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„El m-a convins că cea mai puternică armă în lupta cu răul este dra­gostea  faţă de aproapele.”– Aristide Lefa despre Valeriu Gafencu

Material video al unei conferinţe din anul 2009 susţinută de doctorul Aristide Lefa, un prieten apropiat al Mărturisitorului Valeriu Gafencu.

Dacă cineva are originalul acestei filmări, integrală, îl rugăm să ne-o dea spre publicare, solicită Mănăstirea Petru Vodă.

Dr. Aristide Lefa a trecut la cele veşnice într-o duminică, pe 12 iulie 2009, la Piatra Neamţ. Aristide Lefa, născut pe 17 februarie 1923, a fost unul din membrii “lotului mistic-legionar” de la spitalul-penitenciar Targul-Ocna, cel care, student medicinist fiind, l-a îngrijit pe Valeriu Gafencu până la ultima suflare, fiind martorul apropiat al vieţii şi morţii de sfânt ca şi al minunilor săvârşite de acesta în perioada detenţiei. Aristide Lefa, arestat în studenţie, a trecut timp de 16 ani prin închisorile şi lagărele de la Jilava, Piteşti, Văcăreşti, Târgu Ocna, Gherla, Noua Culme, Periprava. Dumnezeu să-l aibă în ceata Sfinţilor Români din Ceruri!

Comemorarea anuala Valeriu Gafencu 2015 Targu Ocna

Valeriu Gafencu was a law student known in the 1950s as “The Saint of Prisons”. He found himself drawn by the fascist movement in his high school years, and became an active member of the Fraternity of the Cross, the youth organisation of the Iron Guard, a Romanian far-right movement. He was arrested at age of 20, when he was in his second year at the university, following the Iron Guard rebellion of 1941. In prison, he found religion and became a model for all the other inmates.

Between 1941 and 1952, he served his sentence in the prisons of Aiud, Pitesti and Targu Ocna. In 1948, Aristide Lefa was arrested and sentenced to time in prison for his anti-government activities. A medical student, Lefa tried to continue his practice at the Targu Ocna sanatorium and prison. This is where he met Gafencu, who was brought here suffering from tuberculosis in 1949. Many years later, in 2000, Lefa recalled his talks with The Saint of Prisons and shared them with Radio Romania’s Centre for Oral History:

“Gafencu and I used to have fairly heated arguments. He used to tell me: ‘The most powerful weapon in the world isn’t the atomic bomb, or any other weapon! Love is the most powerful weapon! Love brings down Lucifer himself, and all your foes. True love, not the sword, the fist or the war!’ And I would contradict him: ‘This means we might as well surrender, pack our things and go. We love them and they kill us.’ This was my theory. I eventually understood what he meant, I tried it his approach myself and saw that he was perfectly right. He was the only man I ever met who waited for his death like you only see in books. He just like a groom waiting for his wedding day and this is not an exaggeration.”

The extermination regime in communist prisons crushed many strong characters. Gafencu, however, kept his serenity through all the pain. Aristide Lefa recalls one such episode:

“In 1951, Gafencu got acute appendicitis. He also had a heart condition as he had passed through many hardships in his 11 years in prison and he was also suffering from tuberculosis. I couldn’t operate him there. It was one thing to cut an abscess or do other simple interventions, but more complicated operations required proper instruments and proper conditions. They took him to the hospital in Targu Ocna, where doctor Ursu was the chief surgeon. The doctor gave him an epidural and started to operate him. At a certain moment during the operation, the nurse saw Gafencu sweating abundantly. As she knew that he had tuberculosis and had come from the sanatorium, the nurse thought it was natural for him to sweat like that. But when the operation ended, a quarter of an hour later, Valeriu said: ‘You know, doctor, you have just performed surgery on me without an anaesthetic.’ ‘Nonsense, said the doctor, just try to lift your foot.’ And Gafencu lifted his foot just like that. He shouldn’t have been able to do it, had he been properly anaesthetized. So the doctor realised the anaesthetic had not worked. ‘Why didn’t you say anything?’ said the doctor. ‘I would have given you local anaesthesia. How were you able to endure the painful operation without saying anything?’ Gafencu just smiled in reply. The others were so impressed by his attitude that one of the nurses even gave him a new handkerchief.”

Gafencu lived a deeply religious life between the age of 20 and 32, when he died. His quest for God made him give his life to save Richard Wurmbrand, a former communist converted to Christianity, who was on his deathbed. Aristide Lefa was with Valeriu Gafencu when the latter decided it was time to meet his maker:

“Valeriu was given a parcel containing about 10 grams of streptomycin. At that time this drug did wonders. Five or ten grams would make the difference between life and death. Valeriu called me to him said: ‘Look, I’m not taking the streptomycin, you should give it to Wurmbrand’. Gafencu was in much worse health than Wurmbrand, who was in pretty bad shape himself and have most likely died without the miracle drug. We tried to change Gafencu’s mind: ‘Don’t you want to live?’, and he said ‘No, this is my wish, I don’t want to take the drug! Give it to him, I want him to have it!’. He said it was because Wurmbrand was somebody important and that he should stay alive to get out of prison, because he had ties with the Evangelical Church, so he would be able to do more for us. That was his justification. But I don’t think that was. He just didn’t want to live anymore, he wanted to go to Jesus”.

Valeriu Gafencu was a role model for people in great suffering. For us today, who know more about his story, he is an ordinary person, with good and bad, who chose to live in a certain way and stood by his choice to the end.


“The Saint of the Prisons and Prisoners”

(Edited for this presentation by the Thaddean Fathers of the Brotherhood of St. John Maximovitch; for it shall become necessary to be guided by those holy ones and saints of this and previous decades and centuries for the times we have entered where even true faithful and their clergy will be incarcerated for not bowing to the false, heretical and misleading “Christianity” being presented to the people of these times in which we live.  Thus for those who are, have been or will be incarcerated on a variety of different false allegations and charges and for those who are already in prison… this is dedicated.  To those of you who read and view these pages… please…. P L E A S E … print out this article, lengthy as it is, and send it to those who you know are in prison now… for it will, hopefully, give them hope for the life to come and such sustenance to their spirit whereby they may not give in to the incursions of a man-made kind of Christianity that is actually anti-Christian in both spirit and truth for such a kind is a departure from that handed down to us through time and history from Jesus Christ and His Holy Apostles and those who are their legitimate successors who keep the faith.

There are those in these present times who have risen above cultic Protestantism to where they have become Cultic Orthodox in that they go against their hierarchs, as lay parishioners, interfering in those things best left to ecclesiastical courts.  Those mundane lay persons’ or parishioners’ understandings and spirit are become far removed from that which a true member of the Parish; be s/he lay member, monk (male nun), priest or bishop –  – – are supposed to be true strugglers out of pain of heart for the faith.

There are those who call themselves “Orthodox” and others “Catholic” while not accepting all things including the seven ecumenical councils, more often than not being “cafeteria” styled “Orthodox” and/or “Catholic” which is the same as Protestant cults (ie: Pentecostalism) have become… for theirs is that which is earthy, earthly, material – seeking self-image, glory, fame, gold, silver or mammon… These things were prophesied even by St. John Maximovitch of Shanghai & San Francisco, even concerning his own jurisdiction in times to come… He was right!

Let this Saint Valeriu Gafencu be an ideal and image of what you should become in both spirit and truth in these present times for the times ahead are going to become a whole lot worse.  Prepare yourselves now while there is time…  )

Valeriu Gafencu Sfantul Nostru

  1. Introduction

In 1966 the inhuman prison conditions of Communist Romania were brought before the eyes of the Western world. In Washington before the Senate’s Internal Security Subcommittee, Pastor Richard Wurmbrand testified to the diabolical experiments being conducted there. The evidence for his case was the witness of the eighteen torture wounds that he revealed as he stripped to the waist before the commit­tee. His story caught the attention of the world media and was pub­lished throughout the U.S., Europe and Asia. Soon thereafter, Wurmbrand wrote his book, Tortured for Christ, which would eventu­ally sell more than three million copies.

On February 17, 2001, Pastor Wurmbrand passed away at the age of ninety-two in southern California. Although his body was sickly and emaciated, his eyes shone “like a sea of light opening into eternity,” as one who saw him in his last days recalls. {“Pastor Wurmbrand: Finishing the Race,” Again, vol. 23, no. 2 (April-June, 2001), p. 27}.  The significance of his work of bearing witness to what was really going on behind the Iron Curtain is inestimable. At a time when foreign delegations from the West were being deceived by staged scenes of freedom and prosperity on their brief visits to Moscow or Bucharest, he was one of the first to expose the dark­est secrets of the Communist prisons. He told of the tortures and the heroism of the Christian prisoners; he told the stories of many Orthodox confessors. “I have seen Christians in Communist prisons with fifty pounds of chains on their feet,” he wrote, “tortured with red-hot iron pokers, in whose throats spoonfuls of salt had been forced, being kept afterward without water, starving, whipped, suffering from cold, and praying with fervor for the Communists. This is humanly inexplicable! It is the love of Christ, which was shed into our hearts.” {Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ (Glendale, Calif.: Diane Books, 1967), p. 57}.


