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Joy Beyond Understanding: Common Ground in Suffering and Worship among Eastern European Christians During the Communist Era

 

Nicolae Steinhardt (1912 – 1989) was also born to a Jewish family and he was also a writer and journalist. Steinhardt was thrown into prison during the 1960s for political reasons because he refused to denounce his writer friends to the Communist leaders (he was released in August 1964). He did not know that in that hostile and unwelcoming place he would experience the greatest joy in his life, a joy beyond understanding. There are two special instances when he felt that supernatural joy: when he was baptized and when he had a special vision in his cell.

The experience of baptism in the prison of Jilava, in cell 18, on March 15, 1960, was a great joy for Nicolae Steinhardt. He wrote in his beautiful journal, The Journal of Happiness, his personal experience of clandestine baptism. Although the baptism as a liturgical act was forbidden in prison, the orthodox priest called Mina, took advantage of noise when the prisoners ended their walk through the prison yard and reentered into their cells, took water in a pot, and together with two Catholic priests and a prisoner as a godfather approached Steinhardt, spoke the words of the rite “in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” and then poured water on the head and shoulders of prisoner. At that time an unimaginable joy filled the heart and entire being of Steinhardt, “the baptism scene is the fundamental source of happiness that will mark not only his existence but also his work.”[12] Steinhardt expressed that joy flooded his being: “upon me there is in every moment hurrying more frequent assaults of happiness (…) it is true that baptism is a sacrament. Otherwise the happiness that surrounds me, that dress me, beat me, could not be so unbelievably beautiful and full.”[13]

Steinhardt remembers in his journal that one night after much suffering and sleepless he was seized by a divine presence, he perceived a bright light and heard in his mind the words I Am then he felt a very deep happiness, this is what he wrote: “Above all I’m happy, happy, happy … happiness not only continued but also increased … cascading down on me like that avalanche – antigravity lifts me … softly, swaying me – and finally replaced me bluntly.”[14] Steinhardt joy confirmed again that the real joy is not depending of external environment or material possession but by an open heart toward God, an availability to be ready to suffer for a noble cause.

The third person who in prison felt the joy beyond understanding was Constantin Caraman (1912 – 2001). He graduated in 1935, from The Commercial Academy in Bucharest, he was an intellectual which spoke fluently four languages French, English, Italian and German. Caraman’s first spiritual experience was while he walked one evening on the seashore of the Black Sea as he enjoyed of the waves, he felt a strong desire to pray, he bowed his knees, he lifted his arms to heaven and a profound peace and joy took hold his heart.[15] Caraman was a gentle spirit, a tender heart, a man with great desire to share the Gospel and above all a brave believer hunted by the security of Romania because he distributed Bibles and Christian literature when that activity was forbidden.

Caraman was the most notably Pentecostal believer who suffered under the communist regime in Romania[16] he did not die as a martyr but all his life was a life of martyrdom.[17] Since his conversion in 1936, until the fall of Communism in 1989, Caraman suffered persecution, he was “arrested, beaten, imprisoned and threatened with death because he understood that he endure all of these difficulties for Christ’s church.”[18] When he had the chance to leave his country he refused to do so because he understood that his calling is to be a missionary in his own country, not abroad.

His first contact with prison was during the year of 1945, when he helped other Christians to distribute Bibles, than he started to preach openly in the town of Timisoara. The police arrested him but released him shortly. He was chased by security and arrested directly from his work, first imprisonment was from 3rd of July 1951 until 25 of July 1952.

During his imprisonment he was sent to work together with other prisoners as slaves at hard work digging for the navigable channel Danube – Black Sea, a long channel of about 45 miles where thousands of people died during that hard work. His family did not have any kind of news from Caraman for a few months, until January 1952 when he had the chance to write a letter to them.

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About the Author: Eugen Jugaru, Ph.D. (Lucain Blaga University, Sibiu, Romania), is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at the Pentecostal Theological Institute in Bucharest, Romania. He has pastored a Pentecostal church since 1993 and is the former President of Operation Mobilization Romania.

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