming these two icons are modeled on the same original, the inscription on the scroll held by the angel says something like "Because of your fornication you are denied entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven, but because of your charity, you are spared the torments of hell." I have never seen an icon like this elsewhere, but would be interested in learning more about it, if anyone has more information.

Next we went to the Agapia women's monastery. It was impressive because of its size and the number of nuns I saw there. Iryna Teodoreanu, who lives in Houston, but has many friends who are nuns in the monastery made sure we were given a tour. 

Agapia

There is a very impressive museum that we were guided through by Nun Nicoleta, who speaks English very well. We had a lot of very interesting discussions as well, but I noticed my phone was vibrating, and then saw that Constantine had sent me several messages saying that Elena wasn't feeling well, and that we needed to leave. So unfortunately, we had to cut our visit short. Elena was very pregnant by this time, but up until now had been able to keep up with all the walking without any signs of it being a problem, but we quickly started making our way back to where the van was parked. After she had a chance to rest, and drink some water, she was feeling better, but we thought it was probably a good idea to start heading back to Moldova.

Crossing the border back into Moldova was less of an adventure than was our crossing the border into Romania. We wanted to make it back to Sălcuța in time to celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration on the Old Calendar (keep in mind, Romania is on the New Calendar, Moldova is on the Old). We made it back home, but I don't think we made it back in time to attend the evening service. 

On Friday morning I was taken to Church early, so I could attend Matins, before the hours and Liturgy. When we arrived I noticed Fr. Nikolai was talking with another priest. It turned out there were a group of pilgrims from Kiev, who had gone to Bulgaria, but their van had broken down, and Fr. Andrey was hoping to serve the Liturgy there. I noticed Fr. Nikolai had him show his paperwork, and I think this was to make sure that he was a priest under Metropolitan Onouphry (the legitimate Ukrainian Orthodox Church), and not under Epiphoney, the head of the US sponsored schismatic Ukrainian Church.

Since Fr. Andrey was serving in Slavonic, I did all of my parts in English. This may have been the most international service this village parish had ever seen. Again, it was very hot in the Church, but we all survived. After the Liturgy, we all were invited to Fr. Nikolai's home for a festal meal. We also got to see Fr. Sergei's home, which was very close by. We had conversations going on in Russian, Romanian, and English, with various people translating to help the non-trilingual people. Before we left, we took some pictures. 

From left to right: Fr. Nikolai, Constantine, Fr. Gregory, myself, Fabi, my wife, Matushka Margareta, Elena, Fr. Sergei, and I believe that is one of Fr. Sergei's daughters.

After we got back from what was a truly wonderful afternoon, we needed to get ready to head out to visit another of Elena's aunts and uncles, Pelaghia and John, in Cantemir, which is close to the border with Romania, but a bit south of where we had crossed back and forth previously. Elena was doing the driving, and we were going a bit faster than usual to try to make it there by a reasonable hour. We were going up and down hills, and rounding corners this way and that, such that by the time we got there, I was feeling more than a bit queasy. Uncle John is Moldovan, but was a veteran of the Soviet Army, and prefers to speak in Russian, and so we were again having a trilingual conversation, but a pleasant one. After breakfast the next morning, we headed back to Sălcuța for one final time. Loaded up all of our things, and said our goodbye's to Elena's family, and then headed to spend the night in Chișinău, so we could catch our flight early on Sunday morning. We did a reader service back in the apartment we stayed in, and got up early to do our final packing.

Constantine and I loaded the van with all the luggage, because we had too many bags to fit everyone and the luggage into the van, and so the plan was for Elena, my wife, and Fabi to catch an Uber to the airport. However, Elena discovered that she could not find an Uber driver on Sunday morning, and after much waiting and hoping, finally, she stopped a car with a young man and asked if he would give them a ride to the airport. He was a random stranger, but in this country that places such a high value on hospitality, she was not disappointed, even in the capital city.

Once at the airport, we had one final bit of drama when we were trying to board the flight. The agent for the airline asked Elena if she had a new doctor's letter stating she was able to fly in her advanced state of pregnancy. She didn't have such a letter, because we obviously had not been back to Houston, but they said the previous letter was no longer valid. However, this time the agent helped her out, and just suggested she might want to wear a jacket that would make it less obvious how far along she was, so that she didn't get any hassles when we had to catch our connecting flight in Istanbul. When we got to Istanbul, we found such a jacket, and had no further problems for the remainder of the trip.

