Iosif Trifa was born in 1888 to the family of Dimitrie and Ana Trifa, from the village Certege, Turda, [Romania]. He attended gymnasium in Bejus and then studied theology in Sibiu. He returned to his home village as a teacher and later was consecrated as a priest. In 1921 Metropolitan Balan invited him to Sibiu to become spiritual advisor to the Department of Theology. In 1922 the Metropolitan of Sibiu decided to start a magazine on religious education in Romanian villages. Priest Trifa was responsible for publishing it. He called the magazine “Light of the Village”. It was intended for common people and issued weekly. The first issue came out on January 2, 1922.
Among other things, Trifa wrote in the first issue: “On the basis of the new order in the country – and in our nation – we ought to behave in the fear of God and obedience to His Word. To start at the beginning: faith and love of God – because without this beginning, nothing permanent or excellent can be accomplished… Only one balm can give the world and our nation health and salvation: that people and nations would turn to Jesus, His teachings, and His commandments of love. Then peace will flow permanently among the nations.”
Trifa believed that only spiritual rebirth could stop the destruction and bring salvation. He declared that only a strong and complete turning to Christ can save and renew. The only answer: faith and belief in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as the sole way of salvation from death and condemnation.
After a year of writing for the magazine, Iosif realized that he spoke in vain: no one responded to his call. He reached a point of crisis on New Year’s Eve. This crisis gave birth to an initiative to invite people to fight against sin. Out of this call sprang the movement “The Lord’s Army”. Seeing the sin and downfall of the nation, Iosif Trifa asked, “What have I done to help these unfortunate drunkards and revilers to understand their state of hopelessness and sin? What have I done so that Christ draw near to them and they would draw near to Christ? This is the only way for the salvation of an individual soul or for an entire nation.” Trifa was very stricken and called upon the whole Romanian nation and all Christians to make a major decision: “As we enter the New Year, let us come as Christians to commit to a mutual struggle against swearing, drunkenness…”
Writing with the same zeal, he published the Declaration to be signed by those who opted for such a lifestyle. In the Easter 1923 issue, Trifa published the list of names of the first “soldiers” who wrote him that they agreed to sign the Declaration and abstain from swearing, drunkenness, and other sins. He advised that it was not enough just to say “no” to some sins, but that progress needed to be made toward the gift and light of our Savior Jesus Christ from the New Testament. That is how the movement “the Lord’s Army” got started. There took place some conferences, meetings in the villages, and special groups of “soldiers” who gathered together to study the Bible and encourage one another.
The priest Josif Trifa as spiritual leader of the movement saw the need to define the basic principles of the movement. The three basic principles: acceptance of Jesus Christ as personal Savior, spiritual rebirth, and the Bible as the only source of Christian faith. Iosif understood from the beginning that the secret and power of victory could only stand in Christ, in the living sacrifice of the crucified Christ. He stated, “All the work of our salvation, from the beginning I tell you, stood and stands only in the sacrifice of the crucified Jesus.” The miracle of the revelation of Christ produces in our soul another miracle: the secret and divine work of spiritual rebirth. The mystery of repentance is a work of the Holy Spirit. It is the divine act that is necessary for every person to obey, the Holy Spirit and the Holy Word. That mysterious work and change is produced by God’s Word in the life of one who believes along with God’s Spirit. Our healing and salvation as individuals and as a nation will never amount to anything apart from the knowledge of and living in harmony with Holy Scripture.
Iosif Trifa constantly insisted that people should center their attention on Jesus Christ: “The foundation of our salvation is in the crucified Jesus. All Scripture speaks of this. If one seeks salvation outside of the Source, he is wasting his time and forfeits salvation… Seeking salvation apart from Jesus Christ is akin to kneading bread without flour… This is a major weakness of modern Christians: omitting Christ from the equation of their salvation… The devil is very deceptive. He leaves Christians all the rules, all the practices, all the forms. He fights for only one thing: that he removes the flour from the bread, that he removes the honey from the comb, that he removes Jesus Christ from their salvation. It is said that in no place does the devil sleep so peacefully than where people zealously adhere to all the rules and traditions, yet they lack the crucified and living Christ… We constantly proclaim only the crucified Jesus, regardless of whatever opposition appears… Because we know and believe that only in His Name and the power of His cross do we truly have salvation and life…”
“The Lord’s Army” rapidly developed into a movement among the masses. In 1934, several accusations were made against this movement. Among them, one priest wrote: “The Lord’s Army in the beginning was good because it campaigned against debauchery. But ever since they preached the sermon about ‘The Ignorant Ones’ with regard to spiritual rebirth, the movement became dangerous and no longer deserves our support.’ (Cited from Traian Dorz, History of the Lord’s Army, 334.)