Journalist Cristian Curte published in the weekly Formula AS an interview with Assistant Bishop Atanasie of Bogdania, who explained how the pandemic was felt in the Romanian Orthodox Diocese of Italy.
“The Romanian is connected to the Church and the other Romanians,” said the bishop, and the hidden gift of the scourge was for them a spiritual one: the closeness to God.
The churches were abruptly closed on the first Sunday of Lent (2020): even during the Divine Liturgy, the authorities called and demanded the closing of the Divine Liturgy as soon as possible and the churches’ immediate closure.
“The greatest pain was to serve without believers,” said the assistant bishop. Livestreaming on the Internet does not offer the certainty that what is done in the Church really reaches people’s hearts.
“Tears of joy, Holy Communion or prosphora cannot be transmitted through the Internet. Even our tears, of the altar servants, which we shed when we communed alone, during the quarantine period, could not be transmitted through the Internet.”
“We are accustomed to looking into the eyes of Christians who come to church and to feel the warmth of a physical presence when we pray,” said the Assistant Bishop to the Romanian Orthodox Diocese of Italy. “I felt that the physical presence of the faithful is irreplaceable.”
The first post-lockdown Divine Liturgy was celebrated on the feast day of the Holy Emperors Constantine and Helen. “Saint Constantine the Great was the one who opened the Christian churches in 313, and he also reopened them, here, in a pandemic, giving us a new hope,” said Bishop Atanasie.
Romanians in Italy got involved and offered support during the quarantine in the peninsula. Those who worked in the food or cleaning industries or government institutions used greater freedom of movement to provide food and hope to those isolated in their homes.
Gifts were always accompanied by spiritual support: icons or prayer books. “Here was seen the inventiveness of the Romanian, who, in the most difficult situation, when others no longer see solutions, he finds one, to reach his brother, to give him what he needs. And brings him not only food for the body, but also for the soul” the assistant bishop noted.
Since last autumn, when the number of infections increased, the churches were open, and the number of believers coming to services has increased.
“This confirmed to me the fact that the Romanian is connected to the Church and the other Romanians. For us, the Church is the place where you can find yourself and where you can meet with your peers; it is the place where you can find what you left at home, a small Romania,” the hierarch said.
Unfortunately, the pandemic’s movement restriction separated the Romanians in Italy from their homeland, His Grace added. Before there were five flights from Rome to Bucharest, now there is only one left and that without constant frequency.
We sow with tears and reap with joy
After the lockdown, hundreds of believers told the hierarch during confession, with tears in their eyes, that the period of self-isolation was the most beautiful of their lives. This is how the purpose of this trial was revealed to him: “For those deeply rooted in the Church, the challenge turned into spiritual growth.”
The pandemic that appeared in the world was like a brake pulled on a high-speed train, explained Bishop Atanasie of Bogdania. “Naturally, all the things on the train fell, they turned upside down. Those who remained standing were those who had a good spiritual state. They do not generally fall during their lifetime and have not fallen during this pandemic either.”
“Without the Cross, there can be no Resurrection; without passion, there is no joy. People have turned inwards; grace has moved many hearts during this period. Death is such an objective reality! People understood that they could die. Both you and I can all die,” he said.
“And then, what saves us is to live grace right now, at this moment. The thought of man meets the thought of God, and the heart of man meets the heart of God. Then you feel the power of grace very intensely.”
Paradoxically, it is not happiness but difficulties that bring us closer to God: “Very rarely do you have the same resonance with the mind of God in your moments of happiness,” the hierarch pointed out.
“The crisis is the moment of truth; where there is a crisis, there is truth because man meets God in a crisis. In the crisis, God decants things, filters them, brings gold to the surface, and sets aside everything that covered it and was impurity.”
Everything that happens is allowed by God for a purpose. And this purpose will be revealed to the believer sooner or later.
“We always experience a tension between ‘Why, Lord?’ and «Glory to You, Lord!». I am like this, I often say “Why did you allow it, Lord?”, and the Lord does not answer me in words, but in deeds,” the assistant bishop added.
“That’s how He answered my questions about this pandemic through the tears of happiness of the believers. And then I didn’t say ‘Why, Lord?’, But ‘Glory to You, O, Lord!’ The Lord will always answer our questions and concerns. That is why we should have more confidence in Him because He is at the helm of this ship, which is the Church, but also of the whole world,” the hierarch concluded.
Bishop Atanasie of Bogdania is an assistant bishop to the Romanian Orthodox Diocese of Italy. He studied Telecommunications Engineering at INSA Lyon and Theology at the “Saint-Serge” Institute in Paris.
Between 2010 and 2012, he followed a Master Program in Practical Theology (Canon Law), at the Faculty of Theology “Andrei Șaguna” in Sibiu, which he graduated with the dissertation “Principles of Canonical Theology in the Diaspora, with special reference to Italy”.
In recognition of Orthodox Romanians’ philanthropic involvement in Italy during the pandemic, the President of Romania decorated the assistant bishop with the National Order “For Merit” in the rank of Knight.