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December 1, 2021

The ambiguous voice of the Church

Statistics will probably confirm in the future the ‘much confidence’ the Church (Orthodox, but not only) enjoys. Meanwhile, the press will be quite a treat for many readers, repeatedly publishing outrageous stories featuring priests and nuns caught red-handed one way or another. Homosexual monks or argyrophilic clergymen. Parish priests charging impudent tariffs, mothers superior who become mothers, murderous exorcists, simoniacal bishops selling their holy gift for money and metropolitan bishops operating as electoral agents. The building of a monumental national cathedral still generates a lot of controversy, in many cases even among the Orthodox, who call it waste of money, megalomania and complicity with the political power.

The ‘civil society’ denounces the prospect of an unlawful competition by the Church in the area of social welfare – the fruit of an initially successful political negotiation. Other become enraged when seeing the new ‘mushrooms’ growing after the ‘rain’ of the Revolution: the churches. There are also people who defend the dignity of atheists, as well as people who have not forgot the sourdine flag-waving sermons about God. In the meantime, the patriarch accumulates ‘honoris causa’ awards and eparchies are fatuously celebrating round anniversaries. We could ask ourselves: Is the Romanian society a Christian one? The question is by no means a statistical one, because criteria are contradictory. There are enough people with disinhibited manners (those who, for example, uncouple sexuality from what’s moral with nonchalance) who, nevertheless, fast. What to say about some of the new founders – sponsors, in modern language – who seem to be laundering money through pious accounts, or former theologists who, sitting up at the top of the hierarchy, support an unpopular government? The analysis of the current influence of Christianity should uncover layers (concentric or crossed) of the social net. Missionary mentality is highly clericalist. The Church teaches and leads and ‘the people’ listens and obeys. This has led to a notable decrease of the ecclesiastical awareness among lay people. We often see cases of existential schizoidia: people who are very well integrated in the current social dynamic (efficient corporatists for instance) who are also deeply sunken in a religious culture of an entirely different nature: pilgrimages, ‘enlightening’ leaflets, wonder-making icons, confession to isolated eremites. It looks like a post-modern collage.

At the same time, the Christian reading of social evolution (therefore also of political initiative) is in a crisis. Today, after the Orthodoxy’s nationalistic fits of the past decade, the only ones who still insist on pushing God into politics are the young aspirants to a Balkan version of the ‘Tea Party’ kind of American Neo-Conserva­tionism. And the criticism of neo-savage capitalism was left with the lefties who are not exactly known as the most reverential towards holy things. What we see is an impetuous advance of social values of a different nature than Christian. And, to quote Mircea Eliade, it often isn’t even the sacred guised in the profane, or a secularisation of old Christian values. Apart from this acerbic competition, we also witness a crisis of creativity within Romanian Orthodoxy. The Russian already have an Orthodox ‘social doctrine’. The problem of the Romanian Orthodox Church is not of staff or management. What counts is not the much dwelled on moral crisis. A nun became pregnant and gave birth? Stendhal’s masterpiece The Charterhouse of Parma treats exactly the same subject and who is outraged after reading it?  Let’s not pass judgments based on the hypocritical opinions of tabloid readers. The key-question of Romanian Christianity is still: ‘What should I do in order to inherit the Kingdom of heaven?’ The Church does not provide a really clear answer, although it keeps invoking a millennium-old teaching that was codified a long time ago. But it is accents that make the difference, and discernment is a rare virtue. Christians know that the world as it is now will end at some point, but is the biometrical passport really the sign of the Doomsday? Is it a correct and efficient thing to do for the Church to appropriate the lion’s share in social work or should it encourage lay organisations by upholding Orthodox values instead? Wouldn’t it be better to take a more daring ap­proach to the history of the Church and its crisis instead? Why would we avoid a responsible public debate on the relationship between Christian values and political values? Is the identity stiffness of Orthodoxy a criterion of authenticity and conformity with its tradition? To all these questions plus many other ones we are still waiting for ‘official’ answers. Meaning answers vested with a spiritual authority also backed by an ecclesial authority.

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