Commentary on social and moral issues of the day

On Compromise in the Hierarchy During the Communist Yoke

Fr. Roman Braga

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Excerpts from two books by Fr. Roman Braga.

Fr. Roman Braga

Fr. Roman Braga is a 78 year-old Romanian priest who was imprisoned in a Communist gulag for eleven years.

Interviewer: Father, before we continue discussing your life in exile, tell us something about Romanian Orthodox spirituality, because even we Romanians do not know what it is. It is evident that we cannot separate spirituality from the Church because the Holy Sacraments are the source of our sanctification. However, from what you have told us about Church life in Romania at that time it seems to me that the visible body of the Church was split into two parts and that only one was moved by the Holy Spirit because many of the persecuted clergy and lay people who were imprisoned prayed and lived a true spiritual life, and the others wanted to please the worldly authorities.

In Russia, as well as in Romania and in other Orthodox countries under Communist control, the hierarchy made many compromises. They accepted without any comment the orders which came from the government, while thousands of spiritual fathers, priests, monks and nuns were imprisoned with the knowledge of the Patriarchate, with the knowledge of the visible Church, who did not do anything to bring about their liberation. Something is wrong here. There were Christians at that time who believed that the Holy Spirit had abandoned the Church hierarchy and gone to the prisons. I do not want to confuse the Church with the hierarchy, and I do not want to accuse the hierarchy either. I think they sincerely thought that compromise helps the Church as an institution--but what about the Spirit of the Church? Some miracles happened even under Communism. Even if the theological journals could not be printed without having Ceaucescu's picture on the first page, the contents of these magazines were of a high theological level. This high spiritual level, however, was lost after the Revolution when the Church became free. Let us not forget that during the Communist regime, The Philokalia was printed, three volumes of Moral Orthodox Theology, by Fr. Staniloae, and his four volumes of dogmatic theology, etc.

Fr. Roman: Yes, but no simple catechisms, prayer books for the people or manuals of religious instruction, lives of saints--nothing for the simple people. All written works had to pass the Communist censors; in fact there was an official building where the censoring was done. High theology was allowed to be published but not simple spirituality or instruction that the common person could understand. The Communists wanted to catechize the simple people in the Marxist materialistic philosophy. There was no small village without a Communist library. There was a special publishing house of the Education Department called Science for All, which published very simple and clear demonstrations that there is nothing besides matter and material laws and that man came from the apes; Darwinism was in vogue. Highly intellectual people hardly fell under the influence of these childish demonstrations; they were more inclined toward spirituality. But simple working people and country people were easily given the impression that they could learn everything by reading these brochures. The force of Communism was half-knowledge. This is very dangerous, because people think they know everything when they really do not know anything, and they will not listen to reason. These people became the body of atheists in Romania. Among them there was, however, a group of common sense churchgoers and farmers who were not influenced by anything that was against the Church. But these 'half-learned' people would argue with the priests against anything spiritual because they had read something at the popular Communist libraries. These libraries were furnished with books against religion, and the priests were not allowed to refute the ideas in them. The Church was not allowed to defend herself; She could deal only with high theology and history.

Interviewer: What I want to learn from you is this: Is the Romanian Church today at the high point of her calling, that calling which if she does not fulfill, she will lose for all time?

Fr. Roman: I think that the Church, at least in Romania and Russia, was strengthened during the communist persecution. I dare to say that suffering matures not only the individual but the Church also. N. Berdeiev, in one of his books, affirms that the Church was strong during the 300 years of persecutions. Later, when Constantine gave freedom to the Christians, the spiritual life of the Church became diluted; the Church was more of an institution than a spiritual reality. The same thing I happened during communism: the Church was obligated to limit all her activities only to the inside of the four walls of the temple. I do not know the situation in other countries, but the Romanian Church today launched a campaign of physical and spiritual reconstruction. Priests are reaching into the schools, into the hospitals, the army. I am optimistic; I think the Romanian Church will have its contribution in re-bringing Orthodoxy into the soul of the Romanian nation.

Interviewer: How do you see the situation in the history of the Church when there were patriarchs and bishops who were iconoclasts and heretics, and even men who gave in to their lustful desires?

