There are 197 states in the world today.
Information about each of them is readily available at the click of a mouse button. However, reading is one thing and listening to a person who lives in that country is another thing. More often than not, information you get from these two sources will be different.
As I was getting ready for my interview with Mihai Gavrilă, our guest from Romania, I read that there is a tradition in many Romanian monasteries to weave carpets because people always kneel for prayer and therefore, church floors are covered with carpets.
Mihai smiled, «No, no, not necessarily. However, people don't kiss the Chalice after communion, unlike people in Belarus. Our choirs use Byzantine chant. There is a different chant in your Convent, and it is beautiful. I could comprehend many prayers».
Our guest told me that people in Romania bake cakes not only for Pascha but also for Dormition and the Nativity of Christ. Interestingly enough, the Romanian Church adopted the Gregorian calendar but they celebrate Pascha on the same day that we do.
I read that Romanians honour their customs and often wear traditional clothes.
There are few families nowadays who have preserved the traditional clothes that our ancestors wore. People tend to think that these clothes are of no use anymore. Nowadays, traditional clothes are made by machines not people. There is no warmth of human hands in them. With that said, people do their best to wear traditional clothes on Pascha and Nativity.
Mihai, how did you learn about our Convent? Why did you decide to come here?
A friend of mine came to your convent last year to improve his metal worker's skills. I followed into his footsteps.
I spent a lot of time working in an office behind closed doors, with artificial light and in front of a computer screen. At a certain point, I realised that you cannot speak of spiritual life under these conditions: you are isolated and you never see the results of your effort. In addition, money cannot be the ultimate goal in and of itself. Money becomes the purpose in life for many people. They focus on working in an office, being a white-collar employee, and earning more and more money.
On the contrary, I wanted to see the results of my own labour. An icon painter will see the icon he painted, a metal worker will see the cross he made but what will I see?
So my spiritual father asked me, «Would you like to learn a craft»?
During my stay at the Convent, I managed to visit the rehabilitation centre, to see mosaic artists work but I did not have the opportunity to take part in the creative process.
You were upset, weren't you?
I came here following God's will. Why would I be upset? I found new friends to drink tea and to attend Liturgies and the boarding home with. This is a valuable experience for me because I used to visit nursing homes in Romania. The one most essential thing for me here is divine worship and prayers.
Mihai, you came to Belarus not from Romania but from Belgium, didn't you? What do you have in common with this country?
It was an Erasmus university exchange that helped me to go to Belgium for the first time in 2011. Later, I returned to Romania, graduated from a university and then went back to Belgium thanks to another exchange programme.
My first spiritual father in Romania recommended another spiritual father in Belgium to me. Currently, Father Ciprian is my spiritual father. There are 150-200 members in our community. These people have become my second family — a spiritual one. Romanians who are scattered around Belgium come to our church dedicated to All Saints in the centre of Belgium for the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and feasts, for conferences on spiritual topics and for personal events (to get matried, baptised, etc.). In fact, we live as a community, meeting in total several times per week plus community pilgrimages. This is a community because people who wanted more prayer (Romanians attending a big cathedral in Brussels mostly) found themselves organised around a spiritual father (Fr Ciprian) who led this small flock to organise itself now in one of the more vibrant Orthodox communities in the Western Europe. People were united around their need for prayer and a spiritual father with the will for building a strong community who led us towards this against all odds. God provided a place for us, too: our church dedicated to All Saints is our «home» in Belgium.
|Click here to see full timeline|
Sometimes you can see Orthodox churches within a walking distance from each other in Romania but I never felt how crucial it was before I went abroad. We have so many churches, so many opportunities, that people often do not appreciate enough. Being able to go to church is a great opportunity and a true God’s miracle. When you travel abroad, when you see what happens in the West when people don't believe in anything, when they wander astray, when they do strange things, you begin to see what is really important.
So you live in Romania and travel to Belgium for confession? Is that right?
Yes, I go to Belgium about five times a year. Anyway, I maintain a close relationship with Fr Ciprian and I can call him at any time, because a spiritual father is the person who assumes you and you assume him in the sense that he suffers the pains of your spiritual birth. You can confess in any church — there are many priests — but I can submit my spiritual well-being only into the hands of my spiritual father. I pray for my spiritual father and I know that he prays for me.
I would like to tell you about our tradition — the Candlelight Prayer. Our spiritual father in Belgium suggested that we, his spiritual children and members of that community, take turns praying for each other and for the world. We constantly pray for people who need help.
