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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. 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 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 Romanian Orthodox Church stabilized its position and has experienced a sustained growth in its activity. Plans are being made for the construction for an enormous Cathedral of the Nation’s Salvation in Bucharest. 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 [see Romanian Catholic Church].

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Tags: Romania Romanian Greek Catholic