Fr. PhD Sergiu-Grigore Popescu, Brief History of Christianity in Oltenia

Mitropolia Olteniei Publishing House, Craiova, 2020, ISBN 978-606-731-073-3

This paper aims to present some historical arguments that would once again strengthen the statement that the Romanian Orthodox Church in general, and Oltenia in particular, has made a major contribution to shaping our cultural, social and national identity. The territories that today form the historical province of Oltenia have been over time the place of events that marked, to a greater or lesser extent, the entire Romanian Orthodoxy, but also our becoming as a nation, as a nation with a strong spiritual identity.

The latest archaeological discoveries from the lands of Oltenia entitle us to say that this territory has known, since the second century, an organized Christianity whose center was undoubtedly represented by the basilicas, even if, very often. , their existence can no longer be proven but only assumed.

Oltenia was among the first Christianized Romanian territories because here was the gateway of the Roman armies to Dacia; Christianity was brought with the arrival of the first Roman legions, the first merchants and the slaves who accompanied them, the colonists and officials who Romanized this territory immediately after the end of the two wars between the Dacians and the Romans (101-102 and 105-106).

In these conditions, it is not surprising that in Gârla Mare, in Mehedinți County, paleo-Christian objects from the middle of the second century were found, including a Eucharistic teaspoon (which proves the existence of a church hierarchy), and in Izvoarele, In the same county, the ruins of an old basilica built by the locals in the 3rd century came to light.

After the Aurelian retreat, life continued here, Christians being protected from the wrath of the persecutors at the end of the third century and the beginning of the fourth. A few decades later, Constantine the Great re-established this territory within the Byzantine Empire, punishing migrants who had disturbed the peace of the Daco-Romans between the Danube and the Carpathians.

The appearance of the Slavs did not produce radical transformations, as happened south of the Danube. The Daco-Romans and then the Romanians here assimilated the migrants, organized themselves into principalities and voivodeships (Ioan, Farcaș and Litovoi are just a few names of leaders of these political formations) and contributed to the emergence of the feudal state of Wallachia.

The antiquity of Christianity on the right bank of the Olt and the steadfastness in faith of the inhabitants here weighed decisively when it was decided to establish the second metropolis of Wallachia and choose the seat of the Severin citadel.

The coming of Saint Nicodemus is not accidental either; in the woods, in the mountains and in the caves from Oltenia lived numerous schivnici with improved life with the help of which the work of reorganization of the entire Romanian monasticism could be completed. A chain of monasteries was built here, true spiritual redoubts that held the shield and shield of Orthodoxy in difficult times. The Nicodemian foundations in Oltenia also had a unitary leadership, through a single abbot, a fact encountered in monasticism since the time of Saint Pachomius the Great; this order will be called in subsequent Romanian documents “the order and tradition of Nicodemus”. For the Romanian spirituality and not only, the monasteries founded by Saint Nicodemus from Tismana represent a point of reference. For centuries, Romanian culture has been nourished by the religious life that appeared in these true centers of Romanianism. These holy places were also essential factors in maintaining cohesion and national unity, but also “centers of irradiation of the national cultural tradition.” They also stood out through an intense spiritual, religious experience, through a rich cultural life and, at the same time, through the strong affirmation of the Romanian popular specificity.

The establishment of the diocese of Râmnicu, at the beginning of the 16th century, had the role of carrying on the mission started by Bishop Ştefan de Malva, in 328, when he consecrated the bridge at Romanati, and continued by the bishops of Sucidava, by those of at the courts of Ioan, Farcaș and Litovoi and by the hierarchs of Severin. With a history of over five hundred years, the diocese of Râmnicu (today archdiocese) is one of the oldest hierarchical institutions in our country, with hierarchs who contributed decisively to the Romanianization of the cult (Damaschin Dascălul) or who became models of life in Christ (Saint Calinic).

