Neculai V. Hodoroaba--Militant in the Fight for the Great Reunification of Transylvania with Romania.
As is well known, the Romanian Orthodox Church was always, in its entire history, part of the Romanian people's fight for freedom, rights, dignity and national unity. This was no different during the First World War.
In this huge conflict, in the Romanian Army, the military priests represented living torches, who maintained in the soldiers' souls their faith in God, in victory, and in the value of their supreme sacrifice for the salvation and the good of the nation.
As General Constantin Presan said in a testimonial: "The priests in the army fulfilled more than their duty; it is an honor for the clergy because next to the soldiers, they went above and beyond what was required from them for the country and the Romanian nation" (Paraschivescu 2018)
The Role of the Military Priests
The military priests effectively contributed to the strengthening of the soldiers' morale, preaching the faith in victory and the responsibility entrusted to them to save the Country and the Nation, these notions having a sacred character in the context of the centuries long fight of the Romanians for their identity as a people and for the defense of the territories they inhabited. Some of the services offered by the military priests were: Performing religious services, didactic activities in the schools of the division they were assigned to, religious assistance to the sick, escorting ambulances to hospitals, hearing confession and giving communion to the sick, wounded and dying (Ibidem: 2).
But the priests fulfilled other roles as well: Through the Religious Service of the Army, a structure of the Great General Headquarters (Marele Cartier General), itself a section of The Great General Staff (Marele Stat major), the military priests were directed to watch the conditions in which the food of the troops was prepared, in particular for the sick, to maintain and build the soldiers' morale, to bring consolation to the suffering, to bless the departure from the garrison, to be of help to the doctors to protect from contagious illnesses.
The priests' presence at the front implied risks for their own safety. Among the many they had to face were being taken as prisoners, or of death. There were priests who were taken prisoners because they were late being busy to dress the wounds, to care for the dying or to bury the fallen soldiers, just as there were priests who lost their lives as they were in the first line of the front next to the soldiers (Ibidem: 15).
Generally speaking, "in the height of fights, the crying of the wounded, the lament of the sick, the sighs of the dying, in the next to general moral depression, the priests did wonderful things." (Ibidem: 16)
These activities and sacrifices were not ignored. The Religious Service of the Army intervened at the Great General Staff to have the military officers report about the priests' actions and to start a process for offering distinctions to those who merited them (Ibidem: 10).
That is how numerous priests were distinguished with special awards such as "Zeal for the Country", "Faithful Service", "The Award for Working for the Church", "The Hospital Attendant Merit", "The Crown of Romania".
Father Neculai V. Hodoroaba
Neculai V. Hodoroaba was a parish priest, military priest, teacher, missionary, author of monographs and school manuals, researcher of folklore, historian and playwright.
He was born February 17, 1888, in the village of Hantesti, district of Botosani. He studied at the "Veniamin Costachi" Theological Seminary in Iassy (1902-1910) and the Faculty of Theology in Cernauti (1919-1914), earning a BA in Bucharest in 1915. He was a teacher in Buda and Mogosesti, district of Iassy (1919-19211), parish priest at Trusesti (1911-1912), Tureatca (1912-1918) and Ibanesti (1918-1922) all in the district of Botosani.
Between 1916-1918 he was a military priest at the rank of lieutenant in the 69th Infantry Regiment of Dorohoi and then was promoted to the rank of captain in the 10th Artillery Brigade.
After the war he functioned as a priest at "Sts. Athanasius and Cyril" in Jassy (from 1922), was a spiritual father at the "Veniamin Costachi" Theological Seminary (1925-1928), professor of religion in several schools in Jassy (1924-1931) and head of the Cultural Department of the Archdiocese of Iassy (1928-1929). He died in 1939 (or in 1941, according to other sources--see Pacurariu 2002) in Iassy.
Here is a list of some of his books: Lessons from War (Invataminte de razboi), 1919; In Front of the Altar (Din fata altarului), sermons, Iasi, 1925; Serving the Flag (In slujba steagului), 1925; From the War of Reunification (Din razboiul de reintregire), Iassy, 1923; Military Songs Collected on the Front (Cantece ostasesti culese pe front), no year; From the Shadow of the Villages (Din umbra satelor), Iassy, 1926; Hymns, Notes, Impressions (Imnuri, note, impresii), Iassy, 1926; George Enescu monograph, Iassy, 1928; The Still (Cazanul cu rachiu), play, Mrea Neamt, 1928; The Holy History of the Old and New Testament (Istoria sfanta a Vechiului si Noului Testament), text book, Iassy, 1913; The Parables and Teachings of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Parabolele si invatamintele Domnului nostru Iisus Hristos), 1938, a prizewinning work distinghished by the Romanian Academy; he published broschures with religious content for the faithful and also with popular stories and legends stylized by himself that appeared in the well known collection "Romanian fairy tales" in Bucharest.
