Cristian Badilita and Contac Emanuel, eds., Si cerul s-a umplut de sfinti ...: martiriul in antichitatea crestina si in secolul XX.
This volume, as stated in the subtitle of the book, contains papers of the International Colloquium "Martyrdom in Christian Antiquity and in the Twentieth Century: Issues, Debates, Characters," held in Sigher, Romania, between 2 and 5 June 2011, and organized by the Civic Academy in Romania together with Oglindanet Cultural Association. From the beginning it must be observed the ecumenical character of the work: the authors included clearly demonstrates that martyrdom is a phenomenon present in the whole history of Christianity, without being specific to a single Christian traditions, but to all of them (Orthodox, Roman and Greek Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal, etc.). If the emergence of Christianity from the beginning was marked by martyrdom, it is present also today with us, and indeed very obviously (see the case of China or of the Christians in Muslim countries). A special case of Christian martyrdom, which explains the organization of conference in Sighet, is related to the memorial of the victims of communism from the period 1945-1989. In her foreword, Ana Blandiana evokes the "resistance through faith," an obvious reference to the expression "resistance through culture," implying a crucial question: To what extent did faith remain alive, that through it withstanding was possible? The question that arises from the fact that "saving faith is not only hope to save other human values, but also the chance to give a sense of suffering in this way" (9).
Turning now to the actual work of the symposium, the first five studies have as their subject Christian martyrdom in ancient times: see "Reflections on Christian Martyrdom in Antiquity" (11-37) by Cristian Badilita; "Confessors and Martyrs in the Church of the First Three Centuries" (39-65) by Cristian Langa; "Anti-Christian Persecutions from Nero to Constantine the Great: The Antiquity Reflected in the Mirror of the Modern Sufferings" (67-93) by Attila Jakab; "Facts and Sufferings of the Martyrs in Christian Antiquity" (95-126) by Lucian Dinca; and "Interpretations of Martyrdom in Antiquity: Tertullian, Origen and Clement of Alexandria" (127-47), by Othniel Veres. These studies, based on analysis of contextual issues, emphasizes the defining elements of martyrdom expressed in the early church: the problem of witnessing, as the foundation of martyrdom; the scriptural texts (any authentic evidence is generated in us by the Spirit of God--cf. 1 Cor. 12:3; 1 John 4:2--especially that which the Spirit raises in the persecutors' tribunal; cf. Matt. 10:20); the distinction and connection between the martyr and confessor; the causes of the persecutions; the number of Christians martyred; the problem of the lapses (the "apostates"); the cult of martyrs as a sign of their special position in the church; the role of martyrdom in the explosive spread of Christianity (see the formulation of Tertullian: "the seed is the blood of Christians"); the lesson of persecution addressed to the contemporary human; martyrdom as a imitation of Christ and perennial model for all Christians; Christian martyrdom as perfection of Christian life; and so forth.
The next studies move the issue into the twentieth century. The horrors of communist terror are no less persecution than what was triggered by the Roman Empire's magistrates in the first Christian centuries. Then, as now, Christians have been called to defend the faith even with the price of death. The tragic case of the Greek-Catholic Church, abolished in 1948, is mentioned by Bishop Virgil Bercea of Oradea (149-69). He mentions his predecessors who have perished in communist jails or in various Orthodox monasteries, where they received forced domicile: Bishops Vasile Aftenie, Valeriu Traian Frentiu, Ioan Suciu, Tit Liviu Chinezu, Ioan Balan, Alexandru Rusu or the Cardinal Iuliu Hossu. The case of the "resistance through faith" in the Romanian Orthodox Church under communism is exposed by Romulus Rusan (171-82). The author briefly addresses various topics: "nationalization" of the Church by the 1948 religion law; the Burning Bush (Rugul Aprins) as a movement of "spiritual resistance"; sacrifices of the Orthodox priests in prison (for example, the scholar Florea Muresan, from Cluj); the false ecumenism promoted by communist authorities or the demolition of 22 Orthodox churches in Bucharest.
Vasilica Croitor exposes the case of Constantin Caraman, the Pentecostal Christian dissident who believed that the fight against communist atheism was received as a mission from God (183-224). As an author of a book that reveals the collaboration of Pentecostal officials with the Romanian Secret Service (Securitate), Croitor highlights in this study that the representatives of the religious denominations have been not only informers and informants, but also worthy witnesses of the Christian faith.
The following two studies are complementary, focused on the topic of the universal spiritual personality--through education and religion--that was Vladimir Ghika: "Vladimir Ghika and Terror of History" (225-37) by Andrei Brezeanu; and "Martyrdom and Witness: Vladimir Ghika at Jilava" (239-298) by Emanuel Cosmovici. The last words of Monsignor Ghika at Jilava are very moving: "I want to die ... and my pit to be unknown, among other graves of those who die here" (297).
