A life dedicated to religion

On 21 July 1911, in the commune of Alma, Sibiu County, the priest Zosim Oancea was born, who would later become an important and imposing figure in the cultural and religious life of the city and county of Sibiu, as well as the whole country.

After the death of his father during the First World War, he was raised by his maternal grandparents, Zosim and Eufimia, who used to call him “Uncle Zosim’s baby”.

Zosim Oancea attended the “Timotei Cipariu” high school in Dumbrăveni, Sibiu County, where his religion teacher told him to go to the boarding school “to play the credinterul”, i.e. to serve meals in the boarding school.

He then spent a year at the Theological Institute in Sibiu, which he had to leave because he did not have the money to continue his studies. However, at the institute with the same profile in Bucharest, he did not have to pay fees and he enrolled again in the first year, without having his studies in Sibiu recognised. He completed his theological studies in 1935, graduating magna cum laudae.

Life took its natural course and so, on 5 May 1935, the priest Zosim Oancea married Dorina Maria, the daughter of the priest of Alma.

Between 1935 and 1936, he was a teacher of religion at the “I.G. Duca” high school in Cristur, near Sighisoara. Between 1936 and 1937, he was a member of the organisation “Lord’s Army”, founded by Losif Trifa, which he had attended since his student days.

He was brought to Sibiu by the Metropolitan Bălan as a priest of the Cathedral and as a teacher of religion at the Andrei Șaguna High School. When he became a professor at the Normal School for Girls, he gave up the post of priest at the Cathedral. He became the religious inspector for the whole archdiocese.

In 1948 he printed a religious calendar with a motto by Avram Lancu. The figure of the great Avram Lancu was imposed on him by the authorities, as he had actually proposed Andrei Saguna. As a result of this editorial publication, the authorities accused him of “the crime of conspiracy” and in February 1949 he was sentenced to 19 years in prison, to which another 5 years were later added.

He was arrested with his wife at the Copșa Mică railway station and taken to the Securitate dungeons. Fortunately, Dorina Maria was released after a week because she was pregnant. She wrote about the hardships of her imprisonment in her book “The Duty to Confess”. The Imprisonment of an Orthodox Priest”, published in 1995. Here he and other fellow-sufferers were subjected to a series of tortures in order to force them to sign a false statement; he endured the tortures of the torturer, who spun him around until he became dizzy, after which he was hung between two tables, where he remained for a long time (…) Many died. (…) Many died in terrible agony, unable to bear the pain. He spent a week in this way, hoping that the day of his trial would come sooner and that he would be able to tell the truth.

From there he was transferred to Sibiu prison, where the regime was a little more lenient and he was allowed to take food from home. He spent the period from July 1948 to 14 February 1949, when he was sentenced. The same month he was transferred to Aiud prison.

The priest confesses that Aiud prison was like a fortress: it was divided into three large sections, if you can call them that. In the first section, called Zarca, the prisoners were crammed into a cold cell, each with only a blanket. In order to keep out the cold as much as possible, they would sleep in pairs, one on top of the other’s blanket. Priest Zosim Oancea shared a blanket with Aurel Cioran, brother of the late Emil Cioran. A former prisoner, Oancea confesses that it was only after ten years that he was able to improvise a pillow from a straw sack.

They received very little food, some survived on less than 800 calories a day, others died. They ate the same food for years, so much so that even the prison doctor, Anca, wondered how they were still alive.

The priest was able to endure all the trials of prison because of his faith in God. During his “stay” in Aiud, he had two dreams which reassured him that he would come out of this difficult ordeal. In the first dream, he was in a large cathedral, with a chair on the altar on which Our Lady was seated, and he was in the pew on the right, holding bread and wine in his hands, and he was asking Our Lady to receive them for Holy Liturgy; it seemed to the faithful Zosim that She was looking at him rather sternly, and so he prayed: “Forgive me if I have sinned, but please receive them”, and She did. In the second premonitory dream, the priest saw himself in the cathedral of Timișoara, which he had never seen before, but which he visited after his release. He trusted in God’s miracles.

