My life with Sergiu

I had heard Sergiu Grossu preach in an Orthodox church in Bucharest and was very interested in him as a man and in the work he was doing. But my arrest in August 1949 separated us for several years. Now, when I was in charge of a group of young people belonging to an evangelical church, Sergiu’s participation in our meetings became more and more useful and pleasant. He was always accompanied by young people from the “Lord’s Army”, because in our circle there was no difference of denomination. The aim was to strengthen the Christian position of these young people, as many as possible, who had been indoctrinated with atheism at school or at work, in the army or in factories.

Sergiu, a former journalist and a very talented poet and writer, had written several plays on biblical themes. He had wonderful Christian poems, and his poems for children and young people were circulated in all the churches and underground meetings. For some of his poems and plays, it fell to me to compose the music. In this way, our young people were constantly fed with new songs, and together they enjoyed all the good spiritual gifts that they were constantly acquiring together with us adults.

We also performed sketches and even plays, such as “The Prodigal Son”, written in verse by Sergiu.

This activity and the collaboration with brothers from other churches gave us a lot of comfort in that period after 1953. Of course, we were very “vigilant” about our meetings, so as not to be caught by the police. Perhaps prudence and wisdom helped us a lot to be left alone. Many times we realised that God’s angels were on guard and watching over us. I was often watched, as were others in our group; houses were guarded, including my uncle’s house, where I went every day for breakfast and to see my parents.

But we all knew that we were doing something that was pleasing to God and necessary for His cause. That’s why we continued, hoping for His help and protection. We also met regularly at a sister’s house for prayer. We dedicated these hours to the prisoners and to the conversion of the unbelievers.

For my part, it was not difficult to see that Sergiu and I loved each other and understood each other perfectly. And so, despite material hardship, but above all without a stable home, our lives were forever united.

Our engagement took place in a small Orthodox monastery in Sinaia. It was just the two of us, and after the service we cried out our love and gratitude to God on the mountain ridges.

We spent the wedding in very sad circumstances: my uncle was dying and my father was also seriously ill. It took place in a small church in the neighbourhood where my parents lived, then in the only room where we could gather, at my father’s bedside, who witnessed our joy, which we had to suppress, singing and praying in hushed tones for the sake of our uncle, who was in the last phase of his life.

A sister of the faith offered us hospitality in her house to live for a while. Then, shortly after my uncle’s death, my father left us. My mother moved in with a friend and gave us the room she had lived in during those bitter years, after being evicted from the house we had and carrying the burden of missing me and my brother, who had also been arrested.

The police repression became harsher and harsher, especially after the events in Hungary. New arrests were made and everyone realised that we were living in a new phase of terror. But we did not give up the struggle. However, we had to be very careful not to fall into the jaws of the wolf, but to proceed cautiously and skilfully.

Our meetings took an increasingly mysterious turn. The brothers of the Lord’s Army, who used to number in the thousands when they went to a wedding, a baptism or even a funeral, were categorically stopped by the communist police, who intervened a few times and then arrested some of the leaders. These arrests did not last long. But they prepared the ground for the big one that was soon to come.

In fact, in 1958-1959, the new wave of arrests was unleashed. Teenagers, women and men were picked up one by one. And one night they came to take Sergiu. Words can’t contain the beating of his heart. One thing can be understood, and that is that I suffered for his arrest, as someone who knew what it meant to fall into the hands of the Security Service.

Soon my friend Alice was arrested as well. And a great emptiness began to form around me. Every day I heard of others who had been picked up at midnight. And we, who were still outside, stood with our suitcases packed, ready to go.

Everyone had hoped that with Stalin’s death civil liberties would be restored, as Khrushchev had promised. Everyone expected a gradual relaxation. But suddenly the repression intensified and the religious persecution, unleashed even with the tacit approval of the high ecclesiastical bodies that had shamelessly collaborated with the regime, became more insistent. The files accusing them of counter-revolution and espionage on behalf of the capitalist imperialists were abundant. The poor peasants who are accused of such acts don’t even understand what is going on. The public defenders play the role of the prosecutors and the prosecutors demand sentences of more than 20 years.

What is left for us, those of us who are still “free”, but to continue to pray for our loved ones who have been taken from us and for all those who remain, it seems endlessly, in prison. And we went on with our lives, between the daily work and the sometimes sleepless nights in which crying was mixed with prayer and discouragement with hope.

My mother, who had come from her friend’s house to live with me in the room she had given us after my father’s death, cried and prayed unceasingly for Sergiu and the others. She used to tell me: “I will go to the Ministry of the Internal Affairs and ask them to take me instead of my son-in-law! I’m old. He’s young and recently married…” In truth, I had only been happy for two years, and then came the arrest.

And yet I was sure that we would survive this ordeal. More specifically, I was sure that my husband would return home enriched and strengthened, as I had come, like so many other believers. For the bond with God is closer in prison than in freedom. I felt it, as they say, on my skin. I have never reached such heights of happiness and spirituality as during my years in prison. That’s why I consoled myself with this thought when it came to Sergiu’s fate. And I asked God that the trial that the prisoners were going through, in which we were also involved, would strengthen us for other times and other calls to a work that God certainly had in mind, but for which each of us needed a new, preparatory school.

