Recently my husband and I wrote a chapter for an upcoming book on Romania’s accession into the EU, based on a talk presented at the EUSA conference in Montreal three years ago. We argue that prior to Romania’s entry into the EU in 2007, the church was multivocal. Officially, it maintained a cautiously positive attitude. While critical of Europe’s reluctance to recognize Romania as an equal partner and insistent that, before 2007, the country already belonged to the European family in virtue of its geography, culture, history and Christian traditions, Patriarch Teoctist remained supportive of accession. But this conciliatory note was reflected neither in the church’s position towards key legislative proposals needed to prepare the country for EU membership nor in the writings of other Orthodox theologians. The church mounted open opposition to legalize homosexual behavior, to give pre-university students the right not to pursue religious instruction, and to relax registration requirements for new religions. It insisted on being recognized as national church, and joined other churches in demanding that the European Constitution mention Europe’s Christian heritage and Christian identity.
Instead of behaving as a monolith, the ROC was split between the more open position of national leaders and the more conservative position of priests and monks. Teofil Tia correctly identified two major positions regarding the place of Orthodoxy in Europe. The first has been advocated by “theologians and clerics attracted by the prospect of Romania’s European integration” (1). This positive discourse was promoted by those who “benefited from direct knowledge of Western culture and civilization,” completed doctoral degrees at Western universities or carried out missionary work in the Romanian diaspora. The second group includes “clerics, intellectuals and believers extremely reserved toward Romania’s belonging to the European super-power” such as Metropolitan Bartolomeu Anania. Tia discerned quantitative and qualitative differences between the groups: the Euro-skeptics were numerous but intellectually fragile, the Euro-supporters were fewer but supported by respected opinion leaders.
Some ROC members were apprehensive about the EU accession process and the costs it imposed on their country, but church leaders recognized early on that they could not stop the process and that mounting active and open opposition to a process desired by the population would show them to be “out of sync” with history. Some ROC leaders have not warmed to European values, but none of them has openly rejected Romania’s accession. Romanian commentators support this interpretation. Discussing the position of ROC leaders from a pro-European perspective, Mirel Banica remarked that European integration was one of those “signs of the times” that the ROC accepted when opting for a “realistic” strategy in dealing with current political developments. Even if the ROC opposed it, accession would still go ahead, placing the church in the difficult position of denying its “prophetical vocation and capacity to interpret the ‘signs of our times’, and leaving the impression that it failed its own faithful, whose legitimate wishes, ideals and aspirations it chose to ignore” (2).
Some ROC leaders were deeply frustrated by the conditions the Union asked Romania to fulfill before judging it worthy of inclusion, conditions viewed as unfairly more numerous and unreasonably more stringent than those imposed on other former communist candidate countries in Central Europe. Metropolitan Bartolomeu Anania – one of ROC’s most conservative and authoritative voices – noted that Romanians “have always been Europeans, and thus one can speak not of our ‘entry’ into Europe, but of our reinsertion into Europe or, more precisely, Europe’s reinsertion into us” (3). He lamented the fact that Romanians were treated as “impoverished primitives” by the colonizing Western European countries when those were the very countries responsible for handing Romania over to the Soviet Union without much protest and without trying to defend it from communism (an allusion to the Yalta agreement of 1945), as a result of which Romania was assigned to the Soviet sphere of influence. Instead of insisting on Romania’s undemocratic political culture and under-performing economy, Anania reasoned, the West should set aside its “feelings of superiority” and realize it, and it alone, was to blame for the country’s misfortunes. Equally disappointing was, for Anania, the West’s readiness to belittle Romania’s cultural riches and record of genuine accomplishments. In his words, the West “calls us ‘Balkan’, although geographically we are not part of that region” and Romanians “always had the vision of and lived in Europe, the real Europe.” That “real Europe,” Anania reminded, gave the world philosophers like Plato, Aristotle and Sophocles, a contribution invalidating the oft-cited division of the continent into the civilized, superior West and the primitive, inferior East. The Balkans did not deserve derogatory labels, as they were Europe’s roots drawing inspiration from “Hellenic thought, Christian spirituality and Roman civilization.” It was this old, “real Europe” that the new Western Europe rejected and belittled in order to propose instead “one Europe built on economics and politics, without any trace of culture and religion.” “We don’t expect spirituality on the part of the West, because it has none,” Anania wrote to explain why Romanians “don’t need this Europe…[but] Europe must rediscover Romania” (4).
