The close connection between the political-administrative structures and the religious hierarchies constitutes, for the Middle Ages, the binding agent contributing determinately to the consolidation of the state. Before the national conscientiousness – of later manifestation – there was the feeling of religious identity and unity that had taken new significance within the process of recognition and ascertaining of the centralizing religious authorities. The case of the Moldavian Principality is not an exception from this rule, and the founding of its Metropolitanate coincides with the stage of political-administrative organization and affirmation of the Romanian statality East of the Carpathians.
Therefore, the subject of the present paper is still interesting, in spite of extant notable scientific contributions, which precede this paper. These past studies are valid as they clarified the main stages of the funding and the recognition of the Moldavian Metropolitanate – under the leadership of Joseph the First – using as main source the documentary body of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. These shed light only on one short episode within a larger and more complex phenomenon, which is essential for the larger understanding of the organization of the Moldavian Principality and its Church.
Our scientific endeavor focuses on the evolution of the religious structures and their ecclesial coverage east of Carpathians, starting with the earliest evidence on the presence of the centralized ecclesial hierarchies. The present approach opens the issue of identifying the eparchial areas of Vicina (south of Danube) and Halici bishoprics, which bears on the administrative structuring of the Moldavian Principality in the Upper Country (Țara de Sus) and the Lower Country (Țara de Jos), a reality outlined also by archaeology, by the distribution of the pectoral reliquary crosses characteristic to the two cultural and religious entities.
The debates around the recognition of the Moldavian Metropolitanate are here completed by the references to the fundamental juridical norm, the Canons, which motivated the decisions of the Holy Synod and of the Patriarchy on the ”Moldavian” issue. The Patriarch’s attitude, as well as the insistence of the Moldavians to force their own candidate, is seen now in a different light, much clearer and statutory, beyond the play of the human weaknesses. Both parties involved in the conflict were experts in the canon law , and the balance of justice leaned according to the time relation to the application of the Principles of Stoudios, which limit the right to appoint metropolitans to the Patriarch in congress with the Holy Synod and the Emperor. The appointment of Joseph I as Metropolitan of the Moldavian Principality occurred before the coming into power of the above Principles, and after his death the Moldavians had to comply with these canonic norms and accept the metropolitans anointed in Constantinople.
Joseph I was a relative of the Moldavian ruling family and appointed as bishop f Asprokastron by Metropolitan Antonius of Halici short after he was invested (1371) and after he took the lands on the northern shore of Lower Danube under his pastoral administration. The action of appointing a relative of voivode Latco to the newly created episcopal see, of a territory beyond the borders of Moldavia but highly coveted the voivode, seems to be the keystone of the organization and consolidation of the Moldavian Principality. The confirmation of Joseph as Metropolitan of Moldavia and his official recognition, sanctified by the transfer of the relics of Saint John the New from the Asprokastron to Suceava, have remained as the traditional rite of enthronization for the local high prelates, which was later referred to in the context of foreign interventions.