The Psychology Of The Romanian People

Chapter IX. The Romanians' Religion and CultureIt has been said and very often repeated that the Christian church and religion saved our nation and country from destruction. This is a statement too often made and too little controlled. With as much grounds one may state that the Christian law, our church, led the Romanian nation, several times, to the edge of destruction. If we examine facts closely, we might wonder how we managed to avoid the abyss that was opened before us for so many times by the Christian church. If the Christian church did anything to save and preserve us, it wasn't obviously for this world, but perhaps for the other world, for the heavenly realm. In the earthly world, the Christian law could give us to Slavism, from our very beginning as a nation, as it was about to do later on, towards the late 18th century and early 19th century. The Bulgarian or Russian Slavism almost swallowed us two times, due to the Orthodox Church that we shared with it. And the true believers from Levant and Phanar, dressed in hypocritical surplice stripped the monasteries and the peasants of their rich lands. If our nation preserved and saved itself was not through but beyond the church. It must have been a vitality not met before that, in spite of all vicissitudes of our history, could still keep us alive. Since the Christian law seems to have contributed to our confinement to Catholic Hungary and Turkish Islamism, the maintenance strength was taken from the energy of our nation. Therefore, we owe to our admirable spiritual virtues and attributes, which our Dacian-Roman ethnic ancestors left as heritage that we have not been swallowed by the Barbarian flood, or by the Slav ocean, or by the Turkish torrent, or by the Greek-Phanariot moral rottenness. As to the seriousness and the depth of religious feeling that enlivens the Romanian people there are certain remarks that, from the very beginning, must be made and that were also made with the neighboring Slavs and especially with the neo-Latin nations. Firstly, there is the lack of a mystic grasp of the substance of Christian religion. The superior intellectual part, the metaphysics of Christianity was never understood, grasped and felt by the Romanians. For those who can examine thoroughly, the unfolding of religious life, especially that of the Romanian peasant, the lack of mystic and metaphysical substance is from the beginning striking. What is fundamental to its religious practice is the cult, the ritual, that is, carrying out of all forms and formulas. Take any solid act of the villager's religious life, be it the act of baptism, of wedding, of Eucharist or any other. His mind will never be tormented by questions as to the meaning of these acts. Nevertheless, he will observe and fulfill truly piously all the small gestures, customs and practices that must be fulfilled in such circumstances. At the funeral for example, what the relatives of the dead are concerned with are the thousands of formulas and customs that make up the convoy of this ceremony. Their mind is, on these occasions, flooded with several small concerns regarding ceremonial and traditions. The sorrow in front of death doesn't have time to eat away their soul, as the small burial details: the priest with all proper prayers, the cares for the feast or the alms that must immediately follow the funeral, absorb all the thoughts of those in mourning and console them largely for the grief of the loss. This characteristic trait of Romanians religiosity was inherited together with the blood they inherited from their Roman ancestors. It was known that, for the latter, "the cult was the core of religion; the dogma was unimportant: a word was enough if it was merely accompanied by the usual ritual." The same is valid with the Italians and the Spaniards. When the Romanians had such origins and such influences upon them, it is not surprising that their religious spirit remained superficial and formalist as we see it today. Besides, their close neighbors were not better either, in this respect. With the Slavs, and especially the Russians, it was said that "sects are born from scrupulously obeying forms, from the displeasure that any change brings about and from the increasing tyranny of the letter upon the spirit." This is considered one of the reasons that triggered the loss of the deep morality of dogmas for the sake of a blind literal formalism. However, if the Russians and the Spanish are distinguished by a manifest formalism in their religious practice, those who studied these people noticed a fanatic ardor with the Spanish, and, with the Russians, an ardent faith that borders on exaltation with some. These are completely missing with the Romanians, as they were missing with the ancient Romans and they do not miss in the same degree with nowadays Italians. Romanians are, from all Christian nations of any rite, the most atheists, the most skeptical and the least religious people. The state of our clergy fully proves this; our churches, especially those in the countryside make it clear. If churches exist and are still being built it is because the old habit of going to church on Easter Day, before going to the pub, is still preserved with the villagers. Some even have the courage of walking up to the threshold of the holy temple on Christmas. And finally, the church is a need for children and old people. Our villager, except for Easter, doesn't feel the impetus of conscience to go to church but three times in his life: first at the baptism taken by others, second at the wedding, when others take him, and then at his death when others walk behind him. The church is for