Priest Gheorghe Calciu-Dumitreasa - "Holy Cross" Romanian Orthodox Church Alexandria VA, US
It is by God's will that I stand before you today. Three months ago I was a prisoner of the communist regime in Romania, persecuted and watched together with my family by agents of the secret police, though I did nothing other than preach Jesus Christ in the church where I served. Two years ago I was in the Romanian prisons and the same agents endeavored to destroy me. There were many of them; I was alone and defenseless. There was no law to prevent them from committing such a crime; there were no moral principles to stop them. I had faith, they had force; then again, they had nothing because they did not have God. I had the love and spiritual help of my fellow man, praying for me throughout the world; they had nothing but their hate. And because this conflict was a spiritual one, they were defeated, in spite of all the material power on their side.
Three months have passed since I was forced to leave my country. I left behind a life of 60 years with all that encompasses: good deeds and mistakes, times of falling and rising up again, friends and enemies, and an enormous treasury of suffering which I value above all else because it is a suffering for Christ.
For the Christian youth in Romania, as well as for the non-Christian, I became a symbol of suffering for Jesus Christ and a symbol of nonviolent resistance against the brutal communist ideology which violates a young person's soul. Had I remained there and perhaps suffered martyrdom, it may have had greater impact, but it was God's will that I come here to fulfill His plan for me which is being gradually revealed.
Death holds a certain fascination. It is like a deep precipice that at once attracts and repels you. It frightens you with physical destruction, but when death becomes intimate with you, when for years death has been your companion, it is difficult to resist its call. In the spring of '81 I had a deep longing for a martyr's death, but God did not grant it to me. During my confinement I was visited spiritually by Christ, by many of the saints of the Church and some of my deceased relatives--my mother in particular. They talked to me in spirit...comforting me in my sufferings and loneliness.
When translated into words these sufferings acquire a blend of remoteness, even fabrication, But when experienced with every fiber of my being, when I was encompassed only by walls and by the depressing malice of the guards--the only human faces I could see --had not God's Grace surrounded me more so than at any time in freedom, I should have come to think that the world was made only of executioners and victims. Everything was intensely "hot" then: pain and faith. I had such a keen sensibility that not only the blows and insults caused me pain, but even the evil thoughts of my torturers.
When Daniel the Prophet was cast into the den of lions, God sent His angel and shut the lions' mouths and they did not hurt him because he was found blameless before them (Dan. 6:22). But God did not shut the mouths of his denouncers. When I was cast into the lions' den--the communist prisons--God did not shut the mouths of the lions nor the mouths of my denouncers, but He took me out of there and preserved me...
During a period of over one hundred days, the administration of Aiud prison tried to kill me by hunger, by cold and by terror. This was begun at a time when Nicolae Ceausescu, the chief of the communist party in Romania, was traveling all over Europe attending merry banquets offered him by presidents, kings and queens of Europe. But nothing from these banquets reached poor Lazarus.
The triumphant reception of their president convinced the guards that Ceausescu was esteemed in the Free World and precious to Romania, and therefore, anyone who didn't accept his decisions had to be killed. And I was one of those people. Their course of extermination started on July 20 and ended after November l, 1980. For ten days I was isolated in a windowless cell without air, with a jacket and a pair of pants both torn to pieces, without buttons, without a belt, and with food only once every days. In the evening a wooden board was lowered from the wall and I was allowed to rest for six hours. The remaining l8 hours I had to spend on the concrete floor of the cell. After ten days they put me back in my regular cell for two days, then isolated me again for another ten days. This game of death lasted more than one hundred days.
The guard assigned to me was the party secretary of the prison. Poisoned by communist indoctrination, he insulted me with such dirty and humiliating words that I preferred to be beaten rather than listen to his insults. Nothing was holy for him, no one was spared his insults--neither I nor my parents, nor my wife, nor my son, not my priesthood, not even God.
Twice a day I was walked to the restroom to empty the "tineta" (a wooden or clay bowl which served as a latrine bucket). Those walks were the worst torture I experienced. I was insulted, hit and sometimes pushed; it happened that the contents of the "tineta" spilled onto the concrete and I was then forced to clean it up with my bare hands.
During my internment I served the Holy Liturgy every Sunday and Church holiday. At first the guards insulted me and beat me to make me give it up. I held fast and at last they left me alone. To their way of thinking I was crazy, but my craziness was the kind spoken of by Saint Paul: "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish, foolishness; but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent" (l Cor. l:l8-19).
It was Sunday and I was isolated. It was one of the days without food and I couldn't serve the Divine Liturgy because I had no bread. The Orthodox Liturgy is celebrated with bread and wine, and the central moment is then when the Holy Spirit descends and transforms bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ in a real though invisible way· From that moment our attitude towards the Holy Chalice is humble, loving and fearful, as inspired by the presence of the Saviour. In prison we had no wine, but we had bread and through necessity admitted by these extreme circumstances, my service was complete.
