Traian Dorz was born on the 25th of December 1914 in the village of Livada Beiușului, Bihor County, Romania to a poor peasant couple – Constantin and Maria Dorz. Traian was to be their only child. Constantin and Maria were, by all accounts, highly respected by their neighbours.
As a child, Traian immersed himself in libraries – that of the school and teacher Savu Halbac. He read everything he could get his hands on. When he finished his primary classes, on June 7th 1930, he received as a prize, from the Religion teacher, the book Noe’s Ark, written by the Transylvanian priest and leader of the Lord’s Army Iosif Trifa (see previous post). This prize book would subsequently transform Traian’s life. He recounts his experience –
‘That moment was my first encounter with the name of this man sent by God, father Iosif Trifa, and with the name of this Work of Christ, the Host of God. The next day I know it was Pentecost – Sunday the 8th of June, 1930. And I know that, after the church service, I only stayed at home reading my book. What shook me most were the last words of the call – “If you do not fall now at the feet of the Saviour’s Cross, cry with bitter tears for your sins and surrender your life to the Lord Jesus, … you will remain in your sins, until, unexpectedly, the flood of perdition will come upon you too. There are only two states: either in the ship or outside. If you are outside, enter immediately into the ship of salvation, lest the flood and death come suddenly and find you unsaved. Come right now! I felt that I must immediately throw myself on my knees somewhere and let go of the stream of tears that I could not control … that I must unload my soul by crying out to God my repentance, my return, my surrender, my covenant. I went up to the attic and there, on the dry hay, I fell on my knees, I burst into an uncontrollable sob, and with my hands raised I began to cry and whisper, praying and repenting. I was melting in front of my Lord and my God, in front of whom I was standing in a way in which I believe that only once in a lifetime can a man stand like that. From my eyes, on both cheeks, not sprinkles of tears, but two uninterrupted rivers. I don’t know how long I prayed. When I woke up from this state, under my knees, the hay was wet with tears. A bright and boundless peace had filled my whole soul with all the serenity and all the beauty of heaven and earth.’
Traian Dorz would also later record – ‘On June 8, 1930, when I decided for the Lord my only religious book was the book “Noah’s Ark”, written by father Iosif. This book was the one that turned me back to God.’ Shortly thereafter, at the age of 15, Traian wrote Trifa, asking him to enrol him in the ‘Army of the Lord’ and to subscribe him to the newspapers “Oastea Domnului. and ‘Lumina Satelor’.
Unbeknown to his parents, Traian successfully applied for admission to the School of Arts and Crafts in Beiuş. However, they did not share his vision and subsequently forbade him to continue his studies both at Beiuş and at the Military High School in Târgu Mureş, to which he had also been accepted. At the same time, his religious concerns worried his parents, who sought to marry him off as soon as possible. Consequently, at the age of 18, Traian married a young woman named Maria. However, this did not dampen his enthusiasm for the things of God. Traian and Maria went on to have three children – Florica, Viorel and Nina.
In 1934, Traian accepted Iosif Trifa’s proposal to go to Sibiu. Here he would dedicate himself to publishing, his mentor being convinced of the skills of the uneducated peasant from Livada Beiuşului after he had read and published some of his Christian poems. Over time, Traian Dorz became the editor of several Army (of the Lord) publications: ‘Jesus the Victorious’, ‘Ecoul’, ‘Glasul Dreptăţii’, ‘Soldier of God’, ‘Christian Life’ and others. It was also during the same period he published his first volumes of poems: ‘La Golgotha’ (1935) and ‘On the Way of the Cross’ (1937).
Dorz would later note –
‘As early as 1931-1932, that is, from the age of 17-18, I started writing and publishing religious works through the newspapers and books of the Army of the Lord, which had its headquarters in Sibiu. From 1934 I was called there and I was part of the editorial office of the priest Iosif Trifa, the one who founded the Army of God in 1923. Until 1948 I legally printed almost twenty book titles and calendars, in tens of thousands of copies, then magazines and sheets with a very large circulation for that time and spread not only in the country but also abroad, in other countries and continents.’