Richard Wurmbrand la arestare si in inchisoare

In the life of Pastor Wurmbrand there is one event from his Ro­mania prison experience that has been overlooked. This is his friend­ship with Valeriu Gafencu, remembered by those who knew him as “the Saint of the Prisons.” Valeriu Gafencu was the spiritual leader of a group of Orthodox Romanians who “fought the good fight” amidst the wretched conditions of prison life, where the majority could not resist succumbing to the rule of sub-humanism into which they were plunged. Valeriu and his brethren not only resisted, but rose to a height of Christian sanctity that rivaled that of all the greatest confessors of Christianity.

In 1951, both Valeriu and Pastor Wurmbrand were deathly ill with tuberculosis in Targu Ocna, an infirmary prison. Although medi­cine was almost impossible for prisoners to obtain, one of Valeriu’s co-strugglers did manage to receive some in a package from his family. His medical condition having stabilized, he gave it to Valeriu, who was near death. Valeriu, in turn, secretly offered it to Pastor Wurmbrand. The result was that Richard Wurmbrand lived, while Valeriu Gafencu died. Before Valeriu reposed, Pastor Wurmbrand confessed to him, “I would like to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven by the same gateway as you.” Valeriu was only thirty years old when he passed from this world. Interestingly, Richard Wurmbrand was to repose on the eve of the forty-ninth an­niversary of Valeriu’s repose, thus being linked in death with the man who had once saved his life.

The published memoirs of those who suffered with Valeriu in prison reveal in him a soul made snow-white through conscious suffering for Christ amidst the inhu­man tortures and moral degradation of the Communist prisons. In him childlike pu­rity and manly strength were fused — a characteristic rarely seen in our times when the “double-minded man” has become the standard.

Valeriu’s life of simplicity and singleness of mind calls us — encompassed by the degradation of contemporary life — to “become like little children” and enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

  1. youth and arrest

Valeriu was born in 1921 in the northeastern Romanian territory of Bessarabia. His father, Basil, was a landowning farmer, patriot and devout Orthodox Christian. He served as a deputy in Bessarabia’s Council, which governed land management. The family possessed about one hundred hectares of land and a thriving farm. Valeriu’s mother, Elena, imparted to him a sound Christian education and warm faith. Valeria had three younger sisters — Valentina, Eleonora, and Elizabeth. Ac­cording to Eleonora, Basil “was an ideal father and hus­band. He possessed an uprightness and goodness rarely found.”

Valeriu Gafencu - Marturisitorii.Ro

The fertile region of Bessarabia is bounded by the Dniester River on the north and the east, the Prut on the west, and the Danube and the Black Sea on the south. There, on the hilly plains and flat steppes, the rich earth brings forth an abundance of fruits and grains, supporting a surplus of livestock. Because of this and its impor­tant strategic location, Bessarabia has changed ownership over the centuries numerous times. Around 1920, the people of Bessarabia voted to form a union with Romania. Although the Treaty of Paris recognized the union, the Soviet Union never did. In 1940 Romania was finally forced to yield Bessarabia to the Soviets.

Foreseeing the oppression his family would meet under the Soviet regime, Basil took his family across the Prut River and settled them in the ancient Moldavian capital of Lasi. At this time, Valeriu was a freshman student of Law and Philosophy and entered the university in Lasi. Valentina was a senior in high school, while the younger girls, Nora and Elizabeth, were attending lyceum.

After helping to settle the family in Lasi, Valeriu returned with his father to Bessarabia in order to settle their affairs on the farm. After a trustworthy manager was found, the father and son set out again for the Prut. A friend and co-struggler of Valeria, Virgil Maxim, re­counts this dramatic event: “Once this business was arranged, they went straight to the Prut, being forced to se­cretly swim across. Soviet troops had infiltrated the area up to the river and were trying to thwart the crossing of the daring Bessarabians into their motherland.

“When they arrived on the right bank of the Prut, his father, after a short rest, rose up and thanked God for helping him provide for his family. He embraced his son and made the final confession of his life: ‘I have brought you here so that you will take care of your mother and sisters. I charge you with this responsibility before God. I must go back among my own.’ Valeriu was troubled. His father observed his emotion and continued: ‘What would all our brothers say — our Bessarabian brothers — and how could I raise my eyes to heaven if I and others like me, who until now have fought to preserve the Romanian soul on this land, flee from the path of the oppressor and fail to share in the suffering which awaits us?’

“Valeriu understood the spiritual stance of his father and made no attempt to force him to renounce his decision. Knowing the depth of his father’s conviction, he vowed that, as a worthy son, he would neither deny faith in God nor forget the plight of his nation.

“Better times will come, but now there is need for sacrifice,’ added his father. After embracing his son one more time and making the sign of the Cross, he headed straight for the water and swam back across the Prut, into his beloved Bessarabia. A short time later he was arrested and deported with a group of Romanian Bessarabians beyond the Arctic Circle. There, in terrible living conditions, he died after one year, his thoughts on God, to Whom he had entrusted his loved ones.” { Studentul Valeriu Gafencu, Memoirs of Virgil Maxim (Napoca Star Publishers, 1998), pp. 51-52}.

Thus, a new life began for Valeriu in Lasi. Situated on Romania’s eastern border, Lasi had always been an important city for the country. The first book in the Romanian language had been published here, and the relics of St. Parasceva had come to rest here in the 17th century. At one time Lasi had been the capital of Moldavia, and during World War I it had been the capital of all Romania, when the Germans forces occupied Wallachia. Here, where the Churches of St. Nicholas and the Three Hierarchs guard the city, Valeriu found himself poised to enter into adulthood.

In Lasi, Valeriu proceeded with his studies. He chose law so as to become a defender of his country. He was a greatly gifted young man: exceedingly handsome, intelligent, and popular. With no effort on his part, he had many female admirers. As his friend from youth, Constantine Strachinaru, related: “Through the consistency of his creed, through his culture and uprightness, Valeriu quickly became a leader among the town’s youth. He was dynamic, communicative, hand­some, modest, restrained, and kind-hearted. He was a veritable pillar of wisdom and an inspired patriot, dreaming of a Romania shining like the sun in the heavens. In fulfillment of this ideal, he dedicated all his energy to the forming of youth in a Christian spirit. The high school students were his brothers. Together, near Lasi, the town grown on seven hills, they insatiably drank in the air of the spiritual universe on Ro­manian soil.”

Romania at this time had been suffering from various social ills for many years. In the wake of the depression of 1929, Carol II ascended the throne in 1930. His government was infamous for its corruption and violent repression of the people. At the same time Commemorative stamp with a portrait of   Communist organizations began to creep into Romania, attempting to undermine Orthodox Christianity.

In the late 1920s the Le­gion of the Archangel Michael originated as a movement to fight the infiltration of Communism into Romania. Its discipline was based on Christian ascetic principles. After entering the realm of politics, how­ever, some of its members lost sight of its original hierarchy of values. Specifically, after the founder, Corneliu Codreanu, was murdered by the regime of Carol II, nine Legionnaires retaliated with the murder of Prime Minister Armand Calinescu in 1939. {According to Fr. Arsenius Papacioc, “The Legionnaire movement needed to be seen as the precise following of Christian teaching. Some Legionnaires, however, sinned by killing, and did not realize [their mistake]. This brought about revenge, and all the elite were killed. It was not only the elite of the Legionnaire movement who were killed; it was the elite of our nation.” Those like Valeriu Gafencu and Constantine Oprisan, who held fast to the true spirit of the movement, proved its original spiritual value by the manifest holiness of their lives and martyric deaths}.

In September 1940, the Legionnaire movement took power in Romania. For the next four months they ruled while General Antonescu, the General of Defense under Carol II, re­mained in his former position. In January 1941, Hitler ordered German divisions on Romanian soil to “reestablish order.” This amounted to the ousting of the Legionnaires and the installation of Antonescu as dictator. Once in power, Antonescu began a sys­tematic persecution of the Le­gionnaires, by imprisoning them or sending them off to the Front to certain death.

