At the invitation of His Eminence Metropolitan Nicolae and with the blessing of His Eminence Archbishop Calinic of Suceava and Rădăuți, during the period between May 17 and June 1, a delegation from Holy Putna Monastery headed by the monastery’s abbot, Archimandrite Melchisedec Velnic, made a pastoral visit to the Romanian community in the United States. Father Abbot Melchisedec brought with him a pearl of great price, a piece from the holy relics of Saint Jacob of Putna, Metropolitan of Moldavia, who was recently canonized. (https://basilica.ro/en/venerable-pachomius-the-great-%E2%80%A0-st-jacob-of-putna/)
The first stop on the delegation’s pastoral itinerary was at the Saints Constantine and Helen metropolitan cathedral in Chicago, on the occasion of the cathedral’s feast day and 20-year anniversary. Father Abbot brought the holy relics for the faithful to venerate, and after Great Vespers on the eve of the feast day, he spoke about Saint Jacob of Putna:
“The Saints are the friends of God, they are those who adorn the house of God. Saint Jacob of Putna, in all his time as Metropolitan of Moldavia from 1750-1760, would identify with the hardships, the joys, and the problems facing his country. In that time, our ancestors were greatly weighed down by taxes upon taxes. In 1757, he managed to place a curse so that none of the rulers of Moldavia would dare oppress the people with these taxes. In that same period, he founded the first rural school, he attended to the printing of the first school primer, where in the preface he wrote: ‘Education is like the sap of a tree. If children receive a good and healthy education, then they will grow up to be upright and of sound mind.’ In 1760, he resigned from his position as Metropolitan of Moldavia. Theodore Callimachi, the new ruler, attempted to force Metropolitan Iacob to life his curse, but the Saint said: ‘Rather than lifting the curse, I’d better leave behind the office of metropolitan.’ He retired to Putna Monastery, where he first directed his attention to the miracle-working icon of the Mother of God, which he plated in silver. Afterwards, he renovated all of the monastery’s structures.
But what drew Saint Jacob closest to God? His boundless love, the enlarged heart that he had, the unceasing prayer for which he strove. He wrote, among other things: ‘Prayer is like the sun, for wherever the sun shines, there is life.’ When we forget to pray, or when we pray only as routine, what’s our inner state? We become foreign. And we remain the same, without being transformed, without anything changing within us. But when we pray a little more attentively, then we see how the light shines within us. How beautiful prayer is, but also how neglected in our day! And what is prayer? It is the mind’s communication with God and, as Saint John Climacus says beautifully, the sustainer of the whole world. Therefore, my advice tonight is this: may we pray more, may we love the adornment of God’s house, may we make our heart into a house of God. How? By calling often upon the name of Jesus. The name of the Lord comes with a certain power that sanctifies me, that deifies me. It enlarges my heart so that I may bring before God both those whom I love and those whom I don’t love, because the greatest thing is to love the wound and the one who wounded you, as Father Arsenie Papacioc would say.”
At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy on the morning of the cathedral’s feast day, Father Abbot Melchisedec exhorted the faithful to come venerate the Saint’s relics because he is quick to intercede: “Behold, Saint Jacob of Putna desired that a piece of his relics come here to you in America. So, my beloved, whenever you have the opportunity, call out to him. Whenever your children don’t want to listen to you, tell him, because he’ll know what to do. Whenever there’s an impasse in the family between husband and wife, cry before him, because he will heal the wounds.”
Afterwards, the delegation returned to Saint Dumitru Monastery, where beginning with the eve of the feast of our Lord’s Ascension, all of the days were vested with the grace of the divine services, unto the strengthening and joy of those present. Festal Vigil for Ascension was served on Wednesday night, Divine Liturgy on Thursday morning, and Holy Unction with over 7 priests on Friday morning. Each service was accompanied by a homily by Father Abbot Melchisedec. On Friday night, His Eminence Metropolitan Nicolae was present amidst the faithful for the service of Hierarchical Great Vespers.