Prisoners in Pitești practised this kind of prayer in late 1950s and our spiritual father was moved by this and proposed it to us. They took turns praying in their cells. Prisoners in other penal facilities across the country adopted this innovation. Later, quite a few of these prisoners were martyred and became victims of the violent attempt of Communist government at their «re-education». Currently, these candlelight prayers started not only in Romania but also around the whole world (Europe, USA, Canada, and even in Japan).
Elder Ephraim from Vatopedi Monastery on Mt Athos blessed a translation of the Candlelight Prayer into many languages, so that people from around the world could join this prayer.
We have launched a website devoted to this prayer http://www.candelar.ro/en/. I hope that this prayer for the entire world will sound in your country, too.
Your story is amazing and noteworthy. I hope that this prayer for the entire world will sound in all languages. Let's get back to your home country. Can you tell us about your people? What is it that makes you love your country?
Yes, economically speaking, it is hard to live in Romania. Media have tried to convince us that Romania isn't a country you would want to live in and that Western Europe is a paradise. However, when you go there, you realise that things aren't as good as they were advertised to be. I would like my children to live in Romania.
A friend of mine says, «You can't stop being a Romanian as long as you are alive».
You have ancestors and you live on their land, so you have to pray for them.
If everyone suddenly decides to get rich and leave the country, who will remain here and continue to pray for our ancestors? Who will pray for me when I die? Who will pray for me not only during my lifetime, but also in the afterlife?
A pious but not yet canonised priest used to say that you would be judged on Judgement Day not just as a human being but also as a representative of your nation. You cannot separate yourself from your past and from your nation.
By Vadim Yanchuk
“And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him” (John 2: 1-11).
THE IMPORTANCE OF FASTING AND ITS OBSERVANCE TODAY (From the Official Documents of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church)
(From the Official Documents of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church)
1. Fasting is a divine commandment (Gen 2:16-17). According to Basil the Great, fasting is as old as humanity itself; it was prescribed in paradise (On Fasting, 1, 3. PG 31, 168A). It is a great spiritual endeavor and the foremost expression of the Orthodox ascetic ideal. The Orthodox Church, in strict conformity with the apostolic precepts, the synodal canons, and the patristic tradition as a whole, has always proclaimed the great significance of fasting for our spiritual life and salvation. The annual liturgical cycle reflects the entire patristic teaching on fasting, the teaching on constant and unceasing watchfulness of the human person, and our participation in spiritual struggles. Accordingly, the Triodion praises fasting as grace that is full of light, as an invincible weapon, the beginning of spiritual struggles, the perfect path of virtues, the nourishment for the soul, the source of all wisdom, life imperishable, an imitation of the angelic life, the mother of all good things and virtues.
2. As an ancient institution, fasting was mentioned already in the Old Testament (Deut 9:18; Is 58:4-10; Joel 2:15; Jonah 3:5-7) and affirmed in the New Testament. The Lord Himself fasted for forty days before commencing His public ministry (Lk 4:1-2) and provided instructions on how to practice fasting (Mt 6:16-18). Fasting is generally prescribed in the New Testament as a means of abstinence, repentance, and spiritual edification (Mk 1:6; Acts 13:2; 14:23; Rom 14:21). Since the apostolic times, the Church has proclaimed the profound importance of fasting and established Wednesday and Friday as days of fasting (Didache 8, 1), as well as the fast before Pascha (Irenaeus of Lyons, as cited in Eusebius, Church History 5, 24. PG 20 497B-508AB). In ecclesiastical practice that has existed for centuries, there has always been diversity with regard not only to the length of the fast before Easter (Dionysius of Alexandria, Letter to Basilides, PG 10, 1277), but also the number and content of other periods of fasting which became customary under the influence of various factors, primarily, of the liturgical and monastic traditions, with a view to proper preparation for the great feasts. Thus, the indissoluble link between fasting and worship indicates the extent and purpose of fasting and reveals its spiritual nature. For this reason, all the faithful are invited to respond accordingly, each to the best of his or her strength and ability, while not allowing such liberty to diminish this holy institution: “See that no one make thee to err from this path of doctrine… If thou art able to bear the whole yoke of the Lord, thou wilt be perfect; but if thou art not able, what thou art able, that do. But concerning meat, bear that which thou art able to do”(Didache 6, 1-3).
