Father Ioan Sabău – “patriarch of the people of Hunedoara”

There is a place in Romania that was not on any map or index until the 1990s, because it was home to a man who was dangerous to the communist regime: Father Ioan Sabău. The village is called Folt and is located on the right bank of the Mureș River, not far from Orăștie. The locals say that before Father Ioan came to live in the village, they had never been able to cultivate their fields because of the wild boars that came in the autumn. But thanks to his prayers, the fields are still well cultivated, although in the neighbouring village of Bobâlna, for example, the wild boars are still rampaging around as they used to!

Father Ioan Sabău was first and foremost a priest. He was one of the few priests for whom, if you happened to meet him on the street, you crossed the street and kissed his right hand with the right hand with which he blessed!

He was born in the village of Folt on 20 October 1914 and died on Monday 16 February 2009. Orphaned at the age of ten, he studied theology in Cernăuți (1935), where he befriended Father Adrian Făgețeanu (whom he considered “a Saint”, as his daughter confessed to me), married a woman from Bucovina, and was ordained priest in the “most widowed parish” of Metropolitan Nicolae Bălan: Ceru Băcăinți. From there he was transferred to Renghet, near Geoagiu (because it was a parish with problems: there were many concubines!) and then isolated in his native village. He was imprisoned for his faith and “he remained in prison for his people” under three political regimes: as an anti-dynastic during Antonescu’s regime, as an anti-monarchist under Carol II and as an anti-communist he spent six years in Aiud, the rest in Gherla and Deva. “It was in prison that I began my priestly mission. It was there that I understood, not theoretically but personally, that the priesthood is not a profession, but a plucking out of hell of the lost sheep. It was there that I learnt to pray, and it was there that I felt my dependence on God, because everything depended on God and everything came from Him”. To Father Oprea Crăciun from Cinciș – also a “God dweller” in the communist prisons – he said: “We were not imprisoned. Their target was God. It was Him they were dragging through the courts and cells”. In this way, the prisons became “windows to heaven” because they were in fact “hell’s attacks on God”. And yet Father John felt that he had “hated himself while he was in prison. God wanted it that way. Schools and books didn’t teach me as much as prison did. There were very devout people there. From them I learnt the Psalms and the Gospel of John by heart in prison.

Father Ioan Sabău was the first man to build a church under the communist regime: in 1958, in Vinerea, Alba County. Those who lived through those times know what it meant to gather more than 10,000 people for the consecration of the church and to serve with a choir of 120 priests in Dej’s time. The regime immediately rewarded him with eight years of hard imprisonment for serving in the church with “three machine guns”! This was after all their attempts to thwart the consecration of the church had failed – even though they had brought the puppet and drama theatre from Deva, the drama theatre from Petroșani, football teams from Bucharest to play against those from Cugir, after cutting out the tongue of the bell at night, putting sugar in the electricity generator and throwing all the food prepared for the pilgrims on the road! But he would say, “Put God on top and you will see that you can overcome!

Father was the definition of humility, because after all the suffering he had endured for them, he loved people and considered absolutely everyone better than himself! “But the people loved him because they saw him unfeigned” and did not teach him what he did not do. “He never preached about water and drinking wine,” said one of his spiritual sons, Fr. Vasile Vlad, and “his life was his priesthood and his priesthood was nothing but his life”. Father Vlad also confided his last words to him when he asked:

– Do you have directions? Do you know where you are going? Do you know where you are leading the youth and the people?

– Cardinal points in chaos, Father? Why do you think I’m looking for you?

– You have a duty to see the times! To know history. Because we were not imprisoned because the Communists imprisoned us, but because that was God’s measure of history! And you must give God’s measure to the times!

Because he was truly a priest, he was much loved and sought after by priests for guidance and, miraculously, he was never envied by any of them!

Sick and aging, Father Ioan never refused a spiritual call in his life. The people of Ardeal remember him well when he preached to them in Oașa, Afteia, Prislop or wherever he was taken with his infusions! They even showed me photos on my mobile phone of him at the age of 94, wrapped in a sledge that they used to bring him down from Mărgineni, from the mountain! “About 3,000 of us were crying when Father told us! And he told us to believe in miracles, that God works miracles for faith. And to take God from the head to the heart and not the other way round, as the people in the West did. They thought they could explain everything with their mind, and the mind does not accept miracles! And so they lost their faith! In this way, the Father still lives in the hearts of the people of Transylvania. The Ardelenians, who came with love from several counties, also wept on the first anniversary of the funeral (since Father Ioan Sabău was released from the bonds of his body), together with His Eminence Andrei of Alba Iulia and His Eminence Gurie of Hunedoara, Father Vlad Vasile, the parish priest Oliver and several dozen other priests gathered at the tomb of the curate.

May God comfort and reward him and count him among the elect ones!

(George Crasnean – World of Faith Magazine)

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