INTERVIEW WITH BLESSED FR ROMAN BRAGA
The following text is a clarified transcription of words spoken by Blessed Fr. Roman Braga (1922-2015) in an interview he gave to the producers of “Beyond Torture: The Gulag of Pitesti, Romania", a documentary directed by Alan Hartwick (2007, 35 min). Fr. Roman talks about his early years and family life, God and the devil, prayer, the mission of Orthodox Christians in America, his repeated arrests and especially the infamous communist prison for intellectuals, Pitesti, where he was tortured physically and psychologically for 5 years. Fr. Roman reposed at the women’s Monastery of the Dormition of the Theotokos in Rives Junction, Michigan in 2015.
Interviewer: Jim Murphy
Interviewee: Fr. Roman Braga
— Father, may I ask for your own story, where you were born, the journey of your life.
His early years
From an Orthodox point of view I am a very normal person. I was born in an Orthodox family and I inherited the Faith from my family. They didn’t teach me religion. In fact, we don’t believe too much in teaching intellectually. You cannot know God by learning about God. God is lived. And in my family we lived the faith in God. We experienced God.
What is Christian education
If you go to Romania or Russia, you won’t find Sunday Schools. We don’t have Sunday School. Sunday School is when a mother takes her child in her arms, goes to the Icon of the Mother of God and says, “Look, this is Jesus Christ, this is the Mother of God, this is Saint Nicholas.” That is our Sunday School. All of this education happens in the family. Christian education is training, not teaching. You grow up in it, you experience it. This was very serious for us.
His family was “a little special”
As for our family life, sure, maybe my family was a little special, so to say, because my mom knew the Psalter by heart, all 150 Psalms. If I know half of them by heart now it is from my mom, not from the theological institute. They don’t teach you how to pray there.
— She must have been a very devout woman.
She was, and my father the same. My father provided her many books and some of the liturgical books. We prayed together as a family. There was no discussion about it. When the time came for prayer, we were on our knees.
Since we were farmers, we had the time. Maybe in an industrial world like today it is a little more difficult (I recommend to the people who come to this monastery that they pray together as a family, at least for a couple of minutes at night before going to bed.)
Preparing for Sunday Liturgy
So we lived a life of prayer. For us, preparation for Sunday Liturgy began Friday night. On Saturday we didn’t work at all. We cooked the meal for Sunday on Saturday, because in our family we never cooked on Sundays, we only warmed up our food. Sundays were for reading a spiritual book, from Scripture or from the Psalter or for having a spiritual discussion. We might also talk about something practical, like what we were going to do the next day, etc., these kinds of things. So it was a typical Orthodox family in this regard.
Crying babies in church
My whole family was in church (and, you know, Orthodox services are pretty long). We were together with our parents in church (In Romania, we didn’t separate children from their parents and send them to Sunday School during the Liturgy, with only the adults left in church with a cry room for the little ones. No! All the children were crying! It was noisy in church! The children stay in church because they are the people of God too. They have the same rights as we adults do, because they are baptized.
While Fr. Roman was speaking about children crying in Church, there was a “divine sign” overhead, “crying” geese which echoed Fr. Roman’s words. "There are none like You among the gods, O Lord, and there are no works like Your works." (Psalm 86:8, 85 LXX); "Work a sign with me for a good purpose and let those who hate me see it and be put to shame, for You, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me." (Psalm 86:18, 85 LXX)]
What is a “church member"
We don’t believe that members of the Church are those who pay dues to the Church. No! If we are baptized, we are members of the Church. We can go to any church. In fact, in Russia or Romania or in Greece we don’t have 300 or 400 parishioners. Nobody counts them. They come to church and they receive Holy Communion. We ask them, “Did you go to Confession?” “Yes, I went to my priest where my parents are” (a thousand miles away). “It’s ok, come to the chalice.” A parish does not have formal organization. The Church is a living organism, and is not defined by “how many members” she has.
So my family went to church every Sunday and for all the feast days. We had an Icon corner in our home with an oil lamp burning there all the time. There were some shelves there with Holy Scripture, some prayer books and other books.
How he learned to read
I learned to read and write, as a five-year-old, from the Akathist of St. Mary Magdalene, not in the Latin characters, but Slavonic. (Romanian uses Latin characters. We are a Latin people but had a Slavonic influence.)
