The Abbot’s Sexual “Right” In Pre-Modern Romanian and Other European Culture (Andrei Oisteanu, 2016)

NOTE: The following article is excerpted from Studies in the History of Religions XIXXX:317-351.

CONTENTS:

  • “Do as the Priest Says, Not as the Priest Does!”
  • “I Worship the Icons | My Eyes on the Matrons”
  • Men vs Women: Isolation And Discrimination
  • “The Abbots’ Right Over Gypsy Women”
  • Homosexuality and Pedophilia in the Monasteries

“DO AS THE PREIST SAYS, NOT AS THE PRIEST DOES!”

At the beginning of the 18th century, Romanian Metropolitan Antim Ivireanul created, through his Didahii (Sermons), a genuine “theology of sin,” setting the stage for the immorality of erotic voluptuousness. To him, women were “reprobate and tempting to evil things.” All vices, but especially sexual ones (“the bitter sweetness of foul fornication”) were demonized by the Metropolitan (“He who sins is from the Devil”), Hell being “the consummate payment for sin”:

“Think […] that you have defiled your soul with fornications, adulteries, sodomies, soblazne-s [= pollutions], with debaucheries and food galore; your hands, with foul fondling [= masturbation], with perversions and rapes [= sexual violations], with killings and others.” Didachies (Sermons), 1709-1716.

The metropolitan was speaking not only to Christian laymen, but also to clerics, handing them genuine “textbooks of the confessor.” The confessor had to know “how he will question” the wretched sinner during “confession” and “how to bring him back to the righteous path” (Teachings for Confession, 1710).1

…Most of the sins confessed into the priest’s ear were surely those of an erotic nature. As Michel Foucault put it: “sex has been the privileged matter of confession.”2 Compared to the rigorism of the clerics, the peasants’ mentality was more flexible, more permissive…Quite often, however, the confessors needed confessors themselves, as they were not immune to the temptation of sin either…More than that, “due to uninterrupted idleness and abundant food,” some clerics “are naturally more exposed to the temptation of the body than other people.”3

The sinner’s confession took place in the intimate and dark space of the confessional or, with the Orthodox Christians, in a less “hygienic” space, under the priest’s apron (patrafir, Neo-Greek epitrahilion = “around the neck”).4 The confessor (who played the role of the psychiatrist in ancient times) had to know relevant details, but he also wanted to hear them. Listening to countless illicit sexual exploits, told by their parishioners with hundreds of licentious details, the confessors saw them with the mind’s eye, becoming inclined towards erotic fantasies. They were prone to sin first “in thought” and then “in deed.” As an old Romanian proverb goes, which was recorded in a manuscript dating back to the middle of the 18th century: “The appetite for fornication is much whetted by gazing” (Mss. BAR no. 273, 1759)5 . “Gazing,” but also “lending an ear” whets “the appetite for fornication.” That is what Antim Ivireanu also said explicitly, at the beginning of the 18th century:

“You have defiled your ears with dirty songs and words […] you have [defiled] your eyes with impious sights and signs of fornication” (Didahii [Sermons], 1709-1716).

“There are men who rape a woman with their eyes,” says a character from a novel by Octav Şuluţiu (Ambigen, 1935)6. The sensory system plays a paramount role. The rest is a matter of the imagination. The main sexual organ is not the penis or the vagina, but the brain.

One of the first Romanian poets who addressed the hypocrisy of the Christian Orthodox priests was Alecu Văcărescu, around 1795: “Should a priest walk your way | He acts in a hallowed way | But he’s masked his face away.”7 When Eminescu wrote in a poem (Egipetul, 1872) about the “debauched clergy,” he was surely not referring only to ancient Egyptian clergymen. Presumably, he also had in mind contemporary Romanian, Christian Orthodox clerics. There are many debauched priests and monks in Romanian literature…

A caricature on the cover of a Romanian magazine, 1896, representing a hetero- and homosexual orgy of members of the clergy.
A caricature on the cover of a Romanian magazine, 1896, representing a hetero- and homosexual orgy of members of the clergy.

Even when they were married, some Orthodox priests would not refrain from bedding one of their women parishioners or from raping a maid. The following is the real testimony, from a complaint dating back to 1791, submitted to the Metropolitan’s office and probably signed by a neighbour, who bears witness to the way in which a certain Father Toma had raped and deflowered his young maid, Pena:

“(One evening), as he came back home drunk, [Father Toma] beat up his wife and threw her out of the house and then he turned upon this girl [Pena] and spoiled [=deflowered] her. And to prevent her from shouting, he gagged her. And he repeated that exploit twice that night.”8

Following the girl’s complaint, the Metropolitan’s office launched an inquiry, opening a “case.” The confrontation was, however, asymmetrical and unjust. The priest’s sexual privileges, even if they are not provided for (and are even banned) by law, through custom and use, became tradition, into lex non scripta: “[b]ut the legal battle did not give [the maid] a winning hand”, Constanţa Vintilă-Ghiţulescu rightly comments, “for the priest had on his side his friends from the slum, his prestige and his power. To denounce such a master involved much greater risks than keeping the secret: losing the job, dishonour, the impossibility of finding another job.”9

In their turn, abbots and monks from Christian Orthodox monasteries were not guileless either. On seeing a beautiful maiden, they feared they would be tempted to sin:

The poor monk’s desire, See his soul burning on fire […] Where he sees a maiden fair His frock is blown in the air, For his soul is in despair, Afraid a great sin to bear!10

Obviously, some monks got over their “fear to sin” and raped girls. One of them, in a monastery in Moldova, in 1739, tried (without success) to avoid sanctions (“beating” and “gaol punishment”), confessing that it had been a freely consensual act, not a sexual violation: “with the girl’s approval he committed fornication, not forcefully.”11

The monk and priest Eufrosin Poteca (1785-1858), the future prior of the Gura Motrului monastery, also suffered from “the disease of loving maidens,” being always “consumed by love” and feeling “in the depths of his heart, the fire of love” for fair maidens. These are almost innocent vices, which, he claimed, he had to experiment in order to be able afterwards “to bring others to the right path as well”: “I wanted to learn better the passion of love so that I might learn by trial and error how I might lead others to the right path, too.”12

Small wonder that the reformist theologian was deeply resented by the senior clergy of the Romanian Orthodox Church. For the early decades of the 19th century, but not only, Eufrosin Poteca behaved at the limit of scandal and sacrilege. As to Prior Eufrosin Poteca, the Metropolitan was “full of rabid venom.”

Eufrosin Poteca promoted a sort of “erotic mysticism,” as George Călinescu dubbed it. In 1828, for instance, while in Pest, the Romanian monk and priest experienced a state of supreme spiritualization, of mystic de-materialization (“she seemed to have turned me all into spirit), making love to “a mystery maiden.” A very beautiful maiden, true, but who proved to be of light mores, “a harlot”:

“[The girl] was very pretty, indeed, like a fresh rose bud, like an angel, like a goddess […] We slept together in bed and we tasted a sweetness, a pleasure which to me, seemed a blessing from God […]. She seemed to have turned me all into spirit.”13

And all this, he confesses to the reader, not because he might have been a “virgin,” it was “as if he hadn’t known a woman before.” More than anything, the reformist priest-monk and Prior Eufrosin Poteca stood up against monastic asceticism. “He did not fast or bow down to the ground in church,” G. Călinescu wrote. He lamented his fate (and the fate of the monk in general) of leading a sad and unfulfilled life without a wife: “[t]his is a life against nature, against the consorting law, against God.”14

“I WORSHIP THE ICONS | MY EYES ON THE MATRONS”

A whole chapter in the index of folk motifs by ethnologist Stith Thompson (Motif-Index of Folk-Literature, 1932-1937; T330- T350) is devoted to the theme of folk tales and legends related to the sexual temptations of monks and hermits: T350. Anachorites under temptation.15

The monks in Buddhist monasteries were banned from all sexual activities: masturbation, sodomy, zoophilia, etc. As we have seen, it is precisely the bans of some practices that prove their existence. However, paradoxically, the greatest sin was the heterosexual sex act. A woman could not be penetrated by a monk in any of “the three impure orifices” (the vagina, the anus, the mouth). The erect penis was not allowed to penetrate inside “not even the length of a sesame seed,” according to the Buddhist texts.16

…For the Christian-Orthodox space, see Cânticul călugărului (The Monk’s Song), collected at the middle of the 19th century by Vasile Alecsandri17 and the song Călugăritul (Donning the Monk’s Frock), collected around 1868 from the repertory of the Bucharest Gypsy rhapsodists by G. Dem. Teodorescu18, a great admirer of Eufrosin Poteca19. The poor monk lived in a true state of schizophrenia, his eyes and his mind juggling “from icons to matrons”20 and “from (the pages of) the Bible,” to “fair maids”:

I was not good for the frock, For my heart is like a rock, Nor was I good for the cloth, But for love I am no sloth, ‘Cos I worship all the icons My eyes set on the fair matrons, As I read, the Bible fades When I watch the fairest maids, When a fair maid walks my track, My frock shivers on my back. The Monk’s Song, 1856. 21

Continuing the Orthodox tradition of hypocritical pietism, Fr. Luke Melackrinos was suspended for sending lewd selfies to a female parishioner.
Continuing the Orthodox tradition of hypocritical pietism, Fr. Luke Melackrinos was suspended for sending lewd selfies to a female parishioner.

