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Patriarch Daniel: Rebuilding Orthodoxy in Romania by Patriarch Daniel, edited by Chad Hatfield

05 November 2021

Alexander Faludy reads the thoughts of today’s Romanian Patriarch

THE Romanian Church is the second largest in the Orthodox world and one of the most open to dialogue with Western Christianity. These facts make understanding its life and personalities important. For Anglicans, there is a special interest: the provisional recognition that the Romanian Church gave to Anglican Orders in 1922 (subject to confirmation by Orthodox sister-Churches), which has never subsequently been withdrawn.

This collection of writings introduces the Church’s present head, Patriarch Daniel, to English readers through a collection of his writings and public remarks.

The work falls into five parts, which introduce us to Patriarch Daniel’s views on, respectively, theology; Christianity and national belonging; missional challenge; aesthetics; and, finally, the material situation of the Church.

The chapters are diverse and afford a rounded impression of the Patriarch in different contexts. We are presented (inter alia) with extracts from his doctoral thesis, addresses to young people, and transcripts of media interviews.

The best offerings are in the first and penultimate sections. In the former, Patriarch Daniel gives a presentation of Orthodoxy’s genius for integrating ascetical and dogmatic theology. Section 4’s meditations on Constantin Brâncusi are fascinating in recovering the strength of the artist’s (often overlooked) Orthodox devotion. Given Orthodoxy’s traditional prohibition of graven images in ecclesial contexts, it is interesting to find one of its leading figures here celebrating the spiritual qualities of sculpture in the secular sphere.

The selection of material elsewhere is not as careful as might be wished, giving rise to avoidable repetition. Yet, other sections do throw interesting sidelights on the priorities of Romanian Orthodoxy.

For Westerners used to “RE” as a carefully boxed-off part of the school curriculum, there is something attractive in Daniel’s vision for the relation of theology to other subjects. He makes strong claims for its vocation within the wider curriculum as one of providing a space where all other forms of humane knowledge are both “integrated” and “ordered” to their proper end. The idea of theology as “Queen of the Sciences” is no historical curiosity for the writer.

AlamyPatriarch Daniel and Prince Charles meet in March 2017 during the latter’s European tour

Conversely, the book reminds us that disintegration of traditional family life — and the Church’s responsibility to address it — has a different meaning in Eastern Europe. Romania is no longer blighted by the infamous orphanages of the Communist era, but the separation of parents from their children for extended periods as they travel abroad for precarious (but better paying) work in Western Europe is a hidden human cost of EU free movement. The strength of Daniel’s concern that the Church offer young people stabilising matrices of relationship amid such dislocation is evident.

The translation is admirably clear — though might have benefited from the addition of a glossary of Orthodox terms unfamiliar to Western readers.

A greater problem is the weak correlation of contents and title. There is very little material on processes of post-Communist recovery and renewal. The reader comes away with a strong sense of past dangers posed to Romanian Orthodoxy by Habsburg imperialism (and present ones from Western secularisation), but reference to the damage wrought by decades of Communist governance is puzzlingly sparse.

Although we are told something here of the suffering of devout witnesses under Stalin-inspired persecution in the 1950s, we hear nothing of any painful reckoning with the part that the Church played amid development of Romania’s own “National Communism” from 1958 — especially during the Ceaușescu era (1965-89).

The painful legacy of widespread clerical collaboration with the feared Securitate (secret police) goes unaddressed. The forty closing pages listing the author’s receipt of honorary degrees and his pursuit of conference-organising activities in minute chronological detail might have been better used.

Even so, Rebuilding Orthodoxy in Romania is a useful source book for understanding a significant figure in the ecumenical world and the context from which he comes.

The Revd Alexander Faludy is a freelance journalist based in Budapest.


Patriarch Daniel: Rebuilding Orthodoxy in Romania
Patriarch Daniel
Chad Hatfield, editor
SVS Press £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.29

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