Miron Cristea

Miron Cristea
Miron Elie Cristea
Miron Cristea attending a public event
Prime Minister of Romania
In office
February 11, 1938 – March 6, 1939
Deputy Armand Călinescu
Preceded by Octavian Goga
Succeeded by Armand Călinescu
Personal details
Born July 20, 1868
Topliţa, Austria-Hungary
Died March 6, 1939
Cannes, France
Nationality Romanian
Political party none
Profession priest
Religion Romanian Orthodox

Miron Cristea, (monastic name of Elie Cristea; July 20, 1868 – March 6, 1939) was an Austro-Hungarian-born Romanian cleric and politician.

A bishop in Hungarian-ruled Transylvania, Cristea was elected Metropolitan-Primate of the Orthodox Church of the newly unified Greater Romania in 1919. As the Church was raised to a rank of Patriarchy, Miron Cristea was enthroned as the first Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church in 1925.

In 1938, Carol II banned political parties and established a royal dictatorship, choosing Miron Cristea to be the Prime Minister of Romania, a position from which he served for about a year, between February 11, 1938 and his death.



Early life

Born in Topliţa to Gheorghe and Domniţa Cristea,[1] a peasant family,[2] he studied at the Saxon Evangelical Gymnasium of Bistriţa (1879–1883), at the Greek-Catholic Lyceum of Năsăud (1883–1887), at the Orthodox Seminary of Sibiu (1887–1890), after which he became a teacher and principal at the Romanian Orthodox school of Orăştie (1890–1891).[1][3]

Cristea then studied philosophy and modern philology at the University of Budapest (1891–1895), where he was awarded a doctorate in 1895 - with a dissertation about the life and works of Mihai Eminescu (given in Hungarian).[1][3]

Returning to Transylvania, he was a secretary (between 1895 and 1902), then a counselor (1902–1909) at the Archbishopric of Sibiu. It was then that he was ordained deacon in 1900 and archdeacon in 1901. Cristea became a monk at the Hodoş Bodrog Monastery, Arad County in 1902, taking the monastic name of Miron. He climbed the monastery hierarchy, becoming an archmonk in 1903 and a protosingel in 1908.[3]

In 1908, following the death of bishop Nicolae Popea, the election of the bishop of Caransebeş led to a dispute between the Romanian Orthodox Church and the Imperial authorities, when, twice in a row, the elected bishops were not recognized by emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, at the recommendation of the Hungarian government. Cristea was the third choice, being chosen on November 21, 1910 and obtaining the recognition from the authorities;[1][4] he became an archbishop in 1919.[2]

During World War I, as Romania joined the war on the Allies' side, Cristea signed on September 1, 1916 a public letter to the parishioners printed at Oradea by the Orthodox Bishophric of Transylvania. The letter called to arms all believers against "Romania the new enemy which sinfully covets to ruin the borders, coming to conquer Transylvania".[5]

Towards the end of World War I, on October 18, 1918, it was founded the Central National Romanian Council, an organization which fought for the union of Transylvania and Romania. On November 21, Cristea, as archbishop of Caransebeş joined the organization and recognized it as the only ruling body of the Romanian nation in Transylvania. On December 1, he was (with Vasile Goldiş, Iuliu Hossu, and Alexandru Vaida-Voevod) a member of Austro-Hungarian Romanian delegation that called for the unification of Romania and Transylvania.[6]

On May 28, 1919, the King and government of Romania went to the grave of Michael the Brave in Câmpia Turzii and Bishop Cristea lead the religious service of commemoration and held a nationalist speech in which he drew a parallel between King Ferdinand I and Michael the Brave and commended the King for not stopping at Turda, but continuing all the way to the Tisa River.[7]

Patriarch of Romania

Because of his collaboration with the German occupation troops, the Metropolitan-Primate Conon Arămescu-Donici was forced to resign on December 1, 1919[7] and on December 31, 1919, Cristea was chosen by the Great Electoral College to be the Metropolitan-Primate of Whole Romania[8] with 435 votes out of 447.[7] On November 1, 1925, after a Synod was held, Cristea was named Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church.[8]

As Metropolitan-Primate and later Patriarch, Cristea continued the tradition of his predecessors to support whatever government was in power. The Church acted as an agent of the state, for instance, in 1920, Cristea asked the clergymen to help the state financially by encouraging the faithful to buy government bonds.[7] Cristea's discourse incorporated national elements, arguing that the Orthodox faith was part of the Romanian soul and he argued that the church's values include "patriotism" and "obedience towards authorities" alongside "faith and morality".[7]