 

Or, as one of those “matrons” sexually harassed around the nooks and corners of the church might say, the priest or the monk is “His mind all to the Kingdom come, his hands deep in my bosom.” That is a popular saying collected by the beginning of the 19th century “by Lord Governor (dvornic) Iordache Golescul” (Pilde i tâlcuirea lor (Parables And Their Meaning), c. 1832). 22 Sometimes, worshipping icons and reciting verses from the Holy Book could appease sexual impulses. In other cases, it did not work that way:

When to church I go to pray, My lover stands in my way, I try to worship the icons, My lover around me fawns, He beguiles me from my canons; I pray and I cross my heart, My lover thinks it is smart To think that hell won’t us part. Tulip leaves will entwine, Lord, it is no fault of mine: If my sins do make me blunt My lover should bear the brunt. La biserică (In Church), 1871. 23

The Christian icons (and the saintly women painted on them) are not always remedies that repress the erotic fantasies of the monks, secluded behind the walls of their monasteries. On the contrary, they even provoke fantasies, verging on blasphemy.  It is not by accident that Gustave Flaubert (The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1872) imagines the Christian theologian Tertullian (early 3rd century AD) urging “the smashing of icons” (that was a long time before the iconoclastic crisis), as a proponent of asceticism and of the cultivation of values:

“Smash the icons! Cover the virgins with veils! Pray, fast, cry, make penance!”24

Even if the religious motivation is replaced by the sociopolitical one, we are not too far from the romantic revolt of Eminescu’s proletarian, who claimed the smashing of “all that entices their sick heart”, of all that sparks “the voluptuousness of the ribald orgy”:

Smash down the antique bronze that Venus naked shows, Let pictures that do wickedly entice be brought to dust.Emperor and Proletarian, 1874. 25

…The monk Hans (Adeodatus, by his monastic name) – a character imagined by novelist Liviu Rebreanu (Adam şi Eva [Adam and Eve], 1925) – passionately falls in love with the icon of the Holy Virgin adorning his cell in the Abbey of Lorsch, near the town of Worms, in Germany: an icon which had accompanied all his trials as a young man, throughout his monastic life. Adoring the icon, he had started to notice the anatomical details of the painted body of the Holy Virgin, her “alluring and caressing” eyes, her “beguiling” smile, “(her) round bosom heaving under the silky gown,” etc. Eventually, due to his erotic fantasies, the monk’s love for the icon becomes carnal, bodily, sexual:

| “Adeodatus took the icon, with both hands, and kissed it rapturously, without realizing that his passion might be unholy. (…) The Virgin Mary seemed like any woman of flesh and blood, and he himself, without true faith in his soul. And they made love with a sinful love: they embraced each other passionately and bit their lips with such devilish pleasure that, waking up, he still felt for a few moments, in all his body, that damning voluptuousness. […] All day long, he flogged his body, but he dared not glance at the icon. And the following night, the dream repeated itself, even more wicked than before. (…) And the third night, the same.”26

…It might be that the apocalyptic state around him, the Sodom and Gomorrah atmosphere, is leading the monk towards such “Satanic” fantasies. It must be the millennium crisis situation, of a “world gone out of joint,” which motivated and pushed Rebreanu to insert that strange episode into his strange novel…

Obviously, not only the monks, but also the nuns – “the brides of Christ” – were (are) dominated by sexual impulses in the convent. “With a courtesan’s smile and a churchgoer’s eyes,” as Eminescu might say (Scrisoarea [Letter] V, 1881).27 Unbridled, these propensities can lead to the supreme sin, of replacing religious feelings with erotic ones. Even worse, to replacing their supreme “groom,” Jesus Christ, with a young, beautiful and very much alive layman, of flesh and blood:

“Woe betide the poor nun, For her heart is on the run, Where she sees a handsome lad, Her white veil will billow glad, Where she sees a youth, Her step’s small in sooth, For she would follow, smooth; Where she sees a dapper man She bends down as much she can To pray, like to Jesus then.”28

Obviously, the sin is lurking around the nun all the more so as to bring the sinning layman closer to her. As the popular saying goes, which was reported by Governor Iordache Golescu around 1832: “I tell him that I’m a nun and he unties my pants (to tell the brassy ones).”29

In the first decades of the 19th century, the custom had it that some of the daughters of the boyars from Moldova should take the veil, especially at the Agapia and Văratec convents in northern Moldova. That is how two younger sisters of Gheorghe Sion took that path. Around 1840-1841, Gheorghe Sion (then aged 18-19) led them to the Agapia nunnery. He spent three to four days there, and he met many novice nuns, all coming from aristocratic families:

“Some (young nuns) were so fair,” Gheorghe Sion reminisced, “and even, God forbid, so flirtatious, that, had I not feared to sin and had I not been naïve and shy (as I was at that time), who knows how many sins I would have burdened my soul with! (…) Besides the jams, cups of coffee, breakfasts and lunches I was treated to (by these nuns), I felt bathed in their charming glances and rocked in dreams of voluptuousness.”30

Constanţa Vintilă-Ghiţulescu associates this story with the fact that, at the same time (1 st May 1844), upon the express request of the Metropolitan, reigning Prince Mihai Sturdza issued an order for young unmarried men to avoid visiting the Agapia and Văratec convents, where they would have gone only to commit “misdeeds.” “In other words,” – the scholar concludes – “to twist the minds of the young nuns. Knowing the story of Anton Pann or of Barbu Mumuleanu, we also know why the Prince was right to be worried…” 31

In a well known apocryphal text, The Apocalypse of the Holy Mother, which has some eighty versions in the Romanian language, attested to the 18th -19th centuries, the “Pregesta” (The Holy Mother of God) visits Hell and sees the sinners doomed to infernal ordeals. The wanton nuns have a special place in “The River of Fire.” At some point, “The Holy Mother of God saw another place of great toil, and only women labouring there”: “These are the nuns which have slipped into fornication (…) and are led by their carnal desires, and who do not seek to redeem their souls from sins.”32

In an article dating from 1922, Tudor Arghezi raised his voice against the common mentality that perceived the monk as a “hypocritical libidinous man.” The great poet and publicist considered that it was just a stereotype, a bias, a mental cliché:

“Whoever sees in monasticism the permanently present image of sex, and nothing else, is making a simplistic and vulgar judgment.”33 However, Arghezi realized that erotic drives are hard to rein in during a prolonged monastic seclusion. In a poem also written in the 1920s, he tried to describe the sexual fantasies of an ordinary deacon, Iakint (a kind of Eufrosin Poteca). It is about the phantasms experienced by a deacon during the period of spiritual and food fasting which the other monks from the monastery observed before the Easter holidays:

While all the hermits, Lord, it grieves, Are punishing themselves, like thieves, With bitter fasting and obedience, In Holy Week, doing their penance, In his small cell (the deacon’s), last night, A real girl made darkness bright With her firm breasts and narrow hips Of Florentine lute, an ellipse. Mâhniri [Sorrows], 1927.34

The materialization of the deacon’s erotic vision was so strong, so concrete and real, that even the almighty God, “who sees all,” caught a glimpse of the girl, as she sneaked out from monk Iakint’s cell, in the morning.

The love of beauty, specific to God, can mitigate the guilt of some sins committed “willingly and unwillingly,” “in deed,” but also “in thought.” As we have seen, for the rigorist Antim Ivireanul, the eyes are soiled “with unbecoming views and with signs of fornication” (Didahii [Sermons], 1709-1716). As Cantemir put it: “by day and night, he would punish and torment himself in his thought even worse and in a more terrible fashion than in his body” (Istoria ieroglifică [The Hieroglyphic History], 1705)…

MEN VS. WOMEN: ISOLATION AND DISCRIMINATION

In the sacred spaces of the temples, the meeting and the nearness of men and women were limited, if not altogether banned. The mere sight of a woman was considered to be apt to distract a man’s concentration from “the things holy.” An erection could even happen in the space of a church, as happens, according to the Romanian popular saying: “The poor man’s oxen won’t pull the cart, his bread falls in the mud and his cock gets a rise in church.” That is why special, isolated, places have been imagined and built for women in churches, synagogues and mosques. The idea is to isolate women, doubled by their discrimination. Not only did women sit completely separated from men in synagogues and in mosques (on a floor upstairs, behind a parting screen), but sometimes they also had separate entrances (like in the Choral Temple, built in Bucharest over 1864-1866). Sometimes, in the Jewish quarters of some mediaeval cities (for instance, in the judería from the city of Gerona, in Catalonia), there were so-called “women’s streets,” which they could use to get to the synagogue, without meeting men on their road.

The worshipping men used to sit (in the conservative regions they still do) separated from the women in the Christian Orthodox churches too, even if not on different floors. The men sat in front, in the naos, and the women at the back, in the pronaos.35 Or the men sat to the right side of the naos, while the women sat on the left. The gender considered “weaker” (the woman) was seated on the side which was considered “weaker” (the left)36. Exceptionally, following the Islamic (Turkish) model, even in some Christian Orthodox churches in Romania, the women sat on a different floor.37 As I have said, the separation of men from women goes hand in hand with the negative discrimination of the latter. In the synagogue, church or mosque, the place destined for women is always in a less favourable space, a “weaker” space from a symbolic and ritual point of view: behind a screen, on a higher floor (on a different floor than the altar and the officiating priest); in the pronaos or in the back (further away from the altar); in the naos, but on the left, etc.

Another way to limit the temptation of men (this time, of Christian monks) is the interdiction of women to enter the precincts of a monastery dressed in an “immodest” (“indecent”) way, or with their hair untied and uncovered. There are also other places where there are prohibitions for women, regarding “immodest clothes”: in the public space in some Islamic states, but also in the district of the ultra-orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, called Mea She’arim (“One Hundred Gates”).

