Bringing the Gospel Back to the Balkans

A new hub for worship and outreach in Brașov, Romania, is helping to bring together small groups of Lutherans from Romania, Bulgaria and other countries in the area.

“Here in the Balkans, you can walk in the apostles’ steps,” said Romanian Lutheran pastor Rev. Sorin-Horia Trifa. Not only did the apostles bring the Gospel to this area of the world some 2,000 years ago, but theologian Johannes Honterus brought the Lutheran Reformation to Transylvania — Trifa’s homeland — in 1542.

“But,” Trifa continued, “after so many centuries, people are not receiving the Gospel anymore. What they are receiving is only the Law, and they are afraid. … Many people ask, ‘Why are you doing mission in a place where Christianity is so old?’ This is why, because the people need the Gospel.”

Reaching Out to Romanians

Trifa was once part of one of these Law-oriented churches. After stumbling across confessional Lutheran theology online, he realized that something was missing from his sparsely attended church — the Gospel! But his bishop was not open to discussing the idea and instead asked the Trifa family to leave.

“So, I decided to work to plant a real Lutheran church in Romania,” Trifa said, and the Rev. James Krikava, former regional director of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s (LCMS) mission work in Eurasia, was there to walk alongside.

The Rev. Sorin-Horia Trifa, pastor in the Confessional Lutheran Church in Romania, talks with (from left) the Rev. James Krikava, former regional director of LCMS Eurasia; Herman Strozier, Eurasia business manager; and the Rev. Andrew Fedder, LCMS missionary, at St. Mary’s Lutheran Center in Brașov, Romania.
St. Mary’s Lutheran Center, seen with the green roof on the hillside.

At the time, Trifa had already earned two theology degrees in Bucharest, so Krikava invited him to come to Prague, Czech Republic, and complete a vicarage under the supervision of the LCMS missionaries there. In 2017, Trifa was ordained and began serving as a missionary pastor, connecting with and supporting small groups of confessional Lutherans in Romania, Italy, Greece and throughout the Balkans.

Trifa now serves in the Confessional Lutheran Church in Romania (Biserica Lutherană Confesională din România) alongside two other Romanian pastors and two LCMS missionaries: the Rev. Dr. David Preus, who was recently appointed to the position of regional director for LCMS Eurasia, and the Rev. Andrew Fedder.

In Brașov, Romania, there are a number of churches. But they primarily serve the large German and Hungarian minorities and do so in those languages. So, one of Trifa’s goals is to create resources and reach out in the Romanian language.

A Hub for Worship and Outreach

On Feb. 18, 2024, many partners came together in Brașov to celebrate the dedication of St. Mary’s Lutheran Center, a project that was more than two years in the making.

The Rev. Dr. Cory Rajek, executive director of the LCMS Office of International Mission, reads the Gospel reading during the Feb. 18 dedication service at St. Mary’s Lutheran Center.
Trifa blesses a child during the service.
LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison preaches.
The Rev. Dr. David Preus, missionary and newly appointed regional director for LCMS Eurasia, greets attendees following the service.

The Baroque building, which is topped by a soldier in medieval armor, was purchased with substantial assistance from the LCMS. The center has a renovated chapel, a fellowship area, a library and several apartments that house Ukrainian refugees who have found their way to Brașov. This project is part of the more than $2 million in grants issued by the LCMS to support Ukrainian refugees in Eurasia.

When Ukrainian refugees began streaming into neighboring Romania after the Russian invasion in 2022, Trifa’s family was perfectly placed to offer help. He immediately began arranging room and board, medical assistance and spiritual support for terrified people who had no idea where they were going to go. LCMS grants were used to support this outreach to Ukrainian refugees, as well as to help provide food and medicines for the Lutherans who remained in Ukraine.

In the early days of the war, Trifa’s son, Sergiu, traveled to the border to await the arrival of a group of Ukrainian Lutheran refugees that were coming from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine, which was later affirmed as a partner church of the LCMS.

Trifa estimates that they have cared for roughly 200 refugees in the last two years. A few of these stayed with Trifa’s own family. Two families continue to reside in the St. Mary’s apartments.

