Father Justin Parvu: The Aiud Prison– Holiness and Sacrifice

Father, what are your thoughts about Aiud ?

Aiud… it was the prison of the spirituality of our youth; this is where the life and the sacrifice of those noble souls is depicted, and, at the same time, the cruelty of the Judaic law: sowing off a person’s head, nailing him… something unimaginable within Christianity. I was very glad to see the large number of people who came to Aiud to give praise to the new martyrs. The voice of these martyrs called each person to identify with the spirituality of that generation’s youth.

The movement of the young people of those times, most of them legionaries, had shocked the entire world with their courage and their self-sacrifice, but most of all with the strength of their unity. Their unity was so fruitful that in a short time they would have won the hearts of the entire nation, and the communists realized that this would have greatly endangered their authority. You can imagine the strength of this youth if in a time, in the ‘40s, when the communists had taken control of the country and even the West was against any right-wing movements, if even in such days their unity was not broken. Everyone was amazed at this, even the Security officials were amazed by the strength of our youth organizations.

The largest number of arrests took place during 1984. This was partly due to the fact that a group of over 9000 young people had arranged to have a reunion in the Mountains of Tarcău. When the communists saw the number of people involved, the arrests started. They had found themselves so weak and helpless that Moscow started questioning them. So on the 14th of May those massive arrests began, so many that in 48 hours all the prisons had been filled…

One year before this, in 1947, at the yearly opening ceremony, Gheorghiu Dej had given a speech at the University of Iasi. As soon as he began, he was interrupted by students, who began rolling pencils under their shoes; he closed his briefcase and left. ‘You will pay dearly for this’ – were his words. Those days, all photos of Gheorghiu Dej or Ana Pauker were found lying on the floor in the mornings… This state of affairs lasted for about one month and a half, almost two. And when they saw they were in danger, they started taking them in… and this is how the elite of our youth ended up in prisons.

How did you perceive your imprisonment at Aiud?

My first two years in Aiud were the most tranquil period of my life. It was the only place where I had time to devote myself to intensive prayer, apart from this, all the rest of my life was a continuous harassment. But I have always submitted myself to the will of God and I never wanted to hide from hardships. All I have received in my life, I took as if from God’s own hands. In Aiud I was isolated in a cell for about six months. And it was the most beautiful time of my life. I entertained myself with the writings on the walls. There was a lot written there, from all areas. Everything you could wish for: English vocabulary, French vocabulary, German, Italian, theology, agriculture, and from any other area you could find useful adnotations there. It was there that I truly discovered the mystery of the spiritual life. I also learned how to eat. In that little room I had moments of peace and serenity, of fasting, and I never lacked prayer.

I had a program consisting of the prayers ‘Lord, Jesus…’, ‘Most Holy Mother of God’ and the Paraclisis of the Mother of God. That is where I learned to pray, and I have never lived the beauty of that prayer again, after I was released. Those to whom God granted to perish there as martyrs, they had truly reached a superior state of prayer, and Christ hurriedly took them to Himself.

There is so much evidence of the holiness of their lives, why doesn’t the Church proceed to canonize these saints?

‘A saint or a martyr is a hero of the nations. His political orientation is of no interest to us. He is not the confined human being – limited to Romania, or Spain, or France – he is the man who overcame these boundaries. It is interesting that we have saints from the 14th century, the 16th century, the 17th century; but why should we not consider the recent testimonies as well? Of course, it is of great importance to canonize Varlaam, the Metropolitan, but why should the other ones remain unnoticed?

Perhaps the poverty and the desolation in which we live today, which is the reason other nations treat us with such contempt, stems from the fact that we are passing over the bodies of our martyrs with such indifference. When we wish to canonize a saint, we should be interested to see if God’s grace had been working in his soul or not. But no! We are firstly interested to see what his political colour was, if we approve of it or not. For example, Father Ilie Lăcătuşu – what can we say about him? Is he a saint or not? If he is a legionary, he is no longer a saint! So then, where is the truth?

These young people who died for a Christian and a national truth, were truly a move for the regeneration of our Orthodox Christianity. But today we have the same mafia as we had before – it is here now, and will be in the future. Ask the political parties to show up and say how many from their youth would be ready to sacrifice themselves? Nobody wants to risk anything, everybody is protecting himself. This is why the people do not love them either.

The Metropolitan Varlaam was not at all an outsider to political life, he was involved in the life of the Romanian society. The Church was always present in the political life; there was never any conference of any government where a representative of the Church would not be present. And the last word, as you know, always belonged to the Church – ‘Do we approve the death penalty law, or not?’… They were very careful to see what the Church had to say.

But when it came to decide the execution of Codreanu and this entire elite of Orthodox Christians, everybody agreed – he must be executed, because he is agitating the people. The biggest mistake which was done within our orthodoxy was that politics arrested the entire attitude of the Church, meaning that the Church was ‘perfectly’ integrated to the political life, as circumstance commanded.’

And what greater proofs for canonization are required than what can be seen at someone like Virgil Maxim, or Ioan Ianolide, or Valeriu Gafencu, or Father Calciu.. But they cannot promote these saints, because they refuse to put their necks on the line.’

‘Why are young people today lacking the strength and courage of the previous generations?’