In some monastic spaces, the presence of women is totally prohibited. The best known case is the monastic complex at Mt. Athos (20 monasteries and 12 hermitages), where the interdiction of women is total. “If women came here, – one monk from Mount Athos said, – two-thirds of us would follow them and would get married.”38 This is, of course, an exaggeration, but a significant one. From the so-called “ascetics of the wilderness” (3rd -4 th centuries A.D.) to the monks from Mt. Athos, the total repression of any sexual intercourse (happening “in thought or in deed”) was a steadfast rule: “Looking at a female, even at a chicken,” – as I. P. Culianu ironically said – “posed a great spiritual danger.”39

An old monastic parable – also reported by Culianu, – says much about the monk’s interdiction to look at (to admire) a girl, even accidentally. The hero of this story is Serbian Athonite monk St Sava (1175-1235), the founder of the Hilandar monastery on Mount Athos, who became the first archbishop of the autocephalous Serbian Orthodox Church, and was later canonised. The parable attests to a test of monastic restrictions, of total erotic abstinence. Whoever failed the test was excluded:

“When the old Saba (= Sava) and a disciple walked on their way past a good-looking girl, Saba said that she had only one eye, and his disciple protested: he had seen that the girl had both eyes. That had been however, a trick of Saba’s, to see if his disciple had taken a good look at the girl. Then the disciple was driven away.”40

“THE ABBOTS’ RIGHT OVER GYPSY WOMEN” 

Besides the settlements of “princes’ gypsies” and of “boyars’ gypsies,” there were also gypsy slaves living around the monasteries in Wallachia and Moldova. They are the so-called “monastery gypsies”.41 In this case, the “abbot’s right” (that of the egumen, in Romanian: from the Neo-Greek igúmenos), worked just as the “boyar’s right” worked over “the boyar’s gypsies”.42 Speaking of the sexual privileges which the boyars arrogated over the young slaves, historian Radu Rosetti synthesized in a few lines the similarity of behavior with that of abbots in monasteries of the 18th century, and the first half of the 19th century:

“You should not believe that only the lay masters (the boyars) used royal rights over the gypsy women belonging to them: these slaves made up genuine harems for the abbots of the monasteries which the generosity of the pious donors had endowed with a great many gypsy souls. Especially the Greek abbots of the dedicated monasteries had a reputation of knowing how to build up seraglios of gypsy beauties, through exchanges (of slaves).”43

…It is not only the lord of the land that was entitled to ius primae noctis over the boyars’ slaves, but also the abbot, over the monastery slaves. Let us switch to the non-fiction area. Some documents attest to the existence of this situation until very late. In 1843 (and previously, in 1836), the slaves from the Râncăciov Monastery (Muscel county) sent a complaint to Wallachia’s ruling Prince Gheorghe Bibescu (and previously to ruling Prince Alexandru Ghica), exposing the “tyrannical” behaviour of the “famous abbot, Father David.” One of the complaints in the princely supplication went as follows:

“Our daughters who are of marrying age, if we want to marry them to a lad, the abbot hides them and he puts them under lock and key, with his armed guards, ordering us first to take the girls to his Holiness, to deflower them, and then only to be free to marry them”44

The supplicant slaves – who most probably were helped by a lawyer – note the fact that the abbot illegally applied this sexual “right” (“like a lawless man”), both from ecclesiastic and legal points of view: “a consequence totally alien to the church and political laws.” Moreover, as we saw how things happened with the boyars, the abbot’s erotic privileges did not stop only at the gypsy women slaves of the monastery, but extended over “the wives in the village with (whom) he has his pleasure.”

The sexual slippages of the priors and abbots were so usual that they could be invoked even when they did not happen. Blaming them was quite likely, even if the erotic abuses of the monks were not always real, but on occasion estaged. In the spring of 1785, for instance, a girl named Stana went to Prior Gavrilă (a confessor at the Radu-Vodă monastery in Bucharest) to pay the rent for the hovel on the monastery estate where she was living. The monk jokingly made some sexual innuendos to the girl, but nothing more. However, prodded by a neighbour, the young Stana sent a complaint to the Metropolitan, alleging that she was raped and deflowered, thinking that “she would get 300 thalers from the confessor”: “Then, at the moment of giving the money (for the rent), the said Prior (Gavrilă) allegedly took her in his cell and spoilt her virginity.”

Fr. George Passias inhaling Ethel Bouzalas' feet.
Fr. George Passias inhaling Ethel Bouzalas’ feet.

To stay in the spirit of the age, we are not too far from the stories told by Marquis de Sade, in his novel Justine (Justine ou Les Malheurs de la vertu, 1791). The accusation brought against prior Gavrilă was easy to believe. It was plausible because, at the time, in the monastic environment, that was a fairly common sin. In order to be even more persuasive, Stana cut a chicken’s crest and, with the blood dripping from it, smeared her blouse, as a proof of the deflowering. Although some witnesses (especially women neighbors), conniving with Stana, defended her version, the Metropolitan council ruled in favour of Prior Gavrilă, also taking into account that the poor man was old, sick and impotent: “And even more vigorously as we have ascertained (Confessor Gavrilă) is also a man tormented by rupture (hernia) and he is also past his prime.”45

For her false statements and perjury, Stana was banished to the convent of Viforâta, near the town of Târgovişte (Wallachia).

This true story reminds me of a hagiographic legend from the collection Vieţile sfinţilor (The Lives of The Saints).46 It is an etiological legend about the genesis of the Gypsy people, told by Costache Negruzzi in 1839. Negruzzi’s text is titled exactly like this: Pentru ce ţiganii nu sunt români (Why Gypsies Are Not Romanians).47 It says that several heretics, some “lost sheep,” complained to ecclesiastic authorities that Bishop Gregory (Grigorie) was a sexual profligate and that he had a mistress, “a young and beautiful girl.” A priestly synod was sent to the place to look into the facts. And indeed, in the bishop’s bedroom, they discovered “a young girl,” in a state of “scandalous lack of clothing.” The bishop was sentenced to death. But in order to convince the priests that “he doesn’t know what the sin of fornication” is, St. Gregory “lifted the hem of his frock.” And then, “the gathering was dumbstruck, for the holy father was…like Abeilard [sic]”. In other words, he was castrated, just as had happened to French theologian Pierre Abélard (1079-1142), as a punishment for having deflowered his beloved Héloїse. St. Gregory was exonerated, and the heretics who had “badmouthed the man of God” were cursed to be “black skinned,” “to live from thieving,” and “in eternal slavery from father to son,” with their owner “having the right to sell them as beasts,” “to call them Gypsies,” etc. “The Romanians immediately rushed in and took them as slaves.” This is how the Gypsy population allegedly appeared in the world…48

Sifting through and reading the supplications kept at the Department of National Archives, researcher Constanţa Vintilă- Ghiţulescu found many important social history documents. Some of them are related to the subject under discussion. Here, for instance, is a case dating from the end of the 18th century, which happened in a monastery in Wallachia. The Butoiu Monastery (village of Potoc, Dâmboviţa county) was rebuilt in 1648-1649, under ruling Prince Matei Basarab, who also endowed it with a settlement of Gypsy slaves. At the beginning of the year 1799, some Gypsies belonging to this monastery mustered their courage and complained to father Climent (probably a bishop) and then higher up, to his Holiness the Metropolitan, alleging that Abbot Ignat lived with a young slave woman, Gherghina, and also committed other abuses. In their complaint, they alleged that “due to one woman called Gherghina the gypsy, we cannot live.”

It is interesting that if a boyar had been in the same situation as the abbot, the civil authorities (“the lay judge”) would not have intervened at all. The boyar would not have infringed any rule, be it legal or moral. The sexual “right” of the boyar over the Gypsy women slaves from the settlements on his estate was tacitly recognized by everybody, even if it was based only on an archaic custom, on a lex non scripta. An unwritten law which dates back to the Greek-Roman Antiquity. Artemidorus of Ephesus, for instance, defined as being “links in keeping with the norm” (kata nomon) the sexual relations between a master and his slave, be the latter “a man or a woman.” “Unfit for the norm” (para nomon) would have been only if the slave had been the one who “possessed” the master, not the other way round: “It is no good to let yourself to be possessed by the slave: through his touch, he would show contempt towards you.”49

In the case of Butoiu monastery, however, the monk was not violating the lay norms, but those of the church. Even more, the actions of the abbot ran counter to the rules of monastic asceticism. In keeping with their own regulations, the ecclesiastical authorities were compelled to intervene, be it only to appease public opinion. Indeed, in the summer of 1799, the Metropolitan’s office sent a group of priests, led by Father Nicodim, to investigate the case and to propose possible sanctions, This is what the situation in Bucharest looked like, at the beginning of the 19th century:

“Besides the jail, besides the police prison from the dungeons of the Old Princely Court, and the vaults of the military governor and of the Aga, the Metropolitan also had a jail for priests.50

Returning to the case of the Butoiu Monastery, before the authorities, even the ecclesiastical, all the slaves from the settlement (except for the signatories of the complaint) were afraid to confirm the situation which was known to all the Roma community. Especially as they were accused of sending over the complaint. The fear of the authorities was a typical behavioural attitude for the traditional Romanian society. That psycho-social illness has tenaciously survived to date. For the collective mind, nothing good could come from the authorities. Be they administrative or ecclesiastical, central or local, police or financial, the authorities in the Romanian space have been high-handed, corrupt, abusive and punitive over the centuries. The situation was even more dramatic with respect to “aliens” (Romas, Jews, etc.). As such, the Romas under investigation at the Butoiu Monastery in 1799 shrugged in fear, insisting they knew nothing: “(We) had no idea, nor did we prompt them to make a complaint.” Eventually, it seems that Abbot Ignat was not found guilty of fornication with the Gypsy woman slave Gherghina. The only culprits were the elderly Gypsies from the settlement. Headed by their chieftains, Nedelco and Stan, they wrote (probably under dictation) and signed a deed whereby they pledged to make the younger slaves “more submissive”: “In duty being bound, we, the elders, to advise all the other younger ones to do good and to be submissive.”51

HOMOSEXUALITY AND PEDOPHILIA IN THE MONASTERIES

Seraphim Storheim, former OCA Archbishop of Canada, was convicted of sexually assaulting a young altar boy at a Winnipeg church has been demoted to a monk.
Seraphim Storheim, former OCA Archbishop of Canada, was convicted of sexually assaulting a young altar boy at a Winnipeg church has been demoted to a monk.

