Romanians - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefe. Romanians adopted Eastern Orthodoxy in the late ninth to early tenth centuries. In Transylvania Eastern Catholicism/Uniatism was established in the eighteenth century in a Habsburg attempt to encourage Romanian loyalty. Uniatism and Orthodoxy were unified by state decree after World War II. Rural religion was eclectic: nature worship, pilgrimages to sites of miracles, and belief in a pantheon of both good and evil spirits mixed with Christian belief. Quasipolitical religious cults like Hosts of the Lord (Oastea Domnului) developed between the world wars, and currently a variety of Protestant sects are attracting increased numbers of adherents. Traditional beliefs recognized the Trinity and a number of other spirits and forces, both benevolent and malign. The latter include vircolaci, strigoi, and moroi (witches, undead human and animal spirits) that brought illness and death to their former communities. Beneficial forces included white magic practiced by sorceresses and the curative powers of Whitsuntide dancers.

Religious practice and education is now legally limited and controlled by the state Ministry of Cults.

Religious Practitioners. Orthodox and Uniate priests served pre-Socialist era communities as advisers, social arbiters, and leading economic figures. The churches owned extensive lands and priests received labor and other needs gratis from citizens. Even today priests receive the best of the annual vintage and other gifts. However, as state employees, Orthodox priests now find their community activism restricted by the government.

Arts. Traditional arts focused on the production of utilitarian household objects or religious items. Woven and embroidered clothing, rugs, and wall hangings were especially well developed, as was the carving of decorative wood gates, grave markers, and utensils. Transylvania's icons, painted on glass, and the painted monasteries of Moldavia are world-reknowned. The interwar period also saw a flowering of Romanian art, best exemplified by the work of the sculptor Constantin Brancusi. Currently, plastic arts are widely emphasized.

Medicine. Traditional folk medicine made extensive use of locally grown plants prepared as teas or poultices. Some plants such as garlic and wormwood were thought to be especially efficacious. As illness was often attributed to spirit possession, various kinds of healing rituals were also used. Although less respected in the past, physicians today are afforded high social status in Romanian communities.

Death and Afterlife. Although Christian belief in heaven and hell is common, a practical streak frequently denies the reality of the afterlife. In either case, death is not feared and is fairly well integrated into daily life. The dead are generally thought to need similar things as the living (e.g., food, light, money), and these elements figure prominently in funerary ritual. The cemetery is a great focus of meaning in Romanian village culture and creation of elaborate funerary art, crypts, and epitaphs characterizes many villages. Death is publicly commemorated by close family at six-week, six-month, and one-year intervals—and more often than that if dreams of the deceased interfere with the living.


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