Archimandrite Roman (Braga)
Archimandrite Roman (Braga) (1922-2015)
Roman may be spelt Romain, Romanos, Romanus,
The future Father Roman Braga was born on 2 April, 1922. He was born in Romania, in Condrita, Bessarabia, near the Monastery of Condrita. This is about 25 km distant from Chișinău (Kishinev) (which is now in Moldova). He was the seventh and last of the 7 children of Cosma and Maria Braga. (When he was born, Bessarabia was not yet a part of the Bessarabian Soviet Socialist Republic formed in 1924. (Bessarabia is a region of the former principality of Moldavia, and now part of the Republic of Moldova.)
His devout Orthodox Christian mother raised him and his siblings carefully in a family whose focus was the worship of our Lord Jesus Christ, in close proximity to the Monastery of Condrita. During his formative years, he had the living example of his mother who imprinted on her children the virtues of Christian life. Many times he would recall that his mother would attend the long worship services at the monastery, and that, sleepy and tired as he might be, he was always at his mother’s side. These formative years laid the foundation for the strict discipline that served him throughout his entire life, up to the very last day of his life.
In 1929, at the age of 7, he began his studies in the public school of his village.
In 1934, at the age of 12, he was sent to the Căldăruşani Monastery near Bucharest. Later, he was sent to the monastic seminary in the Monastery of Cernica (also near the Romanian capital), in Cernica County.
In Cernica, he formed life-long friendships with many of the great future spiritual fathers of Romania, including Fathers Sofian Boghiu, Felix Dubneac, Benedict Ghius, Grigore Babus and Gratian Radu. Later in his life, he would be imprisoned together with some of them, and he would meet them and others later in the USA. These exceptional and exemplary men may not be well-known in North America, but it is very important to get to know them, since they are significant examples of loving, faithful servants of Christ. They are considered by many to be new-confessors for Christ, because of their suffering as Orthodox Christians at the hands of the atheist communists. They are considered to be similar to martyrs who have shed their blood and died for the sake of Christ.
In 1943, Roman enrolled in studies in the Theological Institute, in the School of Letters and Philosophy, and also at the same time in the Pedagogic Institute in Bucharest. He graduated “Magna cum Laude” in 1947 from the Theological Institute, and he received the diplomas of Professor of Theology and Professor of the Romanian Language.
In 1948, he entered the doctoral program at the Institute of Theology in Bucharest.
However, during that summer, he was arrested by the secret police, and his studies were halted. He then endured a year under interrogation, having been accused of belonging to an anti-Semitic movement. He was detained in Bucharest at the Jilava prison, and he was then sent to the Piteşti prison, the place where the infamous brainwashing experiments took place. In Piteşti, he and the others spent much time in solitary confinement. "Brainwashing" is, in fact, a mild term for the methods used. The determined and evil methods used (called "unmasking", which included the replacement with lies of everything they knew to be true of themselves and what they believed) caused so much intense pain that almost no-one could escape succumbing to committing blasphemy — itself a pain that persisted for the rest of their lives. Mercifully, there is repentance which the Lord accepts. Clearly, the programme of completely replacing a person's self-knowledge was not necessarily indelible, since Father Roman and the other Christ-loving confessors were able in Christ to recover. Moreover, Father Roman Braga and Father Gheorghe Calciu-Dumitreasa (who were both in the prison) would later say that they had no calendar, but from the words and blasphemous songs of guards, they could discern what season it was, and even what feast-day it was. Thus, they would persevere in their prayers and praise to the Lord accordingly.
In 1951, he was sent to a labour camp in the Danube Delta, where many people died in slavery.
Monastic tonsure ; diaconal ordination
In January, 1954, he was tonsured a monk. A week later, he was ordained to the Holy Diaconate at the Iaşi Metropolia, where he was permitted to remain (under surveillance by the state secret service). During this time, the newly-ordained hierodeacon not only served daily at the metropolia and sang in the choir, but he also conducted theological sessions with students from the Medical School and other universities, in which he discussed the practice of the Prayer of the Heart, and he interpreted the Philokalia for them.
In 1959, the result of this was that Hierodeacon Roman was arrested again, after which he spent another year under interrogation. The authorities seemed never to be certain precisely what sort of accusations to bring against him, so he was accused of having been part of the Burning Bush movement along with 15 others, and he was sentenced to 18 years of forced labour. In a book written about the Confessor Priest Gheorghe Calciu-Dumitreasa, it is explained that the title "Burning Bush" comes from a specially-written icon of the Mother of God. It was written by a founding priest, and all meetings were held before this icon (which later remained with Father Roman in the Monastery of the Dormition in Michigan). Father Roman and others like Father Dumitru Staniloe did belong to this movement, whose purpose was to keep shining the light of the Orthodox Faith.
