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: