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The Protestant Reformation changed these dynamics. With the support of the Ottomans, who increasingly exerted influence there in the 16th century, the Calvinist, Lutheran and Unitarian churches grew at the expense of the Catholic Church. The Edict of Turda (1568) guaranteed religious freedom for the principality’s Catholic and Protestant churches. Yet the edict only “tolerated” the Orthodox faith of the Rumani serfs, who were obliged to support the church of their landlord. Accordingly, Orthodox parish priests, most of whom were married, were forbidden to levy tithes on their mostly illiterate parishioners while Calvinists administered Orthodox parishes, forbidding the sacraments to those who could not recite the Nicene Creed or the Lord’s Prayer.

As the Ottomans lost their hold in Central Europe, the emperors of Austria hastened to fill the void, wresting Transylvania from the Hungarians and Ottomans in 1688. Though nominally affirming the principality’s confessional balance, Emperor Leopold I encouraged the Jesuits to open schools, reinvigorating Catholicism. Eager to keep in check the successes of the Jesuits, the Protestants boosted their work among the Rumani Orthodox serfs.

Union and schism. Alarmed by these actions, Transylvania’s Rumani Orthodox leaders convoked a synod in 1697. They agreed to unite with the church of Rome, provided parliament and the emperor recognize Transylvania’s Rumani population as a nation with legal rights.

At a liturgy in October 1698, Orthodox Metropolitan Atanasie Anghel accepted the Act of Union, having been assured of his people’s emancipation and the extension to his clergy of the same rights and privileges granted to the Roman Catholic clergy. In September 1700, delegates representing some 2,000 Orthodox priests and lay leaders throughout Transylvania formally ratified the union.

Unlike its sister Orthodox churches in Wallachia and Moldavia, the “Romanian Church united with Rome” transcribed the Romanian vernacular in a Latin alphabet as opposed to the Cyrillic of the Orthodox.

The civil rights promised by the Jesuits and the emperor never materialized, however, and dissatisfaction grew among Transylvania’s Rumani Greek Catholics. In spite of the Austrians’ efforts to enforce the union with Rome, resistance sparked a widespread movement back to Orthodoxy. In 1759, Empress Maria Theresa reluctantly permitted the appointment of a bishop for Transylvania’s Orthodox Rumani, who made up about half of the Rumani community.

United Romania. Excluding a brief period from 1599 to 1601, a polity uniting all Romanians had not existed. In 1859, after centuries of foreign rule, one prince brought together the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia, which eventually bore the name, “Romania.” This united principality achieved full independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1878. Three years later, its reigning prince established the country as a constitutional monarchy.

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