Romanian Orthodox Church

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The Romanian Orthodox Church (Biserica Ortodoxă Română in Romanian) is one of the autocephalous Eastern Orthodox churches. The majority of Romanians in Romania (about 20 million according to the 2002 census data) belong to it. Among all Orthodox Christians, the mere numbers of Romanians make the Romanian Orthodox Church second only to the Russian Orthodox Church in size.

A Romanian Orthodox Monk
A Romanian Orthodox Monk

Adherents of the Romanian Orthodox Church sometimes refer to it as Dreapta credinţă ("right/correct belief"; compare to Greek Ορθος δοξος, "straight/correct belief"). Orthodox believers are also sometimes known as dreptcredincioşi or dreptmăritori creştini.



An early Christian votive object of early 4th century, unearthed at Biertan, near Sibiu, in Romania It reads EGO ZENOVIUS VOTUM POSUI "I, Zenovius, offered this gift"
An early Christian votive object of early 4th century, unearthed at Biertan, near Sibiu, in Romania
"I, Zenovius, offered this gift"

Some Romanian Orthodox people regard their church to be the first national, first attested, and first apostolic (church built by the Apostles themselves) in Europe and view St Andrew as the Church's founder.

Most historians, however, hold that Christianity was brought to Romania by the occupying Romans. The Roman province had traces of all imperial religions, including Mithraism, but Christianity, a regio illicita, existed among some of the Romans.

The Roman Empire soon found it was too costly to maintain a permanent garrison north of the lower Danube. As a whole, since 106 AD a permanent military and administrative Roman presence was registered only till 276 AD. In comparison, Britain was militarily occupied by Romans for more than six centuries—and English is certainly not a Romance language, while the Church of England had no Archbishop before the times of Pope Gregory the Great. Clearly, Dacians must have been favored linguistically and religiously, by some unique ethnological features, so that after only 169 years of an anemic military occupation they emerged as a major Romance people, overrepresented religiously at the first Ecumenical Councils, as the Ante-Nicene Fathers duly recorded.

When the Romanians formed as a people, it is quite clear that they already had the Christian faith, as proved by tradition, as well as by some archeological and linguistic evidence. Basic terms of Christianity are of Latin origin: such as church ("biserică" < basilica), God ("Dumnezeu" < Domine Deus), Easter ("Paşte" < Paschae), Pagan ("Păgân" < Paganus), Angel ("Înger" < Angelus). Some of them, especially "Church" - Biserica are unique to Romanian Orthodoxy.

Very few traces can be found in the Romanian names that are left from the Roman Christianity after the Slavic influence began. All the names of the saints were preserved in Latin form: "Sântămăria" (Mary), "Sâmpietru" (Saint Peter), "Sângiordz" (Saint George) and Sânmedru (Saint Demetrius). The non-religious onomastic proof of pre-Christian habits, like "Sânziana" and "Cosânzeana" (Sancta Diana and Qua Sancta Diana) is only of anecdotal value in this context. Yet, the highly spiritualized places in the mountains, the processions, the calendars, and even the physical locations of the early churches were clearly the same with those of the Dacians. Even Saint Andrew is known locally as the Apostle "of the wolves" - with very old and large connotations, whereby the wolf's head was an ethnicon and a symbol of military and spiritual "fire" for Dacians.

Tomb of the Four Martyrs - Niculiţel, Romania
Tomb of the Four Martyrs - Niculiţel, Romania
Inscription in the Tomb of the Four Martyrs - Listing Names Zoticos, Attalos, Kamasis and Filippos
Inscription in the Tomb of the Four Martyrs - Listing Names Zoticos, Attalos, Kamasis and Filippos
Foundation walls of the oldest-known Romanian Orthodox Church in Turnu Severin
Foundation walls of the oldest-known Romanian Orthodox Church in Turnu Severin
The stone church of Densuş, Transylvania was built on the place of a pre-Christian temple
The stone church of Densuş, Transylvania was built on the place of a pre-Christian temple

Christianity in Scythia Minor

While Dacia was part of the Roman Empire only for a short time, Scythia Minor (nowadays Dobrogea) was part of it much longer and after the breakdown of the Roman Empire, it became part of the Byzantine Empire.

The first encounter of Christianity in the Scythia Minor was when Saint Andrew, brother of Saint Peter passed through it in the 1st century with his disciples. Later on, Christianity became the predominant faith of the region, as proven by the large number of remains of early Christian churches. The Roman administration was ruthless with the Christians, as the great number of martyrs demonstrates.

