Relationship between the Romanian Orthodox Church and the Iron Guard

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The relationship between the Romanian Orthodox Church and the Iron Guard was one of ambivalence: while the Romanian Orthodox Church supported much of the fascist organization's ideology, it did not outright support the movement. Nevertheless, many individual Orthodox clerics supported the Iron Guard and spread their propaganda.

The Orthodox Church promoted its own version of nationalism which highlighted the role of Orthodoxy in preserving the Romanian identity. Starting with the 1920s, Orthodoxy became entangled with fascist politics and antisemitism: the most popular Orthodox theologian at the time, Nichifor Crainic, advocated in his magazine Gândirea a mix of Orthodoxy and nationalism, while philosopher Nae Ionescu argued that Orthodoxy is inseparable from the Romanian identity.[1]

Iron Guard's Orthodoxism[edit]

A major theme in the ideology of the Iron Guard was Orthodoxism, which separated them from other movements within the European fascism. While the Italian Fascism and the German Nazism manifested a certain independence, if not an outright hostility toward the Church, the Iron Guard combined Orthodox mysticism with Romanian autochthonism and traditionalism.[2] While the Iron Guard shared antisemitism with their Western counterparts, they had a more traditional societies' antisemitism, by seeing Jews as exponents of the modernity which they rejected.[2]

Priests' collaboration with the Iron Guard[edit]

Many priests were active members in the Iron Guard, publishing articles supporting it and being involved in its public processions, such during the Funerals of Ion Moța and Vasile Marin, when the funeral procession of the two Iron Guard members killed in Spain was led by over 200 Orthodox priests.[3]

After the Communist Party gained power, some priests who were members of the Iron Guard were imprisoned for their collaboration with the fascists, while others became informers of the Securitate.[4]

The church's senior hierarchy, including Patriarch Miron Cristea, had a reserved attitude toward the Guard. Although there were exceptions such as Nicolae Bălan, who was an open supporter, the institutional church never offered systematic, organized support for the movement. Nevertheless, the synod did give ambiguous signals at times, for instance condemning the Guard's work camps before endorsing them.[5]

Assassinations and pogroms[edit]

Orthodox Christian priests and theology students were part of the legionnaire commanders in the Iron Guard death squads, as well as those involved in assassinations and anti-Jewish pogroms.[4] Four of the ten Decemviri who assassinated political activist Mihai Stelescu were theology students.

Valerian Trifa, the head of the Christian Orthodox Students National Union, was one of the instigators of the 1941 Legionnaires' rebellion and Bucharest pogrom.[4] During the Bucharest pogrom, theology students participated in the destruction of the Jewish synagogues. Among those students, notable are Teoctist Arăpașu (who would become the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church) and Bartolomeu Anania (who later became the Bishop of Cluj).[4] After the pogrom, a number of 422 priests and 19 cantors were sent before Military Tribunals for their role in the rebellion and of them 262 were convicted.[6]

After the 1989 Revolution[edit]

After the 1989 Revolution, a number of neofascist organizations which claimed to be the successors of the Iron Guard and followers of Corneliu Zelea Codreanu's doctrine were created in Romania, some with support from the Orthodox Church. For instance, in 2000, a meeting of fascist Romanian youth was organized at the Sâmbăta de Sus Monastery in Făgăraș.[7]

In 2011, a group of nuns from the Petru Vodă Monastery sang to archimandrite Justin Pîrvu a song named Sfântă tinerețe legionară ("Holy legionnaire youth"). This song, written by Radu Gyr, was one of the symbols of the Iron Guard. The event drew an official protest from the Center for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism, while the Orthodox Church refused to comment.[8]


  1. ^ Lavinia Stan and Lucian Turcescu, Religion and Politics in Post-communist Romania, p.44. Oxford University Press, 2007. ISBN 0-1953-0853-0
  2. ^ a b Lucian Boia, Romania: Borderland of Europe, Reaktion Books, ISBN 1861891032, p.197
  3. ^ Valentin Săndulescu, "Sacralised Politics in Action: the February 1937 Burial of the Romanian Legionary Leaders Ion Moța and Vasile Marin", Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, Vol. 8, No. 2, ISSN 1469-0764, pp. 259–269, June 2007
  4. ^ a b c d Andreescu, p.42
  5. ^ Mirel Bănică, Marius Turda, Biserca Ortodoxă Română: stat și societate în anii '30, p.248. Editura Polirom, 2007. ISBN 978-973460-509-5
  6. ^ Dennis Deletant, Hitler's Forgotten Ally: Ion Antonescu and His Regime, Romania 1940–44, p.302. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2006. ISBN 978-140399-341-0
  7. ^ Andreescu, p.37
  8. ^ "Maicute de la Manastirea Petru Voda ii canta parintelui Justin Parvu "Sfinta tinerete legionara". Protest oficial al Centrului pentru Monitorizarea si Combaterea Antisemitismului", HotNews, 20 February 2011


  • Gabriel Andreescu, Right-wing extremism in Romania, Centrul de resurse pentru diversitate etnoculturală, 2003, ISBN 9789738623903