Hieromonk Emilian Gâțu, martyr for Christ during the communist regime

He was born into a family in which several members had taken on the monastic habit over time. He entered the monastery at the age of 12 and lived in several monasteries in Moldavia and Transylvania. On 15 May 1946, in Polovragi Monastery, he was canonically ordained by Abbot Veniamin Nicolae, who asked the Polovragi Monastery Council (Hieromonk Casian Sandu, Hieromonk Ieronim Anasa and Hieromonk Tit Moldovan) to allow him to become a deacon.

On the 5th of December 1949, the High Ecclesiastic Protosingle Dionisie Popescu proposed him as a deacon, and on the 6th of December he was ordained a monk, and on the 1st of December 1950 he was ordained a hieromonk by the Metropolitan of Oltenia, Firmilian Marin. On 28 May 1953 the same Metropolitan ordained him a hieromonk. His ordination as a deacon took place in the church of the Polovragi Monastery and was presided over by Metropolitan Firmilian on 21 August 1955, when he also received the rank of monk[1].

According to contemporary testimonies, the archives of the Polovragi Monastery and the Oltenia Metropolitanate, the monk Emilian Gâțu led a better life, with many prayers and a particularly ascetic life. For example, in 1952-1953, during Easter fasting, he tried not to eat anything for almost a month, but seeing that he was risking his life, which would have led him into a sin condemned by the Holy Fathers of the Church, he gave up fasting, but he never ate cam or fish during his entire earthly life. He was a tall, soft-spoken boy who impressed the monks by being the only one in the monastery of Tismana who, like a true mountaineer, climbed a rock with a cross on his back and a candle, but without any means of protection, and placed them in the cave where Blessed Nicodemus of Tismana lived. He also saw to it that during Lent and on other feast days a candle was always lit in the cave of Saint Nicodemus[2].

Since he had not seen his family since 1942, as he stated in one of his petitions, especially since his parents were old, infirm and sick, he was able to visit his family in northern Bucovina in 1957. On his return, in March 1958, the Polovragi monastery was the scene of a harsh investigation by the Security Service, which accused it of harbouring Colonel Iulian Popovici, who had been a gendarme commander in Transnistria during the Second World War, accused of the murder of thousands of Jews and sentenced to death, and who was evading arrest by staying in forests and mountains or hiding in the homes of various citizens in the surrounding villages. The investigation began in the first week of Lent and ended after Holy Week. Veniamin Nicolae and Tit Moldovan, residents of the monastery, were interrogated and beaten day and night by the Securitate in order to make them admit where they had “hidden” the weapons and gold, and because they had links with Colonel Iulian Popovici, having given him some hot tea in winter out of Christian charity. In order not to hear the cries of the monks’ fathers in the village during the cruel beatings, which were characterised by the fact that they were electrocuted, that their fingers were crushed on the door and that the sticks with which they were beaten had thorns on them, the secret police teams from Târgu Jiu and Craiova started the engines of 4 cars.

Singhel Emilian Gâțu sought martyrdom because, although he had been advised by several acquaintances not to go to the monastery, he could not accept that his other confreres should suffer innocently. It should be noted that he had a varicose ulcer on his feet, which caused numerous wounds, which he treated with iodine tincture. In the monastery, where he bravely presented himself to Colonel Toma Popescu, he was maltreated from the first moment and then handed over to the Novaci district secretaries, who were in charge of the investigation. The most cruel was the beating of a certain Boțea, a Security Service officer, in particular the commander of the Târgu Jiu security, called Sechei, who beat the monk until he fainted in a room of the monastery in order to give the names of the “conspirators”. To wake him up, he threw cold water on him and continued the abuse until, by the end of the investigation, all the fathers were unable to stand or speak.

One episode is worth mentioning: how each monk was guarded by a Security Service soldier; in the case of our father, the guard, impressed by the purity of his holiness, agreed to allow him to kneel in prayer. When the soldier was discovered by Lieutenant Sechei, he was severely detained for 15 days.

From the testimonies of some of the Polovragi peasants who were interrogated as witnesses, it appears that the monk Emilian had a radiant face, reminiscent of the martyrs of early Christianity, because he prayed for the souls of the interrogators, asking for them to return to truth and faith. For example, Father Emilian prayed for forgiveness for the sins of the Security Service lieutenant Sechei, who had broken open the Holy Altar with a crowbar and put his hand where it was sealed, thus desecrating the church and later forcing it to be consecrated again by the Metropolitan of Oltenia, Firmilian. During the torture, Father Emilian’s shirt was covered with blood and he was often unable to eat.

At the end of the investigation, a trial was held at the military tribunal in Craiova, in which 33 people took part, led by the abbess Tatiana Răduleț of the Tismana monastery, the abbot Veniamin Nicolae of Polovragi, the protosingle Tit Moldovan and the colonel Iulian Popovici. The purpose of the trial was to justify the subsequent decree, which was never published in the “Official Gazette”, which led to the expulsion of many monks from the monasteries and the demolition of some monasteries, so that in the eyes of international public opinion it would appear that the holy monasteries were secret places for legionaries and war criminals, where they plotted against the communist regime. At the same time, the aim was to morally compromise monks and nuns accused of theft, fraud and other acts punishable under the criminal code, so that they could be used as examples in the atheistic education of the youth, who were supposed to see in the monasteries and their servants immoral people worthy of all contempt. For example, the Abbess Tatiana Răduleț of the Tismana Monastery, who had been accused of theft by the usual means, remained, after her release, with serious mental disorders until her death.

Father Emilian Gâțu, together with Veniamin Nicolae, Tit Moldovan and many others, arrived in Balta Brăilei after the sentence was pronounced. Emilian Gâțu died here in the autumn of 19613. He was well known to many survivors for the way he continued his mission of defending the faith of the ancestors.

(Toma Rădulescu, Martyrs for Christ in Romania during the Communist Regime, Publishing House of the Biblical and Mission Institute of the Romanian Orthodox Church, Bucharest, 2007, pp. 275-277)

1. AMO, file 100 m, Hieromonk Gâțu Emilian, f. unpag.

2. According to the oral testimonies of Archimandrite Inochentie Porumbelu, then Brother Ion, of Polovragi Monastery.

3. In The Imprisoned Church, p. 182, it is stated that our father’s baptismal name was “Nicolae”, as in Orthodox Priests, p. 126.


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