It’s impossible to know precisely what is happening inside the mind of a politician when he or she is taking part in a religious ritual, whether or not listeners are hearing the voice of a believer or that of a political realist who is skilled at watching national opinion polls.
The Russians have a special term for this slice of life in our sinful, fallen world and, truth be told, some public leaders do deserve this label — “podsvechnik.”
This word means “candlestick holder.” This is the politician who walks into a church sanctuary on a major feast day — usually Christmas or Pascha — lights a candle at an icon, makes the sign of the cross then stands around long enough for photographers to have a chance to take his picture.
Alas, in the lands of the former Soviet bloc, this same term can be applied to some church leaders.
Once again, however, it helps to remember that the human heart is a complex thing and some true believers struggle with major and minor sins throughout their lives. What if this person is wearing the vestments of a bishop?
Why bring this up? The other day, our own Father George Conger sent me a Reuters story from Bulgaria that was both fascinating and scary. Here’s the top of the report:
VARNA, Bulgaria (Reuters) – The death last week of one of Bulgaria’s most senior bishops, found floating in the Black Sea wearing a snorkel and flippers, was mysterious in its own right, but it was only the final chapter in an enigmatic life.
In the days after Bishop Cyril of Varna, 59, was found dead, a picture emerged of a man respected by many but who had also spied for the communist-era secret police, brokered land deals that raised questions and driven a luxury Lincoln sedan given to him by a local businessman.
Through it all, he was never investigated or disciplined, making him a kind of symbol of modern Bulgaria, the European Union’s poorest member, where graft and organized crime often go unpunished and where many people feel public institutions — from the Church to the government — have betrayed their trust.
OK, that’s rather muddy, to say the least. In another nasty, yet powerful, image a believer describes the bishop cruising through crowds of people on Epiphany, flinging holy water on poor Bulgarians through the open window of his luxury car.
Is there more to the story? Yes, there is and, to the credit of the Reuters team, other details make it into the report: