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. 


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.