– Father, you told me that you were a student for two years in Chernivtsi, and then you transferred to Timișoara. So tell us a little bit about where you were born, how you grew up before you went to university.
– If someone asks me where are you from, I have no place, because the children of a priest always have no place of birth. The priest, being a missionary, changes parishes and children are born in different areas. My father and my mother were born in Maramureș, in the commune of Bistra, after which several children were born, the first three children, in Maramureș. And when the special seminary in Curtea de Argeș was established, my father had a very strong desire to become a priest. But at that time his parents had no money, there were many children in the house, eleven children, and he could not keep him in school. Then he got married, got a job, worked in the school as a secretary, music teacher, and went to art school. After that, supported by his mother – in the meantime my mother got a job as a worker – he went to the seminary in Curtea de Argeș.
– What year was this?
– 1973-75. At that time there was a shortage of Orthodox priests in the Ardeal area. At that time there were the Hungarians, that area, Oradea, Satu Mare, that area of North-West Ardeal, and then they put Orthodox priests. During communism, you know how it was, they started to ban Greek Catholicism and they wanted to forcefully Romanianize, in a way. Then they set up this special seminary and all the priests were assigned there. My father received the first (Romanian) parish in Apateu, in Satu Mare county. He moved there with my mother to his first parish. That’s where I was born in Satu Mare, in 1978. I was already the seventh child of my parents. There are nine of us. There were ten of us, but one sister died when she was very young. Before me another sister was born in 1975, also in Satu Mare, the rest were born in Maramureș.
In the winter of 1978 my father moved to Suceava county, to Bucovina, because there was a big crisis there again, there was a need for Ukrainian priests. There are many localities of Ukrainians in Suceava. The priest in Cacica had just retired and they really wanted a Ukrainian priest. So in 1978-79, people with carts from Cacica, from Suceava, crossed the Carpathians and came to us. That’s because an old man told them that if you want a Ukrainian priest to serve you, go there, there is a priest in that village. And they came to us. I tell what my father says. My father talked to them and was very pleased to see their very clean Ukrainian. In Bukovina they speak cleaner Ukrainian, closer to the literary language. And he told them: I have seven children to feed, how can I move? It doesn’t matter, if you come to preserve the language, the tradition, the Mass in Ukrainian, we will, with God’s help, keep your children. And so I left.
We moved the whole family to Cacica, Suceava county. My father was a priest there for fifteen years. Two more daughters were born in Cacica. So I went to kindergarten and primary school in Cacica. My father was a devout Ukrainian, and still is, he lives. And at that time there were partnerships between Chernivtsi and the Suceava area.
– In what year?
– The year ’93. They used to take Romanian pupils from Ukraine and bring them to Suceava and from here, families that wanted to, took Ukrainians and brought them to Chernivtsi to learn Ukrainian.
– Did you speak Ukrainian?
– I did grades 1-8 in Romanian. We were in a compact community of Romanians, Poles and Ukrainians. Polish was taught in school. I took the last year, 8th grade, to study Polish, because it was closer to Slavic. But I knew Ukrainian from home. My father spoke Ukrainian to all the children in the house. He said when we are in the house the compulsory language is Ukrainian.
– And your mother is Ukrainian?
– Yes. Both my mother and my father are Ukrainians from Bistra. My mother didn’t have a job because a baby was being born every two years. And in Suceava everyone went to the schools they went to, but my father ordered that when we entered the house, we spoke Ukrainian. They spoke to us and that’s how we learned to read and write, self-taught, until the eighth grade. In the eighth grade we took the entrance exam. The exchange was only for which kind of high school you applied to. I applied for the pedagogical school in Suceava, I was admitted and then I transferred to the pedagogical high school in Chernivtsi.
– At 14?
– Yes. And I was put in a class that spoke pure Ukrainian, with Ukrainians from there. There were three other girls from Romania and me, from the Suceava area, and we were introduced to the ninth grade here.
– Did you stay at boarding school?
– Yes. There I studied Ukrainian, went to the pedagogical school, and stayed in boarding school with Ukrainian colleagues. We did Ukrainian literature, grammar, everything was in Ukrainian.
– Which Ukrainian authors did you study?
– Lesia Ukrainca. The most famous one was Sidor Vorodchevich, as was the name of the high school. Olga Cobileansca, she also has a monument in Gura Humorului. She was from Romania, but wrote a lot in Chernivtsi. Mihai Eminescu also lived there, he had a house where he wrote, he was still Eminovich then. Franco, Petliura… there are many.
I graduated from pedagogical high school there in Chernivtsi after four years. It was very close to the border, the village of Cacica.
– Were you coming home?
– I used to come, but rarely because it was very difficult to cross the border. You had to have a passport. It took us two days and one night just to cross the border and coming back was a torment, we couldn’t come every weekend. And I stayed there. But I didn’t go to the army because I went to theology and the army was abolished. But my parents didn’t have the money to keep us. While I was in Chernivtsi in high school, a brother of mine was at university in Iasi, a sister of mine at university in Bucharest, a brother at university in Cluj Napoca, a girl in Sighetu Marmației at the pedagogical high school and two small children at home. So it was very hard! Even my father doesn’t know how, it was a miracle. When we gathered at home it was an enormous joy. When we started to leave, my father says, he would retreat to a stable with animals and cry there because he had to give to everyone and he had nothing to give. But we were brought up in that spirit, we made do with what we had. Only that the boarding schools had to be paid for.
– But weren’t there state scholarships?
– Not then. There are now. We all studied well, we all graduated from two or three colleges. But back then it was very hard, but with God’s help we got through, because my father was very keen to educate us, to send us to school. I could eat weeds, but you go and study. There I finished pedagogical high school, I passed the baccalaureate, and then I went back to Romania. When I came back to Romania, I got a job as a religion teacher in a village, in Poienile de sub Munte, in Maramureș, where I got a job so that I could live on my own feet. My father insisted that I go to university. I wanted to, but I knew there was no money, I could see the problems at home. So I taught there for a year, then they asked me to go to Romania to get my diploma, I went to Bucharest, took the baccalaureate in Romanian again and passed. A special commission was formed in Bucharest, at Elena Cuza high school, and all the children were like me, because they had studied elsewhere, they were Croatians, Serbs, all minorities, to be able to get the equivalence in the field they had studied in Europe. They were also from the Czech Republic, from Prague, from Sofia, from everywhere. And we took classes before, lessons. My older sister was a Romanian language teacher in Suceava back then.
