Father Ioan Sevastre – a faithful servant on the lands of Vrancea

Born on 5 April 1913 in the commune of Corod, Galați County, into a priestly family – his father and grandfather were priests, descendants of the Bratians – the young Ioan Sevastre spent his theological childhood under their guidance, after which he graduated from the D.A. Sturdza Gymnasium in Tecuci (1932) and from the Faculty of Orthodox Theology in Cernăuţi in 1941.

After marrying Elena Jalbă, he was ordained a priest on 1 March 1942 and served in the parish until 16 November 1948, when he was arrested and sent to prison without being tried. His conviction was the result of Order 7424 of 1948 of the so-called Regional Security Service Inspectorate, which called for the prosecution of all clergy who enjoyed the trust and respect of the parishioners, as was the case with the priest Ioan Sevastre. The accusation, as serious as it was, was unfair and unjust:

Conspiracy against the socialist regime. Following this sentence, Father Sevastre suffered extreme torture and humiliation during the 5 years and 7 months he spent in the communist prisons of Galați, Râmnicu Sărat, Poarta Albă, Aiud and Gherla, after which he was released on 18 June 1954, when he returned to pastor his flock in his native village of Corod. Despite his innocence, he was imprisoned again between 17 January 1958 and 1 July 1963, for another 5 years and almost 6 months of harsh imprisonment and inhuman treatment that would undermine his temporary earthly existence.

After his release from prison, the communist regime established as his forced residence the commune of Jitia, in the Ploiești region, Râmnicu Sărat (the raion), now in Vrancea County, where he served for more than 26 years, setting an example to the shepherds “by word, love, faith and purity”. Here, the priest served “by rotation” in the two places of worship that existed at that time: the church of “Saint Dumitru” in the residential area and the old church dedicated to Saint Nicholas in the village of Jitia de Jos. Despite the restrictions imposed by the state, Father Sevastre managed to restore this church, carrying out work on the roof and enlarging the porch in 1965. It was also thanks to his efforts that the church was endowed with icons on wood, painted in oil, which were secretly transported from Buzău to Jitia between 1981 and 1986 and are still there today. For a time, the priest also worked in the monastery of Saint Vasile of Poiana Mărului, closed in 1950, also by a communist decree, but reopened thanks to his insistence and efforts.

Forced to divorce in order to send his child to school

The terrible socialist ‘rule’ would also have a hostile influence on the family of the priest Sevastre, who, under constant surveillance, was forced to divorce his wife Elena in order to send his child to school, who was registered under his wife’s surname – Jalbă – so that he would not suffer in the future because of his father, a former political prisoner. The priestess, however, continued to live a Christian life alongside her priest husband, working as a teacher in the commune. After the fury of communism subsided, they legally remarried, although their marital bond before God never ceased.

After so many temporary trials that tested his soul but did not shake his faith in any way, Father Ioan Sevastre died on 12 October 1989 in Jitia, surrounded by the villagers who appreciated and cherished him at every moment. Although Father Sevastre wanted to be buried in the cemetery of the historic church of the village of Jitia de Jos, built in 1672, he was buried in the cemetery of the village of Cățelu, Glina commune, Bucharest municipality, carrying in his heart the nostalgia of the mountain places he loved and served with unspeakable devotion.

In spite of the suffering he endured during his more than 11 years in prison, Father managed, through a special pastoral ministry, to make himself, as far as possible, “all things to all people”, treating his parishioners with an extraordinary gentleness. His truly priestly and exemplary attitude aroused the admiration and sympathy of all the faithful of Jitia, who will always fondly remember Father John, “a gentle and soft-spoken man who wore the marks of torture during his unjust imprisonment with dignity until the end of his life”.

(Fr. Gheorghe-Daniel Micu, “Un slujitor jertfelnic pe plaiuri vrâncene. About five years in communist prisons” in Ziarul Lumina, year 7, no. 143 (1947), 23 June. 2011, p. 5)

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