Orthodox Christian Mission Center’s Blog

June 19, 2008

Notes from Romania, Vol.3

Note from the Editor:
Recently, OCMC sent out a call to our Missionaries, asking them to provide us with blog contributions. Floyd Frantz, Missionary to Romania, answered us with this series of entries, painting a vivid picture of his activities in Romania during April and May of this year. These entries have been edited and will be posted in groups of 2-3.

So what does all this addictions stuff have to do with the Church, and why should the Church have social programs to begin with? Why not just pray for the poor, and let it go at that?

Well, for one thing it is the Christian thing to do. Love is not an option, it is a commandment. To feed the hungry, comfort the sick, visit the infirm and imprisoned, clothe the naked, care for the needy, and do other acts of mercy is to follow the command of Christ; that is, to love our neighbors. The greatest preaching is not done
through words, but through deeds, and indeed, it may be the only way that preaching can be effective. As St. James said, “Faith without works is dead!” To witness for Christ, and then to send the crowd away hungry is not the example that Christ left us with. He said to feed those who were hungry, and His example was not only His words but also with His example of multiplying the loaves and fishes to feed thousands. He was concerned about both the body and the soul.

During the time that Romania was under the Communist system, the Church was not allowed to carry out any social programs or activities in the community. In Romania, the priest was not allowed to speak outside of the front door of the church. Everything had to be done inside the church building, and extra activities like feeding the hungry, medical clinics, counseling programs, and other social activities were forbidden because of the policy of the government. Besides, under Communism, the official line was that there was no poverty in Romania and no other social ills either, including alcoholism. Although Romania has been free of Communism for almost 20 years, the old system and its effects on the society are still with us. Wages are low (about $2/hr for construction workers, more if skilled, social workers earn about $500/month if they have a degree), and there is a lot of underemployment. More importantly for us, there is still a culture that allows high consumption of alcohol and then, out of ignorance, stigmatizes the alcoholics.

What we hope to do by helping the Romanian Church to build up Her social programs is to help Her to be a more effective witness for Christ in a very rapidly changing society–a society that has been sheltered from Western ideals and “progress” until just recently. A society that does not have nearly enough church buildings to simply accommodate the many people wanting to attend Liturgy on Sunday. We don’t want to wait 50 years, until the economy reaches the levels of Western Europe, for the Church to help those who need to be visited, fed, and counseled, which is why we are here. (Ed. Note: The third objective in the OCMC Mission Statement can be paraphrased: “We help the Church to be the Church to their own people.”)

Today, Romania is coming out from under its Communist past, and is emerging as a modern and prosperous society. It still has a long way to go, but it is on a good way. Moldova is a different story, and tomorrow I’ll write about the poorest country in Europe.

In what is now the Republic of Moldova, things were even worse for God-loving people. The Church was persecuted under Stalin and the following dictators as it was in Russia, but with an extra twist.

The history around here is ancient. Moldova was a part of what is now Romania, and the people here were Romanian, and have been since about 300 AD. Around 1800, Russia invaded what was at that time the “Principality of Moldova.” After WW I, Moldova was given back to Romania, but then Russia took it back after WW II. This is why Moldova was considered by Russia to be part of Russia. They’ve had an army here since in the 1800’s; hence Moldova was inside the “Soviet Union,” and not just a “satellite” country.

What Russia tried to do under Communist rule was to change the spoken and written language of the Moldovans from Romanian into Russian, and the alphabet from the Latin characters to the Russian Cyrillic mode. Of course, the language used in the Church was all Romanian, so language was just one more reason to persecute the Church. At the beginning of WW II, there were around 1,000 Romanian Orthodox churches in Moldova, and around 500 Russian Orthodox Churches, all with priests in them serving the people. In 1989, there were fewer than 25 Orthodox churches total remaining in the entire country, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, and all of the churches were Russian speaking. Along with this, in total there were fewer than 30 priests to be found in the entire country, and all of them had been educated in Russia. The Church was not allowed to exist in its normal state, except in a very limited fashion. This Russian influence is still present. There is a Russian army stationed in eastern Moldova, and the former Communists are still running the country. This all sounds fairly simple, but believe me it is not. The history here is very complex and very recent.

To continue our newsletter from yesterday, the Roman Catholic and the Protestant churches were also persecuted, and this should not be forgotten. Because they were small in numbers, however, they were not seen as being so threatening to the regime. Like Romania, Moldova is around 90% Orthodox. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches were sometimes simply groups of families in a village, with no real church or organization. Today they are still here but not organized very well. There was also a Jewish presence in Moldova, and in Leova it was a significant one. In 1989, they all were able to leave, and most went to Israel.

In Romania during the war, there were deportations of Jews to the death camps in Austria, and there was even mass murder of Jews in certain parts of the country. On my way to Moldova I drive past a cemetery memorial for about 40 Jews who were marched out into a field and then shot and buried in a mass grave. It’s a rather stark reminder of the history here. Interestingly enough, it was the atheistic Communist who built the first memorial for them. They put the graves in order, built a fence around the area, and marked the place for what happened there.

The Communist influence is still strong here in Moldova. Last Christmas in Moldova’s capital city Chisinau, there were street protests by young people against Christmas. They felt that because it was a religious holiday it should not be recognized by the government, and there was a Christmas tree in the city square. These were the former Communists, and their children protesting the reinstitution of religious observance. I saw this on the Romanian national news program last year, and I was both saddened and shocked by these young people’s attitude towards God and towards religion.


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