After our mini-conference in Ostraveni the team, along with Pastor Dorin, traveled north to visit the village of Guajani. On the way there (after picking up some meds for one motion-sick passenger) we stopped by Cozia, a beautiful Orthodox monastery. The visit was simultaneously inspiring and sad. The landscape, architecture, and art (the whole interior and exterior of the main building was painted with murals) were outwardly moving but the religion expressed there was lifeless. The “service” was unintelligible chanting. The gift shop sold “blessed” items to bring the buyer good luck. The museum held artifacts of a bygone age. The place was itself a relic: interesting to observe and ponder but containing little or no spiritual vitality.
I have no doubt that there are many Orthodox believers who are true followers of Jesus. Jeremy believes he met a priest who had a clear understanding of the gospel on the Sunday we were there. But even that priest admitted he was an outlier. For much of the country, according to the pastors we spent time with, religion there is a matter of culture, not true belief.
It is infused with superstition, especially in the countryside. Some of the horses we saw in the village had ornaments on them so that no one would give them the “evil eye.” We also saw places where “believers” gave food and water to the dead for their travels in the afterlife. Many people in matters of religion are ruled by fear, not by love.
More disturbingly, religion is often infused with power, often State power, which can be used either for personal gain or to invoke fear. The Pastor I stayed with had many a story of intimidation from the local priests or religious officials. He had his tires slashed. He had rocks thrown at him. He had gangs threaten his church. People in the villages were told not to go to his church or they would lose their salvation. In the villages we went to we would often see rows of small shacks followed by an extremely nice house. I pointed this out to Dorin on one visit. “That’s where the priest lives,” he said.
Orthodox Christianity is intermingled with the State in ways that would be disconcerting for many Americans. The “religion” teacher in every school we visited was an Orthodox priest. In political discussions I learned that some politicians were promoting the building of a large cathedral in Bucharest called “The Salvation of the People.”
Before coming to Romania a lot of people asked me why I was going to a country that was already Christian. Indeed, most everyone there would claim Christianity as their religion. But what I saw in most cases was that their religion had little resemblance (and I’m not speaking culturally here!) to following Jesus. Religion there pointed people to “The Church” or to the priest, but not to Jesus.
But there are many who are faithful and many are faithful in the face of stiff opposition. And it was this faithfulness that I got to witness in the village of Guajani.