And what were our parents? They were not intellectuals. They were farmers. After my mom showed me the word “God”, I found ”God” everywhere in the books, and then another word, and so on, and I found them easily. I learned to read very quickly.
Discipline given by his pious mother
Our parents were very attentive to us, but they were especially attentive to keeping us close to them. Like most children, we were very active. In our family there were eight children. Imagine having to make three meals a day for eight children. It was very hard work, but there was our mother, cooking away. When we went into in the kitchen, she was singing a psalm. When we were playing on the floor, she was singing. If we misbehaved, she would discipline us by telling us to go read three psalms or sing four songs (which, in fact, was a very good way to discipline). So it was a family full of love and faith, and it was beautiful. We had a choir in the family.
Fr. Roman being interviewed by Mr. Jim Murphy.
— Did you know then that you would become a priest?
No, we didn’t. We didn’t think about it.
“We are all monastics”
There was a monastery very close to our house, and the monks influenced us very much, the whole village in fact, because we didn’t look at monasticism as something “different”. In fact, we all are monastics. We all have the “inner” monasticism. When Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow Me” (Lk. 9:23) or “If you love your mother, father, sons and daughters and brothers and sisters more than Me, you are not worthy of Me” (Mt. 10:37-38), He wasn’t speaking to monks (because there were no monks at that time), but to everyone. “Take up your cross and follow Me”, obedience and other virtues can be accomplished in a family setting by listening to each other and obeying each other. The same with humbling oneself and daily confession of thoughts. All the monastic virtues, in fact, apply to everyone, because “Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect” (Mt. 5:48) is addressed to all of us. There were no monasteries in those days, so Jesus wasn’t speaking to monks, but to everyone. So monasticism is, in fact, within each one of us.
What is a monk?
What monks have that others do not is the “outer” monk, the garment we wear and the vow of celibacy. Monks do not marry because we are the army of the Church, the soldiers of the Church. We are at the disposal of the bishops; when the Church needs someone, we go immediately (we were sent here to open this monastery).
So we all are monastic. The monastery influenced our village in a good sense, but I wasn’t thinking to become a monk in those days.
— What was the moment when you knew that monasticism was your calling?
Communists did not like his teaching method.
At the seminary, the theological institute in Bucharest, I studied to become a teacher of Romanian language and literature. I began to teach at a high school in Bucharest, but when the communists came, they didn’t like the way I taught, because they wanted a Marxist interpretation to be introduced in everything. I didn’t want to lie to my students [by teaching a distorted reality], so I continued until they arrested me. I was a layman at that time, not a monk.
The first five years in prison, I was not a monk, priest or clergyman.
— But even as a layman your faith grew in prison?
Well, in my first imprisonment especially, the phenomenon Pitești [Pĭ∙tĕçht].
"Communism is not a normal society"
I was not a clergyman when I was in Pitești. And Pitești was very interesting. I thank God for my imprisonment there. There are things that happened in Pitești that you American people cannot comprehend. Sometimes, sure, it may seem unrealistic to you, even impossible, but if you read Solzhenitsyn, and especially anything about Pitești where I was for five years, you will understand that communism is not a normal society. You Americans are normal people. You don’t know what it is to be afraid, for your thoughts to be controlled, to fear that whatever word you might utter today could jeopardize your future tomorrow. You don’t know what it’s like to have to lock the doors and the windows if you tuned your radio to BBC London and go around the house to make sure no one was listening, or to be taught as a child not to tell anyone what we are doing at home because they will put you in prison. You don’t experience these kinds of situations. American people are not afraid of anything and, thank God, they are free. I would say that you are normal; those of us who passed through communism are not; something stays with us.
Patriarch of Romania had to send him to Brazil
Later, after I became a priest, they put me in prison twice (In Romania, if you spent time in prison that made you a candidate [for priesthood]). They gave me “vacations” but they always took me in again. I went in and out of prison so many times that the Patriarch of Romania finally said that I had to leave the country (even when I was not in prison, they took me in for every Easter and Christmas; they arrested me on the holy days all the time). Patriarch Justinian told me he had to send me to Brazil, just to get rid of me (it was not easy, because the authorities declined his request eleven times, but the Patriarch insisted.)
— Father, you mentioned Pitești. Could you explain a little bit of what happened there and what happened to the people who were there.