the villagers from some mountain counties such as Gorj, Mehedinti, Valcea and many others, a merely social need and sometimes an economic one. Its festival was since ancient times the opportunity for gathering several neighboring villages. Its importance is often reduced to that of its festivals. These, as any common traditional fairs, have become a deeply felt need, so that their elimination and, indirectly, the elimination of churches, would be painfully received. All sort of decisive proofs come to corroborate our finding that Romanians are not very religious. For instance, the diminished importance they grant to the holiness of the things that bring them homage, the diminished solid consideration they show to the priests are signs that deeply betray their skepticism. There are villages in Valcea, in which the wine brought to church for the holy liturgy, the wafers that the Eucharist bread is made of, the knot-shaped bread and other tributes are acquired through theft. A cellar burglar will not hesitate to bring from the stolen wine to the priest, for the holy service. The knot-shaped bread is often made from the wheat stolen right from the priest. I have met villagers who paid the priest for the holy services with money earned by dishonest oaths or perjuries. Peasants' jokes and anecdotes are another proof of the poor consideration they show to the Christian law and its people. There is no other guild that was more often and more intensely ridiculed in Romanian society than priests. In this respect, the gypsies and the boyars, together with Jewish boyars in Moldavia, are the only persons that can compete with the priests. They are indeed an endless source of irony and mockery in the oral, daily literature of the peasants. On the other hand, the priests themselves, with rare and honorable exceptions, transformed their priesthood into a source of speculation, an opportunity for gains, an economic and commercial circumstance as such. We should bear in mind the sad part that the foreign Christian people played in the destiny of our country, foul part, which our peasants seem instinctively aware of and hence, it is easily understandable why the people of the church are so discredited. If this lack of respect for the divine law servants and partly for the law itself is true; if Romanians' religiosity is devoid of a mystic and metaphysical basis; if this is reduced to an utterly superficial ritual and cult, to blind formalism, it is no less true that this bad aspect also has a bright side: the lack of fanaticism, of those religious controversies and persecutions, which shook and led Western European societies on the verge of destruction. "Never had one met with the Romanians, said Mr. Obedeanu, religious controversies or quarrels or persecutions… The greatest tolerance reigns in the Romanian countries." Indeed, in Russia, the sects and religious quarrels are very numerous; in Bulgaria there was the sect of Bogomils, aspects that were unknown to us." In the Romanian provinces, Mr. Laurençon writes, people are so religiously tolerant that they might serve as an example for various other countries that pretend to be civilized." It is known that Romanians received and tolerated all the religiously oppressed who came from abroad as, for instance, Catholic Hungarians. "There were Moldavian princes, considered very pious, who erected and offered churches and monasteries for the Catholics." In their religious tolerance, the Romanians went so far that "an Orthodox monk was seen making a funeral panegyric for the death of a Jewish rabbi." Even when the Romanians, due to historical circumstances, embraced Catholicism, a sort of Greek-Oriental Catholicism, the difference in cult never disunited them. No discord among them. "In some families, the father is schismatic, the mother is Catholic, and when the family is numerous, the boys follow father's religion and the girls that of the mother… For the social and national issues, the schismatic and Catholic priests work together for the national interests." It is known that in Russia and Poland, neighboring countries, the schismatic and Catholic clergy are at loggerheads. Mr. Obedenaru explains this lack of fanaticism and religious persecutions or controversies, naturally, by Romanians' weak religiosity: "there are not many nations, he says, with such a poorly developed religiosity as the Romanians." As a proof of this lack of religious spirit with us, he mentions the taking away of monastery estates from the monks without any protest from the nation. He also mentions the lack of holy relics and of respect towards those relics that exist. If you leave the town and you go to the nearest village, nobody knows of St. Dimitry's existence in Bucharest. On the contrary, the Bulgarians, the Albanians and the Greeks always make sacrifices at this saint's celebration. No Romanian, or almost none, goes on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, whereas numerous Bulgarians from the Romanian towns go there. None of the peasants wears either crosses or amulets, as the Russians, the Bulgarians or the Albanians do. There is no town or borough in Romania that bears the name of a saint. And the churches themselves, instead of bearing names of saints and of giving their names to the suburbs in which they are placed, as it is customary to other Christian nations, on the contrary, they receive the suburbs' names. There is thus the Tanners' church, the Potters' church, the Merchants' church, etc. Others bear the name of the persons who erected tem: Kalinderu, Cretulescu, Manea-the Baker, Enei, or all sort of bizarre names, others than those of saints, for instance: The Silver Knife, Arnota, Cozia, One-Wood