Fr. Roman: To tell you the truth, I'm not comfortable with the idea that if the hierarchy is sinful the Church no longer exists, with the idea of so-called spiritual elitism, that all the bishops, without exception, should lead an exemplary life above all suspicion. Do not misunderstand, bishops should lead an exemplary life above suspicion, but if they do not this does not negate the existence of the Church.... I do not dare to say that if there is a bishop with personal sins the Spirit of God is no longer with him, because the Holy Spirit always works for the salvation of all people, regardless of the worthiness of those who officiate at the holy Sacraments. The Holy Spirit uses today one hierarch and tomorrow another, but the Church is the same. Many priests are not worthy, but the Holy Spirit does not come and go in relation to our worthiness or unworthiness. The Holy Spirit is the life of the Church, even if some of the members of the Church are sick or wounded by sin.

Interviewer: So you say that who the bishop is is of no importance.

Fr. Roman: Absolutely not--as long as that bishop believes in God and keeps the Tradition of the Apostles and Holy Fathers unchanged. I said what I said because you mentioned heretical bishops, monophysites and iconoclasts. Those bishops were not the hierarchy of the whole Church. There were still other bishops who convoked the Ecumenical Councils and condemned them--they were the true Church. If the bishops made certain personal compromises, as happened in the Communist era, or were affected by personal sins we cannot say that because of this they do not have within themselves the Spirit of God or that the liturgical acts performed by them are not valid, because then we would be acting as the Protestants....

Interviewer: As far as you are concerned, during the Communist regime there was never really a split between the hierarchy and the faithful?

Fr. Roman: Never. The Orthodox faithful during this time were so wise that they never left the Church. The churches during the Communist regime were never empty. Whether the hierarchs were compromised or not, I do not know, but the churches were crowded with people, more than during our so-called freedom when we enjoyed liberty and democracy and our bishops were not compromised in any way. I told you that when we were in prison we used to pray for the hierarchy, hoping that they would do something to keep the churches open. I do not know the difference between the hierarchs under the Communist regime and St. Genadius the Scholar, who, when Constantinople was conquered by Mohammed II, signed the great compromise not to ring the bells, not to have processions on the streets with holy relics, not to have services outside the church building--and he is a saint in the calendar. Our hierarchy, though, who managed to keep all the churches open during the Communist occupations are blamed and condemned. What is the difference between one situation and another? I strongly believe that if the Sacramental life of the Church was guaranteed by the hierarchy during the Communist regime it was the Spirit of God which worked through them. What is more important than to save this Sacramental life, which is in fact the salvation of the people?

And I want to tell you something else. A certain Romanian Lutheran pastor invented the theory of the underground Church in Romania, as if certain catacombs existed in which faithful gathered, with the Communists chasing them to kill them. We never had such things in Romania. The underground Church was in each individual. Each bishop had one thing in his heart, while he was obligated to do something else; he felt one thing, while he was forced to speak something else. Each one possessed a dual personality. And this thing was painful; it was a real torture. I heard it in the confessions of many hierarchs from the Communist period who are now retired. We were in prison and we did not have the responsibility of defending and maintaining the life of the Orthodox Church in Romania, and now as refugees I think it is immoral to criticize them here from a safe distance. We who are in America enjoy freedom; we should not criticize people who suffered such psychological torture with the purpose of saving the institution of the Church.

Surely it is not they that saved the Church, because the Church is in God's hands and not in theirs, but I believe that God will not turn His face from them because of their compromises. Their intention was to save the Sacramental life of Orthodoxy. And let us be sincere: what did they re sacrifice? It was their good name, the formal education of the young people, ceremonies and processions outside of the church..., and these things are not essential to the Church. When St. Genadius the Scholar, whom we mentioned earlier, sent a letter to the monks who were revolting against him because of the concessions made to the Turks, he told them, "It is time to sacrifice the forms in order to keep the essence." The same things happened in Russia as in Romania. The hierarchy kept the essence, sacrificing what is not essential; this means many of the ceremonial aspects of the liturgical life were given up.

And now, a few words on "spirituality", which you have repeatedly asked about. I live Orthodox spirituality through the liturgical cycles. I strongly believe that the Holy Spirit is in the Church. When I told you about the monks of Cemica and Condritsa, I was speaking about some great unknown men. There were among them great spiritual monastics whom no one knew about. I do not think "elders" are some "gurus" to whom people go to see them performing miracles or hanging on pillars or living as animals in the clefts of rocks. I think that true spiritual elders live in the discipline of the Church, in obedience and humility. The Spirit of God is in monasteries and in churches, together with the monks and priests incorporated in the monastic and liturgical life, not in isolated individuals. Monks are tempered like steel in humility and obedience. I know that there are people looking at them like wonder workers, anxious to see something miraculous, and they classify them as good or bad by how they "perform". There was a woman in Iasi who once came to Father Bartolomeu Dothan and asked me if he was a saint. I told her, "I do not know, madam." She replied, "The world says so." And I said, "It might be." And she said, "If he is a saint, why does he not perform some miracles?" She came to such a humble man to see miracles! I am not comfortable with this idea about the spiritual man. Spiritual men are not some spiritual elite, detached from the regular life of the Church. When we mention them, we say "St. Seraphim of Sarov". Sarov was a monastery. We speak of a man incorporated in a discipline. The same thing with our Romanian saints like "St. Chiriac of Taslau". Taslau is a monastery with a fixed discipline. "Iosif of Bisericani", another monastery, "Onofrei of Sihastria", "Paisie of Neamts", "Daniel the Hermit of Voronets", "Ghelasie of Rametsi"... all these are remembered by their monasteries which had a fixed discipline and rules; these men were incorporated into this discipline. The Spirit is there where the monastery is, where the Church is. Their spiritual exploits are obedience and community discipline.

