New Martyrs

[Reposted from the site https://traditiaortodoxa.wordpress.com

Original post: https://traditiaortodoxa.wordpress.com/2007/06/25/persecution-in-romania/ ]

During this period, the True Orthodox Christians of Romania were also undergoing persecution. Metropolitan Vlasie writes: “The Romanian King Charles II left his wife Maria, who came from Constantinople and was married again to a Jewess. Charles II did not want to abandon his throne, but was forced to abdicate since he had married a non-Christian. His son Michael was only 8 years old, so a regent was needed. Patriarch Miron became the regent. The political circumstances of that time were complicated by the fact that the government had been dissolved, and in order to maintain the constitution the regent had to become Prime Minister. Thus in 1936 the patriarch became both regent and Prime Minister – the complete master of the country. He had the power to annihilate our Church, and he used it in full measure: he destroyed all our churches and arrested all the clergy, the monastics and the leaders of the Old Calendarist groups.

“This was the first major blow against our Church, and many did not survive it. Take, for example, Fr. Euthymius – he was in a concentration camp for 3 years with Fr. Pambo, and he told us how they tortured him: they threw him into a stream and forced other prisoners to walk over him as over a bridge: he was at that time about 27 years old.”

In Bessarabia, writes Glazkov, “the priests Fathers Boris Binetsky, Demetrius Stitskevich and Vladimir Polyakov were put on trial for serving according to the old style. The establishment of the dictatorship of King Charles II in Romania in February, 1938 was accompanied by an increase of persecution for national and calendarist reasons. The point was that the Romanian kings were of Austrian origin and were only formally Orthodox Christians, they were not much concerned for the fate of Romania, the people and the Church. On the whole they were only a façade behind which various civil and ecclesiastical functionaries committed their deeds of darkness.

“One of the accusationlaid at the door of the Old Calendarists, including Fr. Glycerius, was their links with the ‘Iron Guard’ (or legionaires) organisation, which had been forbidden by the king. In the autumn of 1938 many arrests, trails and shootings of prominent legionaries took place round the country. This movement was quite often false accused of Nazism. But what did this right-wing organisation really represent in Romania? Once could hardly call a movement whose main task was the education of his supporters in the Orthodox faith and in faithfulness to the Church of Christ – a Nazi organisation. Being not only a political, but also a spiritual opposition to the totalitarian-military authorities, and at the same time waging an inexorable struggle against any physical or spiritual manifestation of communism in Romania, the legionaires often went against the political ambitions of the unspiritual politicians. At the end of the 1930s massive blood persecutions of the legionaires began, as a result of which the leaders of the movement (for example, Corneliu Codreanu) were shot, while ordinary members, including adolescents, were imprisoned in prisons and camps, in which many died from unbearable labours and humiliations, while many spent decades in them. …

“In 1939 Fr. Glycerius found himself, as the result of the denunciation of a new calendarist priest, in a special camp for legionaires in Miercurea Ciuc. In November of the same year there came an order to divide all the prisoners into two parts and shoot one part and then the other. When the first group had been shot, Fr. Glycerius and several legionaires who were in the second group prayed a thanksgiving moleben to the Lord God and the Mother of God for counting them worthy of death in the Orthodox faith. The Lord worked a miracle – suddenly there arrived a governmental order decreeing clemency.

“A few months late Bessarabia was occupied by the Red army, and a year after that Romania entered into war with the USSR. The Old Calendarists, in order to preserve Orthodoxy unharmed, were forced literally to enter the deep catacombs, founding secret sketes in the woods and the mountains…”

Metropolitan Cyprian has provided us with some more details of the persecution of the 1930s:

“[Patriarch Miron Cristea] ordered all of the churches of the True Orthodox Christians razed, and imprisoned any cleric or monastic who refused to submit to his authority. The monks and nuns were incarcerated in two monasteries, where they were treated with unheard of barbarity. Some of them, such as Hieromonk Pambo, founder of the Monastery of Dobru (which was demolished and rebuilt three times), met with a martyr’s end. During the destruction of the Monastery of Cucova, five lay people were thrown into the monastery well and drowned. By such tactics the Patriarch wished to rid himself of the Old Calendarist problem!

“Hieromonk Glycerius was arrested in September of 1936 during a large demonstration at Piatra Neamt, where many were killed. He was taken under guard to Bucharest and there condemned to death. He was, however, miraculously saved, in that the Theotokos appeared to the wife of the Minister of Justice and gave her an order to intercede with her husband on Father Glycerius’ behalf. Her husband did not react in the manner of Pilate, but rather commuted Father Glycerius’ death sentence and ordered him imprisoned in a distant monastery…

“Father Glycerius made two trips to Greece. During his first visit, he became a monk of the Great Schema at the Skete of St. John the Baptist on Mt Athos. On his second visit, in 1936, he met several bishops of the True Orthodox Church of Greece, viz., Germanus.. and Matthew (Bishop Chrysostom.. was away in the East), who decided to consecrate him a bishop. Before Bishop Chrysostom’s consent to proceed with this was obtained, however, Father Glycerius was expelled from Greece…

