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Hermits in the forests of the Carpathians

Journey into the inter-religious fraternity of Saint- Élie led by Sister Eliane in Stanceni

It starts in China, in the early decades of the twentieth century, passes through Montbar (France), rooted in Carmelite soil and flourishes today in the dense forest of the Eastern Carpathians in Romania. This is the story of a young French Discalced Carmelite nun, Elisabeth, who accepts the invitation to live her claustral call in China, there she discovers the laceration of the Church and wonders about the possible response of those who are looking for unity. Expelled by the Maoist revolution and having returned to her homeland, Elisabeth begins a journey that will take her, along with other sisters, to found the Carmel of Saint- Rémy of the Byzantine-Slavic rite and dedicated to prayer to implore and receive the gift of unity.
The relationships of the Discalced Carmelites with the Orthodox world also pass through years of serious study, mutual knowledge, esteem, and meetings. Slowly the Fraternité Saint-Élie develops which brings together more than four hundred members - lay people, priests, religious men and women from around the world - who welcome the invitation to live in their daily lives and in their prayers the desire of Jesus Christ "that all may be one" and to uncover the Jewish roots of their faith.
A hard-working soul, Sister Eliane has lived for over twenty years in the Holy Cross hermitage in Stanceni, a small locality that has stripped clearings and its tent camps in the dense, impenetrable and charming Carpathian forest. The monastery appears as it is described by the primitive Rule of the Friars of Our Lady of Mount Carmel: a chapel at the centre and all around the cells of the hermits. All of wood and in pure oriental Romanian style.

There poverty reigns, the same one that is noticed along the path that, starting from the airport of Tirgu Mures, embedded amongst tall pines and streams with rope bridges, comes to a bridge, this one made of cement, which seems to lead to the desired goal. Yet there are still about twenty minutes down a dusty and rocky road, which stops where there seems to be nothing. Right here, however, a wooden gate, on which is carved the story of the prophet Elijah, introduces the guest quarters of the hermitage. Continuing on foot, a stream marks the area of the hermit nuns with " Clausura" written on the small door. A deforested clearing is wedged within the forest that only opens up to the sky. There you can glimpse the wooden houses that make up the hermitages: from here the praise of God rises up, with the Church's liturgical prayer in the Catholic Byzantine-Slavic rite. From here go up the solicitations that all may be open to the authentic ecumenical spirit.

Every year, on the feast of the Transfiguration, a pivot of the spirituality of the Fraternité Saint- Élie, in the morning the lawn in front of the church is crowded with the faithful, people who have purified their faith under the communist regime, who have experienced persecution. Their gaze is clear and firm. Very poor peasant farmers, more affluent farmers, underpaid workers and intellectuals but rich in a vast culture, Catholics and Orthodox, all gathered in a firm friendship. The liturgy is concelebrated by many priests, others incessantly confess, the young children running around and then stopping to pray, the liturgical chant resounds in the solitude of the valley in the ancient Eastern language.

The sun beats down relentlessly but all resist under the awnings. It is not a festivity, there are no stalls: the only attraction is to a Eucharist which widens out and expands thanks to Radio Maria which broadcasts live.

In the afternoon, after a snack under the trees,  theologians and scholars, academics and young students gather for the international colloquium of 2013 entitled The identity of Israel and the Church today , chaired by Franciska Baltaceanu of the University of Bucharest. The Dominican  Edouard Divry, of the Dominican University of Domuni opens the meeting with The myth of the common tradition, Jacob Neusner and Pope Benedict XVI , a subject divided into two parts, the hermeneutic of rupture elucidated and supported by Neusner and the hermeneutic of continuity adopted by Benedict XVI who, coming into close dialogue with the rabbi, gives him his answer.

Rafael Shaffer, chief rabbi of the Jewish community of Romania, continues speaking on The role of the synagogue in the development of Jewish identity , in which he emphasizes very clearly the training aspect for the community of a meeting in which various components interact: prayer, study, fellowship in the exchange of views while everyone also pays careful attention to the Torah .

The writer, a Discalced Carmelite, a member of the Mount Carmel Chair for Jewish-Christian Interreligious Dialogue, of the University of the Mystic of Avila, offers as a theme in her intervention Jewish-Christian Dialogue or Jewish Christian dialogue? , a detail that should not escape one or be underestimated: the hyphen. Two important points should always be kept  present: "Israel is, par excellence , the people of  dialogue, the pilgrim of  dialogue in a conversation between men and directed by God to men"; the fundamental unavoidable theologùmenon : the Gospel is revealed. The connecting wire is the synthesis of the six points outlined by Cardinal Kasper at the conclusion of the work of a group of Jewish and Christian scholars that lasted eight years and that is collected in a publication of the Gregorian University, which forms the basis so that the manifestation of dialogue can really develop, the desire of all seekers of God and of the continual intercession of the hermits of Stanceni .




St. Peter’s Square

Dec. 8, 2019