I was looking forward to being able to visit the various churches and monasteries we visited, but I was not expecting to have this trip being a life changing event, but having a chance to see a largely agrarian Orthodox country up close really was a revelation. Even though Moldova is a relatively poor country, they are the richest country I have ever been in, when it comes to their faith, their culture, and the strength of their families. We have a lot we could learn from Moldova.

The following is a video of a talk I gave last September that reflects on what I learned from this trip.

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

What is Christian Marriage?

Me and my wife with my daughter Catherine, and son-in-law Benjamin Dixon

The following sermon was given on May 7, 2023, at the wedding of my daughter Catherine Whiteford and my son-in-law Benjamin Dixon, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Marriage was established by God in Creation. Although many people get confused as to what marriage is these days, I can guarantee you 100 percent of the people here have a male father and a female mother and only one of each. That's the basis for all human life. God made it the very root and foundation of society, and in a healthy society most people would be born from parents married to each other and live in a stable home. The more that ceases to be the norm, the more unstable society becomes.

That's why it's all the more important for us as Christians to be committed to marriage, because each marriage is like one thread in a big, woven cloth. You might pull one string out without messing up the whole garment, but if you keep pulling out strings, one after and another, pretty soon the whole thing unravels. Marriage is that important.

Christian marriage is something in addition to that. In the Gospel reading, we heard about how Christ took natural water–which is good in of itself and made by God at the time of Creation–and how, when He blessed it, He turned that water into wine. God takes what He already blesses from Creation in terms of natural marriage and makes it into something else. It's not just an avenue through which life comes forth and we produce future generations, nor just the basis of society. It's also the path by which you can save your souls.

A husband and a wife in a Christian home are to be committed to each other in such a way that when one person is weak, the other one is strong. If you have to drag the other person across the finish line of life into heaven, you do that, because you are that committed to the relationship. 

It's not just important for you, but also important for your children. It's difficult for children to see parents who don't get along, particularly if it was those parents who taught them the Faith. They can reasonably ask, "if my parents taught me the Faith but they couldn't keep the marriage together, then what good is it?"

We as parents need to be good models of what it means to be Christian parents, even if it's difficult. The thing is, there are always going to be times that are difficult. There will always be times in your marriage when you think, “I made a big mistake, I don't know about this, this is not going well.” But the thing is, if you remain committed to it–and both of you remain committed to it–you will be able to stand firm. 

How do you get that kind of blessing from God? You do what the Virgin Mary said to the servants in the Gospel reading: “Do whatever He tells you.” And then they took that water to Christ and He blessed it, turning it into wine. If you do whatever Christ tells you to do, then you will have no problems between each other, your children will be blessed, and society around you will be blessed because they can look to you as an example of a Christian man and woman. 

May God bless you.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Moldova Pilgrimage, Part 4

The Elder Cleopa

Click here for Part 1.

Click here for Part 2.

Click here for Part 3.

On Tuesday, we went to the Sihăstria Secului Monastery, where the Elder Cleopa was a monk and later the abbot. 

I believe that it was on the way to this monastery that we passed a Soviet cemetery on the side of the road. At the center of this plot, there was a sizable stone marker with the hammer and sickle. I would imagine that these soldiers must have been killed in a battle in that area. But it was hard to imagine a war going on in this area now. I was also surprised that the cemetery seemed to be well maintained, and not vandalized, which I thought was impressive, given that Romania fought on the other side of that war. I can't find the source of the quote, but I believe it is a true saying: "Who but a coward makes war on a soldier after he is dead."

The Sihăstria monastery is the only one that we went to that had a sign that said not to take photos, and so we didn't. But I found this video on YouTube which gives you a good view of this beautiful monastery:

We made a point of going to this monastery first, because Elena knew that Fr. David Companik has a special veneration for Elder Cleopa, and so she hoped to find something there that she could give him as a gift. I figured that there were probably icons of him, without a halo (since he has not been formally glorified yet), and as a matter of fact they had them on sale in the monastery bookstore. We venerated Elder Cleopa's grave, and spent a good bit of time looking around the monastery, and then we went to the nearby Secu Monastery.

The above video gives a good overview of the monastery, although it was taken during the winter, and we were there in August. It is a beautiful monastery, but relatively small compared to the others in the area. I believe we had plans to see other monasteries that day, but I think my wife was feeling under the weather, and so we decided to go back to the hotel and take it easy for the rest of the day.

On Wednesday, we decided to first go to the Neamț Citadel, which overlooks the city of Târgu Neamț from Pleșu Hill.


