We walked perhaps two kilometers up the snowy road above the lake and between the evergreens, and then turned back. On the way up the road, I asked Father Sava to tell me his tale. I shall relate it from memory, and ask that the good Father amplify it, and excuse and correct any inaccuracies when he gets a chance to read this account, which I shall mail to him at my first opportunity.
Father Sava was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, to Roman Catholic parents who sent him to parochial schools that he says were the best schools in the city. He went on to become a graduate of Loyola University in New Orleans, with a major in accounting. I assure you, he has an excellent education, and speaks English with nary a trace of a southern accent.
After college, at some point Father Sava's interests became focused on his Christianity, and his story jumps to when he was in his thirties, and finds him living as a newcomer in the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Saint Gregory Palamas in north central Ohio. He had left the Roman Catholic Church and converted to Orthodox Christianity. Why? Well, exactly when and why he converted to Orthodoxy I do not know. Suffice it to say, he had decided (Found? Come to believe? Been inspired to know?) that Orthodox Christianity was "The True Christianity," having adhered to traditions that stem from Christ's own teachings, and from which "all Western Christianity has strayed."
While at the Ohio monastery, Stephen found a book on the Spiritual History of Romania. He says it was so powerful a story that while still in Ohio, he started to study the Romanian language. From Ohio he went to Mt. Athos in Greece (The Holy Mountain, located on a peninsula that juts into the Aegean Sea southeast of Thessaloniki, and on which there are some twenty monasteries), where he spent time in two monasteries, seeking his Place. He was committed personally to a monk's life, but had not yet found his Place. He asked at one monastery to be admitted as a novice, but was told no, because they were a monastery for Greek monks, could not accept foreigners beyond 20% of the population, and had filled that quota already. At a second, very famous and respected monastery, he stayed as a guest for weeks, loved it and its brethern, and asked for an opportunity to meet its abbot, and ask permission to join the flock.
As Stephen tells of the encounter, "The abbot and I had never met. In fact, I doubt he even knew my name before this meeting. I was nervous, but I was able to tell him how many days I had lived there, and how right it felt. Then, before I could specifically request admission, the Abbot said 'Oaşa.' I said, 'Excuse me, Father. What did you say?' He then proceded to tell me that God wanted me in a monastery called 'Oaşa' in Romania. He asked me to go there and see for myself. So, I did. That was ten years ago. I have just celebrated my tenth anniversary here."
Stephen clearly was comfortable in his mountain retreat. He now speaks Transilvanian Romanian fluently, of course, and he never for a second evinced doubt that the Greek abbot that sent him here was simply transmitting God's Will to him.
The rest of the talk got pretty personal, as we shared certain of our experiences as American newcomers to Romania that had convinced us both that there are no coincidences, and that we both are here because we belong here. It was as if we were brothers, which, of course, we are, in many senses of the word.
When I got back to Cluj I wrote to Father Sava, and enclosed printouts of several past stories from this blog. I hope that he enjoys them, and that he will write me back.