Monastery, and so on. The people with some education are totally indifferent to the church and completely ignore the mysteries, the saints' lives. The clergy's spirit is itself emancipated and estranged from the profoundly Christian dogma. The case is quoted of the bishop from Buzau who, in 1825, had to deliver a speech at the inauguration of his diocese cathedral, a speech in which he only talked about the country, Plato, Aristotle, the development of natural sciences. Eloquent in this respect is also the fragment quoted by Mr. Motru from priest Radu Sapca's speech, in 1848, which says: "God of light…victory and liberty are in Your hands…lift and enliven this nation that dies in order for its oppressors to live…rid it of the abuses that are made with Your establishments…deliver it from the abuse of the statute labor, of the wretched serfdom, of the roads and highroads labor." In the land of old Scythia, on the shepherd's plains of the Dacians, in our forefathers' land crossed by the Danube and sheltered by the Carpathians, people have always been enlivened by a strong belief in the existence of an after life. As the Egyptian and Syrian desert aroused monotheism and the idea of the soul's immortality in the human mind, in the Danube valley has appeared and will probably flourish the solid religion of the after life.This is the purpose and meaning of the numerous monasteries with which the Wallachian and Moldavian voivodes filled the most beautiful and important corners of the country. These monasteries were built by the rulers that came by turns to the throne over less than 250 years. And this was especially the period of the warrior rulers from the independence times. Just like the Egyptian kings, who erected the pyramids as a dwelling for their body, for an after life, the strong Romanian voivodes built monasteries for resting and keeping their bones until Judgment Day. Their unshaken belief in the soul's immortality pushed them to these pious deeds that were to testify for them on Judgment Day and to guarantee them a place in the kingdom of the blessed. Indeed, these monasteries were endowed with large estates, and big incomes to make possible for priests and monks to take shelter in them and whose sole duty was to mention the name of the founder in his prayers forever. The more numerous the monasteries were, the more the founder was to be mentioned in prayers and hence, the more likely his entrance into the kingdom of heavens became. Therefore, Stephen the Great built as many monasteries as wars he fought, 49 as it is said. Was this for the fellow warriors that died on the battlefield, for ensuring a better destiny for them in the after life? The belief in the soul's immortality has seized Romanians' thoughts from all times in such a way, that their entire profane life was, and still is, nothing else but a preparation, an introduction to the after life. That, firstly, the monasteries, erected by either the rulers or boyars or ordinary laymen, were a sort of preparation for the after life, is proven by the obsessing paintings that are always present on the front inside walls of the churches. The two sides of this life to come as well as the terrifying icon of death are an absolutely essential thing for every church. On one side we can see the kingdom of heavens with groups of angels and saints, with groups of believers brought on wings by bright clouds around the fair judge, at the feet of whom the symbolic scales weighs the bad or good deeds and intentions of those who lived; around the scales the two angels of men are spinning: the good angel and the bad angel – the Devil. On the other side, there is always the dreadful icon of hell. Satan, from his huge mouth, spills a fire flood in the waters of which the judged guilty people are swimming. Bigger or smaller devils, an entire arsenal of devils, with all sorts of torture instruments carry out the promise of the world's Savior. Here, the Romanian people threw all its oppressors and everybody who cheated and wronged it. The kings and emperors, high officials, aristocrats, publicans, customs officers are usually the guests of Satan's kingdom. The devil, examined closely, seems to have a Turkish face, and the heaps of guilty people usually seem to have come from Greece or Phanar. These paintings attract the attention of the Romanian peasant in particular. The entire metaphysics of his faith and the mysticism that is kept hidden in the deepest corners of his soul are comprised in these representations. The reason and the meaning of the whole building reside in these icons and that is why they are placed at the entrance, so that they can easily be seen right across the road. Quite often one can see these significant icons illustrated in other places as well. On the walls of a larger water pump, on some big crosses, which are called triptychs in Oltenia, one can find if not the whole painting of the after life under its two aspects, at least selected representative scenes. The terrifying death icon in particular, will not be absent from the wells, water pumps and churches. It is regarded as holy, for it is the gate through which one exits this sinful world and enters the after life. The idea of the soul's immortality, the hope in the after life has pervaded all the Romanian's actions so that with every deed in his life, he wonders what his destiny is, if he was created for the needs of this world or for the life beyond death. A bridge that is laid by somebody over a large river or an unimportant dale, a deck that is thrown over two shores, a modest well or a splendid water pump are built in villages most of the times in memory of a beloved dead person, of