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December 6, 2022

Like a sphynx

Protesters asked for his resignation. He changed his spokesperson. Who promised to bring him regularly in front of the press, to offer them calmer answers. And that they will use more qualified “communicators”. In other words, everything was reduced to a matter of public relations.

Even if we are talking about a millenary Church, that was supposed to follow the advice of its founder: “clean the inside first”, the Romanian Orthodox Church (BOR) chose the deceitful advantages of cosmetics.

But even more startling than Patriarch Daniel’s reaction was the one of the “street” that contested him. Why did protesters associate him to despicable politicians? And why exactly now, after the tragedy of a fire at a concert venue?

First of all, it was an older attitude of civic protest movements of the last few years. The slogan “We want hospitals, not cathedrals!” has a history of several years, and it is the expression of left-wing local rhetoric, destined to combat the traditional influence of the Church upon society and the politics that relies on such alliances. We are living in a secularized world, yet, in Romania, the Orthodox Church still has a privileged position, and not just religiously.

The first to foresee the political advantages of this collaboration was “atheist” Ion Iliescu. His successor Emil Constantinescu was even more daring and used the argument of religion as a decisive winning card in his electoral game. Orthodoxy was even more intensely used in propaganda by the leaders of nationalistic parties. The last representative at this point in this Post-Communist history of opportunistic believers, Victor Ponta shamelessly used BOR support: bishops, priests and monks visibly supported him and small icons joined once more the classical electoral arsenal. You could even find religious books at the voting station, as a subtle, but obviously targeted impulse.

It, this time, the tactic failed. The representative of a minority, Protestant Klaus Iohannis won the position Ponta had yearned for. This is actually the main key of the recent fury of protesters: The Church compromised itself due to the massive, albeit not precisely official support granted to the failing Prime Minister.

The association between Ponta and Patriarch Daniel, who had at least tolerated this alliance, without guarding the mandatory neutrality, is not an invention of the “street”. Former Patriarch Teoctist had tried on his turn to implicitly support Adrian Nastase, by explicitly attacking Nastase’s opponent Traian Basescu. At that time, too, results proved that such associations were actually counterproductive. In the meantime, the electorate had become more mature and most of them are not seduced by political “counseling” provided by the Church.

Many of the young protesters of the last few years have left wing affinities. They are against racial and social discriminations, they despise too opulent institutions, they want a life that is not limited by restrictions, they firmly reject nationalism, they are inclined towards moderate anarchism – these are further reasons to examine the Church with increased suspicions. And the Church also has the poor habit of social conformism, with minimal reactions against the major issues of Romanian politics: corruption, clientelism, flagrant injustice. Church continues to be more inclined to conservativeness, which grants young persons of high moral aspirations solid reasons to despise it.

And the Patriarch made one more wrong step. He was honest when he complained that young people are more fond of going to clubs than going to the church. This is how most of the Orthodox clergy thinks. And, most of all, this is how the representative ones, the ones considered “more Orthodox” than the others, the spiritual “peaks” think. The Church considers itself superior first of all due to the stake it holds: the eternal destiny of the human being. From this metaphysical height, it allows itself to issue moral judgement. Which is also based on an ample tradition of repression. Evil is everywhere and it needs firm combatting actions, theologists say, who are always so eagerly identifying Sin – considered as the main source of Evil – in all its possible forms. And the number of sinners has increased exponentially and has occassionally turned into a genuine clerical obsession. What was the sin of the young people who had burned in Colectiv Club? That they were listening to a metal band?

They once again stirred people’s anger when they rushed to say – just as they did in the case of the blasphemy-drawing satirists at Charlie Hebdo – that victims deserved to die. That they have played too much with Satanism behind of a certain music genre. Unfortunately, this is how many Orthodox believers see their own church: as a fortress assaulted by a depraved, anarchic and spiritually low culture. This tragic myopia casts away people unable to give up on contemporary values and distrustful towards traditions that are often questionable from the point of view of today’s moral sensitivity.

The one thing that is almost completely absent is the genuinely critical Orthodox class of intellectuals that would be able to create an Orthodoxy of the future, that would be less conformist and obscurantist. There are only critics who almost drastically reject the very idea of religion or, at most, they only tolerate it in a ghetto. And there are, simultaneously, those who intellectually question ambiguous values, who sacrifice the exigencies of a refined culture, if needed, in order to greant credit, out of Christian “humility”, to doubtable “spiritual maestros” or to despicable clerics. The Patriarch should have realized at this point that it is only by encouraging such critical evaluation with a potential of reform that he could genuinely leave the Church door open for young people. And he should not invest in PR as a priority in order to ridiculously hide his inflexibility.

One fact ignored though by many of the people who have demanded the Patriarch’s resignation – a practice that seems almost inconceivable in a tradition that grants such position during one’s lifetime – is that the persons who could replace Daniel are even more reactionary, at least from the perspective of priority values expressed by young people. On the other hand, the clergy is lucid and does not intend to seduce these young people. They are waiting for an overwhelming psychological crisis to turn some of this people into devout followers of the Church.

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