I was invited by the Association of Romanian Orthodox Youth-Iasi (ATOR) to go to Portugal to visit the Romanian youth in Lisbon. Preoteasa Mariana Aga joined me on this special occasion to learn more about youth ministry. While we were the typical tourist group, spiritual bonding was taking place as we interacted with Romanian youth who were studying or working in Portugal. The focus of the trip was to make new friends and encourage the youth to unite with each other as a youth group.
After that, I came back to carry on the youth ministry in Moldova. We welcomed two guest speakers from Romania: Fr. Justin Petre, the Abbot of Saint John Cassian Monastery, and Fr. Cezar Axinte, a member of the Metropolitan Council for the Archdiocese of Tomis. They gave a talk on Jesus’ question, “Woman, why are you weeping?”They discussed the philosophical, poetical, and Christian perspectives of women. A powerful message about the role, value, and honor of women in society and in the Church was received by the youth and young adults. These respected spiritual fathers were also invited to speak with the local school’s 7th and 8th grade religion students of Fr. Sergiu Aga, priest of the Church of St. Basil of Pioana Marului. Unfortunately, extreme winter weather conditions caused our guests to leave a bit earlier than expected.
The unexpected change in weather, though, helped set the stage for our local Christmas choir rehearsals, organized by Ecaterina Lutisina. Unfortunately, it seems that the beautiful Christmas caroling tradition is slowly dying out in Republic of Moldova, as the children who come to the doors to sing only know two out of the many traditional carols. But there were unexpected results from the youth in Orhei, who showed strong interest in learning the Byzantine Romanian carols. Two theological students from Iasi, Romania, Claudiu Mocanu and Claudiu Lefter, were invited to teach the youth 15 traditional carols. The surprising result was that the Orhei youth learned ten of the carols within the three-day period!
Here in Moldova, some families celebrate Christmas on December 25th, others on January 7th, and many even celebrate Christmas at both times! The hearts of the Orhei youth were open to join forces for the first time in an exchange with a group of youth from the Association of Romanian Orthodox Youth (ATOR) in Iasi. There was common ground between the youth groups, such as knowing the same carols and offering joy to others in the Christmas season. Fr. Sergiu Aga interacted with the youth, and led them to sing Christmas carols at an elderly home and at a hospital.
Between both Christmas celebrations, there was a break in the seasonal activities, and my sister and father came for a short visit. I was grateful to finally share my ministry work here in Moldova with them, and to take them to see the beautiful Romanian monasteries. Their encouragement and love was medicine to my soul and body, as I begin to wrap up my term of missionary service and ministry in Moldova.
For Christmas and New Year's, I was blessed to be received at the Monastery of St. John Cassian in Constanta, Romania. During my stay, I met youth of the local ATOR-Constanta. They invited the Moldovan youth to participate in the feast day of the monastery on February 28th. This pilgrimage will be a tangible event in which the relationship between the youth of Romania and Moldova can strengthen, grow, and further unite youth committed to the Church.
The short break didn’t dampen the old calendar Christmas caroling spirit in the youth of Orhei! For the first time, the youth from St. Basil from Pioana Marului went caroling to parishioners’ homes. We were grateful for all of the rehearsals to practice the Byzantine carols because that was what they sang at each house. Without this preparation, we would have been like the other children, singing the same two carols over and over again. Joy, smiles, and warm wishes—plus food and drinks—were offered by the owners of each home. After finishing around midnight, we were all tired out, but we truly felt the Nativity of Christ in our hearts!
My goal with the new generation of girls at the half-way house has been to empower the leadership of their educators, by offering my encouraging support with materials for their arts and craft plans. These offerings were made possible by donations from the States that contained all different kinds of arts supplies. The end results were handmade Christmas cards and wreaths, flower brooches, and hair decorations. The girls sold their crafts to pay the expenses of our upcoming pilgrimage to a local monastery. All of us are excited to go on the trip—that is, once the weather warms up! Another special yet simple Christmas event that I had the joy to be a part of was providing transportation and monetary support for food supplies for one of the educators’ projects with the girls. The girls wanted to make Christmas snack bags that were filled with homemade cakes and cookies to deliver to those in the elderly home while singing their cultural Christmas carols. I added a few traditional American carols in English, too! One of the elderly shed tears, while others expressed their joy and appreciation for our many kindnesses offered. God’s gifts to us were joy and love shared by the elderly.
The elderly are as much orphans as the children separated from their parents because of the poor economy. The ladies’ group from St. Christopher Hellenic Orthodox Church in Peachtree City, Georgia, has the tradition of knitting prayer shawls as an ongoing ministry. We were grateful again to receive several hand-knitted shawls to give to the poor, elderly grandmothers who truly needed to be wrapped with the long-distance support and warmth, as most of their family members have left the country.
Please pray that the Lord will raise up and send leaders to Moldova, so that the youth ministry can continue. Your supportive participation, offered in so many ways, has been granted through the mercy and blessings of God. Glory to God for all things!
OCMC Missionary to Moldova