When the hostilities were breaking out in Europe, the leaders of the Romanian Union of the SDA Church encouraged its members to take part in the war. In a declaration issued (August 4, 1914) by P. P. Paulini and G. Danila, respectively president and secretary of the Union, they said:
"Those members who are called to serve in the army should not lose sight of the fact that, in time of war, all must fully perform their duties. From Joshua 6, we see that the children of God bore arms and that they fulfilled their military duties even on the Sabbath day. . . . Therefore, in a special meeting with our leaders, which was attended by a large number of fellow believers who had been called to bear arms, we came to the conclusion that all members should cooperate in the above spirit."
The following decision was later published in a denominational paper in Romania:
"We, the Conference of the Romanian Seventh-day Adventists, make known the biblical standpoint that military service and the call to bear arms is a duty imposed by the state, to whom God has rightfully given authority, according to, and , .
"This same stand was also taken by the General Conference Committee during their meeting of November 1915. So, in this matter the different countries in the world have complete liberty, of their own, to continue meeting these legal requirements as they have done until now." –Curierul Misionar, 1916, No. 3, p. 35.
The combatant position taken by the Adventist leadership caused much confusion also in Romania, and the faithful few who stood in defense of the law of God suffered much abuse at the hands of the leaders–not only criticism and defamation, but also disfellowshipment and persecution. Betrayed to the authorities, they were separated from one another, imprisoned, and tortured (only God knows how many died under these circumstances), while the regular members, following the recommendations of the church leaders, had no problem, because they were prepared to do what all others were doing. The leaders explained the official position of the church as follows:
"We have had cases in which the brethren in Germany asked: ‘What must we do in war?’ The answer was: ‘Remain faithful to God, but do what everyone else is doing.’ And what happened? Where the soldiers could get permission to rest on Sunday and keep it holy, our soldiers went to their officers with the request: ‘We ask you to give us Saturday off. . . .’ But where no one could think of holidays, it would have been a strange attitude for our brethren to ask permission to keep the Sabbath." –Ibid., p. 37.
As it happened in other European countries, it also happened in Romania. Some conscientious objectors distinguished themselves as heroes. Gheorghe Panaitescu reported the following experiences:
"When Romania entered the war, 1916, in one regiment three faithful Adventists were sentenced to be executed by a firing squad because they had refused to serve as combatants. One of the three was called and ordered to dig his grave. Then, as he was standing on the edge of the hole, the officer appealed to him: ‘Soldier, because of your position as conscientious objector, you have been condemned to be shot. But, before you fall backwards into the hole, you are given a short moment to meditate upon what you are going to do. Consider your family. If you want to escape being shot to death, take your gun and go to the front. Not all soldiers are killed in battle. Many will return home and be with their families. Think about it quickly.’ That brother said he had already thought about it a long time before and was determined to remain firm in his position, because he could not act against his conscience. When the officer saw the resoluteness of the brother, he said to him: ‘Follow me,’ and he led him away. A shot was fired into the air, the hole was filled up, and a bit of blood of an animal was spilled on the ground nearby.
"Then the second brother was called and the same appeal was made to him with the following warning: ‘You see, your brother is dead and buried in this first hole because of his stubbornness, and this second hole is reserved for you in case you continue showing the same stubborn attitude.’ This other man said: ‘If my brother remained faithful to Christ unto death, I will also remain faithful to Him who taught us to love one another, because I don’t want to forfeit the crown of life.’ The same procedure was repeated. Again a shot was fired into the air, the hole was covered, and a few drops of blood were sprinkled on top.
"When the third brother was called, the officer said to him, pointing to the two covered holes: ‘This is where the bodies of your two brothers lie. They lost their lives because of their obstinacy. But you still have a chance to save your life. It’s easy. Take your gun and fulfill your military duties to avoid being shot to death. After the end of the war you can live in peace and happily follow your religion.’ This third man began to think. Then he hesitated for a little while. And finally he declared himself ready to bear arms, go to the front, and do as all other combatants were doing. The officer said to him: ‘We must shoot you, because you are not faithful to your God as your two brethren were. You are a hypocrite and a coward. If you do not serve your God, we have no confidence that you will serve our government. You will shoot into the air, and when in danger you will play into the hands of the enemy. Your two brethren, who maintained their decision and remained faithful to the end, have survived; but you will be executed.’ He then ordered the firing squad to shoot.
"The two survivors who did not deny their faith were put to work in the fields and were sent home after the end of the war. That is when the whole story became known among the brethren in Romania."
Here is another interesting case that was reported by Brother Panaitescu. Because of his religious convictions, which did not allow him to be a combatant, a faithful Adventist brother was condemned to death by the military court. Standing with his back turned toward his grave, he asked permission to pray for the last time on this earth. Kneeling down, he prayed aloud imploring God to be merciful to his executioners and forgive all those who were responsible for the death sentence that was being applied. Before he finished his prayer, a high officer happened to pass by and asked what was going on.
"Who gave orders to shoot this man? and for what reason?"
In a few words, the soldiers explained the problem: "He will be executed because, as a conscientious objector, he says he cannot break the law of God. This means that he will not bear arms or do any secular work on Saturdays."
"This man shall not die," said the officer. "He will go with me to the military court, and I will defend him."
This is the gist of the appeal that the officer made in court, in defense of that faithful believer:
"Here we have a great man before us. A man who is conscientious in the fulfillment of his religious duties, and who would rather die than break the commandments of God, is a great man. This is the kind of men that Romania needs, and we don’t have machines to manufacture them in one day. Not all competent men go to the front. Many things must be done all over the country, far away from the firing line. There are men who were not born to kill–men who have their religious convictions–men who can be a blessing to mankind in many other occupations. It is in the best interest of the country not to put such men to death, but to preserve their lives."
In some cases, God was honored in delivering His faithful servants in a miraculous way; in other cases God was honored in giving His faithful servants strength and resignation to suffer martyrdom. Whichever way God chooses, He knows what He is doing. May His name be honored and glorified!