– Where did she study?
– In Cluj, and then in Iași she did other specializations. Now she is an inspector at the inspectorate in Suceava. Her specializations are Romanian language and literature and Ukrainian language and literature. I was a religion teacher for a year and then I came back, already in contact with Chernivtsi, and went to university. Then I came back to Chernivtsi and took admission to the faculty of theology, it was together with philosophy, I was admitted. I did the first two years. After two years I transferred to Romania because it was all about money. There we were given a scholarship from Romania, but it only covered food.
– Did you stay at the boarding school?
– Yes, for six years I lived in a dormitory in Chernivtsi. That’s why I was referring to the army, there was no canteen there, I did my own ironing, I washed my own clothes, I cooked my own food, I managed myself, from the age of 14. And I look at young people today, they are not able to do anything, and I was doing it alone, because I had to do it. And I had to be very careful with the money, I had to make sure that I had enough from Christmas to Easter, to the holidays, because money came twice a year. And then I was hardened. But the important thing is that I learned Ukrainian very well. In my fourth year, being from Romania, I was doing pedagogy and teaching methodology in Ukrainian. But then we, who were from Romania, the four students, were sent to practice in a Romanian village, in Ciarda Roșie. We taught in Romanian there, all the subjects were in Romanian. And then I had a methodist with me in Romanian and I did all the practice in Romanian. It was a great help.
– You are perfectly bilingual.
– Maybe in Romanian I have a bit of a problem with expression and in preaching, I have been preaching in Ukrainian for so many years.
– I heard, Father spoke in Romanian.
– Yes, he is Ukrainian, but he was a priest in Romanian parishes. He’s retired now. When singing, when preaching in Ukrainian, yes, but he can’t express himself. I may have a little trouble expressing myself in Romanian, but I had my wife to correct me.
– So you did two years of theology there.
– Yes. Theology was six years there back then. And I looked into Romania, here it was four years. I said let’s shorten it by two years at least. I spoke to the dean and he said yes, I could transfer. So I came to the West University of Timisoara.
– Who was the dean then?
– The dean was Nicolae Moraru.
– What year did you come?
– In 2000-2001
Now I’m in the first year of my Master’s degree in Culture, Religion and Society. When I came to the village there was nothing, it was all done in my time and I had to take care of it then, and when I finished I went back to do the master’s.
– How did you choose Timisoara among other university centers?
– A brother of my father lives in Timisoara, he has an apartment here. I got on very well with him and he told me: you can come to Romania to transfer. First I wanted to go to Cluj. But after I considered accommodation, everything, it was not possible, I had no financial possibilities. Because at the same time all the brothers were in school.
– And all the brothers were close.
– Yes, two years of age difference. When the older sister finished she got married and she was helping us, but the children came to her. It was hard. Then my uncle in Timisoara told me, if you come here, there’s a university, me and my family will host you and you won’t pay anything, I’ll be your father, you just have to study. And so I chose Timisoara. I talked to the university, I transferred, I took the differences, and they accepted me in my third year here. I did my third and fourth year in Timisoara and graduated. And at that time I was attending the Ukrainian Union headquarters – it had just been founded – the headquarters was on Negoiu, near the stadium. The president of the Union, Leva Gheorghe, was also living there. And I used to go there, there were many students, the office was set up, I was very involved in Ukrainian life. And so we formed a mini group of young people, we sang, we made an ensemble, we went to Ukrainian villages, with cultural activities.
– Does the Ukrainian Union still exist?
– Yes. Now it’s on Lidia Street – Mareșal Averescu.
– And a gentleman built a church on Rebreanu.
– The yellow one. That’s where my colleague who came after me to Timisoara built it. In those years I was very busy. At that time we were emerging as an organization în Timișoara. We were taking everyone by branches: which faculty are you in? And then, being a theologian, I said I would take up theology. Let’s see how many Ukrainians there are in Timisoara and let’s organize ourselves to build a church. And then they gave me this task: you are in charge of the religious-spiritual life, because you are a theologian. My wife’s father is Romanian, her mother is Ukrainian. And her mother came there from time to time. At one point she brought her girl: come see how many young people there are. She didn’t speak Ukrainian, they spoke Romanian in the house, and so she came there once, I was with the other young people. It was March 8th and I was in charge of giving a flower to the girls who came there. She was there too, I gave her a flower and that’s when something happened… Later she became my wife. After we became friends she started to come too, she understood Ukrainian, she wore traditional clothes, we had our costumes.
– She speaks Ukrainian now?
– She understands everything, but speaking is harder. We also spoke Romanian at home, the little girl spoke Romanian, Romanian was spoken at school. Unfortunately that’s the biggest problem. I did what I could, I struggled, to all the decision-makers, who have the power to do something, I came up with solutions to save Ukrainianism.
– How did you identify the important centers for Ukrainian life?
– Maramures, first of all, because it’s nearby. It is the largest community there, more than 52,000 inhabitants declared themselves at the last census in 2011. And after them, Bucovina, Suceava county and Botoșani. In Suceava there are a lot of Ukrainians, equal to Timis and Caras. Here about 8000 Ukrainians declared themselves in the census, and in Suceava about the same, 8-9000. Then Banat – Carașul with Timișul and in Arad we have some villages, communities. And Dobrogea, in Tulcea, there they have connections with Zadunaiskaia Sici, with the Cossacks from Sicia, who were in that part Ismailul, that’s where they come from, they live in the Danube Delta.
– And in Banat?
– In Banat there are two kinds of Ukrainians. There are Ukrainians who come from Maramureș, displaced here in Banat by migration.
– Around which period?
– About 50 years ago, around 1970-75. That’s when they came in droves.
– Why did they come?