We speak today so much of Father Cleopa of Sihastria. I have a videotape of him speaking to some students from Bucharest University. Do you know what he told them? "Why did you come to me, because I am like a rotten log, a piece of broken pottery. May Paradise consume you! I want to see you in Heaven exactly as you are here, but now because you are here, let us speak of something very important." And he started, "In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." And he continued with the beginning prayers, Heavenly King..., Holy God..., Our Father.... See why they I traveled such a long distance to see him? He did not tell them more than there is in a prayer book, in the Book of Hours. "People went to him because in his youth he had been a shepherd watching the monastery's sheep. They would not have gone to him if he had a doctorate in theology, but he was a simple monk, like those I saw in my youth at Condritsa and Cernica. He did not tell them what they should do. Each young person had in his pocket a prayer book, and he did not do anything other than direct their attention to that prayer book. Father Cleopa does not even confess people; he sends them to their parish priest. So I think that we should not transform this extraordinary, humble elite into something detached from the Church, into something sensational or spectacular. I think that the wisdom of God does not come to them directly from Heaven, but through the Sacramental channels of the Church.

Interviewer: Nevertheless, Father, we cannot deny that these personalities, not to say saints, radiate in a special way there in the community of monks. I do not deny that any monk is a light in himself, but not all shine with the Grace of the Holy Spirit in the same measure. You know that even the stars in the sky do not sparkle in the same way, for as St. Paul says, ...one star differs from another star in glory (I Cor. 15:41). Some you can see clearly, but others you cannot see at all. Even if their brilliance is not a result of their ascetic endeavors; these men nevertheless constitute the body of the Church members with a special purpose: God wants these members to use their merits to benefit the whole Church. It is true that the Patericon is not a book of the spiritual elite; but nevertheless, it is considered a book of models of the spiritual life.

Fr. Roman: The humbler they are, the more they radiate. This is how I saw them and understood them. I was witnessed by the barefoot monk who was the administrator of Cernica Monastery. You see them as spiritual only if you are looking for spiritual things. However, if you approach them out of simple curiosity or go to them with intellectual problems or psychological theories, you question them in vain because they say, "Let us pray," not "Let us discuss." For them prayer resolves everything; as Father Cleopa says, "Go to the priest in your parish, confess your sins, take Communion, do not commit adultery, be honest, go to church on Sundays,... and you save yourself" There is no philosophy here.

Interviewer: It is true, Father. I have heard all these things many times; I have read them in many books. Even so, they roll off us like water off a duck's back. When we read about them in books they do not touch the depth of our souls as they do when we hear them from a special spiritual man because there is an unspeakable power of the Spirit that works only through certain fathers who shake us into wakefulness and enlighten our faith.

Fr. Roman: It is the power of the Church. It is the power of the Holy Spirit of God, Who works in the Church through these men who live in and remain always in the Church. We do not speak here only of monks but also of married priests. For example, you know Father Gheorghe Rosca. He was the spiritual father of many members of the Burning Bush Movement. He was a simple priest but all the intellectuals in Bucharest came to him, and these intellectuals were theosophists, involved in all kinds of false mysticism. There were many other married priests who were great spiritual fathers. Spirituality is not connected only to monasteries, to the harsh ascesis of the monks; it also exists in the lay priesthood, and I dare to humble myself and say more; any village priest, regardless of his sins or material interests, exercises a spiritual function.

Interviewer: Then how can you explain the spiritual crisis which has come about in some of the nations of the world, diminishing the Grace of God in the people? I could be wrong; maybe the Grace is still there, but the spiritual feeling in people seems to have changed, and they do not seem to see the saving power of God working in the world. But, once again, the same God says that He will take away His Spirit from them if they continue in their sinful ways.

