Orthodox Easter in Romania

We decided to spend Orthodox Easter (16 aprilie 2023, a week after Catholic Easter) in Sighuetu Marmatiei, also known as my favorite town in Romania. We first took a train to Baia Mare the Saturday before Easter, and barely anything was open. (Actually, barely anything was open from Good Friday to the following Tuesday.)

Our train for Baia Mare left at 3:30AM and had an hour layover in a town called Dej about an hour and a half outside of Cluj. We walked the streets of Dej at dawn and went to an old synagogue, walked the small downtown, and then wandered back to the train station. There wasn’t much in Dej, we made it through the whole town in 45 minutes.

A few hours later, when we finally arrived in Baia Mare, everyone was getting ready for the Easter festivities. Churches were preparing bread soaked in wine to handout to families and everyone was headed back home or to the countryside. We visited a large church in the center of Baia Mare that was under construction and lit a few candles before wandering into a small farmer’s market and climbing a bell tower. Anything not church related, however, was closed. Even though Baia Mare is a huge, beautiful city, one of my favorite cities in fact, we decided to head onwards to Sighuetu Marmatiei in fear that we wouldn’t be able to find a bus later in the day. As it turns out, we had already missed the last bus.

We headed to the entrance of the highway and stuck our thumbs out. Sure enough, someone pulled over almost immediately and picked us up. We quickly found out that our driver, Daniel, spoke Spanish! This made it easy for me to communicate with him, and he told us about his time in Spain. Heike, Cesar, and I listened to his stories and mentioned to him how we wanted to go to the border to see the Merry Cemetery. Although it was way out of his way, he drove us there and got a coffee while we walked around. Daniel even found the traditional Romanian painted Easter eggs I wanted and bought a few for me while he was waiting. The cemetery was lively. People from all around the world were there (did you know coming to visit Romania during Easter was a thing?). We puruesed the markets outside and tried to read the colorful tombstones. Those that were allowed to be buried in the cemetery had a special tombstone with colorful tile that told the story of their life.

We were drenched in rain by the time Daniel dropped us back off near our pensiune (a private home where someone rents out rooms, similar to a motel). We walked around Sighuetu Marmatiei a bit to see the large, Ukrainian style churches. There were over 7 humongous churches for the tiny town, and we didn’t see the necessity…until that night.

We rested a bit at the pensiune before waking up at 11 to head downtown to go to church at midnight. The Orthodox Easter was to start at midnight and we didn’t want to be late. As we walked 40 minutes from our pensiune to the center where the churches were, we saw droves of people dressed in warmer, traditional clothes that were carrying baskets filled with bread, wine, candles, and other things. Each church was lit up with sound and candles; people quickly started to form a big circle around the churches, lining up their baskets. One line was about 2 miles long around one of the churches. The city buzzed with “Hristos a inviat” , and walking from church to church was magical. It felt like something out of a movie (I imagined the opening scenes in Spirited Away, where ruins suddenly were filled with magical life). We stayed for hours and watched the processions, as priests and alter boys blessed all of the baskets and handed out bread soaked in wine to those with baskets. It was a production. There’s no other way to describe it besides- magical.

The next morning the town was silent again, with many at home or inside of the church. Not standing outside on the church lawn like a normal Orthodox Sunday service. Heike and Cesar decided to go to Ukraine, and I spent a lonely day in the city with everything closed. I found beauty sitting in the park, but I was so hungry. Even still, I loved the beauty of the small town, right down to the run down train stop. I vowed to go back as I finally stepped on the train and said goodbye.

While on the train, the three of us reflected and chatted. I got off at a village stop to grab a water, and people working there were pouring shots (on Easter day), speaking in heavy countryside accents. I wished I had a lot more time to spend in the villages. Romania really is fairytale-esque.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: