Shallow Moralizing and Ethical Mindset

The Orthodox Church it is a force to be reckoned with in Romanian society. Its influence goes beyond the already large number of its members, given its special relationship with the State and society in general. And yet, the actual effects of this clout is difficult to assess, given the existential planes intersect one another in surprising ways, and the ingredients in the melting pot of each personality  mingle beyond recognition. For the past two decades, the Orthodox Church has been trying not only to again become an institution with real authority over its members but also a credible and socially involved actorThe Christmas and Easter `Pastoral Letters` are therefore an opportunity for awareness of the local bishop and a form of religious `propaganda` spread with the knowing support of the mass media. The rhetorical directions are twofold. On one hand, a bloated theological argumentation enjoyed by the Orthodox with a minimum of religious education and also eager to feel the comforting emotion of confessional belonging. It is the routine style of the preaching, by and large confusing, full of common locations and generating a hazy atmosphere of piety more than anything else. By and large, Orthodox preachers are right on target, as the major theological arguments have long been integrated in the pulpit rhetoric, easy to assimilate and `update`. To be frank, few are the sermons that `go through the heart`, which really change lives. The reasons why this so seldom happens are tied to a genuine crisis of the Orthodox culture first and foremost, to which we prefer the ersatz of a disputable, and un-discussed,  `Tradition` and childish pieties. More `vivid`, sometimes, is the other rhetoric direction, called `paraenetic`, which sets out to draw conclusions about the concrete aspects of a moral way of life. What do the recent Easter pastoral letters of the Patriarch and metropolitan bishops say in this respect? Maslu < “Unction”>, a term borrowed from the Slavonic language naming the holy oil involved in the act of anointing, a special sermon dedicated to the sick, was the relative common topic addressed. The Patriarchy has actually dedicated a campaign throughout the year aimed at promoting Maslu. Here is how the pastoral letters made disease and suffering the main topics approached, all of them painting a more or less dire picture of the contemporary society. Patriarch Daniel emphasized the sociological aspect of the issue : hospital  and medicine crisis, doctors scarcity, high incidence of diseases. He also mentioned the socially and psychologically disadvantaged: the old, the indigent, large families, lone persons, the sick. He then switched to politics, a darling subject of his, namely the strengthened cooperation with the  State (a likely allusion to the failed bill on socaal assistance assumed by religious denominations), along with civil society actors (often suspicious towards the majority Church). The mention deserves being noticed that Maslul becomes an increasingly becomes a `success story` of Orthodox practice, along with pilgrimages and the relic tourism. Disease-associated suffering, along with various forms of psychological suffering, have acquired religious overtones. Yet, if some, including the patriarch, are only content with presenting the `spiritual` offer  of healing, others establish causal connection between the ravages of the evil and religious indifference. The Pastoral Letter of the Sibiu metropolitan bishop, Laurentiu, sparked controversy through its criticism of sexual immorality, divorce and pornography, all of which on the daily agenda of the mass media, and with the consequent `punishment`: troubles (a word often encountered in the current Orthodox rhetoric). In his turn, Metropolitan Bishop Teofan of Iasi has  incorporated  the Catholic ‘culture of death` paradigm, focusing on abortion, incest (more common than one might have thought, mainly in the more rural culture of Moldavia) and homosexuality, while not oblivious to one of the `radical` obsessions  the monks in the region: the para-apocalyptic control by means of advanced technological methods  (with implicit sending to electronic chips, surveillance cameras, control of electronic correspondence and mobile telephone conversations). His hope is tied, more explicitly than is the case with the patriarch, to some political circles `converting` to Orthodox values. However, there have also been voices with pessimistic accents in this respect, regarding the human condition by and large. Metropolitan Andrei of Cluj, for example, pas painted a gloomy picture of human suffering, a genuine memento mori worth of the `vanity` identified by the Ecclesiastes (one of the books of wisdom of ancient Jews). Social allusions were absent, with the preacher allowing himself to fall prey to his structural sentimentalism, in line with a broader trend of psychologized religion. Suffering has a mystery of its own, this is a truth inferred by every Christian. Yet, to establish a connection between suffering and deeds through excessive and hasty rationalization is due to only create confusion and ambiguous guilt. Suffering is rooted not just in sin, but injustice too, political utopias, lack of social responsibility or poor professionalism. In its attempt at shallow moralizing, the Orthodox Church often makes proof of shortcomings with respect to a genuine ethical mindset, and therefore remains, save for those captivated by its thaumaturgic offer, unconvincing.

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