3. As a spiritual endeavor, the true fast is inseparable from unceasing prayer and genuine repentance. Repentance without fasting is fruitless (Basil the Great, On Fasting 1, 3. PG 31, 168A), as fasting without merciful deeds is dead, especially nowadays when the unequal and unjust distribution of goods deprives entire nations of their daily bread. “While fasting physically, brethren, let us also fast spiritually. Let us loose every knot of iniquity; let us tear up every unrighteous bond; let us distribute bread to the hungry, and welcome into our homes those who have no roof over their heads…” (Sticheron at Vespers on Wednesday of the First Week of Lent; cf. Is 58:6-7). Fasting cannot be reduced to simple and formal abstinence from certain foods. “So let us not be selfish as we begin the abstinence from foods that is the noble fast. Let us fast in an acceptable manner, one that is pleasing to God. A true fast is one that is set against evil, it is self-control of the tongue. It is the checking of anger, separation from things like lusts, evil-speaking, lies, and false oaths. Self-denial from these things is a true fast, so fasting from these negative things is good” (Basil the Great, On Fasting, 2, 7. PG 31, 196D). Abstinence from certain foods during the fast and temperance, not only with regard to what to eat but also how much to eat, constitutes a visible aspect of this spiritual endeavor. “In the literal sense, fasting is abstinence from food, but food makes us neither more nor less righteous. However, in the spiritual sense, it is clear that, as life comes from food for each of us and the lack of food is a symbol of death, so it is necessary that we fast from worldly things, in order that we might die to the world and after this, having partaken of the divine nourishment, live in God” (Clement of Alexandria, From the Prophetic Eclogae. PG 9, 704D-705A). Therefore, the true fast affects the entire life in Christ of the faithful and is crowned by their participation in divine worship, particularly in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
4. The forty-day fast of the Lord exemplifies fasting for the faithful, initiating their participation in the obedience in the Lord, that through it “we might recover by its observance that which we have lost by not observing it” (Gregory the Theologian, Homily 45, On Holy Pascha, 28. PG 36, 661C). The Christocentric understanding of the spiritual dimension of fasting – in particular the fast of Great Lent – is a general rule in the entire patristic tradition and is characteristically epitomized by St Gregory Palamas: “When you fast like this you not only suffer with Christ and are dead with Him, but you are also risen with Him and reign with Him forever and ever. If through such a fast you have been planted together in the likeness of His death, you shall also share in His resurrection and inherit life in Him” (Homily 13, On the Fifth Sunday of Lent, PG 151, 161AB).
5. According to the Orthodox Tradition, the “measure of spiritual perfection is the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13), and all who want to attain this should strive and grow accordingly. For this very reason, ascesis and spiritual struggle, like the refinement of the perfect, are endless in this life. Everyone is called to strive, to the best of his or her abilities, to reach the lofty Orthodox standard, which is the goal of deification by grace. Indeed, while they should do all things that they were commanded, they should nonetheless never vaunt themselves, but confess that “they are unprofitable servants and have only done that which was their duty to do” (Lk 17:10). According to the Orthodox understanding of the spiritual life, all people are obligated to maintain the good struggle of the fast; however, in a spirit of self-reproach and humble recognition of their condition, they must rely upon God’s mercy for their shortcomings, inasmuch as the Orthodox spiritual life is unattainable without the spiritual struggle of the fast.
6. Like a nurturing mother, the Orthodox Church has defined what is beneficial for people’s salvation and established the holy periods of fasting as God-given protection in the believers’ new life in Christ against every snare of the enemy. Following the example of the Holy Fathers, the Church preserves today, as she did in the past, the holy apostolic precepts, synodal canons, and sacred traditions, always advancing the holy fasts as the perfect ascetic path for the faithful leading to spiritual perfection and salvation, while proclaiming the necessity to observe all the fasts throughout the year, namely, the fasts of Great Lent, Wednesdays and Fridays, testified in the sacred canons, as well as the fasts of the Nativity, the Holy Apostles, and the Dormition of the Theotokos; there are also the single-day fasts on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, on the eve of the Epiphany, and on the day commemorating the Beheading of John the Baptist, in addition to the fasts established for pastoral reasons or observed at the desire of the faithful.
7. The Church, however, has also established, with pastoral discernment, boundaries of philanthropic dispensation (oikonomia) concerning the rules of fasting. In this regard, the Church has considered physical infirmity, extreme necessity, and difficult times where she has ordained the application of the principle of ecclesiastical oikonomia, through the responsible discernment and pastoral care of the body of bishops in the local Churches.
