As World War II came to an end in 1946, Romania and many millions of people in the eastern European countries found that… the Nazi boot of oppression was replaced with an intolerable Russian boot of brutality and loss of political and religious freedom. From 1946 until 1989 a Romanian generation was indoctrinated with anti-religious propaganda. Hundreds of the beautiful wooden churches dating from the thirteenth century were boarded up and abandoned. All of the historic stone gothic churches and their intricate stain glass windows remained seldom attended and stood as silent sentinels and were often only visited twice a year by the devote at Easter and Christmas. For fear of destruction, many religious works of art were hidden in caves and the lofts of the faithful. Today they have returned those treasures and we were able to visit these great churches.
In 1946, those who professed a belief in God were denied entrance into the Communist Party. Christians were replaced in every government level of political influence. After eradicating the political and most of the religious leadership of Romania, the Communist installed puppet Romanians to govern the people. Even the leadership of the smallest village was supplanted by a Pro-Communist Romanian. Anyone found speaking against the Communist regime was imprisoned and many were taken away in the night never to be heard of again. They were killed or sent to work in the frozen Siberian mine fields.
After nearly five decades of anti-religious teachings under Communism most of the rising generation of Romanians abandoned the faith of their fathers. The Communists were far more successful in suppressing religion in the large cities of Bucharest, Brasov, and Sibiu, than the smaller towns and villages which dotted the beautiful countryside of Romania. Many Romanians learned to go underground with their religious beliefs. This was especially true in the villages where the Communist leader was also a Christian believer. The surviving priests and Christian believers kept a low profile and were tolerated because the great majority of Romanians were sympathetic to Christians. Some Romanian school teachers would profess Communism and secretly pursue their belief in God.
Alexandru, our guide who was from a tiny village in Transylvania, told us the following story. Every Friday his primary school teacher would announce that God did not exist and told the students they were forbidden to attend church. However, the grandmothers of these children would bring these same children to church and “Lo and Behold” every Sunday, there was his school teacher at the village church. The teacher pretended not to recognize the students and the students pretended not to recognize the teacher. Every week during his growing up under Communism this scene was played out. After school while the men and many of the women were working in the fields or factories, the children were taught by their grandmothers, called “bunica” in Romanian, to believe in God. In Romania, Easter is more important than Christmas. Alexandru’s bunica told him that Easter was the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. Among the traditions ingrained in his soul was to respect “Lent,” or the forty days of fasting, prayer, repentance, and good behavior preceding the celebration of Easter. Alexandru was told to not curse, to retain no bad thoughts or hard feelings towards anyone, and even not to spit on the ground during those forty days.
On Easter Eve, at midnight, all of the faithful in Alexandru’s village would bring an unlit candle to the church. When all were gathered outside the Church, they would knock on the door of the Church and the priest would open up the door and invite everyone in. The priest would bless the congregation which always included his grandmothers, his classmates and their teacher. Next, candles which had been lit in the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and brought by special messengers to the local priests throughout Romania was used to light the candles of all in attendance. There were hymns of praise sung to Jesus as the risen Lord who had conquered death. After much rejoicing and well wishing the faithful returned to their homes and with them they brought their lighted candles that their homes might be filled with the Light of Christ. There were baskets of sweet bread and “Red” painted Easter eggs. Alexandru was told that when Mary, the mother of Jesus, was told of the crucifixion of her son that she was carrying a basket of eggs. She laid down the basket next to the cross and after they had removed the body of Jesus to the tomb, she noticed that some of the blood of Jesus had stained the eggs red. Thus began the tradition of painting Easter eggs. Great care was taken to paint the eggs with wonderful patterns and intricate designs. Eventually other colors were used to paint the eggs. The famous Faberge’s eggs of the Russian Czars were a reflection of this tradition. All through the night the family would talk and paint eggs and rejoice. At dawn, when Christ emerged from the tomb, the family would break their fasting and celebrate with a glorious breakfast. Neighbors would greet one another with the phrase “Jesus is alive!” “Indeed He is!” would be the response. The children would go from door to door asking for painted eggs. To give a beautifully painted egg was to bring good luck for the entire year. The more eggs you gave away the greater your fortunes would be. Around noon everyone returned to the Church. It was the duty of the priest to ring the Church bells throughout the year, but on this day the children and all the villagers were permitted to enter into the steeple and to ring the Church bells. As in Adam all die and in Christ all will be resurrected, both priest and practitioner.
The godless domination of Communism could not replace the faith in God of the “bunicas” in Romania. The “Red Eggs” of Easter and the testimony of believing grandmothers proved more powerful than all the “Red Stars” of Communism. In Romania, “Jesus is alive!” “Indeed He is!”