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Romanian Orthodox Church

The great majority of the people of Romania belong to the Rumanian Orthodox Church, in communion with the Greek, Russian, Serbian, and other Eastern Orthodox Churches. The Romanian Orthodox Church is a Church of apostolic origins, born out of the mission of St Andrew the Apostle, who preached the Word of the Gospel also in the old Roman province of Scythia Minor, the territory between the Danube and the western part of the Black Sea, present Dobrogea (south east of Romania).

No written or architectural evidence bears witness to the presence of "proto-Romanians" the lands north of the Danube during the millennium after Rome's withdrawal from Dacia. This fact has fueled a centuries-long feud between Romanian and Hungarian historians over Transylvania. Some Romanians remained faithful to the Eastern Orthodox Church after the East-West Schism. King Stephen and his successors recruited foreigners to join the Magyars in settling the region. Hungary's kings reinforced the foreigners' loyalty by granting them land, commercial privileges, and considerable autonomy. Nobility was restricted to Roman Catholics and, while some Romanian noblemen converted to the Roman rite to preserve their privileges, most of the Orthodox Romanians became serfs.

The history of Transylvania is, in many ways, unique in Europe. The Transylvanian constitution crystallised round the so-called " Brotherly Union " of 1437, concluded between the three privileged "nations," the Magyar nobles, the Szekelys or Frontiersmen of the eastern Carpathians, and the Saxon townsmen. Transylvania became the scene of a remarkable experiment of religious toleration at the very moment when the wars of religion were at their height in the West. In 1571 the Estates recognised the four confessions - Catholic, Calvinist, Lutheran, and Unitarian - as equal before the law.

Unhappily, in this seemingly ideal picture, there was one significant omission. Side by side with the three dominant races there was the silent mass of serfs, the Roumanian autochthonous population, who, in spite of their superior numbers, never obtained recognition as a nation, and whose religion - the Orthodox or Eastern Faith - was excluded from the benefits of religious toleration. Alike during the period of Transylvanian independence (1526- 1691) and the succeeding period of autonomy under Habsburg rule, the Roumanians always occupied the position of real political helots, and never lost an opportunity of asserting their claims of civil and religious equality. In 1791 two Romanian bishops -- one Orthodox, the other Uniate -- petitioned Emperor Leopold II (1790-92) to grant Romanians political and civil rights, to place Orthodox and Uniate clergy on an equal footing, and to apportion a share of government posts for Romanian appointees; the bishops supported their petition by arguing that Romanians were descendants of the Romans and the aboriginal inhabitants of Transylvania. The emperor restored Transylvania as a territorial entity and ordered the Transylvanian Diet to consider the petition. The Diet, however, decided only to allow Orthodox believers to practice their faith; the deputies denied the Orthodox Church recognition and refused to give Romanians equal political standing beside the other Transylvanian nations.

In 1848 the dominant nation rushed through the Diet a law proclaiming the union of Transylvania with Hungary, in defiance of Roumanian and Saxon opposition. The fatal attitude of the Magyars, in refusing point blank to the Roumanians, as to the Slavs, those national rights which they claimed for themselves, ranged all the other races on the side of Austria and the Habsburgs in the terrible civil war which followed. Its evil traces still survive in memories of peasants shot and hanged wholesale without trial for their loyalty to the throne, and castles sacked and burned in revenge for centuries of oppression.

When, after ten years of black reaction, constitutional government was revived in Austria in the early 'sixties, there was a brief interlude of honest dealing, the Roumanian nation and language being at last placed on an equal footing with the Magyar and the German, and the Roumanian Orthodox Church receiving a definite charter, under its own hierarchy and elective assembly. Since 1867 Transylvania was merged in Hungary, and the Roumanian population shared in the benefits conferred by a constitution which the Magyars never tired of comparing to the British.

In 1864 the Roumanians of Hungary and Transylvania were separated from the Serbian Patriarchate and placed under a Metropolitan of their own in Hennannstadt (Sibiu), not under Czernowitz, which became a distinct Metropolitan See for the Orthodox of the Austrian Empire only.

Transylvania's Romanians joined the Magyars, Szeklers, and Germans as the fourth Transylvanian "nation," and the Romanian Orthodox Church became a received religion. Franz Joseph later permitted Transylvania's Orthodox Church to separate from the Serbian Patriarchate. Romanian literary figures soon founded the Association for the Cultivation of Romanian Language and Literature, which became a focal point of Romanian cultural life in Transylvania.

