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Orthodox Church of Romania - A brief history

The Romanian Orthodox Church is unique among the Orthodox churches because it alone exists within a Latin culture. Romanian is a romance tongue, directly descended from the language of the Roman soldiers and settlers who occupied Dacia and intermarried with its inhabitants following its conquest by Emperor Trajan in 106 AD.

Christianity in the area has been traced back to apostolic times, but the history of its development during the millennium following the withdrawal of Roman administration in 271 is obscure. Certainly both Latin and Byzantine missionaries had been active in the area. In any case, by the time the Romanian principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia emerged as political entities in the 14th century, Romanian ethnic identity was already closely identified with the Orthodox Christian faith. Approval was given for the liturgy to be celebrated in Romanian at a local synod in 1568.

The following centuries witnessed the development of a distinct Romanian theological tradition in spite of the fact that Wallachia and Moldavia were vassals of the Ottoman Empire from the 16th to the 19th centuries. The two principalities were united under a single prince in 1859, and Romania gained full independence in 1878. Consequently, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which had exercised jurisdiction over the Romanians while they were within the Ottoman Empire, recognized the autocephalous status of the Romanian Church in 1885. Transylvania, which included large numbers of Orthodox Romanians, was integrated into the Romanian kingdom after World War I, and the Romanian Church was raised to the rank of Patriarchate in 1925.

The establishment of a communist government in Romania after World War II required a new modus vivendi between church and state. In general, the Romanian Orthodox Church adopted a policy of close cooperation with the government. Whatever the merits of that decision may have been, the church was able to maintain an active and meaningful existence in the country. A strong spiritual renewal movement took place in the late 1950s. A large number of churches were left open, and there were many functioning monasteries, although all church activity was kept under strict government supervision. There were six seminaries and two theological institutes (in Sibiu and Bucharest). High-quality theological journals were published--including three by the Patriarchate itself and one by each of the five metropolitanates--and important theological works as well.

Following the overthrow of the government of Nicolae Ceausescu in December 1989, the Romanian Orthodox hierarchy was severely criticized from many quarters for having cooperated with the communist regime. Patriarch Teoctist resigned his office in January 1990, but was reinstated by the Holy Synod the following April. Since that time the Romanian Orthodox Church seems to have stabilized its position and is experiencing a sustained growth in its activity. Relations with the Romanian government became much more constructive after the election of Emil Constantinescu as President in 1996, and plans were being laid for the construction for an enormous Cathedral of the Nation's Salvation in Bucharest. But the church has been locked in a continuing struggle with the Romanian Greek Catholic Church over the return of former Greek Catholic churches that had been confiscated by the communist government in 1948 and turned over to the Orthodox.

In February 1997 the Romanian Orthodox Church reported having 23 dioceses and 9,208 parishes. By that time 72 Orthodox chapels had been opened in hospitals, 29 in prisons, 18 in military installations and 13 in homes for the elderly and children. There were 296 monasteries (173 male and 123 female) and 97 sketes (81 male and 16 female) with 2,414 monks and 4,090 nuns. The church was being served by 9,174 priests and eight deacons. One hundred and one priests were serving as hospital chaplains, 33 in prisons and 23 in the armed forces. In 1995 there were 28 seminaries with a total of 5,524 students, including nuns and laypeople. Higher studies in theology had been integrated into the state university system, with 14 faculties of Orthodox theology around the country. Altogether there were 3,206 male and 2,419 female students. In addition, there were 12 schools for church cantors with 451 students. Thirty-three church periodicals were being published in the dioceses.

According to the Romanian census taken in 1992, 87% of the population identified itself as Orthodox. Opinion polls since 1989 have shown consistently that the Romanian population held the church in high regard, with 86% describing its activity as "good or very good" in a late 1997 survey.

In 1993 the Romanian Patriarchate reestablished jurisdictions in areas that were part of Romanian territory in the interwar period: in northern Bukovina (now in Ukraine) and Basarabia, most of which is now the independent republic of Moldova. The Orthodox Church in Moldova had been part of the Russian Orthodox Church since World War II, and had just been granted autonomous status by Moscow. Thus Moldova Orthodox faithful were now divided between the two competing jurisdictions. The Moldova government supported the jurisdiction linked to Moscow and did not allow the new Romanian jurisdiction to register officially. Romanian Metropolitan Petru of Basarabia complained of discrimination and persecution, but in December 1997 Moldova's Supreme Court ruled in favor of the government. Metropolitan Petru claimed the allegiance of 110 parishes around the country.

The highest authority in the Romanian Orthodox Church in canonical and spiritual matters is the Holy Synod, composed of all the bishops in the country. Meetings take place at least once a year. At other times the normal administration of the church falls to the Permanent Holy Synod, made up of the Patriarch and the active Metropolitans. On financial and administrative matters, the highest authority is the National Ecclesiastical Assembly, made up of one cleric and two lay persons from each diocese as well as the members of the Holy Synod.

Altogether the Romanian Patriarchate has four dioceses and two vicariates with a total of 167 parishes served by three bishops and 170 priests outside Romania. An autonomous diocese in North America is headed by Archbishop Victorin Ursache (Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America and Canada, 19959 Riopelle Avenue, Detroit, Michigan 48203). It has 13 parishes in the USA and 21 in Canada. Romanian Orthodox in Britain are cared for by Fr. P. Pufulete who resides at 8 Elsynge Road, Battersea London SW 18. The community in Australia, which has five parishes, can be contacted through Fr. Gabriel Popescu, PO Box 558, Campsie NSW 2194. Metropolitan Nicolae Corneanu of Banat has been named by the Holy Synod as Exarch for all Orthodox Romanians in the diaspora.

LOCATION: Romania, Western Europe and North America
HEAD: Patriarch Teoctist I (born 1915, elected 1986)
TITLE: Archbishop of Bucharest, Metropolitan of Ungro-Wallachia, Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church
RESIDENCE: Bucharest, Romania
MEMBERSHIP: 19,800,000


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