The survival, growth, and future of the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in the Americas
We were at the St. Dumitru Retreat and Monastic Center, Middletown, New York, July 2006, in a no-walls tent cathedral. The Center, and the spacious building that houses the monks and the new bishop, were acquired by the ever-memorable Archimandrite Vasile Vasilache. Metropolitan Joseph of Paris, along with Archbishop Nicolae of Chicago, was presiding at the Sunday Divine Liturgy, after which the newest bishop, also a con-celebrant, would be installed in his responsibilities. A number of priests were also concelebrating. The new hierarch, Bishop Ioan Casian Tunaru of Vicina, had just been consecrated at the Congress in Chicago. The cathedral was packed with beaming Romanians of all ages.
I couldn't help but look back 40 years. I came on the scene in 1962 when I met the future Archbishop Victorin, still under the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, where he had previously served. He was teaching at St. Tikhon's Seminary in Pennsylvania at the time and I soon would be his colleague. My first trip to Romania was in 1965 when I was received by Patriarch Justinian and traveled extensively. It was an eye-opener, in the midst of the propaganda of the cold war. The flame of Holy Orthodoxy hadn't been extinguished in Romania, but was actually still burning brightly, communist prisons and Securitatea and countless restrictions and belief in America to the contrary.
Archimandrite Victorin filled me in on the early days of the Romanian Orthodox Church in America. After World War II, after being superior at Neamt he had been sent to Jerusalem to be superior of the Romanian monastery there, but he had known Bishop Policarp at Neamț when the latter left for America. A diocese had been organized in 1929.
After World War II, when Bishop Policarp failed to return from Romania, the tragic split in the Romanian diocese had taken place, as had happened with other American dioceses in communion with countries that had gone down under Communism-all of Eastern Europe in fact. Then Bishop Andrei Moldovan had fallen asleep in the Lord, leaving his flock without a shepherd, but still loyal to the mother Church. In the fall of 1965 Archdeacon Bartolomeu Valeriu Anania (now Metropolitan of Cluj) was sent to America to size up the situation and to be bishop if the parishes wanted him. Everywhere he went he found that the support for a new bishop was for Archimandrite Victorin.
At the Congress of our Diocese in 1966 Anania1 told the delegates that Victorin-who wasn't present-was the one for bishop. He was called, accepted, elected, and approved by the Holy Synod in Bucharest. However, it was an anxious summer in Detroit. There was a movement in some circles to stop the consecration. The idea was, no consecration, no bishop, no diocese. That's how close the diocese was to extinction.
But God had other plans. Archimandrite Victorin was consecrated later that summer. The reason that no hierarchs from Romania were asked to come for the consecration was the possibility that the Department of State might cancel their visas at the last moment. Such was the international climate of the time. Instead, with the blessing of Patriarch Justinian and the Holy Synod of Romania, Archbishop Iacovos of the Greek Archdiocese and two archbishops from Jerusalem-all well known to Archimandrite Victorin-were invited. Someone likened the ceremony at St. George Cathedral in Windsor to the coronation of a king, and was well reported by the Detroit and Windsor media. All I can remember of the supper that the ladies of St. George served after Vespers the night before was the mămăligă cu smântână. You can be sure that the ladies of St. George were up to the occasion.
The years passed and Archbishop Victorin, full of years, joined his fathers beyond the grave. Archbishop Nicolae was elected and consecrated by Patriarch Teoctist himself and other bishops in Montreal to head the Archdiocese. But obviously there was too much work for one bishop. He needed help. And now, in 2006, at Middletown, in a tent cathedral, I couldn't help but look back, and ahead, at the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese that had grown from near extinction to some 50 parishes and missions with two bishops and a new headquarters in the great city of Chicago.
The move to America's heartland was a real stepping out on faith but it is already paying off. It doesn't look to me like the auto industry is going to get much better in Detroit and without it, what do you have there? True, it isn't a one industry town, but without a strong car industry, the city doesn't have anything to maintain the prosperity it once had.
Chicago, on the other hand, even after the disastrous fire of 1872, came right back. But God knows the future. The people of Romania can tell you how many times that little country has suffered calamities, both natural and man-made. Chicago is an excellent base for quick access to the faithful all over North America and beyond. And a parish has already been built-up in a couple of years in the cathedral there. I was in the not yet ready building a few years ago, while attending the Congress in nearby Lansing, and now the Archbishop tells me that Sts. Constantine & Helen Romanian Orthodox Cathedral is thriving.
We should be thankful for the high caliber of the hierarchs that God has given us-spiritual men with pastoral experience. Also in the best Romanian tradition, they are educated. As if the training in Romanian theological schools wasn't enough, they also studied abroad and speak a number of languages. But beyond that, I've noticed that they have stayed close to the people and are very accessible.
The Divine Liturgy was coming to an end, the priests and people that were prepared partook of the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There were the closing prayers, the dismissal and the distribution of the anafura. The chairs were quickly rearranged, tables set up, and in no time we had a dining area suitable for the sumptuous Romanian meal that was to last most of the afternoon. The ceremony of installation of Bishop Ioan Casian of Vicina was very short. The representative of a building company presented drawings for a year around building to house such gatherings and so on. Actually there weren't many speeches, as I recall. The women prepared the food in the main building, a well-built mansion that now houses the resident monks and is the new bishop's home. But His Grace will be traveling much of the time to parishes in the Eastern part of the U.S. and Canada, or sent elsewhere by the Archbishop.
Archimandrite Jerome Newville
1. Anania is his last name, Valeriu his first, Bartolomeu his monastic name, but people have always called him Anania and still do. So now he is officially Metropolitan Bartolomeu of Cluj.