Exactly ten years later, in February 1809, things repeated at the same Butunoiu Monastery. This time, another abbot was accused by another two slaves of the monastery of other “frightening deeds,” including homosexuality, pedophilia and rape:

“For abbot Constantin there have been many a complaint against him, that for a while now he has fallen into fornications (…); also that for a young gypsy boy that he started to rape him.”

This was a copycat scenario: the dean sent an investigating commission to look into the case, and the Gypsies were herded “in front of the church” and investigated “one by one.” For fear of reprisals, they disassociated themselves from the two “rattling” plaintiffs. Eventually, the latter were the only culprits and they were sentenced to have their soles flogged. Afterwards, they were forced to sign a writ, whereby “they recognized their guilt and that they would desist.”

Serial child molester, Archimandrite Stanley Adamakis, started abusing church members in the 70s. http://ocl.org/ex-clergyman-sexually-abused-at-17-by-his-priest-attempted-suicide/
Serial child molester, Archimandrite Stanley Adamakis, started abusing church members in the 70s. http://ocl.org/ex-clergyman-sexually-abused-at-17-by-his-priest-attempted-suicide/

Historian Constanţa Vintilă-Ghiţescu is right when she wonders whether things really went that way at the Butoiu Monastery, in 1799-1809 (which is very likely), or if the Gypsy slaves had other misunderstandings with the two abbots of the monastery, and tried to have them punished, knowing that the worst accusations in the eyes of the ecclesiastical authorities were fornication, sodomy, pedophilia, rape and the exertion of the lord’s right, etc.52

It is common knowledge that heterosexual and homosexual (including pedophilic) relations were quite usual in the Christian monastic milieu, be it Orthodox or Catholic. I need not go into too many details; only a few examples from Romanian and world culture…

In the middle of the 14th century, Giovanni Boccaccio (The Decameron, 1352) had the courage to raise the thorny issue of debauchery and carnal sins accomplished by “all” the Catholic cardinals, priests and monks. He wrote about sodomy, fornication, pedophilia, etc.:

“From the most senior to the most junior one, the (Catholic) priests were all sinning through carnal debauchery; and not only in those ordred by nature, but even in the debauchery of sodomy, without knowing the rein of repentance or shame, so much so that the most wicked women and the small children had the greatest appeal when it was about winning their favours” (The Decameron I.2).53

The homosexual relationships among monks are also present in Romanian literature, for instance, in Vasile Voiculescu’s prose. In one of his short stories (Chef la mânăstire [Revelry at the Monastery], 1952), which the writer presented as a “true story,” Father Iosafat, the abbot of a monastery in Moldova lives with a very young monk, Brother Minodor. The latter was “the abbot’s darling,” “a rosy-cheeked lad,” “a girlish boy,” “with long and sweet lashes,” who “was inclined more towards women’s sweet and liquor wines.” Everything happens under the complacent gaze of Father Dean Ilie, “the ecclesiastical head of the county,” who had come on an inspection at the respective monastery:

“The Abbot [Iosafat], heaving in his armchair, drew to him, holding him on a protruding knee, Brother [monk] Minodor, who, with his chubby cheeks, his languid blue eyes, and a semblance of black hairs on his upper lip, with rings of hair floating on his back and along his monastic frock, looked like an angel reclining on the chest of an old saint.”54

The defrocked monk Ion Creangă could speak volumes on this subject: “he had learned some of the secrets of life in a monastery.” He was always critical of the monks, the priests and other clergymen: “they burst out of their belts, pot-bellied as they are.”55 Creangă lived among priests and, as a teenager and as a young man, he lived in boarding houses of all kinds of “factories of priests,” such as the theological schools in Fălticeni and Socola. Small wonder that the only homosexual episode in his work has a priest as its hero, in his famous Poveste a poveştilor (The Story of All Stories): “And as he was whistling in surprise, the cock dashed with a smack! right in the priest’s ass! Then, the priest started to yell…”56

As an old popular saying goes, which was commented upon around 1832 by boyar Iordache Golescu: “Another one in the priest’s ass (used when something happens unawares, something irksome).” The same learned boyar wrote down another popular saying, which concerns a man who is in love with a priest: “One loves the priest, another the priest’s wife, and another the priest’s daughter (it shows the variety of pleasures).”57 Speaking openly about “the variety of (sexual) pleasures,” Golescu had a quite Liberal attitude for a boyar from Wallachia, in the first half of the 19th century. True, he was a boyar who had travelled across Europe.

Homosexuality and pedophilia are still big problems among priests and monks today, especially among the Catholic, problems that the Pope himself is at a loss to solve.58 The Vatican is being blamed for putting a lid on these forbidden sexual practices, for decades (centuries, actually).

Coming back to the illicit erotic relations between the Orthodox abbots and the slaves in the monasteries, we must say that homosexual, even pedophilic relations have been attested. Obviously, the latter did not go unpunished by the church authorities. Not only were the jails for priests – as we have seen above – special, but so were their punishments. It seems that for the crime of pedophilia, the clergymen got a special physical punishment, called “the iron child”:

“A device used to punish the priests, when they committed an immoral act, was the “iron child.” This “child” weighed 50-60 kg. The punished priest was forced to hold that weight in his arms for four to five hours.”59

At the end of the 18th century, it was proved that Abbot Teofil of the Căldăruşani Monastery (near Bucharest) “had committed sodomy with the Gypsies, but the Gypsies have committed sodomy with him.” On account of this “ill and wicked deed,” the abbot was demoted to the lowest rank, that of “simple monk.” Moreover, he was banished to the Tismana monastery, “to weep for his sins” there.60

Virtually, in the case of the abbot of the Căldăruşani Monastery, the law (glava (chapter) 333, titled “For Sodomy”), was applied in its letter and spirit:

“If it were that anybody from the church clergy is found to be a sodomite, he shall then be bereft of everything, as the law of the church writes, of all the good he will have had from the church and they shall take him and lock him in a faraway monastery; and they shall even more vigorously demoted him from his position…”

Exceptionally, in aggravated situations, the “sodomite” clergyman was handed over to “the lay judge,” who was supposed “to scold him with death, namely, to behead him.” (Pravila de la Târgovişte [The Codex from Târgoviște], 1652). As the folk saying goes: “Do as the priest says, not as the priest does!”

Perhaps all these illicit sexual practices – which sparked more or less public scandals – have hastened the moment of the liberation of Gypsies from slavery in the Romanian space, which happened around the mid-19th century. Or, at any rate, perhaps they did not push the liberation per se of the slaves from the monastic settlements (1844 in Moldova and 1847 in Wallachia) to happen around one decade before the liberation of the Gypsies owned by boyars (1855 in Moldova and 1856 in Wallachia). The big landowners (and implicitly owners of Gypsy settlements) blocked as much as they could the act of liberation of the boyars’ Gypsies. Although he was in an open conflict with the government of ruling Moldovan Prince, Mihail Sturdza, Kogălniceanu paid homage to the ruling prince for promulgating the law of the emancipation of the monastery Gypsies on 31st of January 1844:

“We, the youth from Moldova, – I speak only of those with whom I have worked – forgot that day our fierce fight against ruling Prince Mihail Sturdza for his abuses” (Dezrobirea ţiganilor, ştergerea privilegiilor boiereşti, emanciparea ţăranilor [The Liberation of the Gypsies, The Eradication of The Boyars’ Privileges, The Emancipation of The Peasants], 1891).

On 6 th of February 1844, a few days after the liberation of the Gypsy slaves from the monasteries, Mihail Kogălniceanu – who was fairly aware of the mechanism which had led to the decision to abolish slavery, “the most heinous social enormity,” – did not forget also to pay tribute to the Romanian Orthodox Church:

“Honour be to the Church, too, today, which has no slaves any longer; for it now shows itself as the true Church of Christ, who brought freedom on Earth, saying that before him there are no rich or poor men, no masters or slaves!” (Dezrobirea ţiganilor [The Emancipation of the Gypsies], 1844).61

Obviously, in the Catholic Middle Ages, too, the sacred space of the churches and monasteries could also become a place for the forbidden fantasies and love affairs, be they homo- or heterosexual. The nuns and abbesses from the Catholic convents were also subject to those types of sins. Boccaccio’s stories (The Decameron, 1352) abound in such erotic monastic prowess. 62

Adam Metropoulos, former priest at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Bangor was sentenced Monday to 12 years in prison with all but 6½ years suspended for sex crimes involving children.
Adam Metropoulos, former priest at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Bangor was sentenced Monday to 12 years in prison with all but 6½ years suspended for sex crimes involving children.