Fr. Roman: The crises are within us, I think, and they often come about because of some ill-fated cultural influences. You said earlier that the same persecution of the Church existed in the last century, before the era of Communism, only in a little more civilized fashion. There is, nevertheless, a difference between that cultural persecution by the intelligentsia who wanted to change the religious mentality of the people and the Communist persecution. They wanted to introduce secularism and modern institutions, copying the Western countries where secularism was more prevalent. In the 19th century, the government wanted to bring Russia and Romania up to the level of Western countries. Our countries were still living in the Middle Ages, so to speak. Our constitution was still based on the holy canons of the Church and on Christian traditions. They regarded Orthodoxy to be old fashioned compared with Catholicism. However, Communism attempted to destroy the source of faith within us. For example, Lunaciarski wrote Lenin: "If you want to control a man, kill his intimacy." I consider intimacy to mean the temple of God within him.

Interviewer: Father, it seems to me that the intellectual class of the 19th century, who distorted the Orthodox Romanian tradition and broke with the spirituality of our people, are presented in textbooks as being representative of the Romanian nation. Even priests, monks and church people consider them as such. I do not understand, Father; is it possible to present the history of a nation completely detached from its spirituality?

Fr. Roman: It is true that our 19th century intelligentsia thought that the social progress of our nation was hindered by traditional Orthodox mentality. At that time there truly existed a break between the Church hierarchy and the intellectual class, but there was not a break between the hierarchy and the Romanian people as a whole. This kind of break has never existed in our history. The intelligentsia does not represent any country in its entirety. I do not think that there was a total break between Orthodox people and the hierarchy during the Communist regime either. Our people are wiser than we think. They have always understood the limits of the Church leaders, what they can and cannot do, so they have never lost their faith in the Church. Faithful people do not judge their hierarchy: who is worthy or who is unworthy; they are ashamed to do that. They can see the good in the saying, "Do as I say and not as I do." No matter how simple we consider the Orthodox country people to be, they know what the Church and spirituality are, and they are never scandalized by the sins of certain priests or hierarchs. They know that not all the hierarchy was corrupt; there were enough good bishops and good patriarchs. There were, of course, some necessary compromises made and, sure, as everywhere there were bad priests, but the Church had at the same time holy people, martyred priests and spiritual monks. People have in their hearts a discernment, by the Grace of God, which comes from above. In my opinion, the Orthodox Church and spirituality resides in people. This is why the urbanization imposed by Communist leader Ceaucescu was a crime against the Romanian culture and the spirituality which resides in the simple country people. And, finally, Orthodox spirituality is in each individual who keeps within himself the eschatological feeling, the feeling of eternity and the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our simple countrymen in their simplicity always think of death, while the intellectual class has lost this eschatological feeling. This waiting and watchful spirit makes a monk out of each individual; there is something monastic in each one of us.

Interviewer: What do you think, then, is the role of the Romanian Orthodox Church in the world?

Fr. Roman: I want to discourage the chauvinism of some of the intellectuals in the Romanian Orthodox Church today who say that the salvation of the world will come from Romania. The role of the Romanian Church is no other than the role of the Russian, Greek or Bulgarian Churches. Orthodoxy in any country has the same purpose--to unite everyone in God and to maintain Jesus in our hearts through the Holy Sacraments of the Church. What other role could the Romanian Church have than the spiritualization of Romanian culture on the national level? As Orthodoxy in Russia under the influence of Optina Monastery transfigured Russian culture, I believe that we, too, especially now after the Liberation, must continue to bring about the transfiguration of Romanian culture with the help of our Orthodox intellectual class. The Church does not play a political role, not even an intellectual one; we must open the minds of our people to the resurrection and the transfiguration of the world.

I have always feared the temptation of the anti-Christ hidden in an uncontrolled nationalism. I do not see the evil to be in the clergy, whether they be good, very good or weak, but I see the work of the anti-Christ in something that will surprise you. We are not better than other nations in the world; we are not privileged and favored by God in a special way, as certain contemporary movements in Romania claim. Our role is the same as that of other nations. When we exalt ourselves, we become proud, killing any trace of spirituality we might have had; in this way, we truly fall into the hands of the anti-Christ. Orthodoxy in Romania does not consist of only the hierarchy; we are all the Church. If the whole Romanian nation, clergy and laity alike, do not fall on our knees, confessing our sins and recognizing our unworthiness, we are not good Orthodox Christians. How can the salvation of the world come from Romania when our women have one-and-a- half million abortions a year, as many as in the entire United States? Dare we say that we are pleasing to God and the salvation of the world will come from us? This idea is a diabolic trap.

