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New Religious Movements in Romania - Ernest Valea

A troubled Eastern European country gets its share of modern-day religiosity


After the December-Revolution of 1989 a big spiritual vacuum turned up in Romania, because of the lack of spiritual values, the absence of standards that could lead us towards western democracy. The communist burden was (and still is) too heavy so that the prosperity everybody dreamed of was delayed. Consequently, large numbers of Romanians turned their attention toward the spiritual, to the unseen world, to find the fulfillment of their life. There was a desire for the new, for things formerly forbidden. This is the context in which the New Religious Movements invaded the country. Most of them came in right after the revolution in 1990, all from the West. Their location is in the cities - Bucharest, Timisoara, Cluj, Iasi, Brasov, etc.

The Oriental movements are the following:

1) The “Hare Krishna’s” (ISKCON) arrived on Easter 1990 with a lot of advertizing. They organized big conferences, gathered large crowds, sold lots of “good-looking” books. For the moment, thousands af Romanians felt attracted. Presently the influence of ISKCON has decreased because the Romanians got used to their strange clothing and chanting, and also because they were compromised by the Yoga teachers. The movement has, however, established small communities at least in Bucharest and Timisoara. In the latter city they hold monthly conferences in the Polytechnical Institute.

2) The Yoga schools are grouped around two most important Romanian gurus - G. Bivolaru (who teaches Hatha Yoga and Tantra) and Mario Sorin Vasilescu (teaching Raja Yoga along with other Eastern beliefs, such as Taoism). The two disagree with each other concerning their beliefs and practices. When their disciples meet, quarrel erupts. But both teacers are very influential, and both publish periodicals which are distributed in the country.

The Yoga schools have existed in Romania for at least 20 years. They were prohibited by Ceausescu, continued underground, and today there are Yoga clubs in all major cities, numbering about 15. Most of them depend on one of the two leaders who are both living in Bucharest. Yoga is one of the greatest temptations for the young Romanian generation. The attitude is that if you practice Yoga, you are a special person, different from the “poor ignorant” people. The success of the Yoga systems is probably caused by the syncretistic view they present, in which Christianity is always included as being just a form of Bhakti Yoga.

3) Transcendental Meditation has been here for many years. It was prohibited by Ceausescu a decade ago and it has flourished again after the revolution, especially among intellectuals. The strongholds of TM are Bucharest and Cluj.

4) The Divine Life Society and the Vedanta Society has a publishing hous named Lotus in Bucharest. They publish a lot of books on Vedantic philosophy (Vivekananda, Ramacharaka, Krishnananda). The leader of Divine Life Society is honourary member A. Russu, accountable to the headquarters in Rishikesh, India.

5) Another (strange but strong) Eastern new religion is the Sahaja Yoga movement, lead by a female guru, Sri Mataji Nirvala Devi. She is praised as a goddess because, as she says, by meditating on her person you can obtain instant liberation (moksha) in a few moments. You feel a cold breeze over your head. The followers of this “instant Yoga” are numbered by the thousands in about 10 cities.

There are other Eastern religions present in Romania, including Zen Buddhism and some Sai Baba adherents, but they have a smaller significance.

Other new religious movements derive from Western society:

1) The Theosophical Society and the Antroposophical Society are represented especially in Bucharest, Timisoara and Cluj. They seldom call themselves by these names, rather they name themselves “Para-Psychological Research groups”. Their beliefs are very syncretistic, mixing Eastern beliefs with Christianity, Astrology, alternative healing, Spiritualism, etc. Their adherents are usually highly educated intellectuals. They rarely organize conferences. Only those who search for them can get any information. The books by Blavatsky and Steiner are used only by the initiates.

2) There are many alternative (holistic) healing practitioners that use “bio-energy” instead of drugs. As the health resort is weak in Romania, a lot of people turn to healers for help. Newspapers at times bring positive reports about their results. Almost all of them have a monistic world view, inspite of the fact that they also tend to call themselves Christians.

The “traditional” cults are as follows:

1) The Jehovah’s Witnesses are the oldest New Religion in Romania. They came after the Second World War, so they have been here for at least 40 years. They are present everywhere, also in the countryside. With at least 20.000 members, they are the strongest cult in Romania, spread especially in the northern, central and western part of the country. At present their strategy seems to be to invade the other parts of the country as well. The interesting thing about them is that they were officially prohibited by the former communist regime, but at the same time they were tolerated in order to weaken the Christian Church.

2) The Mormons arrived after the revolution. They have only two communities, both in Bucharest. Most of them are Americans. It seems that our people don’t quite like them.

3) “The Moonies” are present as well, having a single congregation in Bucharest.

4) The Graal Movement (founded by Abd-ru-shin, alias O.E. Bernhardt 1875 - 1941) is developing in Bucharest, Timisoara and Cluj, mainly in the academic field. The book “In the Light of Truth” can be bought in every book store.

5) Another strong movement is the Bahai faith. Many foreign missionaries are creating a lot of publicity, by means of conferences, film (also on TV) and by distribution of pamphlets. They have established strong communities in Bucharest, Timisoara, Cluj, Iasi and other major cities. It is difficult to estimate how many people have joined them, because many join for a while, later to leave Bahai.

Apart from the movements mentioned here, there is much Witchcraft, Spiritualism, Mediumism, etc, that has been present for a long time in the history of Romania. The “modern” aspect of this is that the young generation, especially rock music fans, is beginning to learn about Satanism.

- The Romanian tradition for taking the optimistic look at things makes us say: “Thank God it’s not worse!”