Meanwhile, Valeriu had become a mentor for other young Christian Romanians in the Brotherhood of the Cross, a youth orga­nization of the Legionnaire movement dedicated to training its mem­bers to embody the highest Christian virtues. In 1941, he was arrested with twenty-five other members of the Brotherhood by the Antonescu dictatorship. Constantine Strachinaru recalled: “But, alas! On a fateful day in autumn their song remained suspended in heaven…. Arrests and trials, a merciless public prosecutor, and a harsh judgment ensued. Military men were condemning their own children—students in the military high school. One of the boys was only eleven years old. The tears of their mothers and sisters flowed unceasingly, but their cries were of no avail. Valeriu Gafencu took upon himself all responsibility, pleading for the younger ones to be set free. Still, his courage, honor, and empathy found no sympathy.” Aristide Lefa added: “At his trial, Valeriu’s civil law professor, Angelescu, on his own initiative, presented Valeriu’s defense. He ar­gued, ‘It is a sin for such an element to be sent to prison, because it is society that will lose if he is taken out of its midst. He is one of the best students I have had in all my years of teaching.”

Valeriu was the only one convicted. He was sentenced to twenty-five years of hard labor.

Valeriu-Gafencu-CNSAS-Marturisitorii ro


  1. aiud prison

From the law school in the old capital, Valeriu was transported across the country to the central region of Alba. Here he was detained in Aiud prison, which would serve as the second school in his spiritual formation. This would be his home for the next five years.

Up to this point, the severity of the Romanian prisons had not reached the level it would later, when the Communists took complete control of the country. Under Antonescu’s regime the prisoners could still receive packages and, occasionally, visitors. Upon the arrival of the Communists in 1944, there was an element of disorganization in the prisons due to the transition between the two regimes. {It is interesting to note that all political prisoners were set free by the Communists except the Legionnaires, who had recognized the diabolical nature of Communism, and who had fought against it since its inception in the 1930s in defense of their country and the Orthodox Faith.} During this period of confusion, Valeriu and others of like mind redeemed the time by increasing their spiritual activities of prayer and contempla­tion. One close companion, Alexandru Virgil loanid, recalled his im­pressions of Valeriu from this period: “Valeriu Gafencu penetrated into my consciousness suddenly and brightly. I was still free when I discov­ered that there was in Aiud prison, and later in the labor colony of Galda near Aiud, a youth — a political prisoner — who lived the Chris­tian life, spreading around him a beneficent force which affected the other brothers in suffering and all those with whom he came into con­tact. He could have been a modern-day Paul. In the midst of trials sent by God, he did not cease to preach, to encourage, and to spiritually raise up those around him into Christian perfection.”

In Aiud he met other fervent young Christian stragglers and members of the Legionnaires such as Anghel Papacioc, {The future Fr. Arsenius, co-struggler of Archimandrite Cleopa Ilie at Slatina Monastery and in the wilderness, and present-day spiritual father of the convent in Techirghiol on die Black Sea.} Judge Marian Traian, Traian Trifon and Fr. Vasile Serghie. The prison cell became a spiritual academy. There was an ordered regime of common prayer. Copies of the Philokalia were obtained and studied, spiritual discourse was constantly in the air, and the brothers took counsel with each other about their personal struggles. Among these noble souls, Valeria stood out. According to Virgil Maxim, “God poured forth upon Valeriu the grace of beauty in all aspects. Physically, he seemed like an archangel, bearing alternately the fiery sword of the divine word and the lily of purity, full of mystical fragrance. Morally, he was above reproach—his humility uniting with resolute tenacity. Spiritually, he was always transfigured. In his light-bearing words, you could not tell if he was speaking from spiritual insight or if the Spirit was speaking through him.”{ Virgil Maxim, Imn Pentru Crucea Purtata (Gordian Publishers, 1997), p. 180.}.

This brotherhood, however, did not extend throughout the entire prison. As Alexandru Virgil loanid recounted: “Meanwhile, other groups also formed in prison that were mainly preoccupied with poli­tics, and were consequently more worldly. These viewed us with great caution, and they sometimes became hostile towards those who were concentrated—excessively, they said—on the path of Christian perfec­tion. Sometimes the atmosphere became oppressive and bridges be­tween the groups were almost irreparably torn down. Then Valeriu did something that no one else would have ever even considered. On the nameday of Dr. Victor Biris—the leader of the chief opposing group—Valeriu went up to him with his hand extended and wished him many years. He then made a warm appeal for the reestablishment of a spiritual connection between the groups in the spirit of Christian love and understanding. Dr. Biris and the others from his group were amazed by Valeriu’s gesture, considering it a reflection of the benevo­lent attitude of the entire Christian group. For a long period the rela­tions between the groups improved.”

In 1944 Valeriu’s mother and three sisters were forced to flee Lasi. They settled near the center of Romania, in the town of Fagaras in the Brasov region. At that time Valeriu still had permission to write home fairly often, and in this way he made sure his sisters were receiving a spiritual education. His sisters and their friend Neculai Lopsanschi re­ceived official permission to see Valeriu at about this time. They saw him with his two closest friends, Ion lanolide and Marin Naidim. His sister Eleonora recalls the visit: “When I saw them behind the prison bars I was so moved that I fainted. After I came to and the three of us left, we were standing in front of the prison, and Valeriu called out to me: ‘Nora, Nora,’ and he began to sing a song he had composed. Film could never capture what the three of us, his three sisters felt, seeing him standing there—so good, honest, handsome, talented, and yet in­nocently placed behind bars. All of his and father’s suffering occurred because they loved their country too much.”

valeriu_gafencu_mama_sa_ioan ianolide in lagarul de la galda 1946

  1. galda colony

In 1946 a Hungarian landowner named Albini requested that a group of political prisoners be sent to his vineyard to care for the grapes. Albini was quite wealthy and willing to pay the prison for the labor of the inmates. Due to drought and financial need the prison agreed, and sent Valeriu and those in his group.


For over a year Valeriu and his companions lived in a section of an old castle. The entire work party was watched by a single token guard. They were asked for their word of honor that they would not escape. According to Aristide Lefa, “Truly, no one trampled on his given word. They took care of the grape vineyard from the digging in spring to the harvest in fall. In winter, when the grapes were ready, lads from the vil­lage would come at night and steal the grapes. The prisoners would be given arms to guard the grapes at night. I think it is the only case in the history of penitentiaries when prisoners received arms for guarding. The question was raised as to whether it was appropriate for the prisoners to eat the grapes. Valeriu was the only prisoner who never tasted the grapes from the vineyard. He ate only when he went to work in the village with the peasants, whom he helped in their various labors.”

Thus, they were able to conduct a life not much different than that which one would find in a monastery—in prayer, labor, and a common bond of love in Christ—a witness that is still remembered by the local villagers. They succeeded in obtaining the right to go to church on Sundays in the local village and even formed a choir. They also managed, undetected by the authorities, to go on excursions to some of the local monasteries. In the evenings, after toiling all day in the vineyards, Valeriu would copy texts from the Philokalia by the light of a candle or gas lamp. These he would send to various friends and acquaintances who were zealously studying the Christian way of life.


Valeriu treasured this spiritual freedom and the ability even to have contact with his family, which was a great consolation for every­one. As his sister Eleonora recalled, “I was there for the Feast of the Nativity with Mama and my sisters, and we were surrounded by so much sublime love. Elizabeth and I decorated a Christmas tree that Valeriu had brought. We sang Christmas carols composed by Valeriu. We rejoiced and we cried. Then, at Holy Pascha, I was there again with him and we celebrated the Resur­rection in the Galda community. The boys sang, directed by V. Mirza. The choir was divine. In the morning, the priest and the villagers offered us an unforgetta­ble meal in die church courtyard.”


Yet even in these times, which seemed to be quieter, never were the prisoners relieved of their cross. Valeriu Gafencu’s closest friend and co-struggler, Ion lanolide, recalls that even during these two years, “It was slave labor, and we were hungry and naked. And although we worked in vineyards and vegetable gar­dens, we were starving because we were not allowed to taste even a lit­tle of the fruit or vegetables.”

These years were a time of preparation for the future trials that awaited Valeriu. Although subjected to a severe regimen that would surpass even that of the most ascetic monasteries, Valeriu was still spiri­tually free. No one attempted to stop him from living the Christian life. Marin Naidim, one of Valerius closest friends, remembers this time in detail: “He was a hero-martyr. He did not perform just one he­roic act of courage in a single moment of time, but upheld a constant heroic bearing. He died little by little every day, always maintaining a Christian stance.


“Valeriu had an enthusiastic nature. He had ‘his head in the clouds.’ He was not of a practical nature. I never saw him sew with a needle, knit wool, or wash his clothes. He would wear them until they were rags and tatters, but he was always spiritually present and had an awakened conscience. He was a poet by nature. It is said that poets are on the first step of the ladder to perfection. I read that somewhere (lovan Ducici {A contemporary Serbian diplomat and poet who died in America several years ago and was reburied in the cathedral he built in Trebinje, Bosnia.}), and it seems true to me. Poets fulfill their destiny by beautifying life and uplifting man. Valeriu even wrote poems. He wrote in blank verse and in classical form. Later, when he was in Targu Ocna prison with tuberculosis, I was in the mines in Baia-Sprie. He found out that I was in the iron mines, and he dedicated a poem to me, which, from one man to another, finally reached me. From it I re­member only a few lines:

On my calm forehead, place Thy hand

And call me slowly by name.