Fr. Hodoroaba contributed to numerous newspapers and journals such as The Moldova Metropolitanate (Mitropolia Moldovei), The Romanian Orthodox Church (Biserica Ortodoxa Romana), The Peasants' Calendar (Calendarul Satenilor), The Magazine's Calendar (Calendarul revistei), Ion Creanga, The Universe Calendar (Calendarul Universul), The Romanian Nation (Neamul romanesc), Literary Circle (Sezatoarea), Tudor Pamfile, etc.
For his exemplary activity on the front during the war Father Hodoroaba was distinghuished with the Order "The Crown of Romania" at the rank of Knight (1922).
The love for his nation and the country, that burned like a flame in his soul is evident from the confession he makes in his diary about the decision to enlist in the army:
Even though I was appointed priest of a regiment without having the age required by the Instructions on the duties of military priests in time of war, however, I did not try to evade this high duty towards the Country during our war for the fulfillment of the national ideal, that I had been nurturing as a student in the Seminary, at the University, and then as a priest in the parish, cultivating it both in speaking and in writing.
Here is a testimony of the conscientiousness that characterized Fr. Hodoroaba's priestly work on the front:
After the fights had ended, I made all efforts to bury the fallen soldiers, walking by foot through the mountains regardless of how tired I was. I made sure that every tomb got a cross, crown and flowers. On each cross I wrote myself the name of the deceased, date of death, regiment, etc. For example: In memory of the brave soldier Ganea Teodor from the 69th Infantry Regiment, Dorohoi, killed in the holy fight for the liberation of Ardeal, August 30, 1916. May his memory be eternal.
To perform the divine services during war was not easy and not without risks. We have an emotional story related by Fr. Neculai V. Hodoroaba about how he officiated the Divine Liturgy at the feast of the Dormition of the Holy Virgin, right in the middle of the fights, when he gathered the soldiers in a field of corn, at Pufesti, on the shore of the Siret river, where he asked them to kneel so as not to be detected.
During the service suddenly the shrapnels start to whistle above our heads as they fell and exploded some 40-50 meters away from us. The soldiers do not run; they sit down and no one goes until the end of the prayer. I ask one at the front:--Are you not afraid of death, comrade?--No, Father.--Why?--Because whose fate it is to die, will die, even if he is hidden in the bottom of the earth. (Paraschivescu 2018: 11)
The moral encouragement, the evocation of the nation's heroes, examples of patriotism and sacrifice for the holy ideals of our people are described in another story.
As he was visiting people with the icon before Christmas and finding by chance the tomb of Ecaterina Teodoroiu, a heroine in the first World War, who died on September 2, 1917, at the end of the battle of Marasesti as she fought in the first ranks of a platoon of infantry, Fr. Hodoroaba used the occasion to offer a lesson of morale building to his audience. This is what he writes in his war diary: "On the cross there was a crown of faded flowers. Her helmet, broken, was bound with a wire to the cross. I gather all the soldiers around the tomb, we sing the troparion and kondakion of the Nativity, we kneel, all of us, and sing a trisaghion. Then I speak, explaining who was the second lieutenant maid who reposes here." (Ibidem: 14)
As mentioned by the historian Eugenia Paraschivescu, Fr. Neculai V. Hodoroaba "used to hold religious services also for the refugees who found shelter in train wagons and stations, where each family had a small household including some chicken, sheep, calf and pig." (Ibidem: 13)
Wherever he was, on the front or in areas spared by battles, Fr. Hodoroaba cultivated in the souls of those he was meeting the specific enthusiasm of such historical moments of high importance as the moment of reunification of Romania.
Here are some testimonies:
In Ardeal. Crossing the border at Bicaz, I explained both to the soldiers around me and to the civilian Romanian population that I was meeting on the way, that we are living great days, that whole generations died wishing to see the fall of the unjust border stones and the coming of the flags of the free Romania on Transylvanian land. (Dosoftei 2017 and 2018) I embraced the first white haired old men who, at our passage, would take off their hats and make the sign of the cross, and who, raising their wet eyes up to heaven, said: God, help them. The second lieutenant pharmacist Marino Gh. and several other medical assistants, moved by what they were seeing, clapped their hands crying 'Bravo, Father, long life to you!' (Dosoftei 2017)
As we stopped in the village called The Jew's Valley, I went to see the priest of the village. As I met him in front of his house we instinctively embraced as two brothers who had been separated for a long time and not one of us could stop the tears of joy. The current commandant of the 14th Infantry Division, General Bunescu, was in the priests' front yard ready to get into his car and, astonished, he asks me: Are you relatives, Father?--Yes, colonel, from a long time, but we are meeting now for the first time."
