The origins of Christianity in the area comprising modern Romania are uncertain. The Roman occupation of the region (Dacia) ended in a.d. 275. There may have been Christians among the Roman legions and colonists. By the fourth century, Christian communities had grown up in the Dacian regions as missionaries from centers on the right bank of the Danube carried on an expanding ministry. Shortly after this period, the waves of barbarian invasions began, and not until the medieval epoch can one speak of a full-fledged Christian church in Romania. With the establishment of the two principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, organized Christianity began the thread which leads to the present. The metropolitanate of Ungro-Vlahia was founded in 1359, that of Moldavia in 1401; their recognition by the patriarchate of Constantinople signaled an acceptance of important religious and political developments rather than their inception.
With the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Romanian princes, notably Stefan the Great (1457-1504) and Neagoe Basarab (1512- 21), became for a time the heirs of Byzantium and secular leaders of the entire Orthodox Church. They led campaigns against the infidel Turks, assumed patronage over Athos* monasteries, sponsored cultural advances, and instituted a remarkable series of monastic foundations whose architectural and artistic brilliance can still be seen. At the same time began an influx of Greek churchmen and culture. Their intellectual and theological influence led to a Romanian-Greek-Slavonic synthesis of merit, but their moral impact was not always as salutary.
The apogee of the Romanian Orthodox Church came in the seventeenth century. Powerful, cultured rulers coincided with notable church metropolitans. Under their aegis, theological synods were held, prolific presses established, monastic reforms enacted. Church leaders such as Varlaam (1632-53) and Dosofteiu (1671-86) of Moldavia, and Stefan (1648-68), Teodosie (1668- 1708), and Antim (1708-16) of Wallachia carried on a wide program of cultural and religious activities, with key achievements being the establishment of the Romanian language in the liturgy and the publication of the Bucharest Bible in 1688, the first complete translation into Romanian.
In the next century, however, the Romanian Church fell increasingly under Greek domination as Phanariot princes replaced native rulers. More and more monasteries became Greek fiefs, and the general level of religious life declined. The language remained Romanian, however, and important reforms were carried out on lower levels. In the latter part of the century, Eugumen Paisie sparked a reform in Moldavia, and this spread into the nineteenth century under Metropolitans Iacob Stimati (1792-1803) and Veniamin Costache (1803-42). Both were men of the Enlightenment,* possessors of vast erudition and literary skill. The union of the two principalities in 1859 produced various attempts at unifying the church also. These schemes failed, though the Romanian Church became officially autocephalous in 1885. The secularization of the Greek-controlled dedicated monasteries in 1863 was an important event. The nineteenth century saw also the challenge of “new” denominations which transcended ethnic lines. Most important of these were the Baptists, who spread eastward from Hungary* beginning in 1870. At the same timebecame strong enough in Romania to form the archbishopric of Bucharest (1883). Transylvania, the third Romanian principality, fell under Hungarian domination in the eleventh century, becoming subsequently the target of strenuous Catholic missionary efforts under the sponsorship of the Crown. These met with little success among the Romanian population. In the sixteenth century, Hungary's defeat by the Turks coincided with the beginnings of the Reformation,* and the German (Saxon) population of Transylvania was rapidly Lutheranized under the Reformer Johannes Honterus. The Magyar nobility, on the other hand, slowly became Calvinists (and a few, Unitarians) through a complex of events. The ethnic Romanian population remained staunchly Orthodox. in Transylvania produced the first printed books in Romanian as well as a general religious and cultural revival among all the national groups of the area; its influence on the other side of the Carpathians remained largely cultural.
The brief unification of all three Romanian principalities under Michael the Brave (1600-1601) saw the first stable Orthodox hierarchy in Transylvania. The restoration of the now-Calvinist Magyar nobility forced the new church to accept many points of Reformed doctrine, though the great metropolitan, Sava Brancovici (1656-80), gained a brief reduction of Calvinist influence. In 1691 Transylvania came under (Hapsburg) Catholic rule again, and Catholicism (with Calvinism, Lutheranism, and Unitarianism) was declared one of the four “received religions.” Jesuit efforts were unsuccessful, but in 1698 the Transylvania Greek Catholic Church (Uniate) was born through the adherence of the Orthodox metropolitan Anastasiu. In exchange for the suzerainty of the pope and the doctrines of purgatory and the Filioque, the Romanians kept their dogma and liturgy intact and were granted equal rights with the “received” clergy. The great majority of Orthodox clergy and believers refused to accept the new church, but the Transylvania Orthodox Church disappeared for half a century anyway.
The Transylvania Uniate Church, paradoxically, became the rallying center of the great Romanian national revival of the eighteenth century. Educational and spiritual reforms were effected, a vote obtained in the Diet, and the right established to build Romanian schools and churches. In 1758 the Orthodox hierarchy of Transylvania was reconstituted and included more than 80 per cent of the Romanian population. Reform began under Episcop Vasile Moga of Sibiu (1811-46) and his successor Andreiu Saguna (1848-73), the greatest modern Romanian churchman, who refounded a Transylvanian metropolitanate free of Serbian control in 1864 and reorganized and democratized church structure.
The union of all three Romanian principalities resulting from World War I led to a unification of the three Orthodox hierarchies. In 1925 Miron Cristea was named the first patriarch of Romania. The Orthodox and Uniate cults were designated as the “national” cults, comprising respectively 72.6 percent and 7.9 percent of the population (the two were merged after 1948). The Catholics (7 percent), Calvinists (3.9 percent), Lutherans (2.2 percent), and Unitarians (0.4 percent) continued their previous status as “received” cults, while the Baptists (0.3 percent) and other Protestant groups were classified as “tolerated” cults.
Most of the literature is in Romanian, but see M. Beza, The Rumanian Church (1943); and The Rumanian Orthodox Church (ed. by the Bible and Orthodox Missionary Institute, Bucharest, 1962). See also bibliography under Eastern.