Just as Thou didst call Thy friend from the grave,

Please, Jesus, give me a drop of water.

“He had heard that it is dreadfully hot beneath the earth, that one is covered with sweat and always thirsty, and in his compassion he implored God’s mercy — he asked for me, his friend, a drop of water….

“When he first entered prison, he was clothed in a green suit of English material. It fit him well, but he did not feel comfortable in such stylish clothes anymore, and sought to get rid of them. We were in the Galda Colony. One day Valeriu met a poor man and returned to the colony without clothes. He had given them away. When I asked him where his clothes were, he answered me with a word from the Patericon: ‘I sent them on ahead.’ That is, he had given them as alms, in order to find them in heaven when he got there. I reproved him, accusing him of lack of discernment, since his family was struggling in want: ‘It would have been better to have given them to one of your sisters, so that she could have made herself a jacket.’ But he still thought that he had done well, saying that God would take care of them [his family].

“Once, at that time, a Gypsy woman came out onto the road asking for a match. He reached into his pocket and promised to give her all of his change if she would throw away her pack of cigarettes and allow him to crush them underfoot. The Gypsy did so and took the money. He knew the Gypsy would buy more cigarettes with the money. Nevertheless, he was pleased that he had tried to stem the tide of evil; that maybe he had given that woman something to ponder re­garding smoking—that it is a sin.


“Nature is beautiful, indeed, but you must be endowed with some special antennae in order to perceive the hidden mysteries of cre­ation. Valeriu had this capacity to comprehend the beauty of nature, because Valeriu loved nature, and nature only reveals itself to those who sincerely love.


“When he was in the colony of Galda he would rise early on Sunday and go into the field to gather flowers. He would come back with his feet wet with dew and his arms full of flowers for the church. He would urge me to do the same. So I also would gather red poppies, but I would feel somewhat embarrassed to go through the village with my arms full of flowers. Not him — it was very natural for him; he did not feel the least bit awkward or ridiculous. He himself was an element of nature. He was part of the picture.


“He was a type of incorrigible dreamer — a kind of Don Quixote. I often heard him reading a paradox from Cervantes: ‘Run through prisons after freedom.’ The verses referring to the death of Don Qui­xote are also fitting for him:


And I am dying beside an old candle.

I will hear Sancho weeping, and the priest.

How could he find room for such a great dream In this frail and weak body of Don Quixote?

“He sang. He often used to hum Schubert’s Serenade or different religious hymns: ‘By the Waters of Babylon,’ ‘God Is with Us,’ ‘Lord of Hosts.’ He would improvise his own melodies, and all were in a minor key. I never heard him sing worldly songs; it seemed that he did not take part in this world.

“He had read a lot in his life, but now he only read one book: the Bible, and those related to it—the Philokalia, the Patericon. (One was still allowed to read in Aiud until 1948.) And he prayed. On a hill in the midst of an alfalfa field there were ruins of an old aban­doned church, which Valeriu would frequent. Lacking a roof, the church was exposed to storms and tempests, and it was here that Valeriu prayed.

“When someone would come to the house to see him, Valeriu would always approach him with the question of faith, seeking to con­vince each person of the importance of the struggle for salvation. He had told me that ‘even if we do not succeed in changing the world, at least we have awakened people’s interest. Let us make it so that they no longer feel good when they do evil; let us create obstacles; let us put questions before them; let us divert their steps.’

“He made a point of the ‘awareness of sin’ because there were many who considered only fornication, theft and crime to be sins, Many did not recognize themselves as sinners, either thinking they had no sins or downplaying them as unimportant. Other sins had been lost from their sight, the greatest being, perhaps, the sin of pride. God resisteth the proud but giveth Grace unto the humble (James 4:6). The Lord will leave the conceited man to himself. Without Him, the man will realize that he can do nothing and then will cry out to Him.

“From Valeriu I acquired the habit of revealing everything that was on my soul to my brothers, practicing what can be called ‘brotherly con­fession.’ Confess your sins one to another (James 5:16). I cultivated myself in this way through the influence of his moral courage.

“Valeriu affirmed that there are two paths to salvation: one — normal and suitable for most — through marriage; the second path — suitable only for the few who are called — through monasticism. At first, he tried the former path. Wanting to marry, he proposed to an old friend in freedom. Being refused, he resorted to the second path: he vowed to become a monk when he was set free. His resolution was enough for God, and God took him to Himself; He no longer had need of further evidence of faith from him.”

  1. under the communists

After the Communists took complete control of Romania in 1948, the prisoners were sent to Vacaresti penitentiary. Before the Communist takeover, Vacaresti had been the largest monastery in the Balkans.



At this time Valeriu was offered freedom in exchange for leaving Romania and settling in the now Soviet-dominated Bessarabia. Faced with the choice between “freedom” as a citizen of the Soviet Union and life in prison, he chose the latter.

As time went on the conditions only got worse, as the underlying evil of Communism “in practice” unmasked itself in the form of men­tal and physical tortures. Marin Naidim describes the gradual diminu­tion of both freedoms and normalcy, and Valerius response to it: “Until 1948 we were taken out of the cells into the fresh air for about one hour a day. Step by step, the time was diminished, until it was only ten to fifteen minutes, and there would be consecutive days when we weren’t taken out at all. In the courtyard of the prison was a flowerbed, but without any flowers growing in it. Only some grass grew there. No one tended it. In the center was a troitsa — a large carved wooden cross — made by those who preceded us. … The troitsa disappeared one night; the Communists smashed it to pieces. All that re­mained—how can I say?—was an orphaned flowerbed, devoid of flowers and the cross. Valeriu returned from a walk around the flowerbed, and brought into the cell a handful of grass in which was a dandelion and some pieces of ‘shepherd’s bag.’ With a radi­ant face he showed them to me, saying: ‘Look what beautiful flowers I’ve brought you.’ He saw beauty where it was not. Or, per­haps, it was there, but we did not see it. He had the eyes to see it.”


In 1949, Valeriu was trans­ferred to Pitesti prison. He had now spent the prime of his youth in prison; his life was nearing the consummation of its sacrifice. At this time there were mass arrests of the Romanian youth, intellectuals, monastics, and anyone considered to be a threat to the new regime. The youth were all being sent to Pitesti, which was to become the site of the diabolical experiment of “re-education.” Fr. George Calciu, a survivor of the Pitesti experiment, described it thus: “It was the use of unbelievable means of physical and psychological torture that had been consciously devised to break the youth from their past — their Christian faith, family, love of country, and anything that was good and honorable — in order to recreate the ‘new man.’ After they were completely broken and had agreed under torture that they would embrace Communism, renounce faith in God, denounce others and give information, they were then forced to go into the- cells of their brother prisoners and in turn perform the same methods of tortures as proof of their loyalty to Communism. The purpose was to destroy the personality of the individual and make him a tool of the state.” {See Fr. George Calciu, Christ is Calling You (St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1997), pp. 96,131-35}.


The “re-education” experiment had not begun when Valeriu ar­rived in Pitesti. The regime was preparing the prisoners by breaking them down physically, so that they would be spiritually unprepared for the coming experiment. Walks were completely suspended, food rations cut back, and clothing taken from the prisoners.

Here the prisoners who came into contact with Valeriu saw him not so much as a man but as an earthly angel. Whereas before he had been a leader and inspirer of the youth, now he poured forth the love of Christ on all. Alexandru Virgil loanid recounted: “My first impres­sion was particularly powerful. It seemed to me that he was emanating an unceasing river of love and a brilliant energy. It made me think of the aura around St. Seraphim of Sarov. He was for me, without a doubt, a charismatic personality. However, we did not stay in the same cell, as I would have desired.” Among those who knew Valeriu in prison was the twenty-two-year-old George Calciu. Years later, as a priest, Fr. George spoke of the influence of Valeriu Gafencu on the younger prisoners: “It was enough just to see him and pass by him, to immediately feel the influence of Gafencu. We men who were freed from prison were moved many times. So Gafencu might spend time with some four hundred different people as they moved through the cell. The moment they were in the cell with Gafencu, they completely forgot any bad thought, any rebellion against Jesus Christ. A church was established there in the cell. There were young people, rebellions, conflicts, and so on, but he changed their soul and mind. Therefore, his memory is greatly revered, and the people who stayed with him in the same room still pray to him as to a saint.” {Ibid., pp. 173.}


Valeriu Gafencu’s life became a complete sacrifice, as he gave up his will in all things. Florian Dumitrescu described one typical episode:

“Mircea Selten was an amateur comedian and he would amuse himself with a song, which he would hum nearly every day:

‘I am the long-hand Apache, Famous in seven counties …’

“I got the impression that this song disturbed Valeriu’s prayer of the heart, a hesychast practice which he performed. Having been a college classmate of Mircea’s, and understanding his spirit, I asked Valeriu if he wanted me to ask Mircea to sing this song less often. He answered with his usual peace and calm: ‘Who has the right to take away Mircea’s small pleasure?'”

