Today, the main religion of Romania is the Romanian Orthodox Church, with 81% of the country identifying as such. Romania itself, however, is a secular state without any official religion. Romania is considered to be one of the most religious countries in the European Union, with the overwhelming majority identifying as Christian (a total of 92%).
The Romanian Orthodox Church is part of the Eastern Orthodox Church and constitutes the largest ecclesiastically independent Eastern Orthodox Church in the Balkans (the geographic area of southeastern Europe).
The Muslim population in Romania is small, numbering about 44,000 people, but this minority has been historically significant throughout Romanian history.
Christian Roots in Romania
Christianity is deeply rooted in Romanian history. It is believed that Christianity may have reached Romania as early as the 4th century A.D., back when the Dacians were living in Romania. The Roman Empire is likely responsible for bringing Christianity to Romania.
However, by the 9th century, it appears that the Wallachians (the ethnic Romanians, before Romania came to be) accepted Slavonic liturgy and Bulgarian ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Old Church Slavonic remained the religious language until the 14th century.
Old Church Slavonic, or OCS for short, was the first Slavic literary language and serves as a base of all of the Slavic languages of today. Byzantine missionaries used this language to translate the Bible and other Ancient Greek ecclesiastical texts in effort to bring Christianity to the Slavs.
Eventually, in the 17th century, the Romanians decided to use their own language, Romanian, as their language for worship. This process of translating and transitioning to Romanian was not complete until the 19th century.
Although the exact details are much richer, in Romania the Orthodox Church evolved and developed into two main churches by the mid-1800s: the Metropolitan of Ungro-Wallachia and the Metropolitan of Moldavia. The two merged in 1864 into the Romanian Orthodox Church.
The Church claimed independency and proclaimed power
The Church claimed independency and proclaimed power over all ecclesiastical appointments and decisions.
In 1866, the Constitution of Romania recognized the Orthodox Church as the predominant religion of Romania. In 1872, the Romanian Orthodox Church claimed to be “autocephalous” which mean ecclesiastically independent.
In 1885, after years of negotiations, the Patriarchate of Constantinople (the religious office of the Eastern Orthodox Church in Constantinople) finally recognized the Romanian Orthodox Church. However, the present-day Romanian patriarchate was not created until 1925, after the Treaty of Trianon united Moldavia and Wallachia with the rest of Romania. That year, the church was divided into 14 dioceses, and those 14 dioceses remain to this day.
At the end of World War II, Romania fell to Soviet Communism, which lasted from 1947 to 1989. Communism affected the country in many ways, one of which was religion. The communist regime held tightly onto the reigns of the church. The regime hid behind the guise of religious freedom, but actually promoted Marxist-Leninist atheism and persecuted the religious.
To help limit the church’s influence, the regime nationalized church property, including schools. The government also dispersed the Romanian Greek-Catholic Uniate Church and declared it part of the Roman Orthodox Church.
Though the communist government probably would have liked to get rid of religion in Romania altogether, they restrained from doing so because they thought it would be more useful to try to control people through the church. This also allowed the communist regime to keep a close eye on the religious – if they had outlawed religion, people might have resorted to worship in secrecy.
After communism fell in 1989, Romanian churches and seminaries began to reopen. The Romanian government also decided to build new churches in the ethnically Hungarian parts of Romania, which provoked much criticism.
Church leaders also suggested building a new church in Bucharest, and eventually the plans for the People’s Salvation Cathedral – now one of the biggest Eastern Orthodox churches in the world – came about. After many years of planning, the construction of the Cathedral finally began in 2010.
The Catholic Church in Romania
While all other Romance language speaking countries are predominantly Catholic because of the Romans, Romania has a much smaller population of Catholics – this is because of the Slavic influence on Romania. The Catholics in Romania are split into two groups: the Latin Rite and the Greek Rite. Again, this is because of the Eastern influence on all of Romania. In total, there are about a million Catholics in Romania, mostly of the Latin Rite. Those of the Latin Rite tend of be of Hungarian descent. Those of the Greek Rite are mostly Romanian and live predominantly in the Transylvania area.
Protestantism in Romania
Protestants make up about six percent of the Romanian population. Protestants used to be mostly Lutherans, Calvinists and Unitarians, but more recently other denominations have been taking up a larger share of the Protestant population.
Islam in Romania
While the Muslim population is a slim 0.3%, Islam has been in Romania for over 700 years. Most of the Muslims in Romania live in Northern Dobruja. This region sits on the coast of the Black Sea and was part of the Ottoman Empire for nearly 500 years, from 1420-1878. Even with this rather small Muslim population, there are still 80 mosques in the country, the biggest of which is the Grand Mosque of Constanta, built in 1910. It was actually King Carol I who ordered to have it built, in appreciation of the Muslims of Constanta. King Carol I, however, was actually Roman Catholic.
According the 2011 census, only 40,000 people claim to be irreligious, split between agnosticism and atheism. Most of the irreligious tend to be in the bigger cities of Bucharest and Cluj-Napoca. Of European countries, Romania has an extremely small population of irreligious.
Religious Tourism in Romania
With such a rich religious history and such a religious population, Romania is a great place to go to visit churches. While the main churches to visit are Romanian Orthodox churches, there are plenty of options for other types of Christian churches or mosques. You can start with the People’s Salvation Church in Bucharest!