The metropolitan adopted a moralizing tone when discussing what exactly Europe had to offer post-communist candidate states like Romania. His answer amounted to a pessimistic evaluation of Western mores, and a bitter indictment of cherished democratic values. Tolerance, trust and inclusiveness were to be adamantly opposed as a concerted assault on traditional Romanian values. “We are asked to tolerate those that lead us astray in our faith…All proposed forms of syncretism, from New Age to neo-Protestant sects forming ‘Evangelical’ and ‘Evangelizing’ federations…are manifestations of spiritual corruption” (5). Given the EU’s unreasonable position, Anania considered it advisable to be intolerant towards new religious movements entering the country and luring believers away from the dominant Orthodox Church, the only denomination which, following him, was tied to the very core of Romanian identity.
Anania’s position has been shared by village priests, monks and nuns, for whom Orthodoxy is the true, “right” religion, while ecumenism is an abdication from core Romanian values. For Anania, accession offered his country “economics – that is, bread. Through bread we are offered liberty, in whose name we must accept aberrant demands for this Europe to accept us: homosexuality, vice, abortion, fornication, pornography, all damaging to our society, all sins which we, the people, our church and fortunately our Christian Orthodox youth have firmly rejected because we don’t want to lose our national identity in their [sic] accession process” (6). Anania was not the only critic of homosexuality, the EU accession requirement the Romanian Parliament fulfilled in 2000 by scrapping Article 200 of the Criminal Code just hours before the Council of Europe threatened to re-start evaluating the country’s human rights record (7).
Patriarch Teoctist repeatedly praised the Romanians’ natural ability to distinguish “sin from virtue, natural from unnatural, normal from abnormal, right from wrong,” and criticized the “acceptance of the degradingly abnormal and unnatural [homosexual] lifestyle as normal and legal” (8). While stating that “the church condemns sinful love in order to protect sacred love, rejects the tyranny of egotistic passions unable to bear fruit to protect the freedom to love in virtue, rejects the unnatural to protect the dignity of the human being,” Teoctist reminded legislators that “the church works for the salvation of all, even the spiritually and physically sick,” and “appeals to its believers in Parliament to defend human dignity, the moral health of the people, the stability of the family, and the spiritual rebirth of the Romanian society” (9). To deter Parliament from amending the Criminal Code, Orthodox theologians, priests and monks extolled the virtues of the traditional position vis-à-vis sexual relations and called for rejection of the ‘Westernization’ of Romanian mores.
Similarly, Teofan Sinaitul attacked legalization of homosexuality as a move fostering confusion between “normal and abnormal, good and evil,” and an attack on democracy, since it ran counter the wishes of the majority of the Romanian electorate (10). Priest Sandu Mehedinti deplored it as the “devil’s work” signaling the country’s renunciation of its Christian ethics and willing subordination to the secularized and immoral West, while Bishop Andrei Andreicut accused politicians of encouraging “social aberrations” if legalizing homosexual behavior (11). Deputies denounced homosexuality, and deplored the EU’s insistence to “corrupt our youth.” A deputy opposed the legalization drive by stating that “We want to enter Europe, not Sodom and Gomorrah,” while another took the very extreme view that even “incest is preferable to homosexuality since at least the former preserved the chance of procreation” (12). Orthodox canon law condemns homosexuality in the harshest terms, a view consonant with the position of the overwhelming majority of Romanian Orthodox theologians and married clergy.
Recently, conservative theologian Radu Preda called for renewed dialogue between Orthodox theologians and human rights defenders. “Invoked mostly to justify abortion and homosexuality, the sectarian avalanche and medical procedures questionable from an ethical and theological viewpoint, the anti-religious attacks and the anti-Christian outlook of the emerging civil society, human rights have rapidly turned after 1989 in Eastern Europe into the symbol of a Western offensive in the face of which the Church must erect the walls of tradition, identity, national pride” (13). The dialogue Preda sought was aimed less at modernizing the canon law and tone down church resistance to human rights and more to showing the relativism of the human rights doctrine, the widely diverse ways in which Western countries implemented it, and its theological and Christian roots (14).
For Romanians, EU accession was expected to bring prosperity, higher living standards, unhindered travel abroad, and offers of high-paid jobs. Romanian politicians believed accession would grant access to significant financial aid packages, well-paid offices in the European political structures, and recognition of their efforts to help the country to fulfill the accession pre-conditions. For some Orthodox theologians, intellectuals and historians accession was a mixed blessing, a process fraught with dangers and difficulties. Chief among these dangers were secularization and the abandonment of Orthodoxy in favor of other religious denominations.
