After the celebration of Saint Paraskeva, I found myself sitting calmly in a row like never before. It was a row that started from behind the Holy Altar of the Cathedral, symbolizing that the correct path to other aspects of life begins from the Altar.
There were many people present, all of them well-behaved. The only disruptions to the tranquility came from the murmuring of infants or the playful footsteps of children in the Metropolitan Church courtyard. Among the crowd, there were numerous young individuals, not the stereotypical ones bundled up in heavy clothing as many would assume. Instead, I noticed some wearing jeans and fashionable attire, free-spirited students taking a break between seminars or classes. A few individuals had tattoos, but they were still composed and attentive to the ambiance set by the sound of the bell, signifying the passage of time well-spent. This is because any waiting that builds you up is never wasted in vain.
The pigeons watch us attentively from the ledge of the stained glass, perhaps the most faithful pilgrims of Saint Paraskeva. Among the crowd, there are also graceful elderly individuals, radiating patience and decency that could only be compared to an evening at the opera. I observe some pilgrims reaching into their bags and pulling out their prayer books or the Akathist of Saint Paraskeva. A few others read it directly from their mobile phones. However, everything is enveloped in a profound silence that entices alertness rather than sleep or tired yawns.
The entire experience lasts approximately two hours, and the anticipation is not rewarded in just any way, but by Saint Paraskeva herself. As she receives you with warm hands, the fragrance of Heaven instantly fills your senses, for it is not lifeless bodies that we kiss when we bow before her shrine, nor is it Plexiglas or garments woven with gold or silk. Rather, we embrace Heaven itself. This is the essence of the Saints to us—they are the gateways to the Kingdom of Heaven.
In that setting, I didn’t perceive any signs of fanaticism or the potential for any participant in that line, which challenges your patience, to ever resort to acts of violence, such as detonating bombs or directing malicious looks towards others. The pilgrims who faithfully wait in line for their cherished Saints respond with warmth, tranquility, willingness, civic-mindedness, love, and selflessness. The fundamental distinction between us and religious extremists is that a true Christian is always willing to sacrifice for others, never the other way around.
Reverent Alexandru Lungu