Daily Meditations

The Sixth Wednesday of Great Lent: God Is Always with You, Part 2

Published by Pemptousia Partnership, June 16, 2015

Ms. Jessica Precop traveled to the Dormition of the Mother of God Monastery in Rives Junction, Michigan to interview Father Roman Braga, who grew up and served in Romania under a communist regime. We are very thankful to Ms. Precop, Father Roman, and the Sisterhood at the Monastery for making this interview possible. The interview was commissioned for the OCA Wonder blog, on which it originally appeared.

Can you talk about what it was like as a Christian to live under a communist regime?

 As a Christian you had to make many compromises. For example, you have children and they go to school. And they are told in school there is no God and you do not have to pray and you do not have to have crosses around the neck and not to go to church. The children went home and grandma was praying with them and making the sign of the cross. We kept this Christian life in the family. Nothing could be manifest. You were not allowed to manifest your Christian life.

What happened to the churches and monasteries under the communist regime?

 The churches were tolerated because Romania was basically a massive Orthodox country. The Church was very strong and the communist regime did not want to risk anything. Many monasteries, however, were closed. Only those that were declared historical monuments remained open, and Romanians were happy because almost all the monasteries were historical monuments. The communist regime transformed the monasteries into museums and they kept a few monks or nuns as tour guides to keep and take care of the museums and the huge libraries and archives that the monasteries possessed. And so the churches of the monasteries were also kept open. There was however a decree, decree #410 by the communist government to close all the monasteries who are not historic monuments and to force all monks and nuns under 50 years of age to leave the monasteries and go to work for the state. Only the old monks were allowed to stay in the monasteries to keep them open as historical monuments, and they kept the liturgical cycle of the Church: matins and vespers and liturgies, and they kept these all and they took care of themselves. Because people in Romania were Christians, they went to church in the monasteries and they helped these old monks and nuns.  The communists couldn’t control that, and they were not so much interested in the simple folks; they were interested especially in the intellectual class because the intellectual class creates the habits, the culture.  

The communist regime persecuted mostly the Roman Catholic Church because it was the minority and it was mostly for foreigners. Romania is 90% Orthodox so they persecuted mostly the other denominations by taking their property and kicking them out. With Orthodoxy they didn’t dare to go too far, so they pulled out young people from the monasteries but the old people still remained there and the churches of the monasteries were open and the liturgical cycles continued uninterrupted. During these times the monastic life was still going; it was not striving, was not growing, but at least it was maintained.

How did your own struggles with the communist government impact your spiritual life?

The communists could not control what is inside of you, but you couldn’t express what you were thinking, you were not able to express your opinion. And this not only as a monk or as a priest or as a Christian, but as an intellectual in general. Not all intellectuals in Romania during the communist regime were communists. In order to survive they were forced to say one thing but they believed something else in themselves. So they had a double life. It was one thing what they had in their mind and in their soul – their convictions, and another what they were expressing aloud. It was all a matter of survival. So that was a very, very difficult life. It was not like here where you are not afraid of anything. You are not afraid to express yourself; it was not like this. People were saying exactly what the government asked them to say in order to be able to have a job, to be a teacher, to have a profession, to be able to provide for their family their daily bread. But what they thought and believed the communist couldn’t control.

We were happy in prison in a way. Let aside all the physical tortures. Physical tortures are nothing. You suffer from them even; you can even die. But the communist imprisonment is worse than physical torture. They want to keep you at the limit of normal and abnormal, but they couldn’t control what is inside of you. In a way, for a priest the communist prison was good because there in prison we were praying. Once you are convicted (of “crimes” you did not commit) you are placed in a cell, there is nothing else. They put the intellectuals and especially the priests in solitary confinement at least one or two years, and in a way that was very good for us. Not having anywhere to go or even look out a window because there were no windows in those cells of solitary confinement you have to look, to go somewhere; and so you go inside yourself, inside your heart and inside your mind to examine yourself, to see who you are and why God brought you into this world. You question whether God even exists, and what is your relationship with God.

When we were free we did not have time to ask ourselves these questions. Our faith was superficial because you can learn a lot of things and can have a mind like an Encyclopedia full of all the knowledge, but if you don’t know yourself and who you are! Even if you know everything in the world you are superficial if you do not ask yourself who am I? Why do I exist? What is the destiny of my life? Why did God create me? If I believe in God what does God want from me? These things when you live in freedom you do not ask yourself because you are in a hurry to do a lot of things, to read a lot of books and you become the slave of the books, the slave of the knowledge, of concepts of philosophy and so on. But you do not have the time to meditate on who you are. When you are free you are made out of quotations from books. We were not allowed in prison to have any books. In 11 years I did not see a pencil or a piece of paper, or a book, and not only myself, but all the intellectuals and all the priests. The communists gave books and papers to read to simple folks because they wanted to convince them to become communists. They wanted, however, that the intellectuals be transformed into beasts, become like animals. The interesting thing is that it did not happen. Instead you became yourself because you started to examine yourself. Once you were out of prison, they were interested that you do not make propaganda to tell others what happened in prison, and so on and so many of us were expelled from the country just so we do not to tell the others what was going on in prison.

How did you witness Christ is prison?

In prison most of the time you were by yourself. I was in a forced labor camp too. In the forced labor camp, we had our groups of prayer and we had priests that were hearing confessions. Each priest had a group around him. We witnessed Christ more in the forced labor camp because there was not too much control there. It was a large community and the communists were interested in how much you worked. In prison it was impossible to witness Christ, even if you were alone or maybe two in the same cell. Sometimes there were four in the same cell, but you only talked to a small group of people. In the force labor camps, we even had the liturgy there because we had priests, without vestments and without anything else other than a piece of bread, and some tonic wine that the doctors in the hospital provided.  I was in a forced labor camp with 16,000 people, and there was a hospital and the doctors were from among the prisoners so they provided tonic wine for us for the liturgy and we spared two pieces of bread from breakfast and so we had liturgy. The guards did not know we had liturgy; as they were passing by, they thought we were just babbling; we sure did not show it. I remember in prison though, in the cell, a priest had liturgy under the blanket; when the guard entered he covered everything with the blanket.

~Orthodox Christian Network (OCN), https://myocn.net/god-is-always-with-you/.


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