As we noted in our last post, following the death of Iosif Trifa, in February 1938, Dorz became the de facto leader of The Lord’s Army. After the Communist takeover of Romania in 1947, the Army was declared ‘the most dangerous sect’ and outlawed. Many years later Traian Dorz’s eldest daughter, Florica, wrote – ‘One day in December 1947, the postmaster from Drăgăneşti, a slender man, appeared in the courtyard riding a black horse. He arrested father and we all stayed crying. My mother tried to calm us down but she couldn’t, because she was crying too, along with our grandparents.’
It was now clear that, in the eyes of the new communist regime, Traian Dorz was an enemy of the people. From then on, arrests and searches became routine. About once every three days the entire family household was turned upside down by gendarmes or militiamen. The reason? Traian Dorz was the leader of a ‘militant religious movement’.
Following his initial arrest it appears Dorz was released after some three months. However, this was only to be the first arrest among many. In 1950, he was detained again and held for a year in the Oradea penitentiary. He was detained yet again in 1952 and placed in a labour colony for 60 months, subsequently being released on December 2nd 1957. But he was re-arrested once more on November 19th 1959 and sentenced, by the Cluj Military Court, to 16 years in prison. The charges which resulted in this harsh sentence were that – ‘He joined the religious sect “Army of God” in 1930, active until 1959 when he was arrested. He collaborated in several newspapers: Oastea Domnului, Iesus Biruitorul, Familia Christiana and others and in the written articles he made comments and caricatures with legionary, fascist and anti-communist content … He came into contact with various fugitive legionaries (militant revolutionary fascists) to whom he provided materials of propaganda.’ The charges of his involvement with the Legionary Movement ‘Iron Guard’ were patently false.
In prison, Dorz faced unimaginable privation and torture – including fake execution. At the time of one of his first arrests, he was told to make his will. He expected to die. He later stated of that experience – ‘I then passed through my death. With my whole being, I crossed over the border that separates this existence from the other.’
Of one incident among many he records of his Warder – ‘Cursing my Christ and my God, and my mother, he began to slap me in the face, with his fists in my head, with his knees in my stomach.’ Regarding the lack of food he once recorded – ‘When I received a piece of bread in the morning, I crumbled it all and put the crumbs in my pocket. From there I would take a small piece and put it in my mouth every once in a while, in order to prolong the sensation of eating as much as possible.’ And, of his cell during once imprisonment, he noted – ‘My cell was like a grave. When I was standing, my head would hit the ceiling. When I was lying my head would reach the wall and my feet in the door.’
Of his 1952 detention, one commentator has noted (translated) –
After a short period of freedom, in 1952, Traian Dorz was arrested by the Securitatea from Deva. This triggered a two-year period of detention. In March 1953, he was assigned to the Ghencea labour colony, from where he was moved, in June, to the Popeşti-Leordeni labour colony. In November, he arrived at the Caransebeş Penitentiary. He left here in July 1954, after receiving two further years of compulsory residence in Dropia commune, Constanţa county.
Of the latter period of compulsory residence his daughter Florica later wrote – ‘When my father had a compulsory residence I went to see him once. He and the old woman Dani lived in a hut dug in the ground and covered with reeds. While I stayed here, for two days, I slept on a bed made of corn cobs and reeds, just as they slept too.’
Dorz would later record of the impetus for his work-
‘When, against our will, we were thrown into illegality, we still continued to work as much as we could, not only because we were convinced that our work was as necessary as before, but also because we were always requested by the multitude of requests from the brothers of the Lord’s Army, but also from other readers. I wrote and distributed as much as I could during all this time works of the same content and of the same nature as those that had been legally printed.’
After 1948, for more than forty years, none of Dorz’s books were printed in Romania. However, the manuscripts were, at great risk, copied by hand or on a typewriter. Equally dangerous and illegal was the distribution of his works via magnetic tape. Some of Traian Dorz’s poetic works were, much later, printed abroad. The consent for the printing of these works was given by the author only after repeated attempts to publish in Romania had failed.