The feast day, 27 May 2023, began with the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy served by His Eminence Nicolae together with Father Abbot Melchisedec and many other priests and deacons. The hymns of the Divine Liturgy were remarkable, weaving together the voices of Putna with those from American soil into a single voice of prayer to God. His Eminence Nicolae strengthened those in attendance with his homily, in which he spoke about the purpose of our life as revealed by the Ascension of the Lord: “Christ directed man toward heaven, He conquered death, trampling it down, passing through it and rising on the third day. Behold now, with His resurrected Body, permeated by the Spirit’s power, He ascends to heaven. The Fathers say that He ascended to the heaven of heavens and beyond the heaven of heavens onto the throne of God. As Father Dumitru Stăniloae explains, Christ ‘revealed His Body as being completely transparent to the power of divine love.’ The purpose of our human life is not to remain chained to the earth, nor is it only to be healed from sin, nor to hope that we will be resurrected and pass from death to life, but also that we may spend our life with Christ, with His Mother, and with the Saints, in His eternal kingdom. The feast of our Lord’s Ascension reveals this mystery to us: to direct our gaze to heaven, to desire to ascend in Christ and to know that our life has its fulfillment in the Heavenly Kingdom.” As usual, the departed were not forgotten; a Panikhida service was held for those present to pray for the repose of their souls.
Afterwards, Father Abbot shared a short word about Saint Jacob of Putna, where he reiterated what he shared at the metropolitan cathedral and also added that Saint Jacob is a powerful intercessor for families: “My beloved, we have brought a piece from the right hand of Saint Jacob of Putna. Saint Jacob of Putna was an advocate and defender of families. Therefore, I have only this message to share with you: Saint Jacob of Putna sacrificed himself for the families in his time, for the well-being of the families in Moldavia. And when he resigned from his metropolitan throne, he did so also out of love for families. […] Saint Jacob of Putna urged parents to send their children to school. Today, we are witnessing a decline in the level of education in all countries and in all subject matters. The youth no longer love learning, as they did in the interwar period or even in the 70s, 80s, and 90s; books are no longer loved as much. Everyone prefers to win something fast. Maybe you have heard that in Romania, the educators are protesting, and the students have declared that they stand by their teachers. This means that some have understood that the level of education has declined. Well, Saint Jacob attended to the education of the youth.” After this word, the Act of Gifting and the Act of Donation of the Saint’s holy relics. The holy relics will remain for veneration in the church of Saint Dumitru Monastery for the protection and help of the monastery and of all those who will venerate them with faith.
After the festal meal, Father Abbot Melchisedec held a conference entitled, “A Conversation with Father Abbot. About our Fathers in the Lord. About being a Christian today”. In this conference, he nurtured the hearts of the faithful with several anecdotes about the great Romanian spiritual fathers whom he knew personally, sharing with them the spirit of these elders and, likewise, offering models of Christian living for our times. Thus, he recalled Father Sofian Boghiu, who “continually exerted himself so that his spiritual children would attend to the icon from within. What is the ‘icon from within’? The image of Christ in our heart.” He continued with the hieroschemamonk, Father Iacob Bârsan, his sponsor at his monastic tonsure and who recently reposed in the Lord, who also lived at Jerusalem and was “in love with Saint John Jacob.” Then he spoke of Father Arsenie Papacioc, who was “an infinite wellspring of love. That’s why I said that if Christ’s love abode in someone, it was poured to overflowing in Father Arsenie.” He also recalled Father Paisie Olaru: “I met him for the first time in the autumn of 1979. It was up at Sihla, around November, and he was in his little cell. When I entered his cell, there was complete peace, and Father emanated an extraordinary peace and humility. It was like the fullness of grace was present in his cell.” About Father Cleopa, he shared how when he was a student in search of his path in life, “Father Cleopa was speaking from his verandah and he kept looking at me. And that’s how he answered all of the questions I wanted to ask him.” Finally, he recounted many anecdotes with His Grace Iustinian Chira of Maramureș, including the words that made firm his decision to pursure the monastic life in the summer of 1989: “I introduced myself in several words, and he began immediately like this: ‘Brother Michael, the monk is the gift of God. He is the gift that humanity offers to God, but also the gift that God offers to humanity.’ For me, this was already enough. And he spoke with me for an hour and gave me many pieces of advice that I follow to this day. That’s how I perceived vladyka Iustinian.”
God embraced all those present with His bountiful gifts. Glory to God for all things!