The Romanian Orthodox Church (Biserica Ortodoxă Română in Romanian) is a autocephalous Eastern Orthodox church. A majority of Romanians (18,817,975, or 86.8% of the population, according to the 2002 census data) belong to it, as well as a significant number of Moldovans.
The mere numbers of Romanians make the Romanian Orthodox Church arguably (as there are no credible statistics for the Moscow Patriarchate's membership) second only to the Russian Orthodox Church in size among orthodox churches.
Adherents of the Romanian Orthodox Church sometimes refer to it as Dreapta credinţă ("right/correct belief"; compare to Greek ὀρθὴ δόξα, "straight/correct belief"). Orthodox believers are also sometimes known as dreptcredincioşi or dreptmăritori creştini.
The 1866 Constitution of Romania declared the Orthodox Church to be "independent of any foreign hierarchy", but it was a law passed in 1872 that declared the church to be "autocephalous". After a long period of negotiations with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, it finally recognized in 1885 the Metropolis of Romania, which was raised to the rank of Patriarchy in 1925.
The Romanian Communist Party, which gained power at the end of 1947, initiated mass purges that decimated the Orthodox hierarchy. Three archbishops died suddenly after expressing opposition to government policies, and thirteen more "uncooperative" bishops and archbishops were arrested. A May 1947 decree imposed a mandatory retirement age for clergy, allowing authorities to pension off old-guard holdouts. The 4 August 1948 Law on Cults institutionalised state control of episcopal elections and packed the Holy Synod with Communist supporters. In exchange for subservience and enthusiastic support for state policies, as well as 2500 church buildings and other assets from the now-outlawed Romanian Greek-Catholic Church, the government provided salaries for bishops and priests, and financial subsidies for the publication of church books, calendars and theological journals. By weeding out the anti-communists and setting up a pro-regime and secret police-infiltrated Union of Democratic Priests (1945), the party endeavoured to secure the hierarchy's cooperation. By January 1953 some 300-500 Orthodox priests were being held in concentration camps, and after Patriarch Nicodim's death in May 1948, the party succeeded in having the ostensibly docile Justinian Marina elected to succeed him.
As a result of measures passed in 1947-48, the 2300 elementary schools operated by the church were closed, as were its 24 high schools, its academy of sacred music, three divinity schools, and 13 of its 15 theological seminaries. A new campaign struck the church in 1958-62 when more than half its remaining monasteries were closed, more than 2000 monks forced to take secular jobs, and about 1500 clergy and lay activists arrested (out of a total of up to 6000 in the 1946-64 period). Throughout this period Patriarch Justinian was careful to say the right things and avoid giving offence to the government; indeed the hierarchy claimed the arrests were not due religious persecution.
The church's situation began to improve in 1962, when relations with the state suddenly thawed, an event that coincided with Romania's pursuit of an independent foreign policy course that saw the elite use nationalism to secure its position against Soviet pressure. The Romanian Orthodox Church, as an intensely national body which had made significant contributions to Romanian culture from the 14th century, was a natural partner. As a result of this second co-optation, now as an ally, the church was able to recover dramatically. Its diocesan clergy numbered about 12,000 in 1975, and by then it was already publishing eight high-quality theological reviews, including Ortodoxia and Studii Teologice. Orthodox clergymen consistently supported the Ceauşescu regime's foreign policy, refrained from criticism of domestic policy, and upheld the Romanian line against the Soviets (over Bessarabia) and the Hungarians (over Transylvania). As of 1989, two metropolitan bishops even sat in the Great National Assembly. The church maintained its silence when some two dozen historic Bucharest churches were demolished in the 1980s, and when plans for systematization (including the destruction of village churches) were announced. A notable dissenter was Gheorghe Calciu-Dumitreasa, imprisoned for a number of years and expelled from Romania in June 1985 after signing an open letter criticizing and demanding an end to the regime's violations of human rights.
In order to fit its new circumstances, the Orthodox Church constructed a new theory to justify its subservience to the state in supposed theological terms. The "Social Apostolate" doctrine, developed by Patriarch Justinian, declared that the church owed its allegiance to the secular government and should be of service to that government. This notion inflamed conservatives, who were purged by Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, Ceauşescu's predecessor and a friend of Justinian's. The Social Apostolate called on clerics to become active in the People's Republic, laying the foundation for the church's submission to and collaboration with the state. Vasilescu, an Orthodox priest, tried to ground the Social Apostolate in the Christian tradition, citing Augustine of Hippo, John Chrysostom, Maximus the Confessor, Origen and Tertullian. Based on this alleged tradition, Vasilescu concluded that Christians owed submission to their rulers because it was God's will. With recalcitrants removed from office, remaining bishops adopted a servile attitude, endorsing Ceauşescu's concept of nation, supporting his policies, and applauding his ideas about peace.
Many priests collaborated with and were informers for the Securitate, the secret police. In 2001, the Romanian Orthodox Church tried unsuccessfully to change the law which allowed access to the archives of Securitate, in order to deny public access to the files of the priests who collaborated with the Securitate.
As Romania became a democracy, the Church was freed from state control, although the state still provides funding for the church and pays the salaries of the clergy.
The Romanian Orthodox Church also has jurisdiction over a minority of believers in Moldova, who belong to the Metropolis of Bessarabia, as opposed to the majority, who belong to the Moldovan Orthodox Church, under the Moscow Patriarchate. In 2001 it won a landmark legal victory against the Government of Moldova at the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights.
This means that despite current political issues, the Metropolis of Bessarabia is now recognized as "the rightful successor" to the Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia and Hotin, which existed from 1927 to 1944, when it was dissolved, its canonical territory being put under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church's Moscow Patriarchate in 1947.
The Romanian Orthodox Church is the only autocephalous Orthodox church to use a Romance language in its divine liturgy.
Byzantine religious records also mention a unique form of bishoprics in the region - namely the chorepiscopate or countryside episcopate - as opposed to the better-known religious centers in large cities. This can possibly be compared to the "monastic bishops" of Ireland, who united the functions of countryside Abbot with that of district Bishop in another country that did not emphasize an urban episcopate, at least for a time.
There are six Metropolitanates and ten archbishoprics in Romania, and more than twelve thousand priests and deacons, servant fathers of ancient altars from parishes, monasteries and social centres. Almost 400 monasteries exist inside the country for some 3,500 monks and 5,000 nuns. Three Diasporan Metropolitanates and two Diasporan Bishoprics function outside Romania proper. As of 2004, there are, inside Romania, fifteen theological universities where more than ten thousand students (some of them from Bessarabia, Bukovina and Serbia benefiting from a few Romanian fellowships) currently study for a doctoral degree. More than 14,500 churches (traditionally named "lăcaşe de cult", or worshiping places) exist in Romania for the Romanian Orthodox believers. As of 2002, almost 1,000 of these were either in the process of being built or rebuilt.
In December 2007 Russian Duma United Russia’s MP Konstantin Zatulin accused the Romanian Orthodox Church of “proselytism” against the Russian Orthodox Church in Moldova (and Transnistria) with the aim of annexing these territories into Romania.