For Orthodox Romanians, the Holy Week that precedes Easter is an occasion, as a corollary of religious services, for remembering several moments of eternity. One of these refers to the miraculous power of the Icon of St. Anne from the Bistrita Monastery. Folkloric tradition has several fascinating legends about this icon, which is considered as miraculous. It thus became for the local population a familiar presence through the frequency by which it is invoked and evoked, and also the miraculous powers and the human superior traits it is invested with. Its destiny thus becomes revealing for the Romanian Orthodoxy. The concrete historic data about its origins are metamorphosed, due to the Romanians’ power of adoration, into a perpetual omnipresence that rules the living with the power of love, of doing good acts and its protective power.
It is known that this icon reaches Moldavia as a donation made by Byzantine Emperor Manuel the 2nd and his wife Anna to Moldavian Prince Alexandru the Good and Lady Anna. Later, the icon was offered to the Bistrita Monastery before year 1418, when the wife of the founding prince “moved to eternity.”
Here kneeled and prayed, for many years, princes like Alexandru the Good, Stephen the Great, Petru Rares, Alexandru Lapusneanu, as well as many high dignitaries and hierarchs, generations of monks and believers who kept alive the flame of their forefathers’ faith and the memory of the revered founders. It was thus normal for at least part of these saint princely auras to be transferred upon the icon that accompanies their destiny beyond death, in a perpetual spiritual permanence.
The specific need for adoration always seemed stronger for the local population and bestowed new historic dimensions upon this historic information, turning it into invincible spiritual symbols precisely through its power to address everybody, using a completely accessible language. Especially as teachings, not orders, as advice rather than threats, as protective power for all those who go through difficult moments. This power comes to meet the aspiration of every believer, cultivates his need to work upon himself not under the pressure of forces that became hostile, but with an individual conviction that comes from within, acquired through a profound movement of the soul. It is precisely this power of resurrection that represents the symbolic value of Saint Anne’s Icon from the Bistrita Monastery. A value that is equally religious and laic, which we need so much today.
But such values, with Romanian aura, can also be found among the servants of our traditional faith. One example is the artist Metropolitan Antim Ivireanul, who was beheaded by Ottomans 300 years ago. Metropolitan Antim Ivireanul of Walachia was born in Georgia (Iviria) and he became a great Romanian precisely through the power of fascination of our language. If the maturity of a language is reached through culture, through the shaping of thoughts and sentiments, its consecration also comes from the way it is appropriated by foreigners and used as a superior instrument of creation. With this respect, the Romanian language is proving an unequalled freshness, versatility, precision and – above all – power of suggestion, ever since 5-6 centuries ago, prefiguring through its directions of evolution several defining attributes of what would later become the modern culture of communication.
A brilliant proof with this regard is offered by the grand symphony of ‘Teachings’ (‘Didahii’), a compendium of sermons delivered by Metropolitan Antim Ivireanul before the altar. Never had the church produced such solemn words, of unparalleled majesty of gravities, as the words of the artist Metropolitan. In light of these teachings, the possible critical observations, made in relation to other cultures, become superfluous due to the originality of his writing. It was said, for instance, that Antim Ivireanul lacked “the inner culture and proceedings in the spirit of ancient humanism.” In fact, few are the writers whose works contain so many references to culture. Sometimes compared to Bossuet, a French religious orator, he was reproached not having the grandiose sentiment of human destiny and that his writing does not embody “characters.” But Antim Ivireanul succeeded in offering not only individual characters, but especially the character of an epoch, while the grandiose, pathetic spirit is naturally emphasised and included in the formula of ‘education for everybody,’ which governs all his Teachings. These are enough reasons to render him homage in the Holy Week, now, at three centuries from his death as a martyr of true faith, also the faith in the Romanian Language.
These religious models that synthesize, same as our great modern creators of later centuries, the virtues of the Romanian spirit unveil for us – at the moment of its appearance – the mystery of self-enlightenment that irrupts and unleashes creative powers nobody would have expected to see. The world looks the way it has always been, but in its depths a miracle is performed and the finalities of nature gain a different understanding, apparently the same, but essentially different and the moment, as it is, is placed under the sign of permanent searches and personifications. This, the mystery of eternally chasing a star, I believe is the origin of the Romanian civilisation of wood, without equal in Europe, at least. It is not the abundance of the material, nor the apparent ease of processing it, that imposed wood in the Romanian universe of creation. In permanent competition with stone, but especially with burned clay, for a spirit that rejects patterns, wood had the essential characteristic of always being more than a self-equality.
Marble, ceramic, bronze – closer to our times – allowed the almost perfect imitation of masterpieces, but two or more wooden variants of an image instantly enter the dialogue of a profoundly individualised identity. Nothing is equal or repeats in the flow of time – this first and last lesson of life is taught by wood. Simply and directly, like the split that suggests the infinity along a single nervure, or like the polymorphous inlay that heralds unknown creations of nature that will rule the future. This is why, in our country, the art of wood was raised to quasi-religious heights precisely through its power of summing up an imagination that rejects patterns and by defying the sin of believing that time can be stopped in place. In the Romanian civilisation of wood, the aspiration for eternity is achieved, first, by adhering to what is alive and, although perishing, is reborn from itself.
And precisely because the being carved by the woodworker was, like its human equivalent, threatened by fire and water, subject to the force of nature, it thus acquired surprising similarities and continuities of human destiny. In my adolescence, I met woodworkers who chose certain oaks from the edge of the forest as being destined to become the pillars supporting the roof of a house, the swape of a fountain which guards the horizon, or the imperial doors of a church altar. Such oaks were kept under observation for years. On certain occasions, like the Holy Week, the Resurrection, the Ascension, woodworkers used to go and see them like in a pilgrimage, guessing their characteristics from the intertwining of their branches and the lisp of their leaves, seeing the mysterious faces of the future. This is how I see our woodworkers even today, as the first initiates in the mysteries of nature.