It was a lot cooler there for mid-August than it would have been back home, but since we had to walk up the hill to get to the Citadel, we decided it would be best to do that before things warmed up. 

A short clip taken outside the Citadel. You can briefly see Elena. The music was not added to the video.

As I was walking across the bridge that leads into the Citadel, there were people coming out, and as Elena told me later, there was a boy who saw me and said "Wow, Mom! Look -- a priest!" But as I got closer he said, "Wait... is he a real priest? He has no belly, Mom!" When my wife heard the story, she immediately reminded me that this is why she makes me eat healthy food.

Matushka Patricia and me on our way out of the Citadel.

There was a guide in the Citadel who spoke English very well, and he told us that St. Stephen the Great had changed the direction of the entrance to the Citadel, so that you could only reach the entrance by going on the bridge which circled around, and prevented taking a battering ram, and getting any speed to break down the gate. This Citadel was never taken by force, but when the Turks conquered the area, they forced the Romanians to blow up the Citadel. What you see today is not the full Citadel that once was, but what could be reconstructed out of the lower levels.

After lunch, we went to the nearby Neamț Monastery, which is where St. Paisius Velichkovsky ended his days. For many years, St. Paisius was mentioned in the list of saints when the prayers of the Litia were done in ROCOR. His name was later removed, as other have been added, but his name stood out because we usually do not mention the surnames of saints in our prayers, and his name was a name that a non-Russian has a bit of trouble getting used to saying. Prior to this trip, I only knew that he had been on Mt. Athos, and had played an important role in the revival of Russian monasticism. I had no idea of the Romanian connection with St. Paisius, but it went back to the early days of his monastic life. The Prophet Elias Skete on Mt. Athos, where he was the Abbot, had both a Slavonic and Romanian choir, which alternated during the services. After leaving Mt. Athos, St. Paisius came to this area, and eventually to this monastery. And I suspect that it is largely due to him that there is such an impressive collection of monasteries in a relatively small area. He not only published the Philokalia in Slavonic, but he also had it published in Romanian.

The Main Church of the Monastery.

The walls inside the main Church of the monastery. Blacked with centuries of incense, and with some damage from having been burned on more than one occasion over its long history. This monastery is yet another monastery built by St. Stephen the Great.


The monastery courtyard.

A miraculous Icon of the Mother of God.

The relics of St. Paisius Velichkovsky

An Icon of St. Paisius at the Monastery, in which he is referred to as "St. Paisius of Neamț."

You can listen to a sermon I preached on the Sunday of All Saints of Russia, which focused on St. Paisius, and highlighted this Romanian connection: St. Paisius Velichkovsky

While in the main church, I struck up a conversation with a monk who spoke English very well, and who asked me where I was from. I told him, and introduced him to my wife. He asked where she was from, and I told him that she was from China. He then said "O, you searched very far for wife!" And I told him, that actually I met her in my high school gym class in Houston.

Nearby there is a seminary, and the seminary was a very new and beautiful Church, with vibrant icons inside and out.












There was one icon in the Church that I wasn't expecting to see:


I noticed in other Romanian Churches that there were often portraits of the founders of a Church on the back western wall. In one older church, there was a portrait of a King of Romania that I believe was actually a Roman Catholic. So this portrait of Patriarch Bartholomew is there, next to a similar portrait of the Patriarch of Romania who consecrated this Church together some years back.

To be continued...

Friday, September 08, 2023

Moldova Pilgrimage, Part 3

The St. Paraskeva Cathedral in Iași, Romania

Click here for Part 1.

Click here for Part 2.

On Sunday morning, August 14th, I arrived at the village church early enough to do the entrance prayers before Matins would begin. I noticed later that the resident clergy did the entrance prayers later, during the hours, but I am not used to doing Matins on Sunday morning. Following the service in Romanian was again difficult, but I generally had at least some idea of where we were. 

Even though the outside temperature was comfortable, the inside of the Church was certainly on the warm side. After I was fully vested, it was extremely hot. There was one window in the altar which was slightly cracked. At one point, Fr. Sergei (the younger brother) opened up the window more widely, and I could feel the faintest hint of a cross-flow, but not long after that, Fr. Nikolai (the older brother) put the window back as it was before. 

I wondered whether they would abbreviate Matins, or go straight from the Great Doxology to the beginning of the Liturgy (as Greeks typically do), but they did neither. They did the full canon at Matins, and after Matins, did the 1st, 3rd, and 6th Hours, followed by the Liturgy. During the Liturgy, I tried to do as much of the parts that I was supposed to do in Slavonic, because I figured the people were more likely to understand that, than to understand it in English. By the end of the Liturgy, I was soaking wet from the heat.

