From 24 – 31 May, Paula Leitner (NL), Edit Lang (HU), Asia Malec (PL) and Sr. Mary Paul Friemel (Hainburg), visited Fr. Vasile and his church community in Sibiu, Romania. The purpose of our visit was to learn more about the rich heritage of the Orthodox church, especially in the liturgy and other traditions.
Edit and Sr. Mary Paul arrived on Thursday and had a nice evening together with Fr. Vasile. The next day, Friday, was spent getting settled into the place, with an introduction to the liturgy and many members of Fr. Vasile’s lovely family. Paula and Asia arrived later that evening, after having spent a day with Florin Suciu, our Messianic brother in Bucharest.
On the weekend, we were very happy (and at times overwhelmed) to take part in the meeting of the Lord’s Army, a renewal movement within the Orthodox church which began in 1918. On Monday and Tuesday we were able to meet a visiting Lutheran professor and pastor, Dr. Martin Tamcke, who came to give lectures to two different groups of students. We were allowed to take part in both sessions. He shared about the history of the Syrian Orthodox church and the current situation. On Wednesday, we took time to reflect on the very full and intense time we had, and also to rest a bit. Our days ended, as they began, with a nice evening with Fr. Vasile.
The Lord’s Army
Lord’s Army is renewal movement within Romanian Orthodox Church founded in 1922. The basic idea of this movement is to bring lay people to know Bible and to serve God in their daily lives.
When the Lord’s Army gathers, they follow a pattern of singing, recitation of a poem or another artistic expression and preaching (many times by a layman). As many of the founding members of the “Army”, like Traian Dorz, had a talent for poetry, within the ranks of the Army of the Lord flourished a specific kind of religious poetry, written in an easy, accessible style. Most poems are focused on developing a personal relationship with Christ, struggle against sins, the Christian mission in the world, and the poetic interpretation of Scriptural passages.
We spend whole weekend with Lord’s Army members during their gathering for weekend of Pentecost. We were really touched by the deep faith of the people. The teachings were very deep and touching – we heard many excellent biblical teachings about the Holy Spirit. So often, the people preaching would even weep, and we witnessed many of the listeners being moved to tears by the message. When we asked one young girl why people cry she said immediately that this is the Holy Spirit working in their hearts!
Many people from the Lord’s Army (but also from Fr. Vasile’s parish) asked us directly: “Have you experienced miracles from God?” They shared beautiful testimonies of God’s healing and provision in their lives. It was great to see the same Spirit working in different settings. It was amazing to see how much they love and honor the Spirit working in their lives.
Something deeply impressive was the level of commitment in them, how willing they were to make sacrifice – the meetings lasted 3 – 4 hours (each session), and many people stood for large parts of those times. It was a kind of persevering, deeply reverent love of God as expressed in the Word and in the Liturgy.
During these two days with the Lord’s Army, we had some deep heart to heart meetings with a few people, many young women and a monk who lives high in the mountains close to Sibiu. Edit was able to show an icon which she feels shows the “Jewish Face of Jesus” and we were able to share a bit about our calling to unity and to the Jewish people. The people who came to us were touched by what we said, and as we shared we were able to see how the Holy Spirit had prepared them (and us) for the meeting.
In the first meeting when we were introduced, Paula did a great job of taking a first step of repentance as a Catholic towards the Orthodox Church. This is important in this area where there are deep historical wounds between Catholics and Orthodox, especially during the time of the Habsburgs.
The Orthodox liturgy was really a new experience for all of us except Edit, who regularly takes part in a Greek Orthodox liturgy in Budapest. So for the first days we were rather lost, especially as it was all in the Romanian language. In spite of this, we could be very touched by their deep reverence for Mystery – by the height, breadth, and depth of the worship. They make time and take effort to make the liturgy beautiful and worthy. The liturgy is full of scripture and intercession. As Paula asked, “What would the world look like without the intercession of the Orthodox church?”
We were impressed by the various Jewish elements that were expressed in the liturgy, and through the lectures with Dr. Tamcke, we learned how the Syrian Orthodox church has maintained so much, so closely connected to the synagogue.
The people were touched, it seemed, that we took part in the liturgy. On Sunday during the Lord’s Army meeting one man commented from the front that he was deeply touched that we have stayed to participate, and he said he felt to call us “sisters”. The people were very welcoming to us and tried as much as possible to help us.
Opportunities to share about TJCII
We were asked to share on three different occasions – on Saturday at the youth meeting of the Lord’s Army, on Monday evening with Fr. Vasile’s parish after the evening prayer service, and on Tuesday morning with a group of students in the Orthodox faculty.
It was an honor to address these different groups and to feel the trust given to us to say something, especially as Fr. Vasile was the one to translated us! In each setting we were each able to share something regarding TJCII and from our own personal experience in TJCII. Edit was thrilled each time to share her revelation of the icons which she carried with her everywhere, in her backpack. People were really touched as she shared, because of her deep love for the icons, though she is blind.
It was also a blessing to have an opportunity to express our sorrow as Catholics in regards to the sins of the past, towards the Orthodox church, and our joy and gratitude for the “discoveries” that we were making in these days about the rich treasures. We feel after these days that we have each experienced a kind of renewal and refreshment in our spirit!
We also saw how the need still exists for more repentance and for more discovery.
The Icons and the Jewish Face of Yeshua
Edit Lang, from Hungary, has a deep love for icons and has received an understanding about many elements of icons that show the Jewish-ness of Yeshua. In her presentations she was able to explain, in particular, one icon of Yeshua that shows him as a victorious King. She has a wonderful explanation of the hair and beard and how it connects with the dignity of the Jewish people (that was so much lost, especially in the concentration camps as they cut their hair, even making rugs with it) and we could see that many people were deeply moved.
For Edit, the liturgy was always a time when she realized more about the icons (and a few more that she got new on this trip) and then she was able to share more, each time touching the hearts of those who heard.
We are so deeply grateful to Fr. Vasile and all who we met who made our trip to Sibiu so meaningful and warm. The hospitality was excellent and we didn’t even know what to do with all the food we had! We each go home refreshed and thankful, each hoping to return, as we know it is only a beginning to the process to know more about this rich Orthodox tradition. May God be blessed in His creativity and wisdom, and may He bless our new friends in Sibiu and in the Lord’s Army!