AND MY AXE: How I almost went on a pilgrimage.

It’s rained once in the three weeks I’ve been in Romania. It came on suddenly, and brought with it about 50 university-age Romanians and a few priests who were on a three-day pilgrimage through the mountains, visiting other monasteries on the way.

As a way of explaining his rank within the Romanian Orthodox Church, I was told that one of the priests, Father Nicodime, was “like a cardinal.” (I had given them the euphemistic “I was raised Catholic” when asked if I were religious.)

I was writing in my journal in the dining room when Father Nicodime came in. Prior Alexie and Dr. Cristian introduced me, and I had dinner with all of them. Nicodime was in the usual black robe and had a very long orange beard. He spoke to me in both English and French, and asked me what I was writing and whether I would write about him. I told him, yes, probably.

Hawkwind – Web Weaver [space rock!]

I felt like I had met Gandalf, just without the gray — he had an unusually magnetic and charismatic way of connecting with people. He invited me to join in the bonfire they’d be having later, and said I should join them on their pilgrimage. I accepted the bonfire invitation, but told him I wasn’t prepared for a mountain trek. The three days would either end with me telling everyone I was still not on board with the God-thing or me converting to Orthodox Christianity, and neither outcome sounded appealing.

Aloha – Moonless March

I talked with the students around the fire, and they were all excited about their upcoming trip. Everyone was very kind and welcoming, and when Father Nicodime told a few of the students they had to convince me to join, too, I started to wonder if maybe going on a pilgrimage wouldn’t be a Sorta Fun Thing To Do.

The sound of the bonfire

The next morning, I was told to join Alexie, Nicodime and a couple students for a beer in the storage/keg room. As we sipped our 11:05 a.m. beers, Father Nicodime asked me once more, and this time I hesitated. But I wasn’t fast enough, because suddenly Nicodime and the students were getting up to leave.

Nicodime told me he would pray for me; that he would pray for my physical health, my mental health and my spiritual health, “because that’s important, too.” And instead of telling him not to bother, I was very grateful. The fifty of them set off down the muddy road.

I regretted not joining them until one of them returned a couple days later and told me that it had been very arduous, and full of silent prayer. The “silent prayer” alone made me shudder. I’m not sure what kind of Tolkien magic was emanating from the bonfire that night, but it’s clear to me now that such a trip wasn’t for me.

Charlotte Gainsbourg (feat. Beck) – Heaven Can Wait


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