At the end of the Liturgy, Fr. Nikolai asked me to say a few words. I told them briefly about how I had discovered the Orthodox Faith, and that while they might not all realize it, they had inherited a great treasure. I also commented on what a beautiful and pious country that they had, and that they should fight to hang on to what they have. I said this with a sense of sadness, because while I hope that they do hang on to what they have, I know that the pull of western culture, if it has its way, will do everything it can to see that they do not. 

After the dismissal, we did the lesser blessing of the waters, which is appointed to be done on the feast of the Procession of the Cross. I was handed a candle with a bath towel. I had seen something similar when Elena has been the Godmother at baptisms in our parish (and she and Constantine have racked up a considerable number in the preceding year). At such baptisms, she made a point of giving each of those who are baptized a similar bath towel. I don't know if this is just a local custom, a Moldovan custom, or a more widely observed Romanian custom.

After the services, Fr. Nikolai invited us to his home for lunch. When I got there, I was happy to discover that he had air conditioning in his home. My wife had over heated during the service, and so went back to Elena's parents' home, to rest. I tried to entice her to come to Fr. Nikolai's with the promise of air conditioning, but it didn't work.

One again we were treated to a wonderful meal that consisted of locally grown food, and the family's own homemade wine. Fr. Nikolai's English was limited, but I was able to talk with him to some extent before his brother arrived. I noticed he had both Romanian books in his library, and found out that he went to seminary in Romania. When Fr. Sergei arrived, he translated the conversation, which then could get into more complex subjects.

Fr. Nikolai chided Elena a bit for not giving him more advanced notice of our visit. I found out later that he had made sure the whole choir was present for both the evening and morning services, since they had special guests. He also discussed what we should be sure to see while in Romania, after he found out that Romania was our next stop.

After a very enjoyable afternoon, we went back to Elena's parents' home to rest a bit, before we headed to Romania. The idea was to try to cross the border after midnight, in hopes that the traffic would be less, but it didn't quite work out as we hoped.

We drove on an international road, which for several stretches did not appear to have been maintained since the days when Moldova was part of the Soviet Union. We had to drive slow, and it was bit like driving on the surface of the Moon. As we approached the border crossing, the road was smooth, but it was only one lane in each direction, and there was a long line of trucks that for some reason was backed up for quite a distance. Following the lead of some cars in front of us, we began driving on the opposite lane, hoping to get past this line of trucks (because cars have a different line at the border), but what happened was that at some point cars coming in the opposite direction caused the line we were in to come to a complete stop, and because we were on a bridge, which railing on both sides, there was no way to pass, and no room to turn around.

For several hours, we were stuck. I never saw any law enforcement at any point during the entire affair, who made any attempt to unsnarl this problem. After a while several truck drivers got out of their vehicles, and began cursing at each other in Romanian, Russian, and Ukrainian. But ever so slowly, they began to direct different trucks and vehicles that could move, and somewhat like the movements of a Rubik's Cube, they gradually began to solve the puzzle. This involved trucks and cars up and down the road, moving as far as they possibly could, to make just enough room, for people to start turning around. And finally, we were moving, though in the opposite direction that we wanted to go. Once we were free of the traffic jam, we began asking people if there was a back road that we could take to the border crossing. We found out that there was. It was a somewhat rugged road, with many twists and turns, but we made it to the crossing, and at long last, we were able to begin the process of crossing the border.

The roads in Romania are consistently good. And sometime at around 4 in the morning, we made to Iași, Romania, and the three-star hotel there. It was a very nice hotel, except that the air conditioning wasn't quite up to standard. We slept in a bit, had breakfast there, and then went out to go to the main cathedral there, where the relics of St. Paraskeva (or "Petka," as the Serbs call her) are found. The Romanian Orthodox Church is on the New Calendar, and though we had just begun the Dormition Fast on the Old Calendar on Sunday, Monday, August 15th was already the end of the fast and the celebration of the Feast of the Dormition.

It was a beautiful day, and also a national holiday in Romania. The line to venerate the relics of St. Paraskeva was quite long, but well worth the wait. The Cathedral itself is beautiful. 

The interior of the St. Paraskeva Cathedral in Iași


The relics of St. Paraskeva.

One thing I have learned over my years as an Orthodox Christian, is that a saint that before was just one of many names becomes a saint that you feel a personal connection with, when you have visited their shrine, and venerated their relics.

A government building with a statue of one of the kings of Romania.

