Open Doors

It is an ordinary summer afternoon at the Church of the Annunciation in Chisinau, Moldova. Visitors enter to light pencil-thin votive candles, spend a few moments in prayer, and then step forward to kiss icons. They are young and old, male and female. Silver crosses hang from the necks of many of the women. As visitors leave they stop at the doorway, turn, and cross themselves before going off to run errands or return to work.

It wasn’t always this way. Throughout Eastern Europe, Orthodox churches and monasteries had flourished since Christianity first arrived in the region a thousand years ago, but for seventy years in the twentieth century Communist governments forbade overt religious practice. Churches were shuttered or converted into warehouses.  Where religious sentiment could not be completely suppressed, religious observance was permitted on the condition that it be subdued to the point of near invisibility. Regular church attendance would draw the attention of local party bosses.

“We had to wonder about covering our heads if we were going to church. There was always the worry, what if I’m seen?” a woman named Malina told me. Malina moved from Moldova to New Jersey in 1999, but every year she returns to her homeland. I met her at Orheiul Vechi, an archaeological site thirty miles north of Chisinau. Also known as the “Church of the Caves,” Orheiul Vechi is one of Moldova’s most...

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About the Author

Christopher Thornton teaches at Zayed University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.