From 1962 to July 1964 the government granted a general amnesty to all political prisoners in Romania. As usual, the newspapers said nothing, and no official act confirmed the rumours that spread like wildfire among the population. In most families someone was missing. Everyone was waiting for a “miracle”, and since Romanians are optimistic by nature, everyone believed that the amnesty had indeed been signed, that the long-awaited people would return home. The joy reached its peak with the arrival of the first groups. From that moment on, the stations were stormed by whole families waiting for their far-away relatives to get off the train. In this way, in endless rows, the prisoners returned to their families. It was the greatest euphoria the country had ever seen. The prisons were empty. Among those who returned were some who had been imprisoned since the Antonescu government. Others had been arrested between 1944 and 1945. Shadows, former men and haggard skeletons were what mothers, wives, husbands and children held in their arms. But for some, the reunion brought happiness and hope. Others returned home alone from the stations or waited in vain at home. Their loved ones had died in prison. When? Where? They would have learned these sad details from former comrades who had returned among the living. One thing none of the bereaved could find out was the whereabouts of the graves of the tens of thousands who had left this world, the land of suffering, freed forever from the chains of tyranny. The graves were never found. And the grief was all the more gnawing.

After his release, Sergiu was forced to work in jobs far below the level of his university degree, struggling with uninteresting work and poor health, the consequence of being a slave in the Danube Delta, where many prisoners had been taken after the trial to grow and harvest reeds. Sentenced to 12 years’ hard labour, he worked his way through investigations and trials in these hellish places until his release. There he had an accident at work, and it was only by God’s help that he did not lose a leg. He still feels the effects of the accident and will never forget the “operation” he had on a kitchen table in the bathtub that served as his bedroom. The doctor, a prisoner, had to close a 20 centimetre wide wound through which the entire muscle of his left leg had protruded by sewing it shut for more than two hours without anaesthetic or disinfection (and for this so-called “operation” he had an ordinary sewing needle and packing string).

Despite the amnesty, freedom of religion was not respected under the country’s constitution, and my husband and other militant Christians were completely banned from holding any meetings or activities in this direction. The atmosphere became more and more difficult. For Sergiu, the only ideal was to work for God. He wanted to be useful in spreading the Holy Word, knowing that many people would benefit from fellowship, a good word, some advice. Or it had become almost impossible. Of course, prayer was our refuge and we asked God to open a way for us to have freedom of action. Our perseverance and trust in Jesus to show us the way never left us.

After several years of waiting, during which we began to see clearly what God’s will was, the decisive day came when we left for France. God works through people. He helped us through people! Our gratitude to Him and to all those He used to get us out of the country lives on.

We arrived in France in April 1969 with the feeling that we were “moving” to a second home. Familiar with the French language and culture, belonging to a history that has intertwined its destiny with that of the great French people, we left behind our nearest and dearest, believing that in France we would find the right climate in which to begin or continue a ministry so dear to us, for the glory of God. We believed that our spiritual experience and that of communist rule would be useful to the citizens of this country. And from the beginning of our exile we tried to “do something”.

On the one hand, we brought the message to the persecuted Christians because they had remained faithful to their ancestral faith. We hoped that their courage in the face of police terror, the martyrdom of their many brothers and sisters oppressed behind the Iron Curtain, would be an example and spiritual encouragement to Christians in the West. And we also wanted to draw the attention of those who are seduced by the mirage of Marxist doctrine to the danger of a dictatorship installed under the name of proletarian dictatorship, but which in fact neither represents the will of the proletariat nor fights for its interests.

When I arrived in France, the problem of subsistence was easily solved, because I began to work and, thank God, I had no material needs. But that wasn’t why I had come. It was to speak to others, to convey, as I said, the message we had in our hearts. My husband, in particular, had worked for more than a year to establish contacts and to make available to the French press the data and documents that he had received from our persecuted brothers and sisters wherever Communism was in power. To our astonishment, most of the doors he knocked on remained closed: some of the answers were characterised by total indifference to the issues raised; many of those Sergiu approached were already involved in the leftist struggle. Painfully and seriously, the latter category included members of the clergy and many parishioners of Christian churches.

We found the communist infiltration in France so great that at a certain point we began to believe that any attempt at enlightenment was doomed to failure. But Sergiu didn’t give up. In constant prayer, we both asked God to show us the way forward. Armed with patience and convinced that if God had worked the miracle of bringing us to France, it was for a purpose, Sergiu continued to prepare, try, plan and wait.

God paved the way when He felt the time was right. Besides the religious broadcasts he was given in Romanian and for a time in French, Jesus’ most wonderful gift was the newspaper “Catacombes”, a non-denominational publication dedicated to religious issues in communist countries.

God’s blessings did not stop there. The newspaper was followed by the publication of books on the same burning issue: religious persecution and the courageous stand of persecuted brethren in countries ruled by atheistic Marxists.

We both work hard. But we are happy that we can be of service to Christians in Romania through our radio programmes, which strengthen some and bring anti-Marxist arguments to others. On the other hand, we are convinced that we are doing a necessary work in France for all ecclesiastical and social circles, and we are happy to receive so many letters encouraging us to continue this work of informing public opinion.

(Nicole Valéry Grossu, From the Heart, Duh et Adevăr Publishing House, Bucharest, 2003)

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