As the Romanian Orthodox Church celebrates the 125th anniversary of its autocephaly and the 85th anniversary of its elevation to the rank of a Patriarchate, a February statement from the Church’s episcopate has elicited critical comments in Orthodox circles in the West, since it raises the complex issues of the future shape of Orthodox Churches outside their original territories as well as of the link between a “Mother Church” and its national diaspora.
Based on a decision of the panOrthodox, preconciliar conference that took place in Chambesy (Switzerland) in June 2009, according to which each national Church is entitled to take care of its own diaspora, the Romanian episcopate has called ethnic Romanians around the world to place themselves under the jurisdiction of the Romanian Church, and not to belong to other, non-Romanian Orthodox jurisdictions. Such an arrangement was common during the communist period, since a number of believers abroad wanted to avoid any possible indirect control by an atheist government through church representatives abroad, and then sought ecclesiastical asylum in different jurisdictions.
The Paris-based Orthodox Press Service (SOP, April) reports that the appeal targets mainly the Romanian ethnic diocese of some 80 parishes that is part of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), while 40 parishes remain under the jurisdiction of the Romanian Patriarchate. There has been an ongoing discussion and a proposal in recent years to establish a selfgoverning Romanian Orthodox Metropolitanate of the Americas. The appeal has been criticized by Orthodox theologians who feel it represents a trend to create “universal national Churches,” instead of working toward the establishment of Orthodox Churches on a territorial rather than national basis, particularly in countries where an Orthodox presence has been a modern development without a previous presence of national Churches.
In response to the “appeal for Romanian unity and dignity,” 28 Orthodox priests and laypeople in Western Europe have published a “call for the dignity and unity of the Orthodox Church.” While understanding the pastoral concern for a dispersed flock, they deplore the ecclesiogical approach according to which any Romanian abroad should prefer direct contact with the Romanian Orthodox Church instead of belonging in some cases to multi-ethnic communities.
The issue raised by the Romanian appeal is not confined to that specific church, but illustrates tensions across all Orthodox jurisdictions between the national and universal components of the Orthodox Church. Far from having lessened such problems, the post-communist context in Eastern Europe has tended to give them a new impetus. On the other hand, the reality on the ground is more complex as new generations who descended from Orthodox immigrants have accommodated themselves to their new countries and have developed an aspiration to create self-governing bodies on a non-ethnic basis, such as the OCA.
(Service Orthodoxe de Presse, 14 rue Victor Hugo, 92400 Courbevoie, France; http://www.orthodox press.com; http://www. roeanews.info)