When I was little, in Mădei, I was with my father in the Altar from the age of three. I sat properly on a bench, drew saints with the pencils, sang with an incredibly thin voice (there is still today the tape of me at the age of 4 singing Our Father and Have mercy on me, God). From the age of 5, after I first learned to read from my sister, my father would give me an old and very dirty Liturgy book from which I would read the Order of Holy Communion. That’s how I learned it by heart. I was reading the Book of Epistle in the middle of the Church. I had some suede shoes three sizes too big with wadding on the toe to keep them from falling off. I was smaller than the analogue on which the Epistle was sitting.
In the Altar, the parish priest was an old hesychast, Toader Albei, very tall and very thin, unnaturally tall. It was like he was from an Icon. This man was like steam. With infinite discretion, he immaterially walked through the sacristy, prepared everything perfectly, knew every moment of the services. Otherwise he was straight on his knees, like a stone bed, like an icon detached from an old fresco. He didn’t blink. The eyes looked somewhere beyond the walls, into the Light of the Kingdom of God. I never saw him smile or laugh. He spoke only in whispers. He understood from his looks what Father wanted.
At the epiclesis, when Father raised his hands to heaven and called the Holy Spirit over the Gifts, this man’s eyes filled with tears. He didn’t sigh, he didn’t cringe. Only the eyes shed dozens of tears.
To me, a child of several years, it was a strange sight. I respected him, I was a little afraid of him;, just when he looked at me, my heart froze. My father told me that he often scouted for the hermits in the mountains, to whom he brought food.
Once, at the end of the Liturgy, I took my heart in my mouth and asked him: why do you cry during the invocation of the Holy Spirit?
The old ascetic looked at me for a long time. He looked through me and said: Many years ago, when I was at the Liturgy, when the priest raised his hands to heaven, I saw the angelic hosts serving, and the Lamb Christ breaking on the Cross, and a light and an unspeakable sweetness, millions of times more beautiful than the whole world, dripped into my heart. And since then, my whole life has been an unquenchable, heartbreaking longing to feel that sweetness and that light above the world for at least one more moment. Nothing in this world compares to a moment of heaven. And when the Holy Sacrifice comes, I remember that moment and the eyes no longer listen to me, but only respond to the heart.
Rev Ioan Istrati