a relative that passed away. In Oltenia especially, one can often see a bridge over a river and at the end of this bridge a real forest of crosses. Also, a new fountain or a stately water pump is surrounded by a group of high crosses, rudimentarily painted and engraved from top to bottom with the names of laymen from 4 or 5 neighboring villages, who came and contributed to the works. Until quite recently, one could see at the bridgehead of the highroad that crosses Cerna and goes from Pietroasa to Otetelis, in Valcea, a long row of big high crosses, around 56, so that all the names of those who contributed to its building could fit. One could erect a new bridge with them, so many pieces of wood were there. Thus, almost all general needs that are felt at the countryside have been undertaken, since the earliest times, by a pious man, for the memory of a beloved and rich deceased. If this custom did not spread to absolutely all needs that are felt today at the countryside, it is because in the former days the village life was very simple. Besides a bridge over water, a well at a highway or a roof that served as shelter for the travelers, the villages didn't feel in the past any other needs. All these are accomplished piously and have the double mission of serving the living in this world and the dead, for whom they are actually made, in the after life. Even the clothing and eating needs are very often fulfilled in the same pious way. With every funeral and at certain periods that follow the funeral, the villagers, relatives of the deceased, give clothes and food to the neighbors, the relatives or to ordinary people. Hence, day by day, the deeds from this life interweave and overlap with preternatural concerns. The belief in and the hope for the soul's immortality enliven and hallow the most ordinary deed and needs. However, if the after life and the Christian belief based on it mingle and thus interweave with the present life, if the hopes for the life to come serve as urges and reasons for taking action on earth, the present life throws, in its turn, its icon on the indefinite background of after life, renders its color, shape and traits to it. The other world, which the conception of the soul's immortality permits to the Romanian villager, is molded exactly after this world. In Romanians' mind, the after life is shaped according to the present life. The Romanian's imagination has always considered God or Jesus Christ an ordinary voivode, a divan boyar or a sort of hospodar on whose friendly disposition the fate of his present and after life judgment depends. In his imagination, this divine voivode presides over a real hierarchy of saints and angels, a biased middleman between him and God. In his poetical language, he always said that on the way to God, saints will kill you. His entire endeavor was for taming and making these saints his friends. If we analyze open-mindedly the meaning of the Romanian cult and ritual, as it is practiced by the majority of Romanians from towns and villages, we will notice that the purpose of this cult and ritual is no different. The various practices from religious life are homage paid to one saint or another. Knot-shaped bread or especially a candle is brought by some orthodox believers on all Sundays and religious holidays, for the Holy Virgin or for one saint or another from the large group of saints. When the villager has a profound need, when his child is sick, or his wife, or his ox from the plough, his cow, the sheep, or if his poultry is dying, he remembers the church and often unconsciously, he turns to a saint with a candle or crosses himself and prays to him for the latter's support and intervention to God for healing his child, ox or sheep. This peculiarity of the Romanians' cult and ritual reminds one of the pragmatic, utterly social character of Romans' religiosity. For, we have seen that with the Romanians, the faith and the cult were created exclusively for the pragmatic needs of daily social and political life. In this respect, Romanians are the true descendants of the Romans. The character of our religious spirit is obviously inherited from the Latins. This way, the religious practice, this Romanian ritual, perfectly mirrors the social life. In their internal affairs that had some connection with the rule Romanians never approached their superiors barehanded. At the judge, at the tax-collector, at the subprefect, even at the mayor and at the notary of the village, they always knew that the prayer with no gift is in vain.The peasants could not win over the high officials but by bribes and gifts. These bribes and tips, so common in the Orient, in real life, became the homage paid in the Orthodox Church on the numerous saint-days, especially for the after life. Both for the earthly needs and for those of the life to come, Romanians approached God only by gifts for the saints, who are always found on the way to heaven.If they noticed that in this life the prayers to the mother, brother or sister of some nobleman, tax-collector or judge, were more easily listened to, this made them turn their gifts and prayers, when in need, especially to the Holy Virgin. Hence, the great number of candles burning at the Virgin's and at the other saints' icons. Most of the times they were not content to approaching the saints directly, but tried to approach the saints' relatives and when the religious calendar didn't have such relatives they made them up. Thus, in many villages, they celebrate and honor some saints, sometimes with no name, for the mere reason that they are the brother or sister of St. Elijah or St. John and so on. For any step he took or any pressing need, the