Bishop Ephrem, killed on 7 March 304 in Tomis, was the first Christian martyr of this region and was followed by countless others, especially during the repression ordered by emperors Diocletian, Galerius, Licinius and Julian the Apostate.

An important, impressive number of dioceses and martyrs are first attested during the times of Ante-Nicene Fathers. The first known Daco-Roman Christian priest Montanus and his wife Maxima were drowned, as martyrs, because of their faith, on March 26, 304.

The 1971 archaeological digs under the paleo-Christian basilica in Niculiţel (near ancient Noviodunum in Scythia Minor) unearthed an even older martyrium. Besides Zoticos, Attalos, Kamasis and Filippos, who suffered martyrdom under Diocletian (304-305), the relics of two previous martyrs, witnessing and dying during the repressions of Emperor Decius (249-251), were unearthed under the crypt.

The names of these martyrs had been placed since their death in church records, and the find of the tomb with the names written inside was astonishing. The fact that the relics of the famous Saint Sava "the Goth" (martyred by drowning in the River Buzău, under Athanaric on 12 April 372) were recovered by Saint Basil the Great conclusively demonstrates that (unlike bishop Wulfila) Saint Sava was a follower of the Nicene faith, not a heresiarch like Arius.

Once the Dacian-born Emperor Galerius proclaimed freedom for Christians all over the Roman Empire in 311, the city of Tomis alone (modern Constanţa) became Metropolitanate with as many as 14 bishoprics.

Middle Ages

Following the complex relationship of Byzantine Patriarchates and Bulgarian kingdom, Romanians adopted Old Church Slavonic in the liturgy in the early 9th century. However, most of the religious texts were learned by heart by priests who either did not understand Slavic languages, always wanted to be understood by their own community, or both. Some priest used to mumble ("a boscorodi") the sermon, using certain Slavic prefixes, so at least it would sound like Slavic.

Since the south-of Danube Dacia was also known as Vlahia Mare - Greater Wallachia, the north-of-Danube Dacia was known as Ungro-Vlahia - the "Hungarian" Wallachia. This important geographical and ethnogenetic fact of Romania is still reflected into the name of the first Metropolitanate of Ungro-Vlachia, which was founded in 1359 in Curtea de Argeş. Another Romanian Metropolitanate was founded in 1401 at Suceava, Moldavia.

Translation of the Bible

Ecclesiastical life flourished in all organized forms on both sides of the Lower Danube. However, national metropoles and Metropolitanates for the Romanians north of the Danube were only created in the late 13th century and early 14th century, according to the political developments there. Many religious texts were to be periodically transcribed until the 16th century in Old Church Slavonic only.

However, important Romanian translations certainly circulated, including the Codicele Voroneţean (the Codex of Voroneţ) and Palia de la Orăştie. Bucharest Bible (Biblia de la Bucureşti) was the first complete Romanian translation of the Bible in the late 17th century. It was published in 1688 during the reign of Şerban Cantacuzino in Wallachia and is considered a mature and somptuous work.

Its cultural importance is not unlike that of King James Version for the English language. This could not have been achieved without many previous (and perhaps as yet unknown) anonymous translation work. For this, a wealth of Byzantine manuscripts, brought north of the Danube in the "Byzantium after Byzantium" movement described by famous historian Nicolae Iorga is an outstanding proof.

After this, the importance of Church Slavonic and Greek languages in the Romanian Orthodox Church began to fade. 1736 was the year when the last Slavonic liturgy was published in Wallachia, but only in 1863 Romanian became officially the only language of the Romanian Orthodox Church.

Although most of the time under foreign suzerainty (under the Ottoman Turks in Moldavia and Wallachia and under the Hungarian rule in Transylvania), Romanians characteristically kept their Orthodox faith as part of their national identity.

The Uniate Church

Main article: Romanian Greek-Catholic Uniate Church

In 1698 in Transylvania, a part of the Romanian Orthodox Church granted ecclesiastical authority to the Pope, but retained the Orthodox rite. This is seen by some historians as a political move designed to obtain equality of rights with Roman Catholics. Indeed, by becoming members of the "Greek-rite Roman Catholics" church, a minority of Romanians in Transylvania eventually managed to be recognized as a nation by the Habsburg rulers, achieving status equal to the three Transylvanian peoples collectively known under the syntagm of Unio Trium Nationum. Along with this came the arrival of the Jesuits who attempted to align Transylvania more closely with Western Europe.

