I was born in the city of Aiud in the Alba region in December of the year 1974 to a family of Orthodox believers. Our family lived a middle-class life.
I remember my father, who sat in the first row in church and did not bother other people. We ourselves put father first in our life. Mother sat with other women and was very proud of us, her children. My older brothers, Marcel and Mircea, put me between them, and I got into all sorts of trouble, including grabbing things and complaining. Through our participation in church life, we became acquainted with ministers and priests as we regularly attended the Holy Church. We began to learn the texts of church songs… At home, we regularly prayed and sang the songs that we knew. In the evening, my father put us all on his knees, praying and reciting the prayer “Our Father.” The practice of my family would influence my life.
1989 was a turning point both in the life of our country and our family. In the summer of that year, my brother Marcel came down with bone cancer. In one year, the disease spread throughout his entire body. Our family’s harmony disintegrated, and there was no spiritual or moral barrier that could shield my parents from these difficult moments. My father took refuge in drinking alcohol, while my mother was pounding the pavement back and forth to hospitals in Cluj. Back then, I was 14 years old. Also in the year 1989, the Romanian dictator Ceausescu was overthrown in a bloody revolution. In my soul, I suffered along with those who lost parents or children. Then I recognized my other circumstances. My soul in those days was full of pain. I thought about the day my brother Marcel fell ill as well those who died in the Revolution. In those days, I cried: “God is with us” and “God exists.” Then I looked up to heaven, I sought the God in whom my family and the Romanian people believed. I would sit at home for hours with my first prayer book in my hand and then on my knees as I prayed to God, the Blessed Virgin, and the Saints to intervene in our lives to replace bitterness with hope, shortcomings with hope, unbelief with faith, yet nothing happened. Days went by, and after a while I noticed that the smile and pleasant nature that had characterized me disappeared. Then I realized that I had prematurely aged. Over a long period of time, I attended liturgy at the Rimet Monastery, I attended many Liturgies and Anointings.
In the spring of 1990, my brother died and my family along with him. I looked to heaven, but heaven was silent toward my cries. No Liturgy nor Anointing nor intercession by the Holy Mother, nothing got through to God. That summer I joined the church choir of St. Simon Barnutiu, where Tokanel Joan served as archpriest. My grandmother praised him a lot for his preaching. In 1990 the choir went to Moldova. Then I discovered the beauty of Orthodoxy, expressed in the paintings of the monasteries, the beautiful churches built in Moldovan style, and the songs sung by monks or nuns. Oh, what joy I felt to be a part of this nation and its church with its many believers, many monks, many ministers, and divine priests adorned in gold. Back home, I was attached to something beyond faith in the songs and teaching of the Holy Church. I believed that God was hidden somewhere.
At age 16 I bought the first three books that would influence my adolescence and later adult life. These books included: the Egyptian Fathers, the Psalter, and Holy Scripture. These books had such great influence on my spiritual life that I will never forget them.
At that time I heard that there were Christian groups among us, which we derisively called “proselytes”.
Those people, who despise the Virgin Mary, despise the Holy Cross, and despise many of us. I heard worse things about them, that they were enemies of the Romanian people and were trying to bring us doctrine imported from America, which would ruin us, our ordinances, customs, and the traditions inherited from our forefathers…
Orthodox priests generally do not recommend independent reading and Bible study. However, I possessed a strong desire to read. At the advice of my rector, I began to read Psalms. Later, I
began to read the gospels but with deep concern, for we were taught that we, ordinary people, should not read these books that are difficult to comprehend. We could fall away into apostasy if we misinterpreted them! Since I ardently desired to meet with God, I continued to read but very carefully, for I could not find God on the wrong path. The Gospel of John talked about the meeting of the teacher Nicodemus with the Lord Jesus. I naturally asked how I could be sure if I were born again. I never had heard about this in a sermon. I was upset and asked myself many questions.
