As I always like to find saints to read about, Orthodoxy has no shortage of such stalwart men and women who gave their entire lives for Christ our God, and often times for their People as well. Saint Valeriu Gafencu, of Romania, is no exception, and a very pleasant find.
As our critics have been constantly bewailing that European Peoples do not really exist, and that we are merely a social construct (unless of course some criticism is to be leveled; then all of a sudden, we do exist), I encounter not only this Blessed Saint of the Prisons and Prisoners from a venerable Orthodox land and People, but discover that he also was a very dedicated member of the Legion of St. Michael the Archangel, also known as the Iron Guard. As many may know, the Legion was a diehard movement that stood for Orthodoxy , Traditionalism, and the Romanian Nation. Demonized by our foes of both the Left and Right by such epithets like “fascist” , the Legion was an inspiration to all who love the Church as well as love their People. Contemporaries of the Fascist and National Socialist movements, the Legionaries were quite different in their patriotism, as they understood the spiritual foundation of their people, as well as their organic foundation. They understood, unlike today’s neo-Gnostics, that the Faith was a combination of the spiritual with the physical. If one has one without the other, then a People are imbalanced. Too much matter is idolatrous, and too much spiritualism with a disregard for matter is the heresy of Gnosticism, for our Savior redeemed the material world when He became incarnate. So, it is a joy to me to find a saint who belonged to a movement that is quite inspirational to me.
SOME HISTORY OF VALERIU GAFENCU
Valeriu was born to a family of devout Orthodox farmers in 1921, in the northeastern Romanian territory of Bessarabia. He was one of four children, the other three being sisters.The family possessed about one hundred hectares of land and a thriving farm. Both his parents, Basil and Elena, were well known and highly respected members of the community, and were well known for their dedication to the Church as well as their patriotism. The region of Bessarabia was extremely rich and fertile and a very strategic location, being nestled between the Black Sea and the Dnieper River. In 1940, Romania was forced to yield Bessarabia to the Soviet Union.
Knowing the oppression that was to come, Basil took his family and fled the region, settling in Lasi, the ancient Moldavian capital. Once settled and all their affairs were in order, Basil embraced his son and stated ,”I have brought you here so that you will take care of your mothers and sisters. I charge you with this responsibility before God. I must go back among my own. What would all of our brothers say – our Bessarabian brothers- and how could I raise my eyes to Heaven if I and others like me, who until now fought to preserve the Romanian soul on this land, flee from the path of the oppressor and fail to share in the suffering that awaits us? “ How far as real men we have fallen! Now these were the words of a true Orthodox patriot! Shortly afterwards, Valeriu’s father was captured and arrested with a group of Bessarabian Romanians and deported to the Arctic Circle where he died within a year.
Valeriu went on to study law at the university in Lasi, where his intelligence and charisma made him quite popular among his peers. As his friend from youth stated, “Through the consistency of his creed, through his culture and uprightness, Valeriu quickly became a leader among the town’s youth….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.” This was all going on at a time of bleak years for Romania. Carol II ascended the throne in 1930, after a great depression, and was notoriously corrupt. At the same time Communism was rising rapidly in Romania as well. The Soviet Union was trying to take over all of Romania a little bit at a time, as it had already taken the Bessarabia region. The Iron Guard fought hard against this encroaching tyranny , even though the king betrayed them out of jealousy over their popularity, and fear of their power. Corneliu Codreanu, the leader of the Legion of the Archangel Michael and nine others were killed by the corrupt regime. It was during this time that Valeriu became active with the Legion, amidst all the turmoil. In 1940, the Legion took power briefly in Romania, until January 1941, when Hitler ordered German divisions on Romanian soil to “re-establish order”. This ousted the Legionaries and put a stooge of King Carol II , General Antonescu, into power, where he immediately began persecuting the brave and staunch Legionaries, imprisoning them or sending them off to the Eastern Front for certain death.
Meanwhile, Valeriu had become a highly regarded mentor for the youth movement of the Iron Guard, the Brotherhood of the Cross. In 1941, he was arrested with 25 other members of the Brotherhood by sell-out Antonescu. Valeriu ended up being the only one convicted, and was sentenced to 25 years of hard labor.
FROM PRISON TO HIS DEATH
After his conviction, Valeriu was sent to the Aiud prison camp in the central region of Alba. This is where he spent his first five years.. Eventually, the Communists took total control of Romania in 1948. When this occurred, prison conditions became deplorable and inhuman. Eventually he ended up in the infamous Pitesti prison, where Fr. George Calciu of blessed memory and many other Romanian monastics were interred. This is where the mask truly came off of Communism. In Pitesti, physical and psychological torture was used as a means of Soviet “re-education”. Fr. George Calciu stated how it was necessary for the Communists to make one denounce Christ and love of country and one’s people to become the “New Man” – fashioned in the image of the State. Valeriu withstood all this horror, contracting tuberculosis also at this point, and still stood as a witness for Christ and Romania , in spite of it all. Story after story is told about his piety and his dedication to his God and his people. Very famous, yet now reposed, Elders speak of his dedication and inspiration to all the Romanian faithful who languished in the cesspools of these Communist hell-holes alongside with him. Finally, in 1951, his deteriorating condition was made even worse when he contracted appendicitis . He finally succumbed
. This is true Orthodoxy. This is true self-sacrifice. And , yes; true Ethno-Patriotism was also intertwined with his love of God, as the Church always understood this as being a crucial part of humanity’s experience.
Saint Valeriu of the Prisons and Prisoners, intercede for us all!!!