8. It is a fact that many faithful today do not observe all the prescriptions of fasting, whether due to faint-heartedness or their living conditions, whatever these may be. However, all these instances where the sacred prescriptions of fasting are loosened, either in general or in particular instances, should be treated by the Church with pastoral care, “for God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezek 33:11), without, however, ignoring the value of the fast. Therefore, with regard to those who find it difficult to observe the prevailing guidelines for fasting, whether for personal reasons (illness, military service, conditions of work, etc.) or general reasons (particular existing conditions in certain regions with regard to climate, as well as socioeconomic circumstances, i.e., inability to find lenten foods), it is left to the discretion of the local Orthodox Churches to determine how to exercise philanthropic oikonomia and empathy, relieving in these special cases the “burden” of the holy fast. All this should take place within the aforementioned context and with the objective of not diminishing the importance of the sacred institution of fasting. The Church should extend her philanthropic dispensation with prudence, undoubtedly to a greater extent when it comes to those fasts, on which the ecclesiastical tradition and practice have not always been uniform. “It is good to fast, but may the one who fasts not blame the one who does not fast. In such matters you must neither legislate, nor use force, nor compel the flock entrusted to you; instead, you must use persuasion, gentleness and a word seasoned with salt”(John of Damascus, On the Holy Fasts, Homily 3, PG 95, 68 B).
9. Fasting for three or more days prior to Holy Communion is left to the discretion of the piety of the faithful, according to the words of Saint Nicodemus the Hagiorite: “… fasting before partaking of Communion is not decreed by the divine Canons. Nevertheless, those who are able to fast even a whole week before it, are doing the right thing” (Commentary of the 13th canon of Sixth Ecumenical Council, Pedalion – English translation 307). However, the totality of the Church’s faithful must observe the holy fasts and the abstinence from food from midnight for frequent participation in Holy Communion, which is the most profound expression of the essence of the Church. The faithful should become accustomed to fasting as an expression of repentance, as the fulfillment of a spiritual pledge, to achieve a particular spiritual end in times of temptation, in conjunction with supplications to God, for adults approaching the sacrament of baptism, prior to ordination, in cases where penance is imposed, as well as during pilgrimages and other similar instances.
† Bartholomew of Constantinople, Chairman
† Theodoros of Alexandria
† Theophilos of Jerusalem
† Irinej of Serbia
†Daniel of Romania
† Chrysostomos of Cyprus
† Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece
† Sawa of Warsaw and All Poland
† Anastasios of Tirana, Durres and All Albania
† Rastislav of Presov, the Czech Lands and Slovakia
Delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
† Leo of Karelia and All Finland
† Stephanos of Tallinn and All Estonia
† Elder Metropolitan John of Pergamon
† Elder Archbishop Demetrios of America
† Augustinos of Germany
† Irenaios of Crete
† Isaiah of Denver
† Alexios of Atlanta
† Iakovos of the Princes’ Islands
† Joseph of Proikonnisos
† Meliton of Philadelphia
† Emmanuel of France
† Nikitas of the Dardanelles
† Nicholas of Detroit
† Gerasimos of San Francisco
† Amphilochios of Kisamos and Selinos
† Amvrosios of Korea
† Maximos of Selyvria
† Amphilochios of Adrianopolis
† Kallistos of Diokleia
† Antony of Hierapolis, Head of the Ukrainian Orthodox in the USA
† Job of Telmessos
† Jean of Charioupolis, Head of the Patriarchal Exarchate for Orthodox Parishes of the Russian Tradition in Western Europe
† Gregory of Nyssa, Head of the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox in the USA
Delegation of the Patriarchate of Alexandria
† Gabriel of Leontopolis
† Makarios of Nairobi
† Jonah of Kampala