In the spring of 1994, I prepared for seminary to become a servant closer to God – a servant over which the bishop would lay hands and grant the grace of sanctification to touch God. We studied doctrinal, Romanian, and universal church history, Old and New Testaments, Romanian language and literature, and music. Afterwards I moved to Sibiu in the oasis of Orthodox Transylvania. My mother was very happy that her youngest child wanted to become a priest.
However, the early days of my studies brought disappointment. Many students cheated during the entrance exams. On the other hand, I managed to pass the exams and earn a merit scholarship. . I went into the temple, went on my knees, and thanked God with all my heart. The largest expenses would pay for books, doing pilgrimages to monasteries all over the country, and participation in conferences in student centers around the country. Yet my coursework fell short of my expectations. I went to college first to solve my soul’s problems and then to get ready. I was preparing for something pleasant and important, but it was even more important to know God and His love, so I thought.
During summer vacation before my fourth year, I attended the Mihai Viteazul Church in Sibiu, where I met my future wife. She was like a girl who came from another planet, a place of purity, tenderness, and beauty. We spent my fourth year of seminary together and then we got married. In 1998, I graduated from the university. That summer, I went to the mountain village of Ponor Geogel, where I took a pastoral position. My ordination as a priest occurred at the monastery in Rimet in the municipality of Alba. . For my wife, it was the dream of entering into another phase of her life, that of having a man who earned a living, mastered a profession, and started life as a couple in the mountain parish. . All my other friends and relatives also celebrated my accomplishment.
I wanted to look like my parishioners. We integrated our lives with the village, came to know the hardships of daily life by living through them ourselves. . I purchased sheep from a shepherd in the village. We kept goats and went out with them to graze on the nearby hills. I went to the fairs in the area and gained a reputation with many people in other villages for my attachment to the mountain people.
As I got to know them, I realized that they did not live a true Christian life. Rather, they merely practiced traditional customs without understanding their meaning. They sang songs in the ancient Romanian language that neither I nor they themselves could understand. But I had the opportunity to listen to some old folk poetry and stories of truly extraordinary heroes. I also enjoyed listening to some of them several times. I kept thinking of the possibility that my parishioners could live the Christian life as taught in the Bible. Now this presented to me a conflict: Holy Scripture or sacred tradition. Even within sacred tradition, I had two traditions: that of my parents that no one was able to keep, or that of the Romanian village that was rife with paganism from ethnographic and folk literature which I had studied extensively.
Unfortunately, people did not change. I was disappointed. Lord, what do we Romanians have to show you after 2,000 years of Christianity? When people came to the parsonage to perform rituals, I saw no solutions to any of their problems as a result. I realized that these rituals had only short-term effects but brought no long-term solutions. As I kept thinking about it, my wife proposed that we move to another parish. I liked the idea, thinking that we moved to another parish, we would find a community of people with holy customs and traditions that are truly Christian. I figure that in two years we gained some experience and our ministry would gain even more power. From the Diocese of Caras-Severin, we were assigned two parishes somewhere in Banat, in the Oravita, about 300 km from my hometown. There were so few people at church that I started to cry. . If they do not care now, why would they even turn out for the Holy Liturgy, the most valuable ministry of the Orthodox Church?
The parish home in which we were supposed to live was very run down. We decided to renovate the house, but from the very beginning, we ran into opposition. People claimed that the church had no money to pay for repairs. My wife began to cry. As a man and head of the house, I pondered different solutions. As I stood one day deep in thought, I heard a knock on the door of the parish house. A local Baptist church deacon came to tell me: “Peace of the Lord, brother.” I looked long at him and said, “God help us, but we are not brothers. Orthodox are not brothers to sectarians.” “If you are not my brother, then I could be your friend.” I agreed, but under the condition that he would not evangelize my congregants. Otherwise, I would get mad. I asked him if he knew someone who could help me in my trouble, and he offered himself. The next day, he had already fulfilled my request and did so without discussing any price. My parish members never even lifted a finger to help me. Yet, this unrepentant man the alleged enemy of our faith and our Romanian Orthodox nation did everything. My most loyal friend to help me to become better became Paul Laes, deacon of the Baptist Church. As winter came and the nights became longer, I went on to tell my friend the deacon about Scripture. He was the only man truly concerned about my family. When we got bogged down in discussions, he would take a songbook of “Gospel Hymns” and sing. His wife, Sister Rodica, always prepared tea and doughnuts which she served with great pleasure. I started to read their lives as a living epistle.
