“A man, as well as people, has value to the degree
to which he has understood the Gospel and can
follow the teaching of Christ”
(scholar: Simion Mehedinti)
A Guide to Confession – Written while in the Communist Gulag by Valeriu Gafencu
Introductory Notes: In general, too little is known about the spiritual life of confessors in Communist prisons and the various types of such confessors. It is true that until the collapse of Communism it was impossible to uncover anything, while after the collapse in 1990 testimonies of the survivors were not always available to those who were interested. Nevertheless, it would be of no small benefit to anyone to devote oneself to reading testimonies of those who passed through these prisons. In them, one would find such valuables which can rightly be compared to those found in a Paterikon or in the lives of the saints. Among the many portraits of the confessors, one will be found in particular that is recalled with reverence by all and is considered a saint: Valeriu Gafencu. Nicknamed “the saint of the prisons”3 by Father Nicolae Steinhardt) a Jew converted to Orthodoxy) in a truly inspired moment, Valeriu Gafencu was one of the more impressive figures who lived an admirable spiritual life amidst prison conditions. Through his sacrificial love springing from a perfect dedication of his life to Christ, he remains painted in the most luminous of colors in the hearts of those who knew him. Father Gheorghe Calciu wrote, “I have no doubt that he is a saint. He lived the word of God to such a level that it was incomprehensible for us”.
The spiritual atmosphere of Aiud played an important role in Valeriu’s spiritual formation. It was here that he experienced a moment of Illumination and succeeded, through the grace of God, to see his own sins. The work of repentance that began at that time gave rise to a state of spiritual joy that would accompany him through all of his trials. After Aiud came the prison at Pitesti (1948 – 1949), then a few months at Văcăresti, and finally the convalescent prison at Targu-Ocna (1950 – 1952). Confined to bed rest at Targu-Ocna in an advanced stage of tuberculosis, Valeriu was the haven where his prison mates found comfort and drew their strength. Through his faith and influence many things were made possible. Several atheistic prisoners returned to God, so-called re-education-through-torture attempts were thwarted, bonds of special brotherly love among prisoners were forged, a spirit of sacrifice for the sake of the more seriously ill was promulgated. His grace-filled presence created a spiritual atmosphere unique in the history of the Communist gulag. Knowing beforehand the day of his passing to the Lord, Valeriu was found at the moment of death in such a state of grace, that his friend Ioan Ianolide, who was beside him at the time of his passing, later testified,
“In eternity I could not wish to be in a more exalted state, for then [at the moment of Valeriu’s passing] I was totally, completely happy.”
Men like Valeriu Gafencu and other confessors of the prisons through whom the Holy Spirit worked with power, men worthy of high regard, await their place in the calendar, being the surest models of Christianity for us in these times dominated by confusion. Their lives deserve to be made known not for earthly glory, but “so that people living in these times, darkened by so much stray wandering, a result of estrangement from God, will know that such chosen ones existed in the twentieth century, men who raised themselves to the same level of faith and sacrifice as that of the early Christian martyrs.
Let him who is without sin be the first to cast a stone at her.
Most assuredly I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. (John 16:20)
He arose from supper and laid aside his garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. (John 13: 4-5)
Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. (John 13:23) “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13: 34)
“By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13: 35)
What sin is!
Sin is treading upon the law of God, a voluntary or involuntary treading, in knowledge or in ignorance, in deed, in word, in thought. Sin is dishonor toward God, insult, disdain, defamation, ingratitude and wounding toward the Divine being, in an egocentric spirit.
Sin is a lack of faith and a lack of confidence in God and in His law, and too much faith and confidence in oneself, such that a man becomes a law unto himself, because whenever you break the law of God, you obey another law, your own, or the devil’s.
