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October 22, 2021

Five years of Patriarchate

Orthodox Patriarch Daniel has reached the age of 62. Although more prolific than others in his generation, he was not a brilliant theological expert – only few are truly remarkable over the last decades – but he will remain in the history of the Romanian Church as the first patriarch elected in post-communism. This is also the suitable perspective to evaluate his first five years of patriarchate, which he will celebrate soon.
Patriarch Daniel is an ambitious, pragmatic and rational person. This is how we can characterise his activity. His first ‘historic’ measure was extremely pragmatic: the hierarchs, from bishop to patriarch, will be elected in the future only with high-ranking clerics. This will mean restoring the old tradition, to the detriment of a certain voting right for laics. A clear measure of clerical restoration, made in contempt of the memory of the recently canonised Andrei Saguna, the Transylvanian metropolitan that attempted to ‘democratise’ the Church one century and a half ago.
With such a measure, the patriarch became stronger in exerting his power, as the control of the body of bishops, retrenched in itself, was even more accommodating. Along with the demise of metropolitan Bartolomeu (a long-time adversary), any opposition in the Synod has ceased. Unlike a contemporary Pope, who is always (especially since Wojtila) in the spotlight of the media, the Romanian Patriarch is only remotely present in local debates and polemics. Even more remotely than his predecessor Teoctist. The main controversy was related to the project of the new patriarchal cathedral, but Daniel, already very active as metropolitan in Moldavia – constructions not just of churches, but also of hospitals and schools – friend with important businessmen like mall owner Iulian Dascalu, succeeded in unblocking the project that had been opposed in the past by important people, including then mayor Traian Basescu.
Like the metropolitan church of Moldavia, the Romanian Patriarchy becomes ever richer, another merit of its leader. A priority of his mandate has become organising pilgrimages, in other words becoming seriously involved (with monopolist tendencies, as the disadvantaged competition claims) in religious tourism, with the resulting benefits. But in the Orthodox tradition, pilgrimages are not about places, but testimonies of sanctity, especially relics. With this regard, a ‘reverse’ tourism took shape these years, that of relics. Large crowds attended grandiose processions organised on these occasions in various places throughout the country. The ‘pilgrimage’ – often made with the hope of miracle interventions – thus gained a priority role in the Orthodox life of present-day Romania. Accused by detractors of being too ‘rational’ and not so ‘mystical,’ Patriarch Daniel actually encouraged, in a very pragmatic manner, the miracle dimension of faith. At the same time, he also waged an underground war with the composite and unforeseeable world of orthodox ‘counterculture’: monasteries, confessors, blogs, students’ associations. With the ecumenical experience acquired during his years of laic theological expert, Daniel tried to impose openness towards the dialogue with other confessions which irritated some traditionalists to the degree that they became staunch enemies of the metropolitan, then of the patriarch. But he eventually was somehow defeated, because ecumenical dialogue regressed after the Synod banned liturgical concelebrations – with the prime target being the Catholics. Meanwhile, Patriarch Daniel resisted – for now – the pressures for the canonisation of some recent ‘saints’. His opposition has several motivations, one being political: he does not want to spark international polemics over the far-right sympathies of some of these personalities.
Just a recent example – a Moldavian town recently withdrew the honour citizenship of a main candidate to sanctification, known as ’the saint of prisons.’ But the patriarch also opposed the representatives of an anarchic Orthodoxy – despite the claimed traditionalism – haunted by apocalyptic crises (such as the letter of superior Iustin Parvu – another serious candidate to sanctification – against the adoption of biometric passports). His success is rather formal, given the real influence of his opponents upon large categories of laics. So, there currently exist two rival Orthodox ‘tribunes’: the formal one, resulting from the media strategy of the patriarch (which culminated with a TV channel whose national broadcast made it to the offer of the main cable companies), almost inevitably suffering from conformism, and the alternate one, very active in the blogosphere, sometimes extremely virulent and radically opposed to the mainstream church.
Between images with endless church dedications, pilgrimages to Israel, processions with relics from Greece and boring theological talk-shows – on one hand – and warnings about the imminent end of the world, denunciations of today’s ‘heretics’ (from Catholics to neo-Protestants) and appeals to resistance against ecumenism on the other, there is not much place for something else. An Orthodoxy loving truth, common good and the dignity of the kin, ascetical behaviour and creativeness, courageous and fair – where is it to be found?

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