Cristea introduced reforms such as the Gregorian calendar to the church, including, briefly, the celebration of Easter on the same date as the Roman Catholic Church. This was opposed by various groups of Old calendarists, especially in Moldavia, where Metropolitan Gurie Grosu of Bessarabia refused to accept the orders given by the Patriarchy.[9]

Standard of the Regent of Romania (1927-1930)

In 1927, he was chosen by Ionel Brătianu to be one of the three regents of King Michael I of Romania, alongside Prince Nicholas of Romania and Gheorghe Buzdugan.[10][11]

Cristea's involvement in politics was, however, controversial, being criticised by journalists at Epoca newspaper, who accused him of trying to play the role of Rasputin and being a member of the palace camarilla. This resulted in the issue being confiscated by the police and their offices being vandalized by hooligans, allegedly incited by the government.[12]

A dispute arose with philosopher Nae Ionescu, after Ionescu attacked Cristea in newspaper articles following a dinner at Cristea during the Nativity Fast during which they were served turkey. As a response, Cristea requested the painter Belizarie to paint Ionescu's face on a devil in the Patriarchal Cathedral in Bucharest's Apocalipse-themed mural.[13]

In 1929, because of a serious illness (identified as leucocythemia by his medics), Cristea retired for several months to a country house in Dragoslavele, Muscel County, but despite the bleak predictions about his health state, he was soon able to return to Bucharest.[14]

On July 6, 1930, Carol II returned to Romania to assume power. On July 7, Miron Cristea and Constantin Sărăţeanu resigned from the regency and the following day, the Parliament revoked the 1926 law which gave the throne to Mihai, Carol becoming King again.[15]

Cristea kept his loyalty to King Carol II throughout his rule. In March 1937, as the King attempted to suppress the influence of the fascist movement known as the Iron Guard, Cristea responded to the request sent by the Tătărescu government on limiting the relationship between the clergy and the Iron Guard. Cristea invoked a Holy Synod which banned clergy from joining the Legion and disallowed political demonstrations and symbols in the churches.[16]

Prime Minister of Romania

In a bid for political unity against the Iron Guard, which was gaining popularity, in 1938, Carol dismissed the government headed by Octavian Goga. The activity of the parliament and of all political parties was suspended and the country was to be governed by royal decree. Cristea was named Prime Minister on 11 February 1938 and the government included seven former prime-ministers and people from all major parties except for Codreanu's Iron Guard and Goga's Lăncieri, which had violently clashed.[17] Time Magazine described him as a "puppet Premier" of Carol II,[18] whereas historian Joseph Rothschild considered that it was Cristea's vice-prime-minister, Armand Călinescu, who held the power in the Cristea government.[19]

In his inaugural speech, Cristea denounced political pluralism, arguing that "the monster with 29 electoral heads was destroyed" (referring to the 29 political parties which were to be banned) and claiming that the king shall bring salvation.[20]

The new government stopped the antisemitic violence that was unleashed under Goga's rule, but the antisemitic legislation in place was not altered, as Nichifor Crainic's fascist ideology fit within the theological-political stance of the Romanian Orthodox Church.[16]

Cristea's government announced a program which put restrictions on various freedoms, especially related to censorship and the introduction of authoritarian measures such as military rule (by declaring a state of siege, which allowed among other things, searches without warrant and the military appropriation of privately-held guns) and the death penalty, but it promised prosperity through some constitutional and social reforms, which were to include the "organized emigration of Jewish surplus population", that is, expulsion Jewish people who came to Romania during or after World War I. However, it eased the Jewish restrictions imposed by the Goga government.[21][22]

The external politics of the Cristea government were based on seeking an alliance with the United Kingdom and France, away from the friendship with the Berlin-Rome Axis supported by the Goga government.[22] Cristea also visited Poland, with which Romania had an alliance and with which it tried to create a neutral block between Nazi Germany and the USSR.[23]

Among the policies Cristea introduced during his rule as Prime Minister was a crackdown on Protestants, by disallowing religious service to small congregations with less than 100 heads of families, basically banning the services in around 1500 small chapels belonging to various Christian denominations.[18] Despite worldwide protests from the Baptists, the ban was only lifted after Cristea's death by his successor, the National Renaissance Front's Armand Călinescu.[18]

