Merry Christmas! Christ is born! I hope you are all experiencing the joy of Christ’s birth!
Here is the first poem in our 12 days of Christmas series of poems from the prisons.
First it’s important to say a word about St. Valeriu, who although suffering in prison, lived the joy of the Church’s feasts in a truly authentic manner. When one lives for Christ he is never separated from Him, and lives and celebrates the feasts as though present at the holy events themselves, such is the power of God’s grace. It transports the righteous soul to times and events that do not cease, which are not merely historical, but events that occur every time the Church celebrates them.
(The following is taken from here). Valeriu Gafencu was born on the 24th of January* 1921, in the Northern part of Romania, near the Russian border of that time. His parents were both active Orthodox Christians. His father was to be deported to Siberia by the Russians in 1940 for his pro-Romanian activity. When he was in high-school, Valeriu joined an Orthodox youth organization called the Cross Brotherhoods, and, when this became illegal during the second World War, he was arrested and condemned to 25 years of hard labour. He was only 20 and, at his trial, his fellow students and teachers would come and defend him, pointing out his innocence and wonderful human qualities. At first he was sent to a prison called Aiud.
The first years were a time to reflect upon his Christian legacy. He would soon become engaged in a life of prayer, while avidly reading the Fathers of the Church. During the war, although Romania had a dictatorial regime, prison life was not so strict and some fundamental human rights were still considered: the prisoners could go to the prison’s church, confess to a priest and receive the Holy Communion and also meet with each other and read books of their own choice. So Valeriu read a lot: the Holy Bible, the first 4 volumes of the Philokalia (which were then just being translated into Romanian by another holy figure of the church, Father Dumitru Staniloaie, who would also encounter the communist prisons some years later) and other Church Fathers.
He spent time in Aiud prison, Pitesti prison, and finally died at Tirgu Ocna prison. Much could be said about this holy person, but for the time being we will let his poetry speak for him.
Without further adieu, I offer a Christmas poem from the saint of the prisons, Valeriu Gafencu, from the book The Saint of the Prisons:
A mysterious bell rings at midnight
And Jesus comes down to earth.
From our bloody chests
Resounds the holy hymn of Resurrection.
Come, Christians, take light,
With your souls bright and purified.
Come ye hungry, taste of the Supper:
It is the Wedding of the King’s Son.
*On the website cited above St. Valeriu’s birth date is given as December, in the book The Saint of the Prisons it is listed as January. I have inserted the date given by the book.