The Sermon on Rosia Montana

The sermon in Rosia Montana. Image by Nadia Shira Cohen. Romania, 2011.

He plays the organ poorly and sings off-key, but the music is majestic.

The empty church resounds with the wailing chords, creaks like a ship in a storm. Three old women—the whole congregation today—sit in the front pew, gray heads bowed, white hands holding hymnals.

Egyaz Isten —there is only one God—say the gilded letters on the paneling of the organ loft. There is only one God and only three believers left here.

The singing ends and the last chords die away. Silence among the gray pews and within blank white walls.

This is the Unitarian church of Rosia Montana, Transylvania. Built in 1796. Austere but true.

The priest walks down the staircase of the organ loft. Creaking wood. The deacon follows him.

The priest climbs the staircase to the crimson-paneled pulpit. The deacon takes a seat in an empty pew.
Silence. Calm.

And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side.

And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships.

And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.

And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?

And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?

And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

Silence. Calm.

The priest surveys the empty church like a ship captain on the prow. He looks at the three women, the deacon. This is the whole crew today.

I remembered those words last night when I was threatened. I was nearly beaten up for being on the other side. I know the gentleman, I know his name, but I didn’t call the police or anybody else.

His voice is powerful without violence. His long white beard is like lightning against his black frock.

Everybody knows what “the other side” means. It means being against the mining company, the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation, RMGC.

RMGC plans to launch the biggest open-pit gold mining operation in Europe. Four mountains carved into giant pits, four mountains turned upside down and emptied out like piggy banks.

Ten million ounces of gold; 47 million ounces of silver.

But first the company needs to empty out the town of Rosia Montana, shake the people out of their homes, buy out all their properties. Out, out.

First, they need to pull the houses out of the ground like teeth, until the mouth is toothless and cannot bite anymore.

It is almost done. The majority of the population has been compelled to move to other villages, other towns. Alba Iulia, Cluj-Napoca, Bucharest. They have even taken their dead with them—all exhumation costs covered courtesy of RMGC.

Ancient graves in the churchyard look freshly dug.

Once upon a time Rosia Montana was called Alburnus Maior. Along with Hispania, it was the biggest gold-mining region in the Roman Empire. The Eldorado of the Ancient World. Thousands of highly-skilled workers from all over Europe flocked here to work. The grandeur that was Rome borrowed its shine from these mountains.

It seemed like the Golden Age would never end. When Rome fell to the barbarians, so did the mines. The barbarians were replaced by medieval peasants, Austro-Hungarian emperors, Romanian communists—for 2000 years everybody had their golden wishes fulfilled. One hundred and forty kilometers of galleries, like synapses in a giant dreaming brain, crisscross Rosia Montana.

The time for dreams is over. The barbarians are back and they are more powerful than ever.

There are only a few brave souls sticking it out. This is their home, this is where they were born and where they want to die. No other place will do.

We are not afraid because we have next to us our Savior Jesus who says there is no greater love than to love with all our hearts, in all conscience, with all our power, our neighbors as ourselves.

There are only a few neighbors now. Rosia Montana is nearly deserted, many of its gorgeous historical buildings left to the elements. RMGC promises to restore a few of them, once the project gets underway. It plans to destroy the town, but preserve its ghost.

It promises jobs to the locals, if only they would leave.

It promises to develop mining by destroying the history of mining. The town is a potential UNESCO World Heritage Site, but RMGC would not hear of it.

It promises to restore some of the churches, even though there would be nobody left there to pray.

It promises to honor the environment by pulling down the temple of nature. The domes of the mountains will be removed for the little gold they contain. The resulting cyanide-laced waste—up to 250 million tons—will be dumped in a picturesque valley dammed by a 180-meter wall.

Like God, the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation promises life in death.

Do not be afraid, have faith, and you will be saved, now and forever, Amen.

The priest, Arpad Palffy, walks down the staircase of the pulpit. The wood creaks under his feet.

The sermon is over. The three old women and the deacon file slowly toward the exit.

On the other side, it is spring. The flowers are in bloom and the birds are singing.

The storm has passed—or is still to come.