“Many refugees were in transit here, from one week to one year,” he said. “Now I think we are in a different phase. No longer are Ukrainians leaving Ukraine scared and having no home, without knowing what will happen tomorrow. Now they have integrated into society and have jobs. Our mission now is to continue to share the Gospel with them.”

The chapel space and an apartment.

St. Mary’s is an important hub for this work. It is large enough to accommodate fellowship events, community events and even to host the small groups of Lutherans who are scattered throughout the region.

“In a place where most folks are Orthodox, they don’t take you seriously if you don’t have your own building … so it gives a sense of legitimacy,” said Fedder. “We were also able to have more Holy Week services, because we could control our own schedule.”

The center also hosted its first conference last November, bringing together “the entire confessional Lutheran population [in the region]. … None of them have big spaces, so bringing together these disparate Lutherans who are often very isolated shouldn’t be underestimated,” Fedder continued.

‘Overwhelmingly Joyful’

The dedication service was attended by several Bulgarians who came to witness another momentous event: the ordination of the Rev. Arthur Bojinov of the Confessional Lutheran Church in Sofia, Bulgaria. The group was originally formed as part of mission work by the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). Eventually, the WELS had to pull out, and the group continued meeting on their own for nearly a decade.

When LCMS mission efforts started up in the Balkans several years ago, this group reconnected with the broader Lutheran church, and Bojinov began studying for the pastoral ministry through the online Bachelor of Theology program offered by the Luther Academy in Riga, Latvia. The Luther Academy program is a partnership between the LCMS and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia. It is unique in that it offers a theology program in the English language that is completed through a combination of online classes and in-person intensives.

Harrison ordains the Rev. Arthur Bojinov of the Confessional Lutheran Church in Sofia, Bulgaria.

“If it wasn’t for the Luther Academy, there would simply be no way for Arthur to get the proper education,” Fedder said. “He worked hard to make this happen. It’s not like the U.S., where everyone has internet at their house. Arthur worked a night security job so he could have Wi-Fi.”

Bojinov was ordained by LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, who attended and preached during the Feb. 18 dedication service.

“The ordination was incredibly moving,” Harrison said. “To have Arthur come through the program and to see the heart he has for the Gospel and the people was overwhelmingly joyful. In the history of the Missouri Synod, this is the largest and most significant effort at church planting in Europe.”

Nurturing a Regional Church

Three congregations in Romania. One small congregation in Bulgaria. A family studying Lutheranism in Greece. Growing interest among people in Moldova.

The Holy Spirit is at work in the Balkans, changing one heart at a time and using the social media channels of several LCMS pastors to spread Lutheran theology all around the world. Through the Luther Academy, the LCMS Eurasia team is working to raise up and mentor pastors who can then go back to their own communities and teach the Word and administer the Sacraments to their own people in their own language.

A view of Brașov.

LCMS leaders look forward to the upcoming graduation and subsequent ordinations of another cohort of new pastors coming out of the Luther Academy who will serve in various locations throughout Eurasia and continue to strengthen these growing groups.

“With 24 official languages and over 200 languages and dialects spoken throughout the continent, each language bearing its unique culture, we have only begun the work of planting churches in the promise that God will give them growth,” Preus said. “Everything we propose to do in our region, from theological education to evangelism outreach and translation projects, aims at the objective now taking shape in Sorin and Arthur and every such pastor preaching to people in particular places. Wherever God is raising up men to preach the Gospel purely and administer the Sacraments faithfully to their own people, we are closer to reaching the ultimate goal of establishing a self-sustaining Lutheran church in the Balkans.”

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Pray with Us

Loving Father, by Your apostles You proclaimed the Gospel throughout Romania and the Balkans, and in the Reformation, You again restored the Gospel to this region. Bless the work of LCMS missionaries and Romanian pastors, that the Gospel might again be heard throughout the land and sinners might trust in Christ for forgiveness; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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Megan K. Mertz

Managing editor of Lutherans Engage the World and chief copy editor for LCMS Communications.

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