Romanian Orthodox Church retains influential place in society

The second-largest national Orthodox church with 25 million members, autocephalous since 1885 and under its own Patriarch since 1925, the Romanian Orthodox Church (ROC) has played an important role in Romanian society and national identity, and has managed to preserve a high level of social acceptance throughout regime changes over the past century, writes Mihai-D. Grigore (Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz, Germany) in Religion & Gesellschaft in Ost und West (October). Harshly persecuted during the first two decades of the Communist period after 1945, but also subject to attempts by the regime to use it as a tool of influence and surveillance, the church remains an important symbol of Romanian culture. With 80 percent of the population identifying as Orthodox, the ROC worked successfully to strengthen its legal privileges and status as the dominant church in Romania while recovering its autonomous administration thanks to the removal of legal provisions that had allowed the state to intervene in church affairs. New bishoprics were established and many young clerics were trained. Under the current Patriarch Daniel (Ciobotea, b. 1951) the ROC has pursued a pragmatic partnership model of cooperation with the state rather than explicit privileging, while reinforcing close ties between church and state. On the economic level, it has expanded its financial resources through a complex of media, tourism, commercial activities, and social service and educational institutions.

People’s Salvation Cathedral under construction in Bucharest, June 2023 (source. Wikimedia Commons).

The building of a huge new cathedral in the capital, Bucharest, near the Parliament building (the former palace of the last Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu) symbolizes both the ideal union between ethnic “Romanianness” and the Orthodox faith and victory over the country’s atheist past under Communism. The cathedral is not yet completed, but the cost has already reached some 200 million euros, with more than 70 percent of it paid by the state. According to Grigore, religious education in schools has played an important role in reinforcing the link between Romanian identity and Orthodox Christianity. The ROC has cleverly kept neutral in the intra-Orthodox conflict over Ukraine between the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow. This also has to do with the ROC’s religious-political agenda regarding the small, Romanian-speaking neighboring country of Moldova, writes Grigore. The ROC wants the entire Orthodox population of the country to come under the Romanian Patriarchate, including the pro-Russian, secessionist region of Transnistria, but at this point only a minority of Orthodox in Moldova are affiliated with the Bessarabian Orthodox Church under the Romanian Patriarchate. The ROC wants to prevent a Ukrainian scenario involving the emergence of an autocephalous church in Moldova.

(Religion & Gesellschaft in Ost und West, Institut G2W, Bederstr. 76, 8002 Zürich, Switzerland –