The spiritual condition in my parishes was disastrous. Usually, those who attended our evening services consisted of me, my wife, and the deacon. Then I suggested that it would be better to attend the Baptist Church where people worship the Lord. They worshiped the Lord in their own way, and our people in our way. In any event, it would be better to be among people who worship God instead of gossiping. When the deacon saw me enter the meeting, he immediately invited me to the front of the church toward the pulpit. He told me to speak the Word to the people. When I preached in my own church in the morning and evening, I wanted to preach faith and repentance as strongly as the Baptists did. I was careful not to offend their faith and to preach only what was in the Bible. During those evening sermons I gradually realized that in fact the ancient tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy demanded a genuine return to Scripture.
In 2002, a week of evangelism took place in the villages where I was priest. The deacon with whom I was friends came to me one afternoon and invited me to attend one of the evangelistic meetings in our village. I could not reject him because he always responded to my calls. One evening, a young man who was 35 years old came. It turned out he was a former priest of the Orthodox Church a few years ago who had repented. The following week, I was summoned by the Bishop of Caransebes to give an explanation about my participation in the Baptist evangelistic campaign. Even though I gave logical explanations, the bishop ordered me to forget that meeting with the former priest. The bishop even forced me to inform him if that former priest ever visited our local area again.
Then the bishop also requested that I dissolve any relationship with the Baptist deacon. I ignored the bishop’s man as I was a free man who could make up his own decisions.
On March 8, 2003, this brother invited me to the Baptist church near Oravita for Women’s Day. My wife and I were very curious to see how they could spend the day in church. It rained that day. They did not spend their time playing or dancing. Instead, everyone was praying to God and asking that His presence would bring peace, joy and happiness. The prayers I heard that day from the mouth of ordinary people I had never heard from any leader of the Orthodox Church. What could I say to my parishioners? The women prayed to God so openly and with firm faith that He would answer. Then on that day my wife and I both realized that we did not know how to pray to God based on a personal relationship with Him according to His Word. After the time of prayer, there was a woman’s Bible study in commemoration of Women’s Day. This study was led by sister Tatiana Gongola, a graduate of the Surd Bible Institute near Lugoj. They would ask her questions: what, when, where, why, who, how? She immediately answered the questions by appealing to the Word of God.
The idea was to ask my questions and seek answers in the Word of God, just like the woman had done on March 8. I had never thought about seeking answers to my questions directly from God’s Word.
One of the Baptist brothers insisted that we go the Bible Institute in Surd to study the Scriptures and said that I would find the truth with the help of the light of God. For this reason, I suggested to my wife that we take two weeks off to spend at the Institute. We had not taken a vacation for five years. We would return just in time for Lent, and I would have more preaching material for Easter. A few days later, my wife gave her consent but warned me not to let the evangelical believers seduce me as they had the other Orthodox priest.
On April 7, my wife and I arrived at the Institute in Surd. . There we were warmly welcomed with brotherly love. The title of the book they were using was Finding Your Direction in Life. I smiled ironically and told myself that my direction in life was already set. This book would not help me at all. We started to study the Bible. With pen in hand, we studied the Old Covenant, which God made with Noah, Abraham, Jacob and other patriarchs. I discovered a personal God, a God who promises that he will bless those who obey him. I encountered a God who promises to keep His promises. The theme of Scripture ran all the way to the blessings of Jesus, Who Himself was sacrificed as a blessing. He came to erase our sins, He humbled and offered Himself as a lamb to the slaughter by His blood that we might receive forgiveness of sins. Now I discovered that Jesus came to reconcile us as new people with God, to bring us into a personal relationship with Him. The scales began to fall from my eyes.