We visited a much older Church, which had these bells and this stone. The stone is in Romanian, but with Cyrillic letters, and has the ancient symbol of Moldova, which is the now extinct Aurochs.

As we walked around the city, I met the first beggars I encountered on this trip. They were gypsies, and I kept bumping into the. I had only some Moldovan change and some Russian rubles, and so gave them what I had. Constantine noticed that they had handlers who were keeping an eye on their work, and when they saw a hundred ruble note, they showed it to their handler, thinking it was worth a lot more than it actually was.

We decided not to stay another night in the hotel there, because of the air conditioning, and so went on to Târgu Neamț, which has a large number of monasteries nearby. When we arrived in the city, we parked in the center area, and were trying to figure out if we needed to pay for a parking meter. While we were focused on that there was a Gypsy girl who liked like she was about 6, further off there was an older Gypsy woman who was watching her, and she had what looked like a forced smile on her face. She approved Fabi, who had wandered off from the rest of us, and I am not sure what transpired between them, but once Constantine saw what was happening, he yelled for Fabi to come back to us, and she didn't respond. He ran over and grabbed her, and the Gypsies quickly disappeared. Constantine was convinced that this was an attempted kidnapping, and given the circumstances, that seemed likely. After that, we made sure Fabi was holding the hands of an adult whenever we were out in public. After that surreal experience, we had dinner in town, and then went looking for a hotel.

We turned to Google, to see what we could find, and went to the Pensiunea Eden, in Agapia, Romania. It is a small hotel with a restaurant. Before we decided to stay, we asked if we could look at the room, because we wanted to make sure the air conditioning really worked. The woman we were talking to thought we were odd for asking, but upon inspection, the air conditioning worked great. The food at the restaurant was also great, so we ended up making this our base of operations for the rest of our time in Romania.

To be continues...

Saturday, September 02, 2023

Review: On The Reception of the Heterodox into the Orthodox Church: The Patristic Consensus and Criteria


The recently released book "On the Reception of the Heterodox into the Orthodox Church: The Patristic Consensus and Criteria" from Uncut Mountain Press, has provoked a wide range of responses, and for a 442 pages book, targeting an Orthodox audience, it has been selling very well. The book makes a compelling case for why the reception of converts by baptism should be the norm, especially in our time, and given that few non-Orthodox Christians baptize by a triple immersion. This has been the policy of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia since the 70's, and I think this policy makes sense, though it does allow the bishop to apply economia in situations in which it makes sense.

I have seen people criticize the book in terms of its recounting of the history of how the heterodox have been received, but I have not yet seen anything that seemed substantive. Perhaps such a critique will be forthcoming. If so, I would be happy to read it.

An unfortunate aspect of many of the responses to this book has been that some have taken quotes from it, made them into memes, and posted them online, and so tossed them out without any context.

For example, there is a meme with a quote from St. Kosmas Aitolos, which says:

"Holy priests, you must have large baptismal fonts in your churches so that the entire child can be immersed. The child should be able to swim in it so that not even an area as large as a tick's eye remains dry. Because it is from there (the dry area) that the devil advances, and this is why your children become epileptics, are possessed by demons, have fear, suffer misfortune; they haven't been baptized properly" (On the Reception of the Heterodox, p. 49f).

I have not read the original book that this quote was taken from, and so don't know what other context there may have been for it, but there are several problems with taking this quote literally, and assuming it to be true on face value. For one, it is a completely acceptable form of economia to baptize someone who is infirm or in danger of death by pouring, and so in such cases there are areas far bigger than a tick's eye that remain dry. And yet, the Church has never suggested that this imperiled the souls of those baptized in this way. It is certainly not a good practice to fail to fully immerse a baby who is being baptized under normal circumstances, but there are areas of the Church in which this practice has unfortunately been fairly common. Obviously such practices should be corrected, but I don't think we can say that entire portions of the Orthodox Church are unbaptized. One should also be careful not to advance such a quote as a normative Orthodox view when it is not something also stated by other saints and fathers of the Church.

I remember many years ago discussing some of the extremes of those who were associated with the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Boston while they were part of ROCOR, with someone who was either a Greek themselves, or familiar with Greek culture (I can't remember the specifics after a few decades), who said that Greek priests often overstate things because that is the only way they can get Greek people to pay attention, but the problem with the converts associated with the Boston Monastery was that they took everything they were told literally, in a way Greeks typically would not.