† Seraphim of Zimbabwe and Angola
† Alexandros of Nigeria
† Theophylaktos of Tripoli
† Sergios of Good Hope
† Athanasios of Cyrene
† Alexios of Carthage
† Ieronymos of Mwanza
† George of Guinea
† Nicholas of Hermopolis
† Dimitrios of Irinopolis
† Damaskinos of Johannesburg and Pretoria
† Narkissos of Accra
† Emmanouel of Ptolemaidos
† Gregorios of Cameroon
† Nicodemos of Memphis
† Meletios of Katanga
† Panteleimon of Brazzaville and Gabon
† Innokentios of Burudi and Rwanda
† Crysostomos of Mozambique
† Neofytos of Nyeri and Mount Kenya
Delegation of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem
† Benedict of Philadelphia
† Aristarchos of Constantine
† Theophylaktos of Jordan
† Nektarios of Anthidon
† Philoumenos of Pella
Delegation of the Church of Serbia
† Jovan of Ohrid and Skopje
† Amfilohije of Montenegro and the Littoral
† Porfirije of Zagreb and Ljubljana
† Vasilije of Sirmium
† Lukijan of Budim
† Longin of Nova Gracanica
† Irinej of Backa
† Hrizostom of Zvornik and Tuzla
† Justin of Zica
† Pahomije of Vranje
† Jovan of Sumadija
† Ignatije of Branicevo
† Fotije of Dalmatia
† Athanasios of Bihac and Petrovac
† Joanikije of Niksic and Budimlje
† Grigorije of Zahumlje and Hercegovina
† Milutin of Valjevo
† Maksim in Western America
† Irinej in Australia and New Zealand
† David of Krusevac
† Jovan of Slavonija
† Andrej in Austria and Switzerland
† Sergije of Frankfurt and in Germany
† Ilarion of Timok
Delegation of the Church of Romania
† Teofan of Iasi, Moldova and Bucovina
† Laurentiu of Sibiu and Transylvania
† Andrei of Vad, Feleac, Cluj, Alba, Crisana and Maramures
† Irineu of Craiova and Oltenia
† Ioan of Timisoara and Banat
† Iosif in Western and Southern Europe
† Serafim in Germany and Central Europe
† Nifon of Targoviste
† Irineu of Alba Iulia
† Ioachim of Roman and Bacau
† Casian of Lower Danube
† Timotei of Arad
† Nicolae in America
† Sofronie of Oradea
† Nicodim of Strehaia and Severin
† Visarion of Tulcea
† Petroniu of Salaj
† Siluan in Hungary
† Siluan in Italy
† Timotei in Spain and Portugal
† Macarie in Northern Europe
† Varlaam Ploiesteanul, Assistant Bishop to the Patriarch
† Emilian Lovisteanul, Assistant Bishop to the Archdiocese of Ramnic
† Ioan Casian of Vicina, Assistant Bishop to the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese of the Americas
Delegation of the Church of Cyprus
† Georgios of Paphos
† Chrysostomos of Kition
† Chrysostomos of Kyrenia
† Athanasios of Limassol
† Neophytos of Morphou
† Vasileios of Constantia and Ammochostos
† Nikiphoros of Kykkos and Tillyria
† Isaias of Tamassos and Oreini
† Barnabas of Tremithousa and Lefkara
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† Nikolaos of Amathus
† Epiphanios of Ledra
† Leontios of Chytron
† Porphyrios of Neapolis
† Gregory of Mesaoria
Delegation of the Church of Greece
† Prokopios of Philippi, Neapolis and Thassos
† Chrysostomos of Peristerion
† Germanos of Eleia
† Alexandros of Mantineia and Kynouria
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† Damaskinos of Didymoteixon, Orestias and Soufli
† Alexios of Nikaia
† Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Aghios Vlasios
† Eusebios of Samos and Ikaria
† Seraphim of Kastoria
† Ignatios of Demetrias and Almyros
† Nicodemos of Kassandreia
† Ephraim of Hydra, Spetses and Aegina
† Theologos of Serres and Nigrita
† Makarios of Sidirokastron
† Anthimos of Alexandroupolis
† Barnabas of Neapolis and Stavroupolis
† Chrysostomos of Messenia
† Athenagoras of Ilion, Acharnon and Petroupoli
† Ioannis of Lagkada, Litis and Rentinis
† Gabriel of New Ionia and Philadelphia
† Chrysostomos of Nikopolis and Preveza
† Theoklitos of Ierissos, Mount Athos and Ardameri
Delegation of the Church of Poland
† Simon of Lodz and Poznan
† Abel of Lublin and Chelm
† Jacob of Bialystok and Gdansk
† George of Siemiatycze
† Paisios of Gorlice
Delegation of the Church of Albania
† Joan of Koritsa
† Demetrios of Argyrokastron
† Nikolla of Apollonia and Fier
† Andon of Elbasan
† Nathaniel of Amantia
† Asti of Bylis
Delegation of the Church of the Czech lands and Slovakia
† Michal of Prague
† Isaiah of Sumperk
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