The Eastern Christian Churches by Ronald Roberson

The Orthodox Church of Romania

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. In 1568 a local synod approved the celebration of the liturgy in the Romanian language.

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, Ioan Cuza, 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 regularly – 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 Ceauşescu in December 1989, the Romanian Orthodox hierarchy was severely criticized from many quarters for having cooperated with the communist regime. Patriarch Teoctist withdrew from his office in January 1990 but was reinstated by the Holy Synod the following April. Since that time the position of the Romanian Orthodox Church has stabilized and it has experienced sustained growth in activity. This new situation was vividly symbolized by the construction of the enormous Patriarchal Cathedral of the Nation’s Salvation in central Bucharest. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople was present for the consecration of the cathedral on November 25, 2018. Standing at 443 feet, it is the tallest Orthodox church in the world.

Unfortunately 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. Even so, Pope John Paul II made a historic trip to Romania in May 1999. This was the first visit of a Pope to a predominantly Orthodox country. Pope Francis visited Romania 20 years later, in May 2019.

At the beginning of 2007 the Romanian Orthodox Church reported having 32 dioceses and 13,497 parishes. There were 434 monasteries and 190 sketes with a total of 8,059 monks and nuns. The church was being served by 14,035 priests and deacons. Three hundred thirty-two priests were working as hospital chaplains, 36 in prisons and 78 as chaplains in the armed forces. There were 35 high school seminaries with a total of 6,625 students, including nuns and laypeople. Higher studies in theology had been integrated into the state university system, with 15 faculties of Orthodox theology around the country. Altogether there were 10,898 theology students at the university level. In addition, there were 14 schools for church cantors with 609 students. Five central church journals were being published, along with 111 others by local dioceses, parishes and monasteries.

According to the 2002 Romanian census, 86.7% of the population identified itself as Orthodox. The 2011 census reported virtually the same number at 86.5%. The 2011 census also reported that about five percent of Romanians self-identified as Roman Catholic and 151,000 as Greek Catholics (The Greek Catholics themselves did not accept that figure and estimated their membership at 488,000). A 2006 survey revealed that 85 percent of Romanians trusted the church more than any other institution in the country. An additional poll conducted by the National Polling and Marketing Institute (INSOMAR) in April 2006 showed that religious practice in the country was quite high. Six percent of respondents stated that they went to church several times a week, 22 percent once a week, 23 percent several times per month, 34 percent only at Christmas and Easter, 12 percent once a year or less, and three percent not at all.

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 Bessarabia, 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 the Orthodox in Moldova were divided between the two competing jurisdictions. The Moldovan government supported the jurisdiction linked to Moscow (the Moldovan Orthodox Church) and did not allow the new Romanian jurisdiction (the Bessarabian Orthodox Church) to register officially. On September 27, 2001, the Moldovan government declared the Moldovan Orthodox Church, which had more than 1,000 parishes, to be the successor of the pre-World War II Romanian Orthodox Church for purposes of property ownership. No attempt was made, however, to confiscate Bessarabian Orthodox property. On December 13, 2001, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Moldovan government had violated articles of the European Convention by refusing to register the Bessarabian Church. The government appealed the ruling in February 2002, but the court refused to hear it. In July 2002 the Moldovan government’s State Service for the Affairs of Cults finally registered the Bessarabian Church over the strong objections of the Moldovan Orthodox Church. Headed by Metropolitan Petru (born 1946), the Bessarabian Orthodox Church at that time claimed 75 priests and 68 parishes the country. By 2006 the Moldovan Orthodox Church had 1,255 parishes, while the Bessarabian Orthodox Church had 219 parishes. In 2019 it was estimated that about 90% of the Orthodox in the country belonged to the Moldavian Orthodox Church with the remaining 10% belonging to the Bessarabian Orthodox Church.

The highest authority in the Romanian Orthodox Church in canonical and spiritual matters is the Holy Synod, composed of all the functioning bishops in the country. Meetings take place twice a year. At other times the normal administration of the church falls to the Permanent Holy Synod, made up of the Patriarch, the active Metropolitans and the Secretary of the Holy Synod. On financial and administrative matters that do not fall within the competence of the Holy Synod, the highest authority is the National Church Assembly, made up of one cleric and two lay persons from each diocese as well as the members of the Holy Synod. The supreme administrative organ of the Holy Synod and the National Church Assembly is the National Church Council, made up of three clerics and six laypeople elected by the National Church Assembly for a term of four years, along with the patriarchal administrative councilors as permanent members.

Patriarch Teoctist, who had been in office since 1986, died on July 30, 2007, at the age of 92. Metropolitan Daniel of Moldavia and Bucovina, the church’s second ranking bishop, was elected as his successor on September 12, 2007. The new patriarch studied under the guidance of the well-known Romanian Orthodox theologian Dumitru Staniloae, and has extensive ecumenical experience, having taught at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, Switzerland, from 1980 to 1988, and having served in leadership positions in both the Conference of European Churches and the World Council of Churches.

In 2016 the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church reorganized the church in North America. It created a Metropolis of the Two Americas composed of an archdiocese of the United States and a diocese of Canada. The Metropolis is headed by Metropolitan Nicolae Condrea who also serves as Archbishop of the United States (5410 N. Newland Ave., Chicago, IL 60656). Bishop Ioan Casian heads the diocese of Canada (2010 Boul. Marie, St-Hubert (Quebec) J4T 2B1). The Metropolis has 28 parishes and missions and two monasteries in the USA, along with 23 parishes and missions in Canada.

Romanian Orthodox faithful in Great Britain and Ireland are under the jurisdiction of Archbishop Joseph Pop, Metropolitan of Western and Southern Europe, based in Paris. There are 22 parishes and six missions in the United Kingdom; Fr. Silviu Petre Pufulete is pastor of the parish of St. George that meets in the church of St. Dunstan in the West, 186 Fleet Street, London EC4A 2AE. In Ireland there are five parishes and nine mission communities. The parish of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, served by Fr. Calin Florea, meets at Christ Church, Leeson Park, Ballsbridge, Dublin 6.

Another Romanian Orthodox jurisdiction in North America which broke with the Romanian Patriarchate during the communist period is now a diocese within the Orthodox Church in America. It is presided over by Bishop Nathaniel Popp (Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, 2535 Grey Tower Road, Jackson, Michigan 49201-9120). There are 74 parishes and missions in the USA and 32 in Canada, as well as three monastic communities. In 1993 the two Romanian Orthodox jurisdictions in North America agreed to establish full normal ecclesial relations, ending decades of hostility. Subsequent efforts to unify the two jurisdictions have not been successful.

In 2008 the Romanian Holy Synod created the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of Australia and New Zealand, and elected Archimandrite Mihail (Filimon) as its first bishop. There are 14 Romanian Orthodox parishes in Australia and five in New Zealand. The Episcopate’s offices are located at 103 Porteous Road, Melton West, 3337 Victoria, Australia.

Location: Romania, Western Europe and North America
Head: Patriarch Daniel I (born 1951, elected 2007)
Title: Archbishop of Bucharest, Metropolitan of Ungro-Wallachia, Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church
Residence: Bucharest, Romania
Membership: 18,806,428

Last Modified: 09 March 2021

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