"I wrote about these events in order to show what kind of pure feelings and what kind of enthusiasm overwhelmed me as I saw myself with our infantry soldiers on the dear land of Transylvania", Fr. Hodoroaba feels the need to specify.
The military priests had to meet a different kind of challenge as well. Besides the risks they faced, at times there were misunderstandings at the level of the unit's command related to the role of the priests enlisted in the war.
In his diary, From the war of reunification. Notes and impressions from the campaign (1916-1918), Fr. Neculai Hodoroaba, the confessor of the 69th Infantry Regiment, renders a relevant discussion with the commandant of the division his regiment belonged to. The commandant considered that the priests
are a privileged class that gets a salary for doing nothing; not even to the mess are they sent ... You can't, the commandant continued, overwhelm the soldier's soul with religious services at any time; the soldier is not always ready to listen to you. There are many who go to church only 2-3 times a year. Or, here we have men between 20-30 years old, exactly when one strives to become rich. I can't understand the order from the Great General Headquarters which says that your service is of coordination and not at all of subordination. If I order that regiment to leave for Adjud and you stay back, how is that coordination without subordination?
In order to solve such problems the Religious Service of the Army sent a circular letter to the units' commanders where they were reminded that according to the canonical dispositions and according to the Instructions for Priests in the Army and also according to the modifications made through the Royal Decree nr. 778/July 25, 1917, "the priest in a unit cannot be regarded as an element of subordination, but of coordination as far as church matters are concerned." Consequently, the letter asked for all necessary measures to be taken as to avoid small conflicts that could arise from an incorrect understanding of the priests' role in the army (Paraschivescu 2018: 8).
These types of misunderstandings however, were isolated. As we have seen in the testimony of General Constantin Presan, mentioned above, the priests were held in especially high honor by all those around them.
Fr. Neculai Hodoroaba writes about this honor that the priests were enjoying and which, among others, was visible on visits that high state officials used to pay to military units, where the priest was placed in front of the line, on the right flank, wearing the epitrahirion and holding the cross in his hand. For example, when King Ferdinand came to see some regiments gathered at Padureni at the beginning of 1918, Father Hodoroaba wrote that after having inspected the troops the king was welcomed by the priests, Gospel in hand, at the royal stage. After they officiated a Te-Deum of 15 minutes, where the liturgical responses were given by an improvised choir of officers, the king distinguished three regiments with the order of "Mihai Viteazul" and talked to each of the present priests (Ibidem: 11).
The deep feelings of love for the Country and Nation that Fr. Hodoroaba nurtured his entire life are evident from another testimony related to the end of the war.
When, at the beginning of 1918 several decrees were sent for partial demobilization and it was anticipated that by June 1, 1918 the army would enter a phase of peace, imagining for himself a new world, an ideal society in contrast with the horrors experimented during the war, and surely reflecting the feelings of the soldiers as well as of the entire nation, Father Hodoroaba wrote:
In this moment it seems that I dream, that a new, golden gate is opening in front of me, like in the fairy-tales, and that from this purgatory, from this purifying fire--as we Orthodox do not believe in the Catholic purgatory--I will step forward with confidence into the midst of a purified society, into a world that will prove to be penetrated by more justice, honesty and morality, into a new world, into an ideal world. Beautiful dream, will I see you, really? (Ibidem: 14)
As we read in a report, "The diary of Fr. Neculai Hodoroaba is, no doubt, a valuable tool for historians, a testimony of a priest present on the front of the First World War, who tells, from a partisan position, the participation of his regiment in the battles of the years 1916-1917. This is a valuable source for the history of the Orthodox Church, speaking of its role in the struggle of the Romanian people for unification (Dosoftei 2018).
Father Neculai V. Hodoroaba proved to be a worthy servant of the Church and of our nation, a true patriot who fought physically, intellectually, morally and spiritually for the realization of the centuries old ideal of his people, the reunification of the holy land of his fathers and ancestors.
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The author confirms being the sole contributor of this work and approved it for publication.
Conflict of Interest Statement
The author declares that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationship that could be construed as potential conflict of interest.
Theodor Damian, PhD; Professor at Metropolitan College of New York, School for Human Services and Education; NY; DamianTh@aol.com
Caption: Rev. Neculai V. Hodoroaba
Caption: Romanian priests on the front in World War I
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|Publication:||Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2018|
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