On February 20, a new constitution was announced, which organized Romania as a "corporatist state" similar to the one of Fascist Italy, with a parliament made up of representatives of the guilds of farmers, workers and intellectuals.[24] Four days later, on February 24, the constitution was approved, with 99.87% of votes for, through a plebiscite, described by a contemporary article in The Manchester Guardian as a "farse" for its lack of vote secrecy and the lack of information given to the rural people.[25]

Upon the approval of the new constitution, Miron Cristea's government resigned on February 30 in order to form a new government on the same day. The new government banned all political parties, their activity being only suspended before that.[26]

In March 1938, Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, the leader of the Iron Guard, attacked in a letter the politicians who supported Carol II, including Prime Minister Cristea and members of his government. Codreanu was arrested for slander against Nicolae Iorga and killed "while attempting to escape".[2]

By the end of 1938, Carol II introduced even more Fascist-inspired elements: for instance, on January 1, 1939, during the government's visit to the Royal Palace, they wore uniforms and when meeting Carol, Cristea and the ministers greeted him with the Fascist salute.[27]

Another change in Cristea's government was on February 1, 1939, which gave extensive powers to Călinescu, who became virtually the head of the cabinet, while Cristea remained nominally the Prime Minister at the King's insistence.[28]

Deteriorating health and death

His health deteriorated in January 1939, suffering from two heart attacks,[29] which prompted his doctors to recommend him to stay in a warmer place for a few months, in order to avoid the harsher Romanian winter. On February 24, 1939, Cristea arrived in Cannes, France, but contracted pneumonia while waiting for his niece in the Nice railway station. He stayed in Cannes for treatment, but died two weeks later, on March 6, of bronchopneumonia complicated by heart disease.[2]

His body was sent by train to Bucharest, the funeral train stopping in all stations in Romania to permit believers to pay their last respects and say prayers before the body. On March 7, a state of national mourning was ordered and all festivities were canceled.[30] A week later, on March 14, funeral services were held in Bucharest,[31] Cristea being buried in the Patriarchal Cathedral.[8]

Political positions and policies

Cristea's political positions were nationalistic, seeing for Romania external threats from both the east, in the form of communism and the Soviet Union and from the capitalist and modernist west.[32]

Toward other Christian denominations

As he became the head of the Orthodox Church in Greater Romania, a multiethnic and multireligious state, Cristea feared that the ethnic minorities, as well as Romanians belonging to non-Orthodox creeds such as the Greek-Catholicism and the Jews would challenge the privileged status which the Orthodox Church had in pre-World War I Romania.[32]

Nevertheless, Cristea attempted an ecumenical close-up with the Anglican Church, by visiting Cosmo Gordon Lang, the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1936.[33][34]

Cristea strongly opposed the idea of a Concordat with the Vatican and the Romanian Orthodox Church issued a statement against it saying that "the treaty subordinates the interests of the country and the sovereignty of the state to a foreign power".[35] The Romanian Senate ratified it anyway on May 26, 1929 and Cristea, as a member of the regency, was forced to sign it.[2] This has led again to discussions about the incompatibility between his two posts and there were discussions on whether Cristea would have resigned rather than sign the Concordat.[36]

After Cristea introduced reforms such as switching to the Gregorian calendar, the Old Calendar Romanian Orthodox Church, led by Glicherie Tănase seceded many parishes from the Orthodox Church and by 1936 they had built more than 40 churches. However, after 1935, the Romanian government began to suppress any opposition to the Orthodox Church and the churches were razed and some of the activists the imprisoned, while a number of clerics, including hieromonk Pambo and five monks from the Old Calendarist Cucova Monastery, were beaten to death.[9][37] Protests against the authorities' actions were met with repression by police and the leader of Old Calendarists, Tănase, was accused of being an instigator and sentenced to death.[9]

In 1937, William Temple, the Archbishop of York, sent a letter to Cristea in which he questioned religious freedom in Romania, referring especially to the treatment of the Baptists. Cristea denied such claims and responded in a long document in which he said Temple was misled by the "perverse propaganda" and the "false mystification" of the Magyars, as well as the "ferocious and barbaric proselytism of the Pope". He further added, referring to neo-Protestants, that Romania should not allow to be "undermined by foreigners dressed in innocent pseudo-religious garb".[38]

