Monday, April 13, 2015

Sui Juris Churches IV: The Romanian Church United with Rome, Greek-Catholic

(on sui juris churches in general)

Liturgical Family: Byzantine

Primary Liturgical Language: Romanian

Juridical Status: Major Archiepiscopal.

Approximate Population: The population of this church is especially difficult to determine. Only about 150,000 to 200,000 show up on the Romanian government census; the Vatican estimates over 600,000 in the church at large, and the Romanian Church United with Rome puts the figure at just under 800,000. Given the church's history of persecution by the government, it would not at all be surprising if Romanian Greek Catholics were not actually providing accurate information to government census takers; but it is impossible to say how much this is a factor. In addition, the Romanian Church United with Rome has insisted that the Romanian census is distorted by inconsistent practices that result in Romanian Greek Catholics being miscategorized as Romanian Orthodox.

Basic History: Christian presence in Romania goes back perhaps at least to the third century, and there were notable Christian martyrs, like St. Sabbas the Goth, from the region, but a very large amount of the early history is obscure and known only indirectly by artifacts that have survived. We know that the area fell under the jurisdiction of Constantinople and had two metropolitan bishops (for Wallachia and Moldavia) by the thirteenth century. It is likely that church structure had solidified by the ninth century, at least, as the region came under the control of the First Bulgarian Empire, which converted to Christianity. The Roman Empire -- that is, the Byzantines out of Constantinople -- conquered the Bulgarian Empire in turn in the late tenth century. It eventually broke off again as the Second Bulgarian Empire. The politics involved in that Empire are far too complex to go into here, but a key point is that the politics forced the Bulgarians to try to develop alliances westward, which allowed for the spread of Western Christian influence in the form of groups like the Teutonic Knights and the Dominicans. In the meantime other parts of the region came under control of the Hungarians, whose political situation was also too complex to discuss here, but had much the same effect. The result is that the entire area has been a short of shadowland between East and West, with each dominant and receding in turn.

Latin Catholics have been a fairly constant presence throughout, but depending on the political situation, there were also often Greek Rite Christians in various degrees of communion with Rome, although these situations rarely lasted due to the constant political shifting. In 1687, however, a more lasting political event occurred: the Holy Roman Empire under the Hapsburgs invaded Transylvania. In the wake of this, the bishop of Alba Iulia, Atanasie Anghel, convened the "Union Synod" (attended almost entirely by priests) of 1698, which signed an Act of Union with Rome, a decision confirmed at another council in 1700. He is considered the first primate of the modern Romanian Church United with Rome, Greek-Catholic. It almost ended there; when Atanasie Anghel died in 1713, they had difficulty replacing him. Originally they chose a Jesuit, Francisc Szunyogh, who refused the honor; their next candidates were nixed by the Holy Roman Emperor. They finally chose Ioan Giurgiu Patachi; but it took a while for him actually to take his place, because he was Latin Rite, and as a priest had to get explicit permission to become Byzantine Rite; the Latin bishop of Alba Iulia also did not think that there needed to be a Byzantine Rite bishop for the same city, and opposed it. In addition, they had to move, because the monastery at which the prior patriarch had resided was destroyed. He did eventually pass all the obstacles, of course, but it was a rocky ride at first. The Romanian Greek Catholic Church was eventually raised to Metropolitan status in 1853 by Pope Pius IX, giving it a greater degree of independence.

Romanian Greek Catholics had from the beginning been actively involved in the struggle for greater rights and freedoms for Romanians, leading to an often uncomfortable relationship with the government; the heads of the church had several times been forced into resignation because of their political positions. However, all this trouble would pale compared to the trouble that came about with the rise of Communism. Beginning in 1948, the Communist regime began engaging in a religious persecution, purging the dominant Romanian Orthodox Church of bishops opposed to the regime and actively suppressing the Romanian Church United with Rome. Romanian Greek Catholics were now outlaws. Their churches were taken away. Bishops who refused to break ties with Rome were imprisoned. Alexandru Rusu, head of the church, was imprisoned; his successor, Alexandru Todea, was also imprisoned. There were many martyrs.

For forty years this state of affairs lasted, until the Romanian Revolution in 1989. But decades of oppression had taken their toll. Bishops had to be appointed to dioceses that had fallen vacant. All of the church's property was in the hands of others, and it has only slowly been able to get some of it back. There has been a constant shortage of priests. The once thriving population, once apparently over a million, is much diminished and very scattered. It's not even easy to assess the level of damage. Recovery is a very long and slow effort. Similar problems have practically destroyed other Eastern Catholic churches. But the recovery does seem to be proceeding, and the juridical status of the church was raised to Major Archiepiscopal in 2005 by Benedict XVI.

Notable Monuments: Holy Trinity Cathedral in Blaj, Romania, which is the primary see of the church. In addition, there is a famous set of small churches called the Wooden Churches of Maramureș that are important cultural landmarks; most of these are Orthodox, but a few are Greek Catholic. the most important of these is the Church of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel in Șurdești. Also notable is the national church of Romanian Greek-Catholics in Rome, San Salvatore alle Coppelle.

Notable Saints: Bretannio (January 25); Sabbas the Goth (April 12). I don't know of any particular Romanian Greek Catholic saints canonized on the general calendar, although there were enough martyrs under the Communist regime that a few are likely to end up there. (This has been the case with Romanian Catholics of the Latin Rite, of whom several have already been canonized; and processes of canonization are already under way for several Greek Catholic bishops who were killed.) There are also some beatified, such as Blessed Vladimir Ghika.

Extent of Official Jurisdiction: The Major Archdiocese of Făgăraș and Alba Iulia, with five suffragan sees in Romania; there is one eparchy outside of Romania, for the U.S. It is important to note that even within Romania most Catholics are actually Latin Rite.

Online Sources and Resources:

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