It is very late in the day, and the Sunday is almost over. According to the old clock up in the church’s spire, it should be dark by now, but the moon seems determined to prolong the daylight until long after midnight, or perhaps until tomorrow. No one feels like going to bed. The villagers are still talking to one another. They are planning the work in the fields for the next week. The young forget to part, failing to realize how late it is. There’s an inexplicable joy in everything. What could the nature be celebrating tonight?
On a verandah, waiting for the young loved ones to return home, a middle-aged woman and her teenage daughter sit together in silence. They watch in awe over the wide courtyard stretching in front of their eyes. Never had they seen it so well-lit during the night hours. It is nighttime and yet, it is not. A mystery is preparing to descend from heaven. The thrill of expectation is in the air. Hesitating, with a hoarse crow, the cock announces the first watch of the night, disturbing the dogs in the neighborhood, awakened too early.
The two women are rejoicing at the beauty given by God. There may have been other enchanted nights before, but the people did not have the time to admire them. Today, however, being Sunday night, everyone is aware of it. The time has stopped, accomplice with the moon.
Suddenly, a noise breaks the silence. The gate, out near the street, opens. The woman thinks her husband is coming home, or maybe it is the two older brothers of the girl, but nobody appears, and the gate seems to remain open. Oh yes, now they can hear someone is coming, but it seems to be a whole crowd; they can hear footsteps, the clamping of canes on the ground, and suddenly, in front of their eyes appears a group of men and women wearing long, white robes, reaching down to their feet – hooded figures, the older ones propped up on canes. They proceed, mumbling among themselves, until they reach the middle of the courtyard. Their voices, barely heard, blend together into a humming – like that of a beehive. They seem to have a lot to say to each other.
Gradually, the group enters the spotlight. The whole scene unwinds slowly, in fine detail, but very real. Their eyes wide open, the two women keep watching. Spectators at the passage of the strangers, yet feeling like they are part of the event, they infer a hidden message. A message for them, as the strange interweaves with the familiar. Everything else around them had disappeared.
How much time had lapsed? A few seconds? An hour?
But look, another miracle happens: something like a wind stirs up from nowhere, sends a gentle echo through the air, and lifts the whole group up into the air. It takes them higher and higher, until they disappear inside this delicate fabric weaved of moon beams.
What was that? Was it something real or was it a hallucination? Only now the girl gets scared, awakens from the dream, rushes inside the house and hides her face under a pillow. Her mother follows, trying to console and calm the girl, then asks her a few questions, wanting to verify if they had both seen the same thing.
Yes, it was real. But, what could be the meaning of it? A special message for them?
And many years passed without an answer, without a hint. A mystery that the memory relegates into a remote recess that will slowly be covered by oblivion.
About fifteen years later, together with other families from the village, this family was uprooted without notice from their place and deported 300 miles to the east. There, in Baragan, they had to live the exile in their own country. Only after another five years, the communists allowed them to return to their village, where nothing was found of the things left behind. Only the old houses, occupied by other people in their absence, waited for them neglected, sad, and empty.
The formerly affluent people came back destitute, the joy of returning home being their only strength for a new beginning. But, paradoxically, they came back enriched. There, in the place of their exile, they had found the treasure hidden in the ground. In suffering and frustration, alienated, they met with the Gospel. Left alone, in the comfort of their homes, busy with life, they may never have accepted this incomparable offer. Yet there, in the far away land of their exile, they accepted it and were baptized in the cold, muddy waters of the Danube River. Not many, not even ten of them, but the first fruit. Their seed had germinated, was watered by the late rain, and brought forth a rich harvest.
In the same house, in the same courtyard, for 35 years (until September 1990, when a new church was inaugurated), many footsteps resounded – some of locals, some of visitors. The light from above never went dull there; it showed the way even to me, the grandson of that woman.
This is just a short paragraph in the History of the Great Church, written in Heaven, but accomplished on Earth, the Church that is soon to be called Home. On that glorious day, groups and groups, from modest villages and famous cathedrals, from home and from the land of their exile, all believers will be gathered up in the air, ascended by the same wind of the Holy Spirit.
“And we will soar like migratory birds do every fall…” as a very popular Christian Romanian song goes.