Special prisons for intellectuals were “laboratories” where they tried to “create a communist personality"
Importance of psychiatrists and doctors
Well, in communism there were some special prisons, “laboratories” you could call them, laboratories in which they believed they could create a communist personality. They used all the methods. Mental hospitals, for example. They came with psychiatrists; they were very important (communist psychiatrists also experimented in Russia). They came to give special drugs and said, “You are crazy because you are not a communist” or “You are crazy because you believe in God” or they scorned you saying, “Look at yourself...”
The old were “condemned to disappear"
Children educated in communist doctrine
These special prisons were for only for intellectuals, but not all intellectuals. They left the old intellectuals alone because they were destined to disappear on their own. As for the young children (because they had special prisons for the older children, for high school students), they were educated in the communist materialistic doctrine. The old intellectuals were busy working, reading books and so forth, but for the university students (and I was one of them at that time) and for the university graduates (25-35 year-olds), they made Pitești to transform their personalities – because they were an intellectual force – and to alter their thinking. They used every method. They controlled experiences, for example, using Pavlovian behavioral conditioning; they repeated things for you to hear, over and over.
There was also physical torture. Just to relate one incident, when we all lost the sense of time. I remember my room there, it was a big hall with bunkbeds. On the sixth of December everything started with a shock, physical torture. In five minutes we were under the beds, all bloodied. But that is nothing. That is bearable. That was the first shock, when I lost the sense of time.
Authorities brainwashed students to make them torture each other.
I knew when it was Easter and Palm Sunday and other holy days from the things they did there. They took the prisoners and mimicked and mocked liturgical actions, so to say, which were things they all knew from being Orthodox at one time. These actions were not done by the prison officials, but by the students. They had the students torture their own classmates and other prisoners. This was their method. They turned them against each other. They took a group of them who disappeared for a year and a half, and when they came back, they were completely brainwashed (they had said, “We don’t want to die in prison” and the authorities promised them that if they did this, they would be released. That was, of course, a lie, because no one was released.
So the prison was essentially run by one of the the prisoners. We never even saw the Director there, not one official was there.
Former Orthodox people became “demonized"
Desecration of church hymns
They started gathering information. We had to write down everything we could remember from the time we were five years old, every detail. It was a complete confession (the devil has his own confession). They had us stay in a special physical position in which one could remember everything. It was this was this position. I was like this for six months.
We had to sit there, just like that, and when it was time to go for the necessities (there was no bathroom in the room, just a barrel), they led us scornfully, saying all kind of of things I cannot repeat. They also used liturgical terminology, because, as I said, these people knew these things from being Orthodox at one time, but they became demonized. For example, they said phrases from prayers, but replaced the words with dirty words, but said them in the same rhythm as we say them in church. We say, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us”, and I could tell you in Romanian what they said, but it’s impossible for me to say these words, because they are dirty words. They did this just to create a shock.
"Inside a man there is a part that cannot be controlled”
What was the strength? Τheir wanted to keep us at the line between normal and abnormal, and no one can stay there; you had to say yes. There were people who said no, and this is most interesting: If a man strongly believes in God, there is something inside him that cannot be controlled. This was their failure. Even those who were brainwashed came back to themselves when they moved us to a forced labor camp. When they saw nature, the birds, they were rehabilitated. They came back.
You know what I saw in Pitești? Saintly people becoming criminals and criminals becoming Saints.
A call to spiritual fathers to collaborate and analyze what happened to men at Pitești
What I would like is for psychiatrists and deep spiritual fathers to collaborate and analyze what happened at Pitești, regarding the subconscious. A man does not know what he could become in certain conditions. We have in our heart, as Jesus said, good parts and bad parts (Mt. 15:19). Our hearts contain our world, both the passions and also all the good things. What is important to to ask “who am I?”
Many good, saintly people “fell”.
Similarity to Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag
The devil has “experts” in medicine, in psychiatry and in everything.
So we passed through Pitești. Two-hundred years would not be long enough for me to understand what I could become under certain conditions.And there were many people, good people, saintly people who fell, who gave up. Some people can resist up to this point, another a bit higher, but one cannot resist under those conditions, the pressure, to be pushed over the limit of normality. This is what Solzhenitsyn writes about, if you read him attentively. The Gulag did not represent the whole prison system in Russia, it was just one special place for intellectuals.
— Pitești sounds to me like a living hell.
It was a hell.
— And you used a very frightening word, that these people were “demonized”, and yet, Father, I’ve heard you say that your time in prison was a great blessing for you. How did the light of faith shine in such darkness?
