Putna Sihastria

Putnasihastria
The photos that relate to this post are mostly to be found in this album here. I tried to put them into a thematic order but Typepad doesn't want to play ball. So you'll have to hunt a bit. The captions of the photos may help a little.  This was the view from the guest house. I went to the church service at 8 but lasted only as far as 9. Partly because of not being able to follow what was being chanted. But also because the first part of the service the congregation was on its knees and I hadn't the stamina!  I can't possibly cover all of the conversations I had with the monks – but just want to record my gratitude for their hospitality and attentiveness. One of our topics was the interconfessional Romanian New Testament translation out in 2009 – which I had been given a copy of because of my work with the Bible Society – we ran some checks on key passages to check the 'orthodoxy' of the translation. Which I think it passed. I gather it is quite difficult to get anything 'authorised' by the Orthodox church because of the number of councils involved. But one of the monks had heard of the translation project and wanted to see it for himself – so  left my copy there – they will make more use of it than I. 

The spirituality is based on the ceaseless repetition of the Jesus prayer: Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me a sinner. The monks have 3 services a day. And they have work times set between 10 and 3.  I spent some time talking to the Abbot Father Nectariou. Then I was given a swift tour of the monastery taking in the sculpture studio – wood carving, the art studio, the tailors, the bakery, where the animals are looked after.  Most of what the monastery needs has to be made or collected from nearby. The bakery for example was made of steel pipes with steam piped through them. Fired by wood which needed to be colleced with a horse and cart. A wealthy donor had offered to install the latest high tech oven but the baker had turned this down on the grounds that his oven gave a better taste! The water was collected up the hillside and a spring used when this became contaminated. All the food was prepared in the monastery

The monks who painted the icons were self taught – and had learned by copying other works. The rules for painting in the Byzantine style are strict and conservative. Art is symbolic rather than representational and the goal is (as with Photoshop) the elimination of desire.

What made Sihastria particularly interesting to me was that it is a start-up. Founded by the abbot with 2 other monks in the early 1990s they had rebuilt a chapel, a wooden church with no nails only wooden pegs, and the biggest church (already filled with pilgrims every Sunday) was not yet finished. The painters were still working inside.  The Abbot had changed the time of the night service from 4 am to midnight to enable monks who had worked building all day to get a night's rest as well as to conduct the spiritual offices.  You can see from the photos I took that there are buildings everywhere. And still they build to expand their facilities because the people are coming faster.

The abbot had urged me to visit several local monasteries. He assiged 3 monks to accompany me. Father Vlad as translator, Father Damascian one of the priests of the monastery. And Father Alexandrian as the driver of the Blue Arrow – monastic vehicle and his pride and joy (it also boasted a radar detector – God doesn't tell the monks where the cameras are – you need a radar for that!).  We visited first Putna monastery the oldest of the monasteries the first to be founded by Stephen.  Then Suceavitsa monastry whose church is painted on the outside with biblican scenes. This is occupied by nuns. We were offered hospitality – some desert and a drink after the tour of the church.  The temperature in the late afternoon was dropping below freezing when we left. We drove to Voronets the famous blue church but the monks had locked the gate for the night so we had to return without seeing it.  And so after a late supper to bed.

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