NOTES

  1. Dan Horia MAZILU, Law and Sacrilege in the Old Romanian Society, Iaşi: Polirom, 2006, pp. 394-397.
  2. Michel FOUCAULT, Istoria sexualităţii [The History of Sexuality], Romanian translation by B. Stanciu and A. Onete, Vest Publishing House, Timisoara, 1995, p. 48.
  3. Andreas Capellanus, Despre iubire (About Love), bilingual edition, translation and notes by Eugenia CRISTEA, study, introductory note, notes and bibliography by Anca Crivat, Polirom Publishing House, Iasi, 2012, p.215.
  4. With Alexandru Macedonski: “Father Cioaca care on Christmas Eve to put his apron over our heads,” or in Dan Botta’s translation, with François Villon: “The Holy Apostles” are “Girdled with sacred aprons | To better seize the villains | who revel in their sins” (François VILLON, Balade şi alte poeme, translation by Dan Botta, presentation by Tudor Arghezi, the Publishing House of the Romanian Cultural Institute, Bucharest, 2006, p.47).
  5. Folclor vechi românesc (Old Romanian Folklore), edition, preface, notes and bibliography by C. Ciuchindel, Bucharest: Minerva, 1990, p. 246.
  6. Octav ȘULUȚIU, Ambigen [Ambigenous], novel illustrated with etchings by I. Anestin, Bucharest: Vremea, 1935, p. 26.
  7. Nicoleta ROMAN, „Deznădăjduită muiere n-au fost ca mine”. Femei, onoare şi păcat în Valahia secolului al XIX-lea, Bucharest: Humanitas, 2016, p. 37.
  8. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830) (The Fire of Love. About Love and Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, p. 55.
  9. Ibid.
  10. G.Dem. TEODORESCU, Poezii populare române [Romanian Folk Poems], critical edition, notes, glossary, bibliography and index by George Antofi, preface by Ovidiu Papadima, Bucharest: Minerva, 1982, p. 349.
  11. Dan Horia MAZILU, op. cit., 2006, p. 422.
  12. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830) (The Fire of Love. About Love and Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, p.221.
  13. George Calinescu, Istoria literaturii române de la origini până în prezent (The History of Romanian Literature From The Origins to The Present), second, revised and enlarged edition, overseen and with preface by Al. Piru, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1986, p.121. Constanţa VINTILĂ- GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830) (The Fire of Love. About Love and Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, pp. 219-220.
  14. G. CĂLINESCU, Istoria literaturii române de la origini până în prezent (The History of Romanian Literature from the Origins to the Present), second, revised and enlarged edition, overseen and with preface by Al. Piru, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1986, p. 121.
  15. Stith THOMPSON, Motif-Index of Folk-Literature: A classification of Narrative Elements in Folktales, Ballads, Myths, Fables, Mediaeval Romances, Exempla, Fabliaux, Jest-Books and Local Legends, revised and enlarged edition, vol. 5, Rosenkilde and Bagger, Copenhagen, 1958, pp. 379- 381.
  16. Bernard FAURE, Sexualités bouddhiques: Entre désirs et réalités, Paris, Flammarion, 2005, pp. 71 sq.
  17. Vasile Alecsandri, Poezii populare ale românilor (Folk Poems of The Romanians), preface and bibliography by Stancu Ilin, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1982, p.228.
  18. G. Dem. TEODORESCU, Poezii populare române [Romanian Folk Poems], critical edition, notes, glossary, bibliography and index by George Antofi, preface by Ovidiu Papadima, Bucharest: Minerva, 1982, p. 349.
  19. G. Dem. TEODORESCU, Viaţa şi operile lui Eufrosin Poteca (cu câteva din scrierile’i inedite), Academy Press, Bucharest, 1883.
  20. A similar saying is also attested by Dinicu Golescu, in 1832: “One eye on the icon and another near the icon” (Iordache GOLESCU, Scrieri alese, [Selected Writings], edition by Mihai Moraru, Bucharest: Cartea Românească, 1990, p. 192).
  21. Vasile Alecsandri, Poezii populare ale românilor (Folk Poems of The Romanians), preface and bibliography by Stancu Ilin, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1982, p.228.
  22. Iordache GOLESCU, Scrieri alese [Selected Writings], edition by Mihai Moraru, Bucharest: Cartea Românească, 1990, p. 193.
  23. G. Dem. TEODORESCU, Poezii populare române [Romanian Folk Poems], critical edition, notes, glossary, bibliography and index by George Antofi, preface by Ovidiu Papadima, Bucharest: Minerva, 1982, p. 393.
  24. Gustave FLAUBERT, Ispitirea Sfântului Anton [The Temptation of St. Anthony], Romanian translation by Mihai Murgu, preface by Irina Mavrodin, Bucharest: Univers, 1977, p. 68.
  25. Mihai EMINESCU, Poezii [Poems], text selected and established, critical fragments by Perpessicius, volume supervised and chronology by D. Vatamaniuc, Bucharest: Romanian Cultural Institute, 2004, p. 67. English translation by Corneliu M. Popescu, http://www.gabrielditu.com/eminescu/emperor_and_proletarian.asp.  
  26. Liviu REBREANU, Adam şi Eva, edition supervised by Niculae Gheran, preface by Ion Simut, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1998, p. 173.
  27. Mihai EMINESCU, Poezii [Poems], text selected and established, critical fragments by Perpessicius, volume supervised and chronology by D. Vatamaniuc, Bucharest: Romanian Cultural Institute, 2004, p. 164 (our translation).
  28. G.Dem. TEODORESCU, Poezii populare române [Romanian Folk Poems], critical edition, notes, glossary, bibliography and index by George Antofi, preface by Ovidiu Papadima, Bucharest: Minerva, 1982, p. 349.
  29. Iordache GOLESCU, Scrieri alese [Selected Writings], edition by Mihai Moraru, Bucharest: Cartea Românească, 1990, p. 170.
  30. G. SION, Suvenire contimpurane [Contemporary Memories], complete edition, Iaşi: Polirom, 2014, p. 372.
  31. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Patimă şi desfătare. Despre lucrurile mărunte ale vieţii cotidiene în societatea românească, 1750-1860 [Passion and Delight. The Small Things of Everyday Life in Romanian Society, 1750-1860], Bucharest: Humanitas, 2015, p. 353.
  32. Timotei OPREA, Rai şi Iad în cultura populară românească. File de apocalips (sec. XVIII-XIX) [Heaven and Hell in Romanian Folk Culture. Pages from an Apocalypse (18th -19th c.)], Buzău: Alpha MDN, 2005, p. 167.
  33. Tudor ARGHEZI, Opere, vol. V: Publicistică (1919–iulie 1928) [Works, vol. V: Journalism (1919-July 1928)], edited by Mitzura Arghezi and Traian Radu, preface by Eugen Simion,), Bucharest, National Foundation for Sciences and Arts & Univers Enciclopedic, 2004, pp. 132-134.
  34. Tudor ARGHEZI, Cuvinte potrivite [Fitting Words], preface by Liviu Papadima, anthology by Mitzura Arghezi and Traian Radu, Bucharest: Minerva, 1990, p. 13 (our translation).
  35. Nicolae IORGA, Istoria românilor în chipuri şi icoane [The History of the Romanians in Faces and Icons], Foreword by Andrei Pippidi, Bucharest: Humanitas, 2012, p. 164.
  36. See the study by Andrei OIȘTEANU, „Stânga versus dreapta. Farmecul discret al dihotomiei” [“Left vs. Right. The Discreet Charm of Dichotomy”], in ID., Mythos & Logos. Studii şi eseuri de antropologie culturală [Mythos and Logos. Studies and Essays in Cultural Anthropology], second, revised and enlarged edition, Bucharest: Nemira, 1998, pp. 267-282.
  37. Under Turkish influence, ruling Prince Petru Cercel (1583-1585) built a balcony behind the naos of the Big princely Church in Târgovişte, above the entrance to the naos, where the Prince’s wife would sit during the mass, hidden behind a curtain. She got to that balcony in the church through a passageway built right from the Princely Palace.
  38. Robert DRAPER, “Chemarea muntelui sfânt” [The Call of the Sacred Mountain], National Geographic Romanian edition, December 2009, p. 104 (our translation).
  39. Ioan Petru CULIANU, Cult, magie, erezii. Articole din enciclopedii ale religiilor [Cult, Magic, Heresies. Articles from the Encyclopaedias of Religions), Romanian translation by Maria-Magdalena Anghelescu and Dan Petrescu, afterword by Eduard Iricinschi, Iași: Polirom, 2003, p. 120 (our translation).
  40. IBID., p. 188 (our translation).
  41. Neagu DJUVARA, Între Orient şi Occident. Ţările române la începutul epocii moderne (1800-1848) [Between East and West. The Romanian Principalities at The Beginning of The Modern Times], Romanian translation by Maria Carpov, Bucharest: Humanitas, 1995, p. 267 (our translation).
  42. See Chap. 27, “The Boyar’s ‘Right’ over Gypsy Women Slaves” in Andrei OIȘTEANU, Sexuality and Society. History, Religion and Literature, Iași: Polirom, 2016.
  43. Radu Rosetti, Amintiri. Ce-am auzit de la alţii, (Memories. What I Heard From Others). Edition and Preface by Mircea Anghelescu, Romanian Cultural Foundation Publishing House, Bucharest, 1996, p.155.
  44. Bogdan Mateescu, Căsătoria robilor. Între alegerea cuplului şi voinţa stăpânului, (The Marriage of The Slaves. Between The Couple’s Choice And The Master’s Will), Etnous Publishing House, Braşov, 2014; Bogdan Mateescu, „Căsătoriile robilor din Ţara Românească după 1830: reglementări ale Statului și ale Bisericii”, (“The Marriages of The Slaves in Wallachia after 1830: State and Church Regulations”), lecture delivered on April 14, 2014 at the New Europe College, as part of the project “Group of Reflection on Political and Social History (18th -19th centuries).” I thank researcher Bogdan Munteanu (a doctoral student at the Nicolae Iorga History Institute of the Romanian Academy) for signaling the presented documents.
  45. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830), (The Fire of Love. Of Love And Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, p.49.
  46. The legend of St. Gregory, bishop of Agrigento (7th c. AD), is old. On a Byzantine thread, it penetrated the collection of The Lives of the Saints, translated in Wallachia.
  47. Constantin NEGRUZZI, Păcatele tinereţilor [The Sins of Youth], Iaşi: Adolf Bermann, 1857, pp. 271-285.
  48. O mie de ani de singurătate. Rromii în proza românească, (One Thousand Years of Loneliness. The Romas in Romanian Prose), Selection, notes and afterword by Vasile Ionescu, “Aven Amentza” Publhsing House, Bucharest, 2000, pp.74-84 (our translation).
  49. Paul Veyne, “Homosexualitatea la Roma”, (Homosexuality in Rome) in the volume Georges Duby et alii, Amor şi sexualitate în Occident, (Love And Sexuality in The West), introduction by Georges Duby, Romanian translation by Laurenţiu Zoicaş, Artemis Publishing House, Bucharest, 1994, p. 53 (our translation).
  50. Gr.I. Dianu, Istoria închisorilor din România. Studiu comparativ. Legi şi obiceiuri, (The History of Jails in Romania. A Compared Study) Laws And Customs) The Royal House Publishing House, Bucharest, 1900, p. 44 (our translation).
  51. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830), (The Fire of Love. Of Love And Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, pp. 163-164 (our translation).
  52. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830), (The Fire of Love. Of Love And Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, pp.164-166.
  53. Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameronul, (The Decameron), Romanian translation by Eta Boeriu, with an introductory study by Alexandru Balaci, vol. I and II, State Publishing House for Literature and Art, Bucharest, 1957, I, p. 78 (our translation).
  54. Vasile Voiculescu, Capul de zimbru, Povestiri, (The Aurochs Head, Stories) vol. I, Edited bby Victor Iova, Cartea Românească Publishing House, Bucharest, 1982, p. 147.
  55. Maria Luisa Lombardo, Erotica magna. O istorie a literaturii române, dincolo de tabuurile ei, (Erotica Magna, A History of Romanian Literature, Beyond Its Taboos), Western University Publishing House, Timişoara, 2004, pp.80/81.
  56. Ion Creangă, Povestea lui Ionică cel Prost (poreclit şi Irimiea) şi Povestea poveştilor (povestea pulei), (The Story of Ionica the Dumb (also nicknamed Irimiea) And The Story of All Stories (The Story of the Cock)), introductory study by Paul Anghel, edited by Nedic Lemnaru, „Roza vânturilor” Publishing House, Bucharest, 1990, p. 31 (our translation).
  57. Iordache GOLESCU, Scrieri alese [Selected Writings], edition by Mihai Moraru, Bucharest: Cartea Românească, 1990, pp. 166, 176.
  58. This very day, as I am writing these lines (September 25, 2011), Pope Benedict XVI (meantime, the former Pope), while visiting Germany, said he was “moved and deeply troubled” after his meetings with persons / children and youths / who had been the victims of the sexual abuse committed by Roman Catholic priests.
  59. Marian Munteanu, Folclorul detenţiei. Formele privării de libertate în literatura poporană. Studiu, tipologie, antologie de texte şi glosar, (The Folklore of Detention. The Forms of Freedom Deprivation in Folk Literature. Study, Typology, Anthology of Texts and Glossary), Valahia Publishing House, Bucharest, 2008, p. 645.
  60. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830) (The Fire of Love. About Love and Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, pp. 162-163 (our translation).
  61. Mihail Kogălniceanu, Tainele inimei, (The Secrets of The Heart), selected writings, edited by Dan Simonescu, The Publishing House for Literature, Bucharest, 1964, pp. 205, 348 (our translation).
  62. Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameronul, (The Decameron), Romanian translation by Eta Boeriu, with an introductory study by Alexandru Balaci, vol. I and II, State Publishing House for Literature and Art, Bucharest, 1957, I, p.265; II, p.366, a.o.
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The Role of a Spiritual Father in an Orthodox Monastery by the Abbot of Simonos Petras, Mount Athos