– In Maramureș there are mountain villages, very populated at that time. To give you an example, the village of Bistra, where I come from, is small, but the larger – Poienile de sub munte, Rusca, Repedea, Rona de Sus – there are thousands of families and in each house there were at least five children. There are houses with 10-16 children. There was a huge population, and most of the Ukrainians who came to Banat came from the mountain ridges. Those in the center, where they had a piece of land or worked in factories, stayed. There was not much land, but they worked with animals, shepherding, mining in Borșa. But those in the mountains lived only of the land and forests. There was a big crisis. During communism, there were CAPs here, there were none there. Labour was needed. At that time, a lot of people came from Maramureș, I’m talking about Ukrainians, but Romanians also came, they came by train to Banat to work at the CAPs. And then in the autumn, when they came back home, with the wagons, it was counted, how much wheat, how much corn, how many potatoes, everyone knew, everything was well weighted. And then the party would send them their share with the wagons, a cargo would leave for Maramureș and stop in their nearest locality and then people would know to come with their wagons to get it. And that’s how they got through the winter. In spring and summer they would come back to work again. At some point another thing happened, I don’t know exactly which year, the Romanian state made a partnership with the German state, to repatriate the Germans from Banat.
– This is in the late 70s, early 80s.
– At that time all the Schwab villages, where there were Germans, now lived Ukrainians. The Germans took what they took, they left the houses behind almost for free. The Ukrainians came here to work the land, and then the town halls, the local councils gave them houses that cost almost nothing. So people bought houses here at a very low price, which suited them, in their poverty. And they had not only the house, but also all the land. And then the communists took the houses, but the land was theirs. They knew the plots, each how much and how. That’s how a family came, when they returned to Maramureș they told their brother and sister: come here, this is heaven on earth. And so one after the other they came. And then in the 70s and 80s thousands of Ukrainians moved here. Only the village of Știuca, as it was called back then, Ebendorf. After that Poganești, in the Lugojului area, there came more, Dragomirești, after that, in the Timiș area, Remetea Mică, Mașloc. Here again it was a German village, they all left and Ukrainians came. After that, Pietroasa Mare and Pădureni, also near Lugoj, Victor Vlad Delamarina. At Nițchidorf there are Ukrainians from Bucovina, we call them “huțuli”. Then Darova. There are many. I speak also as a priest, where we have established parishes.
– There are villages that I have seen in the Suceava area, people have started to make their former Schwab households look like what they had there.
– And the church is really made of wood, they have a special architecture. Two of my brothers were priests there. We are ten children – four boys and five girls. Four boys, all priests and the girls, four out of five, priestesses and they are all teachers. One of them works in Bucharest at Radio România Actualități, as a journalist, but also on this side, at Radio Romania International, in the Ukrainian section.
And coming back to the situation here, this is the part of the Ukrainians who migrated from Maramureș and compact villages were formed, hundreds of families came, they emptied the mountains. They came on kinship, then friends, acquaintances, they kept coming over time. There is a compact Ukrainian area in Lugoj, but here in Banat it is the only locality, thrown like this, it is like an island surrounded by Romanian villages. Here is a different history.
The other Ukrainians who are still in Banat, in Zorile, Copăcele, Reșița, Cornuțel Banat, in Caraș, are compact Ukrainian villages, but they are not from Maramureș, they come from Ukraine. They are Ukrainians from Ujhorod, Ivano-Frankivsk, Liov, from Transcarpathia. They have a different dialect from us Ukrainians in Romania. They came a hundred years ago, during the Austro-Hungarian time, as woodcutters, and a lot of them were sent here to the mountain area. If you look at it this way, Cornuțel Banat, Zorile, Criciova, are in the mountainous Banat, because they were woodcutters and they came here with their families, in Caraș, the mountain area begins. And in Timiș, the only place where they came from Transcarpathia is Criciova, near Lugoj. But there is Romanian Criciova and Ukrainian Criciova, the villages are linked, but they have a demarcation. All those Ukrainians came a hundred years ago. Last year it wasn’t the case, because there was a pandemic, but two years ago we celebrated, we had a very big event, we marked the centenary.
These are the two groups of Ukrainians. From the ecclesiastical point of view we are organized in a protopoplite here – the Ukrainian Orthodox Protopoplite Lugoj. The other villages, Pietroasa Mare, Știuca, Dragomirești, Pogănești, all come from one locality in Maramureș, Poienile de sub Munte. There they have a population of over 12,000 inhabitants. They can’t declare it as a town, because it’s a disadvantaged area in the mountains. And then they came here and founded about 4-5 compact villages, they speak their dialect, they keep their traditions. So everyone from his own area, where he came from. The villages of Maramureș each have their own dialect, their own nicknames, their own customs and everything. And here in Soca there are also Ukrainians from Maramureș, but from Crasna, Crasna Vișeului, near Bistra. All 95% of the inhabitants of Soca are from the same village. This was also a good thing, they practically moved some of them, we call it Crasna 2. They came all the same. Some families also came from Satu Mare, when there were those big floods in ‘72, they were flooded there and they came here. Here they came in a 100% Serbian locality, and that’s why they have their church – this is the Serbian Orthodox church and here, the Ukrainian one. So there are no Romanians here. And we still keep the old calendar, Slavic, 13 days difference.
– So there are no Romanians here?
– Some families, but they are mixed with Ukrainians, and then they come to church here. I think about four families of both Romanian husband and wife. But they belong to us, to Ukrainians, because I preach in Romanian when needed. Many people ask why was there a need for another Ukrainian church, if that one is also on the old calendar. The Serbs are very nationalistic, they love theirs, good for them from this point of view. But we can’t be that closed.
– Are there Serbian families?
– A few, but old. Young people are already mixed, Ukrainians and Serbs. But there’s an extraordinary harmony here.
– Is the Serbian priest here in the village?
– No, he’s not staying. They had one, until I came in 2002, the priest lived here in the village.
– So tell me if you have some more facts about the village and how you came to take the parish here?
– So in Soca, as I said, they used to come here and work in CAPs and go back. During this time when they kept coming, they were leaving, they saw what was happening in Soca with the Serbs. The Serbs were not very much into agriculture. The children of the elderly at that time were with school, with going away, with business, and one by one they left, left their houses, sold for nothing, almost for free, with land and everything. And they went to Timisoara, Reșița, Bucharest, but a lot of them went to Timișoara. We see when the Day of the Dead comes around, they all come from Timișoara, doctors, engineers. And seeing them, how a family sells a piece of land or forest, animals… with two cows sold at a price, they come here and buy a house. And so after one family came another family, now in Soca there are a hundred Ukrainian families. But the village is much bigger, there are about 30 families who belong to the Serbian church, mixed families, or clean Serbs, old people. And the Ukrainians out of those hundred families, I can say there are three families. For example, the Marteniuc family, the whole generation came, the whole lineage.
