Warming relations between East and West
visit that His Beatitude Teoctist, Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox
Church, made to Rome last 7-13 October had a special significance. It
was an important event on the long journey in the quest for
understanding between the Catholics and the Orthodox of Romania.
Elected Patriarch of Romanian Orthodox Church in
repercussions extend beyond the boundaries of Romania and help foster
the spirit of rapprochement among Christians in general. Indeed, the
Patriarch's initiative, at his venerable age, of coming to meet the
elderly Pope of Rome who paid him a visit in Bucharest in 1999, marked
the beginning of fraternal reciprocity between the Churches.
the other hand, it also illustrated the concept that Church leaders are
the active guides of their own faithful, and as such they themselves do
what they would like everyone else to do: take steps, even if they
require an effort, to meet their brethren and try to solve existing
Teoctist was born in 1915. He became a monk in 1935, a bishop in 1950
and Archbishop of Craiova in 1973. He was Metropolitan of laşi from
1977 to 1986 when, in November, he was elected Patriarch.
is the fifth Patriarch since the Autocephalous Church of Romania was
raised to the rank of Patriarchate (1925), succeeding Miron Cristea
(1925-1939), Nicodim Munteanu (1939-1948), Justinian Marina (1948-1977)
and Justin Moisescu (1977-1986).
the first week of January 1987, a few months after his election as head
of the Romanian Church, he visited the Pope. It was a
"courageous" visit in opposition to the political authority
of the time. The Pope was able to repay his visit on 7 to 9 May in 1999.
relations with the Romanian Church have slowly improved and have
gradually been gaining momentum in the past 50 years.
Previous ecumenical relations with the Romanian
to the Orthodox Church of Russia, the Romanian Church is one of the
largest of the Orthodox Churches. Despite the adversarial status
created by the Communist regime with an outright persecution (1958-1964)
that created many martyrs of the faith and brought the consequent
restrictions and controls, the Romanian Orthodox Church was able to
continue her ministry of preaching in the context of worship, as well as
her work of sanctification with liturgical celebrations and the
of the sacraments. She could guarantee the formation of the clergy at
various seminaries and two university-level theological faculties at
Bucharest and Sibiu.
the damaging situation, the Romanian Church managed to preserve and
continue the essential, and even embarked on forms of cultural
using the scholarships provided by the Catholic Church and other
Churches in the West. But it was difficult in that period for
ecumenical relations to be easily resumed; they were full of tacit
the Romanian Church had been invited, she sent no "observers"
to the Second Vatican Council. This was symptomatic of a serious problem
with multiple causes, including the persecution and the situation of
conflict with the Catholic Church that resulted from the suppression by
the regime of the Greek-Catholic Church in 1948. The virtual "coercion"
of her faithful into joining the Orthodox Church and the confiscation of
Greek-Catholic Church property by the Government authorities, who gave a
part of it to the Orthodox Church, determined an attitude of
diffidence, if not bitterness.
of respect for the ecumenical directives outlined by the Second
Vatican Council, the Catholic Church was exploring every possibility
to resume contact. In 1971 it was possible to send a first delegation
to Bucharest for an initial contact with that Orthodox Church. In 1972
this was repaid by the visit of a Romanian Delegation.
level of relations was upgraded in 1975. For the 90th anniversary of the
Autocephalous Church of Romania, a delegation led by Cardinal Johannes
Willebrands went to Bucharest. The Cardinal was President of what was
then the Secretariat for Christian Unity.
1977, for the enthronement of the new Patriarch, H.B. Justin, Cardinal
Willebrands visited Romania for the second time. In his official address
and greeting, he said: "We also rejoice because it has been
possible for us to be present here. This is a sign of true progress in
the relations between our Churches".
Cardinal expressed his hope for further progress and candidly referred
to the problems waiting to be resolved. "May the Lord grant us to
be creative", he said, "in our effort to explore all the
ways that could lead us to unity, to overcome the ancient divergences
that have set Catholics and Orthodox against one another for centuries
and heal the wounds of a more recent past which still impede our
progress. The solution of these difficulties will enable us to advance
more swiftly towards perfect unity, in full freedom and
he continued, the Cardinal became more explicit: "We are prepared
to face all these problems, in a spirit of collaboration with the competent
pan-Orthodox institutions and, for the more specific problems,
with each individual Church".
