Orthodox church at the gates of purgatory

In Bucharest and in Athens, the exacerbation of the economic crisis has undermined public tolerance for the privileges enjoyed by the Orthodox Church. If things do not change, warns România Liberă, the organisation runs the risk of paying a heavy cultural tribute.

Published on 9 November 2011 at 14:20
Easter celebrated in the church of Sarichioi, eastern Romania

With each passing day, the crisis that has swept across Europe has thrown into question not only the capacity of states to maintain a minimum of solvency, but also the philosophy that has provided the basis for the social and economic system since the Second World War.

Established ideologies are no longer in tune with current realities and their adjustment to accommodate these realities appears increasingly difficult. It is in this context that the economic crisis has not only heralded the end of public debt and the bankruptcy of the principles that made it possible, but it has also marked the end of certain taboos.

Consider, for example the Greek and Romanian Orthodox Churches, and the provocative attitudes displayed by both of these entities. For several months, the impudence of high-ranking members of the clergy in Athens and Thessaloniki has known no bounds, now that the lost sheep demonstrating in the streets have begun to focus their attention not only on the rejection of austerity packages, but also on the redistribution of wealth and in particular the wealth of the Orthodox Church, which has never been evaluated [the Orthodox Churches in both Greece and Romania do not pay taxes and benefit from a certain number of privileges].

It is regrettable that the pressure on the higher echelons of the Greek clergy has not been instigated by public debate, but is rather the result of an outburst of rage prompted by extreme social and economic circumstances — and this observation also applies to the Romanian Church — because this has been used to justify the cynical and curt response of the ecclesiastical hierarchy which has no qualms about dismissing those voices from civil society which have yielded to the sin of questioning its prerogatives.

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An economic crisis paving the way for a cultural clash

But as the economic situation has become more problematic — and “problematic” is most certainly a euphemism with regard to Greece – the possibility of a successful campaign against the lack of transparency and autism of Churches along with the arrogance of their representatives and the distant standpoint from which they view the rest of society has become increasingly likely.

Until recently, indignation was focused on the finances of the Church, but now its political and social influence could become the target for popular opprobrium prompted by the crisis. History has shown that the Church has often developed in parallel to society, perhaps because it feels submerged in its permanent position on the border between the transcendent and immanent worlds.

Nonetheless, in the wake of the major scientific discoveries and cultural shifts of the last century, the Church, notwithstanding its overwhelming cultural influence, was forced to accept its aggiornamento. This acceptance was not based on conviction or principle, but simply a survival strategy. In other words, adapted even it did so slowly — and in some cases very slowly. But will it now consent to a further adaptation that is necessary, and even more than necessary?

At this stage, the crisis in Europe is largely viewed as an economic one. But this is only an initial phase that will pave the way for a cultural clash. Those who do not anticipate such an eventuality do so erroneously, and those who believe that they can predict its scope are more than likely also beguiled by illusions.


Immune to the crisis

"The Romanian Orthodox Church (BOR) behaves more like the boss of a major multinational than it does like a Holy Father. It has pocketed all it can, while leaving its mission to perform good works to the NGOs",writes Adevărul. “An unusually religious people in our era”, the Romanians, 90% of whom are Orthodox, are suffering from theausterity measures imposed in the wake of the granting of a loan from the IMF. And while they have tightened their belts, official data indicates that the BOR took in 10 million euros of completely tax-free profits in 2010, and launched the construction of the country’s largest cathedral.

“At a cost of 120 million euros, the building will be completed in 2015”, points out România liberă, which reports that no less than “4,000 other chuirches have been constructed over the last 20 years”. Arguing that this is clear evidence of the BOR’s “social autism”, Adevărul warns that if the institution does not change “it will rot like a fish, with the head going putrid first”.

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