Nicolae Steinhardt was born near Bucharest, in Pantelimon, to a Romanian mother and a Jewish father. He was a great admirer of the Romanian culture and spirituality, his conversion to Orthodoxy being in perfect harmony with his tremendous love for all things Romanian.
He graduated from the Law and Literature School of the University of Bucharest in 1934. Later on, in 1936, he started his PhD in Constitutional Law. Consequently, in 1937 and 1938, he traveled to England, Austria, France, and Switzerland.
The communist persecutions started in 1948, when non-communist intellectuals were declared "enemies of the people". His real troubles began in 1959, when he refused to testify against his friend and former school colleague Constantin Noica, during a court trial. Due to his refusal, he was found guilty of "crimes against social order", together with the "batch of mystical-Iron Guardist intellectuals".
He was also charged with the penalty of 13 years' forced labor in several communist prisons such as Jilava, Gherla, Aiud, and others. While in prison, he discovered the joy of pure and true faith and hence, he decided to convert to Orthodox Christianity, and was baptized in jail. Although performed by an Orthodox hermit, his baptism was witnessed by people of different denominations: 2 Roman-Catholic priests, two Greek-Catholic priests, and a Protestant pastor. This gave an ecumenical character to this special, crucial event in his life.
The Happiness Diary
This was his most famous work of literature, and it was based on his memories of the years spent in the communist prisons. Unfortunately, the Securitate confiscated the very 1st edition of this book in 1972, and returned it to its author three years later, after censonship intervention. Since he had written another version of the same, the Securitate confiscated that as well from him in 1984. This way, Steinhardt ended up having written several variants of it.
The Happiness Diary is now included amongst the best of Romanian literature. Its motto is a Bible quotation: "I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mark, 9:24). Steinhardt explains that these simple, honest words stand for the most perfect definition of Christianity.
Life at Rohia Monastery
In 1980, sixteen years after his being released from prison, Nicolae Steinhardt got into the Rohia Monastery, working there as a librarian and writer. Since he was an excellent counselor and father confessor, there were many weekly visitors to Rohia, looking for spiritual guidance from Father Nicolae. Many people still go there nowadays, to visit his famous library and enjoy the peace and serenity governing that beautiful place.
He spent the last days of his life in Baia Mare, at the city hospital. Many of his admirers and friends attended his funeral, though it was strictly supervised by the communist Securitate.
Pope John II made the following assertion regarding the personality of Nicolae Steinhardt: "Out of the numerous witnesses of Christ that bloomed in the fields of Romania, I would like to mention the hermit of Rohia, Nicolae Steinhardt, an exceptional believer, and also a highly-cultivated man who perceived in a very special way the enormous treasures common to the Christian churches."
Indeed, Steinhardt's life has been a genuine example of pure faith and commitment to the Christian principles. While answering the question of what we owe to Christ, Steinhardt refers to the feeling of general peace wrapping around his heart. This peace includes peace with God, with other people, with the whole world, with evil-intended people, with those who did us wrong, with those to whom we did wrong and, above all, peace with ourselves. Oscar Wilde had once said, "To be good is to be in harmony with one's self."
Steinhardt also repeatedly expressed the idea of an unbelievably generous God, full of grace and mercy, the God of Christianity. One of his favorite quotes seemed to be the one by the celebrated Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky: "If anyone ever proved to me, beyond any doubt, while I am on my dying bed, that Christ is not the truth, that the real truth is another one, if the arguments provided to me were impossible to contradict, I wouldn't give it another thought: I would choose Christ over truth."