Revista Studii Teologice


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Clerul ortodox din Bucureşti în timpul primului Război Mondial

The Orthodox Clergy in Bucharest during the First World War

Autor(i): Pr. Claudiu COTAN

It is one hundred years since the outbreak of the World War I, the great bat-tle which changed the political life of Europe. The Romanians could not be absent from this world conflict, due to their political desire to achieve national unity. Altho-ugh in 1914 Romania declared her neutrality, the Romanian politicians having been aware that the country was not prepared for of such a wide-spreading conflict, two years later it was no longer possible to postpone Romania’s participation in the con-flict. Going to war was enthusiastically cultivated by the press, by politicians, as well as by the Orthodox priests who considered this action a unique opportunity to achieve the unity of all Romanians.
Unfortunately, the military offensive of the Romanian army in Transylvania was not a victorious one, as the Romanians had to withdraw to Moldova, leaving even the capital city of the country, Bucharest, to the German occupation. While in Iasi, where they took refuge, the Romanian Government and King Ferdinand made tre-mendous efforts to restore the army and administrate a small Romanian territory remained unoccupied by enemies. Many Romanians from Transylvania, Dobrudgea and Bucharest took their refuge to Moldova running away from the enemy armies, so that the Romanian political class had to find the necessary means to help them. The Orthodox priests brought their share of contribution to the huge war effort thro-ugh the mobilisation of the people for helping the military army and hospitals. Besi-des the Romanian soldiers who were fighting on the front, military priests were also present, while the nuns and monks of the Orthodox monasteries activated with much devotion in hospitals as medical sisters and nurses. The documents preserved in various archives speak about the devotion of the clergy towards their faithful from parishes. They were members of various committees for sustaining the war orphans, widows and poor who lost all their wealth during the war. The archives of the Metro-politanate of Moldova and Bucovina preserved a series of documents drafted by the Orthodox priests at the request of metropolitan Pimen, which presented the at-mosphere prevailing in the Romanian villages and cities when learning that Romania joined the war, the anxiety of the families of those who were going to war, as well as the efforts these Romanian priests made to help those who remained at home depri-ved of the men’s help, as they were going to war.
A special case was that of the priests remained in the territories occupied by enemies. Besides the material needs they had to suffer, the Orthodox priests had to endure the persecution of the German authorities who perceived them as promoters of Romania’s joining the war together with the Antanta forces. The occupation of Bucharest caused anxiety in the Metropolitanate, where Conon Aramescu Donici, the primate metropolitan was afraid for his life, given the fact that he had blessed Roma-nia’s joining the war and the alliance of the Romanian army with that of the tsarist Empire. This is why he obeyed the decisions taken by the Romanian politicians rema-ined in Bucharest who collaborated with the German authorities. The church life of Bucharest and of the territories occupied was affected by various scandals caused by the change of the calendar, appointment of a director of Greek-Catholic faith to the metropolitan cathedral, and the attempt to steal the relics of Saint Pious Dimitrios the New kept in the metropolitan cathedral by a Bulgarian commando. Certainly, the greatest sorrow was caused by the signing of the Call of the Primate Metropolitan by metropolitan Conon, the manifest which urged the Romanian soldiers to give up the fight on the front of Moldova. The heart of the Orthodox faithful from the occupied territories suffered a great sorrow when the German and Hungarian soldiers confis-cated the church bells to use their metal for making weapons. Thus, the majority of the churches from the occupied territories remained without bells, bells of great artis-tic or historical values having been lost forever.
The German Command wanted to confiscate the bells from all over the occu-pied territory. In fact, the German administration drafted tables of all the churches where from they took the bells, the documents having been kept at the National Archives of Bucharest till today. Constantine Bacalbasa mentioned in his war memo-irs that there were two events during the war which affected the deep national fee-ling of the population of Bucharest: the theft of the relics of Saint Dimitrios Basara-bov and the confiscation of the bells. All the other events like: the confiscation of the clothes, fuels, fire wood, aliments and feed were overlooked and did not cause any turmoil with the population. All the attempts of the German authorities to impose the Orthodox Church a certain control were faced not only with the refusal of the priests, but also with the opposition of the Orthodox faithful. Such an attempt was to introdu-ce the Gregorian calendar at the end of December 1916, which would have deprived the Orthodox of the celebration of the great feasts of the Christmas and Epiphany. Although the German authorities got back on the order, imposing instead the cele-bration of the Easter on the same day with the Roman Catholic Church, the Ortho-dox faithful and their priests observed the old calendar and the Orthodox traditions.
Bucharest city suffered a lot as a result of the camping of a large number of militaries who used both the private houses and the institutional buildings. Besides, a few school buildings were also used, and the courses suspended. Bulgarian troops camped in the boarding house of the Faculty of Theology of Bucharest and devasta-ted the building in the autumn of 1918 when they left the city, looting everything they could. The monasteries close to the capital city of the country suffered the same, as the occupation authorities confiscated especially the wheat, wine and feed. The abbots of these monasteries have submitted many applications asking to be allowed to keep at least the food necessary for the life of the monks. Unfortunately, the Ortho-dox clergy have not found the necessary support in the activity of metropolitan Co-non, who was afraid to take active part in the protection of the priests and monks. The German command knew that metropolitan Conon and other Orthodox clergy had blessed the Romanian – Russian brotherhood in arms before war and encoura-ged the Romania’s joining the war on the Antanta side. This theme determined the metropolitan to take a series of political decisions which defiled his pastoral service and obligated him to resign at the end of 1918. A series of intellectuals of Bucharest who had refused to take refuge to Iasi blamed the metropolitan for his attitude which caused the arrests made by the Germans among the intellectuals accusing them of hostile attitude towards the Central Powers. The prisoners of the labour camps also included priests accused of anti-German propaganda.
The priests who remained in Bucharest tried to support their faithful as much as they could. The archives of certain parishes still keep registers mentioning the poor families who used to receive aids on behalf of the City Hall helped by the pri-ests. We learn from these documents the names of those mobilised on the front of Moldova where from many of them never returned. The contemporaries bequeathed in their memoirs pages dedicated to the church life during the German occupation of Bucharest making sometimes a critical presentation of the way in which a series of clergy accomplished their priestly call. Most appreciations were for the priests who went to join the soldiers on the front. Some of these priests were servants of the altars of Bucharest. Very important are the notes they made on the pages of the church books or on the pages of the holy gospels. Thus, rather important are the notes written by the military priests on a gospel found in the church of Saint Nicholas of the former Monastery of Prince Michael, where King Ferdinand instituted the military order of Michael the Brace, the most important decoration awarded to the Romanian heroes during the Great War.
Having been afraid of their enemies, many priests from Dobrudgea, as well as from the other territories occupied took refuge to Moldova, where they settled in various parishes and monasteries, helped by metropolitan Pimen. Once back in their parishes they found their churches and parish houses in ruins. The occupying armies organised stables, garrisons and hospitals in monasteries, churches, schools and city halls, many of them demolished. The parishes of Moldova passed through similar sufferance, devastated by the Russian deserter soldiers animated by the communism that was being installed in Moscow at the time. The end of the war brought about changes not only for the country, but also for the Orthodox Church who passed to a new form of organisation fulfilled through the proclamation of the patriarchate. Me-tropolitan Conon had to resign, bishop Miron Cristea having been elected instead of him, a fighter for the unity of the Romanians and their first patriarch.

Pagini: 49-66