Nina Negru illustrates methods of torture and persecution suffered by Christians from Bessarabia during the Soviet occupation (299-353), and Monica Papazu reviews three-quarters of a century of atheist persecution of the Orthodox Church in Russia (355-92), which produced many confessors and martyrs and transformed Russia into a "desolate land." Both in Bessarabia and in Russia, the methods of persecution and extermination of Christians were largely similar: shot, tortured, starved, sending to psychiatric hospitals and so forth. Thus, says Papasu, "not accidentally, death of Christians under communism was a recapitulation of the violent death modalities invented by mankind since its beginning, here being reiterated at a huge scale unseen till now, all forms of human sacrifice known in history" (359).
Ardeleanu George writes about a "hold-up type scenario": the baptism of Nicolae Steinhardt (a secularized Jew) in a prison cell (393-412). There is narrated the moment of this act of rebirth "from grubby water and quickly spirit"--as Steinhardt's own testimony--but also the act "of conversion after conversion." In other words, the hardest and most painful work starts just after conversion, as the pages of the Journal of Happiness (Jurnalul Fericirii) shows extraordinarily. Steinhardt's baptism was performed in a communist prison "under the sign of ecumenism" by the Orthodox priest Mina Dobzeu in the presence of two Roman Catholic priests and of a Protestant pastor. So, not incidentally, ecumenism was an "oath" that Steinhardt respected until the end of his life (410).
"The Persecution of Baptists in Communist Romania, and the Case of the Informant Pastors: In Search of a Solution of Biblical Reconciliation between Informers and Persecuted, with Reference to a Personal History" (413-46), by the Baptist pastor David Marius Cruceru, bows to the personal case of his father's collaboration with the Securitate (and who actually paid ultimately with his life because of his refusal to continue his cooperation). Cruceru exposes the problem of the informant pastors, as documented by Mitrofan Daniel in his book Pygmies and Giants (in Romanian: Pigmei si uriasi, file din istoria persecutarii baptistilor, Oradea, 2007). Cruceru reveals the paradox of today's situation, when the pastors are both "traitors and betrayed around the same table." Rejecting both boredness and disclosure "of gossip," he proposes as a way to reconciliation the biblical model of forgiving and requesting forgiveness.
Ioan Farcas Irenaeus presents two Polish martyrs of the Roman Catholic Church, victims of the two great "ideology of death": Nazism and communism (447-74). Maximilian Kolbe was a Franciscan monk held as a prisoner in the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. Jerzy Popieluszko was a priest killed by the communists because of his position as chaplain in the Solidarnosc syndicate from Huta. Starting from these examples, the author supports an "extension" of the meaning of the term martyrdom even to the way in which Pope John Paul II spoke about this subject: from the meaning of "martyr of the faith" to that of the "witness of the love of Christ" (470).
Emanuel Contac writes about "Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Martyr of the Anti-Nazi Resistance in the Germany of Hitler" (475-532). This study contributes to a broader and better understanding of the life and work of this twentieth-century theologian who is beginning to be translated and experienced more and more in the Romanian theological space.
Ruxandra Cesereanu's study refers to "Faith, Mystic and Missionary in the Romanian Gulag" (533-44). She is a tireless researcher of the oppression phenomenon exercised by the communist state. In this study she refers to the case of resistance by faith in prisons and camps in communist Romania, citing Nicolae Steinhardt, Nicole Valery-Grossu, Iuliu Hossu, Ioan Ploscaru, Tertullian Langa and Richard Wurmbrand, people who, whatever their religious orientation (Orthodox, Greek Catholic or Lutheran) had the revelation (light) of faith in the Gulag, subsequently becoming theophory (God-bearers) missionaries of the Christian faith.
The latest study by Didier Rance refers to "Persecution against Christians in the World Today" (454-561). Here it is recalled that in one form or another, over two hundred million Christians in the world today suffer hate, violence, threats, seizure of assets and other abuses, which sometimes end with death. Regardless of religion, Christians who suffer current persecutions are worthy of attention, compassion and our prayers. And there are Christians who suffer in Muslim countries (Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Turkey and Nigeria), in the last communist countries (China, Laos, Vietnam and North Korea), in India, in some African dictatorships (such as Zimbabwe) or in some Latin American countries. But anti-Christian actions are taking place even in Western Europe, especially France, which is declaring itself "the land of the human rights."
Going through the final list of authors who have contributed in this volume (see 563-71) one is impressed by the diversity of traditions and Christian confessions that they represent. One finds in this list patristic and literary scholars, religious, historians, poets, political commentators, essayists, pastors, philologists, and so forth from Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Baptist and Pentecostal backgrounds. It is certainly to the merit of this volume editor, Cristian Badilita, who founded the Cultural Association Oglindanet, to gather together all these important contributions addressing this particularly important and very actual problem. This volume reveals martyrdom in is various facets and its importance reminds us of Pope John Paul II, who called the twentieth century "the century of martyrdom," or of Cardinal Lustiger, who said that "the natural situation of Christian is that of martyr."
Ciprian Julian Toroczkai
Assistant PhD of Systematic Theology at the "Andrei Saguna" Faculty of Orthodox Theology, "Lucian Blaga" University of Sibiu (Romania).
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|Author:||Toroczkai, Ciprian Iulian|
|Publication:||The Ecumenical Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2012|
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