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This “gift” did not protect the Orthodox Church from the Communist government’s wrath. From 1948 until the regime’s violent collapse on 25 December 1989, the Communists arrested and imprisoned more than a thousand Orthodox priests and bishops; some were deported to work camps and others, executed. They closed monasteries and laicized monks and nuns. The party shuttered and demolished churches and monasteries. Religious programs in schools, the military and homes for the elderly were eliminated. Theology programs were dissolved and seminaries, shut down. While “inspectors of cults” supervised religious activities, officials of the dreaded Securitate, or secret police, infiltrated the church and encouraged collaboration among its leadership.

Nevertheless, the Orthodox Church prospered. Parish life remained vibrant; surviving seminaries and monasteries were full; theological studies thrived and interchurch relations, especially with the Catholic Church, advanced significantly. Though most of Romanian society seemed to have suffered posttraumatic stress disorder after the collapse of their Communist government, the Orthodox Church was well poised to step in and assert leadership.

Today. The immediate humanitarian and pastoral needs of post-Communist Romania were staggering. Ill-fated and controversial financial and social policies of Romania’s Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, impoverished the nation. Huge state institutions warehoused hundreds of thousands of abandoned children, the disabled and the elderly. Malnutrition and disease affected all aspects of the population, even as the cultivation of Romania’s extensive natural resources paid off its foreign debt.

The Orthodox Church, regardless of a dearth of financial resources, responded by sponsoring activities, charities and programs to care for the material and spiritual needs of these victims of the nation’s Communist past. The church also advanced Romania’s needs internationally, utilizing its considerable network in the Christian world.

The legal recognition of Romania’s Greek Catholics by the post-Communist government initially shocked the Orthodox community. Property disputes between the two churches divided villages, parishes and families; nearly ruptured the ecumenical advances of the previous four decades; and forced the Orthodox Church to examine its collaborative role with the Communist government. But this influential institution’s ongoing self- examination has strengthened the church considerably as it presides over a renewal among its loyal and devout adherents.

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Michael La Civita will conclude his series on the Eastern churches in the next edition of ONE, profiling the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

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