Toward the Jews

Early during his tenure as Patriarch, Cristea supported tolerance towards the Jewish people. For instance, in 1928, he made an appeal towards the Romanian students to observe the Golden Rule and he expressed regrets for attacks and profanations of synagogues.[2]

In the 1930s, as the Fascist Iron Guard rose in popularity, initially, Cristea's position towards them was of acceptance, especially since their program included loyalty to Orthodoxism. Many Orthodox priests were attracted by the movement and it was common that their banners were blessed in churches.[32]

In 1937, Cristea realized that the Iron Guard was decreasing the loyalty of both the Orthodox Christians and the lower-ranked clergy to the church hierarchy and began to oppose the Guard, while adopting their anti-semitic and xenophobic rhetoric[32]: he supported the revocation of the Romanian citizenship for Jewish people and their deportation, the Jews being in his opinion the major obstacle in "assuring preponderant rights to ethnic Romanians".[39]

On August 18, 1937, he issued a statement which called the Romanian nation "to fight the Jewish parasites"[40] who spread "epidemics of corruption" throughout Romania and that the Romanians have a "a national and patriotic duty" to protect themselves against the Jews:[39]

"The duty of a Christian is to love himself first and to see that his needs are satisfied. Only then can he help his neighbor. . . . Why should we not get rid of these parasites [Jews] who suck Romanian Christian blood? It is logical and holy to react against them."[41]

In 1938, during a meeting with Wilhelm Fabricius, the German ambassador, Cristea praised the anti-semitic policy conducted by Nazi Germany and supporting such a policy in Romania,[42] and the British Ambassador wrote in his report to London that "Nothing would induce him [i.e., Cristea] to talk about anything but the Jewish problem."[39]


His birthplace home in Topliţa is currently a museum dedicated to his life. Each year, on Cristea's birthday, the Romanian Orthodox Patriarchy organizes the "Miron Cristea Days", dedicated to the first patriarch of the Church and which feature various cultural activities.[43]

In July 2010, the National Bank of Romania minted a commemorative coin bearing Cristea's image as a part of a collectors' series of five coins showing the Patriarchs of All Romania. In response, Radu Ioanid, international archives director at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, called for the coin be withdrawn.[44]