From 1959 to 1964, he spent time in various concentration camps in the Danube Delta. This was the treatment given by the godless state to all those who kept feeding Christ's rational sheep with life-sustaining spiritual food. With God's help, Father Roman and many others (both clergy and lay-persons) were responsible, through their faithful witness and suffering, for keeping the Orthodox Christian Faith alive and productive throughout the years of communist oppression in Romania.
Amnesty ; presbyteral ordination
In 1964, under pressure from the West, the General Amnesty decree was issued, which freed all political prisoners. In that same year, Hierodeacon Roman was ordained to the Holy Priesthood at the Episcopate of Oradea.
On 1 January, 1965, Hieromonk Roman was installed as the parish priest in a village in the northern part of Romania. There, he organised a choir of 100 children, a Sunday School, and he performed all priestly duties for 2 years. The authorities did not look favourably on his work, so he was secretly transferred to another parish.
Since he came to be considered to be an “unwanted element” by the communist government, the Patriarchate sent him as a missionary to Brazil.
After 4 years in São Paulo, Brazil, in 1972, Father Roman was invited by Archbishop Valerian (Trifa) of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America to transfer to the USA. For the next 5 years, he worked for the episcopate by translating Romanian church music into English ; he was active in the religious education programme for children ; he was a member of the committee that translated religious texts from Romanian into the English language ; he served briefly in vacant parishes, and he substituted for vacationing or ailing priests in various parishes throughout the USA and Canada.
In 1979, Father Roman was assigned to be the parish priest at Holy Trinity Church, Youngstown, Ohio.
In 1983, he was assigned to be the serving priest and spiritual father for the Monastery of the Transfiguration, Ellwood City, Pennsylvania.
In 1988, Father Roman retired to the Monastery of the Dormition, Rives Junction, Michigan, where his sister, Mother Benedicta, was the abbess.
In 1996, Father Roman's book "Exploring the Inner Universe" was published. It was well-received at the time, and it continues to serve as a support for those who wish to follow Christ. On the internet, the book is highly rated as being well-worth reading. The following comments from readers help us to appreciate the value of this writing. The first comment is a quotation from the book about his experience in prison.
I do not like to speak too much about prison, what happened to us, because the most interesting aspect of the 'Romanian Gulag' is what happened with our souls. That we were beaten or did not have enough food is not important. This would be just information for the archives. What was interesting was our conversion and how God conquered us. It was a purification. Communist prisons in Romania were great academies (p.52).
The second is a comment on a person's impression on having met Father Roman.
His homily was fiery, full of inner fire and passion, and his face also spoke volumes of charity and goodness.
During his life of service in this monastery and in the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Ellwood City, Father Roman never missed a service (until the last 2 years of his life), and he maintained intact the offering to the Lord of his daily prayer rule. He would rise at 2:00 a.m., read the morning prayers, prepare for the services, and then be in church at 5:00 a.m. sharp. He maintained most of the same rhythm even after he was diagnosed as having prostate cancer. However, as time passed, he no longer had the strength to attend all the services. Nevertheless, he never missed a Divine Liturgy (for which he always prepared in advance), regardless of how weary he might have felt. During his very last celebration of the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, it is reported that Father Roman, Archbishop Nathaniel (Popp) and the nuns continued the old tradition of carolling which he had established there. On the day of the Synaxis of the Theotokos, there a session of carolling is held, which can continue for 2-3 hours, and which includes all types of songs and languages. The archbishop noted that at the last such session, "Father Roman was present, he was ill, but you would never have known. He was like a cherub".
Although Father Roman’s spiritual children were numerous, he never forgot any of them. This was always the case, even if he had not seen them for many years and even while his health deteriorated.
During the Spring Session of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the OCA, on 17 March, 2015, Father Roman was awarded the Order of Saint Romanos in recognition for his outstanding contribution to the field of liturgical music in the OCA’s Romanian Episcopate of America. The award was personally presented to him by Archbishop Nathaniel (Popp) on the Feast of the Annunciation to the Theotokos on 25 March, 2015.
He became bedridden only 10 days before his repose, but he remained lucid and completely aware of his surroundings until the very end.
On 28 April, 2015, Father Roman (Braga) fell asleep in the Lord in the women’s Monastery of the Dormition of the Mother of God in Rives Junction, Michigan.
The funeral service for Father Roman was offered on 1 May, 2015, in the Monastery of the Dormition of the Mother of God, Rives Junction, Michigan, where Father Roman was interred.
Father Roman Braga biography in Romanian
Additional information :
Bugea, Eleanor, “Romanians in Canada” (Michigan : Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, 2009). ISBN : 978-1-929200-14-6.