In 2005 Petre Guran noted that “the sovereignty of the Romanian state has been in constant accelerated decline starting with World War II, but only today, by its own volition, the Romanian state is prepared to renounce de jure most of its sovereignty and it might completely give up the very idea of national sovereignty if the European federalization project would take off” (15). With an eye to the country’s accession in 2007, Guran predicted that “within two years the Romanian political nation will be history, within ten years Bucharest [will be] the host of a consular authority, and within 30 years the ROC [will be] an obscure sect in an obscure province” (16). Given the expected rapid blurring of the contours of Romanian ethnic, national and religious identity, Guran asked: “How will the local church be thought of in a nationless continent composed only of different languages and cultures?” His answer, more programmatic than convincing, tipped the balance toward the transnational Orthodox Church: “the symbolic recognition of the Orthodox Church’s unity…would be a first step towards conquering the anachronism that closes the Orthodox Churches in national islands” (17).
Guran’s predictions did not materialize, as Romania did not lose its national or religious identity following accession into the EU, and the EU did not transform the country into a marginalized, exploited colony. Some commentators criticized his premise that accession led to national annihilation and continental uniformity, since the Union had failed to bring cultural convergence during its decades-long existence prior to the Eastern enlargement. Others agreed with the timeline of his predictions, which ultimately relegated the ROC to the position of “an obscure church in an obscure province,” since even after accession Romania remained on the fringes of the Union as a member state of second-hand importance. Tarziu took issue with Guran’s assertion that “integration into the EU translates into the abandonment of Orthodoxy,” a statement which placed him in an apparently unsolvable dilemma. “If I am for integration, then I turn my back on Orthodoxy; if I maintain an Orthodox position, then I opt for isolation, which could mean self-destruction.” The dichotomy was false, Tarziu said, since the two – Orthodoxy and the EU – were perfectly compatible and reconcilable, both theoretically and practically (18).
Other commentators and theologians examined the dangers of possible secularization through closer contact with Western Europe in the framework of the enlarged EU. For Tia, the secularization that accompanied accession was a risk the ROC had to assume, and a challenge the Romanian Orthodox clergy and faithful must face and address through flexibility and aggiornamento, an effort to accord church ritual, dogma and social program to present realities. Tarziu noted that EU accession will not trigger secularization, since the process had already been under way for some time in Romania during communist and post-communist times, but could very well accelerate it. In his view, “after the integration into the EU a-religiousness will be on the rise. Our churches will become as empty as those in the West, the more so since the aggressively a-religious European [political] institutions will impose a secularization policy” (19). He also remarked that “integration does not bring secularization; it only accelerates” a process already begun. The text ends with an encouragement for the ROC to “come out of its hibernation, to communicate better, to step up its instructional work, and to clean up internally” (20).
Tia noted that Orthodoxy could help reshape Europe’s identity, if the ROC first solved its own problems, continued its social work, vigorously pursued the dialogue with science, attracted competent and dedicated lay people, continued its commitment to ecumenical dialogue, and “promoted the mystical vocation of the Orthodoxy” (21). Tia deplored “the fragility of Europe” and its numerous illnesses, which, he thought, Orthodoxy could cure. Among these illnesses Tia identified the disintegration of the (traditional) family, the cultural crisis sustained by a “Godless anthropology,” the philosophical nihilism, the moral relativism, the cynical pragmatism, the hedonism of everyday life, the de-Christianization of the elites, and the destructive prominence of mass-media associated with an a-moral and destructive “culture of death.” Unsurprisingly, his conclusion was that the Western society was doomed, and only Orthodoxy was capable to improve its moral fiber, to provide general direction, and to help it to rediscover its long-lost spirituality (22).
