Lent And Drama

A conflict has arisen, a platonic one for now. The directors of the theatres in Bucharest are questioning the sense of an out-dated provision stipulating that performances must not be carried out during fast weeks. The holy metropolises and bishoprics have demanded this from their position as genuine state institutions. It seems that Orthodoxy would be greatly offended if actors were to perform on stage at the same time as priests and bishops recited their parts in churches. On such days, greasy-haired and tangle-bearded individuals are apparently the only ones allowed to dress up and act, whereas shaven people are denied this mystical apostleship. This sort of clashes is interesting and unavoidable as nations develop. We shall not proceed to discuss their necessity but we could briefly remember the religious origins of drama. The divine comedy had to be followed by comedy. Our considerations will have a more local fragrance. What, indeed, is the object of this religious measure? Does the Holy Synod believe that, if a year's week was named the week of the cheese or of yogurt, and if the Triodyon[1] preaches Christianity through beans, charity through pea broth and chastity through pickles, theatre directors, actors and actresses will genuflect and bless each other? In order to attain this great moral perfection, it would be the Synod's duty to make the artists go in procession to churches or lock themselves up in monasteries. But why should this measure limit itself to theatres? Shouldn't one close down alehouses, cafes, bars, barbershops and painting exhibitions, as well? Shouldn't newspapers and magazines be banned? For people may come to reflect upon other things than the happiness one gets from kissing icons, from holy water and the unction, when H. H. Atanasie, for example, retraces the passion of the Lord with an accurately applied syringe. These measures are not enough for the moral to be observed in its entirety. Baths, trams and coaches should be banned (not so cabbies); libraries and shops should close, and the people in their gabardines and all other Turko-Greek robes should kneel down in the lanes waiting for the Synod to pass. Public toilets should be out of order, each with an archpriest barring the entry. Filled with respect for the virtues and capacity of such leading church figures as priest Mare, water itself should reform, and all the evil doings of our earthly body should change into the sound of prayer. And since the fasting must be universal and there must be no room for temptation, the Synod should confer with the Society for the Protection of Animals in order that cats and dogs be attached a vine leaf or two, bearing inscriptions from the psalmist's verse. The more so since the spirit of Satan is especially busy in the fasting period, when the monks' fast coincides with those unbaptised quadrupeds' biannual anxieties. At the same time, villagers may each be given a pair of trousers, since the month of flowers, songs, lilacs and azure skies usually finds them bare-calved. Is it not all just a performance? Why the hypocrisy? Will it benefit faith if Mr. Bacalbasa, Mr. Davilla, Mr. Nottara and Mr. Liciu remain behind the fallen curtain when the curtain before the altar rises? Will our prelates become more diligent, will the Synod better itself, will bishops become worthier of a mission, whose profanation takes them less than an earthly day? The mean spirit of priests has always been inclined to offend others in order to master the public spirit. Priest Mare only conceives of holidays and light if there are sacerdotal baksheeshes to be gotten. Must the state abide the manners of this silly and dirty minority? It would be understandable for theatres to close when the public, overcome by the most fervent of religious feelings, refused to witness any more performances. Until then, people will prefer Molière, Ibsen and Caragiale's drama to churches where priests play the extras. 1911

by Tudor Arghezi (1880-1967)