During his imprisonment at Pitesti, Valeriu contracted tuberculosis. Seven years in prison had overpowered his robust constitution. While many became depressed at the onset of the disease, having no hope for the future, Valeriu continued to inspire those around him. Bucur M. Negulescu recounted: “In that intellectual environment, being young and subject to pessimism because of the tuberculosis, he sowed optimism, trust in the wisdom of God: ‘Let us lift up our hearts’ and ‘We are not alone—God is with us.’ He convinced those who admired him to follow him, explaining that the purpose of our earthly life is resurrection. His life was a model that many followed.

“I think now that many saints of our Orthodox Christian Church were isolated in the wilderness and lived in asceticism in service to God. But, in order to be holy in a crowded Communist prison, I think that one must be truly chosen by God, growing and overflowing with generosity, and bearing fruit.”


Valerius love was spread not only to his fellow prisoners but also to his tormentors. Valeriu worked to keep the peace in the prison, and at all times strived for the salvation of the guards. As Bucur M. Negulescu remembered: “One day, when the guard Florica was leading us in a group from the washroom, he yelled at us to move more quickly. I lost my patience and did not control myself. I turned to him defiantly and said, ‘Sir, why do you cry out like that, as if addressing a herd of cows?!’ He wanted to lay hands on me, but we were close to our room, and I quickly entered. He stayed, as usual, at the door. From within I turned to him again and said defiantly, ‘Hey, come on in—why don’t you come here?’ But he did not dare. (The regulations forbade him to enter alone, unarmed, among so many prisoners.) He spitefully locked the door from outside. Then Valeriu reprimanded me. This man of peace and righteousness, who had passed through and seen so much during those seven years of incarceration, said to me: ‘Don’t you realize that we are in their hands? We must not make them worse, but must strive to make them better!'”

Likewise, Florian Dumitrescu recalled that Valeriu treated all men as being made in the image of God: “One day, Valeriu came up to the most cruel guard, for whom inflicting insults and beatings were a matter of course: ‘Mr. Georgescu, one time the high priests came to the Savior, bringing a woman who had fallen into fornication, and they addressed Jesus: “What do we do with this woman, because according to our law she must be killed by stoning?” And the Savior answered: He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. Those that heard this dispersed one by one. Jesus said: Woman, where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you? …Go and sin no more (John 8:7—11).’

“After a few hours, Georgescu opened the door of the cell and said: ‘They had no grounds; that is why they did not kill her.’ From that time on, Georgescu showed a glimmer of humanity and respect toward us in the isolation cell.”

All things earthly were slowly being stripped from Valeriu. First his physical freedom, then his health, and finally his self-will. While al­most everyone in prison tried to circumvent these losses—even in the smallest way—Valeriu was not in the least troubled. Florian Dumitrescu recounts:

“It was in the month of May, 1949. I awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of unlocking bolts—a sign that always indicated that an event was about to occur. Suddenly, the door was opened, and into the cell came two colonels, two peas in a pod with the same thick fingers and the same enormous necks. They were accompanied by the jailor. It was the usual scenario: the beginning of the inhuman searches of the cells. Traian Popescu, Octavian Voinea, and Mircea Selten entered the cell. Valeriu Gafencu and I had been brought in earlier.

“With hate in their eyes, the colonels addressed us: ‘So, you want to escape, do you?’


“Voinea’s intervention was categoric: ‘It is a falsification of the truth, Mr. Colonel.’


“The encounter was charged with mutual distrust. [One of the colonels asked:] ‘Hey you, what do you want?’


“Then I heard Gafencu answer: ‘I want religious assistance, which is guaranteed to us by law.’


“‘Hey you, what are you saying? You say you want us to bring you a “popa” [derogative for priest] into the cell?’

“‘Yes, I wish for this. It is my right.’

“‘This one is a fool!’

“‘Yes, I am a fool for Christ.’

“Valeriu was totally at peace within; there was a complete har­mony between what he said and what he did.

“When the colonel announced that we were not allowed to pos­sess anything more than a set of underwear and a shirt — neither a jacket nor pants — we found ourselves in a difficult situation. While Valeriu was preparing his packet of clothes to turn over to the store­house, we were looking for hiding places in order to save our health, because it was cold in the cell. When we were preparing our packets and no longer under the surveillance of the colonels, Voinea cried out: ‘We must defend ourselves from these criminals.’ Valeriu replied: ‘The Savior teaches us to give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s; therefore, I submit myself to the words of Jesus.’ The colonels later maintained that they took these measures in order to prevent an eventual escape, for which the prisoners were preparing.”

In December of 1949, Valerius health dramatically worsened. His cellmate, Florian Dumitrescu, witnessed his complete collapse, which would spare him from the impending re-education experiment at Pitesti.


“One night Valeriu had a resounding cough and he fainted. When I looked at him, blood was flowing in a stream from his lungs. It was the first time he coughed up blood. Then Voinea knocked on the door and cried out with all of his might: ‘Call the doctor.’ When the guard opened the door of the cell, we all began to sing ‘God is with us….’ When he recovered consciousness, Valeriu said: ‘Be quiet, brothers, because I want to die in humility, unknown by anyone….’


“A few days later, when he coughed up blood again, he was taken from us and brought to the infirmary.”


The regimen for breaking down the prisoners’ health in prepara­tion for re-education had worked too well. Alexandru Virgil loanid relates: “Knowing that those sick with lung disease would not be able to withstand the tests of’ re-education,’ they decided to evacuate them from the Pitesti penitentiary and send them to the penitentiary-sana­torium, Targu Ocna. The medical official of the prison drew up a list, and at the end of December, 1949, a group was formed, of which Valeriu Gafencu and I were part. Valeriu was in a serious state. He could barely stand on his feet. While on the road, even though we were also weak, others supported him and carried his baggage. In the police van, with his cheeks a yellowish-brown because of fever, he would talk to us about the blessedness of suffering for Christ. Like the martyrs of former times, he said, we must withstand the persecutions unleashed by enemies of the Faith.”

  1. re-education at targu ocna

The year 1950 marked Valerius ninth year of uninterrupted suf­fering in prison. By this time he was afflicted not only with tuberculo­sis, but with rheumatism as well. The combination had destroyed his great physical stature.

At this time, Valeriu was described by Aurelian Gutas, one of his fellow prisoners, as “far too thin and not able to stand on his feet by himself. His frame, which at one time must have been lofty and impos­ing, was now like a broken and leafless tree. Illness and suffering had put a heavy stamp upon his body. The look in his blue eyes, however, shone serenely, full of kindness. Whoever had the eyes to see could read in them great meaning—-love for God and man.”

Nonetheless, in retrospect Valerius illness could be seen as a providential reprieve from a worse fate: the re-education program about to begin at Pitesti. “We escaped from an earthly hell,” wrote Aurelian Gutas, “by which God sternly punished us for our sins. Now, through His mercy, we were heading to a place where the blows would be a little less painful, yet where illness would scourge our bodies with­out mercy.” The death sentence of tuberculosis, combined with mal­nutrition and cold, damp conditions was considered a mercy compared to the events taking place in Pitesti.

At Targu Ocna Valeriu was settled into a room with three other men as seriously ill as himself. Two other men stayed with them, nurs­ing them as best they could: feeding and washing them, and attempt­ing to alleviate their pain. The improved diet at Targu Ocna, combined with the little medicine he received, permitted Valeriu’s health to improve for a time. Although still not able to get out of bed, he regained enough strength to increase his preaching of the word of God. The prison regulations were quite relaxed compared to those at Pitesti, and many inmates took advantage of the opportunity of com­ing to his bedside to receive a profitable word. Gutas, one of his cell-mates, recalled this time of spiritual gathering:

“In the long evenings and nights of winter, Valeriu would call us next to him, in order to exchange thoughts about our Christian con­science. On one such evening he asked me the most profound and es­sential question, something that I kept with me for the rest of my life: ‘What do you think is the fundamental purpose of life?’ I tried hard to formulate the richest answer in content, but I think I failed to ren­der the core of the truth. Valeriu’s answer was: ‘I consider the chief aim of our life to be a continual preparation for the day of the Chris­tian resurrection. On that day, men and nations will present them­selves before the supreme judgment, with their good deeds and their sins, resulting in their proper placement in the heavenly hierarchies.’ Perhaps I had heard such or similar things, but they had passed over me like water over stones. The way Valeriu expressed them—with a thrilling vibration in his voice and a heavenly depth in his eyes—struck my soul like a bolt of lightning that transformed my in­ner world for the rest of my life. He practiced the ‘prayer of the heart,’ a hesychastic practice which he had started years before, so that now the prayer was self-moving without ceasing, to the rhythm of his beat­ing heart.

