Monday, December 19, 2005

October 17, 2005: The Feast of Parascheva the New of Iasi

I wanted to send a brief update about the feast of Parascheva the New of Iasi, because of its importance to Romanian Orthodoxy and its impression upon me, before I left Romania (on Wednesday) for the Holy Land...
Since I last wrote, Constantin & I attempted to go visit two other aging holy elders, Fr. Teofil Paraian near Brasov in the mountains and Fr. Arsenie Papaciov near Constant on the Black Sea. Unfortunately though, we were unable to meet with either elder. We didn't make it to Brasov due to changing circumstances in our travel requirements, and when we went to Constant, Fr. Arsenie had recently left (assumably for the feast in Iasi). So after getting to see the Black Sea and venerate the relics at the Cathedral in Constant (Sts. Aston, Epictet, Theodosia & Antipas of Romanis, & St. Panteleimon the Unmercenary Healer), we took a train to Iasi for the feast. This area has much to see & pilgrimage to in its own right (which I would like to do when the weather is warmer), many places where the Apostle Andrew did missionary work including his cave & miraculous spring, because this was his "port of entry" to Romania. Also, the first martyrs of Romania are there. The Danube Delta region, situated just north of Constantza also contains the widest variety of flora & fauna in Europe, especially known for fishing & bird watching. Unfortunately the region was closed due to a bird flu alert. This was our second long train trip that day, the first being @ 3-7am, this second one 3-11pm! It was fun and fascinating to see some of Romania this way and experience their train travel (somewhat different than ours, more traditional use of sitting or sleeping rooms in a car, & not as much like the seat arrangements on a bus). It was quite an experience to pilgrimage to the feast this way. We met & shared stories & food with those in our car, as we bonded like a family, to help each other during the 8 hour trip. The journey was full of many unique experiences and moments...Gypsy singing & dancing in the walkways, trying to sell trinkets or food, even though the cars were oversold with many packed in & standing for the entire trip.

Feast of Parascheva the New of Iasi

This is likely the largest annual pilgrimage in all of Orthodoxy averaging 500,000-1M pilgrims each year at the feast, not counting the half million that live in Iasi. This year they expected more because Metropolitan Panteleimon of Greece brought the relics of the Apostle Paul for veneration by the faithful to feast. Most stood in a line that spanned more than 1-2km an average of 12-15 hours to venerate the relics of St. Parascheva (and this year the Apostle Paul as well). Young and old, rich and poor alike come from all over Romania & neighboring countries (even as far away as America...) for the week long festivities. The entire city takes part in the celebration, with live outdoor folk & religious music concerts, booths selling everything from traditional Romanian handicrafts to religious items and food, churches and monasteries teaming with visiting pilgrims, while all of the special services at the cathedral are broadcast on jumbo-trons to the large crowds throughout the cathedral complex with closed circuit TV.

Almost all of the bishops of Romania attend, including the Patriarch of Romania Teoctiste (seated, with Metropolitan Manteleimon of Greece on left and Metropolitan Daniil on right), all of the Metropolitans, and there are always visiting hierarches.

Presentation of Newly Canonized St. Dosoftei of Probata
This year was also special, because a newly canonized saint (June 2005), Dosoftei of Probata, was announced to the people (see photo with icon)The scene was similar to many large city festivals that I've been to in the past, but the atmosphere was completely different. Frivolous revelry or wantonness was replaced with deep feelings of reverence and a sense of community amongst the faithful. I've never been to services overflowing with people where you get to worship outdoors like in Romania. It is difficult at first to maintain focus on prayer, but pretty soon after realizing that prayer is all around you with the people, it becomes easier to commune in prayer even while standing in the middle of the "outside" world. I felt that it also revealed how real and organic the faith of the Romanian people are that they are able to worship God in "all places". I've included some photos during the main Liturgy the day of Parascheva's feast from both inside & outside the cathedral (thanks to a theological student I met while in Iasi). Attending the feast was a wonderful way to conclude my pilgrimage in Romania, going to the cathedral everyday, taking part with the people on one of their most important holy days (for Parascheva is considered the patron & protector of Moldavia), seeing their faith & piety, and spending time with new friends.
You'll hear from me next with an update from the Holy Land. I appreciate all of your thoughts, encouraging words & prayers!



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