The printing of his books outside Romania drew the wrath of the communist authorities who, despite all expectations at the time due to a period of greater openness to the West, arrested Dorz in 1982 and subsequently sentenced him to two years in prison for the offence of ‘printing and distributing prohibited literature’. However, he was released after a few months following an international outcry and intervention by Amnesty International.
An article in Wikipedia (translated) notes –
‘In prison, he wrote, or thought of writing, without having the material possibility to carry out his intention, almost 200 poems. In these unimaginably difficult conditions, with many sacrifices, deprivations and risks of all kinds, approximately 100 titles of works were created in prison and forced labour camps or in the precarious breaks of freedom. Some volumes in this vast work include religious essays and Christian meditations, others are spirited pleas for keeping the faith, and others, are stories for children of all ages. His poems total over 5,000 titles, to which are added 7,000 versified proverbs, inspired by Romanian or other peoples wisdom.’
Another commentator had noted of his literature – ‘Although the poet has known suffering in all its stages, he remains a poet of light, love, faith and humility.’
We mentioned in passing in our last post the meeting between Brian Morgan, Pastor of Peninsula Bible Church, Cupertino, California, and Traian Dorz in 1988 – a year or so before his death. Here is a fuller account written by Morgan –
‘It was a warm summer evening in Cluj. I had just returned from a meeting, full of song and Spirit and entered my host’s home. As I opened the door to my room, I saw him standing there – Traian Dorz, seventy-three years of age. He was a man of small stature, but he possessed a powerful presence – a peasant yet a king. Here was a man who endured more suffering and swallowed more evil than I could comprehend. Seeing him, I felt conflicting emotions warring within me. Repelled by my own sense of unworthiness, I felt like dust on the scale, and at the same time, drawn by a holy love. I showed him a photo I had taken of the Roman pavement stone in Israel where Pilate presented the scourged Jesus to the crowds, saying, “Behold the man” (in Latin ecce homo). He took it and held it with unspeakable tenderness and wept. Then he took me into his arms, looked deep into my eyes and said, “You teach about the cross … we live under the cross.” Then in an act of extreme tenderness, he gently pressed his cheek to mine and prayed for me. I needed no translation. Like the apostle Paul, he was praying that I might “have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge” (Eph3:17-19), a love that he had come to know in suffering living under the cross. The words rolled off his tongue in dream-like cadences. The soft timbre and pulsating rhythms of his voice seized me and tore my heart like water.
Speaking again of his visit and the fearless believers he met on that occasion Morgan goes on –
Dorz’s Immortal Songs coupled with the fragrance of his holy life unleashed a spiritual force that baptised his disciples with unconquerable love. In this raging sea of suspicion and fierce hate, they created islands of refuge, embracing others with outrageous generosity that knew no limits. Nothing prepared me for their welcoming embrace. Their love was almost too difficult to receive. In those days families were rationed five eggs a month and a few merger ounces of meat. But as guests in their homes, we found that there were two eggs on our plate when we arrived at breakfast. Though it was illegal to take foreigners into their homes, it was unthinkable to our hosts to have it any other way. It’s a terrible feeling to think that your presence has put someone’s life in jeopardy. But my host in Cluj was fearless. Taking no care for his own life, his sole concern was for my safety and to give me a beautiful bedspread his wife handmade for us.
Traian Dorz died in his hometown on the 20th of June 1989.
One commentator has noted (translated) –
The major theme of the Dorzian creation is Golgotha, ‘the source of boundless and eternal love’, and ‘the victory of the resurrection of the Crucified Jesus’. To some, the poet might seem like a monochord lyre: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. But on this lyre, the poet’s singing makes us feel the ineffable depths of faith. This, because, in Jesus, as the apostle to the Gentiles tells us, ‘all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden’ – and from here, the exhortation of the same apostle: ‘And above all these, put on love, which is the bond of perfection’. And if God is love, then we understand why this poet is an ardent singer of Love. From this boundless ocean spring all the waters of his lyrical creation. The realities of life and history, transfigured and receiving the aura of eternity, become on his harp as many rivers that return to him as well, finding their fulfilment and perfection.