Religion in Romania

The majority of Romanians identify with the Romanian Orthodox Church. The remaining minority are mostly Roman Catholic and Protestant (Calvinist, Lutheran, etc.) Religious affiliations generally fall along ethnic lines. Ethnic Romanians tended to be Romanian Orthodox, while those of Hungarian and German descent tended to be Roman Catholic or Protestant. Muslims and Jews are very much in the minority in Romania. (Remember Romania was an ally of Nazi Germany and under German rule during much of World War II. Romania’s zeal for ethnic cleansing at this time was actually discouraged by Germany, who told them to slow down. It’s estimated that the country’s forces killed 280,000 to 380,000 Jews in Romania and her surrounding war zones. After the war, most of those who survived left for Israel.)

A Note About the Iron Guard

The Iron Guard were a fascist, far right political party in Romania founded in 1927, splintering off from the conservative National-Christian Defense League. They called themselves the Legion of the Archangel Michael, and allied themselves with fascism, reactionary conservatism, and anti-Semitisim. The Iron Guard carried out assassinations of opposing political figures and terrorized the Jewish population with the public murder and mutilation of Jews. (The Priest points this out to the Angel in Mad Forest, that the Iron Guard threw Jews out of windows. The Angel counters by saying the politics were bad but the profession of religion was good. This is one of the most scathing moments in the play.) The Iron Guard claimed the mantle of the Romanian Orthodox Church, and the Church never really openly rejected them. (This could have been out of fear as well as sympathy to their causes. Political opposition by priests has repeatedly results in death in Romania.)

Religion Under Communist Rule

When the Romanian Communist Party came to power in 1947, they purged the Romanian Orthodox Church of any open opposition. They murdered priests who spoke out against them, made a law that allowed them to control episcopal elections, and seized thousands of schools and monasteries.

Around 1962, nationalism became a Party priority, so the Church was cast in a new, more positive light, using the unity it cultivated to increase national pride. The Church leaders did their best to fall into line with the Party, with Patriarch Justinian announcing a new “Social Apostolate” doctrine, claiming the Church owed its allegiance to the secular government and should be of service to that government. Any dissenters to this notion were imprisoned and deported by the Securitate, and many priests became Securitate informers themselves. The Church has never fully acknowledged the human rights abuses it supported, though many individual priests tried to dissent over the years, writing to ally churches and apologizing for the Romanian Orthodox Church’s role in violations of core Church values like the preservation of life and peace. In parallel, some Church leaders corresponded with government officials, apologizing for the behavior of their dissident priests and/or their failure to the results the government demanded.

On a Happier Note…Weddings!!!

Marya (our wonderful director) showed the cast this beautiful Romanian Orthodox wedding video as a reference for Lucia’s wedding at the end of Part I:

In contrast to many Western wedding traditions, Romanian brides walk down the aisle in silence, and the priest sings or chants rather than speaking the service. The crowns placed on both the groom and bride’s head symbolize both the authority and responsibility of a monarch and the martyrdom of the son of God, because marriage requires the honor and sense of duty of a ruler and the strength and sacrifice of a martyr. The number 3 is central to the ceremony, reflecting the Holy Trinity. The bride and groom are each given three bites of a sweet honey cracker as a form of communion, followed by a sip of wine, and some lines of the service are repeated three times to give the chants greater power. At the end of the ceremony the bride and groom’s hands are bound together by a ribbon and the priest and the couple circle the altar three times, taking their first steps as husband and wife led by a servant of God.

The full text of the betrothal ceremony (which is the first half of the service, and the part Churchill chooses to dramatize) can be found here.


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