Our Europe correspondent, Mari-An C. Santos, tells us about her first Easter in Romania.
Romania is composed largely of adherents to the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is interesting to see so many churches in both cities and small villages with the uniquely Orthodox elements and Christian icons.
Many Romanian Orthodox faithful observe post, or a fast for 40 days during the Lenten season. In this period, they abstain from eating any meats or animal by-products, in some areas, this means that they do not eat eggs either.
This past Easter, I was blessed with the opportunity to spend the Easter holidays in the most traditional part of Romania, Moldova in the northeast, near the border with Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova. This year, the Easter celebration was a week after our own Catholic observance. I traveled with a friend from Pakistan, a friend from Czech Republic, and two American friends who have lived in Romania for almost three years.
We first went to Targu Neamt, which is where my American friends, David and Veronica, used to live. There, we attended the Easter Vigil Mass that was celebrated from 11 pm until about 2 am. It was composed of many prayers and songs and rituals that accompanied the resurrection of Christ. As part of the celebration, people brought bread to be blessed. They also brought big candles in canisters that were lit during the service and afterwards, those whose dearly departed buried in the cemetery nearby brought the lit candles to the graves and left them there. The end of the solemn ceremony signaled a true celebration, a feast of eating and drinking among the faithful.
The next day, we had Easter lunch with the Botez family, whose patriarch is an Orthodox priest. It was an interesting, multicultural, multilingual mix. The family members understood English but did not speak it much. We managed with my broken Romanian and David and Veronica’s excellent Romanian.
We started with the traditional Easter egg game using painted eggs specially prepared for the occasion. The eggs symbolize the eggs that were at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified and the His blood rendered them crimson. To color the eggs, they boil the red onions and then use the same water to boil eggs with patterns—either by sticking small leaves on the eggshells or rendering a design with wax before they boil them in the colored water. Of course, this is the traditional way; I encountered egg-painting sessions in other parts of the country where they used store-bought paints.
Anyway, the game goes that people break into pairs, holding one painted egg each. One person says “Hristos a inviat (Christ is risen)!” and the other says “Adeverat a inviat (Indeed, He is risen)!” and cracks one the bottom end of his egg on the top end of the other. If your eggshell is cracked, you turn it over and play the game with another person. This goes on around the table and the “winner” is the person whose egg survives uncracked.
During a visit to the toilet, I saw that there was a painted egg in a cup of water on the sink—and a paper bill under the cup. I asked my hosts about this when I got back to the table and they said that they believe that if they washed their faces with this water in which the egg was soaked, they will look beautiful and healthy all throughout the year. And the money? Well, the last one to wash his face gets to keep it.
They served us different homemade cheeses, meats, salmon salad, and of course, lamb. My friends say that this is the only time of the year when lamb is commonly eaten. We also enjoyed homemade tuica (liquor made from plums) and homemade red wine. It is very nice that they are still able to make things from home here, ensuring that everything is natural and without harmful chemicals. They also introduced me to a nice, new refreshment. They take homemade pine syrup (from young pine) and pour a small amount in a glass then pour in about three-fourths carbonated water. It is a sweet, refreshing, and they say, therapeutic drink. All I know is, it tastes fantastic!
Sweet tooth that I am, the highlight of the meal was when we had traditional desserts like pasca and cozonac. Pasca is only prepared during Easter and can be made with chocolate, sweet cheese and raisins, or sour cream. We had the two last varieties, made by the Botez’s grandmother and they were divine! We also had some cozonac, which is a more common dessert that I also tasted at Christmas time.
We also met David, a Guatemalan who married a Romanian, Florentina, and converted to the Orthodox faith. We had a nice time getting to know them and their beautiful little girl, Maria. They also gave us some homemade cozonac. What a feast this Easter was!
While in the region, we made the most of our proximity to the painted monasteries in Suceava. These are unique sites that date back to the 15th and 16th centuries. Some of the doctrines of the church as well as stories from the Bible are painted on the outside walls of the churches in order to help the illiterate faithful of that time to understand the teachings. Inside, during service, women stood on one side of the church, and men on the other side. The most visited churches are some distance apart, so you need a car to go on a pilgrimage from one to the other. We visited Putna, Sucevita, Humor, Voronet, and Moldovita.
Overall, it was a different, very educational trip to that part of Romania and I am glad that I was able to do it, gaining more knowledge, experience, and new friends along the way.