Neamţu Monastery: My coat hanging loosely on my shoulders. I was slowly climbing the road to the hermitage. I was drinking in the bracing mountain air like some life – giving elixir. Now and then I stopped to embrace with eager eyes the flint rocks whitening the distant horizon, the colour of amethyst. I felt rather tiny, overwhelmed by the grandeur of the landscape. "It's impossible! I said rather loudly, barring my head in an élan of gratitude. "E pur si muove!" There must be God somewhere-""Certainly there is, my son. How couldn't there be?" answered a voice close to my elbow, frightening me out of my wits. Barefooted, an old woman with hanging breasts exposed through her open blouse made of thick hem was sitting by a spring issuing crystal-clear water and hungrily munched some brown unleaded breed. "Are you going to the hermitage?" "Good morning! Yes, to the hermitage.""Kiss your hand. Have you got some sick relative?" "No, nobody's sick in my family." "Then would you like to pray?" "That's not why I'm going," "I thought you were going to pray before the icon." "What icon?" "St Barbara's. The monks have found it; it must have been thrown away when the Poles had overrun Moldavia... But now they've washed it, consecrated it, replaced it on the wall and now it works wanders!""You don't say so!""Really." "Come, come, Aunt, get along with you!" "Now that's a fine word to say!" "What power could a piece of wood have?" "Woe to me! Is that a way to speak of a saintly icon? Don't you fear the Almighty will hear you? Or who knows, perhaps you're not a God-fearing man?" "Well, Auntie, I do believe in God, but to tell you the truth, I don't set much store by icons." "Cross yourself and stop talking like this, for it's sinful," the old women told me, making the sign of the cross three times. "Formerly, before the monks had brought St. Barbara, there was there an icon of Virgin Mary and a young lady - God knows for what sins of here - had presented it with a necklace of gold coins. The hermitage was open day and night. The votive light burnt at random… Shall I give you a couple of plums?" "If you like…" "But will you listen?" "I'm listening. Go on, tell me…" But give me a chunk of bread too, for now you've roused my appetite." "Why didn't you ask before?... Come on, take as much as you like." In the early morning up in the mountains, after breathing the fresh air for some time, bread and plums is delicious. I was eating greedily, I felt wonderful, stripped of any passions and in a conversational mood. "Go on, Auntie, tell me…" "As I was telling you, that necklace shone St Virgin Mary's neck... Nor could it but glitter for it wee pure gold!… And a robber came, may he roast in hellfire… That is, why should I curse him any longer, since he's dead, may God rest him in peace…""And did he steal the necklace?" "God forbid. That is, that's why he had come but then he tore at the necklace and wanted to run away, he could no longer move from the place... His legs had been palsied!…" "The emotion must have caught him.""No, the gendarmes. The Agha wrested the necklace out of his hands and took him to hospital. He trembled like aspen-leave and soon after they had put him to bed he started dying… Now say something if you can afford it!?…""I won't say a word." "Well, you mustn't, for it's a sin." "And what sort of wonders had St, Barbara wrought?" "Every kind. If you tip the monk according to the largeness of your heart, you fast for a whole day, for instance from tonight till tomorrow night and you pray on your knees.""Have you ever prayed?" "I did pray the year before the last... Not last year, yesteryear.""Whet did you pray for?" "Well, I've got a married daughter but she gets no children. And that's why her husband leads her the devil of a life… So one day I heard her tell me: 'Oh, mother dear, do go up to the icon and pray for me, for, it seems I am too sinful since the Lord above punishes me not to bear children.' Now why is she to blame, poor woman, since she strives so hard and her husband is young?" "And did you go?" "Course I did.""So you prayed and she got with child?" "Yes, though not she, but her sister, for I've got a younger daughter who's not married yet for I did pray for children, only I forgot to name the married one and so, seeing this, the Saint gave the child the one of her own choice."

by Gheorghe Brăescu (1871-1949)