Pilgrimage in Romania (2010-08-02)

Archbishop Seraphim : Report
Pilgrimage in Romania
2-15 August, 2010


Having left from Ottawa on Monday, 2 August, I arrived in Bucharest at noon on Tuesday, 3 August. En route, during the flight-portion from Zurich, I encountered Metropolitan Nifon of Targoviste, Romania, whom I had met previously at several inter-Orthodox meetings and celebrations.

I was met in Bucharest by the Canadian family who were to drive me about ; and after having had lunch, we drove from Bucharest to Constanta (on the Black Sea coast), and we arrived in the early evening. Walking along the harbour and water-front, we viewed a display of funerary stela with inscriptions written in Greek and in Latin (from the 1st to 4th centuries) during the time of the Roman Empire. The inscriptions were both pre-Christian and Christian. The latter were very simple. The former were salutations from the dead to the passer-by, giving life-circumstances, and some philosophical comment. We drove then to Techirghiol, a city by a lake, the mud of which is much sought-after for its healing qualities. There are several spas, and the Monastery of the Theotokos (a stavropegial women’s monastery) includes such a spa. There, at supper, we met Bishop George from Georgia (who was on his way to have a medical check-up in Bucharest). The 2 Churches of Georgia and Romania have ancient connexions which remain active now. With the blessing of Abbess Lucia, we were able to stay in the monastery through the following morning.

On Wednesday, 4 August, we arose for the Divine Liturgy. This followed Morning Prayers, an Akathist for the day’s saint, and the Hours. The Divine Liturgy was served by a priest who was passing through his first 40 days of serving after ordination. He was being supervised and corrected by a priest-monk. On this territory, there is an old wooden Temple of the 17th century, which had been moved to this place by Patriarch Justinian in 1952. It has folk-style iconography on the walls and on the iconostasis, including some on glass. It includes a Wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos. After breakfast, we had the blessing to speak with Starets Arsenie (Papacioc). At 96, he is serene, radiant and peaceful. He is also firm. He lives in Christian simplicity, and he encourages others in this. He had an experience of 14 years at hard labour (including torture) in communist times, because he was a Christian priest. He said quite firmly that suffering precedes joy, just as the Cross precedes the Resurrection ; but everything must be for the sake of Christ. Starets Arsenie told us that his family is of a Macedono-Romanian people, historically coming from an area north of Thessalonika. It was a blessing to be briefly in the presence of this living Confessor, to whom many come daily, seeking healing and direction.

Later, we began driving the approximately 600 km across Dobrogea and Moldavia, which would bring us to the Petru Voda Monastery of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel in the mid-evening. We arrived during the early part of Vespers, and I was asked to join for Litya. After the Six Psalms of Matins, we left for Saint Panteleimon’s Women’s Monastery (5 km distant) at Paltin, to take the blessing of Starets Iustin (Pârvu). The starets is also a living Confessor and survivor with Starets Arsenie and others (such as Starets Roman Braga) of many long years at hard labour. He has been recovering from a serious illness for many months. He now had enough strength to see pilgrims wishing to speak with him, and/or make confession. This hearing of confessions begins in the late afternoon and lasts until after midnight. This is actually a very significant reduction from his previous activity. The nuns who care for him in the infirmary regulate some of the activity. Because there are physicians and dentists, and others similarly qualified amongst the nuns, there is a well-equipped medical and dental clinic in this building, which serves not only both monasteries, but also the neighbours. Regardless of his weakness, Father Iustin was full of joy and spiritual energy. This visit was followed by prayers with the Sisterhood of Saint Panteleimon, and then a collation and conversation with the Abbess Iustina, and with others. After midnight, the Sisterhood began their night-services, and we returned to the other monastery, and retired.

