The enrollment for the Ecumenical Semester 2019 has already started, and the organizers are excited to share with you the best reasons for why you should take part in it. Considering that the purpose of this program is to reveal to the attendees – mostly Lutherans – the mechanisms behind the Orthodox Church, the main activities concentrate on discovering the life, rituals and traditions of this Christian confession.

Two of our participants are sharing the most interesting things they came to know after this experience.

Anna Behnke is 24 and took part in the Ecumenical Semester twice. She remembers the things she liked the most:

I liked that there were people from many different places, nations and confessions and I had the opportunity to know their stories and discover their religion. I really liked visiting the monasteries and seeing how people live there; because the Lutheran church doesn’t have this culture of monasteries and the only information I had about them came from the books I`ve read. I was impressed by how they live there. Visiting the monasteries and also meeting all those different orthodox people who told us what they do. Each one was different, and I liked when they told us about Orthodox Theology or what everyday life should be like, how marriage should be like; it was just interesting that there is a system behind everything. Sometimes it’s different from our own, but not for the better or worse, it’s just different, and I can appreciate that!

Sebastian too was most impressed with the differences between traditions, people and confessions. He is 30 and studies Lutheran Theology in Germany. But now, after the Ecumenical Semester he decided to stay a little bit longer in Romania, and that’s why he’s in an Erasmus Exchange Student within the Evangelical Theology Faculty in Sibiu. He is also established here with his family and told us that Romania is a beautiful country, where he likes to live:

This last semester wasn’t the first time when I visited Romania, I’ve been here before because my wife is from Sibiu. I study Lutheran Theology and I found that I can study here, in Sibiu, in German language, with the Erasmus program. A friend of mine discovered it before and told me about the Ecumenical Semester. This sounded really interesting to me. I’ve been in a small group; it was mostly like a little family. The differences impressed me the most. I learnt a lot of things about Orthodoxy and now I understand much better how it works. We’ve made some trips, we’ve visited monasteries, Armenian and Judaic Churches in Bucharest, the Unitarian Church in Cluj and the Greek-Catholic Church from Blaj, and many other interesting places. We also had the occasion to paint byzantine icons, which was a nice challenge.

A Romanian Story

Anna is not at her first experience in Romania. She told us how she finds our country and what were the reasons that made her stay one more year here, in Sibiu.

First, I’ve been here for one year after high school. I’ve spent one year volunteering in a village close to Sibiu, and I also knew Sibiu because I have friends here and now it’s my second year. Now I’m here for an Erasmus semester from my Faculty in Germany, where I’m in the fifth year of studies.

I decided to stay here one more year because I really like living in Sibiu and I like living abroad, and I think I learned a lot living here, not just theology but also how people think about life. I think the church here is different than in Germany, people are different, culture also, and I just like being in a different country, so when will I have time to do this if not now? That’s why I decided to stay another semester.

There are many things that I enjoy in Romania: I like the mountains, the food, the fact that things are easier here and people are not so stressed like in Germany.

The Ecumenical Semester is mostly about discovering the Orthodox faith. Here is how Anna and Sebastian understood it after this experience:

Anna: I’m not sure if I adopted something for my own spiritual life but I understood it better. The first time I was in Romania I knew about the Orthodox Church from the church in my village and I didn’t understand it, it was a little bit weird for me. For example, for us, as Germans and Lutherans, our faith is based a lot on our mind and thinking. So, for us is important that we think a lot about what we believe, we think about everything, we have to understand it, to rationalize everything; and here it is so different. There is not so much thinking, it’s more about experiencing, it’s a really different way of church service. It was  strange for me first, but now, after the Ecumenical Semester I understand it more, so I see that there is a sense in this. It really makes sense!

Sebastian: The Ecumenical Semester brought me a completely different understanding of what I knew before; but it was really interesting. I didn’t expected Christianity to have so many different church manifestations, because, when I started in Leipzig, I knew there were some different elements, but I never thought the differences in the Greek-catholic church or Orthodox church are so important.

„To learn more, to open your mind, and maybe you can adopt some of these things in your own life…”

At the end, we asked Anna and Sebastian why would they recommend this experience to other people. By far, the new things, the differences and the ingenious activities were the first reasons that popped into their minds.

Anna: I think it’s very good for ecumenism, to learn more about the entire Eastern European Church, the Orthodox Church, because we usually don’t know much about them because we don’t have them around. And I would tell the people interested in this project that living in another country is amazing too and Romania is really different. The culture here is very different compared to German culture and it’s really good that everything is in German so you don’t have to learn another language.


Sebastian: Like I said, I really like to discover the differences. If you’re studying Theology, there are so many unexpected things that you didn’t know about. It is one way to learn more, to open your mind, to find new things, maybe you can adopt some of these things in your own life… I also like the life here, in Romania. It gives you the feeling that you are free to do more things than in Germany.


A last thought on ecumenism. How do you think it should work?

I think ecumenism with churches works if nobody says that “we are the only true church”. The way that God made the world, like He made plants different, everything God created is beautiful but different, so one flower is different from another; so why can’t other churches be different, but also beautiful? God can be found in all of them, and they are all beautiful in themselves, and all have truth, but all can learn from each other and appreciate each other, Anna Behnke.

More things about the Ecumenical Semester: