Orthodox Romanians and Their Church Hierarchy

The fifty-eight parish churches and the four monasteries (Priszlop, Rév, Felek, Máramaros-Körtvélyes) that were enumerated above do not account for all medieval Romanian churches in Transylvania and the rest of Eastern Hungary. Nor can the size of the Romanian population be estimated on the basis of this number, {1-576.} or by comparing the number to the hundreds of Hungarian, Székely, and Saxon churches in the Middle Ages. A somewhat more realistic base for estimating the relative size of ethnic groups is offered by the (incomplete) list of Catholic priests in the papal tithe-register for 1332–37 and by the 1461 register of sheep-fiftieths. The latter identifies 189 villages in Transylvania's counties (excluding Hunyad county, the Saxon and Székely lands, and the Fogaras area) as being subject to the sheep tax, seven of which included unspecified 'dependencies'. There are two problems with this list. First, it hints at the existence of villages whose tax was assigned by the king to the landowner, but does not name them; a few documents survive, confirming such royal grants from the 13th century onwards, but many more must have been lost. Moreover, the larger estates are listed without detail as to their constituent villages, and thus the 'dependencies' must be tracked down in other sources. Second, the reference to two landlords' refusal to pay fiftieths 'due to the absence of Romanians in the current year' (hoc anno caret Valachys)[28]28. See Pâclişanu, Un registru, pp. 601-602. indicates that some of the Romanian shepherds tended to migrate; among the villages subject to the sheep tax — most of which had some Hungarian inhabitants as well — there must have been some that did not have permanently settled Romanians, and thus lacked a Romanian church. The register names only Catholic parish priests, for the latter received a share of the taxes paid by Romanian shepherds; in one-third of the villages subject to the sheep tax, there were sixty-four such priests.

Given the evidence in other parts of Hungary, that only one in three or four Catholic villages had its own church, Transylvania must have had at least three times as many Hungarian settlements as Hungarian and Székely churches. The Romanians' mountain villages were demonstrably smaller, which would suggest that not more than one in four had a church. In 1389, the twenty-four Romanian villages on the Egerszeg estate, in the Temes region, accounted for all of 319 families, an average of thirteen families per {1-577.} village; in fact only four of the villages harboured over twenty, while thirteen had fewer than ten families. One day, when the above sources and the many unpublished charters are fully analyzed, a somewhat clearer picture may emerge of the ethnic composition of Transylvania's 2500 villages in the late Middle Ages. For now, on the basis of these registers and the number of surviving or recorded churches, it can be estimated that at the end of the Middle Ages, Transylvania (excluding the Partium) accounted for some 500,000 out of Hungary's total population of four million. Of Transylvania's population, Hungarians and Székelys may have accounted for over a half, and Romanians for over a quarter; Saxons, Russians, Serbs and other ethnic groups made up the remainder. These figures also reveal the distribution of population by religion.

Apart from a few hundred, ennobled cnezial families that converted to Catholicism, the estimated 150,000 Romanians in Transylvania belonged to the Greek Orthodox Church. The references to archdeacons confirm that this Church was possessed of a hierarchy, but the structure can only be guessed at from the fragmentary data. The first question is which Orthodox bishopric was responsible for ordination. The building of churches and appointment of priests was contingent on the approval of free or noble cnezes, or of the landowners, but in theory, and probably also in practice, the church had to be consecrated, and the priest ordained by an Orthodox bishop. In the 11th century, the bishop responsible for all Vlach-Romanians in the Byzantine empire, i.e. up to the Carpathian frontier, was subordinated to the Bulgar Archbishop of Ohrid. As late as the 16th century, the latter would try to extend his authority to areas north of the Danube. However, after the formation in 1185 of a Bulgaro-Vlach czardom, the Tirnovo patriarchate overrode the claims of both the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Archbishop of Ohrid and imposed its authority on the formerly Byzantine bishoprics of Dorostolon (today's Silistra), Branichevo, and Vidin. (The first of these had been under the metropolitan of the {1-578.} Byzantine province of Paristrion, which extended to the Danube Delta.) There is no evidence that any of these patriarchates and bishoprics succeeded in imposing its authority north of the Danube.