On that Sunday I asked the Lord to help me forget my sadness at the impossibility of serving the Holy Liturgy for lack of bread. Nevertheless, a thought came to me: to ask the guard for some bread.
The evil guard was on duty and I knew that my request would make him angry; he would insult me and he would ruin the peace I had in my soul for that holy day. But the thought persisted and grew so strong that I knocked on the iron door of the cell. A few minutes later the door was violently opened and the furious guard asked me what was the matter. I asked him for a piece of bread, no more than an ounce, for serving the Holy Liturgy.
My request seemed absurd to him; it was so unexpected that his mouth dropped open in amazement. He left slamming the door as violently a s he had opened it. Many other hungry prisoners asked him for bread, but I was the first to ask for bread in order to serve the Divine Liturgy.
I regretted my impulse.
Twenty minutes later the door of my cell opened half-way and quietly the guard gave me the ration for a whole day: four ounces of bread. He shut the door as quietly as he had opened it· And if I had not been holding the bread I would have thought that it was all an illusion.
This was the most profound and most sublime Holy Sacrament I have ever experienced. The service was two hours long and the guard did not disturb or insult me as at other times; the entire duration of the isolation section was peaceful.
Later, after I had finished the Liturgy and the fragrance of the prayer was still in my cell, the door opened quietly and the guard whispered:
"Father, don't tell anyone I gave you bread, or you'll ruin me."
"How could I tell this to anybody, mister first sergeant? You acted as an angel of God · ..because the bread you gave me became the Body of Christ. In so doing you served by my side, and your deed is now recorded in eternity. '
Without answering, he quietly shut the door, looking at me until the last moment. After that he never insulted me and during his eight hours of duty I had the most peaceful time of isolation.
I have related this double aspect of my confinement--the suffering and the divine consolation-to make you understand that God secretly balances our lives. If we have God we shall never collapse from the pain of this world. During our most atrocious suffering we suddenly discover oases of light and sacred joy.
In his Diary, the Russian writer F.M. Dostoevsky wrote prophetically of what would happen in this century: “My people will descend to such depths that they will desecrate the holy altars with their bloody boots, with their blasphemous hands they will take the Holy Chalice with God's Blood in it and will spit in it while they will kill the priest before the Holy Table and, dissatisfied with even this, they will crush the Chalice itself on the ground and fire shots into the Holy Blood, But then the triumphant Cross will rise and my people will return to God."
If the first part of this prophecy has been accomplished, why should the second part not be fulfilled? People that turned coat under the communist terror are coming back to faith, the youth are turning their eyes to Christ.
If the world oppresses us, then Jesus comforts us; if the earthly powers kill us, Jesus gives us the martyr's crown; if the kings cast us into the lions' den, the Son of God shuts the mouths of the animals; if we are sad, our joy is Jesus. We are not alone and we are not deserted...
Suffering has many faces and it is very difficult to describe all of them here. I know an Orthodox priest, Fr. Gavrila Stefan, whose life is spent on Golgotha. He was defrocked in 197l. Ever since then he lives in poverty and terror along with his wife and eight children, the oldest of whom is 16. He was arrested and released several times and his only hope is Divine Pity. While I was in prison he visited my family several times, and after each visit the secret police arrested him because he was forbidden to enter Bucharest, On his last visit, shortly before I was released from prison, he told my wife a terrible thing: "Madam, three days ago I killed our last sheep." This was in the summer of 1984 when his wife was in the eighth month of pregnancy. How are they living now? What is their new-born baby eating?
Where the pain is great, great also is the mercy of God, because God never gives a man more than he can carry.
In 1978, before the Feast of Pascha, I preached in the church to the youth. I delivered a series of sermons called "Seven Words to the Youth." As a consequence my hierarchs, upon the order of the communist supreme authority--Nicolae Ceausescu--excluded me from the church and delivered me into the hands of the secret police. I was despondent and terrified at the very prospect of imprisonment and maybe death in prison. I went to my older sister who was then about 70 years old, a simple woman who has always been in contact with the wisdom of the Romanian soul. After I had finished complaining she said to me:
"My dear, I'll tell you a story from here. from the countryside. You are educated and you will understand its meaning.
"When God created the world He also created sorrow, suffering and trouble; and He laid them on a big stone and the stone broke; He laid them on a big tree and the tree withered; and finally He laid them on man and man carried them. And so will you, my brother, carry your sufferings."
And so I did. The proof is that I'm here before you and told you this wise Romanian folktale.
Taken from a talk delivered by Fr. Gheorghe Calciu at a conference in Washington D.C.
on Nov. 9, sponsored by CREED-the Christian Relief Effort for the Emancipation
of Dissidents-which was instrumental in Fr. Gheorghe's release.