Several weeks ago, my village celebrated “hram,” which means “day of the city.” Each city, town or village has one, and on that day they celebrate. Many offices in the city close (like mine) and people get the day off. (This can get complicated in towns like mine where people live in the capital and commute to work in my town. When the capital has its “day of the city,” their kids will get the day off from school, but they’ll still have to work, and vice versa.) Regardless, I was happy to have the day off, and my host family actually suggested we take an excursion to a beautiful Orthodox monastery in Moldova named Monastery Hîncu. So, on our day of the city, my host mom and sister packed the car full of food that they had been preparing the day before, told me I needed to wear a skirt and bring a scarf, and we set off.
When my family said it was far, figured we might be in the car for an hour or two, but it only took us about 45 minutes. (This is, without a doubt, a Phoenix thing. For me, 45 minutes used to be my commute to work.) The drive was beautiful; the normally lush green countryside had changed colors at the arrival of fall, and I watched the reds, oranges and yellows fly by as we rounded curves through the country roads.
We arrived to many cars parked alongside the road leading up to the monastery. I got out my scarf and wrapped it over and around my head (an expected norm for women in the Orthodox church here in Moldova). And it was beautiful. (If you’d like to read up on the history, this website provided some good information and pictures).
There was some sort of ceremony or procession starting, and so I watched as men and women in tradition Moldovan dress carried out a picture of Jesus, a traditional Moldovan braided bread, and some sort of alter adorned with flowers. People walked up to touch and kiss the alter as men carried it to the center of the monastery’s complex. Then a bunch of priests walked by, dipped a brush in holy water and, with a flick of the wrist, sprinkling it on the surrounding group. (I was trying just to observe out of the way, but they found me, and I too was splashed with the holy water.)
Next, my host family went into the church. Inside, there was a group of lit candles in the middle, some alters, and pictures of Mary and Jesus. People walked around to each alter, lit candles, and kissed the pictures (you know you’re American when…all you can think about is how unsanitary it must be for people to repeatedly kiss the same pictures in the same location). I stayed toward the back, quietly observing, and all of the sudden a woman shrieked. The sharp noise pierced the air, and the people standing in line in front of an alter immediately spread like some sort of magnetic repulsion. In the middle of the circle of people was a woman lying flat on the ground. I’m not sure if it was she who shrieked, but a priest in the church immediately went to get holy water, dipped a brush into the holy water, first cleansed the fallen woman’s face, and then splashed it over the surrounding group. Knowing very little about Orthodox faith, it was fascinating for me to observe.
We finished at the monastery, and, our on way out, stopped in front of the forest to take pictures at my host mom’s insistence (Jennifer, it’s so beautiful! Takes photos!). Then we ate a late lunch at a relative’s house nearby, and headed back to our town for hram (day of the city).
Most of the action was outside the Casa de Cultura (house of culture) where a lot of community events happen. A culture house is sort of like a convention center; ours looks a lot like a high school auditorium. But we were all outdoors, cold enough to see our breath, but that didn’t stop a crowd from gathering in front of the Casa de Cutural steps where entertainers were singing tradition Moldovan melodies and dressed in tradition Moldovan dress. Various stands lined the streets, most with toys or food. There were cotton candy machines, popcorn machines, a beer stand, and this big portable stand making some sort of chocolate covered bread. It smelled so delicious that I had to try it. I convinced my site mate to split one with me, and it was heavenly, especially in the cold. It was like the breaded part of a pig in a blanket, except it was much bigger, the middle was empty, and the outside was brushed with chocolate and dipped in nuts. I hope they come back next year!
It was a good day.