He took refuge in the Jesus Prayer
It’s very difficult to say how for each individual. As for myself, I had my own inner temple. They couldn’t control me. I was saying The Jesus Prayer. I stayed inside myself. I just didn’t pay attention to them. There were some people who were not as spiritual, and sure, they were churchgoers or nominalistic Orthodox (in Romania we have them too, not just in the western world), and they fell. Those who really had God in themselves, however, did not. They resisted.
— Did your heart become a sanctuary?
If it had not, I could not have resisted. I wasn’t the only one. There were many who passed through Pitești who resisted, who didn’t give names. They thought that we were finished, but that was not the case. This kingdom inside you, this realm of the Church is what saves someone.
Religion must be a personal experience
That’s why I say, don’t learn about Christianity only, you have to live it, because God is life and He is experienced personally. If you don’t experience God personally, what good is religion or union with God? The word “religion” comes from the Latin rĕlĭgo and means contact between man and God). You must experience, not only hear. You can have the Bible and know it by heart and still not know anything because you haven’t experienced God.
Solitary confinement a positive experience where he discovered himself and found God
So in Pitești it was very difficult to see the positive side; we were just trying to survive. When they put me in solitary confinement (and I was in solitary confinement a long time), that was my positive prison experience, because solitary confinement was different. They isolated us from each other thinking that if the intellectuals are isolated, without books, without paper and pencil, they will become beasts, but that didn’t happen. It is a glory to be like that, because sometimes we are the slaves to the books.
Solitary was a healing process where prisoners could “become themselves"
When you are outside, you are not yourself, you don’t even ask, ”Who am I?” You are made up of quotations from different books; you are not yourself. But in there, there is nowhere to go; you are inside four walls; but one has to go somewhere, because the nature of the human spirit is to explore; it must go somewhere. What happened to me in solitary confinement, I didn’t even experience in my family life (which was a good Christian family, going to church together and praying together.); I discovered myself there. On the outside, you never have time to ask, ”Who am I?” and to contemplate your own self, but you can become yourself in solitary confinement.
I found God too, because God is the image of God is within us, but we don’t realize it. Looking at it from this perspective, prison was very positive for intellectuals. My family (and my sister is here in this monastery), they didn’t know where I was. This is communist imprisonment for you. It’s not like being in prison in America. I told all this to a journalist who came here and he said, “Wow, I think you and Solzhenitsyn have a wild imagination.” So I said (and I kissed him), ”I’m very glad for you, because you are normal people. We are not normal people [who passed through communism].” For sure, in prison, especially in solitary confinement, one finds God. There is nowhere else to turn. You have to.
— It’s either find God or go insane I would imagine.
Yes, sure, you found God because you are just by yourself there. You don’t have another person to talk to. Just you and God. And in normal life we don’t have this opportunity.
— I don’t know if these are the correct words, Father, but, in a sense, was the solitary confinement a kind of healing process after Pitești?
It was. It was a healing process, yes.
— So Pitești was the violence and solitary confinement was the healing.
Exactly. It was a healing. And I think God provided it to me... and I was not the only one. Many categories of people were isolated like this because they wanted certain people to become beasts. They believed that if we didn’t have books we would be like animals. But that didn’t happen. We became ourselves, and this is what we have to do, become ourselves.
— Father, how is it that you went through all of this and did not become a bitter or cynical man?
He forgave those who tortured him
Difference between suffering a little and a lot
Thank God, and God bless them, if some of them are still alive. I forgave them at that time. Do you know, when you suffer a little you become hateful, you hate and you want revenge, and when you suffer a lot, you forgive everything.
— Why is that?
Jesus on the Cross said, “Forgive them, Father, because they don’t know what they are doing.” (Lk. 23:34) That happened with us, the same feeling that they are insulting you, torturing you, and then you look at them and you realize that they don’t know what they are doing. That happened with us. No one who passed through Pitești wants revenge. No. We forgave them and we want them to come to God and to become people. So in this respect there’s no problem. I pray for them all the time, even though I don’t know the names of the doctors.