“The passing of time has strengthened my conviction that I have never met another Christian personality so powerfully developed in both height and depth. His concern for Christian salvation went far beyond himself and even Romania. He was deeply interested in the Christian flowering of Orthodoxy and he thought constantly about the final destiny of man. He would not make reference to the time that had passed or to the time until our deliverance. I realized that he had transcended the normal limits of time and space, and was living in the dimension of eternity.”

The first hints of the results of the “re-education” experiment ar­rived in the form of fifty prisoners from Pitesti, half of whom had passed through the experiment. Upon hearing about the horrors that had taken place, Valeriu was saddened and said, “We also await diffi­cult times.”

Those prisoners who were considered “re-educated” made prepa­rations to institute the same system at Targu Ocna. Their first steps were to make contact with the political officer and create a state of ten­sion and unrest among the prisoners.

Thus, the “re-education” began. At first the political officer probed the spiritual state of the prisoners—pressuring and threatening prisoners on the one hand, and on the other making promises of free­dom to those who would cooperate. Soon the stakes increased. Black­mail, threats, psychic pressure, isolation, the hardening of the regime, and finally brutal violence were introduced to persuade the prisoners to be indoctrinated. Those who agreed were given permission to receive letters, packages and medicine, and were given the possibility of freedom.

About this time, according to Ion Popescu, “the political officer approached Valeriu. Valerius response to all the offers and threats was to say that he put all his hope in God, had firm faith that his life was under His protection, and that there was no need of any other support. The political officer was aggravated and told him he would have to die and that all who refused to change their attitude toward the regime would, therefore, also have to die in prison.”

Ioan Ianolide

Among the arrivals from Pitesti was Valerius closest friend, Ion lanolide. When he arrived he was exceedingly ill, but he recovered quickly and was soon nursing Valeriu and other ailing prisoners. Those of like mind in resisting the “re-education” began to gather around them. They relied only on God, praying to Him to deliver them from this trial. According to Alexandru Virgil loanid, “even at the cost of ex­cruciating suffering and the sacrifice of their lives, they remained until the end in the position of witnessing the Lord Christ and rejecting Communist atheism.”

In the end the attempt at “re-education” in Targu Ocna was a complete failure. “The political officer and those ‘re-educated’ did not acquire even one convert from among them. There were sick men who had packages arrive from home with the saving medicine—streptomy­cin; and the attempt was made to blackmail them into becoming in­formers in exchange for receiving their medicine, but they straightway refused. The packages of medicine were sent back to their families, and those who kept their souls pure were destined to lose their earthly lives. I know of three such cases: Eduard Masichevici from Bucovina, George Nitescu, and Emil Sobieschi. Through them and others the prophetic words of the Lord Jesus were confirmed: For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:25-26).

Targu Ocna had become a spiritual sanatorium. A system de­signed to make men into demons had been used by God to make saints. Valeriu Gafencu was clearly aware of God’s mercy and strove to make those around him understand this. A hidden spiritual life was blooming, and there was nothing the authorities could do. Eugene Dimitriu recounted: “For hours on end, in the semi-darkness of the room, Valeriu Gafencu would speak in a whisper to the youth on duty, reminding them of the [moral] collapse at Pitesti: ‘God had mercy on us, and He brought us to Targu Ocna in order to perform a miracle of moral regeneration, the regaining of Divine Grace.’

“A Bible was secretly brought into the sanatorium, and was circulated in installments. It was never discovered. The officer had his antennae extended into the prison, and he could not understand the spiritual growth of the ‘bandits.’ Under the cover of his identity as medic, Dr. Banu would stand at the head of the patient’s bed and carry on a highly meaningful discussion. The medics did not hide [their activity] from some of us.



“Valeriu Gafencu asserted that the salvation of the Romanian na­tion must be carried out by the youth together with the priests. They must disperse the word of God among men and face any danger, even unto the supreme sacrifice [of their life]. Those who were resolute to do this after they were freed from prison, at the height of the Commu­nist terror, were mercilessly assailed and thrown back into prison. The ‘Pitesti Experiment’ has to be seriously contrasted with the ‘Targu Ocna Phenomenon,’ where it was proven that men could become saints.”

By 1951, Valerius condition, which had initially improved in Targu Ocna, was worsening. He had spent over a year in bed without movement. This, combined with his feebleness and insufficient blood circulation, had resulted in large, black, crusty sores on his body. They covered a large section of his back, thighs, and shanks, and there was no way to heal them. According to Aurelian Gutas: “Others who were in a similar state would wail, blaspheme and revolt, because the smarting and pain of the wounds were unbearable. But I never once heard Valeriu complain, although by his appearance one could read in­tense suffering. Tears of pain would appear in his eyes when his wounds were being dressed with meticulous care and brotherly love for hours at a time by the prisoner doctors Ion Ghitulescu, Nae Floricel, and Aristide Lefa. From strips of torn shirts we would make bandages for covering the sores, but because of the lack of necessary medical substances the strips would stick to the wounds and cause terrible pain when they were taken off. You would not hear any outcry from the mouth of Valeriu, but after a while, beads of sweat would cover the arch of his forehead. The doctors observed that this was the sign that his patience had reached its limit. Then they would stop and leave him alone for a short time to recover.”

The number of sick steadily increased. In that atmosphere of disease, cold and malnutrition, even the young and healthy quickly suc­cumbed to tuberculosis. At first, the seriously ill were kept in Room 4. Eventually, because of the increase in terminal patients, a second room was designated for their care. Aristide Lefa, one of the doctors who took care of Valeriu, recalls: “Together with my colleague Mihail Lungeanu, I provided the medical assistance. To the surprise of all, not one of us was infected with lung disease. It was a true miracle. Staying constantly near Valeriu, I was able to have long discussions with him and to get to know him well. And I, like his other companions in suffering, was overcome by his powerful personality and lofty Christian bearing. This he lived without ostentation, greatly influencing the spir­itual atmosphere of the whole sanatorium, even though he was perma­nently confined to his bed.

“In this room hundreds of the sick died — the majority of them young. I stayed in their midst and I saw them dying. Not one of them — absolutely not one — revolted against his lot or against God. They died reconciled, confessing Christ — even Ion Filipescu, an old socialist who had claimed to be atheist. And all of this was due to the spiritual atmosphere that was attributed mostly to Valeriu Gafencu. Room 4, in which each one awaited his end, was a temple of prayer, a temple of the dead. Each one who entered into contact with the dying was aware of the danger that was in store for him, but faith in God gave him the strength to overcome that fear without showing it.

“I remember how, during the night, when Valeriu needed to urinate, he would endure until the orderly on duty was called by others. He would do this so as not to bother the orderly by getting him up from where he was resting, even though it brought about a strong dis­comfort and even pain. Such spiritual refinement!

“In the summer of 1951, on top of his serious illness, he acquired acute appendicitis. They could not operate at the sanatorium because they lacked the sterile instruments and materials necessary to enter the abdomen. The woman doctor, Dr. Danielescu, despite the difficulty, obtained permission to transport him to the hospital in town. There, the surgeon anaesthetized him and performed the operation. The nurse, who was standing at the head of his bed, saw that he was per­spiring a lot, but attributed this to his lung ailment. At the end of the operation, with a faint voice, he said to the doctor, ‘Doctor, you oper­ated on me while I was awake.’ Surprised, the doctor told him to lift up a leg and when he saw that he could do this, he realized that the an­esthesia had not completely taken affect. He understood that he had operated on him without enough anesthesia. ‘Well, sir, why didn’t you tell me? I would have given you local anesthesia and it wouldn’t have hurt you. How were you able to endure so much pain?’ This incident much affected those present, and the nurse furtively lifted a handker­chief, having tears in her eyes. A short time after the operation Valeriu was stuffed into a kind of cart with two wheels and jolted over the rocky pavement back to the sanatorium. He confessed to me upon his arrival that the road was awful. He advised me never to be operated on because it is inhuman. I laughed and I told him that it was his own fault. He should have brought the fact that he wasn’t anaesthetized to the medic’s attention.”

  1. pastor richard wurmbrand

There arrived at Targu Ocna a poor man, admitted under the name Basil Georgescu, who was apparently living out the last days of his life. His body was covered with bone tuberculosis wounds and sores produced by ganglion, which exuded pus continually. By ethnicity he was obviously of Jewish background, but little else was known of him.


The prisoners under the direction of Valeriu saw it as their Chris­tian duty to ease his sufferings. They did everything in their power to help him so that he could end his days in as much spiritual peace and reconciliation as possible.

