Confessors of Christ from the Gulag: Valeriu Gafencu
Taken from the book: “The Saint of the Prisons”
(Translated by Monk Sava)
“When he was feeling better,” continues his friend – Ianolide, “Valeriu spoke beautifully and with fervor, focusing mainly on his favorite subject: interior purification and union with Christ. “’Through baptism, we received purifying grace, while being anointed with Holy Chrism, we have been adorned with all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But this blessed internal state is ineffective within us; we are Christians in name only.
We live in a world of confusion, of loose morals, of sin. It’s considered shameful to be a believer and old-fashioned to be moral. The baptized man, in order to be saved, has to live all his life in the Holy Spirit, but we haven’t succeeded in doing this. We have believed, we have prayed, we have kept the faith, we have suffered, but in order to be united with Christ, one must purify oneself inwardly through confession and renew oneself through Holy Communion. Therefore unite yourself to Christ conscientiously and with great steadfastness, making yourself a bearer of His holiness, His power, His love, His light, His immortality. You must oppose sin mercilessly. Then you will be reborn. There is no path of compromise.’
“Another time he said to us, ‘The teaching of Christ is so wonderful, so consummate, that if we understand it, we have the most powerful argument possible for the existence of God. When I had this revelation, I wept from pain and from happiness! Those who believe in Him must bear witness to this truth even if it means being martyred. Wasn’t the Son of God killed as an enemy of His people?’
“The seed that he scattered brought forth fruit. Day by day, people drew ever closer and ever more sincerely to Christ, Who became the source and guide of their lives and their thoughts. “One day Valeriu was feeling so bad that we thought he was going to die. In addition to all the other illnesses he suffered from, he also developed acute appendicitis. He could have been left to die, but that would not have been ‘humanitarian.’ Humanitarianism is the hypocrisy of cruelty, it brings to light the poisonous and lamentable domain of the Communist revolution, with its slogans and beautiful vestments.
So the doctor sent a report to prison administration so that he could be transported to the hospital in town for an operation. The penitentiary agent came to him and said: “’Your life is in my hands. If you don’t have this operation, you will die.’ “Valeriu smiled indulgently and answered: “‘If one man’s life depends on another, then this man indeed has great responsibility! But if everyone would realize that their lives depend on God, then everyone would value the life of his neighbor!’ “’You’re crazy,’ the agent said to him, and sent him to the operating room under strict guard. “When he came back to the sanatorium, the agent said to him: “ ‘Look, you were face to face with death! You see, we wanted to show you that your life is in our hands. Maybe now you’ve changed your mind and you’ll cooperate with us. We’ll give you streptomycin. (Streptomycin was the first antibiotic remedy for tuberculosis).
You’ll also get packages from your family. And you know what might happen later?… You’re an intelligent man and you could be useful to us. We know
that you’re not interested in politics, but in religion, but isn’t the patriarch and all of his priests on our side now? Why don’t you join our side too? You have a lot to gain!’“
’I thank you for allowing me to have an operation. From now on, my torments will go on even longer…. As for the rest, between you and me, there is a matter of conscience. For the sake of my spiritual freedom I have decided to die. It is good that the truth be told plainly, and I serve the truth. I am not the judge of others, but a confessor of God.
There is nothing under the sun that can survive without God. You cannot accept Christ. I cannot accept spiritual death.’
“’I told you already that you are crazy!’ shouted the agent. ‘I’m going to file a report. You are a reactionary, a fascist, an enemy of the people, in the service of American bandits! We know how to deal with people like you! You’re only fit to die! Go and die with your Christ! I won’t try to stop either Him or somebody like you!’
’You can kill me now, but no one can kill Him any longer. He is a stumbling block for all kinds of pride. Understand well that Christ is the only power that can deliver mankind from suffering and sin.’
“’Give up all this nonsense. The truth is on our side!’“
’The truth is love that sacrifices itself for the poor and the persecuted!’
“’Look here, you’re staring death straight in the face and you’re giving me mystical sermons?! You want to convince me too? See, now you’ve gone too far! You’ve spread yourself too thin.’
“Valeriu struggled to keep looking at him, because his eyelids had grown heavy. He felt worn out physically, but an internal joy compelled him to speak about faith in order to leave an eternal testimony. The smile of his measureless love blossomed on his cheeks. He prayed in secret for this unhappy man and for God to deliver the world from leaders like him.
