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Happy Easter

The most incredible thing about the Christian holiday of Easter is the guiding light the faith has been to billions of people. You may share different religious beliefs, you may be atheist, or agnostic, but I would remind all of us two things.

First, we all have religious beliefs, some of us are just able and willing to identify what they are. Second, the idea that there is something greater than the self is probably what protects all of us long-run from the destruction of the human experiment – and that outside agent doesn’t have to be your particular conception of a Supreme Entity.

On this Easter, let’s reflect upon how strong faith helps human beings survive the most absurd and obscene ordeals thrown at them – here is one example of what the Christians in Romania under early Soviet Rule suffered (they remained, and in fact, increased their faith as a result):

Expect the Worst, Show Mercy to the Broken
Unless you have been through the experience, it is hard to grasp how mentally fragile torture and solitary confinement can make a man. In The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn urges his readers to have mercy on prisoners who broke under torture. Nearly all of them did, at some point, he says. Unless you’ve endured it, he writes, you cannot imagine how great the pressure is to say any. thing that will make the physical and psychological pain stop.

In his life as a political prisoner in communist Romania, the late Lutheran pastor Richard Wurmbrand testified to both truths. The Romania that Soviet troops occupied at the end of World War II was a deeply religious country. After Romanian Stalinists seized dictatorial control in 1947, among the most vicious anti-Christian persecution in the history of Soviet-style communism began.

From 1949 to 1951, the state conducted the “Piteşti Experi ment.” The Piteşti prison was established as a factory to reengineer the human soul. Its masters subjected political prisoners, including clergy, to insane methods of torture to utterly destroy them psycho logically so they could be remade as fully obedient citizens of the People’s Republic. Wurmbrand, held captive from 1948 until he was ransomed into Western exile in 1964, was an inmate at Piteşti. In 1966 testimony before a US Senate committee, Wurmbrand spoke of how the communists broke bones, used red-hot irons, and all manner of physical torture. They were also spiritually and psychologically sadistic, almost beyond comprehension. Wurmbrand told the story of a young Christian prisoner in Piteşti who was tied to a cross for days. Twice daily, the cross bearing the man was laid flat on the floor, and one hundred other inmates were forced by guards to urinate and defecate on him.

Then the cross was erected again and the Communists, swearing and mocking, “Look your Christ, look your Christ, how beautiful he is, adore him, kneel before him, how fine he smells, your Christ.” And then the Sunday morning came and a Catholic priest, an acquaintance of mine, had been put to the belt, in the dirt of a cell with 100 prisoners, a plate with excrement, and one with urine was given to him and he was obliged to say the holy mass upon these elements, and he did it.

Wurmbrand asked the priest how he could consent to commit such sacrilege. The Catholic priest was “half-mad,” Wurmbrand recalled, and begged him to show mercy. All the other prisoners were beaten until they accepted this profane communion while the communist prison guards taunted them. Wurmbrand told the American lawmakers:

I am a very insignificant and a very little man. I have been in prison among the weak ones and the little ones, but I speak for a suffering country and for a suffering church and for the heroes and the saints of the twentieth century …

These are not anywhere near one-off illustrations. We are dealing with today, a radical mix of authoritarianism and consumerist-nihilism (feel good, always, if it’s difficult it’s bad., etc.) that spawns these kinds of atrocities – and I am not sure from whence the courage is going to come to rebel and stand-up in its face.

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