“Basil” eventually confided to Ion lanolide, who took care of him, that his name was actually Richard Wurmbrand. He had grown up an atheist, embraced Communism, and was strongly implicated in underground Communist activity, having as his conspiratorial name, Basil Georgescu. He had been arrested and condemned for illegal Communist activity during the years 1936 to 1939. After his release, he converted to Christianity and became a Protestant pastor. In 1948 he was again arrested, this time for his work in the underground church.

“Eventually everyone found out,” recalled Aurelian Gutas, “but that did not at all change our brotherly care for a man found in terrible suffering. The difference of religious confessions, of ethnic origins and of past politics, for which so much blood was and is shed, melted into a sincere love — Christian, natural; without ostentation, rhetoric or pomp.

“Valeriu was confined to his bed and Pastor Wurmbrand likewise was confined to bed, at first in another room. For many months they could not see each other, but their thoughts would circulate from one to the other, through our intermediary. The ebb and flow of Christian love enveloped Pastor Wurmbrand through [Valeriu’s] unity, in spite of the distance.”

Meanwhile, one of the prisoners, Relu Stefan, had received a parcel from his family containing a sufficient amount of streptomycin for the healing of his tuberculosis. His body, however, had already stabilized, and he had regained strength without the need of antibiotics. These an­tibiotics he gave to Valeriu, happy that he might be able to save his friend’s life.

Instead of taking the medicine, Valeriu surprised everyone in the prison. According to Aristide Lefa: “Without saying anything to any­one he decided, in his turn, to give it to Richard Wurmbrand, who was critically ill, though not worse than Valeriu. Despite all our insistence and medically grounded arguments, he refused to change his decision. The result was that Wurmbrand was saved, and Valeriu died.” As Aurelian Gutas recalled: “In his exalted love and Christian closeness to Pastor Wurmbrand, Valeriu considered it fitting that this one be saved from the jaws of death before him.

“Deeply impressed by this exalted gesture of unsurpassed dignity, the doctor prisoners respected Valeriu’s choice. They assumed the risk of punishment that could follow if the change of destination of the streptomycin should be discovered. They accepted and administered it in great secrecy to the pastor.”

Indeed, the dying pastor regained his strength. His first wish was to be taken to the bedside of Valeriu. “Between these two,” records Alexandra Virgil loanid, “began an exchange of knowledge and spiri­tual dialogue, carried on in the spirit of good faith and Christian love, with the intent of drawing near the truth, and not imposing opinion. It was not two chosen personalities that were coming together,  but two Christian conceptions and mentalities: the Orthodox and the Protestant…. Those who assisted the two of them in Room 4, where their conversations took place, later told us that most of the time Valeriu was the victorious one, obliging the Protestant pastor to recognize the correctness of his views. Richard Wurmbrand once confessed to Valeriu: ‘I would like to enter into the kingdom of Heaven by the same gateway as you.'”

  1. freedom in prison

Valeriu had now spent ten years, one third of his life, in prison. Much of that time had been spent with his closest friend, Ion lanolide, who had also been arrested in 1941. Through years of suffering to­gether for Christ, they had developed a oneness of soul that could never be understood by the world.

In the last years of Valerius life, the two friends had envisioned and articulated a kind of brotherhood for the laity. It was to be named “Servants of Christ.” The principal characteristics would be akin to those of the monastic ranks. Members would live in the world without being “of the world.” They would embrace the first two monastic vows of obedience and voluntary poverty. Finally, in place of the vow of chastity taken by monastics, the laymen would take a vow of service. According to Alexandra Virgil loanid, Valeriu and Ion had outlined the principal purpose of the brotherhood:

1) An intensified, apostolic activity of spreading the Christian teaching.

2) The focusing, within one’s sphere of influence, on a genuine Christian life — being concerned first of all for the content, not the form.

3) The impressing of a Christian character on all public activities: social, cultural, juridical, medical, economic, etc., through the mem­bers of the brotherhood who take part in these professional bodies.

4) The performance of good deeds, the increasing of the inde­pendence of the Orthodox Church in relation to the state, and the res­toration of all the ecclesiastical assets that were confiscated or destroyed by the Communist regime.

5) The reconsideration of how a “typical Christian” is seen. Christians are seen as men who are meek, compassionate, forgiving, tolerant, submissive, somewhat naive, and easily deceived by anyone.

This partial image should be completed, according to the words of Je­sus, with the qualities of boldness in Christ, wisdom, firmness in de­fending the Faith and, in the particular conditions of our epoch, participation in the historical events through which the will of God is realized.

They envisioned that the brotherhood would be under obedience to the Church, and all activities would be under ecclesiastical direc­tion. Through these activities they hoped to bring about the revitalization of the laity. The end result would be, according to Alexandru Virgil loanid, “the training of many more faithful for the good estate and development of the whole Church.”

At the time when Valeriu had given his medicine for the healing of Richard Wurmbrand, Ion had been isolated in a room with seven other men. Later, another group of prisoners received the same punish­ment, and the others were sent back to the section for the sick, receiv­ing a lighter regime. This gave Ion the opportunity to once again nurse the dying Valeriu.

No one in the prison except Ion shared or truly understood the depths of Valerius spiritual life. Years later Ion divulged the heights to which Valerius prayer had led him. Alexandru Virgil loanid received this testimony and related it only after Ion’s repose in 1985:

“One morning when, as usual, Ion came to Valeriu’s bedside, he found him in an unusually transfigured state. Valeriu related to him the following: ‘Last night, while I was strongly concentrated in prayer, I felt like I went out of myself. It felt like my spirit left my body through my mouth. Then I was raised up above myself and I saw my body lying immobile in bed, and the things below me became smaller and smaller. Perhaps I was taken to heaven, as the Apostle Paul says [cf. II Cor. 12:2]. I felt an indescribable peace and happiness. Later, I reentered myself, again through the mouth. I am now asking for your counsel as to what I should do. Should I ask the Lord to let me con­tinue [to enter] into the same state? Was this brought about by the Holy Spirit? Could it be a temptation in order to make me prideful and to make me believe I was raised to where it is fitting only for those with special Grace?’

“After they had consulted together, they arrived at the conclusion that the best course was to let things happen by themselves, without making any efforts or prayer for this state to be repeated…. According to Ion, Valeriu never again had the same experience until his death, which happened soon after that.”

As death neared for Valeriu, a great consolation was given him. The prisoner and priest, Fr. Viorel Todea, arrived in Targu Ocna. Valeriu was once again able to receive the Divine aid of the Sacraments.

  1. repose

The winter of 1951-52 found Valeriu approaching a state of complete physical collapse. His physician, Aristide Lefa, recounted some of his memories of that winter:

“One afternoon … he had a medical crisis of atrium fibrillation (arrhythmic heartbeat) with all of its consequences. We all consulted and decided to administer a dose of strophanthin with glucose, the only major cardiac tonic that we prescribed. All awaited the outcome, but we did not find any modification of the heart’s rhythm, even though the effect of this medicine is usually almost instantaneous.


Closing time had come and I was on duty for the night. We agreed in common ro administer another dose after closing, even though none of us believed that he could survive this crisis. He was cyanotic. He kept his eyes closed, with his hand on his little cross, and was proba­bly praying. I was convinced that only a miracle could save him. After administering the second dose, I put my hand on his pulse and there was still no change. After about a half an hour, I was called to another sick person in the next room where I stayed for fifteen to twenty min­utes. When I returned and looked at him from across the room, I was convinced that he had died. He was no longer cyanotic, but pallid like he usually was, and I was afraid that the death pallor had set in. I ran over, and when I took his pulse it was beating normally. I could not believe it, but it was die truth. It was a miracle. He opened his eyes and he looked at me with a smile, serenely, as if nothing had hap­pened. I dissolved sugar in water and gave it to him to drink. It was the only way I could help his tired heart. When he drank, he looked at me with that unique look of his intense blue eyes, which flickered. He said to me, ‘To Him diey gave gall, and to me you give honey?’

“Everybody loved and respected him. Even those in the administration were impressed by this powerful personality. The so-called ‘re-educated’ did not dare to look him in the eye, mainly because they had not done their duty, even though he would look upon and treat them like all the others, with the same Christian love. I had many dis­cussions with him, frequently contradictory. I was in the position of a fighter, with sword in hand. He was living an exalted Christian life and had immense love for his enemies as well as for his neighbors. No sen­timent of hate ever entered into his heart. He convinced me that the most powerful weapon in fighting evil is love for one’s neighbors, but only after I went through my own experiences in life did I truly learn this. Even so, I never reached the level attained only by those who are called. And Valeriu was one of these.