  1. ^ a b c d Gheorghe Iancu, "Membrii transilvăneni ai Academiei Române (sesiunea 1919)", in Anuarul Institutului de Istorie "George Bariţiu", Editura Academiei Române, 2007, ISSN 1584-4390 p. 73
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Patriarch Cristea of Rumania dies", in New York Times March 7, 1939; pg. 18
  3. ^ a b c Mircea Păcurariu, "Miron Cristea", entry in Dicţionarul Teologilor Români, Editura Univers Enciclopedic, Bucharest, 1996 ISBN 9739739148
  4. ^ Anton Drăgoiescu (editor), "Politică, biserică şi şcoală la saşii ardeleni în perioada dualismului (1867-1918)", in Istoria Transilvaniei, Editura "George Bariţiu", Cluj-Napoca, 1999, p. 248
  5. ^ Octavian Paler, "Întrebări la care nu voiam să ajung", in Cotidianul, April 4, 2006
  6. ^ Mircea Păcurariu, "Slujitorii altarului şi Marea Unire", in Magazin Istoric, no. 1 / 1999
  7. ^ a b c d e Lucian Leuştean, Orthodoxy and the Cold War, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, ISBN 9780230218017, p.39-41
  8. ^ a b c "Patriarhii care au făcut politica Domnului, uneori şi pe cea a României", in Adevărul, August 4, 2007
  9. ^ a b c "Patimile Bisericii Ortodoxe de Stil Vechi", Evenimentul Zilei, January 4, 2004
  10. ^ "Speech from the Throne", in Time Magazine, January 7, 1929
  11. ^ Keith Hitchins, Rumania : 1866-1947 (Oxford History of Modern Europe). Oxford University Press, 1994 ISBN 0198221266 p. 413
  12. ^ "Edit Bucharest paper with pistols handy", in New York Times, April 20, 1926 pg. 27
  13. ^ Dan Ciachir, Istoria presei, Ziua, February 3, 2007
  14. ^ "Roumania Patriarch Feared Near Death", The Washington Post September 16, 1929, pg. 2
  15. ^ Ioan Scurtu, "Principele Nicolae aşa cum a fost", in Magazin Istoric, no. 11 / 2000
  16. ^ a b Final Report of the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania, Polirom, Iaşi, 2004. ISBN 973-681-989-2 p. 25-26
  17. ^ "Patriarch forms cabinet as anti-semitic regime of Goga falls in Rumania", in New York Times, February 11, 1938 pg. 1
  18. ^ a b c "Noble Gesture", in Time Magazine, April 24, 1939
  19. ^ Joseph Rothschild, East Central Europe Between the Two World Wars, 1990 University of Washington Press, ISBN 0295953578 p. 311
  20. ^ Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, "The Ruler and the Patriarch: The Romanian Eastern Orthodox Church in Transition", East European Constitutional Review, Volume 7 Number 2, Spring 1998
  21. ^ "Carol names body to draft chapter of people's rights", New York Times February 13, 1938; pg. 1
  22. ^ a b AP, "Rumania Seeking to Patch Up Alliance With France, Britain", The Washington Post, February 12, 1938, pg. X1
  23. ^ "Polish-Rumanian staff talks: Common defence", The Manchester Guardian, May 31, 1938, p. 6
  24. ^ "Rumania Made a Fascist State by King's Edict, Chicago Daily Tribune February 21, 1938 pg. 1
  25. ^ "King Carol's Romania: Recent Steps on the Path to a Royal Dictatorship; Measures against the Jews", in Manchester Guardian, March 31, 1938, p. 6
  26. ^ "Rumanian Cabinet Resigns to Form New Government", in The Christian Science Monitor; March 30, 1938; pg. 1
  27. ^ "Rumanian Cabinet Gives Fascist Salute to Carol", New York Times, January 2, 1939, pg. 1
  28. ^ "Shifts in Rumanian Cabinet Extend Authoritarian Rule", The Christian Science Monitor, pg. 7
  29. ^ "Rumanian Premier Very Ill" in New York Times February 1, 1939 pg. 7
  30. ^ "Rumania will honor body of patriarch" in New York Times March 8, 1939 pg. 8
  31. ^ "Obituary - no title", New York Times, March 15, 1939; pg. 29
  32. ^ a b c d Paul A. Shapiro, Faith, Murder, Resurrection: The Iron Guard and the Romanian Orthodox Church, in Kevin P. Spicer, Antisemitism, Christian Ambivalence, and the Holocaust, 2007, Indiana University Press p.147-150
  33. ^ "Death of Premier of Romania", in Manchester Guardian, March 7, 1939, page 6
  34. ^ "Rumanian Patriarch to be Primate's Guest", The Manchester Guardian June 5, 1936, p. 10
  35. ^ Catherine Durandin Orthodoxie et Roumanité: Le débat de l'entre deux guerres, in Rumanian studies 1980-1986, E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1986 ISBN 9004075992 p. 116
  36. ^ "Concordat approved by Rumanian Senate", in New York Times, May 27, 1929 pg. 7
  37. ^ Ken Parry et al., The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity, 2001, Wiley-Blackwell, ISBN 0631232036 p. 355
  38. ^ Sabrina P. Ramet, Protestantism and politics in eastern Europe and Russia: the communist and postcommunist eras, Duke University Press, 1992, ISBN 0822312417 pp. 177-178
  39. ^ a b c William O. Oldson, Alibi for prejudice: Eastern Orthodoxy, the Holocaust, and Romanian nationalism, East European Quarterly, XXXVI, No. 3, September 2002. p. 303-304
  40. ^ Johan Martinus Snoek, The Grey Book. A Collection of Protests against Anti-semitism and the Persecution of Jews issued by Non-Roman Catholic Churches and Church Leaders during Hitler's Rule, Van Gorcum & Comp, Assen, 1969 (Guttenberg text)
  41. ^ "Logical & Holy" in Time Magazine, March 28, 1938
  42. ^ William Brustein, Roots of Hate: Anti-Semitism in Europe Before the Holocaust, Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN 0521774780 p. 70
  43. ^ "Manifestări dedicate patriarhului Miron Cristea", in Ziarul Lumina, July 19, 2007
  44. ^ "Romania bank to review 'anti-Semitic' Cristea coin", BBC Online, August 6, 2010
Preceded by
Patriarch of All Romania
1925 – 1939
Succeeded by
Nicodim Munteanu

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