Easter as a Mirror of the Church Dissent in the Country

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Sergiu CEBAN
An ongoing struggle between the two Orthodox churches in Moldova is actively fueled by the ruling regime
In our country, the sphere of religion has always been closely connected with politics, and the main religious holiday, Easter, is perhaps the point of greatest concentration of spiritual and political PR. It seems that the leaders of the country are competing to see who is the most committed to Orthodox traditions. At the same time, the church life of the state is going through the most difficult crisis and the path of self-determination amid the conflict of two parallel metropolises, Moldovan and Bessarabian. Their rivalry manifests itself in literally everything, even in the provision of the Holy Fire from Jerusalem, which each metropolis delivers separately. This is probably a nonsense in the modern Christian world. The fire was first brought to Moldova by the Moldovan Metropolis in the early 2000s, and these actions were generously paid by politicians. Since 2022, the Metropolis of Bessarabia (MB) has also started to bring the Holy Fire. This year, formally, representatives of the Metropolis of Moldova travelled to Jerusalem with the support of a tourism agency as part of a five-day pilgrimage that started on 29 April. The group of pilgrims included several lay people and four clergymen. Meanwhile, attentive journalists spotted a supporter of Ilan Sor in the delegation, thus casting a political shadow over the situation. The Metropolis of Bessarabia is rather cautious in this sense, and for the third year in a row has been delivering the fire from Jerusalem to its parishioners on a private plane kindly offered by a Romanian businessman. While the first time it was brought from Iasi, since last year the plane arriving from Jerusalem has made three stops: in Bucharest, in Chisinau and then in Iasi. As we see, politics was there. In addition, before the Easter holidays, Maia Sandu unexpectedly held separate meetings with Metropolitans Vladimir and Petru to address the importance of unity urging them to contribute to peacekeeping. At first glance, it seems that this is exactly how a head of state who wants to unite the country and overcome any controversies in public life, including the spiritual sphere, should behave. However, if we follow the behavior of the President’s Office during the last years, and especially last autumn during the acute phase of the intra-church conflict, it seemed that Sandu herself and her political entourage were fervently supporting what was going on. Now the attempt to intervene in religious issues and offer herself as an impartial arbiter looks extremely clumsy and full of pronounced electoral pretexts. Most likely, this did not add any electoral points to the incumbent president. Moreover, judging by the reactions in social networks, Maia Sandu was severely criticized both by her loyal right-wing radical voters, who did not understand such a conciliatory gesture on her part, and from other residents of the country well aware of how she publicly declared her cool and pragmatic attitude towards the church. This is probably why the president’s election headquarters chose not to develop further the topic of Sandu’s “walk to religion”, especially during the Easter vigil, merely posting thematic photos on the eve of the holiday. The fuss over the broadcasting of the Easter vigil in the main cathedral a few hours before it began can be an evidence that the line of the deepening ecclesiastical schism affects the Moldovan elites and state institutions. After several hours of deliberation (and maybe even coordination with the President), the Public Television of Moldova decided to hold a double broadcast – from the Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ, where the service was conducted by the Metropolis of Moldova, and from the Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, where it was conducted by the Metropolis of Bessarabia. The increasing hesitation among Moldovan politicians and state structures can be explained by the significantly strengthened position of the Metropolis of Bessarabia (MoB), partially due to the special attention of Bucharest. Over the past four years, it has made a major leap forward, with more and more priests from the Moldovan Metropolis joining it. The change-over accelerated especially after the beginning of the hot phase of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, resulting in 60 priests defecting in the last two years alone. The change of ecclesiastical jurisdiction does not happen en masse, but at the same time, the MoB has managed to double the number of its clergy in the country since 2020. However, the previously observed centrifugal processes and confusion in the Moldovan Metropolis have recently subsided, especially after its internal regrouping, mainly administratively. In addition, Metropolitan Vladimir began to spend more and more time in Moscow. Upon his recent return from the Russian capital, which he visited also for personal reasons, the hierarch softened his rhetoric considerably, which may indicate a change in the tactics and strategy of the Moldovan Metropolis. Thus, on 23 April, at the synod meeting, Vladimir suddenly called on the priests who had left the Moldovan Orthodox Church to repent and return. In his opinion, repentance is the only way to spiritual rehabilitation and return to the community of believers, as one should be able to recognize mistakes and correct own actions. In addition, he began to more clearly state his position on the war between Ukraine and Russia. Whereas previously his statements were neutral and aloof, now he describes the situation between the two states and between the two churches as improper. Perhaps last year’s letter of Vladimir finally had an effect on the highest hierarchs in Moscow allowing him to obtain additional material and other support to reverse the situation around the Moldovan church. Besides, in case only a few clergymen return to the Moldovan Metropolis, it will seriously weaken the position of its main rival. However, the current struggle between the two Orthodox churches in Moldova is not confined to itself, but rather mirrors the moods in society and the state, which are also going through a tough historical period of transformation and search for own identity. Unfortunately, politicians and the ruling class do not offer us any images and models that work for unity, but continue to tear apart the common national-spiritual space, pushing the country towards an inevitable catastrophe.