During his imprisonment, he worked in a blacksmith’s and woodworking factory, a period that made his life a little easier, as he was given more and better food; they served him with a bigger ladle and gave him potatoes, rice and beans.

Discipline in the prison had to be respected; Father Oancea felt it himself; they were not allowed to talk to anyone in another cell because they were condemned to solitary confinement. One day, as the prisoner Oancea Zosim was returning from his usual walk, another prisoner, Floca Losif, greeted him and he replied. The inevitable consequence was that he was locked up for the night in a cold, dark isolation room.

Life was also very hard because they were not allowed to receive any news from home. News from home only came when a new prisoner from the region was brought to the prison. For example, the priest Oancea learned from the lawyer Banea Mitu that his daughter Magdalena was the most beautiful girl in Sibiu.

After a while, Zosim Oancea was transferred to the second section of the prison, called the Cellular.

It’s important to note that the priest Zosim Oancea practised his profession in the prison, believing that he was sent there by God to help the prisoners. The priest considered it a miracle that God had given him the opportunity to know the whole of the Holy Mass by heart, so that he could celebrate it. He used to wear a piece of caraway in his lapel before entering the prison, in case someone was dying, so that he could give them communion. Then, for the Holy Mass, he also needed the antimins, which is valid with the holy relics. The priest, who did not have the Holy Relics, made the following analogy: if the antimins is valid with the Holy Relics, then it is also valid with the piece of Communion. Every morning he would serve the Liturgy with everyone if they didn’t have an informer in their room. During Passion Week, they would receive 125 grams of bread, which he would use for Holy Communion, made with tonic wine brought from the infirmary. Prisoners on other floors also received some of the Holy Communion; they threw small bags through the window bars. Then came the confession: with the help of a spoon, he struck three times on the heating pipes (which were never hot), and then everyone knew that the prayer before confession was said; then he struck again three times, and everyone confessed before God; then he struck again three times, for the prayer of forgiveness at the end of the confession; the next strikes were for the prayer before Communion; then he struck again three times, and everyone swallowed the Communion, and then he said the prayer after Communion.

In addition to his duties as a priest, Zosim Oancea was also a teacher; for example, he knew a Macedonian peasant, a shepherd by trade, who could neither read nor write. He learnt from the priest Oancea on boards made of soap and written on with chopsticks.

After all these confessions, the priest said that if he had lived 100 years in freedom, he would not have been able to do for human souls what he did in prison.

The priest was forced by the authorities to live in the Bărăgan, in Bumbăcari. Those who lived there were only allowed to move within a radius of 15 kilometres.

His family was allowed to come there and they set up a household. But even here he had no peace as the authorities came again and arrested him. He was taken to the New Ridge camp, where he worked on the canal. From there he was transferred to Periprava in the Delta. It was here that he saw his youngest son, Doru Oancea, for the first time.

He stayed in Bărăgan until September 1963, when, on his return to Sibiu, the then Rector of the Theological Institute, Nicolae Colan, helped him to take over the parish of Sibiel, which had been vacant for two years.

Here he did much good for the villagers, who loved him and helped him in everything he wanted to do for the parish of Sibiel, as he himself confesses. “I did nothing here alone, but together with the people of the village, they helped me, encouraged me, supported me”.

One of his cultural achievements is the Museum of Glass Cottages, a voivodeship-wide foundation that has made Sibiel an emblematic village of our traditional culture and spirituality.

The museum is the largest of its kind in the country and consists of a small building built in 1969-1970 and a large one begun in 1976 and completed in 1982.

On his 90th birthday, priest Zosim Oancea can proudly say that he has served God for 65 years, 35 of them in Sibiel.

Priest Oancea is a special personality who has dedicated his life and energy to the service of God and the enlightenment of the faithful with exemplary dedication.

(Beatrice Gheorghe – Memoria Magazine)

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