what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Monday, January 7, 2013

A brave and overdue challenge to the Romanian Orthodox Church

For the past 50 odd years I’ve been an agnostic. My father was a Presbyterian Minister whose pastoral work and care I respected but I found no need to believe in a deity and found easy anthropological explanations for the Jesus figure and stories. Religions with more hierarchical systems aroused stronger feelings in me – by virtue of their power hierarchies and deferences, they succumb easily to corruption and the hypocrisy which goes with that. Catholic priest abuse of children was just the tip of the iceberg!
The Romanian Orthodox Church is a rich and powerful organisation here. The dulcet tones of its high priest – Daniel – can be heard endlessly on their Trinitas Radio Station here. Since his elevation to the post less than a decade ago, he has used a very effective business model to turn the Church into one of the richest organisations in the country. In seems to practice a rather exclusive approach to love and does not radiate the ethic I respect in Lutheran and other Presbyterian religions.
In 2009 a brave young village priest dared,however, to ask what happened to the money he raised from parishioners and passed to his superiors. What has subsequently happened to him speaks volumes not only about the Romanian Church but about police, media and politicians here. Weeks after his impertinent query, word came that he was to be moved to a monastery, His refusal led to his being sacked but villagers (Reviga in Ialomita County east of Bucharest I think) rallied round him – not least because his replacement promptly raised the amount of the church collection   
Dismayed at the injustice of an unofficial tax they couldn’t afford, people started coming to Pandelic for support—at first just a few, then more and more in the following months.
Pandelic started giving services to disgruntled believers in his own home, preaching the same faith taught by the church but free from the pressures that the institution exerted upon its faithful. Quickly the congregation swelled and before long nearly all of the village’s population of 300 were attending. As many people crammed into his living room as they could, and the rest stood outside, listening in through open windows. On the other side of the village square, the church lay virtually empty.
In Romania, almost all churches belong to the state, to be loaned to whichever religious institution represents the demands of its congregation. With this in mind, Pandelic set about fulfilling the necessary legal requirements to grant his congregation official status as an autonomous religion and, with this accomplished, relocated his services to the village church.
Around the same time, Pandelic was approached by the Romanian Liberal Party (PNL) who, seeing his local popularity, asked him to stand as their representative in an upcoming election. He agreed, saying he knew that “to have any extensive impact in church affairs in Romania, you need to be involved in politics as well.”
Things moved smoothly at first, with his political position widely supported and his congregation growing as Christians traveled for miles to experience this new movement for themselves. Then, early one morning in spring, Pandelic was awoken by shouts and violent battering on the front of his house. Opening his door in a dressing gown, he found a group of Orthodox officials accompanied by military police. They had with them a presidential order that barred Pandelic and his congregation from use of the village church.
As Pandelic contested his charges from his doorway, villagers, also woken by the shouts and banging of the police, emerged from their houses and gathered in front of the church, its doors locked behind them. There were over one hundred people when the police moved in with batons, beating all those who refused to disperse and leaving two hospitalised. With the steps cleared they broke down the doors of the church and for the next two days kept it occupied, until new locks and an alarm system had been installed.
Just days later, Pandelic was dropped by the PNL. In the press, MP Cristina Pocora was quoted as saying, “If the church has dismissed Casian Pandelic for violation and disobedience of church rules, then this man is neither my colleague nor a representative of PNL.” With the church’s support vital to secure votes in rural regions, the motives for the party’s U-turn on Pandelic were likely to have been formed under pressure from the ROC.
For now, it seems Pandelic is locked in a checkmate. With all legal and political avenues blocked by the ROC and a local media that remains largely indifferent, there is no platform from which his voice, and that of the community that stands behind him, can be heard.
Pandelic talks of other examples across the country, where priests have stood up against the ROC and their congregations have followed. The church, he says, “has always come down with a maximum of violence. They are very aware that discontent will spread and quickly undermine the authority of the ROC.” In a country desperate to move on from its communist legacy, this is a move in the wrong direction.
Quite astonishing is the apparent failure of the Romanian media to cover the story. UK journals put me on to it - and I still find it very difficult to get a Romanian reference from any google search. At my third attempt I found this useful interview from April 2012 tucked away on page 8 of the google search. It is from an interesting looking leftist journal I have never heard of - CriticAtac. All credit to them for recognising the importance of this issue. But they should now have a follow-up article to deal with the story in its wider perspective (eg comments from the Church and others) and bring things up to date.

postscript; Sarah in Romania has just posted this item about how another courageous individual managed to end a 10 year scam the Orthodox Church in Sibiu was inflicting on those applying for driving licences (and, again, the curious role of the police)

No comments:

Post a Comment