WHY PITEȘTI CLOSED
Someone fled the country and told the world
Communists kill and torture but do not want it to be known and have a bad public image
All of the guards and doctors were condemned and executed
What happened at Pitești stopped because one of them fled the country and something was shown on the BBC about a special prison in Pitești, called Pitești, in Romania. So they stopped it immediately, because in communism, they kill, they torture, but they don’t want anyone to know. When it becomes known, they immediately find a scapegoat, and that happened. They condemned and executed the Director of the prison and the doctors (one of them was even the doctor of the city hospital there) and all the wardens there. Everybody who knew about it had to disappear, because the communists didn’t want to have bad things in their archives. They are able to kill each other, and that is what they did with Beria after Stalin, all of this [cover up] in order not to have a bad reputation. For them, the only infallible organization in the world should be communism. They wanted to create a good record, not to have bad things on the record.
— Kind of a public image.
— I see.
So Pitești stopped and everybody who knew more, how it started, they had to disappear. They were all executed.
— Did you meet other great men in Pitești?
Saintly people in Pitești
Oh, yes. There were some Saints there. Almost all of them are dead, because I am 80 now, but some of them are still alive. I found great people there.
— Could you tell us one or two of them?
Oh, yes. One is priest George Calciu (+2006). Maybe you have heard about him, he is a priest now in Washington DC. And there was Valerio Gaffenko. We considered him to be a martyr, because he died in Pitești.
Goal of the torturers to make you compromise, to “dirty oneself"
"The devil does not want to fill heaven with martyrs"
There were 40 who died in Pitești. But they didn’t want to kill you. They controlled you so you could not have anything, a needle, anything that could be used to harm yourself. One time they wanted some information from me about something that happened outside and I didn’t want to give names. They put me on a table and one of them, Țurcanu (who was the devil, who was demon possessed, was executed by them) told me, “I don’t care what you believe, what you have in your mind. What I want is for you to compromise”, because he himself compromised. So this is the devil... They didn’t want to kill us. The devil doesn’t want to fill heaven with martyrs. He wants you to die after you compromise, to lose your heavenly life and this life too. That was the point of this Satanic torturing in Pitești. They didn’t want you to die. They wanted you to dirty yourself first, so the people would not consider you a hero or a martyr, and then you could die anywhere. This, I saw, is how Satan works.
The existence of the devil
— Satan, there are so many terms used for him. Is he basically the enemy of the human soul?
Consequence of saying, “I believe in God"
Sure, I believe the devil exists. This is not theoretical for me. He is a person that talked with Jesus on the “mountain of temptation” (Mt. 4:1, Lk. 4:5). I don’t have any doubt, especially after I passed through Pitești. One simple example. You could accuse yourself that you did everything [against the regime] and they would forgive you, but when you said, “I still believe in God”, in five minutes you were full of blood. Such was their revolt against God and against Faith.
Another example. I was a witness there when somebody killed a Russian soldier. And he didn’t confess (it was in the woods there somewhere). Maybe he had something on him and he confessed to it there, because, as I said, there was a way to make you remember everything. And they popped up like puppets. They just stood up and started to say everything they knew, and this one said he killed a Russian soldier. “Oh, you confess, you are rehabilitated.” But when somebody said, “I still believe in God", whoo!, in a couple of minutes [there was blood everywhere]... I discovered the existence of the devil. Until then, the devil for me was only in the books. I am ashamed to say that even my theological preparation was from the books. But I confirmed the existence of the devil in Pitești and the existence of God in solitary confinement.
How the devil is working today
— Now Pitești is closed. What is the devil doing today? How is the devil working?
Freedom and relativism
Well, Pitești is closed and communism is over, but I think the devil invaded American democracy. I don’t want to be insulting and tell you... but there are very good things about democracy and freedom if you understand it in a right way. Today everything is permitted, everything is allowed, nothing counts, we can do everything because nothing matters. This is Satanism, when everything is relative. What is good today will be bad tomorrow and vice-versa. This relativism in which we live, this anthropocentrism, this humanism, that man is the center of everything, that God is out of the picture, that man is important, this is the continuation of Satan, but he changed his tactics. In the end, I think that Pitești was a failure for Satan, because it was forced, it was violent. But Satan has other methods now.
— And what are they?
Veiled persecution of Christians
Today Satan is a “perfumed and elegant person” not with horns and hooves.
Well, to go into a public institution or in schools and not to be able to pronounce the name of Jesus because it’s unconstitutional, well, this is not freedom, this is a persecution, but in another way, more delicate. Satan today is not like he was in the middle ages, with horns and a tail. Today he is a very perfumed and elegant person, at the level of our understanding and culture. Satan has been working in all cultures from the beginning and will be working up until the end of the world.
