The life of the martyred monk Dionisie Șova

The area of the Intracarpathian Arc, included in the present Orthodox Diocese of Covasna and Harghita […] presents in its historical past a particular specificity in the idea of martyrdom and suffering for Christ. Romanian suffering in this area also meant Christian Orthodox suffering, a reality highlighted by dozens of martyrs and confessors recorded in the documents of the time. What happened after the period of the Viennese dictatorship, which was par excellence a period of Romanian suffering and martyrdom, unfortunately meant a continuation of the terror established in 1940. The Church with its clergy, the monasteries, were the landmarks for the preservation of Orthodox spirituality and at the same time the elements that were most severely and deeply affected.

In these circumstances, of numerous attempts to denationalise the Romanians, to force them to abandon their faith, the martyrdom of the hieromonk Dionisie Șova from the monastery of Făgețel is part of another historical moment, not of the dictatorship, but of an oppressive regime – communism. Through his model of spiritual life, through his courage as a confessor, Father Dionisie Șova joins the gallery of martyrs who died for the defence of the faith in Christ.

The context of his martyr’s death is particularly complex, full of sinuosities, and must be seen in the circumstances that led to the establishment of communism, a system that was widely implemented in this area by the same persecutors during the regime of the Viennese dictatorship. The documents found in the monastery prove that Fr. Dionisie Șova was born in the commune of Poduri, Bacău County, on 30 December 1901.[1]

With the episcopal decree No. 7315 of 30 December 1931, he was ordained a confessor by the vicar bishop Ilarion Băcăuanul in the monastery of Bogdana-Bacău. The episcopal decree signed by Bishop Ilarion of the then Romanian diocese recommended the hieromonk Dionisie Sova as “worthy of such a vocation by his good moral conduct”.[2]

From the monastery of Bogdana, in the same year, we find that Fr. Dionisie went to the hermitage of Făgețel. Here he arrives, accompanied by three other monks, and begins his monastic life. According to the chronicle of the monastery, the church of this monastery was built in 1903 and for more than a quarter of a century it served as a private chapel, without an authentic monastic life.

Situated near the national road (DN 12A) that connects Transylvania with Moldova through the Ghimeș-Palanca pass, in the western part of the village of Făgețel, a locality crossed by the ancient Trotuș river, the chapel of Făgețel soon became a landmark of Orthodox spirituality in this area. It was the hieromonk Dionisie Șova, who bought the church together with 2 hectares of land, who succeeded in laying the foundations of a monastic life.[3]

After several years of effort, the church was repaired, the cells and other outbuildings were built, creating a beautiful monastic hermitage which, together with the old monastery of St. Elias in Toplița, will complete the picture of ecclesiastical life so thoroughly outlined in the inter-war years under the care of Metropolitan Nicolae Bălan and Patriarch Miron Cristea.

The consecration of the monastery church, dedicated to “The Beheading of St John the Baptist”, was celebrated on 9 November 1936 by the Metropolitan of Ardeal, Nicolae Bălan, together with a choir of priests.

Less than four years after the consecration of the monastery, the Viennese dictatorship, which had brought so much misery to the Romanians of Transylvania, was proclaimed. The years of the dictatorship did not spare the monastery either. Although the monastery did not fall prey to the fury of the Horst armies, as happened to almost 20 churches in the counties of Covasna and Harghita, it became the headquarters of the Hungarian garrison in 1940.[4]

In these conditions, in which it was impossible to continue monastic life, the hieromonk Dionisie Șova returned to the Bogdana monastery with the thought of returning to the foundation of his soul when historical circumstances made it possible. With him, most of the Orthodox priests of the two counties went into exile, only a few of whom returned at the end of the war, given the conditions that followed, which made it almost impossible to resume church life in this area.

Forced conversions to the Hungarian confessions, destroyed churches and parsonages, intimidation of all kinds, harassment, obstruction and a deeply felt terror for all those who wanted to return after 1944, were the causes that led to the abandonment of a large part of this Romanian spiritual area and to many trials for those who remained.[5]

The end of the dictatorship in Vienna, the end of the war, did not bring the necessary peace and tranquillity, and the thread suddenly broken in 1940 seemed, as it turned out, difficult to renew, even in the years that followed. The martyrdom of Fr. Dionisie Sova is linked precisely to this context of “dictatorship after dictatorship”, that is, to the continuing tragedy in this area of south-eastern Transylvania, marked by a sense of insecurity, fear and intimidation, and also by a new system – communism – just as hostile as that of the dictatorship to the manifestation of the Orthodox faith. All the efforts of the new communist authorities – most of whom were ethnic Hungarians converted overnight to the new ideology – were directed towards preventing and restoring a natural Romanian life, and that linked to the Orthodox Church. Another fact that must be emphasised is the numerical minority status of the Romanian population in this part of the country.