‘Young people in those days were coming out of generations and generations of men with a strong Christian and national feeling, who had been raised in a spirit of self-sacrifice; this was an inheritance which was promoted both through education and through society. But in the mean time, all these beautiful ideas were washed away, school was deformed, family was deformed, they seized the hierarchy of the Church, and there is no one left to sow the healthy seeds. No other country had such a youth, with so much unity and clarity and vision, during the communist period, as we had… And even today they are afraid of them, they are afraid even of their shadow (…)

And the generations which were born in this storm are, in my opinion, much stronger, few though they are, but they are alive, I tell you, something is boiling there in their souls. Something is boiling within our Christianity now. And it is like a cauldron where one boils all kinds of metals, noble ones and less noble ones, and in the end this will give birth to something new. It will give birth to a Christianity that has been shaped through suffering, like in the times of the Holy Apostles. This possibility of our resistance is something which is worrying them to this very day. They are trying to kill Christ and uproot him from our souls, but they will never succeed because we still have the strength to prove them wrong.

Let us not forget that not even the gates of hell will prevail over the Church. But it is the duty of each one of us to give witness to the Truth according to his or her own strength. This is not a great philosophy, the truth is simple. Not only the Saints gave witness to the Truth. The Truth was confessed by all Christian believers who received Christ’s Baptism. The one who considers himself Orthodox, is also a confessor, this is the obligation of all the Christians: ‘I confess one Baptism, I confess the Resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come…’ Isn’t that what we say in our Creed?

Confessing the Truth is a Christian responsibility, especially when times are hard. Otherwise, we can say all the prayers and —– , if we do not confess the Truth at the right time, this accounts as a betrayal on our behalf. I believe that it is precisely through this confession that we can wash away our sins. And not only saints can confess, on the contrary, both sinners and righteous alike. Why, there were even torturers who converted.

I do not know where this whole philosophy about confession came from, in this century. Of course, if you have prepared yourself with more austerity, your confession will be more fruitful. Why, all those young people who sacrificed themselves during the Carlegian period, at Miercurea Ciuc, at Ramnicu Sarat, at Jilava, they knew how to prepare themselves, and how to cultivate their spirit of self-sacrifice, through their impeccable moral conduct, and fired by the most noble ideal of a nation – rising their nation to the level of the Church, sanctifying it, rising it up on the path of our Saviour’s Ascension, up to eternity.’

‘Father, since when do we have this struggle of the nations? We do not encounter this problem in the writings of the Fathers…’

‘But who said anything about fighting in nations? All nations should live in the most beautiful harmony, growing from the root which God has given them. We are only trying to clarify our values, we are not seeking nationalistic pride… We all have the same purpose – our salvation – but we are seeking it in different ways, that is in ways which are appropriate to the specific of each nation.

* * *

We are carrying this cross of Gherla, of Aiud, of Sighet, so that we can repent for the sins of our nation, from the beginning of the political life in the 19th century until this present day. If other evils will come upon us, and they will surely come, it will be for our ingratitude, as Romanians and orthodox, because we are treading over the sacrifices of our martyrs. Wherever we look there are drops of blood.

If our orthodox Church will not approach the martyrdom of these youths with the utmost love and reverence, we will share in the most degrading and desperate fate of those nations which have disappeared from history. This is why today we must draw near to those whom God has chosen through their self-sacrifice, and has granted them to die as martyrs in the most unbearable torments. Their political orientation should not be a stumbling block for us; politics is a thing of this world, but it is the Church’s duty to bring the divine out of the worldly context and to recognize its real value. We do not ask what was St. George, or what was St. Demetrius, or St. John Jacob, we do not ask if they followed the old or the new calendar, if they belonged to the legion, of not – they are martyrs because they have sacrificed their lives for God and for their nation. We must put off this mentality that they belonged to one party or another. Our duty is to look up to their icons, for the future of our nation and of our Church, because they are like fruitful mirrors for our orthodox Christian life. In the blood of these martyrs lies the very essence of Christianity. May the merciful Lord help us to reach the light and to illumine this nation through the sanctification of at least some of them.

* * *

If I would open the graves from one of our monasteries, I think I would not have the chance to find the relics which can be found in Aiud or in Gherla or in Pitesti… There you only need to look a few centimeters under the surface to find holy, beautiful, yellow bones. It is the sign of holiness, because they were brought there in those unseen and unknown cemeteries, through suffering and through their self-sacrifice.

* * *

Not sanctifying these new martyrs means not respecting the dogmas and the teachings of the Church of Christ. I am or course not against other saints, but what I mean is that we have this period in our history which we can offer to God, the icons of these martyrs from the entire country, from all the prisons, who fulfill all the canonical conditions required for their sanctification. The Russian Orthodox Church, for example, has over one thousand recently sanctified martyrs, and is continuously sanctifying new ones from the communist prisons. This gesture should be an encouragement for us as well. Let us lay aside fear and any kind of personal interests so that we can answer to the cry and the pains of our nation. Let us lay aside our bourgeois attitude which has brought us to laziness and slothfulness; all personal interests, of any kind, should be thrown away, because they are the bag of Judas, who betrayed Christ, and this betrayal is still being wrought today through our lust for power.

Traducere de Carmen Istrate – din volumul Din temniţe spre Sinaxare

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One Response to Father Justin Parvu: The Aiud Prison– Holiness and Sacrifice

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