“Even though he was seriously ill and always confined to bed, he was present in our life—in our joys, but especially in our sorrows. In him we all found wise counsel in our greatest moments of mental exhaustion in the fight against the evil within and outside ourselves.”

In early February, 1952, Valeriu knew that his earthly end was imminent. On February 2, the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord, Valeriu asked Nicolae Ittul to find him a candle and a white shirt. These he said he needed before February 18. He also said that he had a little metal cross, given him once by a girl he knew, which he wanted put into his mouth on the right side. He told Nicolae, “Wash me and clothe me, because on February 181 am departing from you.”

The morning of February 18 dawned. During the medical rounds he thanked both the woman doctor and the Major Sergeant from the bottom of his heart. At approximately 10:00 a.m., Valeriu asked Ittul to summon his closest ones to him so that he could say fare­well. In the face of death he expressed no terror, but radiated an angelic serenity.

At noon Valeriu was given a meal, but he refused it. He was pre­paring to enter the other world in full consciousness up to the last min­ute. At his bedside Ittul and Lungeanu were praying, while Valeriu was perspiring profusely. Then, between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. in the midst of fiery prayer, his pure soul ascended.

Aristide Lefa writes: “Thus completed a life which came to an end much too early — a life which was offered not the usual earthly joys, but the suffering that comes from bearing the Cross of Christ. On the other hand, his immeasurable faith was the blessedness of Eden, despite all the hostile conditions in which he lived. Because of him I am convinced, without a doubt, that there is no true happiness on earth except through ascetic effort and prayer to Him Who gave us the possibility of salvation. After his life had ended, the whole sanatorium fell under a profound sadness. Even those who had adopted the posi­tion of toeing the line of ‘re-education’ were touched. Many died at Targu Ocna, but they died reconciled with God and their neighbors. Never, however, was everyone as a whole more deeply affected as on this sad day.

“At that time the head of the section was a militia man, Orban Petre, who was evil through and through. He took great sadistic plea­sure in making all sorts of trouble for the prisoners. When someone would die, he would lock us all in the room so that we could not say good-bye to the one who had died or put a flower at his head since we did not have candles. But this time, when he found out about the death of Valeriu, he left the section and went out to the front en­trance for two whole hours, making it possible for all of us to see him one last time and do the proper things [for the newly reposed]. When he returned, with a meek voice he asked Ion lanolide, whom he knew had been the closest to Valeriu, if he wanted to take something from his belongings. This had never happened before. Ion replied that he did not need anything; he was grieving too much, having just lost his most beloved brother in suffering.

“When someone died, the body was raised from the section into a box, which served to transport everyone to the grave. There they were thrown, without a coffin, usually into a common grave. Until the burying, the box was set near the exterior wall, where there is a kind of screen. Shortly after Valeriu was taken out of the section, it began to gently snow, with big snowflakes, which soon covered every­thing with an immaculate layer, just like his pure soul. It was the first and the last time in my life that I had the conviction I was living near a saint.”

  1. an afterword

Ion lanolide, Valeriu Gafencu’s closest friend, wrote the following in 1983, two years before he died. In this memoir we hear an echo of Valerius spirit and experience:

February 18, 1983.

I am sixty-four years old. From 1941 to 1964, I was imprisoned, tortured and mocked — at first, by the Antonescu dictatorship, and then by the Communist one….

I have confessed Christ my whole life, and in 1944 I dedicated myself completely to Him. I was always confronted with material­ism—be it bourgeois or be it Communist. I measured the Christian Faith against Islam, Buddhism, and Confucianism, and especially against the Talmudic Jewish faith. I compared Orthodoxy with Ca­tholicism, Protestantism and neo-Protestantism. I gave atheism a great fight….


I stayed approximately five years in total isolation, starving and naked. I stayed over fifteen years in common rooms—some smaller, others larger—in which I lived day and night, forced to take care of all bodily necessities in the room in a “tineta,” a kind of bucket. Sometimes eight people would be squeezed into a cell six-and-a-half feet square, sleeping two, three or four to a bed. Our bodies and souls were, every moment, rubbing against each other. The terror of the guards, hunger, cold and illness seemed easy to us compared to the terror that is created between men who are different, desperate and often degraded.

I did agricultural work for two years. It was slave labor, and we were hungry and naked. Although we worked in vineyards and vege­table gardens, we were starving because we were not allowed to taste even a little of the fruit or vegetables. I was hungry for over twenty years, often dystrophic because of malnutrition. My body was freezing during all those years in prison. I was beaten, tormented and tortured for years, unto the destruction of physical and spiritual resistance. I have known the awful domain of living beyond bearable limits. For years I was threatened with death. “My soul” was continually asked of me. I often offered my life and I preferred the prospect of death in or­der to save my soul, my conscience, and my integrity; and only God protected me from falling. There exists no man who can withstand all the tortures. Many years—about fifteen in number — I was terrorized with the prospect of “re-education” in order to “restructure me,” and “wash my brain.” I refused, not fearing death but fearing that’ I might break down. Only Divine Providence saved me. I suffered terror from the jailors, and terror even more ferocious from informers and assas­sin prisoners, who had sold themselves to the political powers. I knew demonized human beings, with demonic expressions on their faces, who performed demonic acts. I was surrounded in an atmosphere of collective demons, which oscillated between madness and criminality. I took care of men who were dying: some hopeless, some in a state of revolt, others calm. I saw “saints” who radiated light, dying in a heav­enly atmosphere. I listened to professors, scholars, literary men, and I learned more than in a university. I knew Communists and Jews in prison, and I also knew those who had been in power. I took care of the general who presided over the military court that condemned me. It was given to me to close his eyes. After he had served the rulers, he too had been flung into prison.

I have known the bourgeois and the Communist, both as a free man and as a prisoner. All of this I filtered through the Spirit of Christ in which I strove all my life to live. At the end of this bitter experience, only Christ remains alive, whole and eternal in me…


Today it is thirty-one years since Valeriu died. I went to church and I went to Confession. On Sunday I will receive Holy Communion. I find holiness built into my being this day, so that nothing can separate me from it. It is the happiest day of my life, even though on this day the most precious man that I have ever known died. It was precisely him, on that day, who transmitted to me the blissful state which has accompanied me my whole life. I was so happy that I desired eternal life more than the spiritual fullness that I felt in him then. I was, and of course Valeriu was too, perfectly lucid, normal, and conscious of all that had happened. He was full of Grace. Christ was present in him and so I could also participate in his blissful state. Spiritual intensity dominated him without reservation. Eternity was visible in the moment. Blessedness sprang forth out of suffering. The atmosphere trembled in unearthly light. My soul was full of peace. My body was light. Under my feet I could feel an energetic field, a kind of vibration which kept me on the earth. I wept from happiness. I could see in the spirit: I saw the heavens opening in the immeasurable depth of Valerius eyes. I felt the Holy Spirit Who worked and spoke through him. In his physical helplessness and exhaustion I felt the Divine Energy of another plane of existence. I think I was in “heaven.” I think that I was also near Jesus, because Jesus was present in Valeria Valerius faith gave me strength. The messianism of the man that had died gave me the wings of confession. Valeriu’s love sub­jugated me entirely to the love of Jesus. I know and feel that Valeriu accompanies me and helps me in applying the methods and means to differentiate between the two “worlds” in which we live and which, in the Divine plan, have a perfect unity. My life is Christ’s. My thought waits and looks only for the will of God. My aspirations are in the joy of His promises. I am conscious of the messianic nature of the Christian Faith, and I desire to serve this Faith completely until death. I love people and, for their salvation, I follow the way of the Cross. I love life but only in the perspective of eternity; that is why I prefer to die than to allow the degradation of the soul and the con­science. I know I find myself in a battle against gigantic forces that can crush me, and I ask for wisdom, strength and protection from God.

Craciunul in Temnitele Comuniste - Valeriu Gafencu - P Gherasim Iscu - Ioan Ianolide

Although I am physically ill, and although my nerves are hyper­sensitive, my mind is whole and my reasoning is lucid. I have volun­tarily withdrawn from the world because men from the world spurn me or attack me and I cannot defend myself in any other way from them. I cannot serve except through prayer, love, meditation and wit­ness. I serve in order to keep my soul intact. I desire to have a Chris­tian end. I am aware that I have gathered divinely and humanly significant experiences, and that is why I am obliged to leave an in­heritance. I am not being vainglorious and affirming my ego, but only Christ. I live alone, isolated, silent. I see the spiritual, political, economic and military disaster that the world is in, and I do not think it can be averted. The world will suffer from the consequences of the errors of its orientation until it will open its mind to receive the truths of God and of the Faith. That is why the Faith must have au­thentic confessors. I want to do my full duty. I know that the world is contained in the Divine plan of salvation. I believe. I love. I hope. To­day, just like thirty-one years ago, I feel close to Valeriu and, along with him, close to the Lord Jesus.



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