Emilian Niculescu was a pastor, educator, and church administrator in Romania during the communist regime.
Emilian Niculescu was born in Ploiesti, Romania, on July 30, 1900, and was the only son of Elena and Dumitru Niculescu, a bookkeeper. After several years of study at Petru si Pavel High School in Ploiesti, he was admitted to a military school to prepare for a military career. In 1920 he earned a government scholarship at the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique du Paris. Two years later he returned to Romania to become the adjunct commander of the Naval Base of Constanța and began teaching in the Navy School of Constanța.
Conversion and Persecution
During a naval drill, Emilian made a routine check on the vessel and found a soldier reading a Bible. The soldier was an Adventist. He became curious about the Bible and soon developed a sincere interest to know its teachings. He began to visit the Adventist church in Sulina and became a Sabbath-keeper even before he was baptized. As expected, the reaction of his superiors was quick and harsh. On May 28, 1932, he was put on trial at the Council of War, a Military Tribunal, in Constanța. As a result, the best lawyers in Romania offered their services to defend him. Several newspapers took his side based on religious freedom principles.1 Yet, the Council of War sentenced him to military degradation.
Emilian filed an appeal. Both trials involved a large number of witnesses, soldiers, and high-ranking officers. He was only tried for his religious conviction, which he sustained with the Bible. The appeal court upheld the first sentence. Eventually King Carol II of Romania annulled the sentence on the condition that he refrain from proselytism.2 Thus Emilian became the first Romanian officer to be given religious freedom as an Adventist by the highest authority of the nation.
On Sabbath, May 11, 1935, Emilian was baptized with 19 other believers at the Black Sea. It was an open-air ceremony conducted by Petre Paulini, the Romanian Union president. The ceremony attracted a large crowd. Photos of the baptism were published by the newspapers and were shown in shop windows in Constanța.3
Educational Career and Marriage
Years later Emilian gave up his military career and became a teacher at the Adventist Missionary School in Stupini, Brasov, Romania. In 1937 he married Edith Verzar, a teacher at the same institution. When Romania entered World War II, Emilian was enlisted in the army again, this time with administrative duties in the city of Bacau. For his family that meant five years of separation as a result of frontier changes that divided the country. Edith Niculescu remained in Sf. Gheorghe (attached to Hungary) with their two boys, Eduard and Gabriel.
During those five years Emilian was given the responsibility of commander of the work camp for the Jews in Bacau. He followed biblical principles in his conduct by helping the elderly, visiting and comforting the Jewish families, and even digging ditches on behalf of those who were too weak or old to work. This Christian deportment saved his liberty and life when the communist regime took over in Romania. The Jews provided such a good recommendation that he was asked to become the mayor of Bacau, but he refused.
Pastoral Duties and Later Years
In 1945 the family was again reunited and Niculescu became a pastor in Piatra Neamt, where his third son, Emilian, was born. That same year he was asked to work in the Sibiu Conference where he remained until his retirement in 1960. He worked as an advisor to the conference from 1946-1950 and then he served as conference secretary for four years (1950-1954). At the same time, he pastored churches in several districts in Sibiu: Deva, Agnita, etc. Niculescu died on October 16, 1991 in Sighisoara, Romania.
While it is difficult to identify all the contributions of pastors who lived in the communist regime of Romania, Emilian Niculescu was a fairly typical case of a dedicated church employee during the most difficult period of communism in Romania. Niculescu’s special experience of being given religious freedom as an Adventist by the authorities indicates that even under such unfavorable circumstances, it was possible to stand firm for the faith. Although the church was under the strict control of the authorities and public missionary activities were prohibited, the ministry of pastors like Niculescu to church members sustained the congregations in those challenging times.
“A trial of conscience.” Stanga, December 18, 1932.
Document n. 134, May 12, 1934, Baza Navala Maritima.
“The Baptism of some Adventists” [“Botezul unor adventiști la Constanța”], Dimineta. December 12, 1932.
“A trial of conscience,” Stanga, December 18, 1932.↩
Document nr. 134, May 12, 1934, Baza Navala Maritima (Seea Navy Bazis), concerning the changing by His Majesty Carol II King of Romania of the decision of the Council of Reform Army Body I, (Consiliul de Reforma al Corpului I Armata) concerning the loosing of the rank of Emilian Niculescu in favor of Lt. Emilian Niculescu.↩
“Curentul” paper, from May 14, 1935, concerning the baptism of Emilian Niculescu. Article and photo “The Baptism of some Adventists” [“Botezul unor adventiști la Constanța”], Dimineta from December 12, 1932.↩