On Thursday, 5 August, after the conclusion of Morning Prayers and Akathist, I served the Divine Liturgy with the brotherhood in the monastery Temple. This was followed by dinner in the refectory, and then a lengthy question-answer session with some of the brotherhood in the Chapel of the New Martyrs under communism. After this conversation, we drove again to Saint Panteleimon’s Monastery, where we said farewell to the nuns. Then we drove the over 2 hours required to reach the Dormition Monastery of Putna. On arrival, we were given our rooms in the arhondarik (guest house) outside the walls, and then supper. Because of our late arrival, we had missed the Vigil, but we heard part of it broadcast on the radio (thanks to Radio Trinitas, the Orthodox radio station). After supper, there was a spiritual conversation that lasted for several hours, and then we retired, again quite late.

On Friday, 6 August, we rose for an 0800 hrs departure with Archimandrite Melchisedek to the Holy Resurrection Suçevita Women’s Monastery. The Transfiguration was the original feast of the original monastery, when it was situated on a nearby mountain. The current monastery was established 500 years ago by an uncle of Saint Peter Mogila (Metropolitan of Kyiv), with the dedication to the Holy Resurrection (but the previous name-day remained also). Staritsa Mihaila had earlier expressed sadness to Archimandrite Melchisedek that it seemed to her that this year there would be no bishop available for the feast. Starets Melchisedek, however, did know of some other possibilities, but he had said nothing until the last minute when there was certainty. Presiding over this Name-day Liturgy of the Monastery was Metropolitan Joseph from Paris, together with Bishop Meletii of Khotin in Ukraine, and me. Bishop Meletii brought with him a deacon and 10 priests, so there were 3 bishops, more than 30 priests and 6 deacons serving. Staritsa Mihaila commented later that probably not since the original founding had so many bishops served there together. The Sisterhood sang the responses, and there were several thousand persons present and participating. As usual, the monastery has an exterior structure constructed especially for such occasions. After the conclusion and the blessing of the people, there was a dinner for almost 100 persons in the refectory of the monastery. There were two groups of clergy who sang at the conclusion of the dinner, which produced great joy. Before the end, there was a Litya for the departed, eating of koliva, and a couple of speeches. Metropolitan Joseph noted during his comments that there are 3 ½ million Romanians living on his territory in western and southern Europe, which includes 3 dioceses that include 300 parishes. He commented also that Germany is yet another large diocese besides. Departure to Putna followed all this. Upon arrival, there was a cup of tea with another spiritual conversation with monks, and then over supper a conversation with Starets Melchisedek.

On Saturday, 7 August, I had the blessing to rest somewhat instead of rising early for Midnight Hour, Matins and Liturgy. Later in the morning, there was breakfast in the arhondarik, and again more spiritual conversations, followed by hearing confessions. After lunch, my guiding family departed for Bucharest. There was another conversation, a rest, then supper, and then the serving of Vigil from 1900 to 2300 hrs. It was, as usual, well-attended by the Brotherhood and many pilgrims. After the conclusion of Vigil, and a return to the arhondarik, there was a brief cup of tea, and rest.

On Sunday, 8 August, the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy began at 0900 hrs, with arrival at the Temple at 0830 hrs. The Divine Liturgy was served in the usual careful, attentive and beautiful manner. Attending were a great many persons who live in Western Europe, and who were on vacation at home in Romania. It was given to me to offer the homily, which was given between the communion of the clergy and the communion of the faithful, as is generally the custom at present. There were 6 priests and 4 deacons serving. There were very many communicants. The priest-monks hearing confessions do so hour after hour (that is to say, up to 14 hours per day on the week-ends). Dinner with Starets Melchisedek began just at 1400 hrs, and this included some people coming for a blessing. Then, after an interval, there followed Vespers, Paraklesis and Compline. After this was supper with the brotherhood, and a conversation with the brotherhood from 2000 hrs, and retirement before 2300 hrs.