Elder Aimilianos, with Archimandrite Ephraim, then abbot of the monastery of Philotheou (1973).
Elder Aimilianos, with Archimandrite Ephraim, then abbot of the monastery of Philotheou (1973).

Taken from  ‘The Living Witness of the Holy Mountain’

01 ) A monastery is not a human society, rather it is the continuous assembly of the fraternity of the Church: in the refectory, and throughout the day. It is an assembly that identifies itself with the path of the Church herself throughout the course of her history, one that reproduces the model of that fraternity consituted by Christ and His Apostles. Such a gathering is not composed only of its visible members, but as well as those who, in their turn, come to her to comprise the Church of the past and of the future. A monastery is thus a type of the Church in her entirety. It is the gathering of the Church herself, concentrated in a particular space. Consequently the spiritual father ( gerontas ), the abbot, is an image of God: he stands in the place of Christ while the other monks constitute the choir of the saints, living and dead.

02 ) The monastery is a mystery, a sacrament, and the spiritual father is the visible element of this mystery, behind whom hides the invisible: God, and everything that escapes the senses, which can only be sensed by the spirit.

03 ) This place, so important, of the spiritual father situated at the very heart of the mystery signifies thus that he is the guide, the one who takes and shapes men in order to gather them and incorporate them into the life of the Church, and of Christ. The superior thus does not concern himself only with food, with the daily life and material needs of the community. Before all, he is the guide of souls, the one who initiates them into the mysteries, who reveals to them the way to perfect mystical union with God.

04 ) One must understand that the monastery is a special kind of society. It is in fact the society of Paradise, the society of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is the society of all the saints in which each believer – in this cae, each monk – possesses an absolute right to the life of Christ, but where as well Christ Himself possesses the same rights over the life of each. The monastery comprises thus a most important reality because it preserves the rights man had before the Fall – the possibility of possessing God wholly as one’s own. It is this reality that the abbot must, each day, make present and manifest to his monks, which is to say, to the disciples of the Lord Himself.

05 ) He is therefore the master who transmitts to them his own knowledge, and who, in particular, must reveal to them by his own life the knowledge of the true God, by the fire that he kindles in their hearts, by the awareness that he gives them in order that they themselves become sensitive to Christ as present, and also Christ as One Whom they await. Because, whatever his daily obedience, the monk’s life is nothing other than the burning and impatient attendance upon God.

06 ) And, little by little, the father takes the monk in order to raise him up to the heights, to give him the grace of God. In the mystical life, it is grace that accomplishes all in such manner that Christ becomes not only the One to come, but the One with Whom we hold converse now. Thus the monk learns to devote himself to his master, the Lord, to have with Christ exactly the same intimacy as has the choir of the Apostles. And, finally, by grace of his daily effort and careful attention to the Holy Trinity, the abbot will be able to achieve another result: the monks will perceive God as living, as a contemporary, accompanying them on arising from sleep, at their regular tasks, and in the least detail. At that point the communion between God and man is complete.

07 ) The spiritual father is therefore, in fact, the same who takes his disciple, the monk, by the hand in order to introduce him to the Lord. He is the same who brings Christ down, who reunites that which was seperated – the realities of heaven and of earth – in order to transform them into the one, unique, and genuine dance.

08 ) Such is the real role of the spiritual father and such is the manner in which the monks perceive him. This is why this discipline exists, this obedience, this charity, this gift of self and this confidence that addresses itself not so much to the superior – who is only a man – but to Christ Whom he represents.

09 ) All the monks partake of this sense of the mystery and of the mystical reality that manifests itself among them: because the Elder is not merely someone who has appeared today for the sake of the monastery, rather he proceeds from the stream of the Orthodox tradition, he springs from the living current of the Holy Spirit.

10 ) Of course he [the Elder] is a man, but the sense of his humanity gives way within the community of the monastery. Certainly he lives as a normal man, just as any other living man, but he is as well the one whom God has taken and set apart, and who in consequence no longer lives quite the life of the present world. While indeed he walks the earth, he senses in some manner that his head is in the sky, that he sees Heaven, that he sees God. This, here, is the most important thing a monastery can offer. This, indeed, is what contemporary man and his society most lack: the spiritual father who makes God so tangible, so powerful, so living, so intense, and so true.

11 ) The monastic community gathered around its spiritual father is thus the type of … the universal Church. Daily life is very simple there. But in the silence, the quiet, by grace of the unity and mutual charity, one is put on the lookout to listen for the rustling of the steps of Christ Who draws nigh. [The End]

Spiritual Father and Elder Cultism (Igumen Petr Meshcherinov, 2004)

Resolution of His Holiness, Patriarch Alexei and the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Metropolitan Hilarion with President Putin and Patriarch Alexei II.
Metropolitan Hilarion with President Putin and Patriarch Alexei II.

In December, 1998, the Patriarch of Moscow and the Holy Synod accepted a very important resolution concerning spiritual relationships, errors existing in this sphere of church life, and the necessity of overcoming them. This resolution is important not only in and of itself, but also because it testifies that our church is a living organism and, as it always has throughout its history, reacts in a reasoned and sensible manner to each distortion in the life of the Church.