Interviewer: Father, what you say is true, but the people are not guilty. How many hierarchs descend amidst the people to give them spiritual counsel, I mean to walk on the street with them as our hermits of old used to do? How many continue the tradition begun by our pre-Christian hermits who lived in the mountains but came to the communities and exercised great authority over the Dacian leaders and their people? Today, some Romanians complain that they have never even seen the face of their bishop. Why do not they come down to say, "Brothers, we are sinners. Let's confess to each other, starting with the Patriarch of the country?" They are as inaccessible as Pharaohs in their palaces. Christ did not talk from the top of the mountain hidden in a cloud or from the Holy of Holies from behind closed curtains. Here is the true power of the shepherd; the sheep follow him because they know his voice, and he gives his life for his sheep.

Fr. Roman: Dear brother, I think that along with secularization there has developed an isolation of the hierarchy from the people, and secularization came with the monarchy. Remember from the Old Testament that people came to Samuel asking him for a king, and Samuel, who was the judge and leader in Israel, said to God, "Lord, they do not want me anymore." The Lord answered, Listen to the voice of the people, because they do not hate you; they hate Me. They do not want Me to rule over them anymore. (I Kings 8:7). Our medieval rulers reigned by the will of God; they built our monasteries and churches. At that time bishops, metropolitans and princes were present in church every Sunday, confessing their sins and taking Communion together. But in the case of Romania, because our kings were only nominal Christians and placed themselves above the people, the hierarchy too have shut themselves up in an ivory tower and have become an elite, I mean a caste.

From Exploring the Inner Universe, by Fr. Roman Braga, pp. 60-75.

Between God and Satan (1976)

As the devil puts on a robe of light to deceive if possible even God's chosen ones, in the same way he wraps lies in the vestment of truth, giving the illusion to those who utter lies that they proclaim universal principles.

We cannot give any other interpretation to contemporary Romanian theology, in which all the intellectuals of the Church are mobilized and asked to write in defense of the atheistic regime. The theological and religious press in Bucharest, which before World War II dealt with the education of children and young adults and also published religious books for country people as well as intellectuals, is transformed today into an apologist of Communist reforms who attempt to justify with evangelical texts or speculation from the works of the Holy Fathers. Reading the book, The Servant Church, by Antonie Plamadeala, assistant bishop to the Patriarch with a doctorate from Heythrop College in Oxford, England, you immediately realize how in Rornania a "Marxist theology" was initiated. The author is a prominent personality in the Church life of Romania. No wonder, then, that he was forced to introduce Communist ideas into theological teaching. The book is a perfect theological demonstration of the Communist form of socialism. His Grace Antonie not only sees in St. John Chrysostom a precursor of Marxism, but even finds in the sermons of this Holy Father the "theory of plus value" treated by Karl Marx in Das Kapital.* The author treats in depth the social aspect of the works of the Holy Fathers: poverty, charity, the duty of the rich to help the poor, etc., but he forgets to mention in his book that St. Chrysostom did not become a yes-man of the Byzantine emperors, even though they were Christian, but he criticized them, being revolted by their social iniquities. He attacked Eutropius and the empress Eudoxia, urging the people not to participate in imperial festivities during the Holy Liturgy but rather to enter the church and pray.

What if His Grace Antonie would deliver a homily from the ambo of the Patriarchal church in Bucharest against the anti-Christian measures that the Romanian Communist government took which prohibited high school and college students and professors and soldiers from entering the church? St. John Chrysostom would not defend the authorities; on the contrary, he invited them to enter the church and pray. What if His Grace would protest against the atheistic speeches of Nicolae Ceaucescu, defending the repression of individual liberties in Romania? We cannot understand how His Grace, who spent years in the Communist prisons together with thousands of believers, priests and monks, could promote Communist principles. Does he think that if the Holy Cappadocian Fathers lived in Romania today they would not refute the Communist Party because of the over one hundred atheistic books they published in which the Mother of God is represented as a prostitute and the Holy Trinity in the form of male sexual organs? Would they praise the Communist leaders for such filthy works out of fear of offending them? Would they urge the people with Biblical texts to obey the governing authorities (Romans 13:1)? Does he think that St. Paul really obeyed the authorities when they prohibited him from preaching the word of God in public? Did St. Paul not die as a martyr because he did not obey the authorities? Would he have the courage to preach against atheism and materialism in the public squares or in the national Congress as St. Paul did in Athens in the Areopagus? Because we live in a country under a Communist regime why does His Grace not employ his literary talent and theological training in some apologies against those who count religion as the opium of the people as the apologists Athenegoras, Tertullian or St. Justin the Martyr did?

