The Garden of the Lord’s Mother


Photo from the Museum of the Village in Bucharest

I am in a place that I will always call home, regardless of where my life will take me: Romania. I wrote about it before: I can never say why I love it. I just do. But there is no other place in the world in which I feel as if I can talk to the trees, as if their leaves whisper “welcome; it’s been a long time since we saw you.”

However, especially nowadays, the love for one’s own country, culture, or place of birth seems to be rather scary. At times, it is portrayed as the opposite of inclusiveness. As if the love for one’s own people means the hate for those who do not belong to one. It even sounds as if one should feel guilty for one’s love.

It always seems to me, though, that all such ideas stem from a false understanding of what love is. Love is never against someone else, just as I do not love my wife and by this hate all other women. And I do not love my wife because she is more special than any other women. I just love her, no explanations and no comparisons needed.

Still, let’s take a phrase that I heard last Sunday in church, during one priest’s homily. It was the Sunday of all Romanian Saints, the second Sunday after the Pentecost, immediately following the Sunday of All Saints. The priest said, “we all know that our country is the Garden of the Lord’s Mother.”

It was not the first time I heard this sentence, but it was for the first time that it somehow troubled me. The cosmopolitan in me whispered silently to my ears, “common, father, we’re not that special.” And then, immediately, I thought: that’s precisely it: we’re not special, and we can still be the Garden of the Lord’s Mother. Perhaps this is our specificity: in our lack of economical development, in our humbleness (which is still present in Romania, even if the surface may say otherwise), in our building of monasteries, we have become the Garden of the Lord’s Mother. But it can’t be that Mary spends her whole existence in the garden. She needs a nursery, she needs a kitchen, a home (or a cave) to hide from bad weather. We are not all of this: we are just a little garden. And we have to rejoice in the existence of the nursery, of the kitchen, or of the cave, in the same way in which they would rejoice in the garden. This means, of course, that we would rejoice in the specificity of other nations without which the world would not be complete. Just like I would rejoice in the existence of all human beings, even if I love my son and my wife in a different way and not against the others. Who would my son be without all people surrounding him? Who would my wife be without all the people coming before her, being in her life, and even coming next in her life?

Perhaps being the Garden of the Lord’s Mother is a call: be so beautiful that even the Lord’s Mother can call you her own garden. Nothing to be proud of, but rather something quite scary: do you imagine the responsibility? What if we are called to be the Garden of the Lord’s Mother and we fail miserably at being so? It seems to me that we are certainly failing if we think that this is a quality that is given to us. But I don’t think there’s something bad in perceiving it as a call to which we may not answer if we believe we have already achieved it.

At Sambata de Sus Monastery

P.S. Since it is the 4th of July, happy Fourth to all of my American friends!