– So, three kinds.
– Yes, with these endings – niuc, – ciuc, -iuc. Not me, I’m Ardelean. My father was Ukrainian, but his father was taken by a family of nobles as a serf and took the name. Ardelean was the name and that’s how it stayed in the papers. There are about seven or eight Marteniuc families, eight brothers came, there were sixteen brothers. Half stayed there. And then you realize, the eight, the children, through alliances… you hit a Marteniuc, you hit half the village.
– I also know a family in Margina, Marteniuc, that’s the priest’s boy, Stefan Marteniuc, does that tell you anything? And they also came from Maramureș, in the 70s.
– There are many of them. I walked from town to town when I was a student. I was very keen to research. Mrs Simona worked at Radio Timisoara and we were looking for Ukrainians through the radio and I was doing the religious part. And then, together with her and with another young people who were willing, we would go by car and drive through villages. In Sinersig there are still a few families, but not in such compacted villages.
– What other names did you say there were?
– Marteniuc, Morocilă, Gorgan, Iurovici. There are two kinds, Marteniuc and Martiniuc, not relatives.
– And where did they go to church?
– Let me tell you: they came here and as the Serbs were leaving, one would take the house and then bring another and so on. So as the Serbs left they bought all the houses. The old Serbs stayed in their houses, the others who came took over the Serb houses. There are still some in Banloc, in Ofsenița, but here they came compacted because they were families, relatives, and they said let’s be together, they helped each other a lot. Here in Maramureș for Ukrainians, faith is sacred. Ukrainians are renowned for this – when there is church – it’s church, when there is fun – it’s fun, when there is work – it’s work! They do all three of these perfectly. Church is the soul, for men, women, children, it is passed on. Coming here, with their faith there very well knit in their soul, where were they supposed to go, there was only the Serbian church. And then they became attached to the Serbian church. They were happy that they kept the old calendar, the holidays.
– But the service was in Serbian?
– The Holy Mass is in Slavonic, it’s very similar, the structure, everything. The calendar was the most important. It would have been hard if it was a Romanian locality and if they keep their calendar, you can’t… That was the good thing here. So everybody belonged. Well, there are traditions here, at Easter, to walk with the Easter basket… the Serbs, they don’t have the traditions we have. They have their own traditions. It depends on the priest.
– But for example at funerals, weddings, baptisms, did the Serbian priest still do them?
– Yes, it was him. They were burying in the Serbian cemetery. Because he took over the whole population of Soca, as many as we are now, about 150 families, belonged to the Serbian church. And I think the priest has a very important mission in a locality. It depends on the priest, one priest would come, come and say, I don’t care about your customs, of anything, I don’t sanctify your baskets, if you like it the way we do, stay, if not, that’s it, do what you want. Others were more malleable. We would come with our Easter basket, he would sanctify it. Some said, ok, if that’s your tradition, you bring the baskets here, I’ll do my arrangements, then you tell me what your way is.
– But what language did they speak among themselves?
– The Ukrainians slowly began to learn Serbian. So all Ukrainians speak Serbian here. A Serb doesn’t know Ukrainian. That’s what surprised mel when I came here and when I talk to Serbs.
– Do you speak Romanian with them?
– Yes, in Romanian. I understand everything, but I can’t express myself. And I explained to the Serbs: the Ukrainians came to your village at a time when you didn’t know the Ukrainians and they didn’t know you. The Ukrainians who came from there were not people with schooling, they came as poor people who had one or two, maximum four grades. They knew Romanian and Ukrainian from home, but coming here and not having anything else to do, living with Serbs, they caught on.
– So they didn’t use Romanian as an intermediate language in the beginning?
– No. That’s why Ukrainians learned Serbian very quickly because Serbs don’t speak Romanian, they don’t want to, that’s why. Old people know it, but they hardly speak it. So they had to and they speak Ukrainian, Romanian, Serbian. After that I saw with these emigrations to Europe, with the opening of borders, here if a student stays and learns English or German at school, high school, university, he can’t catch anything. If you send him to pick strawberries for two months, he comes back and speaks German. If it’s spoken around you, you assimilate. So they started speaking Serbian and getting along. The Serbs knew Romanian, they understood it, but they answered in Serbian, those in Ukrainian deduced what he meant. And this went on for about 30 years, from the 1970s to the 2000s.
So what happened? Soca was further away than the other villages, I was a student in Timișoara, we were already starting to organize ourselves. We were making ourselves known to all Ukrainians. How? Media, TV, radio, news, press. Renașterea Bănățeană, we paid, we wrote articles. You see, we had our headquarters there on Negoiu and that’s how we started to gather. And the Ukrainians came, you know how it is, blood is not water. I didn’t know anything about Soca. Everybody belonged here to Serbs. In Timișoara we set up the Ukrainian section on the radio. And then there was a broadcast in Ukrainian every Sunday afternoon for an hour, from 6 to 7. I was with the religious part and my colleague was the host of the whole show. I used to make announcements there, because I knew that Radio Timisoara was catching on. And at our headquarters we had a map of the Timiș and Caraș counties and as soon as we heard, in Poganești, Ukrainians, the president Yuri Hleba together with us and the young people, would go there in the locality. One Sunday afternoon we went there and said to them, ucrainski, ucrainski, let’s start an organization. Do you want to? We do. Come on, five people, we’ll do it right away. All legal, we were an organization with status. And we kept saying: here we have an organization, we have one here.
