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...