“With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Father Glycerius was set free and, along with his beloved co-struggler, Deacon David Bidascu, fled into the forest. There the two lived in indescribable deprivation and hardship, especially during the winter. In the midst of heavy snows, when their few secret supporters could not get frugal provisions to them, the Fathers were obliged to eat worms! However, Divine Providence protected them from their persecutors and, directed by that same Providence, the birds of the sky would erase traces of the Fathers’ footprints in the snow by flying about and flapping their wings in the snow. And despite the harsh cold, not once did they light a fire, lest the smoke might betray their refuge. (We might note that the cold often approaches thirty degrees below zero during the winter in Romania.) Other ascetics were also hidden in the deserts, among them Father Damascene, Father Paisius, et al.”

from The Orthodox Church at the Crossroads – From 1900 to the Present Day by Vladimir Moss

Persecution During the Communist Period

The Communists were generally more tolerant towards the Old Calendarists, but this does not mean that persecutions ceased. Likewise, the Old Calendar Church still had no legal status. The life of Bishop Demosten (Ionita) perhaps best illustrates what the Old Calendar clergy had to endure. Bishop Demosten was born on July 1 (n.s.), 1927, in the city of Covasna, and was given the name Dmitri at baptism. In 1951, Dmitri entered the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Slatioara. From 1952-54, he served his term in the army, after which he returned to the monastery and was tonsured a monk under Metropolitan Silvester in 1955. The following year Metropolitan Galaction ordained him to the diaconate, and in 1957 Metropolitan Glicherie ordained him to the priesthood. Within a month after his ordination, Fr. Demosten went to Bucharest to assist Bishop Evloghie who was in hiding. There he was betrayed by an Old Calendar priest and arrested. The authorities demanded that Fr. Demosten reveal the whereabouts of the bishop, which he refused.

On July 23, 1958, Fr. Demosten was again arrested. He, with a group of chanters, had served a funeral for his cousin in a closed church. A New Calendar priest reported this to the authorities, which resulted in his and the chanters’ arrest. Six officers took Fr. Demosten to the city of Tirgu-Mures. Upon his arrival, he was led to a room where several guards took off his clothes, and later shaved off his hair and beard. His prison cell had a cement bed with no covers. For five months the civil authorities investigated and interrogated Fr. Demosten in an attempt to find some excuse to have him sentenced. The first round of questioning went along these lines:

Interrogator: What activity does Glicherie have in this country? What measures does he plan to take against the Communists?

Fr. Demosten: The Metropolitan teaches us to work, pray, and obey.

Interrogator: Where are you hiding your guns?

Fr. Demosten: Our guns are our church books.

Chief Interrogator: Why doesn’t he tell us where the guns are? Hang him!

At this point, Fr. Demosten lost consciousness and fell to the floor. When he awoke, he found himself in his cell with a doctor. The doctor asked where he hurt and why he had fallen. Fr. Demosten responded, “I don’t remember.” The doctor kicked him and responded, “This is our medicine for Old Calendarists who want to kill Communists.”

Fr. Demosten spent the next seven years in concentration camps. [7] His experiences could comprise a chapter of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. The prisoners were starved, tortured, and denied any form of comfort. At one point Fr. Demosten was so exhausted that he could not even remember the Lord’s Prayer. In 1959 the authorities promised all religious prisoners from his camp freedom if they signed a declaration of apostasy. Out of 2,000 prisoners only 90 agreed to sign. In the prison camp in Salcia, Fr. Demosten saw prisoners being trampled by horses as he and others worked on building canals and other projects in the freezing winter. Many years later, Fr. Demosten met one of the prison guards of Salcia, who informed him that it was indeed a miracle he had survived, for the guards had orders that no one was to leave that camp alive.

In 1964 Fr. Demosten was freed from prison. When his mother saw him for the first time in seven years, she asked, “Why did they release you, did you compromise the faith?” His mother was relieved to hear that her son had not betrayed the Church; this was her main concern. After three weeks he was again under house arrest. Fr. Demosten fled to the forests and lived in hiding for five more years. In a recent interview, Bishop Demosten reflected on those times:

“I never received a formal education. It is true we are not so well educated as the New Calendar clergy. However, I met their theologians who claim that fasting is not important, that dogmas and the traditions of the Church are subject to change. I saw bishops of the State Church act as puppets of the Communists, which not only scandalized the faithful, but compromised the integrity of the Romanian Church throughout the world. My seminary was seven years of prison, my academy was five years of hiding in the forest. I thank God that He did not send me to the New Calendarists’ schools, but that He was merciful to me and gave me the best possible theological training: seven years in Communist prison camps. Once I asked the prison authorities why they cared about the Old Calendarists, and they replied that it was because we pray and fast too much…

Tell the Orthodox in America and elsewhere to preserve the faith of their fathers, and to live an active Orthodox faith according to the teachings of the Church.”

from The Old Calendar Church of Romania – A Short History by V. Boldewskul

from Orthodox Life, Vol. 42, No. 5, Oct.-Nov. 1992, pp. 11-17.

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