At that time, in Timiș, since the 90s, the Ukrainian Orthodox Protopopeat, based in Lugoj, was functioning on the church side. It was Father Albiciuc Ilie, protopope and priest in Lugoj. They built a beautiful church there and the protoparchy was created with two or three parishes that wanted to. In these compact villages, the Union went on its side, the church on its side. And then, be forgiven, Metropolitan Nicolae, he was very malleable and very good, he even had a meeting with our vicar on the ecclesiastical line and he said where you find Ukrainians and you see that it is compact, although the village belongs to the Archdiocese of Timișoara, move it to yours. And so we ended up in 2000 having 11 parishes with Ukrainian priests. Father Ilie Albiciuc did a hell of a job until he retired: he founded parishes, parishes, they built churches, they named priests. I’ll give you a calendar with all the churches, all the communities. By my time there were already 11 parishes with priests.
When I finished theology, as a student, I wanted to found a parish in Timisoara. That was my mission, to look for Ukrainians through the radio, through the press, through those who came to the headquarters, and I said to those of us who know each other here, 10-20 families, let’s try. Let’s do it! We made a delegation, we went to His Eminence Nicolae, God forgive him, he received us and we explained to him that we wanted to do it in Timișoara. Well done, he said, I give my blessing. We Ukrainians have our vicariate, we are autonomous from the Romanian church, we belong directly to the patriarchate, to Patriarch Daniel. The Ukrainian Orthodox Vicariate is a structure in its own right, we have our own status, but we must canonically subordinate ourselves to a bishop. And that’s why the Patriarchate has taken us directly under its obedience. That’s why we also have the Patriarch painted in the church.
– What about the Patriarchate of Ukraine?
– We have no connection with Ukraine. I have to spend two days explaining the problem there. The Serbs have the Serbian Orthodox Vicariate in Romania in this area, Caraș and Timiș, and they belong to Belgrade. They have their bishop. But we Ukrainians don’t belong to the Ukrainian church, because there was a very big problem there canonically with the Ukrainian church. There is a very big fight there between Russians and Ukrainians and it was not canonical and to this day there are huge fights.
And then we Ukrainians in Romania organized ourselves into a vicariate, the largest structure, the next step is the episcopate. And the vicar priest is a married priest, he leads, he is the head of the cult, all the parishes, two protoparishes, Banat and Maramureș. The Ukrainians in Suceava belong to the Romanian The Archbishopric of Suceava and Rădăuților. There was His Eminence Pimen and he did not want, he was not like our Highness, to let them organize themselves in protopochies. But in the mountainous area where the Hutus are, they keep the old calendar, the Romanians keep the new calendar, you keep your holidays as you want, but you belong canonically to The Archbishopric of Suceava and Rădăuților.
The bravest, so to speak, were in Banat. We made our churches, we put ourselves in the protopochies, subordinate to the vicariate, and the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church introduced that the vicariate belongs directly to the Patriarchate. So we are not subordinated to any Romanian bishop, but directly to the Patriarch. So any request I have, I mention the Patriarch, who is our bishop.
– So what happened in Timișoara?
– We went to the High Priest, he gave us his blessing, we organized ourselves, we did what was necessary, we applied to the authorities, we received the decision to operate, where to meet, where to have Holy Mass, because you can’t do it anywhere. And then we went again to His Eminence: do you know a place where we could do it? The Holy Mass is celebrated on Sundays until 12 o’clock, it is celebrated everywhere and canonically it is not allowed, so where should we celebrate it? And he sat and thought and came up with the solution. In the basement of the Cathedral. We also needed a central area, we couldn’t have it somewhere on the outskirts, because many Ukrainians were coming from other areas, we had to pay taxes, change I don’t know how many means of transport, only those who were enthusiastic came.
In the basement of the Cathedral there used to be the meeting point for Oastea Domnului Association. Now they sell books there. On the right side was the museum and on the left side was a big hall, chairs. That’s where Oastea Domnului gathered and sang. The Archbishop called the representative of the Oastea Domnului, they agreed, because they attended Holy Mass upstairs in the church and they gathered downstairs only in the afternoon. And then he said: the space is free on Sunday morning. God help us! They came with us and they said, after the Holy Mass, you leave the room the way you found it. Then we had to make an improvised iconostasis, all to arrange. That’s no problem.
I was still a theologian, I was not a priest, and I talked to other Ukrainian priests, I contacted the protopochies, my father in Maramureș, my brothers who were priests in Suceava, I called them at least once a month to have Mass. I announced that once a month we would have Mass. And then we would arrange everything there, the priest would come with his own, vestments and everything necessary. At that time we said that we should advertise more and every Sunday we would make announcements. Ukrainians already knew when the Ukrainian-language broadcast was on the radio. And what happened was a man, may he be forgiven, died, the first president of the Union of Ukrainians of Soca, left the church – I’m telling you what they were saying.
I took care of it as long as I took care of it, until the Highness said it can’t go on this way. Then I finished theology, in 2002 the High Priest ordained me priest of the parish in Timișoara. And then my first parish was in Timișoara. To take care of the organization, to look for land, to make approaches to the City Hall. In 2002 I also married Raluca. And it was an advantage that she lived in the city, I didn’t need the parish, I lived with my in-laws and on Sundays I took care of the church here. I was serving at the Cathedral downstairs. Then I made myself a bigger suitcase, I put all my church things there and left on Sunday morning with the suitcase. I would take the chairs out with some people helping me, I would arrange everything so that at 10 o’clock when people came they felt like they were in church.
– Did you also do funerals during that period?
– I didn’t have any funerals. We focused a lot on getting together, we said that the faithful should not be separated from the parishes they belonged to, one was from Lipova, from Soarelui, they came from different areas and belonged to the neighborhood churches. Until we organize ourselves and put them all in order, you belong there and at Holy Mass you come here. I was a priest there for a year, during which time I acquired that land on Lidia Street, where the church has now been built, after which I organized the people. And when I was doing services, someone even came from Renașterea Bănățeană and said: what’s with this boy? I was 24 years old. And he said: tell me everything. There was an article in Renașterea Bănățeană, I didn’t know about it, he told me to go and buy the newspaper. “The priest with the church in his suitcase”. He wrote very nicely, it was advertising for us. I’d already reached Soca. It was August 1, 2011.
