Bringing the Gospel to Bucharest
No course of study or pastoral training prepared Rev. Mihai Corcea for the loneliness he experienced on the mission field of Romania‚ even though it's his native land. It’s not a lack of companionship (he has a lovely wife and a young, energetic son). Rather, Corcea described his loneliness as “being overwhelmed by the opposition around me,” and not having other pastors nearby that share the same experience.
The Making of a Pastor
Corcea is pastor of the Evangelical Reformed Church in Bucharest, a mission of the United Reformed Church in North America (URCNA). He was born into a nominal Eastern Orthodox family and attended the local Orthodox church with his grandparents. When he was a teenager, Corcea's parents began attending an Evangelical church and brought him along to worship. He soon became interested in reading the Bible and some Christian books. He later became convinced of the soundness of the Reformed confessions in 2006, while spending some time in Holland with a Reformed family.
After earning a degree in business management and marrying his wife Lidia, he settled in Bucharest where they attended a mainline Lutheran church. Slowly, he met other people who were interested in the teachings of the Reformation. Together, they started a mid-week Bible study.
Soon, it was clear that Romania needed a Reformed church. Corcea contacted several churches in Europe for support and advice, and received an answer from Rev. Andrea Ferrari, pastor of the Reformed Church Filadelfia in Milan, Italy (also a URCNA mission). Mihai and Lidia became members of that church and attended as often as they could, given the distance of over 1000 miles.
The consistories of both Milan and Santee, CA (the overseeing church) agreed that Corcea was called to be a pastor. With their encouragement, in 2013 he began his studies at Westminster Seminary California (WSC) in Escondido, graduating in 2016. After his ordination as URCNA minister, Corcea returned to his country. On August 7, 2016, the first service of the Evangelical Reformed Church in Bucharest took place in an office building.
“I soon learned that the place and format of the worship service matters much in Romania,” Corcea said. The visitors were few, and rarely returned. Things changed when he moved into an actual church building which he shares with a Lutheran congregation. “The cross on the roof makes a difference,” he explained.
Challenges and Opportunities
Every missionary feels some amount of loneliness. For Corcea, these are exacerbated by the fact that, in Romania, Reformed doctrines are often seen as suspicious. Most people are simply nominal Christians. To them, serious religious commitment is fanatical and questionable.
This reaction doesn’t simply include some eye-rolling. Being branded as a religious fanatic can have a damaging effect on a person’s life and career. “On our church’s website, we purposedly avoid naming our elder. If we didn’t, we might be limiting his job opportunities in this country.”
But the greatest opposition has come from atheists, who have been threatening to burn down the Corcea home and to break their necks. Some have reported the church on Facebook with the intention of getting it banned from the social platform. Others have managed to take it down on Google Maps.
But Corcea has enough motivation to keep going in spite of all this, because few Romanians have heard the gospel message of forgiveness. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, he said, there is no sense of guilt (they have rejected Augustine of Hippo’s writings on the original sin). There is a sense of shame, but that’s different. “They pray for forgiveness, but there is no absolution,” Corcea explained. “They believe that all they have to do is be members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and everything will be fine.”
Still, people have many unanswered questions, and that’s why some of them visit the Evangelical Reformed Church in Bucharest. “They come to our church with questions, but they usually don’t expect the answers they get,” Corcea explained.
In spite of their religious and cultural upbringing, many Romanians are interested in the subjects of sin, justification, and predestination. In fact, predestination has produced enough interest to be included in an ecumenical TV show, and Corcea was invited to participate. The two-hour live show airs each week with the intention of fostering a dialogue between different denominations. This experience inspired Corcea to add to his publishing projects a translation from Latin of Augustine’s treatise on predestination.
So far, the Evangelical Reformed Church in Bucharest has produced many other works in Romanian. Corcea is excited about their translation of Protestant Patriarch: The Life of Cyril Lukaris, by Geōrgios A. Chatzēantōniou (a Reformed Greek theologian), which will be published in Romanian this summer. Lukaris’s unusual position as Reformation-leaning Orthodox patriarch has puzzled many historians and has been strongly disputed by the Orthodox Church. Whatever the truth may be, Corcea believes this book will be a good starting point for examining and discussing the same questions the Reformation raised all over Europe five centuries ago.
Progress and Needs
After five years, the Evangelical Reformed Church in Bucharest has about 15-20 people in its weekly attendance. What might sound like a slow progress is in reality significant in a country where most people attend church only on Christmas and Easter.
Some people attend the Evangelical Reformed Church in Bucharest for curiosity, but stay for its message. Corcea thinks that Reformed churches have an advantage over Eastern Orthodox because both the liturgy and the Scriptures are intelligible. Besides, the congregation can sit down, while in Eastern Orthodox churches they stand the whole time. At the same time, Reformed worship is reverent and based on historical formulas and creeds which people can recognize.
Corcea welcomes prospective pastors who would like to spend a summer in Romania as interns. He had an intern in 2019, but Covid restrictions prevented him from receiving visitors in 2020 and 2021. Hopefully, the situation will change soon. In the meantime, the Evangelical Reformed Church in Bucharest appreciates any support and prayer they can receive for the advancement of God’s kingdom in a gospel-starved field.
Simonetta Carr is a mother of eight and a homeschool educator for twenty years. She has also worked as a freelance journalist and a translator of Christian works into Italian. Simonetta is the author of numerous books, including Weight of a Flame and the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series.
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