(Soure) 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.
Valeriu 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 be an example of the great spiritual depth he acquired through suffering.
I offer three excerpts of the saint’s own writings regarding his experiences and expression of Christmas during his years as a prisoner. These are taken from the book The Saint of the Prisons:
Christmas 1945 (A letter from Valeriu)
It is night. I have just finished reading the Akathist to the Lord. Christmas was more beautiful than a fairy tale. Spiritually, I feel better prepared than I have in other situations. Through the weight of the suffering I endureed for the resurrection of my soul, I felt the resposibility that bore down on me for the salvation of my soul, and those of my family, relavtives, friends, enemies, all people.
And the more I climbed up the ladder of ideals, the more I saw my own smallness, my sinfulness, while I saw the ideal ever more lofty, perfect: Christ! And behold, little by little, all ideals of my adolence came tumbling down. My struggle with sin removed the veil that covered my eyes and what remained before me, vivid and serene, was the icon of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Thus we succeeded in establishing peace with all our neighbours, through being trod underfoot, through recognizing our sins, through love. And I felt so much peace on Friday, when I stood before the priest! Many of us received Communion. What a great day, what a beautiful day! I experienced it fully, with all the blessings sent by the Lord!
First Christmas Poem:
O roaming star from the East,
With white rays of gold,
Glides toward the bright blue
Of the heavens vividly blooming.
And the star announces the Child Messiah
Born of the Virgin Mary.
A gentle lamb looks at Him and wants to kiss
The child bathed in light.
A mother with her child at breast,
Pure in love, looks with wonder
At the fulfillment of the Annunciation.
A Holy Child is born in the starry night
Of the Holy Virgin and the Holy Spirit;
The true Word of Father
Comes down today on earth
A beacon forever lit!
Second Christmas Poem:
In the heart of the servant
The Lord makes His manger
On the night of Christmas…
Lilies rain down from heaven
Upon His new manger
And dew drops down from heaven.
May the holy, suffering martyr Valeriu bestow upon us his blessing!