Even the “ephemeral” diocese of Strehaia, founded in the second half of the seventeenth century, helped preserve the spiritual identity of the inhabitants of the area.

The 17th century marks the increase of the importance of another city, namely Craiova, headquarters of Băniei, the second most important political institution in Wallachia in the medieval period. It is not surprising that some bishops of Râmnic chose to live, for shorter or longer periods, in Craiova, having here methods and properties that allowed them to move the entire administrative apparatus. An important moment that deserves to be emphasized is the bishop Damaschin Dascălul al Râmnicului (1708-1725), whose pastorate coincided with the occupation of Oltenia by the Austrians, for two decades 1718-1739. As the diocese of Râmnic was removed from the jurisdiction of the metropolis of Ungrovlahia and placed under the spiritual tutelage of the Serbian metropolitans from Carloviț, the Oltenian hierarch asked the new masters of the province to elevate the diocese of Râmnic to the rank of metropolitan, “host” Craiova to be the city. Even if his efforts remained without result, from now on many bishops of Râmnic resided in Craiova, Saint Calinic moving here, for a few years, the entire administration and the seminary. In 1880, Bishop Atanasie Stoenescu of Râmnicu (1873-1880) and the historian Vasile Alexandrescu Urechia submitted to the Chamber of Deputies a bill by which the metropolis of Ungrovlahia was to be elevated to the rank of Patriarchate, and the episcopal see from Râmnic moved to Craiova and raised at the metropolitan level. Unfortunately, this approach was not successful either.

In 1939, “a historical injustice” was to be repaired, as Constantin Argetoianu called the lack of a metropolitan seat on the right bank of the Olt. As a result of his efforts, King Carol II issued, on November 7, 1939, decree-law no. 3,997, which decided the establishment of the metropolitanate of Oltenia, Râmnicu and Severin. The residence of the new hierarchical institution was established in Craiova, and had as suffragettes the archdiocese of Craiova (also established now) and the diocese of Argeş. The first metropolitan of Oltenia was to be Nifon Criveanu, his name being linked to a remarkable social-philanthropic activity, so necessary in the context of the outbreak of the Second World War and the humanitarian crisis caused by it.

Disbanded in 1945 by the new communist authorities and re-established in two stages a few years later (1947 and 1949), the Oltenia metropolis is today among the six metropolises operating in our country, with as suffragettes the archdioceses of Craiova and Râmnicu and the bishops and Strehaia and Slatina and the Romanians. In the eight decades of its existence, it was led by worthy hierarchs who knew how to lead it in times not always quiet, increasing its spiritual and material dowry, establishing prestigious schools (theological seminary and theology faculty), founding new places of worship. cult, organizing a remarkable social apostolate.

Last but not least, the activity carried out by the Oltenian priests over the centuries should be noted. Even if in the medieval period the priesthood was inherited from father to son, so that a parish was sometimes pastored for hundreds of years by priests from the same family, this does not mean that other young people with a clean life could not enter this tagma, some of them being Romanians deprived of other rights, but accepted by the Church, according to the teaching of the Savior: “He is no longer a Jew, nor a Greek; he is neither a slave nor free; it is no longer a male part and a female part, because you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). When there were no schools for the training of future priests, the young people who wanted to follow this vocation were instructed by an older priest or by hieromonks from a monastery or hermitage near their parents’ house. Even after the founding of the seminary in Râmnic (1837), the tradition of practicing in a parish or monastery was preserved and with it the certainty of the unaltered transmission of Orthodox teachings and traditions, with all attempts at proselytism made when the province was under foreign rule. Therefore, in Oltenia, every square meter of land is full of Orthodox tradition and spirituality. Whether we are talking about smaller or larger settlements or forests and mountains, the presence of the Christians of yesteryear can be felt everywhere, be they lay, clerics or monks. Their work is still alive and from the heavens they watch and pray that this territory will remain until the end of the centuries a hearth of Romanian Orthodox history and spirituality.