Romanians enjoyed equal status in Transylvania for only a short time. The need to shore up the weakening empire pressed Vienna toward compromise with Budapest. In 1865 Franz Joseph convened a second Transylvanian Diet, this time with a Hungarian majority, which abrogated the 1863 legislation and endorsed unification of Hungary and Transylvania. Defeat at the hands of Prussia in 1866 further revealed Austria's weakness, and in 1867 Franz Joseph agreed to the Ausgleich, a compromise whereby Austria and Hungary joined to form the Dual Monarchy -- two sovereign states with a unified foreign policy.

Thanks to the great reputation and influence at Court of Archbishop Shaguna, the Roumanian Orthodox Metropolitan, their church autonomy was respected, and thus there was at least one valuable point of defence against Magyar aggression. But even Shaguna felt himself politically helpless, and his despairing followers committed the grave mistake of adopting a policy of abstention, and for years the Roumanians were unrepresented in the Hungarian Parliament.

The year 1856 began the active campaign for union of Walachia and Moldavia. The Romanians themselves overcame the imposed separation in 1859 when the separate assemblies at Bucharest and Iasi unanimously elected the same man, Alexandru Ioan Cuza, governor of both principalities. Distracted by war in Italy, the leading European nations yielded to a fait accompli and accepted unification, and Cuza (1859-66) became prince.

Prince Couza wished to substitute in the Roumanian Church the Latin rite for the Greek, taking this course on the ground that the Eoumanians were a Latin race; but he certainly did not dream of subjecting the Roumanian Church to the authority of the Pope. He wished for a national Church, as independent of Rome as of Constantinople.

Prince Couza sought support in the ranks of the enemies of orthodoxy, and for this he sought to subordinate to his authority the Eoumanian orthodox clergy and the administration of the Church. To attain this end, Prince Couza thought to introduce new ecclesiastical institutions of such a nature as to completely weaken the Church while subjecting it to his power. By his orders there were drawn up at the Ministry of Public Worship, without the cooperation of the clergy, three projects of new ecclesiastical regulations, which in July 1864 received the sanction of the Parliament, and at the end of the year were signed by the Hospodar.

The Roumanian orthodox Church (which hitherto depended on the hierarchical supremacy of the Patriarch of Constantinople) was proclaimed independent of all foreign ecclesiastical authority whatsoever. The government of the Roumanian Church was subject to a Synod receiving the denomination, hitherto unheard of among the orthodox, of General Synod. Of this Synod were named as members, firstly, all the Roumanian bishops; then three delegates from each diocese, chosen for three years among the priests or laymen, but by such a mode of election that the resuit of the scrutiny depended on the will of the government. The presidency of the Synod was conferred on the Metropolitan of Wallachia, but not in virtue of the dignity with which he was clothed, nor in his own name; but in the name of the Hospodar, a thing unheard of in the orthodox as well as in the Latin Church.

The Synod was to assemble in July once every two years; it was convoked by the Minister of Public Worship, who proposed the questions for debate, is present at its sittings, takes part in its deliberations, presents its resolutions to the Hospodar, and puts them into execution. If the Synod presumes to touch any matter not brought before it, the minister terminated the sitting.

Cuza's reforms alienated both the boyars and Romania's mostly Greek clergy, and government corruption and the prince's own moral turpitude soon eroded his popularity. In 1865 an uprising broke out in Bucharest. Afterward, animosity toward the prince united the leaders of Romania's two political parties, the pro-German Conservatives, backed by the boyars and clergy, and the pro-French Liberals, who found support in the growing middle class and favored agrarian reform. On February 23, 1866, army officers loyal to the country's leading boyars awoke Cuza and his mistress, forced the prince to abdicate, and escorted him from the capital. With the tacit support of Napoleon III, Ion Bratianu, the leader of Romania's Liberals, nominated Prince Charles of southern Germany's Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen family as the new prince.

On 25 April 1885, the Romanian Orthodox Church became autocephal (self-governing) and on 25 February 1925 she was elevated to the rank of Patriarchate, being in dogmatic, liturgical and canonical communion with the other Sister Orthodox Churches.

In the late 1980s, the Romanian Orthodox Church, by far the largest denomination, claimed some 16 million members -- roughly 70 percent of the total population. The church had some 12,000 places of worship and 9,000 priests and was the most generously supported of all denominations. The most important positions in the Orthodox hierarchy were filled by party nominees, and the church remained patently submissive to the regime, even in the face of repeated attacks on the most basic religious values and continued violations of church rights. Church leaders lauded the "conditions of religious freedom" that the state had guaranteed them and were known to collaborate with the Securitate in silencing clergymen who spoke out against the demolition of churches, interference in church affairs, and atheistic propaganda in the media.

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Page last modified: 05-08-2011 20:02:14 ZULU