CLUJ, Romania (AP) – Archbishop Antonie Plamadeala, a Romanian orthodox cleric and former political prisoner who invited the Rev. Billy Graham to preach in Romania during the darkest years of Communism, has died at the age of 78, the church said Wednesday.

Plamadeala, who headed the Orthodox Church in the northwest Transylvania region, died late Monday in the central city of Sibiu, several years after suffering a debilitating stroke.

He was considered one of Romania’s top theologians, publishing books in Romania and abroad. In 1985, when he was chairman of the church’s foreign relations department, he invited Graham to preach in Romania on behalf of a group of 14 religious denominations. Graham accepted and went on an 11-day preaching tour in Communist Romania.

The Romanian Orthodox Church called Plamadeala “an example of patience and wisdom,” adding that it lost “a great cleric and scientist, who loved his church and nation.”

Plamadeala became an Orthodox monk in 1949. That year, he was tried in absentia for anti-communist activity and sentenced to seven years in prison. He was arrested in 1954 and incarcerated until 1956 in a prison for political prisoners near Bucharest.

After his release, he worked in factories for years until he was allowed to rejoin the church. Plamadeala later rose rapidly through the church ranks.

Plamadeala was known as an ecumenical figure, and was a member on a dialogue committee between the Orthodox and the Catholic churches. He also represented the Romanian Orthodox Church at international meetings and conventions.

“He was known for his openness to other denominations and his good command of English,” said Dan Chiachir, a commentator on Orthodox affairs. “He did church diplomacy but also diplomacy for the state,” he added. “But his sun set after (the fall of communism in) 1989 because he was seen as having collaborated too much with the former Communist government.”

He studied theology at the Orthodox Seminary in Chisinau and the Theology Universities in Cluj and Bucharest. He later got a doctorate from the Theological Institute in Bucharest in 1959, followed by another doctorate at Heythrop College in Oxford in 1971.

A funeral will be held Thursday in the Transylvanian city of Sibiu, with burial Friday at the nearby Brancoveanu Monastery in Sambata.

AP-ES-08-31-05 1658EDT

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