I have been in communication with someone who was baptized as an adult in an Orthodox monastery, but he stood in a tub, and had three buckets of water poured over him. When he saw this quote, he was quite troubled, and wondered if he was even truly in the Church. He wanted to know if he should have a corrective baptism. I told him that I didn't think he did, but that he could ask his bishop, and if his bishop told him that he should have a corrective baptism, he should do what the bishop told him... but that if the bishop told him otherwise, he should not allow himself to be troubled by the matter.

What I wish this book had done was balance the excellent case it makes for how converts should be received with a discussion of how economia supplies what is lacking, and also about how bishops have the power to bind and to loose, and that we should assume that what they bind or loose on earth is in fact bound or loosed in heaven (Matthew 18:18).

When a priest is ordained, the bishops prays the prayer:

"The grace divine, which always healeth that which is infirm, and completeth that which is wanting, elevateth through the laying-on of hands, N., the most devout Deacon, to be a Priest. Wherefore, let us pray for him, that the grace of the all-holy Spirit may come upon him." 

No one is worthy to be a priest of the Most High God, but we believe that with all of our shortcomings, the Holy Spirit supplies what is lacking in us to make us what we are otherwise unworthy to be.

I was baptized as an adult, by triple immersion. But what if the priest somehow accidentally left an area of my body dry because the font wasn't big enough? I don't know if this happened or not (this was nearly 33 years ago), but I believe that if it did, the Holy Spirit would supply whatever was lacking in the form of my baptism. Most members of the Orthodox Church are baptized as infants. They obviously would have no way of knowing whether some area the size of a tick's eye remained dry. Having mass corrective baptisms, just in case, would obviously not be a good way to handle such things.

Furthermore, St. Ignatius of Antioch, when speaking of the authority of the bishop in relation to the sacraments performed by those under him, says:

"Let no one do anything that has to do with the church without the bishop. Only that Eucharist which is under the authority of the bishop (or whomever he himself designates) is to be considered valid. Wherever the bishop appears, there let the congregation be, just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church. It is not permissible either to baptize or to hold a love feast without the bishop. But whatever he approves is also pleasing to God, in order that everything you do may be trustworthy and valid" (To the Smyrnaeans 8:1b -2, from "The Apostolic Fathers," 2nd edition, trans. J. B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, ed Michael W. Holmes, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989) p. 112f).

Obviously, there are limits to what a bishop can approve, but what we are talking about are things that have been going on for a long time, and were not objected to by many saints of recent memory.

Again, I agree with the main thrust of the book when it comes to what should be done as a rule when receiving converts, but when it comes to what should be done about those cases when bishops see things differently, I think we should be cautious about sowing doubt in the minds of the faithful.

For More Information, see this video discussion on the topic:

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Moldova Pilgrimage, Part 2

Click here for Part 1.

On Friday, August 12th, we went to the nearby town of Căușeni, which, as best as I could tell, is pronounced "Cow-shen." As I was beginning to get some idea of how Romanian spellings translated into actual sounds, I asked Elena at one point if the "i" at the end was silent, and she said "No," it is pronounced..." and I still detected no "i" at the end, but apparently it is there very subtly, and I can't hear it. 

We had breakfast on the porch. One thing that was very enjoyable was just watching the family life at Elena's parents' home. None of her siblings still live at home with her parents, but her sister, Tatiana and her husband Veceslav live nearby in the village, but not too long before we came, they had a fire that destroyed much of their house, and so their four children were staying for the most part with their grandparents, while the house was being rebuilt. One of their children, Taisia, was then about two years old, and she was very excited that her cousin Fabi was there for a visit, and so kept shouting "Faaa-biii!" She sometimes did this even when Fabi was just a few feet away, and they were both looking at each other. I started imitating this, and told Fabi that if I got to serve her wedding, I would say at the end "You may now kiss Faaa-biii!"

First, we went to an open-air market, to pick up several things that we needed to get, and then we went to the Ss. Martha and Mary Convent, which is not an ancient convent, but was founded in the 1990's. There had been a campground on this site during the Soviet period, but one day someone cut down a tree, and found that there was a cross shape in the rings of the tree. Some wondered if there had once been a monastery there, but no record exists of there having been one, but some locals said that a hermit did live in that area. It was decided to build a convent there, and in a relatively short period of time a very large convent has flourished.

When we arrived, we first got coffee in their coffee shop, which was quite good, and then we went to their bookstore, because we had a long list of things we needed to get, especially for Fr. Gregory Solis and the Holy Cross parish in Corpus Christi -- which at the time was being served once a month by Fr. David Companik, but was soon to be having regular services after Fr. Gregory's ordination later in October of that year, and so they had many things that they desperately needed to get, in order to be able to do these services. We also wanted to get some things as gifts for various friends and family back home. We didn't have enough cash on us at the time, and so most of what we were going to buy was set aside for us, and we would come back later to pick it up. They didn't have the ability to charge anything on a credit card. 

