Tudor Popescu was a priest in the “Stork’s Nest” Church in Bucharest, where he introduced a new way of gospel preaching. He experienced great success with such preaching as well as strong opposition from other priests. Several priests most likely out of jealousy of Popescu’s rising popularity with the Bucharest public began to accuse him of preaching Protestantism. It was difficult for them to prove anything because Popescu limited his preaching to the explanation and interpretation of the Bible. These priests sent spies to the “Stork’s Nest” Church in an attempt to catch Popescu in something they could prove as heresy.
Their hopes were fulfilled in the very end. The priest Tudor Popsecu who was very careful about what he said in the text of the liturgy one day made a remark about a problem. In the text of the liturgy there was a prayer in which the priest asks for people’s sins to be forgiven based upon the prayers of the saints to God in Heaven. Then he thought: “I preach to the people in accord with the Bible, which teaches that forgiveness of sins is based upon the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus on the cross for us and our faith in His sacrifice. How then could I ask God to forgive us our sins on the basis of prayers from dead saints? This is an obvious contradiction!”
So Popescu chose to omit this prayer in the liturgy. The spies present in the church immediately noticed this omission. Someone asked Popescu why he omitted the prayer. Popescu replied that he omitted it because he did not believe that we receive forgiveness based on the prayers of dead saints, but rather because of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Patriarchate immediately charged Popescu with heresy because he did not believe in the role of saints as intercessors, nor did he venerate them. The Patriarchate demanded an explanation. Here are some excerpts from Popescu’s defense:
“I know that they have provided biased and false information about me to you, but I will tell you the way things truly are.
Regarding the veneration of the Holy Virgin Mary and the saints, I stand in the general Orthodox formula which states: Worship God and respect the saints. I think the Orthodox Church found the appropriate formulation, and thus I mention it. I stand in this formula and think any other teaching is contrary to true Orthodoxy. And may that be the case. We worship God for he is omnipresent. He sees everything and hears everything. The saints, having gone into Heaven, do not possess divine attributes. They do not hear the prayers of people from different sides of the earth. Omnipresence and omniscience belong only to God Himself. The veneration of saints is even prohibited by the saints themselves whom God had inspired. (Acts 10:25-6; 14:1-5) The role of intercessor before God does not belong to the saints, but only to Jesus Christ. “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” (1 Timothy 2:5-6) Only Jesus Christ is said to be praying for us: “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)
In practice, adoration or veneration of the saints is very easy and without moral obligations. Any person can venerate the saints, but only the honor that goes in their footsteps. It seems very easy to venerate some saint, but if your life is not affected by his life, such veneration is shameful. How many people who address prayers to the saints have changed their lives after that? No one. Of course this prayer called ‘Akathist’ makes a profit, but it does not produce the Christian life. But that is what we need.
Just because I do not venerate saints does not mean that I do not respect them. On the contrary, when I live according to the Gospel and comprehend what is sacred, only then do I admire and love them. As proof of their strong faith, they laid their lives down for Christ and did not abandon Him. Rather, they chose to die rather than to live a lie: it would have been easy for them to placate the government by denying Christ, even if they were to serve Him in their thoughts.
The concept that dead saints could save us through prayer is utterly foreign to the Lord’s Gospel. It clearly shows that salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ, which involves living faith, faith manifested in good works. ‘’Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ asked the Philippian jailer. ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.’’ (Acts 16:30-1) We also read in Acts 4:12 that: ‘Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’
Someone could say that Sacred Tradition preaches otherwise! If this is true, then Holy Scripture stands in contradiction with Sacred Tradition. Only one of these authorities is right: either Holy Scripture or Sacred Tradition! Both cannot be correct. One should accept one and reject the other.
However, John’s Revelation discusses the prayers of the saints. It is good to see how they pray. Revelation 6:9-12 reveals that they seek God’s judgment upon those who dwell upon the earth when He comes. Are the saints praying for their salvation or their punishment? The second place that mentions the prayers of the saints is found in Revelation 8:3-5. The consequence of those prayers is tribulation on the earth. The third place is found in Revelation 5:8-10 where the saints are worshiping the Lamb.
The only thing that follows this is to bring souls to Christ. We say to every person: Sir/madam, you are a dying sinner! Christ died for sinners so they might be saved. Do you truly believe in Him? You are saved! Do you not believe? You are lost! What is your attitude toward Jesus Christ? Do you accept Him as Lord and Savior? On this question depends your whole eternity! Decide in all areas of your life to follow Him, or else do not carry anymore His name (of Christian). This is the content of each of my sermons.
I have never lost sight of the fact that Christ never sent me to do high liturgy, but to preach, not to recite prayers, but to teach. My primary duty is to preach the gospel, and I will do that so long as I live. If preaching the gospel means that I must diverge from the path of Eastern Orthodoxy, then I have truly departed. I am lost! However, I believe that whoever does not believe the gospel, nor lives it, nor preaches it, is truly the lost one.”
Despite his defense, the priest Tudor Popescu was found guilty of heresy and defrocked in 1924. He never ceased preaching the gospel. He rented a hall and began his “congregation” there. On the model of this congregation, others were started in Muntenia and Oltenia. During the time of Communism, these fellowships had to join an officially registered denomination, so these fellowships united under the group “Christians by the Gospel”.
Cornilescu wrote this about the priest Popescu:
“In Bucharest I had a friend who was a priest. He was a widower. After the death of his wife, he was tormented by the thought of how to bring souls to Christ. He did not know how. He heard about my conversion and activity. I wrote him a few things, but he did not understand. When I came to Bucharest, we talked about the gospel. He could not understand how he, a priest, honest, one of the better ones, could actually be sinful. He could not believe that we needed to turn to God: he was sure he was too good for that! After many conversations and rage, he wanted to hear me preach in his church. He wanted to see what it would take for ‘more people to turn to God.’ After several of my sermons, he wanted to preach about ‘turning to God.’ I explained to him that if he wished to preach that way, he himself would need to repent before God.
One week as we talked about the stark reality of the terror of sin, he became convicted of his own sinfulness and repented before God. Since then, he began to preach in the power of God’s Spirit. Slowly, more and more people began to attend these meetings. I finished the translation and publication of the Bible along with tracts and books teaching about the progress of the Christian life. We launched a magazine called ‘Christian Truth’ for the purpose of evangelization. We asked many people whether they were saved or not, and some of them turned to God by reading the tracts, books, and magazines.
Many of the converted people were divine testimonies of the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Some of them learned to read just so they could read the New Testament.”