Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Monastery at Saharna

One of the few tourist attractions in Moldova (and in Romania) are the beautiful Orthodox monasteries and churches. On Easter weekend, while visiting Corinne, she took us to see this beautiful monastery set in the hills of northern Moldova. There's nothing quite like spring in Moldova, and after the dreary winter - with very little snow - it was wonderful to be out in nature and to see the blossoms on the trees and to walk under the clear blue sky. When we arrived, Corinne pointed to the little building that you see up on top of the hill in the photo on the right. She asked, "Do you want to go up there first, or hike the trail behind the monastery first?" I definitely wanted to do the climbing part first, knowing if I didn't, it wasn't going to happen at the end of the day. And sure enough, later on I was saying how glad I was that we climbed at the beginning. But it was worth it. From on top of this point, where there is a kiosk with a religious icon (I think it was Mary's footprint), there was a beautiful view of the surrounding area.
The girls on Corinne's team - Natasha, Aurica and Esther - were also with us and they seemed to arrive at any given destination long before I did. But we enjoyed taking our time and just appreciating the scenery and the beautiful day. Also along with us, of course, was Corinne's faithful dog Silas. He really enjoyed the opportunity for hiking and climbing and even to sit up on high and appreciate the scenery!
Upon entering the monastery grounds themselves, there was a very interesting sign of welcome to visitors. At the bottom of the sign it indicates the date as being, "The year from the birth of the Lord 2002" and on the right it says "The year from the Creation of the earth 7510". So there you go, in case you ever wondered. After a quick walk through the church in the monastery we made our way to the quiet woodland path behind the complex. There was a stream that flowed from a waterfall further up, and just behind the monastery there was a pool that was labelled as a place of miraculous healing waters. On certain feast days people come here and go in the pool praying for healing. Further along we came across what I believe may have been the original monastery, built right into the stone of the hill and painted Moldovan blue. (That's my name for the ubiquitous paint colour here in Moldova.) The walk in the woods was really quite lovely and our Austrian sister Esther was right in her element, bounding through the woods and up the cliffs and across the streams effortlessly. She was joined also by another alpine friend, one of our short-term workers visiting from Switzerland. Together they seemed to be where God created them to be - true forest creatures. Those of us who are not quite so ambitious enjoyed the chance to sit near the waterfall and simply reflect on the beauty of all that the Lord has created. What a joy it was to have such a day in this lovely country! Thank you, Lord! (And thanks for taking us, Corinne!)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Stable Relationships

This is a mother rabbit.

This is Silas, trying to get a look at the rabbit from any angle he can.

This is the goat, the girl-goat... trying to get a look at Silas.

This is Silas and the goat, seeking to determine the nature of their relationship.

Back to Easter

Friends, lend me your ears! Actually, this is just Justin's ear as he so willingly posed for me. :-) So, a few weeks ago I had a very busy Easter weekend but then I left on my trip right away and didn't have time to blog and tell you about it! So, here are some photos from Easter. Many of the Moldovans had gone home for the weekend so I invited some of the ex-pats to my place for Easter brunch on Saturday. Australian, Swiss, Romanian, and Danish friends joined me for omelets and muffins and fruit salad before I left for my visit in northern Moldova with my friend Corinne and the team there.

It's always great to spend time with Corinne, and never boring! I will post 2 more blogs to cover some of the exciting events of that weekend but for now I'm just summarizing the highlights. I arrived at Corinne's early on Saturday evening. Later in the evening we went for a little walk to observe one of the Easter traditions in this Orthodox country. While the faithful attend Easter vigil all night on Saturday at the local church, many people go out in the field for a bonfire and stay there much of the night. We walked to a place where you could look out over a nearby valley. Immediately below us was a group of young people gathered around a fire. Not too far away was another one, and as we looked over the whole valley we could see that it was dotted here and there with groups of people having bonfires and celebrating the Easter vigil in that way. It was quite a sight.

On Sunday morning we attended the Easter morning service at the local church and enjoyed the presentations by the children and the young people. There were many people who participated in the service, singing, drama, and a brother playing the accordion even though he was missing several fingers - very impressive! And of course the pastor preached a good Easter message - the Lord is risen!