The communist government suppressed the Romanian Greek-Catholic (Uniate) Church in 1948, the churches being confiscated and given to the Orthodox Church, while the Romanian Greek-Catholics were re-accepted into the Orthdox Church in 1950. As of 2002, there were 191,000 Romanian Greek Catholics.

Recent history

The Romanian Orthodox Church has been fully autocephalous since 1885.

The Communist regime

The Communist government, through the 1948 Law of Cults made the Church to be tightly controlled by the state. The monasteries were transformed into craft centers and priests were encouraged to learn other 'worldly' jobs.

The leadership of the Church had a good relations with the Communist regime, but there were many members of the clergy which dissented: until 1963 as many as 2,500 individual priests and monks were arrested and further 2,000 monks were forced to give up the monastic life.

While the dissenters were sentenced to fairly long terms in prison, there were also many priests who collaborated and were informers for Securitate, the secret police. In 2001, the Romanian Orthodox Church tried unsuccessfully to change the law which allowed the access to the archives of Securitate, in order to deny public access to the files of the priests which collaborated with the Securitate.

It was only after the 1989 Romanian Revolution, when Romania became democratic, that the Church was freed from state control.

The Church in Moldova

Romanians in the Republic of Moldova belonging to the Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia (rom. Mitropolia Basarabiei), having resisted russification for 192 years (after the annexation of Bessarabia by the Russian Empire in 1812) are 2 million strong in 2004. In 2001 they won a landmark legal victory against the Government of the Republic of Moldova at the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights.

This means that despite current political issues, the Moldovan Metropolitan Church is now recognized as " the rightful successor" to the Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia and Hotin, which existed from 1918 till 1940 and was only brought by Stalin under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church's Moscow patriarchate.

Unique features

The Romanian Orthodox Church is the only Orthodox church using a Romance language in the divine liturgy.

Byzantine religious records also mention a unique form of bishoprics in the region - namely the chorepiscopate or countryside episcopate - as opposed to the better-known religious centers in large cities. This can possibly be compared to the "monastic bishops" of Ireland, who united the functions of countryside Abbot with that of district Bishop in another country that did not emphasize an urban episcopate, at least for a time.

The very word for "church" in Romanian, Biserică is unique in Europe. It comes from Latin "basilica" (from βασιλικα - meaning "communications received from the king" and "the place where the Emperor administered justice"), rather than "ecclesia" (from εκκλησία, from "those called out").

Canonical status

The Romanian Orthodox Church is organized as the Romanian Patriarchate. The highest hyerarchical, canonical and dogmatical authority of the Romanian Orthodox Church is the Holy Synod.

The Palace of the Romanian Patriarchate
The Palace of the Romanian Patriarchate


There are five Metropolitanates and ten archbishoprics in Romania, and more than twelve thousand priests and deacons, servant fathers of ancient altars from parishes, monasteries and social centres. Almost 400 monasteries exist inside the country for some 3,500 monks and 5,000 nuns. Three Diasporan Metropolitanates and two Diasporan Bishoprics function outside Romania proper. As of 2004, there are, inside Romania, fifteen theological universities where more than ten thousand students (some of them from Bessarabia, Bukovina and Serbia benefiting from a few Romanian fellowships) currently study for a doctoral degree. More than 14,500 churches (traditionally named "lăcaşe de cult", or worshiping places) exist in Romania for the Romanian Orthodox believers. As of 2002, almost 1,000 of these were either in the process of being built or rebuilt.

Relations with other Orthodox Jurisdictions

Most Eastern Orthodox autocephalous churches, including the Romanian, maintain a respectful spiritual link to the Ecumenical Patriarch. Now in office is His All-Holiness Bartholomew I, Patriarch of Constantinople and New Rome.

Famous theologians

Father Dumitru Stăniloae (1903 - 1993) is one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century. His other magnum opus, aside from his duhovnicesc (deepest spiritual) opus, is the 45-year-long comprehensive collection known as the Romanian Philocaly.

Father Archmandrite Cleopa Ilie (1912 - 1998), elder of the Sihastria Monastery, is the most representative elder and spiritual father of contemporary Romanian Orthodox spirituality.

List of Patriarchs

See Patriarch of All Romania

Leaders of the Church

See also


External links

Churches and Monasteries



Romanian Orthodoxy outside Romania

This article is part of the Eastern Christianity Portal — Learn more about Eastern Christianity  
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