Persecution strengthen faith in Romania
For an intellectual, Satan is in one form and works through theologians in works in another manner. Satanism in one form or another is at work in all cultures and all societies. I would say that communism and Pitești were provided by God to strengthen our faith. Look at what is happening now in Romania. All of the churches have loudspeakers outside and the average age of a church-goer in Romania is from 16 to 40. Young people who were raised and educated in communist materialistic philosophy are now teaching their parents how to pray. This is due to communism. I see the positive side, like with the 300 years of Christian persecutions up until St. Constantine the Great.
— Father, you said that you encountered the devil in Pitești and encountered God in solitary confinement. When did you find yourself in all of that?
He was the “center of attention” for both God and the devil
I think I was the center of attention for both of them, because the devil’s work is to separate us from God and God’s work is to be united with us, and I was in the middle. I was, in fact, the land to be conquered by both of them.
God is always calling us to come back to Him and the role of Satan throughout the entire history of salvation is to separate us from God. I think God used Satan in communism to usher in a luminous era, that I believe very much is happening now in Russia, in Romania in Czechoslovakia, Poland, in all of these countries with their own religion. Poland with Roman Catholicism and in Russia and Romania with Orthodox Christianity. I think God selected these people to prepare them for something, for the light that is coming. I believe very much in the spiritual era.
Today’s apologists will be lay people, not the clergy
We are in the third millennium now and I think that in this millennium the apologists of the Church, those who will defend the faith, will not be the priests or the clergymen, but will be lay people who experienced communism.
— Father, you spoke a moment ago about the third millennium as being a time of spiritual awakening and revival.
Yes, I believe this very much, but I will not be here to see it.
— I know the Roman Catholic church very much has caught a similar vision of a time of a rebirth of Christianity and a new time of going forth. Do you see some kind of a collaboration in the future, Father, between the western church and the Church of the east?
Dislike of Ecumenism
Need for repentance
Well, there should be, but I think as long as we are separated we cannot speak of ourselves as a church. The church is one, “one Lord, one Church, one Baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). I don’t like this Ecumenism that’s happening now, that’s why I’m not involved and I don’t want to be. Ecumenism is when the Pope in Rome and the Patriarchs in Constantinople and Russia will kneel, will confess their sins, will recognize that we are sinful people and will ask God for forgiveness, and that is the unity. It’s not, “I am right you are not right.” I don’t accept that. I think the [reunion] is coming, but we have to be humble, confess our sins, repent and ask for the grace of God to work upon us — then we will understand this unity and diversity, because God created individuals as “separate entities” and love is the unity, a bridge that unites two personalities. Each will keep it’s own personality. The Protestant denomination should realize that they need to go back to the early Church, the Apostolic Church, to be like it (because it was founded by Jesus), that the sacraments have a basis in Holy Scripture, the word of Jesus Christ, that they must return to a sacramental Church. [Note: The Patriarch of Constantinople and the Pope have already knelt before each other and confessed their sins. Sadly, both the Patriarch and the Pope have gone so far astray from the Faith, that if a reunion takes place, it will be a heretical church.]
— Are we moving in that direction, Father?
Protestants need to find the true Church, the Orthodox Church
Yes, we are. I talked with Father Gillquist and this large evangelical group that became Orthodox. They found that the true Church still exists from reading Church history. We didn’t go after them, I am ashamed to say, they came to us. They were looking for the Church. They read second and third century writings and found in St. Athanasios, in the Apostolic Constitutions, the existence of the sacraments, that everything was there, and they asked themselves, “When did this disappear? Are we in the Church or are we not in the Church?” God brings them, and we have to love them.
What salvation is
Who will be saved
Orthodoxy has introduced in America (and this we don’t believe), the idea that we are the only ones who will be saved. Salvation is not in our hands. It is in God’s hands. He saves whom He [should save].2 Even Saint Paul said that Pagans will be saved if they follow the law inscribed in their own heart, the “natural law”1, because although they don’t have the written law, they have what has been given by God, the idea of what is evil and what is good. If they follow this, they will be saved.”3
— Father, what contribution does Orthodoxy make to the west? What is the gift?
