March 30, 2020

Saint Gabriel (Banulescu-Bodoni), Archbishop of Chisinau and Hotin (+ 1821)

St. Gabriel Banulescu-Bodoni (Feast Day - March 30)

Born in 1746 at Bistrita, Transylvania to a family originating from Campulung in Moldavia, Banulescu studied at the Kiev Theological Academy (1771–1773), then at the Greek-language academy on the Island of Patmos, Smyrna and the Athonite Academy in Vatopaidi (1773–1786). At Patmos, he befriended Nikephoros Theotokis, a Greek cleric and enlightenment figure, with whom he taught at the Princely Academy of Iasi in 1776.

In 1779 he became a monk in Constantinople, then continued his studies in Patmos, returning to Moldavia in 1781 to be a preacher at the Metropolitan cathedral. Then, between 1782–1784, he taught philosophy and Greek language in Poltava at the Slavic Seminary, then in the Russian Empire.

In 1784, Banulescu-Bodoni returned to Iasi to serve under Metropolitan Gavriil Callimachi, then moved to the diocese of Husi. In 1874 he was nominated to become a bishop of Romania, but the phanariote ruler declined his nomination. After the second Russo-Turkish War began, he fled to Ukraine, together with the phanariot ruler of Moldavia, Alexandru Mavrocordat Firaris. In Imperial Russia, he became the rector of the Poltava Seminary.

In 1789, as Russians occupied the Danubian Principalities, Catherine II of Russia and the Holy Synod appointed Archbishop Amvrosii Serebrennikov of Ekaterinoslav to be the locum tenens Exarch of Moldo-Wallachia, naming in 1791 Banulescu-Bodoni bishop of Cetatea Alba. The Treaty of Iasi ended the military occupation of Wallachia and Moldavia, but prior to the Russian retreat, in February 1792, Amvrosii appointed Banulescu-Bodoni the Metropolitan of Moldavia.

Patriarch Neophytos VII saw the appointment a challenge to the authority of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and requested to the new Phanariot hospodar, Alexander Mourousis, to demand Banulescu-Bodoni's departure. Banulescu-Bodoni refused to leave without a Russian imperial decree. The Patriarch convened with local bishops to declare his seat vacant and to select a new Metropolitan.

Neophytos VII also obtained an order from the Sultan to arrest Banulescu-Bodoni, who was taken to Constantinople in June 1792. The Patriarch tried to give him a bishop seat in Greece, but Banulescu-Bodoni refused to give up his Russian citizenship. He was freed after the intervention of Viktor Pavlovich Kochubey, the Russian ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.

Banulescu-Bodoni returned to Russia to become Metropolitan of Kherson and Crimea (1793–1799), then Metropolitan of Kiev and Halich (1799–1803) and in 1801, a member of the Holy Synod of Petrograd.

When Catherine the Great was on her deathbed, he gave her the anointing of the sick.

Falling ill, Banulescu settled to Odessa and Dubasari, where he stayed until 1806 when he, following the Russo-Turk War and the Russian Army occupying again the Principalities, and he was once again named Exarch of Moldo-Wallachia. The Russian annexation of Bessarabia was acknowledged by the Ottoman Empire in the Treaty of Bucharest and Banulescu was named in charge with organizing the Archdiocese of Bessarabia.

His proposal of the creation of a new eparchy was approved by Tsar Alexander I of Russia, whose ukaz of 21 August 1813 created a new "Archbishopric of Chisinau and Hotin", which included Bessarabia and the Kherson gubernya, including the cities of Odessa, Tiraspol, Ananyiv and Elisabetgrad. The tsar allowed the eparchy to organize itself according to "local customs".

The local boyars, led by Banulescu-Bodoni, petitioned for self-rule and the establishment of a civil government based on the Moldavian traditional laws. In 1818, a special autonomous region was created, which had both Moldovan (Romanian) and Russian as languages used in the local administration.

In 1813, Banulescu-Bodoni founded a Romanian-language seminary, and in 1814 a printing press. He also oversaw the building of the Chisinau Metropolitan Church (1817) and of the Soborul Cathedral. A Romanian translation of the New Testament was published in 1817 and the whole Bible in 1819 in Petrograd.

Banulescu died on March 30, 1821, and was buried at the Capriana Monastery. He was canonized by the Moldovan Orthodox Church in 2016.

He is commemorated in Chisinau, where a street is named after him near the Nativity Cathedral.