Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"Regarding Wine, We Have No Disagreements."

Father Anonymous rose early this morning -- well before dawn -- and trudged through the dim streets of a Central European city, in order to catch a 90-minute ride to St. Michael's Cathedral, and celebrate with his Papist brethren the thousandth year of their Alba Iulia archdiocese.  (Ask yourself:  How many things do you know of that are a thousand years old?)

It was quite a shindig.  The cathedral -- of which we have no pictures, sorry -- is a Romanesque building, begun in the 11th century but not completed until the 13th.  (Which explains the attractive Gothic apse.)  It was, at one time, the center of the Hungarian religious establishment.  Indeed, at one time the town, small but wealthy from its valuable grape crops -- was a sort of Transylvanian Oxford, boasting a world-class university.  Both the town and Transylvanian Catholicism have fallen on hard times, but you would not guess as much from today's celebration.

Fr. A. really was not prepared.  He expected to meet a few depressed-looking Romish priests, perhaps shake the archbishop's hand, then settle in to enjoy the smell of incense and the sound of ecclesiastical Latin.  Probably from the cheap seats.  That's what one does at these things, isn't it?

It was in the upstairs vesting room that he discovered his mistake.  The place was full of purple shirts.  Or, to be more literal, it was full of black cassocks trimmed in purple, topped by purple zucchettoes.  And at least two, by our count, were of a cardinalatial red.  One really doesn't see that very often.  It was a small room, and when we say that you could not swing a cat without hitting a bishop , we are being entirely literal.  

Most were of the Roman persuasion, although several were -- as their vesture made clear -- from Oriental rites.  Fr. A. had come with the local Lutheran bishop, for whom he works these days, and the Unitarian bishop. (Oh, what, you didn't know there were Unitarian bishops?  Welcome to central Europe.  We're through the looking-glass here, baby.)  They helped explain who was whom --   "That guy's the Archbishop of Budapest.  Maybe this guy will be Pope someday.  Maybe."  The conversation was in Hungarian and German.  (Pity poor Father A., who can make appropriate small talk in English, French or Spanish -- languages that proved to be of no value whatsoever.)  That's significant, because most of the people there, whether Roman or Evangelical or Unitarian (and of whatever citizenship), thought of themselves as Hungarian.

For the record, the Orthodox Patriarch of Romania wasn't there, although he did attend the liturgy -- with, perhaps, a slightly sour look on his face.  Those are difficult relationships.

The service itself was just what you might expect, and lots of it. Most of it was Hungarian or Romanian, and we have never in all our life been so grateful for a few words of Latin thrown into the liturgy.  The organ was fine -- we think we caught some Bach -- and the offertory procession was especially touching, as a small army of laypeople dressed in traditional Transylvanian outfits presented their gifts.  The sermon may have been excellent; the only words we could make out were "Benedictus," "Lumen Gentium," and "veritas in caritas."

Afterward, there was a reception at -- and we're not kidding -- a lonely roadside establishment called the Astoria Motel.  We'd noticed this place on the way into town -- there is a big chicken farm across the highway.  Turned out to be much better than it either looked or sounded, and the buffet was excellent.

During said buffet, we drank the best orange juice Father Anonymous has ever tasted, bar none, as well as a very fine local white wine bottled especially for the occasion.  This is a symbolic thing; remember that, in its glory days, wine was the source of the archdiocese's wealth.  And, with Christians of nearly every available tradition celebrating together, it was as though, for just a few hours, the glory and the unity of this community had been restored.

So when a Saxon pastor from somewhere near Sighisoara lifted his glass at the table and said, half-joking, "Regarding wine, we have no disagreements," leaving unspoken the qualifier "but only about theology," everybody took his point, and toasted happily.

Post-Scriptum:  And imagine Father A.'s joy when, returning home somewhat exhausted, he was summoned into the church office and presented with a card from some of his dearest friends in the United States, who had conspired to warm the Anonymous household with eight bottles of what is said to be the best wine made in Romania.  He could not have been happier, or more grateful, for this reminder of friendship and unity across time and distance.


Anonymous said...

Cheers, my friend! web

Diane said...

Amen, and blessings on your ministry!

Anonymous said...

glorious description!!