Let me tell you the story of a Reformation just like that of Luther, but one that many people have never heard about. It continued through the years, and the evangelical church that emerged from that Reformation still exists today.
Who: Tudor Popescu, Eastern Orthodox priest & Dumitru Cornilescu another priest and friend of his
Where: A small and beautiful country in Eastern Europe, called Romania. It is land of mountains, plains, marshlands and sea.
Tudor Popescu as a priest
Tudor Popescu was born in a family of Eastern Orthodox priests, the third of ten children. His father and grandfather were priests and he was expected to follow in the same honorable service although Tudor wished he could choose a different path in life. Tragedy struck when Tudor was a teenager. His older brother Ion (John) died of tuberculosis. This left Tudor heartbroken because Ion had been his closest friend. That was when Tudor started thinking about eternity and life after death. Although he had grown up in the Eastern Orthodox church, as the son of a priest, Tudor did not understand much about God. The liturgy of the church made it hard for him to understand the Bible. He had many questions. Where was his brother now? Was there life after death?
Tudor hoped his questions about life, God and eternity would be answered by studying theology at the seminary in Bucharest, the capital city of Romania. He was going to become a priest. But life in the seminary did not help. The seminary taught very little of the Bible to the students, and most of Tudor’s classmates were rowdy and sinful. After they finished their studies many of the priests became atheists.
Tudor went on to take his doctorate at the University of Bucharest and additionally mastered the German and French languages. But his questions remained unanswered. Soon he married a beautiful young lady named Athena Ionescu, the daughter of a priest. When his father-in-law died, Tudor took over the priestly duties of Stork’s Nest Orthodox Church in Bucharest.
The Stork’s Nest Church
Serving in the same church was a deacon named Dumitru Cornilescu. Like Tudor Popescu he wanted something deeper and he was passionate about faith and God. Together they made a dynamic duo, doing their best to help people live to please God. But they did it all by human works of righteousness and according to Eastern Orthodox liturgy. They were discouraged when they saw no results of spiritual growth in their church members. They realized there must be more to Christianity than liturgy and religion. The Eastern Orthodox Church in Eastern Europe was in darkness and bankruptcy during that time. Many priests were worldly and didn’t know much Scripture. Dumitru Cornilescu soon started working on translating the Bible in a more easy-t0-read form of the Romanian language because all they had until then was a Bible translation in Old Romanian which was difficult to read.
The turning point
Tudor’s beloved wife Athena died suddenly in the prime of her youth leaving him with three young children. Tudor felt like he fell in an abyss of grief. The questions he had about eternity intensified. His friend Dumitru Cornilescu sent him the newly translated copy of the Bible and Tudor absorbed it. Like Luther, his eyes started to open and he slowly began to understand the futility of religion without regeneration. He started preaching directly from the Bible, stopped mentioning Mary, the saints. After hearing Biblical preaching, many church members started changing and turning away from sin. Attendance grew.
Expelled- A Reformation within the Eastern Orthodox Church
Other priests grew envious and started accusing Tudor of deviating from tradition and liturgy. Soon he was officially expelled from the Eastern Orthodox church. With some converts from his former parish, Tudor left and started his own ministry- a reformed church, an evangelical church out of Eastern Orthodoxy. Tudor Popescu the priest was now a pastor. A whole reformation was begun in the Eastern Orthodox church. The new believers called themselves “Christians according to Scripture”. They embraced the Gospel of Grace and Salvation through Christ alone, and they put aside all the liturgy and traditions of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
A rich young woman from a noble family who appreciated the work of Tudor, decided to give them her mansion to use as the new church building. The church was established there, and over the years, many new churches spread all across the country of Romania.
The Mansion turned Church Building on Carol Davila Street in Bucharest, Romania
Where are they today?
You will still find the Christians according to Scripture gathering in the same church building even today, decades later. It is the only Reformation that took place in Eastern Orthodoxy in all of Europe. God’s hand moved in Eastern Europe just as he did centuries before with Luther, and opened the eyes of a priest, Tudor Popescu to realize the true Gospel of Grace.