God’s Son died in my place.
Through His blood, my sins can be forgiven.
God’s mercy brings me to repentance. Repentance is God’s commandment.
Jesus offers Himself as a sacrifice once and for all. Through faith in Him as Savior, we obtain His righteousness.
Jesus is the new Adam. For my salvation, Jesus suffered death on the cross.
The Father accepts me as a son through faith in becoming the brother of Jesus Christ.
When these facts confronted me, I could do nothing but believe in them. I could only accept God’s grace. He joined me in a personal relationship with Him. In our Orthodox “religion”, the Orthodox Jesus was never presented as Lord and Master of my heart, nor as the one Who has absolute authority in my private life or ministry. Not His words, but the men known as the Church Fathers demanded absolute obedience. The words of these men had absolute authority in matters of faith.
As a man who thinks logically, I immediately asked a few questions. “Whose servant am I?” I answered, “God’s.” And if I am the servant of God, then to whose words do I have to listen? To whom does a servant listen? His master. And if He is my Lord and Master, to whose words do I have to listen? God’s. This discovery demolished my entire Eastern Orthodox worldview since my birth and taught in my college years.
My wife was stunned and did not know what to believe or say. I explained to her that salvation is personal and only by heartfelt faith and the will of God could she make a covenant with the Lord. She reminded me of the uncertainty that would await us:
“You know that the parish will expel us. You will no longer be a priest, you will no longer have a job, nor will we have anywhere to live. Where shall we go? What shall we do? You damage the future of us and our children. What will be the consequences of your decision on our future? Do not think that you are all alone. Your decision also impacts the three of us along with you.”
On Sunday morning, I woke up with deep anxiety. An invisible war raged within my entire being. This war ensued on two levels: material and spiritual. The material level: how would I resolve the problems of earning a living which my wife brought up and now appeared to be more realistic issues. The spiritual level brought doubts about my ability to serve in a position that is not godly, where continuing on as an Orthodox priest would mean teaching and feeding people with false and misleading hope.
Easter holiday was on the horizon, and people would have to perform confession. However, I realized that confession is not of God because people have sinned against God and need to be reconciled with Him if they are to be forgiven and saved. Yet, if people asked me to grant them reconciliation, then it meant that Jesus died in vain. Instead of coming to Jesus, they came to me, the priest, and a thousand people would thank me for their forgiveness and not God.
Furthermore, through my prayers, people thought the dead souls would enter the kingdom of God. But now I knew that only through faith can a living person inherit the kingdom of Heaven. After Easter, I baptized an infant who was six weeks old. I knew that he was unable to consciously know the Lord Jesus and could not receive Him as Lord and Savior.
That morning a minibus from the Institute went to Grace Baptist Church in Lugoj. I went for the ride. In the car I began to pray to my God and my Lord and asked him: “Please speak to me today and put words in the mouth of the pastor to speak to me, speak through him about how to solve my problems through Your wisdom which has already solved these problems. Lord, please give my heart reassurance. I want Your solution for my life. You see that I want to follow you, but how do I solve my problems?”
As I listened to the sermons, I found the answers to my mental turmoil. I started to smile and thank the Lord who is alive because He showed His love through speaking to me in such a pleasant and direct manner. No person or thing could reverse my decision now.
In the afternoon, we visited another church in the village, and the Lord spoke to my wife. She stood up and stated that she did not want to be merely a listener, but also a doer of God’s Word.
We spoke with a brother preacher about our desire not to leave until we confirmed our covenant with the Lord Jesus Christ through baptism in water. We discussed many things about our lives here at the Institute, how we came to understand the New Covenant, and that baptism should be performed only at adulthood. On Wednesday, April 16, they organized the baptism in a Baptist church in a nearby village. I realized that there is great joy in heaven over one sinner, even an Orthodox priest, who turns to the Lord.
