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"Three Hierarchs" Metropolitan Cathedral

Exterior of the Metropolitan Cathedral with a row of red and white  blooming buds in the foreground
"Three Hierarchs" Metropolitan Cathedral, Timișoara, Romania

In my ongoing effort to make a fool of myself in a growing number of languages, I have started to confuse two Romanian verbs. Instead of telling people, “I don’t speak Romanian,” I am mistakenly telling them, “I am not named Romanian.”

I’m guessing most people here get the gist of what I’m trying to say as no one, I suspect, has walked away from our brief conversations thinking, “Dang, how did that man who’s not named Romanian become so wildly fluent in our language?”

 Despite the many times I’ve inadvertently been on the receiving end of a foreign-language eye roll, I still think it’s important to try to communicate as much as possible in a host country’s language.

Many times, amazing things happen when you do.

As I mentioned in last week’s newsletter, I have been hoping to take some photos inside Timoșoara’s Romanian Orthodox Cathedral, dedicated to the three holy hierarchs of Eastern Christianity, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom.

The second tallest church in Romania, the Three Hierarchs Cathedral’s geometrically patterned towers are visible from many parts of the city. The cathedral visually anchors the bordering Victory Square, creating a beautiful focal point.

With construction that started in 1936, the cathedral marked a change in Romania’s religious life to Orthodoxy from the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s Catholic dominance.

Today’s view from Victory Square, however, could have looked quite a bit different. The land used for the cathedral was originally slated for the construction of a large apartment building. After the cathedral’s completion, critics complained the new building clashed with the other historical buildings in the area, but today, the structure is loved by the city’s residents and tourists alike.

a shelf of burning beeswax candles in a dark room
Memorial Candles, "Three Hierarchs" Metropolitan Cathedral, Timișoara, Romania

Entering the Byzantine-style nave, one feels the hurried outside world fade away as the priests’ chants resonate throughout the nave in acoustic perfection. Three giant brass chandeliers hang above and, in the darkness, look like they’re floating in midair as if in a surrealist painting.

The ceilings and the archways are adorned with hand-painted organic motifs, lit by electric candles lining the nave’s walls. The slim windows high above the nave puncture the high ceiling’s darkness, letting in a soft glow of orange light. It takes a while for one’s eyes to adjust to the darkness to see the ornately painted ceiling, the religious icons observing the world below.

Typical of Byzantine architecture, the intentional filtering of light creates pools of illumination and shadow, emphasizing the different areas of the interior along with the cathedral’s craftsmanship.

The architecture from the outside with graceful, lean towers visually downplays how large the church is inside. The nave can hold 5,000 people, making it one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world.

The gold-colored iconostasis, which separates the nave from the sanctuary, glows radiantly, symbolizing its gateway to God.

I stood quietly near the back of the nave during the liturgy as worshippers surrounded me, some on their knees, some standing, and some paying respects to the holy icons.

During the liturgy, I noticed a man, wearing a simple black robe, standing next to the door.

The next time I saw him, he emerged from a side door with a vacuum cleaner. I asked him, in the best Romanian I could manage, if photos were permitted inside, motioning to the brass chandeliers above.

“One moment,” he replied, then walked away. A couple moments later, he passed by me and nodded.

“Da?” I asked, hoping the answer was yes.

He motioned me to follow him, and unlocked a small door, tucked away at the side of the nave. I dashed to follow him as he walked up a set of stone stairs, leading me to a balcony overlooking the nave.

I asked him again in my choppy Romanian if photos were allowed. He nodded, I thanked him profusely.

As we went back downstairs, he asked where I was from. On finding out I was from the States, he laughed and went into an amused rant, which I didn’t understand.

That’s when I told him I am not named Romanian.

Glowing interior of the "Three Hierarchs" Metropolitan Cathedral in  Timișoara, Romania
Nave, "Three Hierarchs" Metropolitan Cathedral, Timișoara, Romania


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