The right to ordain priests north of the Lower Danube was probably exercised the Byzantine bishopric of Vicina (in the Danube Delta, perhaps on the site of today's Isaccea), which came under the authority of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. This is all the more likely because, around 1250, it took over the status of Dorostolon to become an archbishopric, thus earning the right to found bishoprics or, at least, to send out itinerant bishops. The Pope may have been referring to the latter when, in 1234, he denounced the 'false bishops' who ordained priests among the 'Walaci' (Romanians) of Cumania, priests who would then administer the sacraments according to Greek (and not Slavic or Bulgar) rite. The hypothesis is also supported by the fact that in 1359, when Wallachia was seceding from the Kingdom of Hungary, the Patriarch of Constantinople designated Jachintos of Vicina as its first metropolitan; the latter soon set up residence at the court of Wallachia's voivode. However, Romanian priests did not adopt Greek, but continued to conduct services in Church Bulgarian — a legacy of their subordination to Ohrid — right up until modern times. They were not subordinated to the Bulgar patriarch of Tirnovo, but, at the end of the 14th century, Antim, the third metropolitan of Wallachia, was still corresponding with the latter even though he himself attended the synods at Constantinople. To add to the confusion, there was also at this time a Greek Orthodox metropolitan in Severin Province (part of which, Oltenia, or Little Wallachia, reverted to the Hungarian king between 1372 and 1382, until the death of Louis the Great); this post was held by Antim, and ceased to exist when, in 1382, the latter was named metropolitan of all Wallachia. In 1401, Antim styled himself 'Metropolitan of Ungrovlachia and exarch of Hungary and the borderlands'. He was able to impose his claim only in Transylvania, for, in 1391, the {1-579.} Patriarch of Constantinople had assigned the exarchical right to ordain priests in other parts of Hungary to the Igumen (abbot) of the recently-founded monastery of Körtvélyes (Peri), in the Máramaros. Meanwhile, the Bulgar Nicodim, founder of the first monasteries in Wallachia, established one in Hunyad county, at Priszlop; it is not likely that the abbot was entitled to ordain priests, for Wallachia's metropolitan reserved this right to himself and his bishops.

To conclude, up to the end of the 15th century, Transylvania's Greek Orthodox hierarchy (apart from one monastery) consisted of the archdeacons who supervised Romanian priests in the royal castle districts, including the ones mentioned in Hátszeg and Vajdahunyad. It is not known whether the Romanian priests on nobiliary estates in the counties were answerable to an archdeacon, or what might have been the scope of the latter's authority. The situation changed significantly in 1485, when Moldavia's voivode, Ştefan cel Mare was granted the fiefs of Csicsóvár and Küküllővár. He proceeded to found monasteries at Rév (Vad), near Csicsóvár (with a church in Moldavian-Byzantine style) and at Felek, near Kolozsvár (with a church that, judging from its Gothic style, was built by craftsmen from Kolozsvár). The two monasteries had the episcopal power of ordination under the authority of the Metropolitan of Suceava, in Moldavia. Although they exercised this right primarily in the voivode's fiefs, they were free to ordain all comers, and thus qualified the hitherto exclusive right of the Metropolitan of Wallachia to ordain Greek Orthodox priests in Transylvania. The double monastic episcopacy was transformed into the Transylvanian-Romanian Metropoly in the modern age and transferred to Gyulafehérvár. The metropolitans of Wallachia and Moldavia, though often in conflict with each other, continued to serve as the ecclesiastical superiors of Transylvania's Romanian clergy until, in modern times, the two monastic episcopacies gave rise to a new metropolitan seat for Transylvania at Gyulafehérvár.