In the afternoon we went on a wonderful outing to a nearby monastery in a most beautiful setting. But I will tell you about that in another post.

On Monday morning I was privileged to go with the team to the little church (6 members!) in a nearby village. Our local team has a ministry in this village with the children, who had prepared an Easter program. Following the program we had the opportunity to distribute Christmas boxes from Samaritan's Purse (no, they didn't all get passed out at Christmas time!) to these very sweet, very needy children.

Returning to the town we went to a nearby seniors' home, where the church also had packets of Easter treats for the elderly occupants. The group sang and preached a bit and I was able to talk with the staff and see some of the patients who were bedridden. It was a very clean and bright facility, unlike many, and I was impressed with the care and courtesy of the staff.
They had concerns about funding, though, and we know there are many more elderly who need care like this but there are not enough spaces or enough funding.

So, it was a great weekend and I'll write later about our visit to the local monastery and about our 4-legged friend Silas and his new girlfriend... Meanwhile, here's me and the Easter bunny:

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Galilee

The photo on the right is the view from the deck of the Christian guest house near Tiberias where we stayed. Jesus lived and ministered in the Galilee region and only visited Jerusalem on occasion. And seeing the land of Galilee, it is easy to understand why anyone would rather live in this most beautiful region. It is absolutely lovely and several times my breath was taken away by the beauty of the scenery or by the lavish colours and variety of the bougainvillea flowers that seemed to be growing profusely everywhere.

One of the things I especially wanted to do in Galilee was to go out in a boat on the sea of Galilee. I had the opportunity to do so, joining up with a group of Dutch Christians on their boat cruise.

We visited the town of Capernaum, where Scripture indicates that Jesus lived during the years of his ministry. There we saw the remains of a synagogue which could have been like that in which Jesus first declared his ministry as the Messiah, in Luke 4.

We drove up a bit further north to the town of Sefat and the others looked around while I slept in the car, suffering the effects of a muggy day under the hot sun.

That evening I had St. Peter's fish for supper.

The next day we were off to begin the journey back down the coast to Tel Aviv. We passed the area where the Mount of Beatitudes is located - another breathtaking view.


Together with my Canadian friend Colette, and two South African women whom we had met at the retreat, we headed up the coast. I was excited to see and feel the Mediterranean Sea for the first time in my life.

A few years ago I heard an archaeologist in our church talk about the amazing engineering accomplishments of King Herod, particularly at Caesarea. Ever since then I had thought I would like to see Caesarea if I ever got to Israel. On our way north, we drove up the coastline and stopped in this archaeological goldmine. It was fascinating to see the remains of various civilizations who had conquered and built upon this site. Roman, Byzantine, Crusader - everyone with a different plan and priority. I was especially interested to see the hippodrome where they had held chariot races a la Ben Hur. Sadly this same facility was also the place where Christians were tortured and killed as sport.

Another very interesting port that we visited on the Mediterranean coast was the ancient seaport of Akko. It was a windy day and the surf was pounding gloriously! It was also very hot and we wandered the narrow streets of this Arab town for awhile but I got my share of sun!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Jerusalem, the Golden City

I had the opportunity to attend a retreat just on the outskirts of Jerusalem, in a village called En Kerem. This is said to be the birth place of John the Baptist and thus the place where Mary came to visit Elizabeth when she was told that she would bear the Christ. So, of course, there is a church there called the Church of the Visitation.

The retreat I attended was a wonderful time and situated in a beautiful spot in the hills of Judea, the convent of Notre Dame de Sion, a French order of sisters. The location was beautiful, with well-kept gardens and peaceful surroundings - a place to nurture the soul. On one day, as a group, we went into Jerusalem to see some of the sights, including the Menorah outside the Knesset, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Garden tomb and the Mount of Olives. It was a memorable day.