On Monday, 9 August, I attended the Hours, Divine Liturgy and Akathist from 0700 hrs. After this, there was breakfast, and a lengthy conversation with a priest-monk and a lawyer from Iasi, and also with a couple of the monks. The resident population of the monastery is about 100 (with many others resident in other places and caring for concerns of the monastery and other properties). The population of the monastery also seems to be steadily “raided” by bishops who need clergy, and who ask for the release of priest-monks for this purpose. Afterwards, there was a period of free time. A great amount of work has been required to prepare for the coming Feast of the Dormition, the Patronal Feast (name-day feast) of the monastery. This year, the monastery Temple’s interior has finally been completed in full frescoes, a project never completely fulfilled in its more than 500 years of history until now (because of wars and invasions). For this reason, the Patriarch of Romania had decided to participate in this feast, along with the Metropolitan of Iasi and Moldavia Teofan, the Archbishop of Suçeava and Radauti Pimen, and other visiting bishops. During the free time, there were various conversations, and after 9th Hour, Vespers and Akathist, there was supper, yet more conversation, and then it was time to retire.

On Tuesday, 10 August, once again I joined the morning cycle. Every week-day at Putna begins at 0430 hrs with the Midnight Hour, Matins, the Hours, and continues with the Divine Liturgy (which includes an Akathist before receiving the Holy Mysteries). If there might be a particular illness concerning a person (as was the case this time), then the Service of the Oil (Unction) follows the Divine Liturgy over the course of 7 days. All present would usually be receiving the Oil. This time in particular, one monk was recovering from surgery for a brain-tumour, and a wife-and-mother was suffering from cancer. After the Divine Liturgy, there was breakfast at the arhondarik with the starets, and then began a visit to regional monasteries. This is undertaken, not as a sort of tour by the visiting bishop (although it can have this aspect), but as a sharing of this visit with the neighbours. Episcopal visits are not very frequent, in fact.

Driven by Hieroschemamonk Iakov, we first visited the Moldovita Women’s Monastery. This numerous community of over 40 women has many works. Previously, they did weaving of carpets by looms, but now they do embroidery of vestments, and iconography (besides all the work of the garden, which supplies 70% of their food). After a tour of all the work-shops, and taking tea, we made our departure for the men’s Pojarâta (hermitage) Saint John Jakob of Neamt the Chozebite. This term “Chozebite” refers to the fact that he (as did other saints) lived for a time in the wilderness of Chozeba near Jericho in Palestine. Numbering 24, this community of hermits is near the top of a mountain, and access is only possible by a “4x4” or other strong vehicle, or by foot. This hermitage was long ago founded by our driver, who, under obedience, had established and built other communities as well. This community was particularly impressive for me, since it is seldom that one sees such brightness and purity in the eyes of people these days. The brotherhood works hard to survive under difficult conditions. It reminded me of one of our own hermitages that I used to visit atop a Québec mountain. Then we began the three-hour drive back to Putna, for supper. As always, this was followed by a conversation and in due time, retiring to rest. During this day, I had heard the following statistics : In Romania today, there are about 600 monastic communities, with 3,000 male monks, and 9,000 female monks.

On Wednesday, 11 August, after the morning services, we prepared for an earlier departure to nearby monasteries. First, we stopped in Suçeava to venerate the relics of Saint John the New Martyr. We also briefly met the Abbot, Father Bartholomew. Then we drove to Botosani, where we visited the Popovita Monastery of Saint Nicholas, and the Starets Ioann. He has a reputation of being a strong preacher of repentance, and many people regularly attend this monastery, which is in the middle of the city. It is an old foundation, from 1460. It has the foundational ruins of a home of Saint King Stefan the Great. The community numbers 12 at the present. As in Suçeava, the roof of the old Temple was damaged in communist times, and the iconography was somewhat damaged. Most of the iconography remains intact, however. There is also a substantial new Temple, whose frescoes are not far from completion.

