Father Protosyncellus Gherontie Puiu was one of the most representative Romanian Orthodox priests of the past half a century. The founder of the Caraiman monastery, which is situated at the feet of the Caraiman mountain, in the Buşteni resort, near the river Prahova, Fr. Gherontie spent his later years in a humble cell within the monastery.
Fr. Gherontie Puiu was born in 1933, in Todireşti, not far away from Paşcani. His mother died at birth in the hospital of Ruginoasa, his father had abandoned his family some time before his birth, and the midwife who helped deliver him, thinking that the baby would not survive, abandoned him in a washing bowl among the trash piles on the shore of a nearby river. A woman from the village, who was passing by, having discovered the child, felt compassion and decided to take him home. He was adopted by the woman and her husband (Puiu Petrache), named “Gheorghe” and raised with love as if he was their own child.
When World War II started, Ilie Petrache, the family’s eldest son, was drafted. Around this time, the child (Gheorghe) had a dream. A young woman appeared to him in the dream, dressed in shining monastic clothes (later identified as the Holy Blessed Virgin Mary) and told him that he would be protected and that his father would return home after a a long period spent in captivity. The child didn’t understand this word, but he took it to heart. After almost twelve years, time during which he had been a war prisoner in Russia, brother Ilie returned home. After having married, Ilie adopted Gheorghe when the latter was almost 20 years old. It was also around that age that Gheorghe was baptized.
The priest recalled said moment in later interviews and writings: “When I put on the fiery clothes of the Baptism, I felt like another person. I was overwhelmed by an immeasurable joy, one which I was attempting to understand. While exiting the holy place, on the porch steps, I saw that wonderful being once again. She was standing near the gate and looking me straight in the eyes. No one but me could see her! This time it wasn’t a dream, but a real apparition. She spoke to me, with a heavenly voice: Have faith and go to the monastery. I will guide you. You are chosen for a mission. The ageless Reverend Mother (nun) had the most beautiful face I had ever gazed upon. Starting from that moment I understood that it was the Holy Mother Of God.”
Straight away, young Gheorghe embraced the monastic life, becoming an apprentice of Father Pâslaru, the Reverend Father from the Neamţ Monastery. Until the year 1959, the young man was a mere monk, as the Communist regime prohibited monastic tonsures. After 1959, when many monks were taken out of monasteries, brother Gherontie (a.n.: he had changed his name from Gheorghe to Gherontie, a common practice in Orthodox monasticism) had managed to flee by using the window as an escape route. Later, having been caught by the Communist secret police officers, he was sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor in the concentration camp in Periprava.
From the Periprava camp, Fr. Gherontie escaped once more, with the help of a brigadier, who sent him to Tulcea, so that he may find it easier to get away. The Father recalled that moment as follows: “While I was on a pretty crowded street, I thought I saw the Holy Mother Of God on the other sidewalk. I heard her voice very clearly: Start walking right this moment, cross the street and get inside the truck. Truly, a large car stopped, without me having hailed or anything. He got off the car in Timişul de Sus, from where he hiked towards the Bucegi mountains’ upland. There, he spent ten years in self-imposed austerity, taking refuge in a cave, praying and fasting.
While living as a hermit, looking up at the cross at the top of the Caraiman peak, the Father made a promise to the Mother Of God – that he would build a monastery in her honor. The Father recalls this: “I swore to the Holy Mother Of God that, if I were to return into the world safely, I would build a monastery dedicated to the Ascension Of The Holy Cross; from its yard people will be able to see the cross at the top of the Caraiman mountain peak.”
In 1970, after ten years of living as a hermit, Fr. Gherontie returned home. Meanwhile, having assumed that he had died, his (adoptive) mother had made a grave in his memory and had prepared the traditional Orthodox memorial services for him.
After 1989, Fr. Gherontie returned to the Neamţ monastery, where he received his monastic tonsure and entered the Seminary of Theology despite the fact that his previous education consisted of only elementary school. Then, in 1992, after having served as a deacon for a week, he was ordained a priest. He served the required forty Holy Liturgies in the Neamţ monastery, after which he was sent to serve in the Baiceni skit, where he was promoted to Reverend Father (abbot).
In 1995, while he was sitting in the confessional, at the Cetăţuia monastery in Iaşi, Fr. Gherontie suffered a stroke, falling down due to temporary paralysis. After being taken to the Tătăraşi hospital, the priest often heard the Holy Mother’s voice telling him: You have one more toll-house. After three months, the priest was sent to a sanatorium in Sinaia. According to the tests and investigations they performed on him, the medical team concluded that he would need several years to make a full recovery.
However, the priest stayed only one day in the Sinaia sanatorium. The Holy Mother Of God appeared to Him and told him: I’ve brought you here with a mission! Remember that! Rise, for you are not sick! After she said those words three times, The Holy Mother added: You will find a fir with six branches near a stream, on a land from where the great Cross, at which you made the oath, can be seen. That’s where you have to build the monastery! The next day, getting out of bed, the priest could move freely, without any sign of paralysis.
After much research, the mayor of Buşteni told the priest that he can offer him some space in the Palanca glade. A fir with six branches was in the middle of the glade and the Cross at the top of the Caraiman peak could be seen from there in all its beauty. The Holy Mother Of God showed the priest that that was indeed the correct spot and that he should build the promised monastery there.
In 1996, the priest first build a wooden house in the glade, then a small church. With God’s mercy and the Holy Mother’s intercession, Fr. Gherontie Puiu built a great, beautiful monastery there. The priest used to teach everyone who came seeking his advice to say the following prayer:
Lord, bring all my enemies back to goodness and prayer! Amen.
This prayer was revealed to him on a piece of paper in a night. The story of how it was revealed to him is told in the following video, which I have translated in English below:
“One night, I woke up with a small piece of paper in my hand. I never found out who wrote it and how I came into its possession. It was written on a regular piece of paper, but the writing was not very legible. I could hardly understand what it said, as if it had been written with Chinese characters. After I managed to decipher it, I realized that it contained a prayer. This one: God, bring all my enemies back to goodness and prayer! Amen. It also said that it should be said in faith 30 times a day, for 40 days, and that it would grant any wish to the person who does so. Please, all of you who have any kind of troubles, say this prayer 30 times a day for 40 days, and the Holy Mother Of God will accomplish miracles.”
( translated from https://www.crestinortodox.ro/parinti/parintele-gherontie-puiu-136771.html by Lucian Hodoboc )