This past autumn, I relocated from Serbia to Romania to begin work with the Institute for Ecumenical Research (Institut für Ökumenische Forschung/ Centrul de Cercetare Ecumenică) in the city of Sibiu/Hermannstadt in the Transylvanian region of Romania, following a lengthy period of uncertainty and relocation following a decade in the Holy Land. While my life’s journey across five nations on three continents has taught me to expect the unexpected, I had not anticipated to come into contact with the Community of the Cross of Nails once again.
I have been involved with the Community since 2015, when I worked at Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem as an administrator, and had the privilege of helping formalize the decades-old relationship over a period of three years. Unfortunately, complications with visa and residency issues meant that I had to begin the search for a new home, and I had to step away from being an active participant in Community work as I ended one chapter of my life and began another. A year later, I have found myself working once again for an institute that is engaged in both the theological study and parochial aspects of ecumenical Christianity.
The Institute of Ecumenical Research is located within the historic city center in a complex which includes the Johanneskirche, a parish under the Evangelical Church of Augustan Confession in Romania that has been the main body of faith of the German-speaking Protestants of Transylvania known as the Saxons. It is here that our local Cross of Nails is kept and looked after by those that have made the Community a part of their ministry and faith journey. Community litanies and gatherings are held in German, Romanian and English as per the language of the attendees.
As with the Holy Land, Transylvania is a land of multiple peoples and faith traditions; thankfully with a far less turbulent history and a stable present. The city of Sibiu, also known by its historic German name, Hermannstadt (as well as a third, its Hungarian name Nagyszeben), is famous for its architectural beauty that reflects its rich history, but it is the living history of local faith communities and organizations that have helped make it an ideal setting for a Community of the Cross of Nails to flourish.
Once an individual has become a part of the Community, there is a sense of familiarity and comfort to see the Cross of Nails in a location or house of worship that is new to them. No matter the denomination or country, the Cross of Nails is a connection of a common shared experience and values within the vast journey that is the Christian faith. How each Cross came to its precise location is always a unique story, but its purpose and function are always the same. Through a willingness to be joined together in prayer, fellowship and a spirit of reconciliation at all levels – sectarian, national, regional, social and as individuals – the Community of the Cross of Nails acts as a sort of spiritual waystation for pilgrims of faith in every sense of the word.
This Christmas, as I celebrate the feast of the Nativity of Christ not in the town of Bethlehem but in Transylvania, I will reflect on the friends and family I have left behind in the Holy Land, but will also give thanks to the possibility of new relationships in my present home. Knowing that whatever challenges await me, a local Community of the Cross of Nails will once again just be a short walk from my desk at work is indeed a Christmas gift to be grateful for.