We know that this is not possible, and we understand. Fully enjoying the advantages of freedom in the western countries, I cannot recommend to others who live in terror and temptations to become martyrs. However, if you are afraid and forced to collaborate with Satan, at least do not worship him and do not represent him as an angel of light. It is a contradictory situation: the Church in Romania today uses her best theologians and her missions abroad, as well as delegates sent to ecumenical meetings, to defend the acts of an atheistic regime. We accept the broad views of Romanian theologians who walk the middle line, but when in the World Council of Churches someone raises the issue of persecutions in Romania, the Romanian theologians jump in the air: "If there were not freedom in Romania, we would not be here!" They feel offended and sometimes even leave the meeting. We know that the government pays the Romanian Patriarchate for the travel expenses of these delegates abroad. They are not paid to defend Orthodoxy, which the Communists in Bucharest would like to eliminate as quickly as possible, but paid to give the impression that in external relations, the Romanian Church is totally free.**

It is well known that the innumerable external contacts of the Romanian Church would not be possible without the approval of the Communist government, and they are organized only through the Department of External Affairs. The government uses the Church to make favorable propaganda abroad. As for religious freedom inside the country, Romanian laws recommend this: "Any contact or communication of the Church and Church orders and dispositions should be approved by the governmental agencies of control which are branches of the Department of Religious Affairs. This means that any letter published by the Church must pass through Communist censorship.

Thus, Romanian hierarchs do not have even the freedom to be silent. They must praise the government aloud. They must cense Satan and adore him as "the desolation of abomination." (Dan. 12:11)

--Cuvantul Romanesc, May 1976

* The cost of manufacturing an item is much less than the sale price. The difference between these prices accumulates in a capital, thus becoming the basis of Capitalism.

** Some of these delegates abroad, however, who wanted to tell the truth, preferred to remain in the free world and declared themselves political refugees [Author].

From On the Way of Faith, by Fr. Roman Braga, pp. 184-187.

Strike The Shepherds... (1992)

Following the events of December 1989--revolution, coup, or whatever it was--the Romanian Orthodox Church has launched a daring and grandiose program of material and spiritual reconstruction. The historical episcopates and monasteries closed by the Communists have been reopened, several new theological institutes have been opened, ASTRA Society, Oastea Domnului ["The Lord's Army"], the Orthodox Women's Guild and Orthodox children and youth organizations have been revived. A new medical center, Christiana, is being built in Bucharest.

Evidently, all of this incites the jealousy of the Uniates and of the various sectarian groups in Romania, who take every available opportunity--in the press and in public-- to attack the Orthodoxy of our nation and also our hierarchs. The sectarians know well the saying from the Bible, "Strike the Shepherd and the sheep shall be scattered..." (Zech. 13:7); but Zechariah the Prophet did not say this out of maliciousness, jealousy or political envy; he did not say it to destroy the Church but to strengthen it. But what is painful is the fact that even some of the Orthodox clergy have placed themselves in the ranks of the enemies of Orthodoxy. They do not understand that without a certain compromise made by the hierarchy of the Church, even their own ordination and assignment to a parish would not have been possible at that time. Why did they not protest then, and why did they accept to be ordained by the same hierarchs they now consider to be unworthy? How is it possible that when the bishops placed their hands on their heads they possessed the Grace of the Holy Spirit, but now, after the revolution, they have lost it?

How can anyone imagine that if the Romanian Church had been free, it would not have done more, or at least as much, as it does today? But who was free? Were the political parties free? Where were the leaders of these political parties, these heroic voices, who are now shouting so loudly, and where was the opposition press? Why be unfair only to the bishops who nevertheless remained near their flock during the entire time of persecution. They did not abandon the faithful to flee to the West. The Patriarch and the bishops will be judged by God, not by politicians, because during the most critical moments in the life of the Romanian nation they saved the Church, ensuring the sacramental life of the faithful, which is the true essence of salvation for the people. In Romania, unlike in Russia, we do not have millions of people who are not baptized. Only last year, Russian newspapers mentioned the baptism of one and a half million adults. Romanians were baptized and married, were confessed and received communion even during the Communist dictatorship because the churches were open and priests and bishops were available. All this was possible because of the ability of the leadership of the Church to sacrifice the form in order to keep the content. Evidently, for the unfaithful politicians, the sacramental life of the Church means nothing; for them, only their political slogans are important.

