Orthodox America

  The Cry of the New Martyrs – A Son of the Light (Fr. Vasyl Romanyuk)

      From a remote part of Siberia, letters and appeals on behalf of a suffering humanity have been directed towards the West, During the past 10 years over 400 such petitions have been penned to various international leaders and organizations such as the World Councilor Churches, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists, the Pope, and the President of the United States. The writer of these letters, Fr. Vasyl Romanyuk, is a courageous Ukrainian orthodox priest, who recently completed a 12 year term of prison, special regime labor camp and exile near the Arctic Circle. The lack of active response to those letters over the years has only served to heighten their tone of urgency --and shattered any illusions about a concerted campaign of support on the part of Christians in the free world.

     Born in 1925, Fr. Vasyl spent 10 years of his youth in Stalin's labor camps for being a “churchgoer”, and was thus no stranger to the Gulag when he was arrested for the second time in 1972 for having spoken out in defense of the Ukrainian dissident historian Valentyn Moros. Together they shared similar view s concerning the need for the preservation of Ukrainian culture and religious tradition in the face of forced assimilation and spiritual devastation--"the trampling of Christian values which humanity has developed through the ages." Already a "Soviet person" has grown up--"A monster, without honor or conscience, ready to participate in any foul deed against: his neighbor."

    It was not only his friendship with dissident intellectuals which led Fr, Vasyl to be classified by the authorities as "an especially dangerous criminal." His eloquent sermons called for Christians to take up their cross and take an uncompromising stand against the evil darkness which threatens to engulf the whole world. 

Below are excerpts from one of his sermons written in exile.

"Sons of Day, Sons of Night" 

Ye are all the children of the light, and the children of the day; we are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. (I Thess. 5:5-6) 

    From these words of the Holy Apostle Paul we see those who have chosen light, and those who have embraced darkness rather than light for their deeds are evil. Thus there is no doubt that the sons of light are those who have accepted Christ and His teaching. This is why the Apostle directs his appeals to them, in order to underline the significance of their calling and the extraordinariness of this mission and duties which they are to fulfill. That is why he cautions: "So then let us not sleep as others do. but let us be alert and sober" (I Thes. 5:6) ....

We have no right to sleep because we must be the "light of the world," a lamp set upon a lampstand so that we may shine through our good deeds through which our Father Who is in heaven is revealed (Matt. 5: 6). The duty of Christians today is far more complex than it was a hundred year. s ago, and as such, it .requires that we look into all corners of human activity in order to exert an influence on the hearts and minds of the human community through our righteous life. Our life may be called righteous only when we are ready to lay down our life for our friends. Only then can we testify before all that we are sons of light and that we have arisen from sleep, that night has long passed and day has drawn near ....

    Our Christian calling obligates us to categorically reject all the deeds of darkness, enter into no compromise 'with the sons of night, and always be clothed in the armor of light (Rom. 13:11-12) .... We can see from the word of God that we Christians have a special assignment: "But you area chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him Who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (I Peter 2:8) ....

   If we are called into His marvelous light, then we cannot be indifferent when darkness swallows our brothers, for we are the sons of light, and not the sons of night. We must be an example in all; in life, in word, in faith, and in love. And we must defend the persecuted, the hungry and those who suffer for the word, for if we do not do this, then we are [like] "tinkling brass, a resounding drum" (I Cor. 15:7).    

   In one of his letters. Fr. Vasyl wrote: "I have come to the conclusion--and not for the first' time--that inhumanity, cruelty and tyranny have so penetrated the way of life and manner of this country's leaders, that to seek humaneness, sympathy or compassion anyplace here is an empty and unnecessary occupation.'' In 1976 Fr. Vasyl renounced his Soviet citizenship and asked to be accepted as a citizen of the United States. This action only caused him to suffer more harassment. His Bible and religious literature were confiscated and. despite a lengthy and debilitating hunger strike protesting this illegal confiscation, they were not returned.

     His health ruined by the harsh conditions of prison and exile, Fr. Vasyl has addressed a recent letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury with a request to help him emigrate. He is married with one son. Fellow prisoners of conscience who have also appealed to the West on behalf of Fr. Vasyl, warn that "If there is no response, it will be synonymous with 'encouragement for the regime to commit new crimes against the Church ....

Father Romanyuk is an extraordinary preacher and organizer, who distinguished himself by exceptional activism on the religious scene. That is exactly why he was chosen to be the subject of repressions .... He has become a cause celebre, but at the same time he has become a true martyr for the word of God, for the faith."

     If we who are called to be "sons of light" remain sleeping and do not rouse ourselves from indifference to help our neighbor, we ,shall be responsible for the spread of darkness. Let us "be alert and sober", and let us hear the voices of those who plead to us from behind bars: "Christians of the world, we are on the brink of annihilation, Can't you at least help Father Romanyuk?"!

     Help--by praying, by writing letters to your Congressmen .and by telling others of the plight of suffering Christians behind the Iron Curtain.

(Above quotations from A Voice In the Wilderness.)