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May 24, 2022

A crisper stile

The Archbishop of Alba, Andrei Andreicut, is the new Metropolitan Bishop of Cluj. He is the first Cluj Church head exclusively elected by his Synod fellow, as the current Patriarch has ended the old custom of Transylvanian inspiration (more specifically dating back to the epoch of Metropolitan Andrei Saguna) based on local electoral corps, with a mixed composition: laymen, representatives of the majority population and clergymen. Only the clergy got to vote this time, which, in principle, was a guarantee for a candidacy that would not have only depended on local ambitions.

Andreicut is not only a Transylvanian figure, but he was also promoted by his predecessor for his current office. More exactly, before forcing the schism with the Metropolitan Seat in Sibiu, the Cluj Archbishop had supported his Alba-Iulia colleague in the election following the death of Metropolitan Antonie Plamadeala. With the endorsement of the Metropolitan Bishop of Moldavia – at the time, now Patriarch Daniel, a local Theology professor, Laurentiu Streza – a widower with five children – won. Annoyed by the result, Archbishop Bartolomeu in association with other local Church heads including Andrei Andreicut, was declaring the de facto autonomy of a territory covering over two thirds of the old ecclesiastical province, an option that was subsequently de jure enshrined by the Synod in November 2005.

In this whole entanglement of ambitions and innovations and with Metropolitan Bartolomeu’s health visibly deteriorating, the issue of the successor came up, the main candidate being the same Archbishop Andrei. In a certain way, the members of the Synod proved a conservative philosophy, refusing to take the risk associated with a more out of the ordinary decision. A Patriarchal Vicar, Ciprian Campineanu, and a Metropolitan of the Diaspora, Iosif Pop, would have been possible options.

What was at stake this time were not local ambitions or stakeholders (the Patriarch could have promoted someone close to him), but pastoral care. Andrei Andreicut was close to his predecessor from a number of reasons. While belonging to distinct generations and with distinct existential routes, the two were brought closer together by their ministry of care. Brought up in the ecclesiastical environment of Alba (imposed as early as the 1970s as the old capital of national unity), Andreicut inherited the kind of Orthodox culture that, during the Ceausescu regime, connected nationalistic pursuits with traditional values. It was a guised manger of retrieving religious culture with yet perverse consequences upon Orthodox rhetoric. Some of the books published after 1990, in the context of a generalised religious editorial boom, stand proof to that.

At the same time, Archbishop Andrei was Metropolitan Bartolomeu’s right hand in his strategy to refuse negotiations with the Greek-Catholics over church restitution. Born to an initially Greek-Catholic family, keeping connections with its semi-clandestine community in his youth (one of the reasons why the former political police wanted to recruit him), afterwards he manifested himself as a tenacious opponent of the Romanian Church United with Rome re-established after 1990. The reason was church competition and the fear of a conversion en masse as a result of possible church restitutions.

On the other hand, his Cluj colleague, Archbishop Andrei, supported a new position to be adopted by the Romanian Orthodox Church (BOR) in the new political and social context. He founded a printing house, a publishing house, two magazines, a radio station and took advantage of the return of theology to the secular academic and secondary education to set up a faculty and a seminary. A special preoccupation as a follow-up on his activity in the first years of rectory when he was giving catecheses to young people during an epoch of official atheism were editorial collections and cycles of conferences on specific issues of the young generation. But, as in the case of Metropolitan Bartolomeu, suspicions regarding some less honouring gestures are not missing. Starting from the influence peddling which cost him his harassment by the Securitate, touching upon informant’s notes (the authenticity of which he denied), the tenebrous episode of the removal of his predecessor from his Episcopal Seat in Alba Iulia, Emilian Birdas, who withdrew in January 1990, and ending with demanding apologies from CNSAS after a judicial verdict obtained for mere procedural considerations. All this does not exclude a Church official good at promoting valuable and innovative initiatives. One of the most appreciated Romanian Orthodox monastic figures, Rafail Noica, the son of the philosopher who started the famous ‘School of Paltinis’, enjoyed Archbishop Andrei’s constant support, which led to the constitution of a special model of monastic spirituality (nuances are important in such a context), and to a popularity with a notable influence of selected values.

It is still to be seen if the new Metropolitan stays within the perimeter of his pastoral care manifested so far or if he chooses to join the more innovative school of the Orthodoxy of the Diaspora which may also impose chances on the more conservative ecclesiastical practice in the eparchy of the country. Not long ago, a motorist who was a fan of religious radio stations, driving from Cluj to Alba-Iulia, when switching from the Cluj Renasterea radio channel to Reintregirea station would at least sense a crisper spirit. This is the kind of change Andrei Andreicut’s coming to Cluj may drive at other levels as well.

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