Let’s go back to Soca. One Sunday, this man, his name was Morocila Ioan, he was home and he was always listening to the radio, and he heard on the radio, we were speaking in Ukrainian and Romanian. We were already doing Holy Mass twice a week. And we announced there: those who want to come and listen to the Mass in Ukrainian, it’s done, we have a priest, Ardelean Cristian serves in the basement of the cathedral. And this man heard – you see how God works – he talked to his cousin, to this one, to that one, in ten minutes the whole village knew. You hear that Timișoara has a church. They didn’t have much connection with Lugoj, because it was so far away. And what does this man do? He goes and talks to everyone: don’t we go and listen in Ukrainian? The woman, yes, of course! What shall we go with? There were no cars then.
He went to the Town Hall, God bless the mayor, now he’s retired, poor, sick. I gave him an example, a pure Romanian, more Ukrainian than a hundred Ukrainians, he helped us a lot. And he went to the mayor, because they had a bus: Mr. Mayor, give us the bus so we can go and listen in Ukrainian. And he cared a lot about them, because he was the president of the CAP during communism – where we live here, the parish house, at that time it was CAP’s headquarters, here were his offices – he knew every Ukrainian, when he needed a job done he called the Ukrainians, because they worked very hard. And because of that he appreciated them very much, respected them, and the respect was mutual. Then he gave them the bus, the people all dressed in traditional costumes from Maramureș – you know them by how the weavings lines are, whether it’s green or red, you know it’s from Rona, from Ruscova or from Crasna – that’s what we Ukrainians know, and for the women if the shirt is one way we know it’s from I don’t know which area, if it’s downwards, it’s from another village.
They all dressed up in folk costumes, mostly women and children, 50 people filled the bus and went where they had heard on the radio. They didn’t tell anyone, there were no telephones in the whole village in 2002. They got there faster, they got off, they asked where it was done in Ukrainian. They went downstairs, there were some chairs there, they sat on the chairs, they filled that room. I came at about 9 o’clock with another one of my counselors, ready because by the time the service started, I was sweating, the chairs had to be taken out, we had to put that… And I go downstairs, I go into the hall and I freak out! Mă, Oastea Domnului has come here. I look closer and I see that it’s a Maramureșan port, from the Bistrei area, my area, because my parents are from Bistra, Crasna, they are neighboring villages, they belong to the same commune. I open the door, they look at me, they don’t know me yet, they know my father, the elderly all know the priest Ardelean.
And when I entered, I greeted them in Ukrainian. We have a greeting: Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory be to Jesus Christ! Everyone responds in one voice. They say: But where are you from? From Maramureș, from Crasna. They went straight back to their origins, with tears in their eyes, weeping. In my head I thought, they came on a trip from Maramureș and stopped at the Cathedral. Do you know that we have the Holy Mass here? Yes, we know, we know, because we heard on the radio that they have the Mass and we came to hear the Mass. Again, it put me in a dilemma: what radio, if you are from Maramureș? And why did you come here, you have churches there. I don’t understand anything. And then they started to explain to me, we are in a village, in the commune of Banloc. I didn’t know, I looked on that map from the Union, where Soca, Banloc is, because we didn’t have telephones at the time. And they explained to me: there are many Ukrainians there and we want this and that. And you’re staying for Mass? Yes. And then stories… Then I said, since you came, help me.
That was the first contact with Soca. They attended the Mass, they cried, the flame was burning in them, why can’t we have a priest. And they were going from Timișoara back home after the Mass, there on the bus they were advising each other on what to do. They took my phone number: Father, we keep in touch with you, now every Sunday we come here. And they would come almost every Sunday, take the bus and come to the Mass, just to listen to it in their own language. Even though they had Mass in the village. People would say come to our village. But I can’t interfere, canonically, legally. And then I advised them, you go, gather a group of people, go to Timișoara to the Serbian Vicariate because you are Ukrainians, but canonically you belong with them. And canonically I have nothing to do with another Orthodox priest, we have rules. Go and say that you want a Ukrainian priest to come, if you want to collaborate with me, then say that the priest from Timișoara, Ardelean, should come one Sunday to serve with the Serbian priest. And let’s have a bilingual service, so we can enjoy hearing it. Or at Easter, Christmas, on holidays, when it is our custom, you can come too when you can.
And then they went into hearing. Plus, as it was, the priest sitting here is not only a priest at Soca and also has Deta. And one Sunday he preached there, one here. And the Ukrainians said: well, when there’s no Mass here, let’s get a Ukrainian priest to do the Mass. And we don’t move anything statutory, no income. They made this delegation, they listened to me, they went, and they were refused there – never. If you’re okay with staying in our church the way it is now, fine, if not… They already knew about me through the newspapers in Timișoara, that I was founding, that I was a fighter, that’s all we need, for him to go and break the Ukrainians from us. And then they said no, they wouldn’t let them. I said go on, insist, they went three times. And finally they said no. The church is ours, the Serbs’, if you want to accept it that way, fine, if not, do what you want. But in the village in Soca, not only in the church, the village is theirs, it’s Serbian, no Ukrainians should step foot there.
To clear up the mess, so to speak, they sent another priest, not from our Protopopiate, who serves in a Romanian parish but knows Ukrainian, from Timișoara. And they said, go there, serve, and say something in Ukrainian, to reassure people. But the priest went, the people didn’t know him, and they said: we want Ardelean. And then the third time when they refused, I consulted with the bishop, with our vicar, if the people want, they can make a written request to us, so that you don’t have problems. And we do the Mass in the park, in the field, wherever we can. And they did so. People collected signatures. Then they brought it to the attention of the Serbian Vicariate that we do the Mass, do you welcome us in your church? They said no.
They chose a Sunday, it was July 2002. They went to the mayor, so I had the right, I had the paper signed that I had the right to go and do the Mass where I prepare my people and the people went to the town hall, and the mayor said: go to the kindergarten, there is more space, put a table there, see what you get. I hadn’t set foot in the village before, everything was organized via phone. And that Sunday I was supposed to come to the Mass. And when the local people told me about it, when they called me, that there was only one landline, and they ordered – and they said that the Serbs didn’t want it, that they had tied up the church, they had chained it, but where, and so I got an image, that there’s a war, who knows what’s in that village? And so a fear gripped me, what to do, how to go? But I said to myself: I’ll go, I’ll try. Come, we’re waiting for you!