A natural evolution of things would have led Father Dionisie to return to the monastery of Făgețel in 1944, but like many other priests who left the altars in 1940, Father Dionisie had to stay away from his monastery. In addition, there was a lull in 1945 and 1946, but it was short-lived, as this was the time of the establishment of the Hungarian Mureș Autonomous Region (1952-1968).

Under these circumstances, Father Dionisie Șova did not return to the monastery until 1946, a return that was perhaps also part of the repeated requests of Met. Nicolae Bălan, who asked the clergy of this area to return to the altars left in 1940, even at the risk of facing many dangers.[6] It was an act of courage to leave the quiet life of the Bogdana monastery and return alone to resume life in the Făgețel monastery.

The period from 1944 to 1946, which was marked by a joyful and hopeful momentum in the old pre-1940 reorganisation, was not only extremely short for the resumption of ecclesiastical life and the reconstitution of Orthodox communities, but, above all, full of dangers caused by the hostility of the new administration towards the Romanians and their Orthodox Church.

Until his tragic death, Fr. Dionisie returned the monastery to its natural course, restoring services and monastic life, despite the climate of intolerance maintained by some local ethnic Hungarians. The death of Hieromonk Dionisie Șova must be seen in the context of events following the liberation of Transylvania and the presence of the local Hungarian elite in the communist system. The so-called “democratic system” meant the establishment of a persecution of Romanians, especially priests and monks, who were labelled “fascist”, “Hitlerite”, “anti-democratic” for any manifestation, even liturgical[7].

The return and presence of Father Dionisie Șova in the monastery of Făgețel could only have been a thorn in the side of the new communist authorities, as he was subjected to complex surveillance, culminating in the staging of his death. On 5 August 1951, in circumstances that are still unclear, Father Dionisie Șova was found hanged from a tree in front of the monastery, with a will found that was left behind in the possession of a local resident. It was later discovered that the will was a forgery. Here is the so-called will written by Father Dionisie Șova,

“Most Holy Master,

I, the undersigned, Hieromonk Dionisie Șova of St. Skete Făgețel I could no longer bear the terror brought (…) the romano-catholic priests have insinuated all kinds of words of hateful lies to this holy hermitage and I am losing my life … I ask for a serious monk to lead this place in good condition church and houses. Bucur T. Simion and Bucur Ilie remain responsible until the arrival of another priest to take care of this hermitage. I beg Your Most High Holiness not to forget this lost soul and I ask You to kindly and graciously release me.

Yours supus serv Dionisi. I ask for your blessing and please forgive me”.[8]

The present testament is not written in a cursive Romanian, with grammatical errors and a style that does not represent an orthodox way of addressing one’s hierarch, e.g. “supus serv”. According to Christian tradition, any shortening of life is a mortal sin for which there is no forgiveness or “excommunication” as expressed in this testament. Moreover, an act committed by a man who had given his life to Christ seems impossible to understand. The coroner’s report, drawn up a few days after Father Dionsie’s death, states that the cause of death was “manic-depressive psychosis”, from which Father Dionsie suffered. This is obviously difficult to understand, since Father Dionysius had proved himself not only to be a good housekeeper and administrator of the hermitage, but also a confessor and a lover of divine worship, and such an illness would have prevented him from even receiving the gift of monkhood. Moreover, in the same will, he appointed a priest to conduct his funeral, Father Viorel Ghibutiu, a Greek Catholic priest of the Frumoasa parish, to which the monastery belonged. Moreover, the lack of Orthodox priests in the area may have been a reason for calling a Greek Catholic priest. Perhaps even the “proof” of this tragic fact, the will left on the table in the monastery, the suicide in front of the monastery.

When the coffin was dug up after 1990, it was found intact, with the remains and the cassock of the priest. After the monks’ funeral rites, Father Șova’s body was kept in the church and then reburied in a new tomb.[9]

Considering the circumstances of the time, the political context, Father Dionysius can be considered a victim and a martyr.

(Ioan Lăcătușu – Romanian Pain in Covasna and Harghita, Romania Pure and Simple Publishing House, Bucharest, 2007, pp. 257-262)

[1] Archive of the Făgețel Monastery

[2] Episcopal Order, no. 7315, Roman Diocese, 1931

[3] Andrei Moldovan, From the History of the Fagetine Monastery

[4] Ioan Lăcătușu, Vasile Lechințan, Violeta Pătrunjel “Romanians in Covasna and Harghita. History. Church. Culture. School, Grai Românesc Publishing House. Miercurea Ciuc, 2003

[5] Violeta Pătrunjel, Church and Romanian life in Covasna County (1944-1945), Bachelor’s thesis, Faculty of Orthodox Theology, Sibiu, 1999.

[6] Sf. Gheorghe Orthodox Deanery Fund, 1945

[7] Violeta Pătrunjel, idem

[8] Făgețel Monastery Archives

[9] Andrei Moldovan, idem.

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