All the objects are blessed

A gold-embroidered mask eyeballs me from a coffin. On top it has a shiny cross over a crimson robe from which a vine with golden thread thrives. It’s protected by a plastic window, I try it, I knock twice, it’s hard as a hockey wall.

Come on, come on, go on, please!, a priestly voice tackles me. I get to take no more than one picture, while the lady in front of me folds her last wishes. Another lady hands me some cotton, I wipe my mouth with it, I smell it, for no particular reason, and I put it in my pocket. Some granny rubs her brown plastic bag over a humongous silver icon at the end of the flowered canopy. Go, go!

It’s 5 o’clock in the morning and it’s freezing. I am relieved and hollow, as if after a nerve racking exam. Now I can sleep, everybody wants to sleep, almost envious at the Saint lying there, phooey, God forgive me…

I took part in the biggest Romanian pilgrimage, in Iași, the largest and main city in Moldova. 15 hours in the queue. 150.000 people. I wanted to feel what they feel, but getting there looked more like a hassle for survival. 

– 15 hours

intro2

I see the backs of fifteen thousand people, I’m at the rearmost of the queue, somewhere between some grey blocks of flats separated by a friggin’ construction site through which the Bahlui River drains. My legs and back are already sore.

Up to the queue I went by 20 minutes worth of stands with nail polish for 1 leu (a quarter €), crosses, gypsy crafted copper buckets and Transylvanian cake. Ain’t the whole of Transylvania seen so much cake. By the end of those stands there’s a line of coaches from all over the country and, between them, a very spick and span young lad infiltrated with some Pentecostal Church marketing. He’s sharing New Testaments out of a large plastic bag.

There are so many people you can’t get them in one picture. The queue goes snaking through the city, vanishing behind some trees, emerging behind a building…

A guy breaks out his Google maps and lets us now that there are 2 miles left. Normally, that’s a 41 minute business.. A woman speaks on the phone, swe’re barely at pole 59, where are you, aaah, you’re hangin’ in there, the poles poke the sky each fifty meters, worldly marks you hang on to ‘till the blessing.

It’s advancing nicely today, it shouldn’t be more than seven hours, a gendarme reassures us. An old man faints besides him.

It’s Saturday and the smell of basil on the streets drives me nuts. The Saint is yet to be celebrated on Monday, but the festival started a week ago.

– 13 hours

_MG_9693

When I’m here I don’t feel hunger, says a woman who came some two counties, from Bacău. She buys chrism brought from The Holy Country, may it be of help, the nun-merchant wishes her. Further on, some old ladies sell and other ones buy fresh and steaming stuffed peppers.

People sit quietly on a riddled sidewalk, eating sunflower seeds, sharing alms between them. Fellows meeting a year later renew their friendship, talking about the garment factory’s schedule, or how one or another got to eat only mashed stuff; athat’s what happens if you’re careless.

Where I expected to find only crones thriving with devotion, there are whole families, with their neighbours too. Some people stuffed all of their friends in a van and brought them to Moldavia’s capital. To get blessed for the whole year.

– 11 hours

_MG_9092

Poo trucks make way to empty the plastic double-u’s placed on every street. I’m at 47, it smells like shit, a lady speaks on her cell phone while resting on the Vespers Guide. It came together with The Light newspaper for just a quarter euro.

The paper enlightens me about the deal with this Parascheva lady. I’ve heard she was sinless, but I had no idea how she ended up doing so many miracles.

They say she lived in Constantinople and, when young (1000 years ago), she heard at a service that she has to give away her fortune so she can go to the Kingdom of Heaven. She became some kind of philanthropist, giving even her clothes to the poor. Then she became a nun and did good deeds, but died a young girl.

After some 200 years, people tossed a shipwrecked sailor into her grave. Parascheva didn’t go well sitting beside a stinkin’ sailor, hence she apeared in someone’s dream. When exhumed, they noticed her body was mummified and of a more-than-decent smell, so folks started worshipping her. In 1641, after a 400 year trip, she ended up in Iasi.

– 9 hours

_MG_9693

No matter what your beliefs and wishes are, that’s where the Saint will lend you a hand, a girl with the appearance of a poped balloon tells me. She’s been coming here for three years. Seven years I wanted kids and couldn’t have any, and the doctors told me I never will.

She asked Parascheva for help and, after achieving pregnancy last year, she’s here to offer her gratitude. This year’s the third and I brought the kid. Ain’t this a miracle? This is what I wanted most. To each their own beliefs, and the Saint will help it if you believe hard enough.

The woman uploaded her entire family in a van and drove 240 kilometers to stay in this line. Others came by train, bus or car from every corner of the country, hundreds of kilometres, or even thousands.

There’s room for everyone. Parascheva has a resume full of wonders.

– 8 hours

_MG_9693

A 10 y.o. grarbs my 2 lei (half euro) and hands me my instant coffee. He holds a stand with his brother and his granny. It’s actually a foldable table filled with sunflower seeds, nuts, instant coffee, plastic cups and a thermos with water. The granny serves sunflower seeds on the lid – probably the favourite snack of Romanians.

Behind, on the back street, his dad cooks smalls (grilled minced meat rolls) and sausages. He and some other locals are spinning loaves of meat on the grill.

I get hold of a “pilgrim’s” chair and donate it to the miracle-kid lady. The kid’s tired and needs to sleep even if it’s in a sitting position but his mum hardly manages to fit the chair in the potholes on the sidewalk.