From here we drove on to Vorona. The first community here, of the Nativity of the Theotokos, is on the edge of the village. Founded first by Slavic and Greek hermits in 1503, it became a formally established community in the 18th century when a hetman funded stone constructions (a hetman is a high military leader of the Polish army and of the Cossacks). The architecture is typically Romanian of Moldavia, but the cupolas are topped by “onion” shapes. Before communism, this monastery was a male community. Patriarch Teoktist, in his younger years, revived this community as he similarly helped many other monasteries. He did this here by creating a female community, which now numbers about 40 nuns. This community has serious financial constraints because the nearby village also suffers much economically. People seem to go abroad from here to work, but not to be very willing to share by sending something home. After this visit (now in the late afternoon), we drove farther into the forest, and we visited the Vorona Hermitage. This is a very peaceful place in the forest, where a few men live and serve as hermits, but which lacks a priest except for greater feasts. Here, we were able to venerate the Relics of Saint Onufrie (Onouphry) of Vorona. He was the confessor of Saint Paissie (Velichkovsky). We then began the nearly 3-hour drive back to Putna, where we were given supper (which included more spiritual conversations), and we retired for the night.

On Thursday, 12 August, I went to the morning services as usual. The monastery has continued to have its usual stream of visitors ; but the population of the monastery had increased at this time, because of the very many volunteers who arrived daily from surrounding villages in order to help the monastery prepare for the coming Patronal Feast. The brotherhood, at the same time, is well-known for the practical help given to any and all villages in times of need, such as in the recent flooding of the land. Towards midday, Father Iakov, Brother Mihail and I departed for the new Hermitage of Saint Daniel. Because the roads are as difficult as previously, the same strong vehicle as before was necessary. The direct distance by foot is only 7 km ; but by road, the shortest route is 25 km. Much of this road has been recently reconstructed after heavy rains and destruction, and the incline is very sharp, so the passage is not much faster than walking. This hermitage is, in fact, on the top of a mountain. A year-and-a-half ago, in mid-January, much of this monastery burned quickly in the night, while the monks were in the Temple. At this time, it is only partly re-constructed, and the process remains slow because of the repeated washing-out of the roads by heavy rains. We were told that this sort of rain is a new phenomenon in this region. Eventually we arrived, and we were met by the quite young Starets Parthenie, a disciple of Starets Melchisedek. Once again, I found it striking that there is such visible light, modesty, humility, joy and love in a small group of men of rather different ages. We visited the one Temple that had not been destroyed, that of Saint Daniel, and then we were given a collation in the newly re-constructed monastic quarters, in the new trapeza. The starets is also the cook. After a very pleasant conversation (Father Iakov, who looks a little like Patriarch Ilya II of Georgia, is always a source of news, and of advice to hermits), we began to make our way slowly back to Putna, where we arrived towards 2000 hrs. There, supper was prepared, and after some talking, we then retired.

On Friday, 13 August, I once again joined the morning cycle in the Parakles Temple. Some final details were being finished on the frescoes of the main Temple. After this day’s Divine Liturgy, the weekly Service of Anointing was being offered, and many had arrived for this. Every day there were many receiving the Holy Mysteries (after having been to confession), but this day there were even more receiving than usual. After breakfast, I was interviewed by a monk from the Sretensky Monastery in Moscow, and I encountered a nun of the Romanian Mission in Jerusalem, whom I had met there during the April pilgrimage. Our Orthodox family is a very near and dear one. This day continued more quietly, with various conversations, and with participating in services. The bishop cannot go anywhere without giving many a blessing (especially to the increasing number of faithful arriving). This time, many were arriving dressed in regional traditional dress. The arrival of the patriarch in Putna was to be the next event, for which all was ready (although there remained details of preparation for the Feast). In the late afternoon, I attended the evening cycle, and then went to eat and to talk briefly.

