"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, September 28, 2020

Orthodoxy and Reform in 1920s Romania

I have long had a soft spot in my heart for Romanian Orthodoxy. When I was heavily involved in the World Council of Churches in the 1990s, I had a colleague from Romania who became a friend. He gave me a lovely icon of the Theotokos, which still occupies pride of place on my desk at the university. He and I had a kind of sotto voce habit of dry and often sarcastic commentary on whatever dreary meeting we happened to be in, which was all of them. 

More recently, Romania utterly delighted me in January 2019 at the inaugural IOTA meeting where I was an official ecumenical observer and also gave a paper on papal reforms. We arrived the day after Christmas on the Julian calendar to find Iasi absolutely ablaze with decorations, which I utterly love. So it was a charming town in a country I had long wanted to visit, and it did not disappoint. (It is hard to resist thinking that even the shabbiest town in Europe--which Iasi was not by any means--is incomparably more lovely and interesting than the hideous suburban sprawl which defines just about any American city.)

All that is but preface to advise you of what sounds to be a fascinating new book by Roland Clark, Sectarianism and Renewal in 1920s Romania: The Limits of Orthodoxy and Nation-Building (Bloomsbury Academic, January 2021). 232pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
The Romanian Orthodox Church expanded significantly after the First World War, yet Neo-Protestantism and schismatic Orthodox movements such as Old Calendarism also grew exponentially during this period, terrifying church leaders who responded by sending missionary priests into the villages to combat sectarianism. Several lay renewal movements such as the Lord's Army and the Stork's Nest also appeared within the Orthodox Church, implicating large numbers of peasants and workers in tight-knit religious communities operating at the margins of Eastern Orthodoxy.

Bringing the history of the Orthodox Church into dialogue with sectarianism, heresy, grassroots religious organization and nation-building, Roland Clark explores how competing religious groups in interwar Romania responded to and emerged out of similar catalysts, including rising literacy rates, new religious practices and a newly empowered laity inspired by universal male suffrage and a growing civil society who took control of community organizing. He also analyses how Orthodox leaders used nationalism to attack sectarians as 'un-Romanian', whilst these groups remained indifferent to the claims the nation made on their souls.

Situated at the intersection of transnational history, religious history and the history of reading, Sectarianism and Renewal in 1920s Romania challenges us to rethink the one-sided narratives about modernity and religious conflict in interwar Eastern Europe.

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