What is knowledge
As I said before, to change their perspective. The west, under scholastic influence, very much stresses the process knowing things intellectually, which is good because God gave us an intellect. However, we don’t have to remain at this level, because there is another level, higher than the intellect, the spiritual realm, in which the grace of God works.
I would say that intellectual knowledge is to ascend toward God but spiritual knowledge is when God descends to you and pours out His Spirit upon you. We have to go into that spiritual realm and unite the practical, the sensible and psychological realms with the intellectual and the spiritual realms. We are not opposed to scientific knowledge, but we believe that [as Christians] we [become] supernatural entities, not against what is natural, but supernatural. Christianity is supernatural and [the Christian] man is a supernatural entity.
— You spoke earlier about how as a child you did not have Sunday School, but that your parents demonstrated religion, how they lived it, that it was a constant thing, touching every aspect of your life. Do you feel that Orthodoxy’s role in the west is not so much to teach [the Faith] as it is to simply live it, to demonstrate it, to show it?
God is experienced in the context of the Church through Her sacraments
Its role is to call all people to engage in the process of having a personal relationship with God, but these experiences are not made individually, but in the context of the Church, because the Grace of the Holy Spirit is given through the sacraments of the Church. So we are calling them to come to Church to have a sacramental experience.
Influence of his monastery
— And your way of life, as a monk in your community, is somehow having an impact on the world...
His monastery open to all
I don’t know how much impact we have. We always have people coming to us here to pray with us. We don’t preach too much to them. We have a guest house that is open even to Jewish people. Sometimes we have Jewish people coming to meditate or to walk around the property. If they want to come inside the church to attend services, it is ok with us. We never push them in any direction if they are not seeking, because we let God work. I don’t believe that a missionary should have a strong personality. It is God who works, through us. We are humble servants and instruments used by God’s hands. Sure, we pray for the whole world day and night in the services here in our chapel (this is why we are building the monastery, to be a spiritual oasis here for the whole Church, not just for ourselves). We pray for the mystical Body of Christ because this is the Church, [Christ’s Body]. Christ is the head and we are the members. Some members are sick or wounded, but the life of this organism is the Holy Spirit, Who heals everything.
Advice: to pray without ceasing
— Father, what advice would you give to people who are busy, trying to pay their bills with very busy schedules? What council would you give them?
Example of Saint Paul
Well, Saint Paul was a very busy person and he said: ”pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17).
— And how does one do that?
What does ”pray without ceasing” mean?
Well, he traveled a lot and he worked (Acts 18:3), but “pray without ceasing” doesn’t mean to always stay in prayer, but to be conscious of the presence of God, to have the feeling that God is present, that you are in the presence of God, or, more precisely, to feel the presence of God in the infinite dimension of your personality inside you, God in you and you in God.
— How does a person begin that spiritual journey?
The Jesus Prayer
What to say in prayer
With the Jesus Prayer, hesychasm. Those who practice the Jesus Prayer don’t have to use many words, but instinctually say, “O Lord” (you can even just say, “O Lord”, “Lord”, “O Lord Jesus Christ”). If you want to add “have mercy on me a sinner” it’s good. If you don’t have time, don’t say the whole prayer, just pronounce the name “Jesus”, and that will put you in the presence of God permanently.
Have a dialogue with God. I also very much recommend using your own words, not just the official Church prayers, but your own words: “Lord, look at me, I am here”, “Lord, the children are praying beautifully”, “Lord, thank you for a sunny day” or “Thank you for mom and dad; keep us as we are.” We have to become like children (Mt. 18:31). Tell God that you are hungry, that you are making a sandwich, that you are going shopping — everything — and this dialogue will give you a permanent feeling that you are in the presence of God. This is prayer. Prayer is not however long you read for. Prayer is a spiritual state in which you feel the presence of God within you. This is what “pray without ceasing” means. I think this is the answer for everyone in the busy western world. Sure, you are working there in the factory, but you can say, “Lord, look at me here”, “O God, bless my children and my co-workers here.”
Bringing God to the world
— Can we bring God to the world, Father?
"We should see every criminal as a candidate for sainthood"
Well sure. God is in the world but we have to bring God to the people because the world is just our surroundings. God created the world first and then created man, the crown of all His creations, to take care of this world. And God is in the world, His fingerprints are on everything, whether on a bird, a blade of grass, a flower. We have to bring God into the hearts of people, because God created people to be temples of the living God, consecrated churches of God. We must have the desire to do this and pray for this. We should see every criminal as a candidate for sainthood, to become holy.