It was interesting to see that they had books by Fr. Seraphim (Rose), which have been translated into Romanian, on sale. They also had a lot of books in Russian, and service books in Slavonic, because there is a sizable Russian community in Moldova. We bought a lot of silver crosses for our bookstore, because the prices were far lower than anything you can find in the United States.

We then went on to the main Church of the Convent.

The entrance of the main Church

This Icon of St. Stephen the Great is on the walls of the main Church. The inscription in Romanian reads: "Moldova was not my ancestors', was not mine, and is not yours, but belongs to our descendants and our descendants' descendants to the end of time."


A reliquary which has relics of many New Testament Saints, as well as a number of other later saints.

As we were venerating the icons and relics in the main Church, I asked Elena a number of questions about the Church, and the iconography. There was an older nun who was sitting in the Church, probably to make sure that visitors behaved themselves there, and she overheard these questions, and jumped in at a certain point, and so we began a conversation. When she found out that I was a visiting priest from America, she asked for, and received permission to take us on a tour of the Convent.

First we went to the lower Church, but on the way down I noticed frescos of many scenes from the Lord's passion that I do not recall seeing in other churches I have seen.

Prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane


Pilate, washing his hands after condemning Christ.



We went by the residence of the Nuns, and I believe a building in which they also teach classes for area children. Then we went to a beautiful wooden chapel, which is normally kept locked, but we were getting the VIP treatment. Interestingly, most Churches in Moldova are built in the Russian style, but this one is in a Romanian style.



Those are antlers in the chandelier.

St. Stephen the Great is a figure you keeping bumping into in Moldova, and in Romania.

And we then went to a miraculous spring that they have there. Everyone but me went in for a dip.


While I was waiting outside of the spring, there was a Russian woman who lives in Transnistria, but who is a regular visitor there who came by and struck up a conversation. She was an English teacher, and so spoke English very well. She told me that there was a very large monastery in Transnistria that we should come and visit. I told her that I would like to do that someday. I think we also talked a bit about the Pochaev Lavra in Ukraine, which I would also like to see someday, when the war in Ukraine is over.

The nun who was giving us the tour had told us that we were invited to stay for a meal. We told her that we needed to leave soon to have dinner at one of Elena's uncle's homes, but she told us we could eat a little here, and then still have room for dinner there. She had pointed us to the spring, and left, but before we could leave, she reappeared, to make sure we didn't just leave. As I said before, hospitality is a very big deal for Moldovans, and so we couldn't say "no.". So we went back to the Trapeza. It was a very large dining hall, and we thought we would be eating with the nuns, but she took us to a side room for special guests, and then we were treated a multi course Lenten feast, complete with desert. The food was all fresh, locally grown food, and it was wonderful.

After we were stuffed to the gills, we then had to hurry to our planned dinner with one of Elena's many aunts and uncles, Fr. Chiril and Matushka Maria. Fr. Chiril is the priest in the nearby village of Opaci.

Fr. Chiril and me, in front of the village Church in Opaci.

When we arrived, Fr. Chiril invited us to walk to his parish Church, which is dedicated to the Feast of the Protection of the Mother of God. While we were entering, my older daughter called to do a video chat with us and our two granddaughters, the oldest of which was two at the time, but she was already very talkative. Since we previously had some trouble coordinating such calls with the time zone differences, and since I very much missed my grandbabies, I went ahead and video chatted with them, and showed them the Church as we entered. My older granddaughter said "I want to go to that Church!" I had to explain that it was a long way away from our home. I had to end the call, so I could venerate their icons. They have a miraculous Icon of the Mother of God in the parish.



The Miraculous Icon of the Mother of God in Opaci

After we were able to venerate the icons in the Church, we walked back to their home, and had a very nice dinner with Fr. Chiril, Matushka Maria, and one of their children, Nicu (John), although we didn't have the appetite we normally would have had. The food was wonderful, however, and after dinner, we were treated to what they called "vodka," but which was some sort of liquor made from cherries, which was also very good. My wife, who normally doesn't like alcohol in any form, liked it very much.

