Iosif Trifa, a Romanian Orthodox priest, founded Oastea Domnului (Army of the Lord) in 1922. This spiritual and moral renewal movement gained steady strength even through 40 years of communist rule in Romania. Today, Army of the Lord faces new challenges as a legal religious association in a chaotic and changing nation.
In 1934, three years before his death, Trifa published Ce Este Oastea Domnului? (What is the Army of the Lord?), which outlines the purpose and strategy behind the movement. Four key themes stand out in this foundational text.
- “Christ the crucified” stands as the core principle in Army of the Lord teaching. The cross is the door to salvation and the key to victory over temptation and sin.
- The struggle against sin and the importance of living righteous lives comes through a true understanding of Christ’s victory on the cross. Trifa writes that the sign of the cross “has the power to drive away Satan only when we put it in the understanding of the sacrifice of the cross, especially as we receive the gift of the sacrifice, Jesus the Savior and his victory.”
- Personal moral and ethical renewal come through personally encountering Christ at the cross. Trifa emphasizes the receiving of Jesus and His gifts, the need for the church to wage war against sin and evil, regular Bible study as a foundation for personal piety, and alcohol consumption as a sin which curses not only individuals but whole nations.
- Army of the Lord exists through lay and voluntary involvement. Trifa defines the Army of the Lord as a grassroots, Bible-based force for revitalizing the Romanian Orthodox Church.
Trifa also commends five specific means of evangelism: 1) the daily life of a Christian, which he defines as the best sermon; 2) acts of mercy; 3) love and prayer; 4) forgiveness and suffering; and 5) the distribution of Christian literature. Trifa’s silence on the role of liturgy, the church, and icons in salvation and spirituality help to explain the controversy surrounding his writings and the movement he founded. Rather than the traditional Orthodox emphasis upon mystical union with God, he expresses his understanding of salvation and witness in language more commonly associated with Western Protestantism.
His ideas, in fact, became so objectionable to the hierarchy of the Romanian Orthodox Church that he was excommunicated in 1936. However, Trifa’s legacy lives on as Army of the Lord continues to define its mission within the Romanian Orthodox Church and within Romanian society as a whole.
Tom Keppeler, “A Summary of Trifa’s What is the Army of the Lord?”
East-West Church & Ministry Report © 1994 Institute for East-West Christian Studies