ROMANIA'S ORTHODOX Church has attempted to improve its post-war image by publishing a book about hundreds of priests, monks and nuns who were imprisoned under communist rule. The author said many more names would be collected for a second edition in October, adding that Catholic and Protestant victims had been included as a “gesture to ecumenical ties.”

“While our Church is widely accused of having collaborated with the communists, it is important to remember that at least half of Romania's 10,000 Orthodox priests were imprisoned for their faith during this period,” said author Stefan Iloaie, a deacon teaching at Sibiu's Orthodox theology faculty. “As the first such project, this book reveals important but neglected aspects of the truth. It shows that the freedoms we retained were amply matched by resistance and persecution.”

The 85-page Witnesses behind Bars, issued by the Orthodox Church's Vad-Feleac-Cluj Archdiocese, contains biographies of 1700 mostly Orthodox clergy jailed for alleged political crimes after the 1948 imposition of communist rule.

In a Register interview, Iloaie said most data had been amassed from personal recollections by prison survivors, although information had also been collected from Church archives and Romania's Association of Ex-Political Prisoners.

“Since official documents were either not kept at all or later destroyed, many uncertainties remain,” he said. “unlike in other countries, Romania's Securitate secret police archives have not been opened. Gaining access to official records could still take years.”

Iloaie said the most intensive wave of imprisonments had occurred in the six years preceding a 1964 general amnesty, although Orthodox priests had been jailed for opposing communism right up to the overthrow of Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania's 1989 “Winter Revolution.”

The names of 250 Greek Catholic priests and several dozen Reformed and Lutheran pastors had been included in the book without separation into denominations, Iloaie said. He added that he believed the record could help both the Orthodox Church, of which 87 percent of Romania's 22.8 million citizens claim membership, and minority confessions in their campaign to obtain fuller rights in the country.

“It may be that the state authorities, even today, will find this material embarrassing,” said the Orthodox deacon. “All of us— Orthodox, Greek Catholics, Protestants—are obliged to live side by side. This book demonstrates that we also lived and suffered together in the communist prisons.” (Jonathan Luxmoore)