Communism as anti-Christianity

The “Rost” Association, which publi­shes an Orthodox culture magazine, of the same title, organized an itinerant exhibition meant to commemorate Orthodox personalities who suffered the martyrdom of Communist prisons. The exhibition has already covered over half of the 25 Romanian cities it set out to visit, and Cluj was the latest visited so far. The items on display include photographs, some from the former Securitate archives and taken during stakeout activities, as well as documents from the investigation records: characterisations, auto­biographies and prison records. The exhibition also comprises period photographs and testimonies, as well as rare manuscripts. The six personalities chosen to illustrate a much wider phenomenon are among the most well-known and representative figu­res. Three were very influential monks, in various contexts, one was a priest of international repute, and the other two were laymen who came to recognition belatedly, once prison memoirs came to light, in the post-communist years. Five of them were connected to the Iron Guard (a far-right wing interwar movement, of Orthodox colouring) in their youth, while one had left-wing leanings, which got him in prison. Two of them died in detention, while the others spent many years in various prisons.

The priest Gheorghe Calciu was the most widely-known abroad, as an international campaign was initiated in the late 1970s to obtain his release from the Ceausescu regime prisons. As a young man, the priest went through the diabolical Pitesti prison re-education experiment, be­coming one of the fiercest torturers (recruited out of the ranks of initial victims). Going on to become a priest and a theology professor in Bucharest, he gave a series of sermons which criticized the communist regime, which led to his imprisonment. Released from prison, he would be constrained to emigrate, obtaining American citizenship. Sandu Tudor was one of the inter-war journalists most given to polemic, close to left-wing circles. Drawn to Orthodoxy after visiting Mount Athos, he took the habit after World War II and laid the basis of an Orthodox cultural association at Bu­charest’s Antim Monastery. The scene of fertile debates between cultured monks and intellectuals with an interest in Orthodox spirituality, the “Burning Bush” circle was to become, in the late 1950s, the object of a well-known political trial. Sandu Tudor died, after several years of hard pri­son.

Arsenie Papacioc, an Iron Guard small town mayor in his youth, took the habit after the war and was sentenced to prison during the selfsame “Burning Bush” trial. Arsenie Boca was a charismatic monk, who had dealings even with the royal family and was extremely influential, particularly in rural Transylvania, in the ‘40s and ‘50s. For three decades he lived as a layman, but continued to draw public interest. Vasile Gafencu and Ioan Ianolide spent many years in prison, and the former came to be known, to this day, as a “prison saint” (he died in 1951, after ten years in the communist gaol) for the comfort he brought to his sick and despairing prison mates. The “Rost” Association’s itinerant exhibition is meant to support a wider campaign for the canonization of Orthodox martyrs from the communist prisons and for a public acknow­ledgment of the magnitude of the Christians’ plight under the communist regime. At the same time, the association pleads for the modification of the Government’s Ordinance 31/2002, which incriminates in too vague terms anti-Semitism, considered a legal obstacle to recognizing the anti-Communist merits of people who initially had far right-wing leanings.

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