This is the first of a few entries I'd like to write about Parascheva Day/Iasi Days, which is basically THE event of the year in Iasi. Why? Because St. Parascheva is the Patron Saint of Romania (the region of Moldavia, in particular), that's why. Her intact relics are in a church here in Iasi and every year on Oct 14th upwards of a million people make a pilgrimage to the city to worship her bones and pray to them to intercede with God for themselves and their families. Supposedly miracles also have happened in connection with her bones, but I can't so much find any documented. People literally wait in a line that is miles long, outside, night and day, to walk by her coffin, touch it, and pray. This is fascinating to me, so I tried to find out more about her story and why she would be the Patron Saint of the country. She lived in the early 11th century. She joined a convent and devoted her life to prayer and fasting. She died at age 27. I asked quite a few people and looked around a bit online, but nothing much is to be found. Certainly nothing on par with someone like Mother Teresa or many Catholic Saints who (whatever your thoughts are about saints) did some truly kind, merciful, loving, and generous acts and who lived their lives desiring to follow Jesus. Certainly nothing that would help me understand why old old women, bent-over from years of working in the garden would sleep outside to touch her coffin. Yes, she might have been pious, but how does that justify elevating her to a place of worship? As my roommate said, "Nobody actually knows the story. She just lived a 'great life' is what people say." And my response was, "Yea, and?"
When I went to check all this out, video and still cameras in tow, I was about as saddened as I thought I would be. The pathways right along the church were lined with shops selling religious trinkets and icons. The only thing I could think of was when Jesus went into the Temple and was angered that it had essentially become a marketplace and His house of prayer had been made into a 'den of thieves' (Matthew 21:12-13).
Also along the path were lots of older women selling flowers. I was not sure what this was all about but I asked my roommate and she told me that the priests spray some kind of anointing oil/incense on them when people get up to the coffin, thereby making them holy. (By the way, check out the clothing in these pictures to get a flavor for how older women dress)
Then I walked around behind the Cathedral and saw the shrine set up and the people standing in line... well, at least the beginning of the 2km line, which was a half dozen people across. If only these people devoted so much time and energy to worshipping Jesus as these dead bones! I felt that the deep dark clouds overhead exemplified the darkness I felt in that place. One cool website I found online while trying to find out more about St. Parascheva was this one, which gives a 360 view up close, so you can get a better flavor of it.
The reason this is so upsetting to me is because it's (falsely) claiming to be Christian. But where does the Bible say anything about praying to bones? Where does the Bible say anything about needing a human to intercede for us? In fact, in contrast, the Bible says that JESUS is our all-sufficient intercessor and High Priest... "Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man... For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 8:1-2, 4:15-16) Yet the average Orthodox person doesn't believe or even know about this because it's not taught. Priests discourage people from reading the Bible because it takes someone 'trained' to be able to read it. They teach that you can only pray in a church. They teach a work-based salvation where you must earn your way to heaven by all your good deeds and fervent prayers. And they pray to icons and have all kinds of rituals that Jesus didn't ask us to have. They miss the point that the God of the Bible is a personal God who wants us to talk to him all the time, and we can do so THROUGH JESUS CHRIST, and Jesus alone. People live in bondage and fear because they never know if they're "good enough" to get to heaven if they would die today. Well, I'll tell you what, YOU AREN'T. I'm not. No one is. We all fall short of God's glory and are saved by grace alone through faith alone.
Oh how I pray for a spiritual awakening in this country! That many would come to know the simplicity and truth of the gospel.
But God, who is rich in mercy,
because of His great love with which He loved us,
even when we were dead in trespasses,
made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
and raised us up together,
and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace
in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
For by grace you have been saved through faith,
and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,
not of works, lest anyone should boast.