Poor Elena had to translate throughout the evening, and we had a lengthy discussion with Nicu, who is planning on becoming a priest like his father, about mixed marriages. Somehow we had begun to discuss "modernism," and for Nicu, the prime example of modernism was that some bishops allow Orthodox Christians to marry non-Orthodox Christians. I tried to explain why in the west, there are good reasons that this is allowed, though it is obviously not ideal. I pointed out that in Moldova, he would have to go out of his way to find a non-Orthodox woman to marry, but in the United States, it is usually the opposite. And so bishops in the west usually allow mixed marriages, as an act of economia, on the condition that the non-Orthodox spouse agrees to raise the children in the Church. Often, the non-Orthodox spouse eventually becomes Orthodox. But I explained that when this has not been allowed, the result was not that the Orthodox person moved on, and kept looking for an Orthodox mate, but that in most cases, they would end up getting married anyway, outside of the Church, without such a promise, and often this resulted in even the Orthodox spouse losing their connection with the Church. But there was something refreshing about people who live in a culture where the worst example of modernism that they encounter is bishops allowing mixed marriages.

Matushka Maria, Matuska Patricia, myself, Nicu, and Fr. Chiril

Matushka Patricia and Matushka Maria

We then said our good-byes and headed back to Sălcuța for another night. 

Saturday was the last day of the trip that would not fall during the Dormition Fast, and so we enjoyed our last non-lenten breakfast, which consisted of fresh food, with much more flavor than we were used to in the United States. I believe we decided to take it easy that day prior to Vespers, because some of us were not feeling well.

The Dormition Church in Sălcuța


Anytime there was a service in the village Church, the bells could be heard throughout Sălcuța. We drove to the Church, but most people walked, because most people don't own their own car. The simple life these people were living was so beautiful, and yet I knew that we were just across the border of the Odesa Oblast in Ukraine, and that there were many villages in Ukraine that were not very different from this one, aside from the language being spoken, and yet many of these villages have been destroyed, and their people have been scattered, and many of the people have also been killed. The evil of such wars, and what those who cause them to happen will have to answer for, became less theoretical and more concrete. I hope and pray that the war does not eventually come to Moldova, though I know that there are many people around the world, who live in gated communities, live in luxury, have never heard a shot fired in anger, and yet think of the people in places like this as mere pawns on a chess board, and would very much like to see this happen.

Sunday was the Feast of the Procession of the Cross, and so when we arrived at the Church. In their local practice, they serve Vespers on Saturday Evening, but they followed it by another service, and because I know almost no Romanian, I was not sure what it was. It may have been Small Compline. On the Holy Table was what looked like a bundle of wildflowers, formed into the shape of a big Cross, upon which was laid a decorated, wooden Cross. Outside, the temperature was warm, but not too warm. However, the Church had no air conditioning, and for what I assume are cultural reasons, the windows of the Church were kept closed (I know in some cultures have a cross breeze indoors is thought to be unhealthy). I think I only wore an epitrachelion during the service, and so it wasn't as hot as it would prove to be on Sunday morning during the Liturgy, when I would be fully vested.

The village Church has three priests: the rector is Fr. Nikolai, and the assistant priest is his younger brother, Fr. Sergei -- who is an English teacher, and so when in the altar, he was my primary means of communication. Their father, Fr. Gregory, is retired, but he still hears confessions at the Church. He is the one who baptized Elena when she was a baby. He was also one of the signers of the Moldovan Declaration of Independence and Constitution, if I remember correctly. During the Soviet period, he was sometimes harassed by the KGB, but the KGB only went so far, because I am told they feared his Matushka. After the service, when she met me and my wife, she thought my wife was my daughter -- this happens to me a lot. I explained that she was only a year and half younger, but we had not aged at the same rate.

Once, when I was still working for the State of Texas, my wife and I went out for dinner for our wedding anniversary, and when we had the picture developed, she ask me if I would like to put it in my office at work. I told her people would ask "Who is that young woman with that old man?" She framed it, I took it to work, and on the very first day, a co-worker asked if that was my daughter.

After the service, we headed back home, and then went to Elena's sister Tatiana's house for dinner. It was held outdoors, and that evening the flies were particularly aggressive. I was told that they were not normally like this, but recent rains had caused them to multiply. Flies are called "muska" in the local dialect, and Constantine and I often went "muska" hunting. My wife wished she had brought her electronic fly-swatter. On one occasion, Constantine, who had been a sniper in the Marine Corps, took a butter knife, and with perfect aim, swatted and killed a "muska" on the first try. I was quite impressed. The food, however, was one again wonderful, and the homemade wine flowed freely. But we had a Liturgy the next day, so before it got too late, we headed back home for the night.

To be continued...