“The agent was confused, muddled. He swore a blue streak and then ordered that Valeriu be taken back to his room. “’You can’t say that I didn’t behave decently with you’, the agent later added. ‘I offered you life, but you want death. The devil understands all this!’ “And then they parted company. After that, the agent never bothered him again, but came back into the room many times to take a long look at him.
“Valeriu realized that he would never get anything from the agents, but he took it upon himself to say to them, ‘There are very valuable people here who can be of use to the country, but they are dying because they have neither streptomycin nor news from their families. You can save them!’
“But the agents didn’t want to save them. In their belief system, the individual didn’t count, any man could be replaced with another. What counted was the system. The ideas of these prisoners undermined the system, therefore their prison sentences were definitive. “
Valeriu had a discussion regarding this issue only one additional time, with an inspector from Bucharest. The inspector stopped at Valeriu’s bed and asked him: “ ‘What’s your name, prisoner?’
- Mr. Inspector. I am the prisoner Valeriu Gafencu,’ he responded, using the required greeting. “’Aha,’ said the inspector, looking at him sternly. “’
- Mr. Inspector, we ask that you grant us the same rights the Communist prisoners had here!’
- “’We will not repeat the mistakes of the past,’ answered the inspector drily. ‘Our humanism does not apply to reactionaries.’ “
- ’Mr. Inspector,’ continued Valeriu, ‘the men here are sick, powerless. Every day, one of us dies. Besides we are subjected to threats of terror and torture.’
- “’How dare you speak to me that way?! We don’t want to turn you into heroes! At best, we’ll make you informers, and your wives and sisters prostitutes!’ “
- Valeriu was deeply pained and answered, ‘The sins of this world have to be atoned for. We, prisoners here, we are atoning for many sins. All of us, however, are in the hands of God.’
- “’You are a mystic bandit! You will die here! Don’t think for one moment that you will get out alive! Even the sickly way you are now, you too will be forced to undergo re-education!’ “
- ’The way I am is an advantage,’ answered Valeriu, ‘because I won’t be able to last for long. A few blows will be enough to finish me.’
- “’Go to hell!’ shouted the inspector. ‘We’ll make sure that you die slowly, painfully, until you give up that Christ that you‘re trying to scare us with. We hate Him, and you, and all of you! We’re going to destroy you all! Here there is no more Christ, dead or resurrected. We’ll see to it that future generations don’t know His lies or yours! We ourselves are the christs of this world!’ “
- ’May God forgive you,’ answered Valeriu and lowered his head in prayer, expecting to hear an order that he be crushed to pieces. “But he wasn’t killed then. His toil continued for a while longer.”
I Saw the Mother of God
During the night of his last Christmas, toward dawn, Valeriu testified to his friend – Ioan Ianolide:
“This night, I kept vigil. I was waiting for my carol to come. I wanted it to be very beautiful. I sang it in my head. I heard it in the high heavens, from where it descended. Rather difficult for me, since I don’t know musical notes and I have to sing by ear. So I was awake, lucid and serene, when, all of a sudden, I noticed a photograph of Seta – the girl he had loved – in my hand. Amazed by this, I lifted my gaze and at the head of my bed I saw the Mother of God, clothed in white, vivid, real. She was without her child. Her presence seemed material to me. The Mother of God was actually beside me. I was happy. I forgot everything. Time seemed endless. Then she said to me:
“’I am your love! Don’t be afraid. Don’t doubt. My Son will be victorious. He has sanctified this place now for future life. The powers of darkness are growing and will frighten the world still more, but they will be scattered. My Son is waiting for people to return to the faith. Today, the sons of darkness are bolder than the sons of light. Even though it may seem to you that there is no more faith left on earth, nevertheless, know that deliverance will come, albeit through fire and devastation. The world still has to suffer. Here, however, there is still much faith and I have come to encourage you. Be bold, the world belongs to Christ!’
“Then the Mother of God disappeared and I remained overwhelmed with happiness. I looked at my hand, but the photograph was no longer there.”
My eyes are sad and my forehead tired
From so much vigil and waiting.
My heart is sick, worn out
From difficult and prolonged running
And cries like a wounded bird.
When my eyes close and I seek within myself
The power to climb Golgotha to the top,
A voice, an echo from the depths
Says to me meekly, “Life is Jesus!
The precious pearl is within you.”
I look at the wondrous morning
Of the Resurrection from the grave,
With Magdalene, as if another time,
I kneel before Thee, weeping.
And I am happy and weep with Thee in thought.