Draft law calls for return of relics of 18th-century Romanian martyrs against false union with Catholics

Bucharest, February 18, 2021

Photo: basilica.ro Photo: basilica.ro     

Thanks to a draft law submitted earlier this month, the Romanian Orthodox Church could see the repatriation of the relics of four 18th-century saints.

Sts. Bessarion (Sarai), Oprea Miclăuș, John of Galeș, and Moses Măcinic of Sibiel, known as the Holy Transylvanian Confessors, chose to die in Kufstein Prison in the Austrian state of Tyrol rather than accept the state-imposed union between the Orthodox believers of Transylvania and the Roman Catholic church.

Sts. Bessarion and Oprea were canonized by the Romanian Church in 1950, and the Holy Hieromartyrs John and Moses in 1992, reports the Basilica News Agency.

Now, according to the draft law submitted on February 9, it is time to bring their relics home. Also included among the Transylvanian Confessors is St. Sophronius of Cioara, canonized in 1950, who took refuge in Wallachia after being imprisoned several times in Transylvania.

The authors of the bill propose that the government be authorized identify and bring to Romania the relics of Sts. Bessarion, Oprea, John, and Moses. According to the bill, their holy relics would be placed in the Holy Trinity Church in Sibeil.

Deputy Andrei Gheorghe, who signed the explanatory memorandum to the draft law, told the Basilica News Agency that it is an act of respect and national dignity that “the relics of these four brave confessors of our ancestral Orthodox faith return home to the land of Transylvania and there be properly venerated by the faithful and the whole people.”

It has been about 240 years since their departure into the Heavenly Kingdom, and it is time for their bodies to find their rest in the “land of their elders and ancestors” said Deputy Gheorghe.

“We cannot forget them. It’s our duty to bring home these Romanian Orthodox Saints!” he emphasized.

Now, more than ever, the Romanian people are called to return to their Orthodox roots, the Deputy said, and clearly affirm their Orthodox faith as did the Transylvanian Confessors, whose relics “cannot forever remain in completely undeserving places.”

The Basilica News Agency also provides more information on the lives of these heroic confessors and martyrs:

Saint Bessarion (Sarai) was a Serb who was born in Bosnia in 1714. Longing for the monastic life, he was tonsured at the Monastery of Saint Sava in the Holy Land in 1738. He returned to Serbia and lived in a cave for several years as a hesychast, and received from God the grace of working miracles.

About this time there was a great deal of unrest in the regions of the Banat and Transylvania because many Romanian Orthodox Christians had been forced into union with Rome. At Karlovits, Patriarch Arsenius had heard of Saint Bessarion’s holy and ascetical life, and asked to see him. After ordaining him to the holy priesthood, he sent him to defend the Orthodox Faith northwest of the Carpathian Mountains.

Saint Bessarion left for the Banat in January of 1774, and was warmly received by the local people. Hundreds of people came to hear him preach, and many of them returned to the Orthodox Church. He encouraged his listeners not to abandon the faith which their fathers had passed down to them, but to remain firm and steadfast in it.

Preaching at Timishoara, Lipova-Arad, Deva, Orashtie, Salishtea of Sibiu, and other places, he would set up a wooden cross in the middle of each village, and people would gather to hear him. In each place, he was able to bring most of the people back into the fold of the Orthodox Church. This, of course, did not please the Roman Catholic authorities.

On April 26, 1744, Saint Bessarion was arrested by the Austrian army while on his way to Sibiu. They took him to Vienna, where he was placed on trial, and then thrown into the Kufstein prison on the orders of Empress Maria Teresa. There he endured much suffering because of his confession of the Orthodox Faith. After about a year in chains and tortures, he surrendered his soul to God.

Saint Bessarion the Confessor was glorified by the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church in 1950, and the date of his annual commemoration was designated as October 21.

Saint Sophronius was originally from Cioara-Sebesh in Alba county in Romania. From his childhood, he demonstrated a great love for Christ and the Church, so it was not surprising that he eventually received the monastic tonsure.

He returned to his village in 1756, and established a small hermitage called Cioara Skete in the forest. Several disciples came to join him there, drawn by reports of his holy life. Seeing the persecution of the Orthodox by the Catholic authorities at that time, Saint Sophronius traveled through many villages of Ardeal, encouraging people to remain firm in the Orthodox Faith.

Saint Sophronius was so effective in his preaching that the Crai of Ardeal ordered him thrown into prison, where he was beaten. After his release from prison, he went to preach in the villages of the Apuseni Mountains, and once again he was incarcerated and tortured for Christ.

After being freed on February 14, 1761, Saint Sophronius assembled a great crowd of people in the city of Alba Iulia, and demanded equal rights under the law for Romanians. He also demanded an Orthodox bishop for Ardeal. That very year his demands were granted, and he retired to the Curtea de Argesh Monastery. He departed to the Lord not long afterward.

The Orthodox Church of Romania numbered Saint Sophronius among the saints in 1955, appointing October 21 as the date of his annual commemoration.

Saint Oprea Nicholas of Salistie suffered martyrdom in Romania at the hands of Roman Catholics in 1776.

Troparion of Ven. Bessarion, Sophronius and Oprea – tone 1:
Champions of Orthodoxy, you have quickened the souls as the angelic trumpets to confess fearlessly true faith. As wise preachers, you have nourished the people with a righteous and enlightened teaching. Great were the struggles of your labours! Great was your zeal to preach! Great was the fruit of your righteous fight, ever-memorable soldiers of Christ!

Saint John of Gales was a priest who was consecrated bishop at Bucharest, since there was no bishop for Transylvania. He resisted the plans of the Hapsburg authorities to persuade Orthodox Christians to convert to Catholicism. He was arrested and thrown into prison at Sibiu in 1756, then Empress Maria Theresa ordered him confined in the prison of Deva Castle until he died.

St John was transferred to a prison in Graz, Austria at the end of 1757. Later, he was brought to the notorious Kufstein Prison, where many Orthodox from Transylvania ended their lives.

In 1780, Gennady Vassie, a Serb who was incarcerated there, was able to send a letter to Empress Catherine II of Russia asking her to intervene on behalf of the Orthodox prisoners. In his letter he mentioned a Romanian priest named John, who had been kept there for twenty-four years because of his Orthodox faith.

St John of Gales died in prison, and was glorified as a martyr by the Orthodox Church of Romania in 1992.

Saint Moses Măcinic was ordained to the holy priesthood in Bucharest around 1746, and worked to oppose the Unia. Because of his activities he was arrested and jailed in Sibiu for seventeen months. Ultimately, he was released with the understanding that he would cease to function as a priest, and live as an ordinary peasant.

In 1752 he was chosen to go to Vienna with Saint Oprea Nicholas of Salistie to deliver a petition to Empress Maria Theresa. The petition asked her to recognize the rights of the Orthodox Church in Transylvania. She received them, but she had them thrown into the Kufstein Prison in the Tyrolean Mountains.

Although representatives from Transylvania repeatedly asked the Hapsburg rulers to free the two saints, they denied all knowledge of them.

Saint Moses Măcinic was glorified as a martyr by the Orthodox Church of Romania in 1992.

Troparion of Martyrs Moses and John – tone 1:
Priests with a holy calling, Moses and John, as true soldiers of Christ God you have preached strongly the true faith and you have become confessors of Orthodoxy for the sake of the faithful. Therefore, receiving martyrdom, entreat Christ our God to grant peace and union to His Church, and great mercy to our souls!

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2/18/2021

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