Revista Studii Teologice


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"Anunţul morţii şi practici funerare în societatea românească după 1990"

Obituaries and Funeral Practices in the Romanian Society after 1990

Autor(i): Pr. Radu Petre MUREŞAN

Contemporary Romanian society is undergoing an interesting restructuring of religious mentality. On the one hand, traditional Christian values are restored after 50 years of atheist propaganda; on the other, we witness a new secularization process, mainly affecting the generations born and educated over the last 20 years. It is manifest in a de-Christianized perception of world and life, and the separation of religious experience from the Church, as an institution. The present study addresses the extent to which the views on death and the attitude towards the deceased are still anchored in traditional Christian values, or in this new paradigm of secularization.
We have examined the obituaries published in the daily newspaper „România Liberă” in January 1992, January 1999, January 2010 (partially), respectively January 2011. For a better understanding of the sources as well as formulas employed in these notices, we have also investigated the obituaries published by the same newspaper in January 1989, respectively during the interwar period (January 1928, April 1943). They provide valuable insight into our contemporaries’ attitude towards death. However, their limitations hardly allow generalizations. Firstly, the stereotypical manner of writing does not enable us to collect statistical data on the age, profession, or religion of the deceased. Secondly, obituaries are published mainly by the urban population, especially the well-off, usually intellectuals. Thus they reflect the views concerning death of a rather small category.
The preferred formula chosen to announce the death of a relative, colleague or friend, in the obituaries published after 1990 is „departing this life”. Generally, during the communist times, as well as the 1990s the term „death” tended to be avoided and replaced with „departure” „decease” or „loss”, or other, more abstract ones. The closing formula „May God grant him/her eternal rest” shyly emerged in the 1990s obituaries. The years 2010 and 2011 saw numerous obituaries with Christian wording, proving that religious education in schools and catechization in churches started to produce results. However, non-Christian or neutral statements were also published. I mention the formula „ceased living [literally: passed into non-existence]”, sadly inherited from the communist period, and still frequently uttered on the radio or TV, when the death of a public figure is announced. In the 1990s, such obituaries also contained the closing formula „May God grant him/her eternal rest”. It is a paradox, because „passing into non-existence”, that is nothingness, excludes the belief in God, soul and the afterlife.
Among the 1899 obituaries investigated, 20 announce cremation. In Romania, the burial rate is 99%. Even the persons who are not devout Christians avoid cremation. According to the data recently provided by the Administration of Cemeteries and Crematories to „Evenimentul zilei” newspaper, 270 000 persons were buried in the year 2010, while only 855 were cremated, amounting to 0,3%. Certainly, they included adherents to foreign religions who died in Romania, namely Chinese, Hinduists, Buddhists etc. The main promoter of cremation in Romania is Amurg Cremation Association, founded in February 2010 by a group of scholars and members of the academic staff in Transylvania, joined by undertaker entrepreneurs. The association is closely connected to the Cremation Society of Great Britain and is actively involved in research carried out into this topic. It offers free counselling on any aspect of human cremation, as well as Romanian- and foreign-languages literature, cremations in the Szeged crematory (Hungary), and the legal documents for those wishing to be cremated (notary public documents) etc.
The first voices proposing cremation as an alternative to burial, appeared in Romania in the second half of the 19th century. They belonged to prominent physicias who mentioned cremation as a solution for safeguarding public health, as epidemics swept through Bucharest. In 1923 was established „Nirvana Society” (later „Cenușa”), founded by dr. Mina Minovici and Radu Rosetti. „Cenușa” crematory was built between 1925-1928, with the support of the Bucharest city council. In 1934 was issued the periodical „Flacăra Sacră” which promoted cremation and rallied its supporters. According to this publication, 2705 persons were cremated between 1928-1934.
The first human cremation was performed at this crematory on January 27, 1928. The event generated heated debates at the time, published by the times’ main newspapers, and prompted the response of the Romanian Orthodox Church. The Holy Synod decided that „a Christian funeral service cannot be celebrated for cremated persons, since human cremation contradicts the doctrine of the Orthodox Church”. This decision was confirmed by the Holy Synod in 1933, and expresses the official stance of the Romanian Orthodox Church.
Communism adopted cremation in order to demonstrate its opposition to Christianity and promote the materialistic view on world and life. During the first communist decade, cremation was the preferred practice for the new elites; however it failed to become mainstream and new crematories were not built. On the contrary, the communist leaders Petru Groza and Gheorghe Gheorghiu Dej were buried, the former even with the attendance of priests and celebrants of all denominations. In December 1989, the bodies of 40 persons killed in Timișoara were secretly cremated in Bucharest, during the respective events. In 1993 a second crematory („Vitan Bârzești”) was opened. It operated in parallel with „Cenușa”, until the latter was closed for repairs in 2003. Today „Vitan Bârzești” Crematory is the only working one in Romania.
The foundation of „Cenușa” Society in 1923 and especially the first cremation of 1928 generated intense debate in church press. Theologians deemed this practice to be anti-Christian and stressed the dogmatical and liturgical implications of this innovation. „Glasul monahilor” review published vehement articles against cremation. Rev. Marin Ionescu, serving at Cuibul cu Barză Church, one of the major contributors to „Glasul Monahilor”, prompted the establishment of a Christian association named „Potter’s Field” for the burial of the poor so that they would not end up in the crematory. Rev. Marin Ionescu was sued by the supporters of cremation, for slander and defaming, and the 1928 trials divided the audience into supporters, respectively adversaries of cremation.
The Orthodox Church opposes this practice for biblical, theological, liturgical reasons, and on the grounds of its tradition. The Orthodox Church teaches that the human being is made up of body and soul and that both are called to enter the Kingdom of God. The body is not a prison, a place of exile for the immortal soul, but a „temple of the Holy Spirit” (I Cor. VI, 19-20). Therefore the Church cannot agree with the promoters of cremation, who claim that „the soul is immortal, but the body is perishable and death reduces it to useless, unsightly remnants of life” (the website of Amurg Cremation Association). Cremation is one of the post-modern man’s practices, expressing his religious indifferentism and his utilitarian-consumerist attitude. The body is no longer regarded as integral to the human being who will enter the Kingdom of God with body and soul, but rather as a soul’s container, an object which the family of the deceased must dispose of, as soon as possible.

Pagini: 65-81