The National Cathedral – A practical liturgical need and a symbol in honour of Romanian Heroes

The old patriarchal cathedral on the Hill of the Metropolis in Bucharest was built as a monastery church during 1656-1658 by Prince Constantin Șerban Basarab.

In 1658, at the time when the monastery’s church was consecrated in honour of the Holy Emperors Constantine and Helen by Patriarch Macarios III Zaim of Antioch[1], there were only three hierarchs in Wallachia: Wallachia’s Metropolitan Stefan I in Bucharest, Bishop Ignatie in Râmnic, and Bishop Serafim in Buzău[2].

Ten years after the consecration, through a princely chrysobull issued by Ruler Prince Radu Leon in 1668[3], the monastery located on the Winegrowers’ Hill was elevated to the rank of Metropolitan Cathedral.

Thus, this church became the place where, in the presence of Wallachia’s ruler princes, and later of Romania’s Kings, the assembly of hierarchs headed by the country’s Metropolitan officiated Te Deum services on various important occasions such as the 1859 Union of the Romanian Principalities, the Proclamation of Romania’s state independence (1877), the establishment of the Kingdom of Romania (1881).

Furthermore, the old Metropolitan Cathedral is linked to the most important ecclesiastical events in the life of our Church: the obtaining of the Autocephaly by the Romanian Orthodox Church (1885), and its elevation to the rank of Patriarchate in 1925, when the same cathedral became a temporary Patriarchal Cathedral.

The Unification of the Romanian Principalities in 1859 entailed a unitary organization of church structures in Moldavia and Wallachia within the Holy Synod (1872), thus the assembly of hierarchs increased to 12 members, including the Primate Metropolitan as Chairman, the Metropolitan of Moldavia and their suffragan bishops of Râmnic, Buzău, Argeș, and namely Roman, Huși and Lower Danube (Galați) – established in 1864 – as well as one auxiliary bishop for every diocese[4].

Ever since the old Metropolitan Cathedral proved to be overcrowded especially on main church or national celebrations, as well as at other solemn moments such as the Proclamation of the Kingdom of Romania and the crowning of Romania’s First King Carol I (May 10, 1881), when none of the over one hundred churches in Bucharest at that time was sufficiently large to welcome all those who wished to participate in the services officiated on the occasion of the solemnities.

Therefore, at King Carol I’s desire, Romania’s Assembly of Deputies and the Senate voted in favour of the Law no. 1750 on the construction of the Cathedral Church in Bucharest, promulgated by King Carol I on June 5, 1884, and for which he provided from the state budget the sum of 5,000,000 gold lei[5].

In addition, Mihai Eminescu and Ioan Slavici were among the first Romanian intellectuals who launched and supported the idea of building the Romanian People’s Salvation Cathedral in Bucharest as a token of gratitude to God after the 1877-1878 Independence War[6].

At the end of the First World War and following the 1918 Great Union, the name of the Romanian People’s Salvation Cathedral was kept as an expression of gratitude or thankfulness to God for delivering or freeing the Romanian nation of oppression and estrangement, but also ‘for the completion of the country within its natural borders.’

Following the 1918 Great Union, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in the Kingdom of Greater Romania included 22 members[7], namely all hierarchs from the Romanian provinces: Wallachia, Moldavia, Bukovina, Transylvania, Banat, and Bessarabia.

As Primate Metropolitan of the Greater Romania, Miron Cristea resumed the efforts to build the Romanian People’s Salvation Cathedral.

At his request, King Ferdinand I addressed the Holy Synod with a royal chrysobull on May 10, 1920, in which he announced his decision to build a monumental Cathedral in Bucharest in memory of the victory of Romanian armies in the War for the Completion of the Romanian nation. On October 12, 1921, Miron Cristea addressed the mayor of Bucharest, asking for ‘a wide and adequate space’ for the construction of the Cathedral[8].

On November 27, 1925, only a few days after his enthronement as Patriarch, Miron Cristea received the approval of Prime Minister Ionel I. C. Brătianu to initiate the necessary steps to build the new cathedral.

Public debates took place to establish the site of the new cathedral, which was finally established at the base of the Metropolitan Hill, in the former Bibescu Vodă Square.

On May 11, 1929, ten years after the Great Union[9], the blessing service for the construction site of the new cathedral was held in the presence of representatives of the Royal Regency, of Queen Marie, the members of the Government and the National Army, with Patriarch Miron Cristea blessing a cross to mark the place of the future altar.

Since Patriarch Miron’s efforts were often blocked, during 1932-1935 he decided to renovate and paint the old Metropolitan Cathedral, temporarily transforming it into a Patriarchal Cathedral: ‘until favourable economic circumstances allow the realization of the idea to build a great Church of the People’s Salvation, as thanksgiving to the Compassionate God for the completion of the country in its natural borders,’ as he wanted to be written in the inscription placed above the entrance door of the old Cathedral.

Unfortunately, the steps made by Patriarch Miron stopped there, because the country plunged into a strong economic crisis that lasted for the next years. Patriarch Miron died on March 6, 1939, together with this unfulfilled dream that he left as legacy to his descendants.