For the majority of Orthodox faithful, however, the sacramental life of the Church has always been and still is essential. Let, then, the faithful people, not the politicians, judge their own hierarchs, who in the end will be judged by God.

When Khrushchev closed and razed eleven thousand churches in Russia--in addition to those destroyed earlier by Stalin--in Romania old churches were being painted and new churches were being built; the Church was printing the Philokalia and the Holy Fathers, ten theological publications, seminary lectures, calendars and prayer books for the people in its own printing shops; six seminaries and two theological institutes were in operation. The fact that the Church emerged from this struggle intact is a clear indication that this quiet activity of the Church hierarchy dealt Communism the biggest blow.

The negative attitude of some writers about the Church is the result of their atheistic education received in the course of forty-five cars of Communism. Communism left its mark. I read with sadness in România Libera that last year during Pascha a priest who was a deputy in the Romanian Parliament opened his speech with the Christian greeting, "Christ is Risen", and no one answered--and there were in the audience not only representatives of the FSN Party but also members of the Opposition. This means that something has been destroyed in the soul of the Romanian people. History has been falsified, culture has been altered. The Romanian people have forgotten that Stephen the Great was not Baptist and Michael the Brave was not Greek Catholic; they have forgotten that Orthodoxy is the essence of the nation, that it played an essential role in the process of the formation of the Romanian people, of the language, of the Romanian soul; that from it we have the first printing shops, the first writings, the entire culture. In a country inundated with monasteries and Orthodox monuments, how can one be against Orthodoxy without committing spiritual and intellectual suicide, in other words without losing one's own identity?

When the attacks come from non-Orthodox it is easy to understand that they plead "pro causa sua" ["for one's own interest"], but we Orthodox need to use more logic. An Orthodox author of a Catholic article published in London says that the Orthodox Church is the cause of the backwardness of the Romanian people. As one who has lived in Brazil, I asked myself what the cause is of the backwardness of the Latin American countries which have been Catholic for five hundred years and have remained primitive and in a state of moral and material misery. Is Catholicism really the cause?

How can anybody suggest that we should be united with Rome simply because we have a common Latin origin? First of all, we are not only Latins. And then, forgive me for saying this, but why should a Polish Pope of Slavic origin protect the Latin purity of the Romanian people; or what Latin origin does Uniatism protect in Ukraine, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Abyssinia and Iran? Are all these also descendants of Trajan? When politicians meddle in the affairs of the Church, they become ludicrous. Imagine my speaking to specialists at a medical conference concerning subjects on which they are experts.

Even Cuvantul Romanesc, the largest newspaper of exiled Romanians, resorts to "blows below the belt," in the words of Father Cornel Todeasa. There is not one issue of the newspaper that does not treat Patriarch Teoctist with irony. Of course, we cannot expect Cuvantul Romanesc to be an Orthodox newspaper, or even a Christian one. But there are a few Orthodox priests who must understand that the Patriarch cannot be changed by a revolution. He is accountable only to the Holy Synod, not to any group of fanatics who comes to the door of the Patriarchate and shouts, "Teoctist the Communist!" This would create anarchy in the Church so that no longer would any bishop be certain of his seat. And with an inexplicable lack of ethical standards, Cuvantul Romanesc republished, without even asking my permission, one of my articles written sixteen years ago in which I criticized the doctoral dissertation of Metropolitan Antonie of Ardeal, trying to demonstrate that I am inconsistent. In his logics course, Nae lonescu said that only God's judgments are absolute, because He is the only One who knows everything. The intelligent person changes his ideas. Otherwise, human thinking would never progress. I am very happy that Cuvantul Romanesc has intelligent correspondents. Somebody published an article titled, Ouo Vadis Rex, an article against the Romanian monarchy; only a few months later in the presence of King Michael in New York I heard the same person proclaim "Long live the King!" Another one writes in both Micro Magazine and Cuvantul Romanesc, even though these two newspapers are of totally opposite orientations. Who can accuse them of being inconsistent? People change. When we judge the hierarchy of our Church, we must not forget the years of oppression; we were here and they were there. We were responsible only for ourselves, for our own individual selves which we had placed in safety, while in their hands was the fate of Romanian Orthodoxy. What would we have done in their place? We would have allowed ourselves to be arrested, and the people would have been left without churches and without a sacramental life--an act of cheap and destructive heroism.