On Thursday, we returned to our parish. Our parishioners heard of our baptism. My superior confirmed it with me and said he would throw us out of the church. In the market, a seller looked at me with anger and threw me out of the store as she said I had denied the holy Mother of God, saints, crosses, icons, all of our customs…
I realized that the pressure would be immense and prayed for a calm reaction. On Friday afternoon at 2 PM, my wife’s uncle arrived. He was also a priest and advisor to the Bishop of Caransebes. He came with the priest from Oravice, my direct superior. The conversation was peaceful, a direct answer to my prayer.
Then they rose and asked me to give them the priestly clothes, keys, and documents of the church with the church teachings, minutes, and books. We went to the temple to conclude our discussions. I handed them the keys and documents as other advisers went away. They had a commitment to keep me in the parish house and pay me until I was expelled.
The priests came to the parish house and told me that it was time for me to leave. I asked them to give me ten days’ notice to move, but they were not persuaded. They told me that I was a traitor to Orthodoxy and had no right to sleep in a house belonging to the Orthodoxy Church! Our neighbors intervened and told them not to throw us out on the street! He also said that the Orthodox priests were behaving worse than the Communists. It got to them, so they allowed us to stay for three days.
The Lord was at work that night. Our brothers came to visit us in the parish house. . The first man to come was the pastor of the village asking if we needed help. Then came the deacon who had helped us before with the parish house. Then he came with a policeman. For a moment, I was upset because I thought he had come to arrest me. In fact, the policeman was also a believer who had come to help. When everyone had left, I looked at my wife. We cried together.
What a great God we have!
The next day, as the news spread, many people gathered. I told everyone: “People, I do not want to go. I want to stay here with you, but you have to change our lives. We will not go to another church, but here in our church we will serve God. Whoever wants to repent and come to our church cannot give confession to me, but he must confess before God. You have sinned against Him. He is good and just and will show pity to cleanse your sins. Then if someone wants to enter into covenant with the Lord Jesus, he can receive Him as Lord and Savior. I will henceforth preach only the Bible and all who want to listen can stay with me.”
At that time, my parishioners were divided into two camps. Some wanted to remain, while others wanted us to go. Then a large car driven by some brothers from Oravice arrived to help us wrap furniture and things and to vacate the parish house.
Suddenly, two cars arrived and stopped in front of the crowd gathered in front of the house. People were pushed aside as the bishop entered the parish house without speaking to anyone. The bishop and his escort growled with offensive words for the brothers to get out of the office. They wanted to have a private discussion with me inside the house. The bishop’s face was black with anger. I objected and said that since there was nothing to hide that we should talk openly before the people. I am certain that he came to convince me to give up on my new faith. But when he saw that all the furniture was loaded and the people were troubled, he invented a calculated ruse and told the audience, “We want him to remain as a priest here, only if he is willing.” “Of course,” I replied. “But you can remain under one condition: you must deny the covenant you have made.” “Thank you, your Grace, but nothing in the whole world could ever make me deny it because I cannot be unfaithful to God. Yesterday, I said yes to God, and I cannot say no to Him today. May this never be.” “Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Anything else comes from the Evil One. May all the curses of the Orthodox Church come upon you and your children,” said the bishop. When the women heard these curses, they covered their mouths with their hands. I asked him, “Most Holy Father, is the Orthodox Church the Church of curses? Does she curse her sons who have served it from childhood until now, even the most humble of them?” One of his advisers looked at me and the Reverend Father and said, “Look at how his face and eyes shine. Satan has entered into him. That shows this man is possessed by demons.” My wife looked at me and said, “Come, dear, let us sing.” “Do you mean that song?” “Yes.” So together we sang. “I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back. I renounce the world, but Jesus I will not give back.”
Since that time, I have been traveling around the country to encouraged evangelical churches and to invite Orthodox believers to enter into eternal covenant with the Lord Jesus by believing in Him alone and only on the basis of biblical revelation, rejecting all other later teachings.