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Shortly after her arrival at the monastery, she convinced the abbess to invite Father Marcel to give a workshop on iconography. Recognizing the young woman’s talent, Father Marcel took her under his wing, mentoring her artistically and spiritually. He taught her the intricacies of iconography and introduced her to mysticism.

“Eliseea’s icons are requested because she manages to transmit the sacred message,” says Father Marcel. “They reach such a high level that people can read them.”

The property in Bradetu in fact belongs to Father Matras. Eight years ago, he offered it as a refuge for Sister Eliseea where she could focus on her iconography. By then, clergy and collectors in Europe and North America were commissioning her work on a regular basis. With the money she earned, she rebuilt the property’s dilapidated house, which required a new foundation.

“I can live a monastic life outside the monastery. And I work much more here,” says the nun. “What is more important is the way you live with God.”

Before settling in Bradetu, Sister Eliseea served as the abbess of Sts. Peter and Paul Monastery in a remote, hard-to-access area in the northern foothills of the Fagaras Mountains, about a mile outside the village of Cartisoara. Cartisoara and Bradetu are situated on opposite ends of the famed, north-south Transfagarasan highway, which traverses the range.

She and another nun, Sister Siluana Ciupitu, came across the property two decades ago. Once the site of a bustling medieval Orthodox monastery — later destroyed in 1761 under orders from the Austrian general Nicholaus Adolf von Bukow — the property languished until 1991. “When we came, it was just a little house in the woods,” says Sister Eliseea.

Today, a large structure dominates the sprawling grounds. Its white stone facade and copper-gilded rooftops contrast majestically with the virgin wooded hills surrounding it. The compound’s apex — the chapel’s main tower — rises several stories. A stout stone wall, crowned with iron-rod fencing, encloses the premises. The landscaped gardens inside are lush with greenery and masterfully maintained.

Under Sister Eliseea’s direction, the monastery became an eminent center for contemporary Romanian iconography. Most of its resident nuns write icons.

“The church was built with money we made from the icons we wrote and sold in Romania and abroad,” says Sister Eliseea.

In the early days, she and Sister Siluana nurtured close ties with members of Romania’s Ministry of Culture. With the ministry’s assistance, the two nuns traveled extensively, particularly in Western Europe and North America. Over time, the nuns received more and more commissions for icons — enough to construct and sustain the monastery.

As an abbess, Sister Eliseea was by all measures a visionary leader. She had hoped to open an iconography school and museum on the grounds. However, she also wanted to devote herself entirely to writing icons. In the end, this desire won out, and eight years ago she appointed Sister Siluana abbess and moved to Bradetu.

Iconography did not come easily to Sister Eliseea. In the beginning, she struggled with the authenticity of her writing.

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