To understand the context of these assertions
one should keep in mind that they were said on a festive occasion when
the Communist regime of Ceaucescu was in power, the Joint Commission for
Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church
did not yet exist — although it was on a back-burner — and when
the Orthodox Church in Romania was encountering problems and the
Greek-Catholic Church continued to be "non-existent".
Cardinal's discourse was appreciated for its fraternal tone, its
commitment to dialogue and its realistic approach to the unresolved
problems. Many people present remarked that the reference to recent
difficulties, which everyone realized was an allusion to the problem of
the Greek-Catholic Church, was honest and timely.
the dialogue must tackle problems that arise between the Churches. On
that occasion, there was a conversation with several leaders of the
Patriarchate to investigate the possibilities of creating a Romanian
Joint Catholic-Orthodox Commission to discuss with the Romanian Church
the "specific problems" that were emerging. But the time was
not ripe for this kind of initiative.
suggestions made by Cardinal Willebrands were subsequently acted upon.
The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue was set up
in 1979. The Romanian Orthodox Church had an active part in its
The Romanian Delegation made a constructive contribution to the
The first delegates were two eminent figures: the Metropolitan of
Banat Nicolae, and the well-known theologian, Dumitru Staniloae. Those
who replaced them subsequently collaborated effectively in the
was important, even after the collapse of Communism and the legalization
of the Greek-Catholic Church (1990), and the proposal of a dialogue
between the Orthodox and GreekCatholic Bishops in Romania also led
to the constitution of a local joint commission. It was established in
1997 and continues to make slow progress.
came into being to solve a "specific problem", the question of
the ownership and use of places of worship that formerly belonged to
the Greek-Catholic Church. Its slow progress shows how serious this
issue is, at least psychologically, for the parties involved.
However, the dialogue between the Bishops also
has broader methodological and deontological aspects. An exchange of
contacts was established in Romania, and the sometimes difficult
is an instrument chosen for discussion and not for polemics.
Teoctist himself visited the sick Cardinal Alexandru Todea, former
Metropolitan of the Greek-Catholic Church. An Orthodox Delegation was
later present at his funeral.
The Pastoral Visit of the Pope to Romania in
this new scenario the Holy Father was able to visit Romania in 1999. It
was the Pope's first visit to a country with an Orthodox majority.
Teoctist and the Holy Synod received the Pope with great dignity and
evident brotherliness at a gathering of an exuberant and faithful
people. The sight of the Pope and the Patriarch walking together towards
the altar in the celebrations of both Orthodox and Catholic liturgies
was a visible ecumenical catechesis.
speeches they exchanged recalled the reasons for the need for unity
and for the desire to obey the Lord's commandment of reciprocal love and
unity, so that the world might believe.
Holy Father was received by the Holy Synod and gave an important
The President of Romania, Mr Emil Costantinescu, and the nation's civil
authorities also received the Pope with equal honour and joy; they
considered his visit an honour paid to their country and to the entire
Romanian people, as well as to the Orthodox Church, the Latin- and
Byzantine-rite Catholic Churches and all the other Churches in the
his farewell discourse at Bucharest, referring to his visit, the Pope
said among other things: "These have been days of deep emotion,
which I have intensely felt and which will be cherished in my heart. Let
us accept the events we shared together as a gift from God's hand,
confident that they will bear fruits of grace for Christians and for all
the people of Romania. Your country has a unique ecumenical vocation
stemming from its very roots. Because of its geographical location and
long history, its culture and tradition, Romania in a way is a house
where East and West meet in natural dialogue" (ORE, 19 May
1999, n. 2, p. 6).
positive signs of growth between the two Churches
Patriarch was welcomed in Rome last October with all the respect and
that he and the Church he presides over deserve. He was received in
the name of the Lord.
the historical and cultural ties with Rome which the Romanians
emphasize, continue to be at the root of our relations. With reference
to their origin as a neo-Latin people the Romanians consider their
Church as the one "Latin-Orthodox Church" that can act as a
mediator for greater understanding between East and West.
the context of ecumenical relations, in a period in which relations
between the Churches seemed to have cooled, the visit of Patriarch
Teoctist highlighted the expression of brotherhood, the dialogue of
charity and common prayer as paths on which to revive the search for
unity on our way towards the final goal.