I took a minibus, I took some people from Remetea Mică, because during my studies I used to go to that church and I was doing my training and I formed a church choir there, and I took that choir with me, a few people, in the minibus, me in the front with my suitcase and we came to Soca. I remember that road. And at the entrance here in the center there was a crowd of people, the whole village. Some curious, some happy, this is a very quiet village. They said they had prepared everything at the kindergarten in the schoolyard. I said to the driver, I don’t know what can happen, I, young also, inexperienced, and I said: go to the front right in front of the parish, right here was the entrance to the kindergarten, I get out and I greet people in our greeting: Slava Isusu Hristu, and if they answer me and I see that it’s ok we get down. Until then, nobody comes down. And if I see maybe one throwing apples, swearing, I turn the bus around and I’m gone. And when I get off, hundreds and hundreds of people here, the whole village. And when I greeted, a big chorus answered: Slava na viki Bogu, with tears in their eyes, they jumped on me, they hugged me. Then I came down, went to the kindergarten, filled the hall, more were outside, three quarters, in the courtyard. And I went out, I held the Mass outside, the first Mass.
– And when did you start building?
– That’s when the first Mass was, in 2002, and then we agreed that I’d come again for the Ascension of the Holy Cross in September. And if you decide that you want to constitute, then I come, we consecrate a chapel, elect the parish council and start the parish. And that’s the way it stayed. Then already the Serbs, seeing that the Ukrainians were catching on to the movement, began to frighten them, to influence them, the priest, they said: whoever breaks away from us in the parish, who go to the Ukrainian mass, we will cross you off the list and you should know that in the cemetery you are no longer allowed, to take your dead out of the cemetery. They scared people. I was reassuring them, people, listen to me, in this country there are rules, not everyone does what he wants. But that was enough, people were afraid. We’re breaking away, the Ukrainians have no church, no cemetery, nothing. And what do they do? Tomorrow someone dies, wants to get baptized, get married, what do we do? Any beginning is difficult.
And then on September 27 we came, I came two more times in the meantime and we set up the kindergarten there, the mayor gave us the house, it was the house of the former teachers who used to come and live there. We made a chapel there, we consecrated it, we elected the first parish council. Determined people, we, ten families, as many as we are, we want our parish, our church. What church? Do you know what making a church is? And then we decided, I was appointed to take care of Soca. That was in September, and on November 10th we laid the foundation stone.
We had no land. The mayor came, right here where the church is, there was a horse stable. That one still got demolished, it belonged to CAP, it was the dairy. And that one was demolished, and he said I’ll give you this land. I made papers, documents. And I came and talked to the people and said, what do we do, do we start or not? Father, do we start? Do you know what that means? We had a meeting with them. We need money, you are poor, there were no two-storey houses here in the village, I could see the poverty. To get from Banloc to Soca, this road took me longer than the one from Timișoara. There was no asphalt, there were potholes, the tractors were running, you had to be pulled by the tractor, it was a misery. And yet, God pushed me. And I said to my wife: look, I started Soca, and she was a geography teacher at the school on Rebreanu, in Soarelui, I lived in the city, I had all the conditions. My in-laws had nothing to do with me, my father-in-law was a unit commander in the army at the time. And I had to come here…
But I was given such a boost, it was like God said to me: go and save those people. And then I talked to them and I said, you want to start? Father, we don’t care, we are working, we are bending over backwards, we don’t want to depend on the Serbs anymore, we are fed up. Serbs don’t go to church here. They make food on Sundays, they stay home. And the Ukrainians filled the church and said: we filled the church, we brought money, we renovated, we did and we wanted to do it in our language and they didn’t, it’s theirs. Already their patriotism has been ignited, too, in Ukrainians, although we are very peaceful. So we said, if that’s the case, let’s go! And on November 11, 2002, I called from the deputy, through all the contacts, I made a priest’s choir, I called an Ukrainian choir, because I was culturally in touch with everyone, and television, and everyone. We made a celebration here that they had never seen in their lives. And here we laid the foundation stone where the church is, we sanctified the church, on 11 November 2002.
It was November, winter was coming upon us, we said, what do we do folks, dig the foundation of the church? Yes, we are! They were very excited then. And then we started digging the foundation, then projects, money, engineers, from where, we had no money, but we had the will and the faith to do it, from small to big. We went to the mayor, the mayor helped us very much, he had an engineer, like a site manager and he said: you go and supervise. And I took a paper, I took the pen and I drew the church with my hand, but I said: you tell me how much iron to put… We didn’t have the money to make projects. When I went and looked into it, at that time it went this way, the legislation was not like this, but after that everything was put together. It was a building that was under supervision, we did a project with another designer, he was constantly checking to make sure we were complying with everything. And we started, it was the end of November, winter was coming, we said we can’t do it, we have to dig the ditches, with such a big church, they have to be filled in, because if winter comes and it collapses… And the builders – most of the builders in this area are from Soca – said, they were so excited, that they would immediately build the church.
During this time, the Serbs kept attacking us. People didn’t really come for fear of the dead, that if I die and belong to you, where do you bury me, Father? Trouble. Go to the town hall again, again, the mayor came one Sunday: come here. I was in the field, in the extension he put the fence, in their cemetery, here you do not step foot And the mayor came and in the extension of their cemetery he gave us an acre of land. Take. We quickly fenced it in, put a cross, consecrated it. Na, folks, whoever dies, Ukrainian, from now on we bury him here. Everything has a beginning, and our cemetery has a beginning. That’s what it was then, now it’s a harmony…
And then we got down to digging the trenches, all with a shovel and spade, we had no machinery, we poured the foundation. In April 2003, when I had already been a priest for a year, they sent me to do a mission in Sânnicolau Mare, to set up a parish, they saw that I was good at this. So I was coordinating Timișoara, Sânnicolau Mare and Soca, it was tiring for me. And then the bishop said: you have to choose one of them. Either you stay in Timișoara, and in Soca we send another priest, which we don’t have, and then everyone was pulling me. There was a meeting here in Soca at the school, because it was the feast day, they called me, all the parish councils of the three churches came and they told me to choose something. I knew in advance, I took my time to think, I talked to my wife, what do we do, do we leave Timișoara? But where should we go to Soca, where should we stay? In the homes, where we can.
