Bringing the Reformation to Bucharest
The Confessional Lutheran Church in Romania and its pastor are bringing the true Gospel to Romanians.
“My people, the Romanians, need to hear the Word of God — real Lutheran theology — in Romanian,” said native Romanian Rev. Sorin-Horia Trifa, pastor of Biserica Lutherană Confesională din România and an LCMS Alliance Missionary. (An Alliance Missionary is an indigenous worker who receives support from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.) “I want to show them what Lutherans really believe.”
Biserica Lutherană Confesională din România (Confessional Lutheran Church in Romania), a small Lutheran congregation in the middle of the Romanian capital city of Bucharest, gathers around the pure and true proclamation of the Gospel and the scriptural administration of the Sacraments.
“People here come to worship God, and people truly worship with joy,” said Gabriela Ivascu, a member of the Bucharest church. The people of this congregation carry the Good News of God’s love in Christ to their neighbors. Ivascu said that the members take what they learn at church and “teach others what God has taught them.”
Eastern Orthodoxy in Romania
The Romanian landscape is full of large churches and monasteries. Unlike most of Europe, the churches are not empty. People regularly visit these sanctuaries to ask for prayers, listen to services and kiss relics — crossing themselves many times throughout their comings and goings. Yet, in the midst of this piety, the true Gospel is rare.
“To be Romanian is to be Orthodox,” says a common Romanian adage. Though religious freedom is granted to the Romanian people, the Orthodox church is tied to the government and is central to the lives of many Romanians.
The Orthodox in Bucharest are proud to say that their church remains unaffected by the Reformation, which never progressed past the Carpathian Mountains.
Today in these Orthodox churches, relics are available for kissing, the bodies of saints are on display and priests are waiting to say prayers. All at a cost. Money boxes are placed prominently near icons, saints and mosaics. The priests’ prayers are available for a price. Weddings, funerals, Baptisms and other services can be had for a fee. To a Lutheran, this all sounds like echoes of a former era before Luther corrected the church’s practice of offering salvation for a price.
But in spite of the Carpathian Mountains and the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Lutheran church is in Bucharest. The historic Lutheran churches have departed from traditional biblical Christianity. In addition to their theological issues, they preach in their native languages — the German Lutherans preach in German and the Hungarian Lutherans preach in Hungarian. This reinforces the axiom that to be Romanian is to be Orthodox, and to be Lutheran is to be a foreigner.
“The most important thing is to help people understand Christ for their salvation and what it means to live as a Lutheran,” noted Trifa. “Lutheran spirituality is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
To bring the true Gospel to his fellow Romanians, Trifa offers Bible study twice a week; appears on a TV show when invited, which affords him the opportunity to explain Lutheran doctrine; and serves as a pastor, including offering regular preaching and worship. In addition, Trifa has begun work in Padua, Italy, where he preaches in Italian to a small group who are beginning a congregation.
Building with Christ Jesus as the Cornerstone
“The sermon is God’s truth, centered on love,” said Maria Niculescu, a member of the church and a professional poet. Niculescu explained that she used to be far from God. But then she heard about Pastor Trifa and his congregation. “God works through people,” she said. “They brought me here.” The people brought her, and now God’s Word strengthens her faith and keeps her in the faith. Niculescu said the preaching is her favorite part of church, because she hears the true Word of God.
God’s work through His Word continues to bear fruit in the people of Bucharest. In the midst of relics and paying the Church to intercede with God, the pure Gospel of Christ stands as a beacon, calling people to trust in God in Christ. One of those brought to the cross of Christ is Ghiurca Adrian, a former Catholic priest. Adrian said that after hearing Trifa preach, he would like to become a Lutheran pastor, because “I would like to preach the true word of Jesus. What Jesus did for us that we might be saved.”
Currently, Trifa’s congregation meets in an Anglican church building, which they rent for a few hours every weekend. The congregation yearns for a space of their own where they can offer more opportunities for instruction, community events and, especially, worship.
“My soul is clean,” said Anka Cherciu when asked why she’s thankful for her church. Cherciu’s smile as she talks about her family at church is compelling and genuine. Hands outstretched to the other congregation members nearby, she said, “They are my family — my brothers and sisters.”
Building for the Future
As Trifa lays the foundation for a confessional Lutheran church in Romania, one of his largest obstacles is the availability of accurate Lutheran material in Romanian. The present Romanian writings about Luther and the Lutheran church were not written by Lutherans. In addition to his work as missionary and pastor, Trifa also is pursuing further education, including a Master of Sacred Theology degree from Gothenburg, Sweden, in coordination with Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., and a doctorate from the University of Bucharest. This additional education will allow him to provide instruction and material for the Confessional Lutheran Church in Romania as it moves forward.
“Most Romanians only know Lutheranism from history books,” Trifa said. “I want them to know that we are real and we are here now.”
To fill the void of good Romanian Lutheran materials, Trifa is writing and translating confessional Lutheran documents. Sergiu Trifa, his teenage son, worked with him to translate Luther’s Small Catechism. Both the catechism and Trifa’s book, which is translated as The Means of Grace in the Confessional Lutheran Church, are available for people when they come to worship.
“Everything I do and everything going on is to fulfill the task of proclaiming the Gospel,” said Trifa. “The academic learning, the training, the TV show, anything else isn’t good unless it helps the mission.”
Trifa works not only to serve the people of Bucharest and Romania today, but to lay the foundation for the Church in generations to come. The written materials are part of that plan, and even Trifa’s regular appearances on TV have resulted in many looking to him for Lutheran answers instead of to the historic Lutheran church in Romania.
As with every mission and ministry, Trifa’s family works with him to share the Gospel. He and his wife, Florentina, often host families for meals to share the Gospel with them and encourage them in the faith. Sergiu currently serves the congregation as acolyte and lector, and he hopes to attend an LCMS seminary and then return to serve the church as pastor.
“We are a small church, with few people … we need relationships with other Lutherans,” observed Trifa. In addition to the support he receives from the LCMS, he said that people can pray for the work and “communicate with us that we are not alone in Lutheranism. Follow us on Facebook. Let us know we are in this together.”
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Pray with Us
Faithful Lord, You continue to build Your Church throughout the world. Bless the work in Bucharest, Romania, as Pastor Trifa proclaims the Good News of salvation in Christ. Protect the Confessional Lutheran Church in Romania, and bring many to repent and receive the forgiveness of sins. Give Pastor Trifa strength as he studies and translates in addition to his pastoral duties. Bless also his son, Sergiu, as he seeks Your will for his vocation in the Church. We do not know all the ways You plan to grow Your Church, but we trust in Your promises to do so through Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
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