Tuesday, September 09, 2014

A New Greek-Catholic Cathedral in Romania

Just over a year ago, we reported on the beatification of Vladimir Ghika, a Romanian Greek-Catholic priest martyred in 1954. A church in which Mons. Ghika served in Bucharest has been elevated to the status of cathedral for the newly created Eparchy of St Basil the Great; we are grateful to reader Viviana Dimcev for her report on this event, and to her husband Alexis for the accompanying pictures.

Bishop Mihai Frățilă

August 30, 2014 was a great feast for Greek Catholics in Romania. In Bucharest, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, assisted at the enthronement of the first Greek Catholic Bishop of Bucharest, His Holiness Mihai Frățilă, who received the symbols of his office from the hand of Cardinal Lucian Mureșan, Major Archbishop of the Romanian Greek Catholic Church.

The newly created Greek Catholic Eparchy of Saint Basil the Great of Bucharest was approved by the Holy Father Pope Francis in May 2014. The Romanian Greek Catholic Church, with the Metropolitan See in Blaj, a small town in the Romanian province of Transylvania, has felt for some time the need for a new Eparchy with its See in Bucharest, the capital of Romania. The Greek Catholic church of Saint Basil the Great in Bucharest was thus elevated to the rank of Cathedral church. Its impressive history is intertwined with the history of the Romanian Greek Catholic Church.

The small church in red brick (with the dimensions of 16 meters length and 7 meters width) was built in 1909 under the supervision of Roman Catholic Bishop of Bucharest Raymund Netzhammer, who wanted to offer the Greek Catholic faithful in Bucharest a church of their own rite. Those faithful were mostly of Transylvanian origin, Romanian speakers who emigrated to Bucharest in search of a better living, and wished to maintain the use of the Byzantine rite liturgy in Romanian. At that point, Transylvania was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; it would become part of Romania 8 years later, in 1918.

Bishop Netzhammer, a Benedictine, thought it appropriate to consecrate the small church to Saint Basil the Great, one of the Greek fathers whose liturgy is celebrated in the Byzantine rite. He chose a well-known Romanian architect who used elements of Romanian, Byzantine and Gothic architecture in imitation of various older Romanian churches. For the painting of the church, he invited the monks of St Martin Abbey in Beuron; Father Andreas Goser created the sketches, which were painted by Gottfried Schiller and Julius Ostermaier from Ravensburg, using the mineral colours technique of A.W. Keim. The two artists also designed the liturgical objects of the church.

The church quickly became the center of the Greek Catholic community in Bucharest. Bishop Netzhammer assisted very often at the services, and Blessed Vladimir Ghika was the spiritual director of the Greek Catholic students who came there to attend the Divine Liturgy.

In 1948, after the Communist regime suppressed the Greek Catholic Church in Romania, persecuting its priests and faithful, and confiscating all its properties; the church was handed over to the Romanian Orthodox Church, as happened to all Greek Catholic churches all over the country. The strategy of the Communist party was to forcibly convert the Greek Catholics to Orthodoxy, cutting all their links to Rome, which for Communist propaganda represented the “imperialist” Vatican. The Greek Catholic bishops and priests were arrested and tortured; most of them died in prison. Such was the case of the Bishop Basil Aftenie, vicar of Bucharest, who refused to adhere to the Orthodox Church. After refusing all offers of an ecclesiastical career in the Romanian Orthodox Church, he was thrown into prison, where he died in 1950, after various tortures. His cause of beatification is now in its Roman phase, together with other six Romanian Greek Catholic bishops, who did not betray their faith and had a similar death.

The fall of Communism in Romania in 1989 did not immediately entail the restitution of the church to its rightful owners; it was won back in court only in December 2006. In 2008, the newly-ordained Bishop Mihai Frățilă came to Bucharest, which was designated as a Vicariate. Saint Basil the Great Church thus became a vicarial church for the “little flock” of the Greek Catholic faithful in Bucharest. The church underwent a minute restauration process, between 2007 and 2013; unfortunately, most of the paintings, depicting scenes from the life of Saint Basil the Great, were lost. The good news is that iconostasis is now completely restored. New icons, painted by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic painter Ivan Karas, remind the visitor of the Byzantine heritage of the Romanian Greek Catholic Church, a Byzantine rite church in full communion with Rome since the XVII century.

“The only revenge is forgiveness”, says His Holiness Bishop Mihai Frățilă. “The Greek Catholic Cathedral of Bucharest might be erroneously taken for a victory of human survival. The Apostles themselves, they who lived in the times of the incarnate Son of God, who proclaimed on earth the Good news, were impressed by the monumental greatness of the Temple in Jerusalem, and pointed out to their Teacher to admire it. But the way of the true Messiah showed later to the disciples that only the paradox of the Crucifixion, which is foolness in the eyes of the world, could bring them the truth and the joy of the freedom of salvation. For this reason, for Romanian Greek Catholics, the spirit of this Cathedral, young in its centennial, is the joy of abiding with the Crucified Christ, the One who restores our conscience and inner dignity...”

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: