The Saint Of The Prisons by Monk Moise chronicles the lives of devout Orthodox Christians who were imprisoned during Romanian communism, including Valeriu Gafencu, who is commonly seen as a saint thanks to his extraordinary piety and ability to endure harsh sufferings. Many of the Christians who maintained their faith in Romanian prisons were either affiliated or sympathetic to Corneliu Zelea’s Iron Guard, which shows the fruits of his movement for helping to save the souls of men. This book is eye-opening in relating an experience that wasn’t far from our times, which we may have to face ourselves either in intensity or form. Below are my favorite excerpts.
The centuries are getting worse
The history of the Church is a history of oppression, of martyrdom for Christ. The oppression, initiated in the first century after Christ by the Roman Empire, continued afterwards by the barbarians and then by the Ottoman Empire. However, the twentieth century remains beyond doubt the most atrocious period in the history of Christianity, due to the bloodiest persecution that it had to endure: the communist oppression.
I expect the 21st century to be worse than the 20th. How could it not be? Do you see repentance on a global scale? Do you see Orthodox churches overflowing on Sunday? I see a handful of the remnant building their faith while the vast majority of souls continue to live as if heaven and hell don’t exist. The faith of the 21st century is lower than the 20th, and since all good comes from God alone, we are in for a tough ride. The first twenty years of this century has been relatively peaceful, and we should thank God for that, because it’s unlikely things will get better.
Building heaven on earth through communism
The devil laid the foundation of Communism, suggesting once again to man that he could build Heaven on earth through mankind’s joined power, excluding God (Adam’s eternal trap—the temptation of the proud man: to achieve divinization with the presence of God)… It is typical of the man who rejects Christ’s message, of he who refuses the Mystery of the Cross. This was truly the ultimate dream of Marx, Engels, and their disciples. As they stated, at the end of the total Revolution aimed at destroying the “Old World”, the communists dreamed to bring on earth the Kingdom of Heaven—the place where the new man (perfect and re-educated) could live eternal and complete happiness.
The communists promise heaven to attain power but then deliver hell, indicating its true origin and spiritual progenitor. Now with many elites being linked to seances, spiritual cooking, and other occult practices, we must assume that any top-down measure from them, whether pandemic responses or climate change mandates, is sourced from Satan himself.
Did God use Jews to punish Romanians for their sins?
…anti-Semitic sentiments have appeared not only in Romania, but in every country in which Jews have dwelt. Was their own behavior not a factor? Of course, speaking in a Christian manner, the excuse of provocation does not exempt one from guilt, but it does modify responsibility. At the same time, as far as we, Romanians, are concerned, we ought to consider whether this domination by another people was permitted by God because of our sins. In this sense, even the history of the Jewish people themselves in the Old Testament, led into slavery for having departed from the ways of God, is full of significance.
We get the Jews we deserve. The United States deserves the most wicked of carnal Jews because of how the predominately Christian population forsook the Gospel and embarked on a path of pleasure, comfort, and material wealth.
Prison is an opportunity to purify the soul
After January 1941, hundreds if not thousands of young men were arrested and convicted for [contrived reasons]. Driven by earnest aspirations, idealistic but a bit confused, open toward spirituality but without a solid spiritual foundation, they matured through suffering and were spiritually purified in prison.
Father Iustin Parvu: “From a spiritual point of view, prison was a blessing for us. There were so many spiritual people gathered together in one place whom we couldn’t possibly have found outside of prison… For those of us who were arrested in 1948 or later, these prisoners were our saviors. Disoriented by the long and difficult interrogations we had gone through, our contact with them clarified things for us. They made us aware of the Christian significance of our struggle, of the fact that we were engaged on the Christian front against the apocalyptic beast. We thought we were paying for our sins, but thanks to them we realized that Christ called us to the war front in the name of the Romanian people. Once we understood this, the fact that we were in prison became a joy for us.”
Turtureanu: “I endured prison with love. During my trial, I smiled when they sentenced me to 25 years. My soul accepted this condemnation with joy. ‘Look at that hoodlum,’ they said. ‘He got such a heavy sentence and he’s smiling.’ Knowing that I was legally innocent, I accepted even the most difficult trials with the sense that this was the will of God. I never despaired. I considered that I was suffering for my own sins and for the sins of my people, and that perhaps God had ordained prison for me as a path of salvation.”
Father Gheorghe Calciu: “It is impossible for someone who was not in prison to understand. We are now free and we are very happy that we are free, but we have a kind of nostalgia for prison. And we cannot explain it to anyone else. They say we are crazy. How can you miss prison? Because in prison I lived the most spiritual life. I attained to spiritual heights that I am not capable of reaching in freedom. Isolated, anchored in Jesus Christ, I had a joy and an enlightenment that the world cannot offer.”
Virgil Maxim: “Prison created special conditions for you. Your cell became a sanctuary of prayer, of nourishment, an opportunity for ascesis, solitude, renunciation of material goods and joys of life, an opportunity to live as paupers, in purity and chastity. The chronic uncertainty of our situation enabled us to put our trust in the will and providence of God.”
Letter from prisoner Valeriu Gefencu to his mother: “And, dear mama, I want you to know that I suffered much. During the first winter I would wake up at night and in the solitude of my cell, cold and hungry, I looked into the darkness and whispered quietly, so that only I could hear, but loud enough for God to hear, ‘Mama, I’m cold, I’m hungry!’
“In the beginning it was terribly hard. But God was always with me. He never abandoned me even for a moment. I began by facing the sufferings of the body, and little by little I began to taste new joys. I saw that I was a sinner. I trembled at the thought of my sins, of my powerlessness. I realized then that I, who wanted an ideal world with all my heart, was myself a sinner. Therefore, first of all, I had to become a pure man, a new man. And I began to struggle with the evil within me.”
After reading this I am close to announcing that I want to be imprisoned. In addition to these excerpts there is also A Freedom Within: The Prison Notes of Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski and The Gulag Archipelago to show that, if you enter prison with some faith, that faith will grow to heights that are simply not possible in the world with all of its distractions and temptations. Prison is forced monasticism. Even the prison cell is the same size as a monastic cell, which is why during Polish communism the monasteries were converted into prisons.
If you are sentenced to prison, and the way things are going, that may be likely for many of us, do not despair. God could easily get you out, like He did for the apostles, but He wants you to be in prison for the salvation of your soul. Bear your sufferings, maintain your faith, and fully believe that this world and its sufferings are only temporary.
What is life? It is a gift from God that is given to us in order to purify our souls from sin and to prepare ourselves, through Christ, to receive eternal life. What is man? A being created through the limitless love of God and to whom God gave the choice between holiness and death.
The importance of tears
Turtureanu: “The greatest joy for me was when I fell on my knees and cried for my sins. I came to understand that the greatest satisfaction a Christian can have is to be able to shed a tear… Now that I have arrived at the threshold of death, I ask God in prayer: ‘Grant me, O Lord, tears of longing for heaven! Allow me, O Lord, tears of longing for heaven! Allow me, O Lord, to have the joy of tears shed for the forgiveness of sins! Lord, grant that the lamp of love and forgiveness for others may always be lit! Amen.”
Guidance from Valeriu Gafencu
[Valeriu] told me that even if we do not succeed in changing the world, at least we can stir up interest, we can make it so that people no longer feel right when they do something bad, we can create tension, we can raise questions so as to make people change their ways.
Everyone seeks happiness. Everyone wants it, everyone seeks it. To your hearts I say: seek happiness in your own souls. Do not seek in outside of yourselves. Do not expect happiness to come from anywhere else than from within yourself, from your own soul, where Christ dwells. If you expect happiness to come from somewhere outside of yourselves, you will be deceived and you will never find it.
My dear brother, never consider yourself useless. It is the will of God that you are where you are, and you have a specific goal to fulfill. With your love and humility, you will build up your brother. And you will reap much happiness. There is no sin that will remain unpunished. If, however, you sincerely repent and pray to God with contrition of heart, he will forgive you and send you His grace. And conversely, there is no good, not even a good thought, however simple, that is not rewarded. But be humble, for it is not you, but God who works through you.
Valeriu was the holiest man in the prisons. Many came to him for guidance. He was rewarded by God with exalted divine visions. Without prison, we can suspect that he would have not achieved such a level of theosis.
The inhuman Pitesti re-education torture program
The torture was well-planned; it stopped only when the prisoner was about to die. There were various kinds of torture: beatings, hunger, being forced to maintain the same position 17 hours a day—legs extended horizontally, hands on knees, chest at 90 degrees—and at the slightest wavering, the supervisor would respond with a club. The prisoners were forced to drink urine and to eat excrement from buckets that served as toilets in the cells. They were forced to drink highly-salted water and then left to dry out from thirst, these were some of the many other tortures devised by the sick minds of the torturers… in order for the destruction to be complete, each one of them was required to profane the memory of whatever had been most important to him in front of everyone in his cell. For example, perhaps someone loved his mother or wife very much. In front of everyone, he was required to denounce them to make the most obscene and absurd statements about them. Whatever was clean and good in the mind of the one being tortured had to be slandered and dirtied.
Theological students and those who were devout—“mystical bandits,” as they were called—were forced to apostatize, to deny God, to curse everything that had to do with the Christian faith. At Christmas and Pascha, they were forced to sing carols or well-known religious hymns with altered words which profaned Christ and the Virgin Mary. They were forced to participate in blasphemous processions and to celebrate “liturgies” using human waste from buckets in the prison cells, and were then forced to swallow it as “Communion.” Some of them were “baptized” in tubs full of excrement. I believe that these things provide sufficient proof of the satanic nature of re-education.
After the prisoner “unmasked” himself [denounced God and family], in order to prove that he had been re-educated, he was required to become a torturer himself and to convince others to give up “all bourgeois rottenness” and to accept communist ideology. Through the use of terror, the prisoners were truly brainwashed. The tortured, no longer able to endure the incessant torment, unable to commit suicide, always closely supervised, finally gave in and were transformed into robots, their hearts turned to stone and, from being victims, they became executioners. Not even after being re-educated did they escape the terror, for at the slightest sign of solidarity with their victims, they were subjected to torture once again. And thus, living in a constant state of terror, always suspicious of one another, they broke down completely, foregoing the possibility of returning to a normal state.
The system was planned in such a way that, as a result of the continual torture, very few were able to hold out to the end. In general, most of them compromised, some more, some less, according to the structure and stamina of each.
Although the devil may have imagined that he won the battle through terror, he had few decisive victories among those who compromised. After the torture stopped, most of those who had acquiesced gradually returned to God. Considering the subsequent evolution of the re-educated, the devil won a battle at Pitesti [prison], but not the war. According to Father Calciu, most of them returned to Christ more vehemently than before their trial by fire.
We have a physical limit of pain that, once crossed, we will do anything to alleviate, including renounce God. It would be nice to think, “I would never renounce God in such torturous conditions,” but truth is we are weaker than these men, and so would probably give in much earlier. The last passage shows that the possibility of torture is no reason to despair, that as the body heals, the heart can return back to God stronger than before.
Re-education is more subtle and refined in capitalistic societies
In the communist prisons, torturers used all resources available to force the prisoners to deny Christ. Nowadays, rejecting Christ is done voluntarily, as people are seduced from an early age to embrace a lifestyle which is opposite to the one to which Christ calls us. In prisons, torturers were trying to prevent every person from having any kind of privacy or moments of prayer. Nowadays, people voluntarily surrender their own privacy in favor of TV, Internet or anything which might steal their serenity and opportunity to be alone with Christ. Torturers did everything in their power to keep the prisoners away from their own families and to get them discouraged for an easier control over them. In present times, divorce has become a lifestyle.
The spirit of ‘re-education’ is the same—both in Communism and in Capitalism—that is to say, it is characterized by a rejection of faith in God, by the giving up of traditional moral values, and by selfishness, pride, betrayal and cowardice. This is the Spirit of the Antichrist. The methods used as just slightly different: if during Communism, they wanted to obtain “the new man” through force, through demolishing and closing churches and monasteries, and through torturing or killing any opponents, in capitalism, the methods used are ‘softer’ and can slowly seduce even those who, under obvious Christian persecution, would have confessed and become martyrs.
…re-education has two main goals. First, the removal of God from people’s consciousness, the re-shaping of people’s way of thinking, so that man’s heart becomes insensible to God’s grace, incapable of true and profound feelings. Man is thus condemned to live in a superficial manner, not only physically, but also spiritually and culturally.
Second, achieving the perfection of the “new man,” modeled so that the Devil can easily take possession over him or her. Such a man would be ready to receive the Antichrist and enthrone him in “the holy place” (Matthew 24:15) that belongs to God at the end of times.
An important clarification is needed in this context: the correct translation of the word “antichrist” is not “against Christ” but “in place of Christ / replacing Christ.” In other words, the enemy no longer confronts visibly and directly Christ, but he seeks to take His place, to remove His from people’s consciousness, to neutralize people’s discernment and their capacity to choose freely.
…the contemporary pseudo-culture, the education systems… and the mass-media, which promote the message that the essence of life consists in enjoying oneself, feeling good, having fun, accumulating as much as possible, and being successful. Happiness in life is generally understood as the sum of moments of pleasure. Thus, people educated in this spirit constantly crave pleasure. Working like slaves, people chain themselves to monthly installments to the bank, or they steal or make compromises in order to comply with the unrealistic standards imposed by the marketing policies serving the aims of the cronies of this world.
The Pitesti re-education experiment was ultimately not a success for Satan. It was too labor-intensive, unable to be adopted on a societal scale, and for many men, resulted in even stronger faith than before the torture, even creating men recognized as saints. It takes weeks or months of intense face-to-face torture to re-educate a man and then as soon as that torture is stopped, the repentance process begins. This was an unacceptable outcome for Satan, because the world has billions of souls, and he needs a reliable way to condemn them all. Enter capitalism and democracy.
By replacing Jesus Christ with inane pleasures and “fun” distractions that feed the fallen flesh (fun fact: the word “fun” never appears in the Bible), Satan does not have to physically torture anyone, and this is even better for him, because rejecting Christ in the face of torture, against your free will, does not lead to the same level of punishment as if you were to reject Christ with your free will in exchange for a night at the disco with a Tinder date. The current re-education method is far more dangerous, because you don’t even see your torturers or know your heart is being darkened. You think everything is fine, that you are being blessed with material comforts, but all the while your salvation is slipping away.
Repentance of a man in prison
“[I rebelled] against Jesus all my life, but now I have discovered His truth. Only Satan can inspire and sustain so much falsehood and hatred toward the truth. You cannot realize the awful drama that I am living in these moments… I opposed the truth, while you told me the truth and never behaved badly with me. I hated you, while you loved me. I was in deception, you were in the light of truth. It is I who must be forgiven by you, just as Paul needed to be forgiven by Christ. I believe that I will also become a Christian. I want to be a Christian but I am not yet the master of my soul. I ask you to be kind with me!”
The importance of chastity
The physiological effect of chastity becomes a spring of spiritual power, but not with any personal aim, as some think, but with a communal aim, as the Lord teaches.
The true path to masculinity is chastity, because only by remaining in a pure state as God intended, with your passions fully bridled, can you fully access your God-given masculine nature without layers of corruption, defilement, distortion, filth, and carnal weakness.
Why is the modern world the way it is?
Why did God allow the world to sink into this present crisis, after some 2000 years of Christianity? This crisis is not from God, nor is it from faith, but rather from the freedom of the human conscience. In the past few centuries, man has profaned the world, devastated souls, encouraged sensuality, and has fallen prey to the pride of materialism and atheism. At the same time, satanic forces are more refined and better organized in the 20th century than in the first Christian age. The way in which saints are killed by the beast and perish in the 20th century is much more diabolical, more perverse, more complete, better studied, more horrible than the way in which martyrs were killed during the age of the catacombs. Millions of Christians today are not at the spiritual level of the catacombs, but in this century, sainthood and martyrdom are greater than ever in intensity and manifestation. The enemies of Christianity, those who brought about this martyrdom, want to conceal it and make the world forget about Christ, but they are deceiving themselves and prove to be powerless. They have succeeded in ruling the world, but in doing so have created saints and martyrs. They have succeeded in closing the mouths of men, but they have not been able to conceal the light of the saints. God works in the world even through those who do not believe. This seems to be the reason for the crisis that the 20th century has experienced: the purification necessary for a higher level of spirituality and existence.
Spoiler alert: God and His children win in the end. We simply have to hold tightly onto Christ and endure until our death. If you are reading this right now, Christ is not unknown to you. Dive fervently into the faith through the Orthodox Church so that you can withstand demonic temptations and save your soul.
Not long ago, Hieromonk Theodore, a priestmonk at Holy Trinity Monastery, gave an excellent lecture about the very topic that the book covers:
As the times we live in become increasingly authoritarian, it’s important for Orthodox Christians to know that our cross may become as heavy as these Romanian saints. In fact, if you believe that persecution of Christians has hardly just begun, as I do, this book is essential in providing you with the inspiration to pursue the faith with even more zeal and vigor, because I suspect that Satan is frantically optimizing his world system to condemn souls in a way that will be more diabolical and optimized than any other time in human history, until finally the appearance of his Antichrist. May God give us strength to bear the extreme hardships that are sure to come.
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