Then we gathered just outside the main gate of the monastery, to await the patriarch’s arrival. There were children singing spiritual songs, and people blowing the long trumpets traditional in this region. When His Beatitude, Patriarch Daniel did arrive, he had earlier moved from an auto to a horse-drawn carriage ; and as he progressed, he was preceded by horsemen bearing and waving flags, and by others blowing horns. These horns look similar to the long alpenhorns famous in Switzerland. Patriarch Daniel stood down, and then walked a good distance as he blessed people and received flowers. There was a formal greeting before the gate by Bishop Joachim, a Vicar-Bishop (who once had served in Paris). The patriarch was (as is customary for a Romanian patriarch) dressed all in creamy-white. We then proceeded in crowd-fashion to the Temple, which was once again ready to function, and where there was a thanksgiving service, with polychronia (Many Years) for all the bishops, the abbot and the monastery. In addition to those already mentioned, there was also present Bishop Barsanoufie, another Vicar-Bishop. The patriarch’s entourage numbered about 30 persons. After the service, we withdrew to the Great Hall, where a formal dinner was served. All the animated conversation was also enriched with various humourous anecdotes told by His Beatitude. In the end, it was rather late to bed.

On Saturday, 14 August, I rose once again to participate in the morning cycle. On this day, Metropolitan Teofan of Iasi participated also. He is the main ruling-bishop of Moldavia. The following hours were spent in breakfast and lunch conversations with the bishops, and with others present. The patriarch remained in solitude in order both to rest and to accomplish needed work. There were other conversations during the day, while people continuously arrived for the Feast. It takes considerable preparation to receive and to feed so many official guests, and also to prepare to feed the many thousand pilgrims also arriving for this Feast. However, it seemed that most necessary things were accomplished by the first part of this day. The Vigil was served from 1800 hrs in the same place where the Divine Liturgy would be served on Sunday, that is to say at the exterior scène (“stage”). More than a thousand persons were present, and there was noticeable silence for such a number of people participating. This Vigil was sung by the usual monastic choir, but augmented by guests. There had by then arrived Bishop Emilian, another vicar of the patriarch, so there were 4 bishops “in the Altar”, with Metropolitan Teofan presiding. Again, the patriarch did not serve, because of other concerns. Nevertheless, all was certainly heard through his window, via the public-address system. Besides the 4 bishops at Vigil, there were 3 deacons, and at least 35 priests serving. By the end of the Vigil, there had arrived Bishops Iriney and Meletii from Ukraine, together with Archdeacon Nikita, our Protodeacon Nazari and several priests. The Vigil concluded at about 2300 hrs, and this was followed by a supper. After the supper, all those who had arrived were given rooms, and we were able to retire by 0030 hrs.

On Sunday, 15 August (the Altar Feast of the main Temple and Name-day of the monastery), the main services began at 0900 hrs with the blessing of the new iconography in the main Temple of the Dormition of the Theotokos. This was followed immediately by the serving of the Patriarchal Divine Liturgy by the eastern wall of the monastery, on a specially-constructed and roofed scène. There were great crowds of people at the monastery during the whole of the Liturgy, which continued until about 1400 hrs. There were many presentations and some speeches. Those serving with Patriarch Daniel included yet more bishops who had arrived, and over 60 priests and 6 deacons. At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, the bishops made their way towards their quarters to unvest ; and we were all blessing the crowds of people as we departed from the outdoor scène through the midst of these crowds. Afterwards, there followed a formal dinner in the formal trapeza. There was some talking and some singing, and it seemed to be rather a familial dinner indeed.

In its way, the table of the dinner was a symbol of our own Canadian history and situation. Gathered together with Patriarch Daniel were bishops of Romania, of Ukraine and of Canada. At this table, the old Province of Bukovina was represented as it was before it was divided by Stalin during World War II. Represented at this table were both the foundation of our Orthodox Canadian immigration a century ago, and much of the constituency of our current immigrations from Romania and from Russian-speaking lands. Of course, there are also the converts (which neither Romania nor Ukraine is lacking in any way). For me, Romania feels spiritually “home” in many ways. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that, as Metropolitan Teofan reminded me, for 300 years, Romania has been using in its worship and prayers the language that people understand. After all the celebration had come to a conclusion, it was time for parting. The family that guided me had come back to Putna in time for this holy day, and now was returning to Bucharest to return home. I was then taken by Bishops Meletii and Iriney and others to Chernivtsi (Cernauti) in order to begin the pilgrimage in Ukraine, and to join later with the pilgrims who were arriving from Canada.