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.
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
Translated by Fyodor Vaskovsky
June 23, 2016