After visiting a boarding school for children with special needs in Nisporeni and grabbing lunch at Alex’s house, Alex, his brother Dan, and I jumped into the family’s chauffeured car and took a 15 km ride to Varzaresti Monastery, the site of the oldest monastery in Moldova.
I will spare you the long story, which is available here: http://culturaortodoxa.wordpress.com/2008/12/20/manastirea-varzaresti-–-cea-mai-veche-manastire-de-pe-teritoriul-basarabiei/
The cliff notes go as follows:
- The church was originally founded in the 15th century, with the first known documentation coming in April 25 ,1420, with the visit of Prince Alexander of Moldovia.
- Soon after, the Ottoman Empire took power in Moldova, and thus destroyed the monastery.
- in 1815, the church was reopened. The Varzaresti village developed, and a hospital and school accompanied the monastery.
- At this point, the monastery changed hands and became a site for nuns, rather than monks.
- In June 10, 1959, the monastery was closed and destroyed by Soviet decree.
- In 1989, construction began on the monastery that is there today.
- Currently, there are 40 nuns and 3 priests who live at the monastery. They keep bees and farm animals, and produce everything that they need to live. They don’t eat meat, and they use the beeswax to make candles.
One of the nuns living there was able to give us a tour. She was a young woman – mid to late 20s.
There is nothing that remains from the original monastery at the site. In fact, though this monastery is on a hill, the one that was originally built was said to be located further up the hill. The earliest remains are a golden plaque of the Virgin Mary, which is from the 18th century.
The nun with whom we spoke said this, “People may wonder why we chose to come back to this place, even after it has been destroyed so many times. Even today, there are land slides that come down the hill, and we aren’t sure about expanding the building on unsteady ground. It isn’t that people become holy because they reside in holy places. It’s that places become holy because holy people reside there. I understand that this land may not exist in the future, but if I follow the Word of God, then where I go can become a Holy land, and, more importantly, the people can become a Holy people.”
And we were wondering about the amount of work that they do. It seemed, between construction, washing their Lada car, and tending to the crops and animals, there was much work to do. But the nun told us that the work is done as a form of prayer. So it is not tiresome or burdening, but instead is done with the grace of God, as when people give offering at a church service, they too were giving their offering to the monastery and to the people of the monastery.