Sin is a second crucifixion of Christ, for through sin all the insults, mockery, and beatings are renewed. The nails, the spear, the thorns, through sin, Christ feels them all again. Today, however, the blows no longer come from those who defamed Him and shouted, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Now they are administered by those who say they believe in Him, who say that they follow His commandments, that they love Him. Now it is those who are baptized who spit in His face, it is those who call themselves Christians who put the crown of thorns on His head, now it is they who slap Him, who nail Him to the cross, who goad Him with the spear, those for whom Christ suffered mockery and beating and for whom He shed His blood on Golgotha in order to make them sons of God, in order to open the gates of heaven for them, to destroy death and demolish hell.
Sin is estrangement from God and drawing near to the devil. It is estrangement from the house of the Father and life in a faraway country with the devil’s pigs.
Because we are the servants of him whom we serve (John 8:34), sin means slavery to the devil. When you sin, you no longer consider what God has done for you, you are no longer His son, and you do not think about His justice, by which He will punish those who sin against His will. Through sin, all the creatures of God act contrary to the purpose for which they were created. The mouth was not created by God that we might curse and swear with it or slander and curse our neighbor, but that we might use it to speak things useful to the soul. God did not give you a mind so that you can find arguments to distance yourself from Him, but that you might find arguments to draw near Him. The eyes were not made so that we might look at things that damage the soul, but that we might look upon God’s creation and give Him thanks. Just so, the ears, hands, and feet were not made in order that we might distance ourselves from God. Don’t you want to acknowledge the goodness and long-suffering of God? For you should know that time was given to you in order to gain paradise, and you waste it believing that God will no longer judge, that He will forgive us, that there are others much worse than you.
The Consequences of Sin
The evil brought about by sin:
1) Through sin, we lose the most precious gift that we have received from God. Without this gift, the soul remains deformed.
2) Through sin, the Holy Spirit is taken from us and we are no longer recognized as sons.
3) Through sin, we lose the eternal blessedness of heaven. We lose the possibility of union with God and life together with the saints. We lose eternal light and rest.
4) We attain unto hell with its unquenchable fire and its eternal darkness.
5) Through sin, we lose all the good deeds that we may have done previously, for God will judge you according to the state in which He finds you.
6) Through sin, we lose the help of God (to the extent that you are found in sin).
Do you not weep at the thought that you have lost heaven? Does the sorrow you have caused God not make you tremble?
Does the thought of hell not frighten you? Do you not seek to acquire the state that you have lost? Is it still possible? Yes! But you must want it….
From the very beginning, God has known our powerlessness and has given us the possibility of being purified from sins. He knew that man will sin as long as he lives and that no one is without sin, and therefore He said to His disciples: Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven, words through which He instituted the sacrament of Confession.
Confession or repentance is a bath from which the soul emerges relieved from the weight of sin and cleansed from the filth of sin, a bath in which we are cleansed of all our defilements and errors.
Confession is a medicine that heals the soul of the wounds inflicted by demons, a medicine that renders ineffective the poison of sin.
Confession turns a sinner away from the devil and back to God and restores His connection with his Creator.
Confession leads the soul to deeds and things that are for the sake of and according to the soul. Confession restores a man clean before God. Confession prepares the soul and body to receive the body and blood of our Savior Jesus Christ. Confess in the Church four times a year to the same spiritual father.
When you examine your conscience, consider yourself guilty, don’t justify yourself; think about the following things:
1) The motive or aim with which or for which you sinned. The following day, try to avoid the same situation.
2) The intention with which you sinned.
3) The surroundings, avoid them the following day.
4) The place where you sinned.
5) Whether your sin influenced others by encouraging them to sin also.
6) The number [of times you’ve performed this particular sin] …. Confession must be done with contrition of heart and a sense of regret. Contrition of heart is the grief and pain that the memory of the sin causes you. This pain consists not only in feeling the sin, to sigh and weep for it, but consists primarily in hating the sin. Regret is the pain that the repentant feels because he now lacks the grace of God and has earned torment. The church has established the rule that one should fast for seven days before confession, or possibly less. The sick are excused. Write down your sins on paper and read them alone before your spiritual father. Make a promise before God to not repeat your sins.
The Ten Commandments (to be continued)….
(Taken From the book “The Saint of the Prison” Translated by Monk Sava – an American convert to Orthodoxy, from Oasa Monastery)