Better times for the country did not come immediately, because on September 1, 1939, the Second World War broke out, grasping Romania in its whirl, whose territories of Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina, Hertza Land were seized by the Soviet ultimatum of June 22, 1940, as well as North Transylvania following the Vienna Diktat of August 30, 1940, and the Southern Dobrudja (Cadrilater) was ceded to Bulgaria on September 7, 1940.

The hard decades of the atheist communist regime followed, when thousands of believers, priests and monastics were arrested, judged, and sentenced to harsh years of prison, which many did not survive.

The project of the Romanian People’s Salvation Cathedral became a closed matter. In addition, implementing an aggressive urban planning system in Bucharest inspired by the architecture of foreign socialist regimes caused inestimable destruction of the historical and architectural heritage by demolishing old monuments, including some indicative churches and monasteries of our historical past.

After 1990, through the care of Patriarch Teoctist of blessed memory, the project of building the Romanian People’s Salvation Cathedral came to life again after a silence of 45 years, bringing new arguments in its support along with those previously formulated: honouring the ancestors who sacrificed themselves for the faith and unity of the nation, and the heroes who gave their life in December 1989 for the liberation of the country from dictatorship and atheism, as well as those who suffered the unprecedented terror in communist prisons and concentration camps.

However, Patriarch Teoctist’s efforts were greatly hindered by continuous delays in determining the site of the new Cathedral, although Bucharest was the only European capital city that did not have a representative cathedral.

The final location of the Cathedral was established in 2005 on the former Arsenal Hill, on 13 Septembrie Ave, behind the Palace of the Parliament.

This location was recommended by the Municipal Council after three other locations were proposed at different stages (Unirii Square in 1999, Alba-Iulia Square in 2001, and Carol Park in 2004). Because of the lack of alternative, the Romanian Patriarchate accepted this location, although it offers the Cathedral a reduced visibility, due to the immensity of the People’s House, the current headquarters of the Romanian Parliament.

The Romanian Patriarchate accepted this site as a moral repair or ‘a resurrection light’ for the five ‘crucified’ churches, three of which were demolished (Alba Postăvari, Spirea Veche, and the Life-giving Spring Church), and two were translated by the communist regime to build the People’s House on their place (Nuns Hermitage, Mihai Vodă).

The construction of this Cathedral took place in a difficult period of economic crisis and a crisis in the construction field, but we have always kept the belief that its construction is a sign of hope both for the companies that worked directly or indirectly, and for the thousands of workers on the National Cathedral’s construction site, who in a period of crisis had a safe salary thanks to this building.

The National Cathedral’s architecture provides a cruciform liturgical space with a Latin cross-shaped plan, having a longer main descending arm representing the journey of believers towards the Kingdom of God, symbolized by the iconostasis.

The Orthodox iconostasis also called catapetasma or temple is not a separating wall but rather a bridge of communication and communion between the altar and the nave, between heaven and earth, between eternity and time, a memorial of the history of salvation and a prophetic anticipation of the Kingdom of Heavens offered to humankind.

As an image of Christ’s Church in the Kingdom of Heaven, the shining iconostasis of the National Cathedral shows that Christ is at the same time together with the Saints in the glory of the Kingdom of Heaven, but also in humility on earth together with the believers who pray in His Church.

Today’s event of the consecration of the National Cathedral helps us understand that it is a permanent duty of us all to highlight the major symbols and values of the Romanian nation. We need symbols because we have to foster our people’s communion.

The well-known ‘balance of the Romanian people,’ settled, as Mihai Eminescu said, ‘as an edge of separation between the storm coming from the West meeting the storm of the East,’ has generated a great power of cultural synthesis, describing our national identity, which Father Stăniloae defined as ‘a conjunction of Latin character with the spirit of Orthodox Christianity.’[10]

This truth was confirmed by His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in 1995 through the following words:

‘We are amazed and an unutterable admiration is born in us because almost one thousand years after the martyrdom of Saint Sava (†372), the population of these lands, after countless misfortunes and persecutions, has preserved its Orthodox faith and the Latin language. It is a real miracle of history.

Given the present size of the Church of Romania, we are powerless to explain how this great Orthodox nation came out of the darkness of history in the fourteenth century to ensure the entire humankind that it had survived as a unitary nation, although almost unknown for whole centuries.

As a new Ulysses returned to Ithaca, escaping traps and dangers, the Romanian people returned to the light of history avoiding cultural alienation and its assimilation by other foreign peoples. Maybe the secret of this miracle lies in the strong and unwavering faith of this people.’[11]

This ascertainment by His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, which in fact is a eulogy to the preservation of the identity of the Romanian Christian people, indicates that endurance through steadfast faith in the face of all evil is a factor of unity and spiritual strength that helps us cultivate and promote the national continuity, unity and identity in dialogue and cooperation.

