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An identity surfaces. At the end of the 14th century, two Romanian principalities, Wallachia and Moldavia, emerged south and east of the Carpathian Mountains. A number of factors brought this about, including the withdrawal of the Mongols, who had swept through Europe in 1241-42, subdued its peoples and exacted heavy tribute. This enabled the region’s Vlach princes to consolidate their authority, assert their independence from their Hungarian neighbors, receive support from the Vlach gentry and peasantry (called Rumani in contemporary documents) and promote Orthodox Christianity, the faith of the Rumani majority.

Though Catholic communities existed in both states, especially among the prosperous German and Hungarian middle class burghers, the Orthodox Church functioned as an arm of the princely families who governed the states. Monasteries opened and eparchies, erected. By the middle of the 14th century, the ecumenical patriarchate in Constantinople recognized a metropolitan archbishop of Ungro-Wallachia. He established his episcopal see in the capital, Curtea de Arges (meaning “the court upon the Arges River”). Five decades later, he recognized a metropolitan archbishop of Moldavia, who set up his see in the court city of Suceava.

After the collapse of Byzantium and the Ottoman Turks’ capture of the capital, Constantinople, in 1453, Wallachia and Moldavia became vassal states of the Ottomans. Nevertheless, the Rumani principalities and its Orthodox churches thrived. Formidable monasteries and elaborate churches were constructed and adorned with frescoes — even on the exterior walls — revealing Byzantine, Renaissance and Turkish influences. Monasteries and eparchies established printing houses to publish liturgical books and theological works. Jewelers fashioned gilded reliquaries encrusted with mother of pearl and gems.

Rumani princes, bishops and abbots supported the impoverished ecumenical patriarchate in Ottoman Constantinople, restoring churches and endowing monasteries. Large monastic estates provided regular income to the ecumenical patriarchate and Mount Athos, a Byzantine monastic oasis that remains to this day.

While most of the Orthodox community in Wallachia and Moldavia spoke Rumaneste (Romanian), the church officially used Church Slavonic in the celebration of the sacraments until a local synod approved the use of the Romanian vernacular in 1568. Until 1863, the Orthodox Church used the Cyrillic alphabet to write Romanian liturgical texts, which was also common in civil society.

Transylvania. The Rumani Orthodox community just north and west of the Carpathians, in the Hungarian principality of Transylvania, languished. In 1438, after squelching a peasant rebellion, Transylvania’s Hungarian and German nobles and merchants formed the Union of the Three Nations. This pact restricted the movement of the Rumani peasants, bound them to the land, deprived them of participation in parliament and overtaxed them. It recognized only the Catholic Church, denying the Orthodox Church, to which the peasants belonged, any legal status.

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