One should say, “Whatever the elder believes, thinks, and decides, I also believe, think, and decide in exactly the same way”. - Geronda Ephraim of Arizona
One should say, “Whatever the elder believes, thinks, and decides, I also believe, think, and decide in exactly the same way”. – Geronda Ephraim of Arizona

Six years have now gone by and it is time to assess whether positive changes have taken place [as a result of the resolution]. Regrettably, the answer is “no.” The Synodal resolution, despite the fact that it clearly expresses will of the Patriarch and the Hierarchy, has not been implemented. It should have been widely published in every diocese and its contents explained to the faithful from every ambon. It should have been made known to every faithful Orthodox Christian. This has not happened. To the contrary, the grinding wheel of “pseudo mystical guruism” gathers ever more force. People are lured into thinking that only what is spoken by or done by “elders” is actually Orthodox. Thus the spiritual life is reduced to the searching for these “elders” and to giving attention only to that which proceeds from their mouths. Often, however, what comes from them has no relationship at all to Christianity.

“The Elder speaks, God speaks. The mouth of the Elder is the mouth of Christ.” - Elder Ephraim of Katounakia (d. 1998)
“The Elder speaks, God speaks. The mouth of the Elder is the mouth of Christ.” – Elder Ephraim of Katounakia (d. 1998)

What is the matter here? Why has the most sound and timely resolution of the church authority not been received and implemented? Why have so few shared the concern of the hierarchy? Let us investigate all this in the light of the aforementioned document.

"The experience of the Elders, the experience of so many centuries of monastic life says: 'If you comfort your Elder, you comfort God. If you don't comfort your Elder, you don't comfort God.'" - Geronda Ephraim Xeropotamou (d. 1984)
“The experience of the Elders, the experience of so many centuries of monastic life says: ‘If you comfort your Elder, you comfort God. If you don’t comfort your Elder, you don’t comfort God.'” – Geronda Ephraim Xeropotamou (d. 1984)

What is the norm of pastorship in the Church? Let us turn to Holy Scripture. The Lord gave His Apostles and their successors, the bishops, the authority to build and preserve the Church. This authority is not secular, not implemented with compulsive power. It is a grace-filled gift of service, to celebrate the Holy Mysteries, to maintain the faith and to indicate the true path of piety. This grace-filled gift is preserved in the Church and is transmitted in the Mystery of the Consecration of Bishops. Salvation is impossible without the Church, consequently, as Saint Theophan the Recluse says, it is necessary to be in union with it, and this means that it is necessary to have communion with its ministers, bishos of the Church.

“He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me” (Luke 10:16) says the Lord. “He who receives any one whom I send receives me” (John 13:20). “As Thou (the Father) sent me into the world, so I have sent them (the Apostles) into the world” (John 17:18). “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who well have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17), the Apostle writes. And so, through obedience to the pastors, we are in communion with the God-established order of Church life.

"But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted," says the Lord (Matthew 23:8-12).
“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted,” says the Lord (Matthew 23:8-12).

This does not in any way mean, however, that the Church is divided into supervisors and subordinates (in the worldly sense). Before God we are all equal and we differ only in the degree of Church ministry, as Saint Silouan of Athos says, “There is not a church divided into teachers and pupils,” that is, a caste of teachers and a mass of silent listeners. All of us are the one Body of Christ, each one of us has a place in the Church, and all of us are co-workers with each other, together helping one another. When we thus come to Christ, in Him we discover salvation and the Heavenly Kingdom. Well does Apostle Peter speak of this, “So I exhort the presbyters among you, as a fellow presbyter and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed: Tend to the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock. And where the chief shepherd is manifested, you will obtain the unfading crown of glory. Likewise you that are younger be subject to those who are older. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble….Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another. As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied degree grace….that in everything God may be glorified through Christ Jesus. To Him belong glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” (1Peter 5:1-5; 4:8-11).

This is the norm for the relationship of pastors and flocks. Everything has been said. I consider that every father-confessor must copy out these words in large print and read them daily. There is yet another place in the New Testament that all should harken to: “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted,” says the Lord (Matthew 23:8-12). These words of the Lord in no way contradict the church pastorship established by Him, but rather indicate that spirit in which it must be realized. Here are its characteristic indications, as the Holy Scripture speaks about it:

(1). A pastor is not a supervisor to a person, not a ruler, but a servant.

(2). Relationships of the pastor and flock are built exclusively on the basis of love and mutual respect.

(3). Finally, and this is the main point, the pastor cannot manifest pastorship from himself.

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who well have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17)
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who well have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17)

It is not his, it is Christ’s (in this, we find the meaning of the Saviour’s words cited above). Consequently, the pastor is obliged – and here we find the virtue of the pastor revealed – to help every soul, to teach about Christ and His Church, to help a Christian to come to the full measure of growth in Christ. These necessary virtues or skills recognise that individuals are different, and that the Lord opens a way for each soul. The relationship of man and God is a great mystery, and a pastor, with God’s help, must fit a key to the heart of each person in order that he may minister precisely to the persons concrete external and internal situation – giving what the Lord Himself wishes to give to that soul. One must not attempt to place any person into a common mold, and thrust upon him what is, perhaps, theoretically good and correct, but in the given situation moment, not appropriate.  Such is the pastoral norm. The distortions of it are instantly visible in the light. Let us note the most characteristic of these distortions.

On the part of the pastor, there can be two main distortions:

(1). Incomprehension, insensitivity, ignorance and the circumstance indicated above – the pastor is not someone who is self-sufficient and self-dependent. He is a servant of Christ, a flexible and tactful instrument to His grace. Consequently, he must only and solely guide people to the teaching of Christ and the Church. Unfortunately, pastors frequently teach people not Christianity, but what they understand as Christianity, that is, they substitute the servant [themselves] in place of God and the Church.

(2). The second error is the notion that the grace of the priesthood acts automatically, merely on the strength of the ordination. Yesterday he was a plain person, but today after ordination, the attitude that everything coming from the lips of the newly-beginning pastor is from the Holy Spirit. This is a most widely spread delusion (and not simply a delusion, but a distorted behaviour emanating from it).

We must elucidate this. In the Church there is nothing automatic. Any mystery surmises a co-working of God and man, and is manifested according to its moral strengths. The Mystery of the priesthood is no exception. We had stated that the task of the pastor is to teach people the teachings of the Church, and never his own notions about it, and a bringing together of the people with Christ. This is only possible the pastor exerts himself to master the Church’s teaching, not merely in knowledge, but also in life, when he himself has an experienced notion of the Orthodox Christian spiritual life. If he accomplished this, the grace of the priesthood is revealed in him and brings forth an abundant result. Without such struggle, grace by itself will do nothing. It will not “automatically” make an ignoramus into a wise man, a vainglorious man into a humble one, one who is greedy into a generous man. Yes, the Mystery [or ordination] will take place according to the authority of the Church, but in order to give leadership to people, one must work very hard on the organization of one’s own life, in order to teach the Church’s teaching one must master it in the proper manner.

Unfortunately, the conditions of our times have been the reason for the ordination of many people not fully ready for this, not mature enough to understand what the service is that has been entrusted to them, and what it demands of them.

“He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me” (Luke 10:16) says the Lord. “He who receives any one whom I send receives me” (John 13:20).
“He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me” (Luke 10:16) says the Lord. “He who receives any one whom I send receives me” (John 13:20).

On the part of the flock, the following are the errors:

(1). In response to the notion of an “automatically acting” grace of the priesthood,there is born the notion of an “automatic” and “blind” obedience to the priest. It is reasoned in this manner: it is of no importance that the priest says one thing and does another. What is important is that my faith in the strength of the grace of the priest’s priesthood ushers God’s will to me. This is a widely spread ideology and it is completely at odds with the Gospel. The Lord did not say – of the two blind men “if the second one believes that the first one is not blind, then the first one will fall into the pit but the second one, through his faith, will not fall.” No, the Lord said that both will fall into the pit. This does not mean that one must judge the priests or go into an examination of their lives. One has only to respond to life with sobriety, and to remember that there is nothing “blind” in the Church. This is particularly true of obedience, which must arise naturally from normal relationships between pastor and flock, when the relationships is one of mutual love and respect, when the pastor does not teach or speak about himself and his opinions, but strives to bring people to Christ. When the relationship is not of the Gospel, then obedience becomes an object of speculation, it loses its spiritual meaning, and instead of a means to salvation, it becomes a slavish submission which only drives a person away from the Lord.

2).It is most important to examine what it is that gives birth to abnormal spiritual relationships. It is the fear of freedom and responsibility. Where there is the Lord’s Spirit, there is freedom, says Apostle Paul. Christianity granted people a great gift – freedom. But, since freedom is impossible without a personal responsibility for one’s own life, then it becomes heavy for many people. It is easier to yield one’s freedom of responsibility from oneself so that someone else makes one’s decisions, it is easier to hide behind traditions, corporatism, rules, plans, etc, than to responsibly and consciously build one’s own Christian life. Thus all the life of the flock is foisted upon the confessors. In place of freedom, people want to receive a “guarantee of salvation.” Such a refusal of freedom is, however, a refusal of Christianity, since this can be accomplished only personally, “under one’s own responsibility.” The notion of [blind obedience and yielding personal responsibility] creates a situation in which the confessors cease to be co-sojourners, co-workers, advisors of Christians, but become their rulers.