– Where did you stay first?
– At a woman’s house, she took us in. Then we bought an apartment in Deta, my wife transferred from school to Deta. We’ve only been living here for 6 years. After we finished the church, we made the house.
– In what year did you finish the church?
– With the church there were several stages? The cross was put up in 2009 and in 2012 we sanctified it. In 2012 a delegate from the Patriarchate came, because we belong to them. His Eminence Varlaam Ploieșteanul came and consecrated the church, but without the painting. The painting was done only in the altar and the iconostasis put up, without icons. There are enormous costs for the painting, that takes time. Last year we finished the painting, paid for everything and now we are waiting for them to come and consecrate the painting. But when we did the church we said, people, let’s do it somehow. For me it was a pain, exhausting, the baby was born, he was with my mother, I was on the site day and night, I was the site manager, without me nobody could move anything. And I stayed from morning till evening, working until 8 pm with the people.
No construction crew worked here, and no money came from outside, it’s made by the hands of children and people. I have pictures, you should see, you’d cross your heart, little children laying bricks and we are working and building. We didn’t have materials, I said Mr. Mayor, we don’t have materials, he said we have some CAP stables, break them and you will have brick. We’d take the tractor, we’d ring the bell, we had a bell, people would gather, we’d go, we were breaking the demolitions, we’d be in the yard, the old men and children, I have pictures, they’d sit here in the yard and clean the brick. The men who had tractors were carrying bricks. Then the brick had to be glued, what with? Sand; where form? In Gat, at night, we used to go with all the tractors in the village (there were still many tractors there), at 3 am in the morning and- there was sand on the bank of the Timiș river, we used to load it and come home late at night. We kept carrying, and with the money we were buying cement. We worked day and night. We were 20-30 people who worked on scaffolding, only from this village. The church is built on our work. People say, what a great thing to build churches! Yes, but this one is made by our hands, end-to-end, all of it. Only the painting was done by painters.
In 2012 we sanctified the church, we stopped the works on the painting and started building the parish house. We built the parish house in a year, with people from the village. The project was entirely my own making. After we built it, it had to be registered, and to register it, the project was needed, but where from? I worked with companies from Timișoara, they did the project, they registered it, everything was correct, they said the resistance was good. I painted my wife at night. For years. Me and culture, I didn’t leave the youth, the children behind, to attract them, you have to give them something else. Having finished the pedagogical high school and knowing a bit of Ukrainian choreography, I gathered all the young people – do you want to dance, sing? Yes! But if you do, you have to come to church. And then we formed the Molodaya Nadiya Ensemble – Young Hope. We took them all over Romania, on television also, Antena 3, Antena 1. We have the headquarters here, I will take you there.
And I would come here at 6 o’clock in the morning, I would work, the women would bring food, everyone would eat here in the courtyard, until around 8 o’clock in the evening. And then the builders would go home, I would go to Deta, my wife and child would be in Timișoara, I would come back quickly , because I had to be here at 9 o’clock in the evening to rehearse with the young people And I would rehearse with them until 12 o’clock at night. Whenever we caught the minibus, we would go to Sulina, Suceava, Putna, I would take them everywhere in Romania. We have more than 30 diplomas at the headquarters from the places we went with them. That’s how we finished the house and the church…
– You made a house, you made a church, you had a child, did you also plant a tree?
– We planted 40 trees in the back. That’s in a 19 year time span. It was God’s will. Someone asked me, how did you do it? We were tools, instruments in God’s hand. My in-laws were desperate when they came, where are you living here? She came at night, slept here with me, we didn’t have an apartment yet, she was in Timisoara with school, it was hard, very hard. I had a car from my in-laws. We slept in a house, it was pretty old, a woman gave us a room and a bathroom, you could hear the mice. We would lay in bed and I would cover her ears so she wouldn’t hear them, because if she heard them she wouldn’t have come anymore because she was afraid of them.
– And she didn’t convince you not to come?
– Once I came, I said, here it is that we will stay. It was also a turning point for me. Me and my wife, we made a covenant. Many paths opened up for me, they were seeking me from everywhere, I went to America four years ago, to Virginia, to Norfolk, there was a Romanian community there, they really wanted me to come, to become a priest there. I went there once for four months, that’s another story. But in Maramureș, where my father is from, everyone knows me, all the villages are so connected, people collaborate. My father was getting ready to retire to Bistra – big town, cathedral, nice people, 500 families – they wouldn’t have dreamed I wouldn’t go there. There were 60 families here, when we finished the church and cemetery, the Ukrainians gathered here, over 100 families, and the Serbs don’t have a priest in the village anymore. And my father was retiring and it was known, clearly, now it’s time for you to come here too. But we made a covenant before, no matter what happened, even if a patriarchal counselor in Bucharest would call me and put everything at my disposal, I’m not leaving from here, from the village until I see the church with the cross, the windows and put the key in the door. Because then any priest can come, people can come, but we don’t leave.
We brought the wood from Maramureș to cover the church, the wooden structure was done, the tower was erected and we were going to put tin on it and the at the entrance. And my father was retiring that year. And I was in a dilemma, what was it to do now? Everybody there, people thought we’ll come and take up. And I said to my wife, what are we gonna do? How do we leave these people? Because they were my heart and soul, we’re like a family here, we grew up together, them with me, I with them. And we gave up and we finished. But then another priest went there. I knew that. And that’s how we stayed to this day.
Now thank God, I focused on the church first. For us Ukrainians the church is very important. Besides the church, we also do other things. I was also involved in culture. Whenthere’s a feast and we pray, in September, on the Birth of Virgin Mary, on the old calendar. The feast falls on September 21, we do it on Sunday. I have a lot of both films and photos. I tried to make do not only this church life, but also the cultural life. In the early years we used to bring bands from Maramures, Ukrainians. Let’s feed the young, the old and the willing, from all points of view. That’s where we started, when there’s church, there’s church, when there’s fun, there’s fun, when there’s work, there’s work. And look, with God’s help, we’ve done it all. That’s why it’s good that we’re in unity now, because it was all done alongside me. At one point, I had to leave the village. People were desperate, as if I was cutting off their hand.
Photo credit: Diana Bilec