The edification and the consecration of the Romanian People’s Salvation Cathedral is in fact the fulfilment of an ideal, which we have received from our worthy ancestors as a mandate together with the Holy Synod, the clergy and the believers, while the achievement of this ideal has acquired real content, in particular, through the manifestation of the solidarity of all the hierarchs of the Holy Synod in supporting this project, both by adopting the necessary synodal resolutions and by continuing to raise money for the Church National Fund.

Today, at the consecration of the National Cathedral, we wish to thank all the hierarchs of the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church, who are our concelebrants and fellow-shepherds in the Romanian people’s Church of Christ.

We also thank all the clergy, all monastics, and believers of the Romanian Orthodox Church from home and abroad for their spiritual and material support in this work of our Church.

We share our paternal blessings and we urge them to keep the true faith and entreat God to help us complete all the works at the Romanian People’s Salvation Cathedral, including its iconography. We hope that next year, in 2019, we will consecrate the Chapel at the Cathedral’s basement, and that in three years we will complete and consecrate the entire iconographic vestment of the National Cathedral.

We owe special thanks to state authorities who have supported the building of the Romanian People’s Salvation Cathedral: the Governments of Romania from 2011-2018, the City Council of Bucharest, other local councils in Bucharest and in the country, as well as several County Councils.

We also thank all the benefactors and sponsors for their support offered for the fulfillment of this Romanian ideal in this year full of significance when we celebrate the Centennial of Greater Romania.

We pray to our Saviour Jesus Christ to help us use this fulfillment as a luminous moment of blessing and joy for the fortification of the faith and of brotherly love, bearing in mind that celebrating a Church event can also be a moment of mission renewal, of spiritual refreshment for a new beginning for the glory of God and the salvation of humankind!

† Daniel
Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church

Translated by Aurelian Nicolae Iftimiu

[1] PAUL OF ALEPPO, Travel Journal in Moldavia and Wallachia (Romanian Edition: Jurnalul de călătorie în Moldova și Valahia), Publishing House of the Romanian Academy, Bucharest, 2014, pp. 416-417.
[2] Rev. MIRCEA PĂCURARIU, Chronological catalogue of the hierarchs of the Romanian Orthodox Church, in The History of the Romanian Orthodox Church, vol. 3 (Romanian Edition: Listele cronologice ale ierarhilor Bisericii Ortodoxe Române”, în: Istoria Bisericii Ortodoxe Române, vol. III), Publishing House of the Biblical and Missionary Institute of the Romanian Orthodox Church, Bucharest, 1992, pp. 534, 536, 538.
[3] Romanian Academy, document LVII/66; State Archives Bucharest, Register no. 2 of the Metropolis, MS 128, p. 11.
[4] Constantin DRĂGUŞIN, Church regulations of Cuza Voda and the struggle for canonicity (Romanian: Legile bisericești ale lui Cuza Vodă şi lupta pentru canonicitate), Studii Teologice Review, year 9 (1957), no. 1-2, pp. 86-103. See also Rev. MIRCEA PĂCURARIU, Chronological catalogue of the hierarchs of the Romanian Orthodox Church, pp. 535, 537, 539-540.
[5] Official Gazette, no. 49, 6 (18) June 1884.
[6] Nicolae Şt. NOICA, Romanian People’s Salvation Cathedral – history of an ideal (Romanian Edition: Catedrala Mântuirii Neamului – istoria unui ideal), BASILICA Publishing House of the Romanian Patriarchate, Bucharest, 2011, p. 51.
[7] Rev. MIRCEA PĂCURARIU, Chronological catalogue of the hierarchs of the Romanian Orthodox Church, pp. 535, 537, 539-540, 546, 550, 551, 553, 557, 562, 564. The Sacred Register, vol. 3, MS 1, Library of the Holy Synod, ff. 160-177.
[8] National Archives, Fond Miron Cristea, File 3/1919, p. 61, 61v.
[9] National Archives, Fond Miron Cristea, File 3/1919, p. 19, 19v, 20, 20v. See also Nicolae Şt. NOICA, Romanian People’s Salvation Cathedral – history of an ideal, pp. 46-51; Patriarch Miron Cristea’s Journal: Documents, notes and correspondence (Romanian Edition: Jurnalul Patriarhului Miron Cristea: Documente, însemnări și corespondențe), Sibiu, 1987, p.372; Apostolul Review, no. 10, May 15, 1929.
[10] Rev. Dumitru STĂNILOAE, Reflections on the Spirituality of the Romanian People in Complete Works, vol. 9 (Romanian Edition: Opere complete, vol. 9: Reflecţii despre spiritualitatea poporului român), BASILICA Publishing House of the Romanian Patriarchate, Bucharest, 2018, p. 30.
[11] ‘The joy of Orthodox Romanians is the joy of Orthodox believers everywhere’: Speech by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople delivered at the Patriarchal Cathedral in Bucharest, Sunday, October 27, 1995, during his visit occasioned by the 110th anniversary of the gaining of autocephaly by the Romanian Orthodox Church (1885), and the 70th anniversary of the elevation to the rank of Patriarchate (1925), in The Herald of Orthodoxy, year 4, no. 145-146, November 1995, p. 9.

Photo courtesy by Raluca Ene / Basilica.ro

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