Voicing the concerns of the conservative Euro-skeptic camp, the popular Hieromonk Amfilohie Branza took a stand against Europe, the EU, and Romania’s membership in a series of widely distributed articles and sermons. In one such strong-worded article that got substantial attention from conservative Orthodox believers, he derided democratic values, took issue with what he perceived to be the West’s arrogance toward the impoverished East, and warned that European integration could address economic needs, not spiritual yearnings: “EU is an economic, cultural and political refuge for the countries impoverished and then thrown into the materialistic warp of this century. Most supporters of the European integration see it only as a ‘satisfaction of the belly’. Before we know it, the European Community, under the attractive mask of democracy (human rights, universal suffrage, individual liberty, political participation, security guarantees, etc) will generate an unprecedented conflict on our old continent. Not a military, but a religious conflict stemming from the cutthroat confrontation between the traditional Christian values and the European lifestyle” (23). Branza continued by recognizing the “obvious antagonism between the Church of Jesus Christ and the politics of the European Community,” which post-integration “could turn into conflict, as it pits two ways of life: the Christian way, centered on Christ and His teachings, and the European way, based on the belief that man is the measure of all things. From an Orthodox perspective, the European integration is an offense against Christian life and a slap on Jesus’ face. The Church means nothing for the European legislation, and the notion of ‘sin’ is not even in the EU vocabulary!…. European integration is the work of the national de-Christianization current which, through compulsory Westernization, seeks the Church’s defeat and decay through the creation of a European ecumenical pseudo-church controlled by political authorities in which the true Church is disconnected from the people” (24).
The EU integration aimed “to rob people of their God, faith and Church through the imposition of legislation excluding all moral responsibility.” As socialism and communism, European democracy “is a political formula implanted in materialism,” whereas the EU, “founded on such a materialistic and atheistic doctrine, soulless and full of devilish pride, is a new Babylon through which the modern humanity seeks to usurp God’s attributes” (25). The ROC had to assume “the serious provocation that the European civilization raises in front of our Christian life” because the faith that helped the Romanians maintain their Christianity in the face of communist atheism “will help them to overcome the secularization threat coming from the EU.” Because for the Romanians “the Church is not mere a historical monument, and the Gospel of Jesus is not a mere a museum artifact…the Church is the past, present and future of our nation [neam], our life and strength, the true shore, where souls can take solace in the certainty of faith.” As such, “we know that the Holy Spirit that assists [our Church] will not allow the EU or the hell to defeat it!” (26).
Fortunately for the country, the prophets of doom who criticized Romania’s EU accession have been proven wrong in the past three years, as none of the disasters they forecasted occurred. Moreover, Patriarch Daniel Ciobotea has taken his church in a new direction of church-state relations. Patriarch Teoctist advocated an established-church model that recognized the ROC’s role as defender of Romanian identity, qualified it for record levels of state financial support, and guaranteed its formal representation in the national legislative assembly (Stan and Turcescu 2007). But Patriarch Daniel took the ROC into a new direction by signing partnership agreements with the government, which testify to the ROC’s desire to serve as an important social partner using the model of Germany, one of the most active EU promoters.
(1 and 21-22) T. Tia, Biserica Ortodoxa Romana, reflexii, analize, problematizari. Alba Iulia: Editura Reintregirea, 2006.
(2) M. Banica, Teofil Tia. Biserica Ortodoxa Romana, 1 November 2006, http://grupareaaproape.wordpress.com/2006/11/01/despre-europa-altfel [accessed: 10 April 2007].
(3-6) B. Anania, Ce ne ofera Europa?. Evenimentul Zilei, 16 April 1998, http://orthodoxmedia.com/opinie [accessed: 10 April 2007].
(7-8) L. Stan and L. Turcescu, The Romanian Orthodox Church and Post-Communist Democratization. Europe-Asia Studies, 52(8), 2000, 1467-1488.
(9-12) L. Stan and L. Turcescu, Religion and Politics in Post-Communist Romania. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007, and L. Turcescu and L. Stan, Religion, Politics and Sexuality in Romania, Europe-Asia Studies, 57(2), 2005, 291-310..
(13-14) R. Preda, Ortodoxia si drepturile omului (I) and (II). 9 and 25 May 2009, http://radupreda.blogspot.com/2009/05/ortodoxia-si-drepturile-omului-i.html and http://radupreda.blogspot.com/2009/05/ortodoxia-si-drepturile-omului-ii.html [accessed: 24 September 2009].
(15-17) P. Guran, Natiunea romana va fi istorie, iar BOR o secta de provincie. Ziua, 7 March 2005.
(18-20) C. Tarziu, Ortodoxie si integrare, February 2005, http://www.romfest.org/feb2005/editorial.shtml [accessed: 29 March 2005].
(23-26) A. Branza, Integrarea europeana in lumina Teologiei Ortodoxe, http://ro.novopress.info/?p=1933 [accessed: 10 April 2007]. See also Pr Amfilohie Impotriva Uniunii Sclaviei Europene, Masoneriei si Ecumenismului. Movie 2009. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1010395347557841969# [accessed: 20 September 2009].