Following the retreat I spent 3 days in Jerusalem doing some exploring on my own, and with a new friend, Colette, who I met at the retreat. On one day, I walked on the ramparts of the city wall, on the south side from the Jaffa Gate to the Dung G ate. From this side I could see the Armenian Quarter and the Jewish Quarter. On the second day, I walked the ramparts on the north side, from the Jaffa Gate to the Lions Gate. From there I was able to see some of the Christian section of the Old City, and the Muslim Quarter. At one point walking along, I looked down into a yard and there was a woman baking bread!

With Colette I went to see the Temple Mount, a huge space now occupied by the Dome of the Rock. On my own I went to see the western wall, going over to the women's section and saying my own prayer near this holy place that the Jews regard as holy because of the very presence of God there.We wandered through the narrow streets and made our way slowly through the Muslim section filled with shops and vendors eager to sell. On the last day I also went up the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and saw the craziness there.
By the end of three days, my feet were soooo sore but I had seen a good deal of the city, if not every tourist site. We did enjoy the Tower of David Museum, where they had the history of the city in various displays and diaramas. On our last night we went to an evening spectacle at that same museum that was a really amazing light show, using the walls of the fort as a screen for some awesome visual effects. The next morning we left our accommodations at the Rosary Sisters' Guest House and rented a car to drive north to Galilee.


OK, I know that's not what it's called anymore but I wanted to see if you were on your toes. So I went on a trip to Israel and en route I had an extended layover in Istanbul. Having never been there, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. It's really the first time I've been in a predominantly Muslim country and just hearing the sound of the muezzin regularly was quite a cultural adjustment. That and learning to dodge the strategies of carpet salesmen! Not once, twice, but THREE times I got caught and ended up in one of their lairs, trying to talk myself out of buying a carpet. I did manage to leave Istanbul carpet-less but I found some other lovely souvenirs from the shops there. Also a taste of baklava and some Turkish delight... yum.

But really the highlight of my time was the time spent with my colleague, David, as he showed me some of the sites of Istanbul. David and his wife Cathie live in Istanbul. David promotes tourism and uses the other part of his time to encourage spiritual growth in local churches in Istanbul. With his vast knowledge of the place, the culture, the architecture, and the history, he was an amazing guide. We started out at the Blue Mosque, taking off our shoes and moving in with the crowds of tourists to see this beautiful building. Afterwards, we made our way across the road to the renowned Hagiya Sofia - a huge building originally constructed as a church and then later captured, defaced and redesigned as a mosque. More recently the secular government of Turkey has "de-mosqued" the building and made it into a museum. In fact, as one friend astutely informed me after reading this blog, the Hagiya Sofia was one of the 7 wonders of the Mediaval world! (From wikipedia: "Although it is sometimes referred to as Santa Sophia, the Greek name in full is Ναός τῆς Ἁγίας τοῦ Θεοῦ Σοφίας, Church of the Holy Wisdom of God. It was to this, the Holy Wisdom of God, that the Church was dedicated ("Sophia" being the phonetic spelling in Latin of the Greek word for wisdom)).
I took oodles of photos but take my word for it, it really is an amazing building to see. There were so many interesting facts and points that David elucidated, I could have stayed much longer. One of the places in this immense structure is the room where several of the historical church councils were held, from which our Christian doctrine was established in the early centuries of the church's existence.

Afterwards, David took me across town to see his office and to visit the place where Cathie works with refugees. Many people arrive in Istanbul from countries in northern Africa and other places on the refugee highway. Cathie works for an organization that seeks to assist these people by helping them with jobs, settlement needs, documents, food, clothing and whatever practical needs are required. It was a busy place.

I thought Turkey would be very warm but in fact the weather was quite chilly and later in the day it started to pour rain. I had been to the bazaar and had done much of my shopping so I made my way back to the hostel I was staying in and enjoyed a delicious meal at a nearby restaurant. Afterwards I went to a very interesting performance - a 'Sufi Music Concert and Whirling Ceremony' - that's right: Whirling Dervishes. They seek to enter the Divine Reality by whirling. It was quite fascinating and also intriguing to read about their beliefs and practices.

The next morning I left early for the land of Israel.