– 6 hours

_MG_9693

They’re killing him! Look, they’re beating him up! some gypsy women scream in chorus. I turn around. Some guy attempts a tackle on a gendarme. His colleagues help and push the mobile fences, squeezing the scared ladies to a pulp. The guy is thrown in a blue van.

An old woman with glasses scolds them, shame on you! Hitting women, are you? Wha’ did he do, he did nothing. Women keep screaming, bring cameras to record this, let the telly people come, discrimination..

After some time the boy is returned in one piece. His name is Florin, he came with his mother, brother and a gang all the way from Râmnicu Sărat, a couple of counties away. His brother is 8 and stubborn to get to the casket, even if he’s ill and barely standing. He didn’t want to go to the hospital, so his mom keeps pulling him from the crowd. A gendarme wouldn’t understand and pushed her behind the fence. Florin saw that and went nuts. He got a fine.

– 5 hours

_MG_9693

I know it’s not nice, but what can I do? I have kids but I don’t bring them here, I didn’t ask you to come here, a gendarme justifies his actions after being scolded by several devotees. Yeah, but you’re paid for this, you’re coming in for the money..

After a few hours of idling, people begin to lose their cool. You’re keeping us like animals; let us onto the streets, we’re out of breath; shame on you, gendarmes! You’re doing whatever Băsescu (president of Romania between 2004-2014) orders. People remember all of the daily issues but forget yet again when hunger strikes.

They trick the hunger with zacuscă (vegetable spread) in a cup, tea and sliced bread. Unde-s alea nușcâtezeci de mii de sarmale?, întreabă unul mai amețit. (They were handed out no sooner than Monday 65.000 of them.)

– 4 hours

_MG_9693

We’re here willingly, but got caught in an imaginary prison from which we can barely wait to be released. Just one lady received the capital punishment.

Even though traffic is stopped for the entire length of the path, people are squeezed on narrow sidewalks. In some places, faith binds us so strongly that we’re technically glued to each other.

Two women complain about the poor conditions, what are they doing with all the money from selling prayer books and all that.. Eh, you needn’t worry ‘cause I saw on the telly that they made homes for the elderly chaps and for orphans, and for drug addicts, for divorced women and for beaten up women and kids. Only thing is, my TV was broken.

– 3 hours

I realise darkness swoops, in as I can’t see much without the aid of lights from the stands. Colourful plastic Saints grin at me alongside tiny crosses, bags of incense, and angels on suction cup blank CDs with purls. Every now and then, human faces lure me to buy some. There’s even an ad: All the objects are blessed.

What strikes me is the Mother of God light. It’s some sort of embroidery, in a plastic bag, 7 lei. There’s an “’s” missing, I inform the merchant. You a language student or what?, the man puffs at me. I finished first grade, I answer quickly and wander off swiftly. I don’t feel like getting smacked.

– 1 hour

_MG_9693

I realise darkness swoops, in as I can’t see much without the aid of lights from the stands. Colourful plastic Saints grin at me alongside tiny crosses, bags of incense, and angels on suction cup blank CDs with purls. Every now and then, human faces lure me to buy some. There’s even an ad: All the objects are blessed..

What strikes me is the Mother of God light. It’s some sort of embroidery, in a plastic bag, 7 lei (less then 2€). There’s an “’s” missing, I inform the merchant. You a language student or what?/em>, the man puffs at me. I finished first grade, I answer quickly and wander off swiftly. I don’t feel like getting smacked.

– 1 hour

So… you’re in college? So… what do you do? So… you like photography? I wanted to be a photographer as well, but I’m not sure anymore. What University do you recommend?, is the barrage of questions a lass throws at me. I smile bluntly, but my lips are locked.

I keep walking mostly on account of inertia. Each 5 meters takes me a quarter of an hour. If I haven’t given up in the first ten hours, it would be ludicrous to do it now, when… 14 had passed?

– 30 minutes

_MG_9693

So… you like photography? I wanted to be a photographer as well, but I’m not sure anymore. What University do you recommend? is the barrage of questions a lass throws at me. I smile bluntly, but my lips are locked.

I keep walking mostly on account of inertia. Each 5 meters takes me a quarter of an hour. If I haven’t given up in the first ten hours, it would be ludicrous to do it now, when… 14 had passed?

– 30 minutes

_MG_9693

Finally, almost there. The Metropolitan church’s yard has a Half-Life feel to it. A grumbling voice speaks to us from the speakers. The mass of people widens. They come alive at the sight of a gazebo wrapped in white lilies and roses. Before climbing the stairs, volunteers aid them in getting their dried flowers blessed. I go up the stairs. A priest draws a chrism cross on my forehead. There it is – a large box with a reinforced plastic top, made to withstand human temptation (in past years, people would break pieces of the Saint for themselves, so that luck would be upon them at all times).

Zero

People flock to the right and to the left of the relic, then slide down the stairs besides the barrels of holy water, and end up in the street. Brr, it’s cold. I’ve no idea how to get to the car, where I have booked a comfy lair for myself. Finally, sleep! But first I’ll post this on Facebook.

My faith grew stronger.
_MG_9693

Text: Ștefan Mako
Photo: George Popescu
Translation: Horaţiu Lupea, Victor Bitiuşcă

Dă vorba mai departe! →

Type to Search

See all results