From the editor: May 1, 2015
Prisoner of the Redeemer
—May 1, 2015.
Early this morning, about a four-hour drive east of Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral, a much smaller and new church in the Michigan countryside shelters the body of the recently reposed monk of the Orthodox Church, Fr. Roman Braga. His funeral is scheduled to being at 9:30 AM.
While Fr. Roman held no office as elevated as the Archbishop of Chicago, it would not surprise me if in some ways he influenced as many people over the years through his counsel, prayers, and service to the church—to all who spoke with him.
Fr. Roman moved to Michigan from Brazil the same year I moved from Michigan to Chicago (1972). Twenty-five years later, on October 7, 1997, I met him for the first time at Holy Dormition Orthodoxy Monastery in Michigan. I was privileged to have a several conversations with him, including an interview published in Salvo Magazine (Solitary Refinement How One Man Found Freedom Inside a Communist Prison: An interview with Fr. Roman Braga). His counsel helped me in many ways.
Fr. Roman was expelled from his native Romania in 1968, where he had served as a priest of the Romanian Orthodox Church. He spent 5 years in a labor camp digging the Black Sea Canal, and served 6 years of a subsequent 18-year sentence, including time in solitary confinement, before being released under a general amnesty in 1964. His priestly ministry afterwards apparently was watched carefully by the secret police, who came one night with a Brazilian passport in hand and sent him out of the country.
Fr. Roman said he discovered Jesus Christ more deeply in the depths of his being in prison, especially in solitary confinement, where he came to experience true spiritual freedom. He spoke of prison with nostalgia.
In a sense, the new church God began in a prison (phulake), with the first sermon preached (ekeruxen) to its prisoners by Pilate's former Prisoner (1 Peter 3:19). Here the "gates of hell" did not prevail against Christ and his new church as he burst the gates and led the captives into freedom.
I could sense from the way Fr. Roman prayed and chanted the Akathist Hymn to Jesus Christ on Sundays before Divine Liturgy that I was witnessing a true communion between the Lord and his servant. He thus praised Jesus Christ, "Redeemer of those below" and "Vanquisher of the nethermost powers." One stanza:
Jesus, true God.
Jesus, Son of David.
Jesus, glorious King.
Jesus, innocent Lamb.
Jesus, Shepherd most marvellous.
Jesus, Protector of mine infancy.
Jesus, Guide of my youth.
Jesus, Boast of mine old age.
Jesus, my Hope at death.
Jesus, my Life after death.
Jesus, my Comfort at Your judgment.
Jesus, my Desire, let me not then be ashamed.
Fr. Roman was singing a song to his Liberator. To witness this was a great blessing. I will always think of Father Roman with a captivating twinkle in his eye, revealing an inner joy forged in the crucible of prison. He was, with St. Paul, a "prisoner of the Lord."
Father Roman, I trust, beholds the face of his Beloved Savior in the mansions of the righteous. Alleluia. Memory eternal!
Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,
James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James