The History of our Church
The church has a rich and interesting history. A regular attendee in the early days was Queen Marie of Romania, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Although on her marriage to Crown Prince Ferdinand she had joined the Orthodox Church, she continued to attend the English services in Bucharest, and it was largely thanks to her support that the present building was completed. Various members of the Royal Family have attended the church at different times.
The land on which the church stands was made over to the British Crown by deed of gift in December 1900, and the external fabric was completed by 1914. The interior furnishings had been ordered from England however, and it was not until after the end of the First World War that work was finally finished. Easter Sunday 1920 saw the first service to be held in the new church, which was finally dedicated by the Bishop of Gibraltar on the 5th November 1922.
A wooden panel at the back of the church records the names of the chaplains over the years, with a telling break from 1940 to 1966. In fact the church was far from inactive during these “blank” years, during which Eastern Europe experienced such trauma and suffering. Although closed after the Christmas Day service 1940 until Christmas Day 1944, the church thereafter managed to maintain worship throughout the worst of the Stalinist period, with priests visiting from as far afield as Vienna and Malta to conduct services, baptise and marry members of the British and American Legations, and ensure the upkeep of the building.
A legendary character all through these times was the original “guardian” and cleaner of the church, Maria, who had faithfully and courageously continued to care for the building when it stood unused during the Second World War. In 1982 she was presented with the bronze cross of the Order of St. Augustine of Canterbury by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, in recognition of her 60 years of service. Forced by the civil authorities to retire at the age of 78, she retained contact with the church until her death at the age of 86 in 1991, and is still remembered with respect.
Among the numerous icons presented to the church at different times is one donated by the Patriarch of Romania to the Bishop of Gibraltar on the occasion of the visit to Romania by Archbishop Michael Ramsey in 1965, a visit of real significance at a time when there seemed to be hope of an easing of relations with the West.
1966 saw the establishment of a full-time chaplaincy, with emphasis on theological study and ecumenical contacts. Chaplains at this stage tended to serve just one year, and among those who held the post during this period was the Revd. Dr. David Hope, later Archbishop of York. As well as being Chaplain to the Church of the Resurrection in Bucharest, the priests who held this office were also the Archbishop of Canterbury’s official representative, or “Apokrisarios”, to the Orthodox Patriarchates of Romania, Bulgaria, and Serbia (this tradition continues, but the Anglican congregations in Belgrade and Zagreb have since formed their own separate chaplaincy).
During the 1970s, at a time of increasing secularisation in Western Europe, it was suggested that the church might be better used as a library and conference hall for the British Council. This would have been not altogether out of keeping with the policies of the atheist materialist dictatorship under which Romania suffered at the time! Happily the proposal was resisted, and the church has the distinction of being the only Anglican church building in the former Eastern block countries to have remained open throughout the post-war Communist period.
Life became increasingly harsh for most Romanians during the 1980s, and disillusionment with the Ceausescu regime spread in the West (although the seriousness of Romania’s situation was perhaps never fully appreciated). Even for members of the diplomatic and business communities movement was restricted and surveillance was constant. In 1983 the chaplain Robert Braun wrote that there was “no harassment from the authorities other than a security van which occasionally positions itself outside the doors on Sundays to photograph the worshippers”. The few Romanians who dared to worship at the church risked losing their job, their home, even their freedom.
Chaplains actually lived at the church during these years, in the rooms that now serve as a vestry and meeting room. Ian Sherwood, in the late 80s, was subject to constant annoyance such as car tyres slashed and lipstick daubed over the carpets in the flat. It was when people in the Embassy one day mysteriously heard him singing the “Gloria” in church that a serious search for bugging devices was made, with consequent damage to the walls of the flat. Not surprisingly it was hard under such conditions to attract priests to the chaplaincy.
In the thick of the revolution in 1989, three people braved the shooting in the streets to get to church on Christmas Day. They were most put out to find on getting there that the service had been cancelled. However, their presence, even faced with locked doors, ensured that prayers were offered at the church that day.
Over the years since the fall of Ceausescu there have been enormous changes in Bucharest. The service at the Church of the Resurrection is no longer the only English-language Christian service available in the city. Nevertheless this distinctively British building, upon which the cross was “lifted high” throughout the years of struggle, is a landmark worth visiting. The congregation is a remarkably broad mix of people of different traditions, nationalities, and cultures, including a number of native Romanians. The chaplains now appointed tend to stay for a number of years rather than just one. At a time when perhaps Europe as a whole is “in transition”, the Church of the Resurrection offers a visible example of continuity, combining tradition with ecumenical development and ongoing commitment to witness in the modern world.