Thereby, spiritual relationships go beyond the borders of Church order. They [priests] build upon this, and in the spiritual side of life, they illegally rest it entirely upon this. Then, not only the entire Christian order becomes skewed, but life in general become disordred. This can be observed, for example, in “Orthodox” families when, far too frequently, the pastor, not the husband becomes the head of his household, or when, one feels that in order to fulfil service obligations, it is necessary “to receive the confessor’s blessing.” In such situations, the husband becomes dependant on completely extraneous and outrageous factors, while being puzzled: what sort of “Orthodoxy” is this? Conflicts arise on this soil and families can even fall apart, as the spiritual relationship has become sheer manipulation.

How is one to refuse to allow any of this?  How are these relationships to be normally built? What is the place of a confessor in a Christian’s life?

First of all, something general must be said. The task of a confessor is not to remake a person, not to make of him his own image, a “clone.” He (the priest) should rather, with great love and respect to the individuality of each person, help give Christ a place in his life so that a person, having himself, with the help of the Holy Spirit, defeated the sin that is in him, becomes such as Christ wants to see him – unique, free, responsible, conscientious, a developed individual. The confessor must teach him to discern where the grace of the Holy Spirit is, where the natural course of things is, where passion and sin are, so that all this might not become jumbled in a person’s head, mangling his life. This is an entirely educative process.

In particular, a confessor is needed most of all at the beginning when a person just enters the Church and perceives the rudiments of spiritual life. Here, the confessor is a thoughtful guardian and teacher. The aim of this teaching is singularly to give the beginning Christian the correct direction of growth so that he becomes “of the Church, not deviating to church substitutions, not falling into false ascetic rigourism, nor descending into relativism, etc. Then, after the beginning, the relationship changes somewhat: they become as if more “equal,” not in the sense of any diminishing of the priestly office, but internally, spiritually equal. The person will thus be mature, he will have more freedom, more trust, and less tutelage, a smaller quantity of rules, advice, exhortations, etc.

"The ear of God is at the mouth of the priest. The stole has great power." - Geronda Ephraim of Katounakia
“The ear of God is at the mouth of the priest. The stole has great power.” – Geronda Ephraim of Katounakia

At this point, we have revealed before us the main problem. We observe spiritual relationships of people in our Church and are amazed at how immature they are! No one wishes to mature. Neither the flock which seems to be essentially “stuck” in spiritual infancy, looking at the world through the eyes of its priest-confessor, at the very time when the Lord wants us to become fully ourselves, and to grow in the measure of Christ. The priest-confessors find it uncomfortable to see around them people who have matured. Somehow, they do not know how to treat them.

Clearly, many pastors have a need to see their flock exclusively as unreasonable children with whom they can speak condescendingly, in a language of commands, admonitions, and lectures. In all of this we see a mutual disrespect and a forgetting of what is the primary reality – that the

Church is not a kindergarten where there are authoritarian educators and foolish children, but rather it is the Body of Christ, that is, the spiritual organic union in Christ of mature people who have come into their own measure, each one having from God his own gift of serving. It is indispensable to begin to realize this.

The Elder speaks, God speaks. The mouth of the Elder is the mouth of Christ.
The Elder speaks, God speaks. The mouth of the Elder is the mouth of Christ.

Also, let us touch upon another question about “elders.” Inexperienced “eldership” remains one of the most painful problems in the life of the Church today. There is an ideological basis for this. Many with full seriousness affirm that “Orthodoxy is true only because it has elders.” To find an “elder” is the main “spiritual” task of many Orthodox people. For them, the opinion of the “elders” is the highest authority, much greater than the authority of Holy Scripture, not to mention the views of the hierarchy. One might as well sound a serious alarm concerning this epidemic of “gerontocracy.” What is the reason for this phenomenon?

We saw that in the Church there is a God-established hierarchy, in whom the grace of the Holy Spirit is entrusted to illumine people with the Mysteries, to teach them the truths of the faith and morality. This teaching comes from the bishops by the authorization of the Church; it does not bind or crush freedom, and is accomplished in a spirit of love. Pastorship is advice, example, a mutual movement of the elderly and the youth together in the Church, toward Christ. While this is a great thing, some consider it insufficient. Pastors of the Church and pastoral guidance is not enough for them. They want something greater and higher – elders. Some Orthodox people feel some sort of actual loss and incompleteness in their spiritual life without elders. Some strive to [get a second opinion] from an elder to verify the advice of their confessor. All this is nourished by a sizeable number of corresponding Orthodox literature.

Who are these elders in actual fact? An elder simply speaking is a person who has attained holiness and is worthy from God the gifts of discernment and perspicaciousness. There always were few real elders (and now, assessing everything, there are none), but many books about them have remained. In reading these books and seeing the salutariness and abundant results of eldership, people naturally strive to acquire something similar in their lives. Searching begins by looking for external signs: a large white beard, or a claimed ascetic model of life, or a great crowd of women or apocalyptic predictions and a certain opposition to the Hierarchy, etc. The law of supply and demand begets a notion and “elders” of such a type are found without difficulty.

"Tend to the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock." (1 Peter 5:2-3)
“Tend to the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:2-3)

Why are they necessary? Firstly, as I have already said, to shirk one’s responsibility for oneself. They want to find an elder, to believe wholeheartedly in him and to think about or care about nothing. Entry into paradise is guaranteed, they think. Secondly, simply put, some people want to know the future. As a rule no one goes to an elder with the question of how to be saved, because this is completely clear in the Gospel, and any parish priest can in one way or another answer this question satisfactorily. An elder is now asked: to get married or to go to a monastery? To change one’s living quarters or to sell them? To undergo an operation? To start a business or, to the contrary, to get rid of it quickly, etc, etc.? Of course they ask the elders if the end of the world is soon and what are the signs of antichrist. And here, by the way, there is a complete manifestation of the most real Ecumenism. In other religions, for the deciding of these very questions, there exist gurus, sheikhs, shamans, lamas, tsadikim, druids, etc. And for unbelieving persons, they will go to a fortuneteller and telepathist.

We do not wish to deprive these vital questions their significance, but when they appear as the main thing in life, then the Church becomes magic for people, and the vector of spiritual life is directed so that “at the expense of God” it would be good “here and now.”

It is, moreover, necessary to note one essential difference of an elder from a simple priest of the Church. The latter ideally does nothing other than only bringing the Church’s teaching to a person in his concrete situation. Elder are seen as acting on the basis of some sort of personal charisma, and caution is necessary here. Saint Seraphim of Sarov said that when he spoke from himself and not from the Holy Spirit, there were errors. Saint Silouan of Athos, in citing this phrase of Saint Seraphim, wrote that the errors can be small, but there can also be large ones. Thus the Church commands us to have great sobriety in any contact with such personal things. But in our times there is no sobriety. As if that were not enough, there is quite evident a reverse process of mythologising everything that is connected with “elders.”

St. Seraphim of Sarov said that when he spoke from himself and not from the Holy Spirit, there were errors. St. Silouan of Athos, in citing this phrase of St. Seraphim, wrote that the errors can be small, but there can also be large ones.
St. Seraphim of Sarov said that when he spoke from himself and not from the Holy Spirit, there were errors. St. Silouan of Athos, in citing this phrase of St. Seraphim, wrote that the errors can be small, but there can also be large ones.

One might think that there is nothing negative in such a “childlike” perception (not childlike in a Gospel sense) of the spiritual life. But in Actual fact there are far more serious things behind this than simply childishness and immaturity.At the basis of “gerontophilia” lies an incorrect notion of God, of God’s will and the relationship of man and God. We draw your attention to this because it is extremely important.  Gerontophiles [elder worshippers] consider that God’s will in relationship to the individual is something predestined, pre-programmed, and something completely mysterious and that it is necessary “to foresee.” Thus, in order to guess this “computerized” will, to get it right, an elder is needed, and an elder he possesses a certain secret knowledge of this most mysterious “will.” We have guessed it and everything is going perfectly well; the children are not ill, and business is prospering. If it has not been guessed at [by the elder], then everything is bad. Worse still, to doubt the “mysterious knowledge” of the elder leads to total ruin. This is a completely non-Christian, magical, pagan attitude. It reduces our religion from the Good tidings about God about the loving Father, about Christ the Saviour into “ill tidings,” to the concept that Christianity is a minefield which cannot be crossed without a field engineer. The elder is the field engineer. The Orthodox Church does not teach anything like this. God’s will is not something programmed, automatic, something that has to be “calculated.” It is also not some kind of esoteric mystery. “I have spoken openly to the world…I have said nothing secretly” (John 18:20) said the Lord. On the contrary, God revealed to us His own will in Christ, in Holy Scripture, in the Church. The earthly life of a person is defined by a personal relationship of the heart, the soul toward God. God’s will is recognized from the sum of the circumstances, from the commands of the conscience, from the disposition of the heart, from choices with regard to sin.

Undoubtedly, pastoral advice is appropriate – but advice precisely in the spirit of the Gospel, the Church, not at all in some sort of false mystical guru-like “guessing.” If we do not take this into account, then our inner life ceases to be truly spiritual and Christian but acquires a certain occult colouration.

Let us sum this up. Spiritual relationships must be an expression of the following church principles: we are all the Church, the Body of Christ; together we mature in God. The older in the Church help the younger both by the giving of God’s grace, and the examples of life and lesson. But spiritual relationships, if they are correct, never obscure the One for Whose sake they exist. Like everything in the Church, these relationships are one of the means of Christian life, and they cannot become a substitute their goal, which is Christ.

In conclusion, I return the reader’s attention to the Synodal resolution about pastorship and confessorship with the wish that it be read and accepted in the way the Church wishes it.

Igumen Petr Meshcherinov.
Igumen Petr Meshcherinov.