Hristos a inviat! Christ has risen.

You may have read this in the news paper, or heard it being said by people in the street. Emil Boc, mayor of Cluj, took out an ad in several local newspapers saying so, and so have other politicians.

Easter is an important holiday in Romania, one where the entire family gets together. It has religious and cultural significance, and kids get a week off of school between the Catholic and Orthodox Easter.

Why are there two Easters?  Well, it has to do with geography and history.   About a thousand years ago, there were a few archbishops throughout Europe.  The one in Rome claimed to be the supreme authority, and many in Western Europe (including the Archbishop of Canterbury) agreed to follow the pope’s authority.  But many bishops in the East did not see the pope as the supreme authority.

Much of what is now western Romania was under the Holy Roman empire, also called the Austro-Hungarian empire.  So Transylvanian cities like Cluj had a long history of being under the Catholic church and later had periods of time when they had protestant majorities.  In fact, Cluj is one of the first places in modern Europe to allow religious freedom to new protestant churches (and any religion), and the Unitarian church was born around here.  (Ancient Europe had religious freedom, but that is another story).

Many Romanian heroes were of different religions.  In addition to two modern kings, Vlad the Impaler is often thought to have been Catholic.  One of her most famous queens had promoted the Bahai faith.  And even when the leaders did not accept foreign religions, there has always been a respect for religious minorities, many of which helped fight for Romanian independence and freedom.

Religious diversity of Romania goes beyond the east-west divide.  There is a mosque in the seaside town of Constanță nicknamed “the King’s mosque”, because it was commissioned to be rebuilt by King Carol in 1910. (A previous mosque had stood near that spot). The King saw fit to respect the large muslim population of that town and endow them with a place of worship.

The Hungarian speaking minority in Romania is sometimes called Hungarians in the census, but many refer to themselves as Szekély (pronounced roughly as “Sekay” but the Romanian word is “secuiesc”).  This ethnic group does not identify themselves with the Hungarian nationality, rather as Romanians who speak the Hungarian language (like Dutch speaking Belgians might call themselves Flemish, or German speaking Frenchmen might call themselves Alsatians). 

And like other ethnic groups, there are ethnic Hungarians of different religions.  The protests in Timisoara that started the revolution of 1989 began because the communist government tried to evict a Protestant “reform” minister László Tőkés who spent two years at his parent’s house in Cluj.  (Tőkés later moved to Hungary).

The large “Hungarian” church in the centre of Cluj itself has been under several religions.  It was at a time Unitarian, at a time Lutheran, and is now Roman Catholic.

Remember that the largely “Protestant” USA had a Catholic president with John F Kennedy?  Or that “Hindu” India had a Muslim president? The tradition of freedom of religion that is hundreds of years old in Cluj continued with the adoption of the Romanian constitution.  It now has a Lutheran president.  Klaus Iohannis may be somewhat unpopular with a certain segment of the population because of his politics, but I have not heard anyone objecting to his being president because he is a Lutheran.

Other famous Romanian protestants include anti-communist minister Richard Wurmbrand, the fifth greatest Romanian according to the Greatest Romanian pole.

The minority that might be the most visible in the history of Cluj (including the street names) are the Greek Catholics.  They are under the Roman Catholic church, but keep Eastern traditions.  Many of their descendants may have converted to other religions, including Romanian Orthodox, but famous names include Prime Minister Iulius Maniu, journalist Septimiu Albini and Cluj-educated activist Corneliu Coposu.

While the Orthodox church is very popular in Romania, Romania is a diverse country that celebrates a wider range of beliefs and traditions. So if you are not sure which easter to celebrate, why not just celebrate it twice?

Happy Easter, everyone.

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