‘Hristos a inviat’ means ‘Christ is Risen’ in Romanian and it takes over the usual greeting of ‘Buna Ziua’ as of today for 40 days. Yesterday, the Eastern Orthodox Church all over the world celebrated the resurrection of Jesus and Moldova was no exception. The Eastern Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar and as a result, Easter here more often than not comes a week after Easter in other parts of the world and is a much bigger holiday than Christmas (arguably, this is as it should be). People come home to visit their families and with 25% of Moldovans living overseas, the border crossings were crazy this past weekend with apparently 150,000 cars crossing into Moldova on Friday alone.
Last year, I was invited to the village of Izbiste which is around an hour’s drive from Chisinau to celebrate. My friend Jessica, who serves in the Peace Corps here, invited her boyfriend Jeremy and I to see how the villagers celebrate as Chisinau becomes a ghost-town over Easter weekend. A night in Jessica’s host-parents’ house was interrupted around 3am by a wake-up call for church. Most Moldovan villages are not gifted with street lights so the 15 minute walk to the ‘biserica’ was in pitch black. On the winding road up to the church, the first thing that strikes you is the singing from inside the church being played from speakers at the top of the bell tower. On arrival in the churchyard, there was a ring of babushkas (wee old ladies) surrounding the building with baskets of bread and food waiting for the blessing of the Priest. Candles are lit in anticipation of the coming of the Priest and then he emerges from the church – with a sprig of twigs and a vessel containing the holy water – to literally soak the people and the food of those around the church*. Most people have not only brought bread but also their entire meal and for it to be blessed is the most honourable of gifts on this Holy Day. People shriek with excitement when the Priest soaks them and before long, the families are all on the way back to their houses to start preparing the food for a massive meal to be served around 7am. After this visit, which was absolutely fascinating but ultimately freezing, Jeremy and I vowed that once was enough to see this very unique ritual.
However, almost a year later, Jeremy and I were questioning our prior decision as we slipped down the muddy hill on the way to the same church at 2am on Easter Sunday morning. Jessica had once again invited us, along with friends Amy and Becky, to experience Easter in Izbiste once again. Since last year, Jessica has moved to a ‘casa mica’, a small holding in the garden of a new host family. Rather than living in the main house, she now has a two room building without a drain, bathroom or proper heating. Instead, Jessica uses a bucket which is emptied in the street, an outhouse which is a shed with a hole in the floor situated in the garden and a soba which is an indoor ceramic chimney which heats up over some time.
Easter Saturday brought some of the worst rain in Moldova so far this year and so the rural roads of Izbiste were soggy and mucky but we soldiered through the mud to get to the church to see the ceremony part of the Easter service. Women are required to dress in a dignified manner, so the girls wore dresses or skirts complete with headscarf inside the church and fitted right in with the babushkas. The service lasts for 6 hours and begins before midnight however we decided to skip to the exciting part where the priest appears and walks around blessing people and taking their candles wrapped in 1 lei notes (about 5p). It turns out that these candles can only be lit from the central candle in the church as the flame from this has come all the way from the tomb in Israel (how it gets through customs I have no idea). The priest then goes back to the pulpit and prays for those who have given him a candle. Throughout the service, the little babushkas continue to sing Easter themed worship songs while the priest proclaims ‘Hristos a inviat’ to which the congregation replies ‘Adevarat a inviat’ which means ‘He is risen indeed’. We decided that a decent night in bed would be a better option than to hang around until 6am for the blessing of the food so headed back and hit the hay.
The next afternoon we were invited to Jessica’s director’s house for the traditional Easter dinner which was shared with her husband and 5 year old daughter, Daniela. We ate like kings, the non-driving contingent (everyone bar me) drank like fish and we shared a great afternoon of fellowship and laughs with our new friends before heading back to the city for a well earned good night's sleep.
Jeremy and Jessica will sadly not be in Moldova in 2013 as their Peace Corps service draws to a close this Summer, however I hope that if I am still here then I find another rural village to celebrate this very unique celebration. While in the UK, I’m a fan of whacking back the crème eggs and getting up to watch the sunrise at the top of Kinnoull Hill, however I like the way that Moldovans (and the rest of the Eastern Orthodox Church) utterly immerse themselves in this amazing celebration of Christ’s coming back for us. It’s a time of reflection and thankfulness, but it’s also a time of family and I was blessed and honoured to have shared this magnificent day with the people who I am lucky to have had become my family here in Moldova.
|The girls preparing to fit in at the kirk (L-R Jessica, Becky and Amy)|
|We passed some rather hirsute looking babushkas on the way to church|
|Becky had a boyfriend once...perhaps this is why|
|A normally urban Amy goes rural in Jessica's 'casa mica'|
|Our massive Easter lunch|
|The painted boiled eggs (all ready for war)|
|Becky's game face ensured that this battle was hers|
|Chicken in jelly - as nice as it sounds|
|I ponder my first win while Jeremy is overcome with dismay that his egg has been annihilated|
|Only one of these war faces won the challenge...|
|Jessica reads 5 year old Daniela a story about a witch who lives in a moving castle built on chicken legs who comes and steals children away in a sack and eats them. Scarier than the Woman In Black. And Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.|
|Our new friends, Natalia and Mircea, who so generously opened their home to us on this very special family day|