Introductory facts about revivalists movements in Romania
In most of the communist countries the activity of revivalist movements was forbidden, many of their older members being imprisoned. After the collapse of the communist regimes these movements have become a common experience for the historical churches in the postcommunist period in Romania.
Their emergence constitutes a challenge for the churches that was unknown for decades. The activity of these movements led to new conflicts on the one hand between groups of laymen with greater religious expectations and religious experts, and
between religious experts who accept to lead these lay-initiatives and the rest of the clergy on the other.
Such reform movements could be initiated by certain groups of the clergy as well, their success being strengthened if certain lay groups join them.
The following research results consist of investigating the existent literature about God’s Army combined with qualitative analysis, namely 5 explorative interviews and observation where I have managed to get a general insight into and about the associations’ activity. The interviewed persons are members of the movement (the priest who coordinates the activity at
the regional level, namely in Cluj Region, 3 laymen – two males and one female) and one person from the hierarchy of the Orthodox Church at diocesan level. The qualitative research is not finished. The research covers only the parish “St. Elijah” from Cluj-Napoca, where the local members of God’s Army gather.
Short history of “God’s Army” movement
Establishment year: in 1923 the spiritual movement God’s Army was founded. The foundation of this movement is closely tied with the figure of P. Iosif Trifa and his publication of “The calling to a new life in Christ”, published in the first number of the weekly newspaper Light of Villages from 1923. The organization gathers in only few years a large number of members, actively engaged in fighting abusive language and alcoholism (the main fighting areas of the Movement).1 In 1938, according to contemporary voices, the organisation has gathered 300 000 members inside the country and also abroad.2
Founder: Fr. Iosif Trifa was an orthodox priest, born on 3 March 1888 in the Region of Turda. He was an active publisher in the press of the time, namely before and after the First World War. In his articles he was preoccupied about the sufferings of his fellow countrymen.3 In 1922 publishes his first meditation book “On the way to Canaan”, which can
be charachterized as a harsh criticism on bolschewism. In 1922 he was appointed as chief editor of the weekly newspaper “Light of Villages” and from the beginning he clearly sets the goals of this periodical: “The advices and guidances of this periodical will fit with our daily needs in order to strengthen the good habits, in order to help in fulfilling the civic duties and
needs, in youth guidance, for peace maintenance and good understanding among all sons of the Romanian nation.”4
By 1938 Iosif Trifa publishes almost 40 books with religious content (originals or remaking), printed in over one million copies. He also printed over 300 000 copies of calendar books and thousands of orthodox Bibles, dedicated especially to villagers. The aim was to educate this category of population, so that they will learn to read. The “Light of Villages” and from 1930 its supplement “God’s Army” will be printed in a large number of copies, so that around 1935 the number of copies summarized 15 millions sold copies.5
The amplitude of the “Trifa phenomenon” (as it was called at the time) stired up the envy and hatered of his fellow clergy colleagues, and their intrigues will lead to Trifa’s degradation from priesthood in 1935. The publication of the weekly newspaper “Light of Villages” and its supplement God’s Army will be also forbidden.
On 12Th February 1938 after a heart surgery (the eighth) Fr. Trifa passes.
Well reknowned collaborators:
the poet Traian Dorz and the layman Ioan Marini
Cultural, social and historical context for the appearance of “God’s Army”
I. After the First World War:
- The social-economic and moral-spiritual context offered a picture “which didn’t rise to the heroism of this nation and to the destiny which God arranged it”
- A new phenomenon was more and more present, namely the emergergence of new forms of belief, which were considered to be inappropriate for the Romanian religious landscape.
Grounds for the appearance of this movement:
- Around New Years Eve of 1923, Fr. Trifa took a deep insight into the life which he led up to that point, especially his way of living the ministry of priesthood. Profoundly saddened and unsatisfied, he came to the conclusion that his life and that of his fellow countryman wasn’t characterized by prayer and worship, but more of pagan practices. “People were living in distractions and scandalous disorders”.
- Fr. Trifa wanted a spiritual regeneration for the entire Romania. He wroted: “Romania was under humiliating slavery. Our habits are altered... Through poisoned storms...our faith got also poisoned, we lost the love and our hearts filled with the sins’ poison.