Book Review: The Saint of The Prisons, on the life of Valeriu Gafencu

3:33 pm Marturisitori, Sfinti Romani                                                     

Book Review: The Saint of The Prisons, on the life of Valeriu Gafencu,

collected and annotated by the monk Moise

“Communism filled heaven with saints” said Father Arsenie Papacioc. This book is the inspiring story of one of them. Although his earthly life was only just thirty-one years, he attained union with Christ in a remarkable way

The first part of the book gives a short account of his early life. Both of his parents were devout Christians; Valeriu was the only son, but had three sisters. The account of his last meeting with his father, who died in a camp after courageously defending his village, is most moving.

Valeriu was an intelligent young man, idealistic and passionate about his faith and his country. He was a law student when he was arrested, aged just twenty, because of his involvement in “the brothers of the cross” within the Legionnaire organisation. Whatever ones political views are of the Legionnaires party, there is no doubt that Valeriu was solely motivated by a pure idealism that cared passionately about his country and his fellow men.

The account of the rest of his life spent in three prisons is drawn together like a mosaic, from his own writings and from testimonies from and dialogues with Valeriu. “He lived the Word of God to such a level that it was incomprehensible for us;” Father Ghorghe Calciu

Valeriu spent the first six years of his sentence at Aiud. Under the harsh regime which caused severe suffering, the book describes how Valeriu developed an extreme awareness of sin and of Christ’s cleansing power to heal the soul. He found great blessing in suffering for Christ, as his spiritual life grew in a way that would not have been possible in an easier existence. As his love for God grew so too did his love for others, and he ministered warmth and freedom to all those who came into contact with him

He then spent eighteen months at Pitesi, infamous for its brutal and inhuman “re-education programme.” He, mercifully, did not undergo that process before he was moved again. However the reader is not spared details of the unspeakable atrocities endured by others. Valeriu was able to minister spiritual solace to many of these victims. He was observed by fellow prisoners to be “an ascetic figure like a Byzantine martyr” Despite his suffering, through deprivation and developing tuberculosis, he always had a smile in his bright blue eyes and exuded peace and power.. The weaker he became the stronger was his life in The Holy Spirit. He was always courteous, courageous and dignified in manner to his captors

Valeriu’s final two years were spent at Targu-Ocna, a sanitorium for prisoners with TB. This place, amazingly, became a place of spiritual beauty, filled with great love like that of a family who cared deeply for one another. In the midst of death, the light of Christ was shining. Many dying prisoners experienced great grace and peace after meeting with Valeriu, himself very weak and in pain. Comfort and courage emanated from him as he “carried everyone in his heart”. He knew he was dying but counted it a joy and priviledge to give his lfe for Christ.

The account of his final days and weeks makes painful reading, yet inspiration shines from every page. He was unable to stretch himself out on his bed due to the ravages of TB, yet suffered patiently, always putting others first, whether it was food, belongings or words of comfort. His last Christmas was precious for all those who celebrated Christ’s Nativity in that place with him, as they sung a carol he had composed

His union with Christ increased as his death approached. He accurately predicted that he would die on February 18th. He reposed in the Lord after making his confession, receiving Holy Communion and saying farewell to all his friends. Everyone present felt the peace and joy emanating from him. He knew that he would be buried in a mass grave, and made unrecognisable, and asked that a small metal cross be placed in his mouth after death. The hours after his death were full of a mystical mixture of extreme sorrow and extreme rejoicing.

The last part of the book contains dialogues with and testimonies from those who knew Valeriu, including his disciples. They all point to his extreme sanctity and the effect of his love for God and others on all around him. He passionately believed that the Kingdom of God would ultimately triumph over all the power systems of man. He also wrote some beautiful poems, the one called “Farewell” is particularly moving.

This book is not an easy read, nor is it meant to be. It cannot fail to impact the reader, and assuming that the many accounts are authentic, Valuriu surely must be recognised as a Saint, and is seen to be one by many already. The style of the book is inevitably intense and the accurate English translation probably does not flow as well as the original. I wish I knew Romanian!

My only reservation is the inclusion of the detailed guide to confession at the end of the book. I think that, without it, the book could speak to many people, including young. non-Christian Western Europeans. I fear that this last piece could scare them away and undo the work of grace done by the account of Valeriu’s life. The guide is invaluable and appropriately challenging for faithful Orthodox Christians, but not for other people, particularly in this Western world of “political correctness” Perhaps, if and when thre is another edition, it could be omitted and produced as a separate booklet.

Overall I count it a privilege to have read this book and would recommend it to other devout Christians

Jenny Musther, wife of Father John Musther, The Orthodox Community of Bega St Mungo and St Herbert, Keswick, Cumbria, UK

P.S. You can order the book here:

4 Raspunsuri

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