I have followed for twenty years in The Orthodox Church the editorials of Father John Meyendorff against Russian Communism, but I have not seen a word against the Patriarch of Moscow; not one Jew criticizes Rabbi Moses Rosen for collaborating with Communism; not one Baptist in America speaks against Pastor Lucaci of Detroit, who invited Ambassador Bogdan to participate at all baptisms; and, of course, no Catholic accuses the Pope for replacing Cardinals Mindzenti and Slipici with people pleasing to the Communist governments of Hungary and the Soviet Union. This is what the interest of the Church demanded at that time. People know that by attacking the hierarchy, they are attacking the Church itself.

Why do we never think of praying instead of criticizing? I think in reality we are talking of a hidden atheism and of a hatred against God, not against the hierarchy itself. "Let us stand aright, let us stand in fear, let us be attentive. The enemies know that the Romanian soul is nourished by Orthodoxy. This is why they are attacking the Church hierarchy with such great vehemence. "Strike the shepherd and the sheep shall be scattered."

--Solia, March 1992

From On the Way of Faith, by Fr. Roman Braga, pp. 199-204. All excerpts reprinted with the kind permission of Mother Gabriella, Abbess of the Dormition of the Mother of God Orthodox Monastery, which publishes Fr. Roman's books.

Father Roman Braga is a Romanian Orthodox monk whose life always revolved around a monastic community.

Born in 1922 in Basarabia, as the seventh child of Cosma and Maria, he enters, at the age of twelve, the Cŕldáruani Monastery near Bucharest. A year later, he is sent to the Seminary of Cernica, another monastery near the capital of Romania. In 1940-1942 he is enrolled at the Central Monastic Seminary in Bucharest and in the year that follows he is studying at the Theological Seminary in Chiinŕu. Between 1943 and 1947, Roman Braga is enrolled at the Theological Institute, the School of Letters and Philosophy, as well as at the Pedagogic Seminary "Titu Maiorescu", all in Bucharest.

He graduated from the Theological Institute in 1947, Magna cum Laude, and the following year received the teaching certificate for theology and Romanian language and literature. In the same year he enrolled in the Ph.D. program at the Theological Institute in Bucharest.

Arrested in 1948, he spent five years in prison. After his release from prison in 1954 he was tonsured as a monk and ordained deacon by the Metropolitan of Iai, Sebastian Rusanu. The following five years were spent at the Iai Metropolia where he serves the Divine Liturgy with other deacons and monks, sang in the choir, conducted theological sessions with students discussing the Philokalia and practices the Prayer of the Heart. All this time he was under surveillance by the Communist government. In 1959 he was arrested again and spends a full year under interrogation. The authorities were not sure what accusations to bring against him. He is finally accused of having been part of the Burning Bush movement, along with fifteen other intellectuals of the time. After a mock trial he was sentenced to 18 years of forced labor for having "discussed inimical writings of Basil the Great in order to overthrow the government".

The next five years were spent in the labor camps along the Danube Delta, building dams and cutting reeds. Here, in a dormitory with 120 other people, he meets and lives together with other priests such as Fr. Sofian Boghiu, Fr. Grigore Bŕbu, Fr. Felix Dubneac, Fr. Benedict Ghiu, and others.

The year 1964 marked the general amnesty given by the Communist regime to all political prisoners. He is released and returns to Iai to find that Metropolitan Sebastian was dead and replaced by Metropolitan Lustin. Not finding employment in Iai he is hired by Bishop Valerian Zaharia to work in the archives of the Episcopate of Oradea. This same year Bishop Valerian ordains him a priest.

On January 1, 1965 he was installed priest of the Parish of Negreti, a village in the northern part of the country, where he will function for the next three years. Here he organizes the Sunday School and a 100 children choir. Because of the work he does in this parish, the government transfers him secretly to another village, near Oradea, where he will function as parish priest until 1968 when he is sent by the Patriarchate to Brazil as missionary priest for the Romanian community in Săo Paulo.

The four years in Brazil were difficult. In 1972, Bishop Valerian Trifa of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate in America asked him to come to the United States. He lived at the Vatra where he was involved in translating religious texts and music from Romanian to English, participated in organizing the summer camps for students and adults, and was very active in the religious education of the children. In 1979 he was sent to be parish priest at the Holy Trinity Church in Youngstown, Ohio and in 1982, became parish priest of the St. George Cathedral in Detroit. From here, in 1984, he moved to Pennsylvania and becomes priest and spiritual father for the community of the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City.

Today he is the priest and spiritual father of the community of nuns of the Dormition of the Mother of God Orthodox Monastery in Rives Junction, Michigan. Here he is active not only in the busy schedule of services, but in the rich spiritual and intellectual life of the monastery. -- The Editors, July, 1996

Read the entire article on the Orthodox Info website (new window will open). Reprinted with permission.

Posted: 16-Nov-06

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