On Modern Fundamentalist Secular State

28 April 2015

Fr DumitruSome time ago, Faculty of Orthodox Theology (from “1 Decembrie 1918” University of Alba Iulia) hosted a Symposium for Saints Constantine the Great and his mother Helen (2013-12th International Conference – Alba Iulia, 14-16 May, “Religion And Politics – Church-State Relationship: From Constantin The Great To Europe Post-Maastricht”). We speak about it with Fr. Dumitru Vanca, a Christian Orthodox priest, and an Associate Professor, teaching Liturgy at the Faculty of Orthodox Theology within the “1 Decembrie 1918” University of Alba Iulia. It is worthwhile mentioning here that the 1st of December 1918 was the historical date when the Principality of Transylvania – the third largest province of Romania – decided to join the Romanian state which had been formed by the unification, in 1859, of the other two principalities, Moldova and Muntenia (also known as Walachia).

  1. Tell us, please, about your University’s status.

Our university is a small one, judging by the number of students (less than 6.000), but the Faculty of Theology – with its 500 students – is one of middle size [ in comparison, the Faculty of Orthodox Theology in Bucharest has around 2,000 students]. Our Faculty has a governmental recognition and it is functioning with the blessing of the Romanian Orthodox Church, particularly of our local Archbishop Irineu (a Metropolitan, in your terms). The building which hosts our school is the newest building for a theology faculty in Romania. We have good conditions for our academic activities; the University also provides excellent living conditions for our students.

Our faculty is a very dynamic one; although it is a very young faculty (founded in 1991) we have obtained from the Ministry of National Education the licence for school students in all three levels of higher education: Bachelor, Master’s Degree and PhD level.

At the first level our faculty gives the Bachelor Degree under two programmes: Pastoral Theology (for the future priests) and Social work (for the future workers in the field of Social assistance). In the Master studies, our faculty educates its students within three programmes: Comparative Theology, Pastoral Counselling and Religious and Intercultural Mediation.

 2. Let us say now about your recent Conference. Why did you select this theme for it?

The subject of our Symposium was adjusted based on the general subject proposed by our Holy Synod, which decided for the year 2013 to be dedicated to St. Constantine the Great and his mother St. Hellena. So, our academic body decided to study the influence of Constantine’s important decisions not only from a historical perspective, but also from a political one. In fact, the decisions of this great emperor changed the face of the world, especially because the relationship between the Church and the secular power was changed. On the other hand, within the last decade our faculty has chosen only “modern” subjects for its symposia, such as:  ‘Violence in the name of God’ (2001), ‘The scholars in the face of de-christianization’ (2005); ‘Liberty and Responsibility – Initiatives and Limits on the religious dialogue’ (2009); ‘The invasion of non-values in a multimedia world. Spiritual crisis and the discrediting of the sacred’ (2010); ‘Family, Philanthropy and Social ethics. The Church-State Partnership in Social work’ (2011) etc. (see the Annex)

 3. Which conclusions did you get from it?

Usually, at our symposia we do not draw any conclusions in order to transmit them to our Holy Synod; we use this meeting as a scientific platform to debate on the important subjects for the Church. But, as it was expressed at the beginning of our scientific meeting, “There is no model of relationship between the Church/religion and the State which can be said to go well” (Mr. Andrei Marga, president of the National Cultural Institute and former minister of education).

Surprising for us was the opinion of some American scholars who consider that nowadays the State has turned into “a fundamentalist secular state” (especially in the USA and Western Europe, where, nevertheless, the states are claiming their neutrality concerning morality and religion). For instance,  Professor H. Tristram Engelhardt jr. (Rice University, USA) considers that “In Europe and in the West, generally, the secular state is explicitly advanced as the replacement for the Christendom St. Constantine established, constituting in its place a new secular dominion. So, in the opinion of professor Engelhardt, there is no neutral state, and the contemporary secular state by definition has an animus against Christianity.”

Professor Mark Cherry, from St. Edward’s University, USA, also says: “Because the secular philosophy adopted by Western countries has usurped God and declared His ‘death’, the fundamentalist secular state has become the surrogate for God.”

 4. Which exactly was the contribution of Romania’s Church and Theology in this dialogue?

In Romania, during the last two decades, we have had a good relationship with the government – although the secular State, under increasing pressure from European laws and laity, and sometimes ‘intimidated’ by very vocal NGOs, has pursued a continuous de-Christianisation of public life. In response, traditional Christians must seek the re-establishment of the Christian discourse and morals within public reason and in the public space.

 5. How do you see the present and the future of Orthodox presence in your country?

In the future it will be difficult for Christians to accept the secular State’s morality and its agenda. Rather, I would say that a true Christian could never do this. Perhaps we should find a way to fight against such non-Christian morals imposed by minority groups in the public life. I do not know how that will be, but I know one thing: we must bear witness to Christ for how we live in this world. As priests, we must educate our Christians how to live in this world. It’s very possible that, in the distant future, real Christians become a minority. Our Lord said: “Fear not, little flock” (Lk. 12:32); and sometimes the world and its morality was saved by small groups of people, as in the days of Elijah. Perhaps the time of the catacombs will come back, who knows? But we know the truth is not given by the number, but by the quality and by its evangelic foundation, and the morality of the Gospels cannot be replaced by the law produced by secularized governments.

 6. What challenges are the Romanian Church and modern theology facing in your country today?

I think the greatest challenge for the future is the oldest one: to live our lives according to the Gospel of Christ. But, apart from the secularization of society and the gradual removal of Christian values, the triumphalism of some priests, theologians and bishops  is the greatest danger to come. The lack of firm decisions within the Church wherever a lack of morality is found will lead to disclosures in the press, which in their turn will give to the lukewarm people the excuse and pretext to forsake and deny the Church. The mass media are always seeking sensational subjects (sometimes even invent them), but I think it would be better if we do not give them topics to use in order to increase the rating of their journals. People do not expect from the Church anything other than to live the Gospel which it is preaches.

Thank you for your time!