Romanian, according to his rank: pauper or kulak, he promises knot-shaped bread or a church to one saint or another. In real life, he always had the conviction derived from everyday practice that nothing works without bribe or tip. And the bribe depends on the person's pocket. The Romanians' Christian Orthodox Church created and practiced in the atmosphere of the social life from the Orient, where the tip and bribe reign over everything, couldn't have a differently shaped ritual and cult. This ritual had to mirror by all means the characteristics of the Oriental social life that reigned exclusively in the Romanian countries. To the unshaken faith in the existence of an after life a lot of small ceremonies are linked, ceremonies that complete the mystery of death and the act of burial. Most of these ceremonies are clear reminiscences from the old Thracian-Roman paganism. For instance, bathing the dead and all rules connected to this circumstance are a custom taken from the Romans. With the latter, the custom of bathing had the reason to see if death was real or apparent. With the Romanians, the cause for the great attention paid to bathing the dead is that the latter must not only wash and cast away all the sins he committed living on earth and to go in the kingdom of heavens with a purified soul, but also to enter the world with his body clean.Cutting the dead person's nails, which are put on his chest, is justified by the belief of the peasants that "at the time of the last judgment, the Saint Archangels Michael and Gabriel will make alphorns that will be heard in all four corners of the world, to gather the people for judgment." Also, the custom of having a branch of fir tree before the dead and thrusting it at the latter's head, at the tomb, is taken from the Romans and its Christian meaning is that of being a defense and a shield against the devil. In the same respect, there is the custom of lighting a candle at the head of the dead, a special size candle, stick-shaped, and which is lit only at certain moments, both before and after the funeral. "This candle is called stick because, in people's belief, the dead leans on it as on a real stick when he travels on the other world and especially when he crosses Heaven's bridge." The list of these after life customs, which are connected to the belief in the soul's immortality, is very long. We should remember several others in this respect: the coin, the funeral wheat porridge, the tree, the lunch, the wake, the pillars, the bridges, the fraternity and so on. However, nothing matched better the simple philosophy of the belief in after life than the practice of the fasting periods. That is why there is no other people to fast so regularly as the Romanian villagers. The fasting periods put together make up two thirds of the year. Most part of the year they fast, leading a totally vegetarian life. It isn't therefore surprising that most of the strangers that met our villagers found them lazy, weak and little inclined to hard work. Light unsubstantial nourishment cannot produce strong arms and remarkable energies. The Romanian Orthodox Church also brought and consolidated the Oriental way of being. As Mr. Radulescu-Motru observed, among others, Orthodoxism is not a school for pragmatic life. According to former times, it didn't have that ferment, which elsewhere prepared the aspirations towards a better fate on earth in the believers' souls. On the contrary, as at the basis of Romanian Christianity lay the belief in after life, the church had no other role but to despise the endeavor and the concerns regarding this world and to develop monastic life, a tendency that filled our countries with monasteries and lazy monks. Generally, the essence of Orthodoxism with us lay in asserting boundless faith, not in putting into practice the moral laws. The Orthodox believers are passive and speculative, whereas Catholics and Protestants are hardworking and energetic. For the Orthodox, "the essence, the purpose of faith doesn't reside in pragmatic life, but in redeeming the souls." What the Orthodox Gospel teaches is that God's kingdom is in heavens and that we must "prepare with faith and love for God's kingdom."Romanians were educated as much as the Church allowed them and near churches, in their threshold supervised by sacristans, psalm readers and vergers. That is why even today, in many places, the word for schoolmaster and psalm reader is the same. The object of this teaching, the books studied were the breviary, the homily, various religious books and often folklore books such as Alexandria, The Miracles of the Holy Virgin, and various mythological and legendary subjects. The spiritual material gained from teaching was acquired by the Romanians not through books but through oral tradition. The songs, the anecdotes, the fairy tales, and the various stories, most of the times with religious and superstitious background, were the material for spiritual culture, which, replacing the books, nourished the Romanian soul. Romanians were in this respect self-educated men. With no academy, no authors and books, they seem to have created by instinct a spiritual content and a mental framework of their own. Those who learned in the academies from the church threshold and with teachers were very few. The others, the great majority, learned by stealing the content of our mentality from the soul of neighboring nations. The mentalities of our neighbors were real academies for us. Later on, in the 19th century, schools were also introduced, since the Organic Regulations. However, the premises and the methods were bizarre or absurd, when they weren't too primitive.

by Dumitru Drăghicescu (1875-1945)