— That’s a great act of faith.
Sure, they can do it. God created them. God loves them and waits for them.
God never gives up on us
— Does He ever give up on any of us, Father?
Oh no, He would never. He loves us so much. Sometimes the children are afraid when they hear, “God is looking at you. You are in the presence of God.” “But I’m afraid.” “Don’t be afraid. God doesn’t want to catch you doing something wrong. He is looking at you because He loves you so much, just like a mom who looks at her baby. He cannot take His eyes off you.”
God looks at us when we sin, but He is so patient and loving. Parents should understand that, even when the children are sinning, they are their children.
— Father, I thank you so much for your time.
— “May Paradise consume you”, is that the line?
Yes, Father Cleopa, my spiritual father, used to say, “May Paradise consume you.” It sounds very good in Romanian.
— Say it for us in Romanian.
Manca-te-ar Raiul! When he saw someone he would say, “May Paradise consume you!"
— That’s a beautiful blessing. Thank you, Father, very much for your time.
“I pray for America”
America’s mission is to evangelize
Cultural identities should remain among peoples
American converts: “be yourself”
I pray for America. It’s a great country and God loves this country so much. I think [American Orthodox Christians] have a special mission, to bring [the Orthodox Faith] to the world, not globalism. Even if economically the boundaries disappear, the individuality and the personality of each culture should be kept. It is not about nationalism, it is about identity, and we have to keep our identity. God made us an individual, an individual grows in a family, each family has a specific family in the ethnical realm and the ethnical realm is brought into the Church. I always say to Americans, “If you become Orthodox, don’t be Russian or Greek, come completely American, with all your history behind you. Be yourself. This is very important for salvation.”
- Saint John Chrysostom : “Neither Adam nor anybody else who has ever lived can be shown not to have the “law of nature". For as soon as God formed him, He put that law of nature into him...” (Homily XII on Rom. vi. 19:12)"...if we are found without the law of nature, then we are more senseless than creatures that have no ability to reason.” (ibid)
Abba Isaiah : “In the beginning, when God created man, He placed him in Paradise, and he had then sound senses, which stood in their natural order, but when he obeyed the one who deceived him, all his senses were changed into an unnatural state, and he was then cast out from his glory.”
(“On the Natural Law”, Russian Philokalia, II, 1, tr. Fr. Seraphim Rose)
- Saint Irenaeos of Lyon : “for He saves those whom He should save, and judges those worthy of judgment. Neither does He show Himself unmercifully just; for His goodness, no doubt, goes on before, and takes precedence.” (Against Heresies (Book III, Chapter 25)
Following the law of nature should lead a man into the Orthodox Church, but the Orthodox clergy and laity need to evangelize: “...how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard about? and how shall they hear of Him without a preacher?” (Rom 10:14) –ed
- Romans 2: 12-16 : “For as many as have sinned without law will also die without law; and as many as have sinned under the law shall be judged by the law (for it is not the hearers of the law who are justified before God but the doers of the law who will be justified; for when the Gentiles, who do not have the law do by nature the things contained in the law, these, who do not have the law, are a law unto themselves, who show the works of the law written in their hearts and in their conscience which also bears witness, and their thoughts will either accuse or excuse them) on the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my Gospel.”
Following the law of nature should lead a man into the Orthodox Church, but the Orthodox clergy and laity need to evangelize: “...how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard about? and how shall they hear of Him without a preacher?” (Rom 10:14) –ed
Transcription, editing and emphases by A.K.H.
Video source: YouTube
Download an mp4 of “Beyond Torture: The Gulag of Pitesti, Romania” for
$19.99 $2.99 at Vision Video. Includes excerpts from an interview with Fr. George Calciu (+2006).
Mugshot photos taken from Părintele Roman Braga: “Mă rog pentru aceia care ne-au torturat în închisoare"
See also: Fr. Roman Braga reposes in the Lord, April 29, 2015
Photo of Eugen Ţurcanu source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugen_Țurcanu
Special thanks to Stephen Mutugi Njeru for providing “May Paradise consume you” in Romanian. Stephen is a Kenyan studying Theology in Romania.
Much appreciation and thanks to Mr. Alan Hartwick, the director of “Beyond Torture” and Mr. Jim Murphy who interviewed Fr. Roman. May our Lord Jesus Christ reward them abundantly.